Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Cruel Nature Records – 6th January 2023

If James Watts’ social media postings were to be taken at face value, you’d likely conclude he spends all his time loafing about, eating, giving the finger to his cat, shits a lot, and only showers before gigs. These may all be true, but he’s also ne off Newcastle’s most prolific purveyors of noisy shit, recording and performing with Plague Rider, Friend, Lovely Wife, Lump Hammer, Dybbuk, and Möbius, gigging locally on a constant basis, and touring frequently, too.

All The Heavens Were A Bell is a musical vehicle finds Watts collaborating with another prodigious powerhouse for scary dark noise, Esmé Louise Newman (Penance Stare, Petrine Cross, Fashion Tips, 1727), and A Wheel Of Burning Eyes is their second release, which they recorded in the spring of 2022, and it’s pitched – somewhat eclectically – as being ‘recommended listening for acolytes of Sunn O))), Coil, Deleuze & Guattari, Bastard Noise, Sarah Kane, William Blake, Les Legion Noires, Mark Fisher, Black Boned Angel, Laboria Cuboniks et al’.

I’m often intrigued when musical works reference literary sources as influences, especially when they’re not necessarily the obvious ones. Much as I am an immense fan and student of William Burroughs, I am conscious that his influence has been milked dry to a point bordering on desiccation. But what can be drawn from Mark Fisher and the labyrinthine complexities of the writings of Deleuze & Guattari to forge something musical?

Outlining an album created using ‘both self-constructed and commercially available sound machines, exploring the space between free improvisation and absolute intentionality, theopoetics, illness as vector, abstracted ritual, dread drone, trance-formation, black ambience, doomed electronics, hellfire submergence, and ophanim glow,’ A Wheel Of Burning Eyes offers intrigue and a certain intellect as its background.

Extrapolating all of that from the audio isn’t all that straightforward, of course. How it manifests on these two side-length tracks is in a shimmering, shifting wall of billowing noise. It’s not harsh, but it is dense, the churning drone of ‘Usurper, Destroyer’ churns clouds of sound on sound up on themselves, and there may be voices away in the distance or it might be your mind playing tricks or it might be tinnitus. Either way, it’s a gut-shredding experience expanding over eighteen minutes, and it doesn’t soften or diminish at any point – it’s a relentless grating grind of snarling noise as heavy as earthworks, and building to a thick, shredding wall of dense sound on sound that invites obvious comparisons to SUNN O))), but in fact does something quite different – and more intense – with the punishing layers and textures so rough as to tear off your skin several layers at a time.

‘Glowing Light of Ophanim’ references the wheels of the Lord’s Heavenly chariot referenced variously in the bible, and is derived from the Hebrew אוֹפַנִּים or ʿōp̄annīm. Many listeners won’t be that fussed about historical / biblical context detail when immersing themselves in these huge swathes of sound, but they ought to be, not just because it’s a tectonic slab of deep, dark, drone, but because it really does reach the parts so many dark doomy drone noise works never even get close to.

You feel A Wheel Of Burning Eyes resonate and reverberate around your body, encompassing and enveloping. And you know that this is special.

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Human Worth – 3rd February 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

A shriek of feedback prefaces the gnarly blast of a monster rhythm section, thunderous drums paired with a snarling bass. And so begins ‘Short Distance Runner’, the first of six songs on Remove Viewing’s Modern Addictions. You know in an instant that it’s going to be good.

Of course, you know it’s going to be good before you hear a single sound.

Featuring members of Palehorse, Million Dead, Sly & The Family Drone, Nitkowski and Wound (to name but a few) is quite the underground supergroup. Plus, Modern Addictions is being released on Human Worth, which is in itself a guarantee of heavy, noisy shit of the highest calibre. So yes, you know it’s going to be good. But even then, it’s hard to be braced for something this good.

The guitar alternates between thick, sludgy chords and really sinewy lead lines that buzz and drill, twist and bend and wrap themselves around you and dig in like barbed wire. The tracks are backed back to back, making the cumulative effect of the heavy battering even more acutely felt. Single cut ‘Your Opinion is Wrong’, showcased here in December is broadly representative of the dense, chunky, churning sound of the album as a whole, but doesn’t fully convey the extent of its textures and variety.

