Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Membran – 1st June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Endless reverb? Check. Jangle? Check. Breezy vocals half-buried amidst swirling swathes of overdriven, FX-drenched guitars? Oh yes. If their 2016 debut, Either That Or The Moon, pitched DMT as significant and exciting proponents of pulsating psychedelic rock, their second absolutely cements it. It’s not about innovation, but quality. Quality of songs, quality of execution. And DMT deliver solid quality with consistency here. But that isn’t to say there’s no innovation here: Om Parvat Mystery finds the trio pushing boundaries more than merely their own, and this is an album that shoots off in all directions.

The album barrels in with ‘It’s All Good’, which is true to the promise of the title, before ‘Way Back to You’ crashes in with splintering guitar and a thumping, repetitive rhythm section driving a quintessential psych-hued shoegaze riff. ‘Spyders’ does that heavy groove thing, with a swirling blend of airiness and drive keeping it moving forward while at the same time pinning it to a single spot. The whole gloriously kaleidoscopic affair calls to mind Chapterhouse and early Ride. So far, so nice and true to type.

But Om Parvat Mystery represents a massive expansion for DMT. Granted, ‘VII’ may venture a bit too close to Oasis territory for comfort or to be entirely cool, although it’s salvaged by a brilliantly nagging echo-heavy lead guitar and some reverbed-to-fuck vocals that are more Jesus and Mary Chain than Gallagher brothers.

But this album finds the band expanding in myriad and often unexpected directions. I’m a sucker for long songs that have a turn around the mid-point. ‘Chemical Genius’ is one of those: it begins as a thumping desert shoegaze trip, with reverb stretching to a heat-hazed before a sudden turn into something altogether different. After an explosive mid-section, it becomes a lot more overtly dancey than anything they’ve ever done before, but by the same token, it’s all about the driving, motoric groove, and dense, shimmering atmosphere. And it’s at this that Desert Mountain Tribe excel. And because of these quite dramatically different moments, Om Parvat Mystery brings elements of surprise and exploration without alienating the established fan-base. Difficult second album? DMT have absolutely smashed it.

DMT - Om

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ANTIME – ANTIME20

Christopher Nosnibor

According the bio, ‘Bad Stream is guitars and machines vanishing in the spaces between Radiohead, The Notwist and Nine Inch Nails only to reemerge amidst ambient, noise, and drone. It marks Martin [Steer]’s attempt to release his own history, alienation and loneliness into the chaos of the digital world and to retain their substance in doing so.

This is very much Martin’s thing, essentially a solo project, and the album represents five years of work, of gathering, of sifting, of seeking ways to represent the realities of life in contemporary society.

“I look at my phone even while I’m playing guitar,” says Martin Steer, “and that isn’t even entirely voluntary. The 2010s really changed my perception of how digital technologies and social media affect me as a musician. Through Bad Stream I want to make sense of this particular kind of anxiety, and to use sensory overstimulation as a way to develop an independent and progressive musical language.”

I can relate. Starting out as a writer around the turn of the millennium, I was fascinated by the idea of postmodernism – because although the concept emerged in the 70s in considering writing of the 1950s and 1960s, I was completely engaged in the notion that this was something that was happening now. Whatever McLuhan, Lyotard, and Jameson, or Deleuze and Guattari had to say about the effects of accelerated communications and a ubiquitous blizzard of media and sensory overload, nothing could truly predict or account for the psychological impact of living in the second decade of the second millennium. Nothing we’ve seen before corresponds with the endless twitching, the nagging anxieties of text messages without response, the barren Facebook page, the diminishing Twitter following, the hassling, haranguing, emails and messages, the relentless barrage of information and contact from every direction.

Besides, theory and practise, however closely they endeavour to merge, invariably and inevitably exist with degrees of separation. And so it is with Bad Stream. It’s a nicely-assembled album, with some suitably dark and intense moments, and the production balances the slick, crisp ultra-digital with the messy, reverby, sonic halo that pulls it all back a way.

