Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Christopher Nosnibor

Originally released in 1999, Music from the Empty Quarter was Photographed by Lightning’s fifth album. The band described it as ‘their Troutmask Replica, their Tago Mago’, forewarning the listener that it’s ‘a monstrous slice of avant jazz, musique concrete Lovecraftian horror and should under no circumstances be listened to while under the influence of ‘substances’, and it’s immediately clear why. Like Trout Mask, it seems to be an album intended to be as difficult and challenging as possible, the sound of four musicians playing four different tunes in different keys and time signatures at the same time.

A strolling bassline stops and starts, runs and halts against a thunking beat. Everything’s up to the max, resulting in a slightly fuzzed-out sound, murky with the edges frayed by distortion. And over all of it, horns honk and parp, weaving weird patterns. This is the first of the four parts of ‘Al Azif’, scattered at strategic points across the album, with the same nagging bass motif recurring on each, as if in some attempt to give some sense of structure or cogency to the deranged, sprawling mass of weirdy noise. While three of the four parts are comparatively short, ‘Al Azif 4’ is a colossal twenty-one minutes in duration, but there’s a hell of a lot to wade through before – namely the whole of disc one.

‘Reptiles Invent The Amniotic Egg’ is a slow-trudging grind, somewhere between Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin’s GOD, and SWANS, and ‘Foehn’ occupies similarly dark, weighty territory. Meanwhile, ‘Pop Song’ stands out as the most accessible track here, a snappy number with an actual semblance of a tune that’s reminiscent of early Public Image – but after a minute and a bit, they’re done, and back to making the most chaotic racket going with the frenzied discord of ‘The Assembly of Membranes’, and taking things up a notch on ‘Timing of Cellularisation’ which sounds like The Fall playing next door to Merzbow, and they’ve both left the door open and you’re standing in the corridor between the two.

By the time you’ve been battered by the murky wasteland that is the noodling delirium of ‘Mosses Invade the land’, with its impenetrable vocals, and the unexpectedly folksy lo-fi indie of Sugar Fist – part Silver Jews, part Syd Barrett, you arrive dizzied and dazed at ‘Al Azif 3’ with a strange sense of déjà-vu, before disc two arrives with more of the same – literally. That sensation of being on an endlessly recurring loop is a headfuck almost on a par with Rudimentary Peni’s Pope Adrian 37th Psychristiatric, but perhaps more realistically an approximation of The Fall’s ‘Bremen Nacht’ repetitions on The Frenz Experiment and accompanying 7”.

The demented, snarling vocals, that gibber and gnash away into the drifting fade of horns is most unsettling as disc two gets dubby and deranged on the fourth instalment, and after the brief interlude that is ‘Hypoxia’, the fifteen-minute title track is a yawning, droning swirl of somnambulance, a ritualistic swell and groan with laser rockets arcing over its bubbling, swampy expanse.

This is fucking heavy stuff: not heavy in the metal sense, but in the sense that’s it’s relentlessly oppressive and lasts an eternity. It’s absolutely bloody great, but it’s also probably the soundtrack to life in purgatory. You have been warned.

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Cold Spring Records – 16th April 2021

Edward S. Robinson

William Burroughs maintained a prolific output over the course of his lengthy career, and not only in the written form, committing many hours of recordings to tape. Yet even now, Brion Gysin’s contribution remains largely overlooked, despite being not only the man who ‘discovered’ the cut-ups and introduced the idea to Burroughs, but as a long-term collaborator and an outstanding polyartist in his own right. This album devotes a significant portion of the second side to Gysin’s recordings, and goes some way to redress the balance, although one suspects the immense Burroughs mythos will mean Gysin will eternally exist as a (lengthy) sidenote.

A great many of those recordings made by Burroughs – with Gysin – have been released, and a number are almost legendary in Burroughs circles in their own right, notably the 1965 introductory collection Call Me Burroughs (re-released recently), and the collection of audio experiments released in 1981 on Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial Records as Nothing Here Now But the Recordings.

