Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Buzzhowl Records – 26th July 2019

Left Limbs are Raul Buitrago (drums) and Jake Saheb (guitar), and Hexes is an album of two halves, two sides, two tracks, each sprawling over ten minutes apiece in duration. And they pack a lot of challenging noise into that timespan. At times uncoordinated, at times harsh, it’s very much a journey.

At the risk of infinite repetition, I’m a fan first and foremost and critic on the side, and of the many people I work with doing this, the PR and labels – and artists – who are clearly in it for the love are my favourites by miles. The passion invariably shines through. And so I’m disproportionately excited when, during a Twitter exchange, I’m told ‘In the second track, about half way through some kind of beat emerges and if you listen all the way through it’s a really great moment, but I just like the sound, distorted guitar and drums – but dismantled.’ And I get it. sometimes -often – the ‘ow!’ of a rack lies in a fleeting transitional moment, where something = often something random or incidental – happens. You notice it. And once you’ve noticed it, you can’t unnoticed it. But it something special and sweet and it’s a ‘moment’. Your moment, a personal insight and intersection between creation and reception. And it becomes everything, the moment on which the entire piece hangs and pivots from good to magical.

And so I’m on the edge of my increasingly-worn suede-covered chair, which I’ve sat in to write reviews for the best part of a decade now, squinting in the darkness at the screen as erratic, irregular beats clatter and clank and feedback screeches, howls and whistles among echoing unevenness. And ‘dismantled’ is the word. It’s spectacularly disjointed, difficult in the most glorious of ways.

Where is this all going? It’s a clash of experimentalism, avant-garde and jazz without the groove, a messy exploration of sonic incongruity, rich in atmosphere and angularity. It meanders, thumping and bumping and squawking and screeching… and then suddenly, there it is, crashing in around the nine-minute mark. A dolorous bass booms in and the drumming picks up and it’s like Filth-era Swans for a moment as things get frenetic and the sound rapidly descends into a distorted mess of speaker overload.

It’s the crushing, headache-inducing unprettiness that’s precisely the appeal: Hexes may not be remotely political or even engaged in anything about anything, existing in its own microcosmic sphere, but it’s an ugly album for ugly times. It helps release the pain.

AA

Left Limbs - Hexes

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Editions Mego – EMEGO264 – 5th July 2019

Australian avant-gardist Oren Ambarchi has enjoyed a varied career spanning over three decades, and includes among his associations Sunn O))), Merzbow, and Burial Chamber Orchestra. To describe his output as ‘prodigious’ would be an understatement.

According to the press release, ‘Simian Angel finds Oren Ambarchi renewing his focus on his singular approach to the electric guitar, returning in part to the spacious canvases of classic releases like Grapes from the Estate while also following his muse down previously unexplored byways’.

It continues: ‘Reflecting Ambarchi’s profound love of Brazilian music – an aspect of his omnivorous musical appetite not immediately apparent in his own work until now – Simian Angel features the remarkable percussive talents of the legendary Cyro Baptista, a key part of the Downtown scene who has collaborated with everyone from John Zorn and Derek Bailey to Robert Palmer and Herbie Hancock’. Some of this has meaning: a lot of it doesn’t. I don’t know everything, and nor have the time or inclination to research. Jobbing reviewers crib from press blurbs and make like they know stuff. The majority are lying.

Neither Brazilian music nor guitar are overtly apparent on the two long-form tracks which make up Simian Angel: the sixteen-minute ‘Palm Sugar Candy’ consists of supple, trilling organ notes drifting across clopping, loping, irregular wood-based percussion which fades out to nothing leaving only soft, whisping tones which weave in and out of one another.

The title track is vague, piano notes rising into a rarefied air. It builds gradually into flurries of notes which flutter like snow in a breeze, skittering unpredictably. Baptista’s contribution is remarkable in its subtlety: a sedated heartbeat pulse which occasionally stutters and stammers. Around the mid-point of this twenty-minute mod-inspiring epic, the piano halts unexpectedly and an upward gliding drone alters the previously straightforward trajectory of the composition. Simmering down into twittering gentleness, subtly twisted with the slightest hints of dissonance and eventually transitioning into some mellowed-out semi-ambient reinterpretation of minimalist jazz – which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. Instead, the slowly insistent beats force something approximating a solid frame on which all the other abstraction hangs – and it works.

AA

Oren Ambarchi – Simian Angel

Sound in Silence Records – 29th May 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

What do we know? The press blurb says that ‘øjeRum is the ambient solo project of musician and collage artist Paw Grabowski, with previous releases on labels such as Fluid Audio, Eilean Rec., Shimmering Moods Records, Champion Version, Unknown Tone Records and many others,’ and his work is ‘recommended for fans of William Basinski, Brian Eno, Harold Budd and Tim Hecker’.