I often wonder what the musical landscape would look like if Nine Inch Nails hadn’t happened. It seems that one act not only spawned a genre unto themselves, but reshaped the musical landscape, to the point that what would once have sounded ‘edgy’ now sounds mundane, and so much can simply be filed as ‘derivative of Nine Inch Nails’. In drawing in a samples, semi-ambient segments and more besides, Steer extends hi sonic palette beyond the NIN template – but by the same token, Reznor’s shadow looms large over the majority of the compositions here.

Amidst the accessible (granted, it’s all relative) electro tunes, the bleak ‘Drown on Mars’ builds a pulsating bass groove over an insistent beat that call to mind the darker, more downbeat moments of The Downward Spiral and With Teeth. But where Steer separates from Reznor is his unswerving tendency to offer melody and chorus over obliterative noise. On the one hand, it’s a relief: life is punishment enough – but on the other, there’s a sense that he simply doesn’t push far or hard enough, and fails to convey the anguish, the anxiety, the trauma. ‘Polyzero’ is a cracking stab at surging shoegaze with a resonant electro throb, and it’s perfectly executed – a kind of hybrid of ‘March of the Pigs; with Nowhere era Ride. And I dig. But Bad Stream fails to convey the claustrophobia and relentless bombardment and the mental anguish it engenders. It’s a relatively minor criticism, though: everything is fucked-up enough as it is, and do we need more music that mirrors, even amplifies back, the torment of the overload that is life as we experience it? I’m too fried to conclude right now…

AA

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Sacred Bones – 8th June 2018

I’m accustomed to feeling tense and anxietised. It’s more or less my default setting. The insomnia. The 4am sweats, the nocturnal panic attacks that feel like asphyxiation. There are peaks and troughs, of course, although I often find that immersing myself in music that probably ought to add to my unsettlement has something of a neutralising effect. After a few wavering weeks, during which I discovered that Naproxen isn’t the painkiller for me right now, experiencing shortness of breath, accelerated heartbeat and heightened anxiety being the most pronounced of the side-effects. None of this was especially conducive to writing, and even listening to music was proving to be less enjoyable than usual. The prospect of facing my inbox was more than I could reasonably bare most days. A week after my last dose, I’m feeling the calmest and most overtly ‘normal’ I’ve felt in a fair while. If this is perhaps excessive disclosure, it’s a question of context. However objectively I want to operate as a reviewer, listening to music as a ‘job’ inevitably entails an element of the personal. There’s simply no escaping this. Any response to art necessarily involves a subconscious and emotional element. A critic is a person, not a machine: we don’t critique and opine with algorithms.

Sifting through the scores of emails, I’m cheered to find a fair few releases to get excited about. Where to start? Well, this seems like a reasonable opener…

That Uniform and The Body should come together – or perhaps collide, screaming head-on into one another – is a logical, if terrifying idea. It’s pitched as ‘a collaboration that pushes both bands far beyond their roots in industrial music and metal – creating an immersive listening experience that truly transcends genre’. And I suppose it does. The Body have long pushed far beyond the confines of metal, and have forged a career that thrives on collaboration – or, put another way, a career that extracts new levels of nastiness by channelling carnage through other acts.

It’s a messy, murky sonic miasma that seeps from the speakers: a cacophony of impenetrable shrieking – like some mass acid-bath or people trapped in a burning room as the flames seer their flesh – tears through a thick aural sludge that’s heavy on bass and light on production polish.

A nervous drum machine pumps frantically, as though in the throes of a panic attack, beneath a mess of noise on ‘The Curse of Eternal Life’. The vocals are distorted, dalek-like, and there’s more screaming in the background, and with everything buzzing and whirring away, it’s impossible to know what the fuck’s going on, let alone if there’s any kind of attempt at a tune in there. It’s like listening to the Dr Mix and the Remix album played on a shit stereo through next door’s wall.