Now, the last time I reviewed a Burroughs release, Let Me Hang You, back in 2016, I copped some flak from certain quarters of the online community of Burroughs fans and experts for having failed to spot that what was pitched as a ‘new’ recording excavated from the archive was in fact a previously-released recording of Burroughs with new music. My bad, as they say: I’d failed to fully research all aspects of my 1,400-word critique. Like The Who, I won’t get fooled again.

The liner notes for this vinyl-only release contextualise as follows: ‘Rare recordings of beat/cut-up writers and artists William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Comprises the complete recording of Burroughs reading live in Liverpool in 1982, plus performances by Gysin of a selection of his permutated poems, as well as home recordings made by the pair in Paris in 1970. All recordings are taken from original tapes in the British Library collection.’ If ‘rare’ suggests unreleased or otherwise incredibly difficult to find, it’s worth noting that this exact track listing was released on CD, with a running time of sixty-six minutes, in 2012 by the British Library on its own label under the title The Spoken Word, credited to William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin and is available via Discogs for a tenner. The cover image is also the same as the British Library release. That said, of all the Burroughs CDs I own, this isn’t among them, and I’ve never seen a copy or heard the majority of the material, and in many ways, this is as much about the artefact as it is about the material, and if the title seems a little lacking, at least it’s descriptive of the contents.

The Live in Liverpool recording is an interesting one, recorded as it was the night after Burroughs’ reading in Manchester as part of The Final Academy tour, where Burroughs featured alongside Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV, and 23 Skidoo, as well as screenings of the experimental movies Burroughs made with Gyson and Anthony Balch. The Manchester Hacienda performance was filmed, but only edited highlights made it to the ‘Final Academy Document’ released in 1983 on Factory subsidiary IKON, and re-released on DVD by Cherry Red in 2002.

However familiar you may be with Burroughs’ voice, the first few minutes of playback on a recording has an impact. No-one else sounds like Burroughs: that perfectly-enunciated drone – well-spoken, slow, deliberate – not a drawl as such, just a flat, paced rhythm with unique intonation and timbre just hits you somehow. And so it does again as that voice echoes across the decades from c.1963 on the first piece, ‘The Beginning Is Also The End (Excerpt)’, also credited elsewhere by its opening line, ‘I am not an addict, I am the addict’. Cracked, as dry as parchment, the voice summarises one of the leading themes of his work, particularly his most famous novel, Naked Lunch.

The Liverpool set opens with a reading from the foreword from his recently-completed but as-then-unpublished novel The Place of Dead Roads, where he outlines the world view that divides the population into Johnsons and shits. Obviously, back in 1982 he could not have predicted the rise to power of a shit called Johnson. The performance finds Burroughs – then aged sixty-eight in fine form – sprightly, energetic, and engaging, and demonstrating precisely why he was in demand as a spoken-word performer during his later career. He’s not only a great performer – clearly well-rehearsed, he doesn’t fluff a line, and his timing is impeccable – and entertaining, but he’s also funny, the tongue-in-cheek humour perhaps translating better via the medium of spoken word than on the page. The lively characterisations are delivered with gusto, and the audience response speaks for itself. You didn’t have to be there to appreciate this, but is certainly makes you wish you had been. Touching on smallpox and ‘anti-vaccination cults’, we’re once again reminded of Burroughs’ prescience.

Gysin’s voice – also well-spoken, but distinctly English and sounding for all the world like a 1950s newscaster as he advocates trying cut-ups for yourself to see the words ‘gush into action’ – contrasts with Burroughs’, and the audio quality of ‘Cut-Ups Self-Explained’, recorded between 1960 and 1962 but which would not see the light of day as a text until 1978 on the publication of The Third Mind, is somewhat muffled. But as an archival recording, it’s absolute gold. It’s hard to really know what’s going on during ‘I Am This Painter Brion Gysin’, and it sounds like the scraping of a marker against a wall-mounted pad. You feel as if you’re only getting half the story.

