Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Trisol Music Group – 18th January 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

For some, I’m retreading old ground here and will likely sound like the proverbial stuck record, but recent developments render this relevant, timely, and appropriate. Over the last 30 years or so, the neofolk scene has been the haunt of some extremely shady characters, with Death in June’s Douglas Pearce and Tony Wakeford (Sol Invictus, formerly of Death in June) having some particularly dodgy connections including Boyd Rice (and not forgetting that Wakeford was at one time a member of the British National Front and contributed a track to a BNF benefit album alongside Skrewdriver and Brutal Attack). As such, even accepting the protestations of the purveyors of some of the most turgid tunes ever committed to tape that they’re simply flirting with fascist imagery to provoke thought and challenge the audience and so s in the name of ‘art’, recent revelations by harsherreality via Tumbr that Pearce was photographed as recently as 2012 with notorious and now-jailed neo-nazi Claudia Patatas and her former partner, who was the band’s driver, and Tony Wakeford can also be seen to be connected with her via Facebook highlights undesirable elements run through the scene like veins of fat in a cheap cut of meat. In her capacity as a freelance photographer, Patatas provided cover imagery for the Death in June albums Black Angel – Live, Abandon Tracks, and The Rule Of Thirds.

As respected blogger John Eden Tweeted a few weeks back, ‘This raises a number of awkward questions for the dwindling number of Death In June fans who still insist that the group is not political, and is just fascist cosplay for people who want to wank off about the “darker side of humanity”.’

None of this is to remotely suggest that Rome have any sympathises or even connections with anything neo-nazi, but to contextualise why any mention of neofolk rings alarm bells and puts me on edge, and why I’ll inevitably approach an album by a band pitched being ‘one of the most important figures in the neofolk genre’ with extreme trepidation – especially on reading that ‘The music unites American folklore with Chanson and the angst-ridden tristesse of English Post Punk – ‘Chanson Noir’, as leading man and sole permanent member Jerome Reuter once called it.’ Why? Because Tony Wakeford describes his supposed post-punk/fok crossover act Sol Invictus’ work not as neofolk, but ‘folk noir’. There’s also the pitch that on Rome’s thirteenth album Le Ceneri Di Heliodoro (‘The ashes of Heliodoro’), ‘Reuter does not shy away from the provocative and ambiguous and thus tackles new terrain and touchy subject matters such as Europe’s dissolving unity, or its relations to the US and the fragile fraternity of its nations.’ So far, so vague.

‘Provocative and ambiguous’ is the shield worn by the shadiest of neofolk’s exponents. But here, it seems credible that Rome are approaching things from a rather different angle, citing ‘a long tradition of lonesome guitar heroes, outcasts moving about restlessly, pursued by their dreams and demons, dedicated to a life beyond the pale. Reuter takes musical nods from Jacques Brel, Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Michael Gira, Nick Cave – architects of melancholy.’ Moreover, Reuter has identified repeatedly as left-wing, and renounced any nazi element of his fanbase, remarking in an interview with Reflections of Darkness (for whom I used to scribe occasionally) that ‘people are stupid’. And he’s right: in many cases, one can only be responsible for one’s own actions, and no artist chooses their fans, least of all the misguided ones who misunderstand and misrepresent them.

So, given the artist’s efforts to distance himself from the bad elements, should I be concerned that this album is being released on a label which has also released albums by Boyd Rice, Death in June, and Above the Ruins, another Tony Wakeford project? Probably not, unless we’re also going to place KMFDM, Godflesh, Nitzer Ebb and Lydia Lunch in the ‘problematic by choice of label’ bracket. I’m questioning the label’s choices here, not the artists.

‘Sacra Entrata’ opens the album with discordant chimes, droning organ, and thumping martial drums providing the backdrop a portentous spoken word piece about revolution and uprising, while building tension, ‘A New Unfolding’ presents an acoustic strum and more march-time drumming while Reuter sings about how a ‘new world is calling’. The Germanic backing vocals being a mystery to me, but I’ll assume they don’t connote the militaristic rally cries they sound like. Assuming they’re ‘safe’, it’s a bold, brooding epic of a song that stirs something deep inside. Perhaps this is what Reuter means by ‘provocative and ambiguous’.

