Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Solemn Wave Records – 22nd February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Over a decade into this music writing thing and I still get a massive buzz receiving albums I’m excited about hearing ahead of release. Mostly because like many other music fans, I get impatient and overhyped with anticipation. And then… well, what then? When a work is so rich and resonant, and communicates on a level which transcends words. Describing not sound, but sensation is more than a challenge, especially when that sensation is overwhelming.

Single release ‘Sabbath’ gave me something of an Evi Vine rush and raiding the back catalogue only amplified my anticipation for BLACK//LIGHT//WHITE//DARK, and never mind the suspense, it’s a belter. No doubt much will be made of the roll-call of contributors, including The Cure’s Simon Gallup on bass and Peter Yates of Fields of the Nephilim on guitar, but the songs ultimately speaks for themselves here.

A mere six songs, yes, but when the first is a slow-burning behemoth that treads the delicate line walked by Chelsea Wolfe, it’s immediately apparent that these are songs of a rare intensity. ‘I Am the Waves’ explores brooding, hushed and downright downbeat passages which glide into deep, immersive washes with serpentine guitar lines snaking around trepidacious drums and haunting, fragile vocals. ‘Afterlight’ ups the tempo and the tension, rolling drums and extraneous electronics creating a dense swell of sound. Evi sounds twitchy, anxious, her voice adrift in multidirectional reverb. The atmosphere is fractured and strained: you don’t just listen to this, you feel it. BLACK//LIGHT//WHITE//DARK leads the listener to some dark places, but then a function of the most powerful art is often to challenge, to affect, rather than to simply exist and entertain.

The sprawling yet elegantly-poised nine-minute ‘Sabbath’ is still a standout, its contrasting passages of fragility and crushing weight the perfect counterpoint to one another. It drives and surges, on and on, a dense, textured wall of sound that’s completely immersive. Its only shortcoming is that it is, well, just too short.

‘My Only Son’ presents a more minimal aspect, a delicate piano providing the primary accompaniment to wistful, reflective lyrics. It’s well-placed, bringing things down a notch – but the incidental strings and voices bring contrast and discord, meaning it’s never an option to really settle into a sense of relaxation and comfort, and the low-rumbling electronics which open ‘We Are Made of Stars’ deepen the unsettling atmosphere. Stretching out to forge a suffocating dark ambience, voices whisper hauntingly in the distance, before the eleven-and-a-half-minute finale, ‘Sad Song No. 9’ dredges every last ounce of aching beauty from the deepest melancholy. And when the bass booms in and the guitars kick in, it soars majestically. It’s a perfect conclusion to an album worthy of the word masterpiece.

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Panurus Productions – 25th January 2019

Is it a supergroup if the members of a collective all belong to acts no-one has ever heard of? Shrimp is a project which represents the coming together of Jon O’Neill (The Smokin’ Coconuts, The Shits, Skronk et al), Chris Watson (Snakes Don’t Belong in Alaska, Forest Mourning), James Watts (Plague Rider, Lovely Wife, Lump Hammer et al),Rob Woodcock (Plate Maker, Fret!) and Ryosuke Kiyasu (Sete Star Sept, Fushitsusha, Kiyasu Orchestra et al). Initially converging to perform on the bill at a Ryosuke solo show in Gateshead, this eponymous release captures the intensity of that performance in a studio setting – at least, so they claim.

Listening to this, it’s probably a claim that’s justified: it is, indeed, intense. They promise ‘a maelstrom of clanging, shrieking guitar, relentless frenetic drum savagery and inhuman vocals’, and forewarn that ‘Shrimp, in direct contrast to the weakness implied by its moniker, is the sonic equivalent of being trapped within a chitinous storm of pincers and consists of a thirty minute studio onslaught and a live recording, featuring additional electronic noise.’

Yep. It’s brutal and harsh from the outset. A cacophony of guitar feedback and whiplash explosions of extraneous noise whirl into a tempestuous frenzy around smashing percussion. The first five minutes sound like the climactic finale of something immense. And it just keeps on going from there. On and on, notes and beats and crashing cymbals flying in all directions, slowly bringing things down only to resurge and burst into a raging sonic storm once more. Deranged shrieks lie half-buried in the mix amidst all kinds of chaos that combines stoned desert rock, psychedelia and free jazz.

Twenty-two minutes in and the speakers are melting with a blistering stream of frenetic noise, formless, atonal, punishing in its complete lack of shape or musicality. After half an hour it bleeds into second piece, ‘Light as Hell’. It’s more of the same – an ear-bleeding aural tidal wave that continuously threatens to break but never does. It’s dizzying, and difficult. And yet, supergroup or not, it is definitely super, in a wild, chaotic, insane way.

