Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Christopher Nosnibor

Ashley Reaks’ second album of the year is his second (not of this year) with Hull poet Joe Hakim (who I sadly didn’t get to see perform at Long Division Festival in Wakefield the other month due to my ongoing failure to clone myself.

The Science Of Discontent – furnished with one of Reaks’ typically warped collage-art covers – returns to the bleak sociopolitical seam of its 2015 predecessor, Cultural Thrift. Reflecting on this, who would have thought that things would be even worse four years on from 2015? Back then, austerity was grinding us down in Britain as the world continued to drag its way along in the wake of the financial collapse that spanned 2007-2011.

2019, 11 years after the Conservative government announced their first austerity measures, and nine years after the programme was introduced, we’ve still ruled by austerity, and now we’ve got fucking Trump and Brexit on top. Small wonder we’re discontent.

Musically, it’s a classic Reaks cocktail of dub reggae, ska, post-punk, and – as have been coming into increasing prominence in his melting-pot-of-everything compositions – prog rock and jazz. The individual arrangements are comparatively minimal – or, more specifically, the music is kept in check during the spoken passages. This means that the instrumental segments, where the band cut loose, really stand out. By stand out, I mean like the proverbial sore thumb. That’s no criticism: it’s Reaks’ MO, and his revelling in rendering spectacular incongruities that somehow work that’s his primary superpower.

The subject matter Hakim explores on The Science Of Discontent is bleak and a times harrowing: ‘Dead Legends’ is less a celebration of posthumous recognition and the route to artistic immortality as a bitter dissection of the plight of the artist, for whom getting fucked up and committing suicide is likely the only career option that’s likely to yield any kind of success.

Death, damage, and decline are recurrent themes across the nine pieces here, and they’re all delivered in a twangy but downbeat monotone. The apparent dispassion of the delivery does nothing to detract from the lyrical impact: Hakim’s enunciation is crisp – and dry – and contrasts with the buoyant brass and thick Jah Wobble-style basslines that bounce and stroll.

‘New World Order Evangelists’ finds Hakim venting his spleen over government and conspiracy theories and contemporary culture and ‘Orwellianism’ over some seriously jazzy jazz that somehow drifts into some post-rock guitar, while the spacious soundscapes that create an oddly flat atmosphere on ‘The Customer is Always Wrong’ provides a stark and dislocated backdrop to Hakim’s monologue delivered from the perspective of a long-suffering shop worker. ‘Saturday Night Sob Story’ is more depressing still. There’s a degree of crossover in terms of territory with Sleaford Mods, but Hakim doesn’t hector, he just puts it out there in snippets of dialogue and tightly-penned vignettes.

There’s precious little joy here – and yet the quality of the wordsmithery, compositions, and musicianship – do provide reasons to be cheerful. In the face of unapologetically direct depictions of ‘broken Britain’ – minimum wage, zero-hours, shit nightclubs, drugs, booze, ruined communities, dog-eat-dog, social division – Hakim’s craft and Reaks’ crazy hybridization offer a glimmer of hope that however crushed, however fucked, however domed we all are, the imperative to creative art under the worst of circumstances remains a fundamental human trait. Ashley Reaks and Joe Hakim have (again) created an album for our time. And in such desperate times, The Science Of Discontent is precisely what we need.

AA

Science of Discontent

Advertisements

16th June 2019

Of course I was always going to be sold on an album with a title like Southern Phlegm. I mean, what’s not to like? Kadaitcha’s third release straddles ambient, drone, industrial, and power electronics to deliver four tracks driven by throbbing pulsating grooves welded to repetitive, cyclical guitar lines, and rent with the gnarliest, nastiest treble-shredded distorted vocals.

The first, ‘Phagocide’ pumps away for over nine minutes. The guitar and synths form a messy sonic fusion, a thick mass of distortion while wibbling space-rock blasts of analogue send blurred neon arcs through the heavily-grained backdrop like shooting stars. ‘Sewerbound’ is appropriately titled as it plunges deeper into impenetrable murk. It’s dominated by clattering percussion, the edges distorted and decayed, while screeding noise howls a vortex of sonic agony. Frequencies collide to create an endless flux of aural incompatibility. Everything is distorted, dirty, there’s malice in every note. The lyrics are impossible to decipher from amidst the sonic blitzkrieg, but there’s nothing about the delivery that suggests there’s any comfort or kindness on offer here.

Slow, brooding ambience builds an unsettling atmosphere during the opening minutes of ‘Datura’, before the overloading guitar crashes in. It’s got the low-end distortion of Sunn O))), but grinds away at a repetitive motif with the bludgeoning brutality of Swans. It’s a full-on kick to the diaphragm.

Closing off, ‘Vulpine Sacrifice’ arrives almost by stealth, a snaking bassline strolls in slow and slow, a stop/start stammer gives it an almost hesitant feel. Circuits fizz, crackle and hiss all over the place, before the final two or three minutes find the conglomeration of elongated hums coalesce to create something approximating ‘music’, akin to a swelling organ drone. But you couldn’t exactly call this brief moment of musicality that draws out to the fade the light at the end of the tunnel: it’s low, slow, and ominous and seems, if anything, to point toward another darkened door which opens onto stairs leading to an eternal abyss.