‘Who Only Europe Knows’ fades out with the refrain ‘we’re building ghettos’, and asks ‘will there be rivers of blood?’ – evoking renowned and divisive 1968 ‘Birmingham Speech’ which criticised mass immigration, and a pro-unity, pro-European stance appears to be a central focus of Le Ceneri Di Heliodoro. Elsewhere, the orchestrally-enhanced ‘Fliegen wie Vögel (Fly Like a Bird’) and ‘One Lion’s Roar’ boast epic production behind Reuter’s gravelly vocals.

Le Ceneri Di Heliodoro is a lengthy and bold album, rich in atmosphere and heavy allusions. It boasts some moments of substantial power and almost subliminal resonance. Again, at times it feels incredibly pedestrian and po-faced, and takes sincerity to a point beyond the palatable. There’s grand, and there’s grandiose, and it’s a line not trodden too carefully here. But equally, everything is carefully executed, and Rome demonstrate a sense of scale here, and an appreciation of the gravity of the turbulent times in which we find ourselves.

Rome – Le Ceneri Di Heliodoro

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Panarus Productions – 25th January 2019

Sometimes, I don’t help myself. I allow myself to disappear down rabbit holes of hypertext and to indulge myself in the worst, most mentally unhealthy ways while writing thinly-veiled work of fiction. Right what you know, right? Only, when what you know is anxiety laced with paranoia from two decades of exposure to corporate culture and rolling television news, gravitating towards the things you feel you should know more about to bolster the experiences of what you know, the echo-chamber of confirmation-bias just becomes a screaming howl of endless reverb.

And depressingly often, sooner or later, life imitates art. Over the last few days, I’ve received texts from friends telling me they’re witnessing scenes reminiscent of Retail Island at the very retail park that inspired the book. It was of course inevitable: in a time when the news channels have evolved into irony-free replicas of The Day Today, it’s night-on impossible to separate Ballardian dystopias located in credibly near futures from news reportage.

It was similarly inevitable that I would gravitate towards this release by Heat Death Of The Sun – or, moreover, that it would otherwise find me one way or another. The label promises

‘half an hour oppressive electronics’ and a work that’s ‘very much the soundtrack to some kind of automated authoritarian surveillance network’. Of course I’m sold.

The first of the album’s five tracks, ‘Currency of Faith’ opens with a recording of Dylan Thomas reading ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ in expansive, ominous tones: slowly, low, rumbling drones begin to eddy around and slow, deliberate beats crash in like thunder. Before long, it’s built into a claustrophobic buzz with extraneous noise surges and a monotonous industrial rhythm clattering, half-submerged but cutting through the murk with a sharp metallic edge. Oppressive is the word, and not even a choral intervention can lift the atmosphere beyond subterranean dankness.

A tension-inducing uptempo beat – an insistent clicking hammer that thumps and thumps and thumps – introduces ‘The Relentless Pound of Austerity’ and continues to thump away monotonously for over ten minutes, amidst a whirling eddy of off-key atonality, a midrange buzzing and a collage of samples. There’s no way you can get comfortable listening to this as you feel your heartbeat increasing and your jaw clenching spontaneously, especially near the end when a shriek of digital feedback increases to an unbearable, ear-splitting level and engulfs everything. It’s fucking horrible – and as such, it’s the perfect soundtrack to the now, the lack of levity and lack of breathing space the sonic representation of the inescapable blizzard of media we’re subjected to all day, every day.

Guiding the listener through a bleak soundscape of dark ambience pinned together by monotonous rhythms, the experience of listening to this album is an uncomfortable one: even the delicate twitter of birdsong is imbued with a sense of impending doom. And it leads down the path which culminates in the pounding industrial grind of the title track. Awkward oscillations shiver behind a slow electronic beat while mechanical noise and voices echo into the abyss for eight full minutes, spreading an atmosphere of dislocation and alienation that fittingly draws the album to a stark, cold close.

Heat Death

Monika Entreprise – monika93 – 7th December 2018

Although active on the German music scene since the late 70s, it wasn’t until 2007 that Gudrun Gut released her first solo album. She’s maintained a steady output over the last decade, while also operating labels Monika Enterprise and Moabit Musik. And while very much married to the field of electronic music, one could never describe her work as predictable or standard, and Moment is no exception. Describing it not as an album, or even a collection of songs, but a ‘statement’, she promises a work which is ‘stark, somber, sultry, and clever, [on which] the sides slide between ballad and lament, synth-pop and spoken word, anthemic and abstract.