It’s not all punishing density, and the band are keen to highlight that theirs is a sound that demonstrates a ‘broader sound that incorporates elements of hardcore, post-rock and shoegaze into the palette of sludge and noise-rock’.

There are some tight grooves amidst the racket, ‘Wasted on Purpose’ effortlessly transitions through a number of varied passages, from full-on balls-out riffage to delicate, evocative swirling post-rock chimes which gracefully convey a very different kind of emotional weight, and if the title ‘Cleveland Balloonfest ‘86’ suggests something bright and airy, sonically it’s more the Hindenburg disaster with it’s slow, low-slung growling guitar that grinds away at a crawl for six and a half anguish-filled minutes.

If ‘Watch Me For the Changes’ is a demonic dirge of epic proportions with a remarkably light ending (and you can’t help but suspect the title is perhaps a reference to the band’s directions for playing it) ,the final track, ‘A.B.B.A. ABBA’ springs an unexpected surprise as the band switch into disco mode. No, of course it doesn’t really. It’s seven minutes of dolorous doom, thick with atmosphere and dripping distortion. It’s the sound of weight so great that it feels as if it’s collapsing in on itself, decaying and crumbling on the way to a slow death, that leaves you feeling hollowed out and devastated. It’s the perfect finale to a superlative album.

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Christopher Nosnibor

The third – or fourth, depending on your source – album by electronic duo Akustikkoppler, is a work of starkness, of austerity, and a collision of vintage and contemporary, and quite the contrasting experience.

The cover looks like a photo I may have taken from my daily wanderings. I’m not saying it’s a good cover or a bad cover, this is merely an observation. The duo would likely say the same about the cover itself. It’s a snapshot that speaks for itself of the nature off people in our all-waste capitalist society.

I feel an almost inevitable shiver of nostalgia listening to this, despite the fact that the album’s style and sound predate my musical awareness. Instead, it makes me feel a nostalgic tug for my teens, when I was introduced to all of the weird and wonderful, experimental and starkly harsh music that had emerged in the late 70s and early 80s, to which Alles Muß Raus demonstrates a clear lineage.

As the blurb explains, ‘Inspired by the rough commercial industrial surroundings of Schusters Studio back then in Hamburg, Alles Muß Raus was produced on vintage and modern equipment. The two artists combine past and future to a sparkling, shimmering darkness.’ And industrial it is – not in the Ministry sense, but in the spirit of the early innovators utilising primitive synths, drum machines, and tape loops. And it ignites a spark of excitement, in that even now, this kind of music doesn’t sit comfortably with anything in the sphere of ‘normal’ music. The nostalgia, then, is in remembering how hearing TG, Test Department, DAF, et al for the first time completely changed my world, and my concept of what ‘music’ could be.

The analogue drum machines, mixed to recreate the sound of the late 70s and early 80s with a dominant synthetic snare is a defining feature. The first track, ‘Entrümpelung’ is a head-cracking, gut-smashing sub-bass groove that’s anything but vintage and pulls you in before the bass-driven churn of ‘Mitnahmequalität’ steps boldly into grinding, bass-led Throbbing Gristle-influenced industrial. In contrast, ‘Mittenmang’ is almost playful, with tempo changes and some d‘n’b rapidfire drumming bouncing alongside some busy, bloopy electronica. One of the shorter tracks, ‘Horses And Carriages Burn’ hints in the direction of The Cure’s ‘Carnage Visors’ while recreating the spirit of ‘Pornography’.

Entirely instrumental and assimilating so many disparate elements, despite some insistent grooves and accessible, melodic ,moments, Alles Muß Raus certainly isn’t a pop album, but contains many elements of electropop, even if the shade is turned down to twelve. While Kraftwerk may be an obvious touchstone, the vibe that radiates from Alles Muß Raus is much more DAF, with insistent, snare-driven beats driving relentlessly to define the sound and structure of a varied and meticulously arranged set.

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Mille Plateaux – 20th January 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

Less than a year on from Faces & Fragments, Neuro… No Neuro are back again with another substantial instalment of scratchy, glitchy electronica that’s rich in retro vibes.