But then the sequence of ‘pistol poems’ is something else: bewildering, baffling at times they are best appreciated as sound, and works rather than poems hearing Gysin work through the permutations of ‘I’ve Come To Free The Words’, ‘No Poets Don’t Own Words’, ‘Kick That Habit Man’ and ‘I Am that I Am’ is revelatory (the latter featuring some wild pitch-shifting and delay / echo effects), although his delivery of ‘Junk is No Good Baby’ is simply hilarious. The layered cut-up experiment of ‘Calling All Reactive Agents’, which featured on the Break Through in Grey Room album on Sub Rosa in 1986, is also a remarkable example of rudimentary sampling and looping a fill two decades before the start of the real electronic revolution which saw the likes of Cabaret Voltaire and Foetus advance the principles in a musical context.

The four short Burroughs tracks that close off the album are scratchy experiments in multi-tracking that might not sound like much now, but in context, they provide essential insights into recording history.

As such, while this release provides no material which hasn’t been circulated before, it does bring a remarkable collection of material back into focus, and perhaps to a new audience – and of course, on a format that previously wasn’t available. For that experience of sitting down and concentrating, vinyl is hard to beat, and this is a release worth digesting at leisure.

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Red Hook Records – 16th April 2021

Red Hook Records is the new label set-up by former ECM producer, Sun Chung. Hanamichi is Red Hook’s debut release. And what a prestigious release it is.

This is no casual, passing release or minor effort, and it’s certainly not a stop-gap space-filler of a release in the body of Kikuchi’s work: Hanamichi represents the final studio recordings made by the Japanese pianist, laid down over two days in December 2013, before his death in 2015 aged 75. As the liner notes suggest, Hanamichi is ‘the culmination of [his] lifetime of musical exploration and discovery.

Having featured on no fewer than 62 album releases, and having worked with a host of artists including McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, Gary Peacock, Paul Motion, Hanamichi provides a fascinating bookend to an outstanding careers, and demonstrates his unique ear for melody. The airy and spacious opener, ‘Ramona’ is exemplary: the notes, played at intervals that hint at a time signature, but one that’s varied and unconventional, flow in a fashion that’s on the surface an easy, vaguely jazzy tune, but then there’s something that doesn’t quite conform to expectation, with small and subtle but still definite jumps between key.

And so Kikuchi leads us airily through the soft easiness of ‘Summertime’, an extended composition of great delicacy. Fleetingly, a bar resembling Ella Fitzgerald’s song of the same name half-appears, but in an instant, it’s floated away on a zephyr. Yet there are some moments of uncomfortable discord, and clouds gather across the sun, before the piece slowly tapers down to nothing in the final minute.

‘My Favorite Things’, in two parts, echoes the lilting lightness of the first piece, and the atmosphere is almost that of the background soundtrack in a basement jazz bar. Back in the day, you’d hear stuff like this that was mellow and laid-back through a smog of smoke and a babble of chat late into the night and even into the morning in tiny spaces down winding stairs. But what renders these pieces interesting are the sudden flurries or notes in a different tempo, occasionally lurching unexpectedly here to there, breeding disorientation and discomfort.

The contrasts are the key: gentle, accessible melodies and soothing tunes veer sharply and unexpectedly into awkwardness – not so awkward as to be horribly jarring, but just awkward enough to be, well, awkward. As such, Hanamichi sounds like nothing else: easy, but not, existing in a unique space, a space apart.

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DRET 05 — 2nd April 2021

The fifth release on Swedish label Dret Skivor, which coincides with another Bandcamp Friday, is Blue Oblivion by Tore Honoré Bøe. Information about the artist or the material is non-existent, so everything is left open for the listener to extract and interpret from these layered sonic collages. My initial response is the ocean, being immersed in the vastness of the expanse – or, more specifically, drowning, before my thoughts turn upwards, to the eternal endlessness of the sky. Starring up on a cloudless say, it’s easy to lose yourself in the infinite space.

But the sonics captured here evoke neither. This is, for the most part, a snarling, swirling tempest of electronics pushed to – and beyond – their limits, a shrilled, shrieking assault on the senses that utterly engulfs: this is not a pleasurable or ecstatic oblivion, but the oblivion that arrives as a welcome relief from a relentless battering.