From the opening motoric beat and throbbing electronica of ‘Startup Loch’, over which Gudrun Gut lays monotone robotic vocals, Moment presents a sparse retro electro style. Heavy repetition and monotony are the defining features of the album’s fourteen tracks which thud away, on and on. ‘Lover’ is exemplary, grinding out a single looped pulse over a square 4/4 beat bereft of fills for over five minutes, while the cover of Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ is an object lesson in cold clinicality, stripping out the flamboyance – and tune – on the original, and replacing both with a discordant drone.

As much DAF as Kraftwerk, it’s every inch German-built in its fabric. The atmosphere is one of detachment and sterility, but in that clipped early 80s style that makes optimal use of reverb and precise production. There’s something about that stripped-back analogue synthiness paired with mechanoid percussion that’s more chilling and glacial than contemporary digital production can muster. And by these means, Gudrun Gut gives a lesson in distancing, in detachment, in music that segregates the cerebral from the soul.

The experimentalism becomes more pronounced as the album progresses. ‘Biste schon weg’ pulls apart structure and stretches at the edges of linear time to warp some woozy bass and glitchy, clattering beats which slowly collapse from rhythm to deconstruct the very components of composition, presenting an exploded view of music-making. Gradually, the forms become increasingly indistinct, more fragmented, more abstract, delineated and disconnected. Cohesion crumbles to slow-drifting sonic separation as delineation and decay define the evermore nebulous forms.

Moment is not as the title suggests, a single moment, but a succession of moments which blur into one another. Collectively, the pieces create a unique listening space in which time folds in on itself and stretches, bending, in all directions. A moment to get lost in.

Neue Moment M93 LP Out.indd

Ipecac Recordings – 26th October 2018 (Lauren)

The title of Daughters’ fourth full-length is perhaps self-explanatory. It’s certainly going to not appeal to a lot of people. Most people, in fact. The first track, ‘Cities’ is a grinding dirge driven by a grimy, oppressive low-end throb and crashing percussion that’s reminiscent of early Swans and that plods along for five minutes or so before exploding into a supernova f brain-drilling noise. And then things start getting really ugly.

‘Long Road No Turns’ lurches into truly horrible discord, the atonal semi-monotone vocal pitched against a screeding metallic noise and pumping heartbeat drum that breaks into manic chaos, but somehow ends up with a gentle harpsichord strum to fade. And you’re left staring into space, tense, heartrate accelerated, wondering just what the actual fuck you just heard. This is precisely the album’s appeal. It’s spectacularly unpredictable, and spectacularly noisy, but also impressively articulate in musical terms.

By contrast, ‘Satan in the Wait’ is a mote structured and melodic affair, with picked notes and loping drums building to well-placed crescendos. It’s still a bleak noise-orientated construction, but the slanted Am Rep / T&G influenced racket is coloured with a strain of Bauhaus-like art rock. And Daughters aren’t afraid to experiment: the low-slung sleaze of ‘Less Sex’ is altogether more electronic in its persuasion, a deliberate beat underpinning a deep, dark bass oscillation and big ruptures of racket on top by way of punctuation. It’s low and slow and inches into bleak technoindustrial territory. And yet it sits remarkably comfortably within the overall shape of the album. Comfortable is of course relative.

For the most part, though, it’s a blistering frenzy of angular, guitar-driven noise that sits with the best of The Jesus Lizard, Shellac, Blacklisters with the howling mania of ‘Guest House’ proving a lurching, awkward standout. ‘Let me in!’ Alexis Marshall hollers, deranged.

‘Daughter’ is also exemplary when it comes to the band’s dark, dingy genre-straddling noise, incorporating elements of both electro-based industrial doom-disco and jagged: it’s a monster tempest of difficult noise that’s hard to place and even harder to contain or categorise. The vocals, manic, clean but with the edges fuzzed by distortion; the bass, low, dirty, distorted and thick, the drums gritty and overloading…. And so on.