Each piece is short – around two minutes – and drifts into the next. As the air floats past carrying soft analogue notes on a gentle waft, you suddenly realise you’re already five tracks in. It’s not that Compartments is undemanding, so much as that it’s subtle, meaning that it circulates in the atmosphere without dominating your headspace in an intrusive fashion.

The beats are backed off, even as they stutter and troll, flicker and jar. There’s a softness about the sounds and the way these woozy, warped snippets trickle together that’s almost soporific, especially when tinkling chimes cascade in ripples.

The Mille Plateaux website describes Compartments as Kawaii-Glitch (Kawaii being the Japanese culture of cuteness), noting that ‘The very artificial glitch aesthetics are not, as usual, depicted by a cold and sterile feeling; but quite contrary have the qualities of an artificial sweetener… Be careful when associating kawaii with just sweet, innocent or cute notions… just as Anime often masks grown-up topics with ‘childish’ surface structures, the album underlies a soft darkness & melancholy. Sometimes the unspeakable comes in disguise. Like the fashion style Yami-Kawaii, a bizarre mixture of kawaii-aesthetics with questions of depression and suicide, this album offers a mixillogical splice of life in which every second might take a turn into the irreal and eerie. To make distinctions between what is real and what are delusions, dreams or nightmares, emotional highs and lows, becomes impossible. In some sense it is ‘too much’ while still minimalistic in style.’

On the penultimate track, ‘Just Crumbling,’ things seem to come apart at the seams as stammering beats fly away from sounds firing in all directions like breaking springs. The temperature drops further at the finale, as those split sprockets echo into the cold night air and as the final sounds of the bonus-length last track, We’ll be Seeing You Soon’, which clanks and echoes for a fill four minutes, fade away, I sit, full, aurally content and calm… and worried. What subliminal toxicity has this album dispersed internally? How will I feel about Compartments once I begin to process and digest its multi-faceted contents? I don’t know but then, I don’t know if II trust what I heard, or my instincts on how to react. There is definitely more to Compartments than first meets the ear.

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Medication Time Records – 27th January 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

My first encounter with Fågelle was supporting Big | Brave in Leeds last spring. Despite suffering some technical difficulties and being on before a band so mighty that I still haven’t quite got over the experience, I wrote that ‘Fågelle proves to be an absolute revelation’.

The release of her new album, album Den svenska vreden (The Swedish rage), affords proper time to digest, and to reflect on this. And live, I remarked on her understated presence and the variety, shifting from quiet restraint to some heavy noise, and with experimental elements. Those are all present here, to forge what the press release set out as ‘collage-like soundscapes made with twisted field recordings, mobile memories, digital trash, dark electronics, and howling choirs while moving between harmony and noise.’

For the most part, Den svenska vreden is subtle. There are soft, electronic washes and the slightest of glitches ripple and stutter almost subliminally. The layers rub against one another to create tensions, but still, the overall mood of the album is comparatively light, particularly given the album’s title and her explanation of the album’s context and contents.

“I was so angry and had been for years.” explains Fågelle, “A kind of adult rage that was new to me. Feeling forced to accept and stay in circumstances making me miserable. To patiently suffer now for a better future. But also, a subdued Swedishness that doesn’t hold space for flaring, tearing, wallowing rage but rather pushes it down from the surface and inwards. Question is, where does the rage go, and which forms does it take? That became a starting point for the record where I kept exploring my personal boiling points, pressures and releases, where to hold my rage, in words and in the body, as a swede and as a woman.”

She continues, “Swedish social norms value the level headed and emotionally subdued. There is a pressure put especially hard on women to function like social glue and to always be consensus oriented. It’s a pressure to practice self control, a self choking of non-agreeable ideas and feelings. Rage being one of them.”

As such, one senses the rage is very much tempered by the Swedish restraint. And that’s something that there is a strong sense of, listening to Den svenska vreden – that there is in fact far more beneath the surface, simmering.