On the first piece, ‘Foosa!’ a piano note fades into the fog as a crackle of static builds to a sustained fizz. Scrapes and drones take on the presence of creeping chords in the absence of any overt musicality. It howls and wails and drills into the cranium randomly, one shill blast of noise replaced by another shrill blast of noise of a different frequency. Like cowboys armed with two pistols shooting from each hand alternately, Tore fires off drill-like frequencies one after the other, hand over hand, whirring and buzzing… and then it’s all down the toilet in a single plunge.

‘We Love King Julien!’ is less abrasive, at least initially, but no less challenging: a woozy, stammering mess of glitching drone that cracks and churns through a succession of misaligned subsequences that stammer and lurch, it’s a different kind of discoordinating. Metallic smashes scrape and buckle to forge brain-clenching streams of static noise that bubbles and churns. In time, it all breaks down into a mess of fractured noise and fizzing static, a horrible mass of treble that jumbles all focus. It descends into alternating drones and explosive blasts of speaker-shredding noise, and culminates is a tsunami of churning while noise and synapse-melting overload across a wheezing drone so flat it feels like it died a long time previous.

There is no kind or considered response to this, no neat finisher. It’s not an easy or pleasant release – but then, that’s not what Dret ‘do’, and seemingly, it’s not what Tore Honoré Bøe does either.

Blue Oblivion is unquestionably immersive, but it’s not entertainment: this is harsh, uncomfortable nose. It’s noise to lose yourself in.

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PNKSLM – 2nd April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Following the single release of ‘Not Fit For This’, GHLOW unleash Slash and Burn, the album which spawned it – and brimming with dark energy, it does not disappoint. While clearly operating within a genre field, and a comparatively limited instrumental format, it has range. It also packs so much tension and an emotional force that it’s an instant grab. As what you’d likely describe as an old goth (although nowhere near as old as some), I have a predisposition towards this kind of stuff, but by the same token, I’m immensely picky, in that anything overtly cliché I simply can’t muster any enthusiasm for – but GHLOW have got it all: the songs, the style, and the production. In combination, this is a work that resonates on a level that isn’t necessarily easy to articulate: it’s not simply nostalgia – and drawing on the dense electro shoegaze of Curve as much as early 80s post-punk and its lineal descendants. Anyway., it’s hard to feel nostalgic for a time before your own, and even if some of the aforementioned bands soundtracked my teens it’s not a pining pang for that which I feel on hearing this. No, GHLOW tap into something else altogether with their explosive blend of jagged guitars and simple sequencing plat places power to the fore over musical dexterity.

It’s ‘Not Fit for This’ that slams in by way of an opener, a gloriously spiky hybrid of Siouxsie, X-Mal, Garbage, and Savages, a thunderous bass and stuttering beat hammering away beneath a toppy blasty of guitars that provide the tense, fiery backdrop to Emille de Blanche’s commanding vocal performance. It grabs you by the throat and drags you into the seething morass of darkness that follows. There’s texture and depth, for sure, but this is one of those albums that’s best experienced end-to-end in order to appreciate the highs and lows integral to its sequencing. It’s also big on mood and big on dynamics, and the duo ratchet up the atmosphere to create a work of rare intensity.

The slower ‘Sleep’ is a song that drives right through the gut: the primitive drum machine sound stutters and jolts, the kick sound beating like a palpating heart, the snare a whipcrack that slices through the murk – and alongside is a grating bass sound that churns and growls malevolently. Over it all, Emille gives a powerful, full-lunged vocal performance. The title track is a mid-tempo motoric chugger that hammers away somehow unfurls as it progresses, and the repetition, paired with the soaring vocals and some howling lead guitar, becomes more than the sum of its parts, while ‘Hold It’ is a heavy, repetitive droner that’s claustrophobic in its dark intensity.

There’s something magnificently unpolished about GHLOW’s sound and for all its electronics, it’s The March Violets that their dirty, immediate sound calls to mind most, although ‘Hollow’ goes all out on the attack, and with the brittle guitar riding wildly over a furious beat, they sound more like Big Black fronted by Jehnny Beth or Anne-Marie Hurst. Slash and Burn has attack, it has edge, as well as repetition and hooks, and really hits the spot.