There are crushing guitar chords and crashing beats on the slow grind of ‘Come and See’, evoking the essence of early Swans or Godflesh, but with Michael Berdan’s sneering vocal style, there’s an overtly punk aspect to the pulverizing industrial trudge. It may be one of the most structured compositions on the album – in that there are actual chord sequences audible through the sonic smog – but it’s still hard going. But then, it’s no accident: neither act is renowned for its accessibility or ease of listening. And when two acts as uncompromising as Uniform and The Body meet, and there’s still no compromise, then the sum is instantly an exponential amplification of uncompromising. It was always going to hurt: it was simply a question of how much. And it’s nothing short of punishing.

When they do turn things down a bit, back off the guitars, and tweak musical motifs from the electronic setup instead of extraneous noise, there are hints of melody – and even grace – these emerge through the fog on ‘In My Skin’, and in context, it’s almost soothing. In any other context, though, maybe not so much. It’s like saying that Prurient are soothing in comparison to Whitehouse.

Mental Wounds Not Healing is – to use a term all too often tossed about in reference to anything a bit raw or intense – visceral. Listening to the album, I realise I’m grinding my teeth, chewing my lip and gnawing at the inside of my check. I’m clenching my jaw, tightly. My shoulders are hunched. Mental Wounds Not Healing isn’t just intense: it makes me feel tense. The density and lack of separation makes for a sound where everything congeals into an oppressive morass. The production – such as it is – only emphasises the claustrophobic sensation; being unable to distinguish one sound from another elicits a broiling frustration, and a certain paranoia, as you wonder if maybe there’s something wrong with the speakers or your hearing. It’s not pleasant, and the seven songs – none of which run past the five-minute mark – make for an endurance test. And yet for all that, it’s a powerful experience. It’s no wonder the wounds aren’t healing: this is the soundtrack to scratching and scraping at the scabs, picking away until the blood seeps once more. Insofar as any psychological damage foes, this isn’t going to help, but it’s fair reflection of various tortured states.

AA

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Ventil Records V009 – 24th May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

ƒauna’s style is billed as ‘dystopian avant pop’, and her second album is a magnificent mosaic of alienation. Vintage drum machine sounds click and pop out spartan rhythms, overwhich bibbling synths loop and ripple.

The press release emphasises the album’s dominant themes – facing down an uncertain future, dissecting new digital identities, the importance of political activism – and points to the fact that Infernum is very much an album of our times. But so much of the album’s intrigue lies in its juxtapositional positioning, its straddling of contemporary and retro. This also applies in absolution to the sonic makeup of the album.

The first track, ‘Primus’ has ƒauna outline – in a detached robotic voice – the circumstances surrounding the making of the album. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the album as a whole, a work of retro-futurism which may or may not be autobiographical. It’s a mistake to synthesis the artist and the art, and this of course connects with the issues of identity – in particular virtual and digital identities. Who is ever truly themselves on-line, in public, in company? In any context, identity is a construct, and ƒauna explores the layers of construction here.

Supposedly emerging from ‘a dark crossroads between conceptual pop, downtempo hip-hop, and the euphoria of the club’, these influences manifest primarily in sparse electro compositions which resonate with the kind of tape-looping experimentalism of the underground of the late 70s and early 80s. The structures and overall production are sparse, the compositions perversely disjointed, deliberately angular, with .

Then again, the rolling synth swell of ‘Death Fly’ and bouncy insistence of ‘Lonely at the Top’ are crisp pop, distilled down and refined to its purest, most immediate from, while elsewhere, ‘Went Home Got Lost’ pushes more overtly contemporary dance-orientated tropes to quirky but affecting effect.

It’s an analogue take on an analogous representation of postmodernism: the collision of past, present, and future, with no clear distinction between the boundaries. And watching those boundaries dissolve with every clipped, synthetic beat is fascinating, and in some strange way, quietly exhilarating.