Shrimp

Room40 – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Mass Observation by Scanner – the vehicle of the prodigiously prolific Robin Rimbaud – surfaced in 1994 as an EP. It was (in)famously sampled without credit by Björk on ‘Possibly Maybe’, resulting in a lawsuit that led to copies of Post being withdrawn and a sample-free rerelease. Sidestepping the issue of originality and ownership – specifically the notion that lifting from a sound-collage – the controversy provided Scanner with an unexpected level of coverage and arguably brought underground avant-garde experimentalism to a new audience.

Not that any of this really made any impact on Scanner’s trajectory, in terms of musical direction or career, and Rimbaud’s text which accompanies this expanded release is objective in its assessment of its form and formulation: ‘Dehumanised communications, beatless, radio signals drawn in live to tape, and accompanied by dial tone pulses and abstract textures, Mass Observation is a highly suggestive picture of a particular place in a city at a very specific time. A form of Sound Polaroid as I tended to call such recordings.’

Words seem inadequate for describing the temporal dislocation and unsettling atmospherics woven throughout the recording – an entirely different mix from the original, as Rimbaud explains: ‘Two mixes were captured directly onto DAT tape. One of which would be officially released as Ash 1.7 Mass Observation, an EP that featured a 25 min version of one of these sessions, but until today the second longer expansive mix has never been heard. Each quite different from the other.’ Presented here as a single track with a duration of 54:29, it’s a dark, disturbing sonic journey that has no obvious sense of direction.

I’ve no interest in laboriously and meticulously comparing the different versions: Mass Observation is very much a work that invites immersion in its atmosphere, and is about the overall effect rather than the minutia of detail – which in some respects is ironic, given that the overall effect is the result of the compilation of near-infinite details, overlaid and juxtaposed, recontextualised and realigned.

This versions, however, isn’t entirely beatless: a thudding trudge fades in after a couple of minutes and hammers out a dolorous funeral march while electrical currents eddy around in the ether, at times almost hesitant, pausing as the vaporous swirls twist and drift. But when it fades, it fades and is gone, washed a way in a drift of shifting found sound. Sharding scrapes of metallic treble sheer the senses with sharp, blade-like edges and simmering drones interweave hypnotically.

Ominous rumbles and snippets of dialogue, distant, reduced to a barely audible mutter-line and occasionally rent with blasts of distortion and static from the fabric of Mass Observation. Cut through the mutter line to reveal… more muttering. Silent eyes behind screens… 24/7 CCTV and phone taps. At times, all the voices, all at once, echo across one another. They slow and blur. The snippets of conversation are mundane, humdrum, banal – but this in itself adds to the effect. This is the everyday, captured, and if anything, it resonates more now than it would have almost a quarter of a century ago. Now, surveillance has reached totality, and there is no escape.

The effect of listening to the disembodied echoes and whirring electronics of Mass Observation is disorientating, and the whole album is a paranoia-inducing, disturbing wreck of sound – not because it’s uncanny, unfamiliar, strange, but because it’s so real.

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Scanner – Mass Observation

Midira Records – MD044 – 23rd November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

N + [ B O L T ] aren’t the most imaginative when it comes to naming their albums: this, their third collaboration, is, like the two which preceded it, is without title. But then, they’re in the company of The Bronx and Peter Gabriel, and the lack of titles on whose first four solo albums didn’t exactly damage his career. As is often the case with untitled albums, which come to be identified by the prominent features of their cover art, so “die Krähe (the crow)” follows the albums known as “der Hase (the rabbit)” and “das Hörnchen (the squirrel)”.

Since recording the album, [ B O L T ] have expanded to a four-piece featuring two bass players and a drummer, but this captures them still sparse, taut, minimal, and the accompanying text sets the scene: ‘Imagine an industrial area, with big smokestacks and metal architecture, mostly quiet and sometimes interrupted by machine noises and from somewhere you hear the sound of N + [ B O L T ] coming through the walls. This is what you see and hear around the studio in Duisburg (Germany), where the band recorded the album’.

While the album is by no means determined specifically by the environment in which it was produced, said environment is nevertheless a factor, an integral part of the backdrop to its formulation. And so emerges a sound described by the band as ‘black drone’.

It seems a fair description. It’s dark, gnarly, and droney after all. I’ve been around a while and this crushing, low-tempo, low-octave, percussion-free sludge-drone sounds very much like a refined retake of Earth 2. A1 bleeds into the heavy grind of A2, a gritty, cyclical stop/start bass trudge. It never stops: it’s hypnotic, all-immersive. And it’s all about the trudging bass. It’s the album’s defining feature, and if anything, it becomes more prominent, more dominant, as the four pieces progress. Progress is a relative term: it doesn’t go anywhere: it doesn’t need to and isn’t designed to. Its purpose is to trudge, while guitar feedback wraps around like… like… twisting vines, serpentine, wisps of mist.