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Bankrecords – blank037 – 12th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

In his everyday work, Tobias Vethake composes music for theatres, installations, radio plays, television and film, and while also participating in various collaborative projects, including Mini Pops Junior, his primary outlet for his experimental explorations is Sicker Man. With electric cello at the heart of the compositions, Vethake incorporates myriad additional sound sources and draws on a vast cultural spectrum spanning jazz and industrial, from east and from west to forge expansive and quite intense works of range and depth.

Like Jo Quail, Vethake plays the cello in ways that rarely sound recognisably cello-like: it’s apparent that the instrument’s versatility is severely underrated. So while there are certainly orchestral elements present on Dialog, it’s by no means an overtly orchestral album, and by absolutely no means an overtly ‘cello’ album. It’s more of an abstract, ambient, (post) rock work. Moreover, collaboration has a way of drawing different ideas and methods out of artists, with the potential to realise works which are infinitely greater than the sum of the parts, the product of the ‘third mind’, if you will.

Dialog contains a collection of pieces recorded in collaboration with different artists – all improvised and unarranged. The dialogs therefore represent the musical exchanges between the musicians in the moment as they respond, spontaneously and intuitively, to one another, often as they meet and ‘converse’ for the first time.

The album’s first track, ‘dialog with Manuel Klotz’ begins with a weaving air of eastern mysticism (a Turkish marriage orchestra Tobias would pass as they played on his way to the sessions), and I’m reminded of the Master Musicians of Joujouka, only with more prominent percussion – but before long, a yawning swell of noise engulfs it, the wave finally breaking to a heavy tidal drone with an instant beat. Eventually, everything collapses to a buzzing drone.

Each piece has its own distinctive style, indicating not only the merits of what each collaborator brings, but also Sicker Man’s versatility. There’s a swampy swagger to the piece recorded with Lip Smh, where drill-like drone buzzes vibrate against serpentine scales that twist enigmatically into a desert haze.

Aidan Baker gets everywhere, and here he is bringing brooding shadows of melancholy the a mournfully lugubrious piece, which is, for my money, one of the standouts. Of the others, there are lengthy passages of gentle, abstract ambience in succession, but the dialog with Kiki Bohemia brings all the dingy bass, as well as all the shimmering space-rock synths, while Scheider TM goes all out on the electro pulsations. Clocking in at over nine and a half minutes, it makes for one mighty finale, building into an immense wall of overdriven guitar that’s absolutely crushing in its weight and density. It has the elements of Earth 2 and Sunn O))), but played at pace, a swirling black metal vortex of overloading distortion. It’s absolutely punishing, and its relentless.

After the curious journey that is the rest of Dialogs, this is just a devastating finisher. There is nowhere to go from here, other than to turn out the light and stare at the ceiling.

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11th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes I find myself in a state of confusion. Sometimes / often. Admittedly, work fatigue, lockdown fatigue, parenting, and beer on an evening are all likely contributors on many an occasion, but sometimes, I’m almost certain that life and situations are simply addling and that’s all there is to it. E42.A8’s press release is a source of a degree of bewilderment for me, as they outline their latest release thus:

‘E42.A8 lies between a place, a process, a group or several, or maybe as we were introduced in Frankfurt once: a Musikkapelle. We like to think that what matters are the following guiding notions: freedom, play with opening(s) & interaction, resulting in music marked by textures, variations between pulse & stretch, moments of varying intensities, détournements (Verwandlung?), oscillations in saturation and silence.’

IIIII is in fact a compilation, a double CD, which draws on a morass of releases spread across downloads, CDr and one tape, and features 21 musicians, in varying ensembles, from 2 to 9 people, recorded during the first five years of the collective’s existence. Said collective, which operates around a ‘disused farm/barn in the countryside in Picardie ( a region spread over the north of France +southern Belgium’ is centred around improvisational works, and as the fifteen pieces, which span a whopping 141 minutes – which isn’t far short of two and a half hours – and which makes listening to this in full a serious time commitment. The chances are that few listeners are likely to repeat it more than once or twice.

And while most of the compositions are under the eight or nine-minute mark, there are are handful of absolutely epic works that sit in the twelve to twenty-one minute mark that really illustrate the expansive plains E42.A8 ere capable of exploring when given the time and the space, and of course, the right atmospherics.