‘Slavar’ is dark and tense, tentative, mysterious. In contrast, ‘Aldrig mera här’ is almost minimal pop in its flavour. As a prelude to the soft folk reflections of ‘Fåglar’, which in parts invites comparisons to Suzanne Vega while in others goes quite wonderfully weird, ‘Tredje långgatan tretton’ begins as hushed ambience and builds into dramatic strings. It’s on the title track that the rage burst forth, manifesting as two minutes of mangled noise, and the album culminates in a thumping burst of beat-driven electronica which I wouldn’t go so far as to describe as dance, but it’s certainly got enough groove to get down to.

There’s a sense that Den svenska vreden reflects its creator: complex, inscrutable, enigmatic, and multi-faceted.

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Efpi Records – 27th January 2023

James Wells

Twittering birdsong and delicately tranquil tunes may not be things you’d immediately associate with jazz, but this is how the third studio album from Beats & Pieces Big Band announces its arrival. But as the track’s title suggests, you should wait: because in a moment, they’re offering up strolling, rolling sultry piano and bold brass on ‘op’ and we’re plunged deep into big band jazz territory.

There’s a lot of that, but the most striking thing about Good Days is its variety. The droning nine-minute ‘elegy’ is a sparse dirge of a tune, but it’s soft, contemplative, and ‘cminriff’ saunters into sultry, smoky territory with effortless ease.

The technicality of the playing is something else – and I really mean something else, on another plane.

Mojo have described them as ‘Spine-tinglingly good’, The Guardian love them, and the press release suggests parallels and links with not just Charles Mingus, Keith Tippett, Gil Evans, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, but also suggests ‘there’s also a post-rock undertow to many of these tracks which shows a consciousness of such contemporaries as Björk, Radiohead, or Everything Everything’.

Whether or not you hear these – and I have to admit that I personally don’t so much, and I didn’t find my spine tingling either, although my ears were definitely totally grooved – there’s both a busy and a smooth element to Good Days as notes twist and spial against busy percussion. ‘blues (for linu)’ sounds like a sleepy improv based on Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’. ‘woody’ gets woozy and goes all out on the bold brass, before the album is rounded off as it begins, with a snippet of a ‘reprise’ take on ‘wait’.

And at the end of the day, Good Days brings the swing – and if you’re talking jazz, that’s just what you want.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Coldwell’s own notes which accompany this – truly epic – album explains and articulates it best, when he writes ‘This new retrospective is certainly not your typical album. Each track is almost an album in its own right! The material sees CC at his most experimental, stripped back, noisy and immersive. Following on from last year’s Music for Documentary Film, this collection gathers together some of Michael C Coldwell’s sound art work and music written for exhibition and gallery contexts.’

This is very much one of the benefits of the digital format: there is no restriction of duration on account of data capacity. Time was when physical formats restricted the running time of a release, with a vinyl LP optimally running for around forty-five minutes but having the capacity to squeeze in about an hour, with CDs being able to hold seventy-two minutes and while a cassette could – precariously – take two hours, no-one released a two-hour single cassette.

Conflux Coldwell’s collection of installation works is immense, and with a running time of around two-and-a-quarter hours, it’s in the realms of recent Swans albums. While it’s by no means a brag, I’ve endured longer, notably Frank Rothkamm’s twenty-four-disc, twenty-four-hour Werner Process, and am also aware of Throbbing Gristle’s legendary 24 Hours cassette box set, but the point is, Coldwell has really made the most of the space available to him here.

I sometimes differentiate albums as being foreground or background, and Music for Installation is very much background, the very definition of ambient. That isn’t to say it’s uninteresting or unengaging. It’s simply a vast set of field recordings and sound collages that make you feel as if you’re in a certain environment. Unlike the aforementioned Swans albums, which I find are difficult to listen to because they require a commitment of time to sit with them and focus, to actively listen, Music for Installation is a very different beast which works while rumbling on while you’re doing other things. And as an experience, this very much works.