Time slows and weight evolves over the course of the four pieces: B1 stretches its funereality over some ten minutes, the guitars only bursting in around a third of the way through. It wells to a mesh of pulverising, overdriven noise ad leaves the listener hollowed, drained. It all heads slowly and incrementally down towards the plodding grind of ‘B2’: an epoch passes between each below-the-earth bass note, while guitar feedback strains all around. The final piece stretches out over almost fourteen minutes, and begins with the lowest, lowest of bass grinds amidst a swirl of layered feedback. And it goes on: an eternity passes as a simple double-strike of the same note, so low as to register below the range of cognisance, instead nudging at the spectrum marked ‘subconscious’. And it’s as we slide into this area that the impact of this wordless exercise on weight really registers its impact.

It’s music beyond words, music beyond music. The richness and density, paired with the almost indistinguishable, melted tempo of droning sound without rhythm has an effect that resonates on an almost biological level.

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N46

Christopher Nosnibor

I was forewarned. The note which accompanied the debut releases – yes, plural – three separate CDs released simultaneously – but experimental collective kröter – strongly recommended that listening was not (yes, underlined) to be attempted with a clear head. The note’s sender, one Mr Vast, began with an apology. ‘I’m really sorry to do this to you…’ he wrote. I don’t believe him. He knows I like weird, fucked-up shit. Although with this sprawling three-album effort, I can’t help but wonder If he’s testing me. If I struggle, how will anyone else handle this work of ambition beyond sanity?

Things get off to a good start, with a picked guitar, notes bent, weaving a soft melancholy. I suddenly jolt and look around: it sounds like my cats in pain in the next room. No, wait, it’s just the CD. That’s some crazy woodtrumpet noise. ‘Is that the cat?’ my wife calls from the next room. ‘No, it’s just the CD,’ I reply. ‘Thank goodness, it sounded like the cat was really ill.’ Seconds later, my daughter’s at my elbow asking if it’s the cat she can hear in my office. I explain it’s the CD, and she declares that she loves it. We’re less than two minutes in, not even one full track of twenty-seven played, and already these Kröter buggers are causing mayhem and breaking my flow.

The sparse, bass-led spoken-word sleaze of ‘Sebastian’ seems positively commercial by comparison, despite being, in real terms, claustrophobic and vaguely disturbing, the monotone narrative bordering on the psychotic. And the rest of the album is just as weird. All the shades of weird, from dislocated spoken word colliding with off-kilter electro-funk to minimal electro-pop that sounds like it’s melting as beats misfire in all directions and loops stutter and fracture like some kind of sonic seizure, with the lyrics veering from the surreal to the ultra-mundane by the verse.

Wibbly-wobbly weirdness abounds, shuddering, juddering analogue synthiness and all sorts of inexplicable dominate pieces that range from interludes of less than a minute in duration to expansive workouts. On *b, ‘Dogsick’ is a seven-minute spoken-word piece that delivers graphic details about the varying shades of the globules of canine vomit, mutating along the way to find Mr Vast come on like Peter Murphy against a backdrop of whacked-out trumpet action.

There’s wonky, fucked-up funk disco on the menu, too, alongside the 10-minute ultra-sparse blues exploration of ‘Tricky Task’ that goes kinda Pavement, kinda huh? as it progresses. It’s impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff, the killer from the filler: this is simply an exercise on experimentalism, and you’ll like it or lump it and maybe like some or lump the rest, or, meh, who cares?

By disc three, my brain’s beyond bent: my daughter’s hassling for more songs that sound like that cat and I’m being battered with tunes from her new Pomsie, which are like cat disco and explaining that there probably isn’t another song on the planet like it isn’t being well-received, which is troublesome, especially as kröter do have some net tunes half-buried in the big mess of weird shit. Then again, ‘Telephone Rag’ starts out quite nicely, but rapidly descends into screaming madness, and ‘Opera Lift’ is all over, a nasally-delivered narrative carried by a slow-building post-rock / krautrock crossover with swelling choral backing vocals. I mean, how do you rationally process this? There is no rationality to the yelping dog loop freakiness of ‘Asumasite Huip’, or the Doors-meets-The-Fall plod of ‘Flageolet Beans’, or, indeed, any of this. And then tings go kinda strangely Bowie on the last track, ‘Awful Light’, which is arguably the best track on the entire set.

Kröter are the epitome, the encapsulation, the embodiment, the definition of niche. They’re the archetype of a band making music for their own entertainment. These three discs – which purport to contain ‘excepts’ from their sessions in Berlin in 2017 – may represent the best of their improvisations, or only a flavour, but nevertheless leave the question ‘just how much material did they get down?’ The questions unasked, perhaps ‘how much more are the likely to release?’ and ‘how much more do we need?’ The truth is, the world is always a better place for artists unconstrained by convention: it doesn’t matter whether or not you, or I, or anyone, like them – it’s about choice. It’s about expression. And commercial success is no measure of artistic merit. And if the artistic merit of the individual pieces on this insanely ambitious, sprawling effort varies immensely, it doesn’t actually matter, because the merit is in the scope, the ambition, and the fact it exists. They may have utterly screwed my brain, but the world is better for the fucked-up weirdness of kröter.

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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

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