As one might expect from such a loose framework of musicians improvising over such a time-span, this is a pretty mixed bag, centred around immense drones, grinding organs and elongated oscillations. At its best, it’s haunting, evocative, unsettling, while at its worst its clunky, uncoordinated, experimental but without focus. And that isn’t a problem: the avant-garde and the postmodern so often delights in revealing its workings, demystifying the creative process, pulling apart the myth of the ‘creative genius’. IIIII reveals E42.A8 to be multi-faceted and willing to take risks in the interest of progression, of artistic evolution.

Insectoid skitters and creeping drones, scrapes, and all kinds of bleeps and twitters and stream-like trickles combine to forge the peaks and troughs, gulfs and chasms which make up this immense work. Heavy clanks like the sound if a blacksmith mishitting his equipment as shards shower everywhere in such an enclosed space. Chinks and stammers and fractured tonal cracks break the surface, and disruptions and discord and discombobulations abound.

A track-by-track analysis would be even more pointless than Brexit or an episode of Pointless, because this isn’t a work that has standout tracks: compilation it may be, but ultimately it’s an immense document which collates a vast library of experimental ambient electronic works which will shred your brain, make your eyes pop leave you feeling bewildered overwhelmed, which is, in context, a measure of artistic success.

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ant-zen – 18th February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Dotla finds ‘accidental one-man project’ kojoohar reunited with purveyors of experimental hip-hop ködzid goo to deliver a follow-up to their 2019 collaborative EP, ‘Дотла’.

The blurb promises ‘heavy lyrics spiked with solemn images and numerous literary references’; and a work of ‘dark, dystopic angst pop with deep aesthetic lyrics and unrelenting vocals… delivered in a blank monotone.’

Now, I’ve long maintained that how and why we respond the way we do to certain music is subconscious, subliminal, psychologically or even genetically embedded. I’ve never found myself able to connect with disco or funk, but music that’s chillingly bleak and inhuman resonates to my very core. And shit, is this bleak and inhuman.

My inability to even vaguely comprehend the actual lyrics is completely immaterial: the characteristically hard-edged Slavic consonants lend themselves perfectly to that detached, monotone delivery, in a similar way to that in which Germanic languages do, and that harshness is much of the appeal of bands like DAF and X-Mal Deutschland (bit not Rammstein, because they always sound like a parody of that Germanic strain of industrial to my ears. I’m not saying I need my Industrial to be po-faced, far from it, but one should be able to take serious music seriously – and kojoohar × ködzid goo are seriously serious, in the best possible way).

Dotla is all the monotone, all the monochrome, thudding industrial beats hammer slow and hard through murky sonic wastelands. It’s unforgiving, relentless: there’s not much light or variation in mood here, and that’s the beauty of it: this is not an album designed to entertain. By the fourth track, the mangled droning trudge of ‘burelom’, you already feel the walls closing in and the light growing dim.

Whereas there’s a popular perception that the heaviest, most oppressive music exists within the domain of metal, electronic music at its darkest, sparsest and most monotonous is, if anything, more intensely claustrophobic.

The production on dotla is also a factor: there’s a lot of low end, rumbling, droney bass, but more than that, there’s a lot of murk. Dotla applies the values of black metal to industrial hip-hop. The drums and vocals are muffled, and there’s, a thick haze that hangs over the whole thing, and cumulatively, it’s almost suffocating. There’s no space or air between the instruments or the notes: everything condenses to form a thick, noxious cloud and a sound so thick and impenetrable it’s nigh on impossible to penetrate and separate the component parts.

The result is like the suction or air from the lungs, the endless battering of blunt objects, and the slow, wading through sludge trudge of ‘typh’ is exemplary. It’s not pleasurable – in fact it slowly grinds the life out of you – but successfully articulates in sonic from every last ounce of the life-sapping oppression of the drudgery of corporate conditioning and governmental oppression, of life. ‘plot’ is the sound of defeat, of self-loathing, of emptiness, of dehumanisation. Feel the pain. Immerse yourself in it. You deserve it.