AA

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Exile On Mainstream – 11th May 2018

English intergenerational duo Noisepicker are one of the new generation of two-piece acts who sound like full bands. Not by virtue of any trickery, but because they whack everything up full tilt and rock hard. Peace Off sounds like a band, albeit one with the guitars and drums dominating the mix.

There are so many shades, but for Noisepicker, it’s a spectrum of subtle blues that colours their lumbering, riffy racket. The songs are heavy, raw, the lyrics dark. It may mark something of a stylistic shift for Earl of Mars and former Lord of Putrefaction Harry Armstrong, but he still pours all the anger into it, his thick-throated vocal roar the perfect vehicle for this kind of heavy, heavy scuzzed-out stoner blues metal.

Pulverizing, slow, heavy discord worthy of Swans circa 1984 swiftly yields to swaggering heavy rock on opener ‘No Man Lies Blameless, which thunders away with the grainy grungy heft of Black Sabbath as filtered through Melvins. It sets the tone, and the tempo: Peace Off very much favours weight and groove over pace, the riffs big and gutsy (although when they do pick up the face, as on ‘O What Mercy Sorrow Brings’, they really do drive hard and fast.

‘A Taste of My Dying’ is the grittiest, grainiest blues, dark and dirty and slowed to a crawl. Under any other circumstances, you’d be thinking about grime and sweat, but at this low, low tempo, it’s more of a case of Led Zep on Temazepam. Armstrong gargles and spits the words to ‘He Knew it Would All End in Tears’ against a roar of guitars and crashing drums: there’s nothing fancy about Kieran Murphy’s style, and that’s a virtue, as the songs are focused in a fashion that delivers optimal force.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Having – what feels like an eternity ago – raved about The Holy Orders, I find myself with front man Matt Edible’s sort-of solo album. It’s a fair bit less fiery and more introspective than his work with the band (who recently made their live return and look like getting their shit together again before too long) – to re point that it’s largely mellow and melodic, and draws on laid-back 70s rock for its stylistic touchstones. It’s also quite poppy in places. This isn’t a criticism, but an observation…and unexpected. But then, I’m unfamiliar with Matt’s original musical vehicle, Edible 5ft Smiths, who apparently made ‘one and a half of the greatest undiscovered albums of the noughties before burning up in a small blaze of glory’, and of which the music on this album represents something of a continuation of a trajectory.

‘Advent Beard’ surfaced on-line a couple of years, and as Christmas-themed breakup tunes delivered with roustabout energy and a certain ragged charm. Hearing it in the context of an album, in mid-May when I’m sweltering in some quite unseasonal heat and feeling hayfevery feels a bit incongruous. But on reflection, it’s a song about the sentiment rather than the season, and while Stairgazing isn’t a wet, sentimental album, it is fairly reflective and introspective and – dare I say it – emotional in its tone and content.

The title track is a frenzied fury of angular guitars and vocals that are the sound of a man at every last one of his limits. And then it comes on a bit Dinosaur Jr, which is even better. Elsewhere, ‘Nightclubbing’ (not a cover of either David Essex or Iggy Pop) is a light, folksy-indie effort, and the sparse, piano-led ‘The Healing’, which ventures into post-rock grandeur, with its multi-layered vocals and epic, proggy instrumental play-out, offers another facet of Edible’s songwriting skills.

It’s Matt’s voice that really makes it, perhaps more than the material itself. The man has range, effortlessly moving between gritty and grungy, and soaring sort-of falsetto. In part comparable to James Dean Bradfield in tone and timbre, Edible simply has a great voice: affecting, versatile, listenable and affecting in all the right places,

Stairgazing doesn’t have the rock ‘n’ roll punch of anything by The Holy Orders, but that isn’t grounds for criticism: Matt Edible as delivered a solid and entertaining album that’s quite different, and all the better for it.