I have no idea what Alting Falder I Samme Rum translates as, but it contains six tracks numbered I – VI which are built on rippling, pulsating, almost subliminal rhythms. This is the kind of soft, fluid electronica that for me conjures images of deep-sea jellyfish, the likes of which pulse with luminescence as they surge smooth , silent, and with barely a hint of resistance through the dense waters drifting with plankton and minuscule creatures which hang, mote-like, in suspension. What is their purpose? On what do these near-microscopic organisms feed? It will never cease to bewilder me that we know less about both the deepest parts of the ocean, and the human mind, than we do about near space and even further afield.

Alting Falder I Samme Rum exists between space and the interior of the mind, and as such is an exploration into the unknown. It hovers and hums and slowly ebbs and flows. It feels otherworldly, far beyond this world. And I am transported.

AA

øjeRum – Alting Falder I Samme Rum

Cruel Nature Records – 29th July 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, social networking really works. When Facebook isn’t about infighting, trolling, bitching, pissing and moaning, and people accept contact from strangers based on mutual friends and mutual interests, good stuff happens. I can’t exactly recall how I came into contact with James Watts, who runs Newcastle-Upon-Tyne based tape label Panurus productions, but some months after, I ended up performing in London alongside Lump Hammer, one of his numerus musical vehicles, thanks to another mutual friend with a penchant for big, noisy guitars who found me via Aural Aggro reviews. And so it came to pass that said mutual friend – Owen, from Modern Technology – introduced me and Steve Strode, who’s also in a bad and who also runs another Newcastle-based tape label, Cruel Nature Records. Fret! happen to feature Strode on guitar (twang), alongside Rob Woodcock (credited with ‘flails / screams’) and Cath Tyler (‘thrum / la’). And with cover art by Tom McCarthaigh, the design/layout is courtesy of none other than James Watts. It really is a small world. Especially in Newcastle.

This is lo-fi, low-budget, scuzzy. The production is proper rough, the guitar sound fuzzed-out and unpolished – we’re in home-recorded four-track demo quality here, with crackling at the edges and needles pushing the top ends of red, and opener ‘Belly’ comes on like early Fall with its repetitive riffage played rough ‘n’ ready. It seems fitting, not only because this is a cassette release, but because this is underground in every way.

On the lumbering slow-pace riff noise of ‘Hucknall’ (pretty much all of the titles are indecipherable one-worders), there’s a hoarse howl all bit buried in the mix, by accident or design, countered by a drawing monotone counterpoint. ‘Davy’ goes for the all-out screaming racket that not quite metal but is unquestionably all-out in its frenzied brutality, but most of the album favours the frenetic but contained blistering squall of 90s alternative. By which I mean bands like Fudge Tunnel, Terminal Cheesecake, Helmet, are all viable and appropriate reference points, and by which it should be apparent that this is a monster riffageous racket of the highest order. ‘SUSD’ sows it down, grinding away at a repetitive cyclical riff that’s as messy as hell, wash with distortion, reverb, and tremolo, while ‘Cowboy’ piledrives into got/psychobilly/hardcore/crust-punk territory with obliterative fury.

Is there an element of nostalgia in the appeal of this, as a 43-year old fan of grunge and more subterranean 90s alternative? Well, naturally, but that really isn’t the primary appeal here. What appeals about A Vanity Spawned By Fear is the simple fact that it’s raw and uncompromising and blindingly intense. It isn’t pretty or nice, and isn’t supposed to be. It wouldn’t work if it was.

The last track, ‘Country’ is a slow, hesitant cross between early Pavement and Shellac. But A Vanity Spawned is most definitely not derivative, and there’s nothing remotely lifted or directly referential here. Instead, they amalgamate a mass of influences and condense them in a mould of their own making. It’s hard, heavy, and difficult. Stylistically, it isn’t any one thing, but it’s completely ace.

AA

Fret - Vanity

Gizeh Records – 26th July 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

‘File under: Avant-Garde, Drone, Dark-Ambient’, says the press release. And yes, the nine pieces on Göldi fell, an album limited to 175 hand-printed copies on CD are indeed darkly ambient drone-fests, rich in atmosphere and the rumbles of distant thunder. I spend many long hours listening to music of this ilk, and while I do enjoy it, I sometimes struggle for new descriptors, and often find myself gradually drifting in a way that means I have no significant emotional response to detail. And yet this is most definitely not ‘background’ audio: it’s mood-influencing, and the creeping fear chords and unexpected interjections and the trembling sawing scrapes contrive to jangle the nerves and leave the listener on edge. Yes, I’m glancing over my shoulder, pausing my typing to listen to determine if the sound I just heard came from the speakers of an intruder on the stairs, someone in the back yard.

The strings drone and drag into scraping metallic contrails that melt into undifferentiated sonic melanges, and this is an album that creeps and crawls, spreading dark energy like dry ice around the ankles as it plunders the gut-twisting fear-chords and unsettles from beginning to end.