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Constellation – 2nd April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are a band I’ve long found perplexing. Not musically: that they stand as one of the definitive post-rock acts is irrefutable, and the reasons why are evident in pretty much every track they’ve released. Moreover, having started out back in 1994, releasing their debut album in ’97, they more or less invented the genre. But there is clearly a lot more to this perversely enigmatic collective, who have spent a career eschewing all industry conventions, refusing to give interviews, and identifying as anarchists, with left-wing themes and ideologies running through their work.

But perhaps one thing that is often overlooked is a certain absurdist humour that’s occasionally evident in the work of a band who have also released material as God’s Pee, and Pee’d Emp’ror. This in no way undermines the seriousness of the band, so much as it indicates they’re more multifaceted than popular perceptions indicate.

As Kitty Empire wrote in The Guardian in 2002, ‘When they made the cover of the NME in 2000, they did not actually appear. The background image was of a cloudy sky, broiling with portent. In place of the traditional sucked-in-cheek band photograph, a quote appeared, from the opening monologue on Godspeed’s debut album, the snappily-titled f#a#OO: ‘the car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides and a dark wind blows’. And yes, it sounds portentous, even vaguely pretentious even, and certainly suggests high art. But maybe it – and they – aren’t as serious as all that? Maybe there’s something parodic in their intent. Maybe they’re the KLF of post-rock?

Their latest offering, the curiously-titled G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! only furthers that notion. Not that their music sounds anything but deadly serious, and the band’s statement which accompanies the release reinforces their political position from a bleak standpoint:

this record is about all of us waiting for the end.

all current forms of governance are failed.

this record is about all of us waiting for the beginning,

and is informed by the following demands=

empty the prisons

take power from the police and give it to the neighbourhoods that they terrorise.

end the forever wars and all other forms of imperialism.

tax the rich until they’re impoverished.

And then they sign it off as God’s Pee.

The press release interestingly points to the band’s non-conformist tendencies, citing ‘the heretical anarcho-punk spirit of the title’ and pitching an album on which ‘Godspeed harnesses some particularly raw power, spittle and grit across two riveting 20-minute side-length trajectories of noise-drenched widescreen post-rock: inexorable chug blossoms into blown-out twang, as some of the band’s most soaring, searing melodies ricochet and converge amidst violin and bassline counterpoint.’

But that’s two side-long tracks (plus a couple of interludes – because in the world if GY!BE, six minutes is an interlude, and the two shorter tracks are presented on a 10” that comes as an addition to the 12” vinyl album, which actually makes more sense than the digital version, but then, vinyl often makes more sense, especially where bonus material is concerned): you know that this isn’t some shift towards snappy protest music or anything that’s even vaguely overtly ‘punk’ – at least stylistically. Although I would argue that the most punk thing anyone can do is their own thing and refuse to be swayed by trends or peers. So perhaps G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! is the pinnacle of punk in 2021. It certainly isn’t radio-friendly, pop, rap, or R’n’B orientated.

The first track – the snappily-titled twenty-minute behemoth ‘A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind) (4521.0kHz 6730.0kHz 4109.09kHz) / Job’s Lament / First of the Last Glaciers / where we break how we shine (ROCKETS FOR MARY)’ is effectively an album condensed into one longform composition, a mess of overlayed vocal samples, ambient noise, field recordings, and heavy guitar that displays a droney / psychedelic bent. At times it’s overloading, distorting, but in contrast, certain passages bring it right down to a low throb and chiming top notes. And just shy of the eight-minute mark, the build breaks into the album’s first monumental, sustained crescendo. That crescendo hits an expansive motoric bliss-out and just keeps on going… and going. And things really step up once again around the thirteen-minute mark with some serious heavy guitars. The folksy passage that follows the comedown is both sedate and surprising, and it ends with gunshots and death. I’m speculating, but it seems fitting.

‘Fire at Static Alley’ begins as a volcanic eruption, before yielding to a steady, stately tom beat at a sedate, strolling pace and chiming guitars that are the very quintessence of post-rock. It’s haunting and atmospheric, and provides a moment of respite before crackling radio dialogue disperses among static and trilling wails of enigmatic electronica. A collage of extraneous sounds, cut and overlayed rises before a ponderous bass wanders in hesitantly to change the trajectory of ‘GOVERNMENT CAME” (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz) / Cliffs Gaze / cliffs’ gaze at empty waters’ rise / ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE’ – another multi-sectioned, multi-faceted beast that’s a collision of post-rock, progressive, and experimental. At its many, soaring peaks, it’s a full-tilt psychedelic rock behemoth, which soars off toward the end into altogether trippier territory.