The fifty-five minutes excerpt (!) of Remote Viewer is exemplary. Passing cars, scrapes, drones, the sound of metal on metal, clanking, indistinguishable muttered dialogue, and extraneous sounds that range from – possibly – the rush of wind to the sound of feet gently passing on creaking timbers, all sit side by side and overlap in various shapes to create a latticework of real-life founds the likes of which you probably would ignore if you even noticed them at all under normal circumstances. Of course, if this is an excerpt, where’s the rest? It’s the kind of immersive soundwork that could run for hours and that would be perfectly fine.

The live performance of ‘Dead Air’, which runs for an album-length headline performance is superb. It’s testing, but it’s also magnificently executed. The sounds and textures are balanced, but the overall sound is gloopy. The result is a piece that’s creepy, evocative, and dissonant, and built around wailing whistles and pulsating drones that coalesce intro their own organic rhythms, drawing together elements of Kraftwerk and Throbbing Gristle to conjure a dark, dingy soundscape.

‘Dismantle the Sun’, running for fourteen minutes feels concise in comparison. It’s barely there for the most part, the most ambient of field recordings. It’s hard to identify any of the individual sources, but again, there are rhythms that emerge from the rumble off passing cars and the whisper of the wind, and the piece transitions both sonically and spatially as it progresses, at times evolving from a whisper to a howl. One feels a sense of movement, which in turn creates a sense of disorientation, although the voiceover detailing ‘solar oscillations’ in the closing minutes provides a certain grounding.

The final brace of compositions, ‘Alternating Current’ and ‘The Specious Present (How Long is Now?), which have a combined time of around ten minutes feel like barely snippets or sketches in comparison to the other three immense pieces, but what they lack in duration, they compensate in depth, being richly textured and showcasing some interesting beats and conjuring some dark, confined spaces. And for all its vastness, Music for Installation is quite a dense, claustrophobic experience at times – and it’s a quite remarkable experience, too.

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10th December 2022

Gintas K wraps up a(nother) truly prodigious year with a collaboration – and an apology. The Lithuanian sound artist hasn’t strayed so far from his experimental electronic roots, at least fundamentally, but at the same time, Sorry Gold does mark something of a substantial and significant departure.

As the accompanying text explains, ‘this recording was made on stage at the Project Arts Center in Dublin, during the making of the film Sorry Gold Emily Aoibheann. The artists improvised to the visual landscape of the rehearsal space, stage design and dancers…’ it was funded by the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon and Dublin City Council, supported by Dublin Fringe Festival, add the performances premiered as a part of Dublin Fringe Festival at Project Arts Centre in September 2019.’

With additional production and resigned from the original project, the album is only sort of a soundtrack, and the track numbering is both confusing and frustrating, with #1, #2, #4, #3, being followed by #4 #2, #2 #2, #4 #3 and #3 #2 before the more sequentially logical #5 and #6 conclude this most eclectic listening experience.

Replacing the glitching frenzy of bubbling, frothy digital frenzy that is Gintas K’s trademark is a much sparser, more minimal approach to composition, with single notes that sound like ersatz strings being plucked, atop quivering drones and low-rumbling organ sounds that fliker erratically like gas lights and resonating out into a spacious room. It has an almost orchestral feel, albeit distilled to absolute zero. The notes are a little fuzzy and ring out into emptiness, while the haunting vocals of Michelle O’Rourke are utterly mesmerising and border on transcendental. In combination, the atmosphere is deeply absorbing and heavily imbued with a spiritual, other-worldly element.

The first piece introduces us to a strange, haunting space beyond the familiar, and while it’s not by any means unpleasant, it is disconcerting, and sets the tone, ahead of ‘Sorry Gold #2’, which is melancholic, brooding, spaced-out notes hovering while O’Rourke ventures into almost operatic territories. It’s a not only a different atmosphere, but a different mood when placed alongside K’s other works: it feels a lot more serious, and has a different kind of energy, a different kind of intensity. I’m accustomed to feeling bewildered by the frenetic kineticism and abundant playfulness of his work. Sorry Gold isn’t entirely without joy, but it is much darker and much, much slower-paced, delivering a different kind of intensity.

It’s not until ‘Sorry Gold #4’ that things even hint at K’s more characteristic and overtly electronic noodling, and as the album progresses, we do encounter more of his feverish electronic tendencies, notably on the grinding ripples of ‘Sorry Gold #3’, but they’re much more restrained. ‘#4 #2’ brings a surging swampy wash of noise that’s a buzzing, grinding industrial blast of fizzing distortion. O’Rourke, barely audible in the sonic storm, sounds lost, detached.