‘The Reason They Hate Me’ is a thunderous, blistering standout that invited favourable comparisons to Pissed Jeans’ recent work, while the lumbering lurch of seven-and-a-half minute closer melds 90s noise rock, Pavement-inspired wonkiness, and The Fall’s bloody-minded bludgeoning of just two or three chords into oblivion for an eternity. Likewise the taut, nagging ‘Ocean Song’ that exploits not only quiet / loud dynamics to full and challenging effect, but also pushes minimal chords and maximum dissonance to achieve optimal tension and discomfort.

You Won’t Get What You Want isn’t an album that leaves you feeling satisfied. Restless, twitchy, uncomfortable, on edge, yes, drained and even ruined, but satisfied, less likely.

AA

Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want

Green Recordings – 30th November 2018 (Big Mouth)

A Gradual Decline is the debut album by CUTS, the audio-visual project of composer and filmmaker Anthony Tombling Jr. It follows the release of the EP ‘A Slow Decay’, which came out in October. The titles suggest a trajectory, an overarching theme, and Tombling’s preoccupation with environmental issues and global warming is the key here. “We are living in the age of the Anthropocene and it feels like everything is in decline,” he says.

He explains the process and inspiration as follows: “I have tried to make a record that feels like it’s all come from one place. My only musical influence on this was William Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’. Not the music, but the process. The idea of a decline in sound really suited the concept of this record. All this music and instrumentation trapped in this declining digital signal. I wanted it to sound brittle and precarious. I also wanted to avoid doing overly dark material, opting instead for something that was more fragile, melancholic and even hopeful in moments.”

As such, this is a concept work, and a concept that’s conveyed by the medium of chilled-out electronica, propelled by quite mellow beats. And while there is a melancholy hue to the instrumentation it doesn’t exactly say ‘potential collapse of civilisation’ or ‘global warming: aaargh, we’re all fucked’. This is no criticism: it’s hard to reconcile the now with the future prospects was talk about endlessly but never seem to reach. Even positioning the Anthropocene is problematic, although using the increasingly popular placing of post-1945 as the marker, with that year being tipped by the Geological Society as The Great Acceleration in terms of the impact of human activity on climate and environment as the defining feature of the current geological age, is perhaps instructive in the context of Tombling’s comments that “we’re in a moment where extinction is regular. I wanted this record to reflect these frailties.”

The press release promises ‘11 widescreen, electronic compositions in response to global political and environmental breakdown,’ and explains how A Gradual Decline addresses the planet’s current fragility using actual field recordings of ice collapsing from glaciers’. This isn’t apparent in the music itself, and a lot of A Gradual Decline given to quite simple, straight-ahead electronica, and while there are warping synth washes to be found hither and thither, it’s gentle and genteel and doesn’t instil a gut-churning sense of panic. Then again, some of the pieces are quite stark and spacious.

The album’s trajectory is – as the title suggests – gradual. The pace slows and structures become increasingly loose and delineated, beats more fractured and fragmented as it progresses. It’s fitting: the slide into increasingly turbulent weather isn’t something noticeable on a day-to-day basis and on a global scale, rapid change is relative.

But by the time the listener has drifted through the rippling piano rolls and low-stuttering pulsations of ‘Maboroshi’ and the dilapidated slow-drone ambience of ‘Fear of Everything’ which suddenly vanishes to nothing after thirteen minutes of formless drift, the sense of journey becomes finally apparent.

A Gradual Decline is an album that makes more sense and grows in appeal with time to absorb and assimilate, to reflect and to refocus. Given time, A Gradual Decline makes sense. Its just a shame we don’t have the luxury of time to save the planet.

AA

CUTS - A Gradual Decline

Ipecac Recordings – 23rd November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Planet B finds Justin Pearson – of Dead Cross, Retox, and more bands and projects than even he could probably name – pair up with hip-hop producer Luke Henshaw. The result is a gloriously mangled hybrid of punk and hip-hop that’s more in the vein of the crossover collaborations that featured on the Judgement Night soundtrack than anything thrown up subsequently by nu-metal or anything else that’s followed. No doubt this is something Ipecac head honcho Mike Patton considered when the album landed with the label, having delivered the belting ‘Another Body Murdered’ with Faith No More in collaboration with Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. back in ’93.