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AA

KSCOPE – 8th June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Mansun’s Six stands as one of my favourite albums of all time. It came at a particular time of life and in an era where anything remotely proggy was so out of vogue that it was amazing a major label would even release it. While not nearly as outré by comparison, it’s predecessor and the band’s debut, Attack of the Grey Lantern was a long way out of step with the rest of the indie / Britpop scene. It probably achieved success – and a reputation which has endured remarkably, as this reissue which marks its twenty-first anniversary attests – because of its idiosyncratic nature, rather than in spite of it. Its hitting the top of the charts seems as remarkable now as it did then: it’s a mixed-bag mish-mash of ideas, an oddball half-attempt at a concept album that collects a bunch of singles / EP lead tracks with material that was penned specifically for the all-important debut album. It shouldn’t work. It should never have worked.

It perhaps goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: this is very much one for the fans, and lovely as it is, does come with a whiff of cash-in, especially as it’s not even the first reissue the album’s been subject to. You may be forgiven for thinking the 2010 3-disc ‘collector’s edition’, which gathered all of the B-sides from the various attendant EPs and a bundle of acoustic versions, etc., had it more than covered, especially in the wake of the 2004 3-disc retrospective Kleptomania did a fair job of gathering EP B-sides and rarities alongside the material tat had been in development for the band’s fourth album, which was abandoned prior to completion.

Having kept Six on (albeit infrequent) rotation over the last (mumble) years (being inundated with material for review means I often struggle to find time to listen to my own collection. This has, over time, created a strange separation between music for work and music for pleasure, despite the fact the two very often become one and the same. I would also add that not only have I developed an unquenchable thirst for the new, but my difficult relationship with notions of nostalgia often keeps me away from the albums I played the grooves off in my more formative years, not necessarily because they’re painful or even because they’ve dated, but because they’ve become so ingrained in my psyche, I don’t actually need to hear them for them to be floating around in my head on spontaneous recall), I only revisited Attack of the Grey Lantern a few months back for the first time in a good five years.

From the bond-inspired string intro to ‘The Chad Who Loved Me’ through the brash indie-pop of ‘Egg-Shaped Fred’ to the instant classic that was ‘Wide Open Space’, it still stands up as a great album. The aching, soaring strings and unusual arrangements set something of a template, and if the rolling piano and orchestral layers of ‘Dark Mavis’ sound somewhat cliché in 2018, it’s important to remember that songs simply didn’t sound like this in 97 – and in terms of execution, they remain leagues above of those who attempted to emulate them. It was all in the extraneous and sometimes quite unusual details, the quirks and kinks that Mansun showed themselves to be different.

Did it need remastering? Listening to an MP3 promo doesn’t reveal a world of difference from the original. And that’s ok: there wasn’t anything wrong with the original. It just means that the remastered aspect is perhaps less of a purchase incentive than the additional unreleased material.

The demos are interesting: the drum-machine led version of ‘Dark Mavis’, which borders on goth stands as one of the most ‘in progress’ recordings, although many aren’t radically different from the final versions beyond being a bit rougher. As for the radio sessions… going back to the band’s October 95 Peel session proves informative, and contextualises the ban’s evolution, as well as demonstrating just how rapidly they developed from brash, bratty indie into a different kind of beast altogether. Draper’s at his most nasal and whoopy on ‘Skin Up Pin Up’ and melodic signatures which would resurface in later songs are evident here. Songs like ‘Naked Twister’ are delivered in classic session style – recorded quickly, they’re less polished but more direct than their official studio counterparts. And then there’s the fourth disc, the DVD…

With 21 years elapsed, the timing feels right, and seeing Paul Draper’s solo return being positively received, there’s a sense that the Mansun revival is well under way, and deservedly so. This, however, is unlikely to win any new converts: the mere cost and overwhelming volume of material on a four-disc version of an album is simply beyond the casually interested or the passing fan. Whether it’s satisfying a need or milking the existing fan-base I wouldn’t like to say, but as reissues go, this one is at least comprehensive and well-assembled.

AA

Mansun - Attack