Of the ten tracks, only two are under four minutes in length, and the pair use these extended formats to really push outwards: the ten-minute ‘Sorry Gold #4 #3’ brings helicoptering distortion that crashes in waves, at times low and rumbling, at others, crackling and fizzing with treble, and it creates a different kind of disturbance. Dissonance howls desolately on ‘#3 #2’, and so does , wracked with pain and spiritual anguish.

By the time we arrive at the brief and delicate bookend that is ‘Sorry Gold #6’, one feels inexplicably drained. The experience is somewhat akin to wandering ancient tunnels by flickering candlelight, observing ancient wall art while a subliminal mind-control experiment blasts random frequencies directly into your brain. You’re left feeling somehow detached, vaguely bewildered and bereft. And you feel deeply moved. Sorry Gold is special: Sorry Gold is bleak and harrowing, but it’s solid gold.

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Mille Plateaux – 23rd December 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Where do you go when the press describe your debut album “a game changer, the sound of the future, now”?

Ethernity was certainly an outstanding work, a hybrid electronic album of myriad forms in combination and juxtaposition, with no shortage of space-rock elements, but also many textures and layers, not to mention a fair amount of atmosphere and some noise.

The way to go, then, at least if you’re Simona Zamboli, is on your own direction. Instead of attempting to create Eternity II, she’s pursued her experimental bent to create a substantial body of work in a short time, with singles, EPs, and live performances all testing different angles, before narrowing her focus for this second album to explore a specific subject, namely laughter. She describes laughter as ‘a fragile rebellion’ which ‘can be also a kind of horror’. And there is no shortage of horror – or strangeness – on offer here.

Yes, it’s still electronic, and there are still loops and beats, but the vibe is quite, quite different on an album where, according to the accompanying notes, ‘Zamboli destroys the standards of the current horrible music of a harmonies-of-harmonies.’ Indeed, A Laugh Will Bury You belongs more to the Industrial scene of the late 70s and early 80s than anything else: the ominous murky tones of Throbbing Gristle, and the relentless barrages of percussion as typified by Test Dept and Einstürzende Neubauten. It’s a dense and often quite weighty work, and Zamboli counterpoints low, low, sub-bass frequencies with some pretty harsh treble while misting things in a murky midrange to quite claustrophobic effect.

‘Movement’ is the first composition to feature voice, and it manifests as an eerie, slightly twisted thing that renders the words difficult to decipher at times, and when they are clear enough, something about the delivery seems to alter their sense, somehow, taking on quite a nightmarish quality against a minimal, rumbling sonic background with backed-off beats thudding around low in the mix. Voice becomes another instrument as the album evolves, echoing, abstract, haunting, not quite present but not absent either.

There are moments of unexpected lightness, few as they are: ‘I’m not there’ is a pretty straight techno tune in many respects, the kaleidoscopic waves of synths spinning about an insistent beat that’s entirely danceable. ‘Dive’ is propelled by a glitched-up march of sorts. Time stalls as the loops twist, melt, and blur into one another on the slow and oppressive ‘Guiditta & Oloferne’, before ‘Corrosive Tears’ brings six minutes of mangled beat-driven abrasion and gnarly bass. The vocals sound more like howls of pain than peels of laughter, and there’s a sense of unease that permeates the work as a whole, and grows as the album progresses. It’s that sense of the eerie, the unheimlich; the near-familiar but not quite right. It feels like a burial, and any laughter you may splutter out is likely to be uneasy and mirthless.

And yet, as the ear-battering attack of the title track reins down a hard battery of beats and blasts of noise, as much as the feeling is one of tension, there is also, ultimately, joy. There is that release in catharsis, and the pleasure of experiencing sound used in such a radical and creative way that is uplifting in a way that words can only skirt around. A Laugh Will Bury You is more than just an album, more even than an evocative, multi-sensory experience, but something… immersive… and submersive. Let it bury you.

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