Having spent what seems like forever criticising people for becoming fogeys prematurely and becoming locked in an era that corresponds with their late teens / early twenties and bemoaning the fact that there’s no new music that’s any good, I’ll confess with no small disappointment that just typing that gave me a major pang of nostalgia, and that I haven’t listened to any mainstream or chart music in about eight years now, and I really don’t know who’s who or what the kidz are listening to now (and although I have been subjected to ‘What Does the Fox Say?’, Pingfong’s ‘Baby Shark Dance’ and ‘Skibidi’ by Little Big, I’m not sure how representative these are of anything). But the notion that there’s no new music that’s any good is patent bollocks. The fact of the matter is there’s more good new music emerging now than ever before – it’s just a matter of taste and knowing where to find it. Ipecac, it has to be said, are pretty consistent as a source of things both noisy and strange, and while the styles and forms may not be entirely predictable, the quality usually is. Planet B’s eponymous debut is illustrative, and while it’s new music with roots in older music, it still doesn’t sound quite like anything else current.

Political and pissed off, Planet B is an album with attack, taking not the mellowed out doped-up end of hip-hop but presents a fiery force-for-change antagonism that’s more Body Count or Beastie Boys at their best. As one would reasonably expect from an act featuring Justin Pearson, the result isn’t pretty, but it is pretty intense, and ‘Crustfund’ makes for a strong start: deep, pounding hip-hop beats and snarling synths provide the backdrop to an uncompromising and aggressive vocal courtesy of Kool Keith, (one of a roll-call of inspired guests featured on the album).

Things take a turn for the more direct and driving with the fast-paced pulsating groove of ‘Join a Cult’ – the backing sounds like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, while the vocals are a pure punk whooping holler, brimming with anger and nihilism. ‘Manure Rally’ and ‘Come Bogeyman’ are also thunderous stompers reminiscent of Ministry (the latter featuring the percussive talents of Martin Atkins), and big mid-tempo beats and dense, looping low-end are one of the defining features of the album as a whole. This certainly contributes to providing Planet B with a sense of cohesion – which is much-needed given its eclecticism.

Like many, I’m wary of covers of songs I really, really like, and am often heart howling in despair ‘Sacrilege! How could they do that?’ or, conversely, ‘why did they bother? It doesn’t do anything different.’ The cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down’ is unexpected – slowed down, stripped down, it’s brutal and ugly – and quite outstanding.

Although the production is significantly cleaner and the overall, and the vibe altogether less violent, Planet B shares shouty, sneering, snotty common ground with Uniform’s The Long Walk. And as The Long Walk is one of my favourite albums of the year (despite its relentless fury and clanging noise invariably leaving me physically and emotionally drained and with a headache), it’s a big thumbs up for Planet B.

AA

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OUS – OUS017 – 30th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibpr

Juxtapositions… oppositions… rippling waves of abstraction shimmer in broad washes while darker current bubble beneath… but the mood soon turns ugly as the bubbing low end becomes a churning throb and the soft waves harden into sharp-edged shards and extraneous sounds interrupt the smooth edges.

On ‘Feel Safe’ time and sound warp and blur: the time signature is but an illusion, an allusion to time rather than any true marker, and the naturally-occurring rhythms which emerge from the interweaving notes are constantly shifting, at first disorientating but gradually the while weft and warp becomes an aural blanket that softly smothers the senses and envelops the listener.

Nemeček conjures so many layers and with such subtlety it’s often hard to appreciate just how much is happening simultaneously. The soft rolling bass and drifting, cloud-like mid-ranges of ‘Organs’ become subject to crackling interference toward the end of the track, while ‘Incidents I’ is a disorientating oscillation.

The digital release benefits from the inclusion if ‘Incidents II’ which segues into ‘Incidents I’ and is a slow-building beat-backed blast of thunder that swells to epic proportions, and while the mellifluous sonic nebulae are as expansive and kaleidoscopically immersive as they come the dense, deliberate beats an booming detonations of sub-bass provide a sense of structure and form that focuses the attention back in. That isn’t to say the form places Recurrences fully foreground, or that the compositions even hint at linearity: they drift in and drift out again without having an overt direction. And all of this is good.

Recurrences is constructed as an ambient work, and its semi-abstract form and drifting layers of soft-focus vapouresness more than fulfil that criteria: that there’s more besides and beyond doesn’t detract from that ambition, and Recurrences is something of a masterclass in advanced ambient which occupies background, foreground, middleground, and twists the psyche all at once.

AA

Recurrences