If ‘OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.)’ sounds aggressive in its capitalisation, it manifests rather more gently as an expansive ambient composition, which makes for a pleasant and majestic closer.

Matters of formatting make this a difficult release to assess as an ‘experience’, which is likely to differ depending on one’s format of choice. But to take AT STATE’S END! as its two tracks, with their cumbersome titles and multiple segments, it’s by turns intense and soothing – and without question an essential addition to the GY!BE catalogue.

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Ipecac Recordings – 26th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been seven years since the last Tomahawk album, but the noise-rock supergroup are marking their twentieth anniversary in style with the crash-landing of album number five in the form of Tonic Immobility.

For those who needs reminding, the lineup – guitarist Duane Denison [the Jesus Lizard, Unsemble, etc.], vocalist Mike Patton [Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, etc.], drummer John Stanier [Helmet, Battles, etc.], and bassist Trevor “field mouse” Dunn [Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, etc.] really is a who’s who of that US 90s / 00s melting pot of alternative that was truly alternative.

Of course, Mike Patton is the biggest name, because, well, Faith No More reached a level of being truly massive. But even at their peak, Patton was always dabbling in weird shit, with the far-out oddball whacky rock of Mr Bungle, and myriad other projects that were as non-commercial as you could get.

That commitment to music of interest rather than mass appeal has driven Ipecac since its foundation, and Patton is, for many, a true hero as not only a champion of all things weird and wonderful – and often harsh and noisy – but also as one of the most eclectic and wide-ranging artists in contemporary rock, and alongside JG Thirlwell, perhaps one of the few living artists worthy of the term ‘genius’.

And so, being Tomahawk, it’s a weird and varied album that’s visceral and noisy, but also so heavily dynamic as to leave you dazed. Opener ‘SHHH’ is exemplary: it begins quietly, gently, before erupting into a blast of mayhem… and going quiet again. It’s like if Björk had done ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ while… I dunno, working with Tomahawk. Because while The Jesus Lizard and helmet were integral to defining the underground sound of the 90s, there really is no other act that sounds quite like this, and it’s all about the collaboration and cross-contamination, of course.

There’s an intense, gritty heft to the album as a whole, but there’s variety: ‘Valentine Shine’ is a full-on grunge-riff rager, while ‘Predators and Scavengers’ pursues a more math-rock line of attack. ‘Doomsday Fatigue’ meanwhile, is a slow, slinky, twisted blues drawl that’s more Jesus Lizard until it goes all smooth soulful pop, and the FNM influence is perhaps more apparent. The thing is, you never know what you’re going to get next:

If ‘Business Casual’ feels a shade dated, it still hits the mark both sonically and in terms of lyrical relevance, showing that there’s always something to be had here. ‘I’ve never looked as cool as you’, Patton croons on the low-slung ‘Tattoo Zero’, another song that’s divided dynamically between verse and chorus.

Tonic Immobility has everything going on, and even the brief rap-rock passages work because they’re all part of a huge hybrid cocktail of whatever: ‘Howlie’ goes post/math rock melodic and marks yet another departure before it goes all-out heavy, and ‘Eureka’ is a droney ambient interlude, and ‘Recoil’ actually goes a shade dub reggae for a while and at times it does feel a shade bewildering, and even a bit ‘wtf’, but you can’t criticise Tomahawk for a lack of focus or identity – because that’s their identity right there. ‘Sidewinder’ is a genuinely touching piano-led tune – until the noodling math-rock and distorted vocal howl kick in, and there are also some absolutely brutal riffs on offer here, and make no mistake, Tonic Immobility packs a punch.

It’s a crazy album for crazy times, and a complex, mathy, loud album for a time where the best escape is down a rabbit hole of musical weirdness. Tonic Immobility is that rabbit hole. Dig it deep.

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