At times mellow, delicate, and at others uncomfortable, scraping sinuous and dissonant, this is a deep and contemplative work that elicits reflection from the listener. At this particular moment, I’m reflecting on time – specifically, time when I had time to stop, to think, to spend afternoons simply listening to music and / or reading a book. It feels like a long time ago. What happened?

For all the darkness, I can’t help but be amused by the press write that states ‘Several Wives lie in the darkened corner of a room. Paintings torn, forgotten against the wall. Dead rhythms seep through the floor. Everything is tired. Everything is jaded.’

It’s funny because of the band name. it works in that it conjures a most visual and vaguely surreal image that’s entirely incongruous with the music itself. Plus, as anyone who’s married will likely tell you, one wife is more than enough, and the prospect of several is even more terrifying than the shrieking, wailing cat, string crescendo that howls and mewls the challenging finale of ‘The Blinding of Delilah’. There’s also an element of if not outright humour, them flippancy about some of the titles: ‘that dream you had’, ‘that other dream you had’, and ‘Her on the phone’ are casual-sounding and contrast with the weighty, atmospheric drones that creep and crawl around among the looming shadows of their own casting.

Göldi fell is a difficult album, but for all of the right reasons. None of it feels easy or comfortable. And nor should we want it to. It’s healthy to be unsettled, unnerved from time to time, to be dragged out of that tiredness, that jadedness.

AA

GZH91-Several-Wives-Goldi-fell-Sleeve_1024x1024

Christopher Nosnibor

Ashley Reaks’ second album of the year is his second (not of this year) with Hull poet Joe Hakim (who I sadly didn’t get to see perform at Long Division Festival in Wakefield the other month due to my ongoing failure to clone myself.

The Science Of Discontent – furnished with one of Reaks’ typically warped collage-art covers – returns to the bleak sociopolitical seam of its 2015 predecessor, Cultural Thrift. Reflecting on this, who would have thought that things would be even worse four years on from 2015? Back then, austerity was grinding us down in Britain as the world continued to drag its way along in the wake of the financial collapse that spanned 2007-2011.

2019, 11 years after the Conservative government announced their first austerity measures, and nine years after the programme was introduced, we’ve still ruled by austerity, and now we’ve got fucking Trump and Brexit on top. Small wonder we’re discontent.

Musically, it’s a classic Reaks cocktail of dub reggae, ska, post-punk, and – as have been coming into increasing prominence in his melting-pot-of-everything compositions – prog rock and jazz. The individual arrangements are comparatively minimal – or, more specifically, the music is kept in check during the spoken passages. This means that the instrumental segments, where the band cut loose, really stand out. By stand out, I mean like the proverbial sore thumb. That’s no criticism: it’s Reaks’ MO, and his revelling in rendering spectacular incongruities that somehow work that’s his primary superpower.

The subject matter Hakim explores on The Science Of Discontent is bleak and a times harrowing: ‘Dead Legends’ is less a celebration of posthumous recognition and the route to artistic immortality as a bitter dissection of the plight of the artist, for whom getting fucked up and committing suicide is likely the only career option that’s likely to yield any kind of success.

Death, damage, and decline are recurrent themes across the nine pieces here, and they’re all delivered in a twangy but downbeat monotone. The apparent dispassion of the delivery does nothing to detract from the lyrical impact: Hakim’s enunciation is crisp – and dry – and contrasts with the buoyant brass and thick Jah Wobble-style basslines that bounce and stroll.

‘New World Order Evangelists’ finds Hakim venting his spleen over government and conspiracy theories and contemporary culture and ‘Orwellianism’ over some seriously jazzy jazz that somehow drifts into some post-rock guitar, while the spacious soundscapes that create an oddly flat atmosphere on ‘The Customer is Always Wrong’ provides a stark and dislocated backdrop to Hakim’s monologue delivered from the perspective of a long-suffering shop worker. ‘Saturday Night Sob Story’ is more depressing still. There’s a degree of crossover in terms of territory with Sleaford Mods, but Hakim doesn’t hector, he just puts it out there in snippets of dialogue and tightly-penned vignettes.

There’s precious little joy here – and yet the quality of the wordsmithery, compositions, and musicianship – do provide reasons to be cheerful. In the face of unapologetically direct depictions of ‘broken Britain’ – minimum wage, zero-hours, shit nightclubs, drugs, booze, ruined communities, dog-eat-dog, social division – Hakim’s craft and Reaks’ crazy hybridization offer a glimmer of hope that however crushed, however fucked, however domed we all are, the imperative to creative art under the worst of circumstances remains a fundamental human trait. Ashley Reaks and Joe Hakim have (again) created an album for our time. And in such desperate times, The Science Of Discontent is precisely what we need.

AA

Science of Discontent