AA

Kadaitcha – Southern Phlegm

Focused Silence – FOCUSED0065 – 7th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Shrill. Treble. Not so much chiming as trilling, a sound between a rapid ringing bell and an alarm that drills into the cranium introduces ‘Colophon’, both the album and the title track on this release by ifitisn’t, a duo comprising Robinson & Kalnars – who both have musical pedigree. It’s the jangle of shattered glass and continues for what feels like an eternity, even though it’s only five minutes or so, before dissipating, dispersing into fragments amidst soft clouds of sound punctuated by near-subliminal bumps and scrapes.

According to the press release, ‘ifitisn’t is about the interruptive noise that exists between transmission and the intended reception of the message, the fragments of concrete experience that interrupt hegemony. it is the mapping of emotional and political territories. ifitisn’t is cartographer and rhetoricican’.

They probably realise that absolutely none of this ‘mapping of emotional and political territories’ actually translates through the work itself: the transmission conveys none of the intended reception. They’re probably more than aware that art’s capacity to ‘interrupt hegemony’ is limited at beast, especially in the current climate, especially when that art is obscure and inscrutable. The disparity between the medium and the message are immeasurable, and all that we have to process is ‘interruptive noise’. It’s quite conceivable that that’s the entire point. The fact they’ve gone ahead and done it anyway is what matters. Artistic statements count for less than pissing in the wind, but its through persistence and perseverance and a steadfast refusal to bow or quit that art will ultimately rise above its societal and cultural backdrop. And it’s art, in all of its myriad forms across all media, which makes life worth living.

I’m by no means saying that with Colophon, ifitisn’t are going to have any impact on my life praxis, or make any waves even within artistic circles. But that doesn’t matter.

Random sounds abound on the second piece, the eleven-minute ‘Denity’, which finds whistling digital feedback, dd snorts, disembodied voices and sounds of unidentifiable origin rifting in and out and intersecting with irregular chanking chimes and glooping ripples of analogue waves frothing impatiently. Nine minutes in, some gallic-sounding vibes enter the mix: it sounds at first like an accordion or concertina of some kind, but could equally be a melodica, but it’s soon washed away on a tide of fuzzy extraneous sound whatever it is.

And whatever it is, it’s worth hearing at least once.

AA

FOCUSED0065_front

Hydra Head – 7th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The backstory to the release of Final Transmission is a sad one. Having reconvened in February 2018 to begin work on a new album after being busy on myriad other projects, the meeting at their Boston rehearsal would be their last with bassist Caleb Schofield, who was killed in a road accident at the end of the following month.

The album’s opening track carries all the poignance and pain of this loss, featuring as it does a voice memo sent by Caleb to the band immediately after the rehearsal, containing a sketch for a new song, played on acoustic guitar. The melody is merely hummed. And yet it’s all here, and Schofield’s own final transmission forms the starting point of the bands own final transmission in its current format.

Final Transmission features all of the quintessential grunge tropes, dominated by driving guitars churning though three- and four-chord riffs which exploit the quiet/loud dynamic. A quarter of a century on and is still hasn’t grown tired, at least when well-executed, and it’s fair to say Cave In have got it nailed. There’s a definite 90s feel to it, but then, there are so many other elements subtly woven in: if ‘All Illusion’ has hints of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, it’s also laced with dashes of prog and psych, and there’s a dreamy, expansive quality to many of the songs here. More than any other band, I’m rem

‘Lunar Day’ goes dingy, dirgy, grinding doomy prog, while hot its heels follows the uber-bombastic guitar extravaganza of ‘Winter Window’. Both tracks are short (the former is less than two and a half minutes, the latter four and a half) but structurally they’re sprawling and epic. ‘Lanterna’ gets a bit Metallica but we’ll let it pass since it grinds out hard and low with a surly bass. Closer ‘Led to the Wolves’ is a raging tempest that simply explodes in all directions in a blistering tumult of overdrive, the bass being absolutely gut-churning.

Where Cave In go from here, who knows? But from a deep, dark place, they’ve delivered something that’s also deep and dark, as well as powerful and engaging.

AA

cave-in-final-transmission

Cherry Red Records – 7th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The Membranes’ very long and even more unusual career reaches a new landmark with the release of What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away marks the release of their ninth album. Forming in 1977 and releasing their debut long-player in ’1980, it would be 26 years between To Slay The Rock Pig (1989) and Dark Matter/Dark Energy following the band’s return in 2009.

John Robb’s career fronting Goldblade from 1995 onwards, as well as a music journalist and Louder than War’s head honcho, with occasional TV ‘talking head’ appearances kept him occupied for much of the intervening time. The fact he’s sustained most of these activities since resuming activity with The Membranes is beyond staggering. How does he do it? The level of energy the man puts into a single gig would leave me crippled for a week (and I’m hardly a layabout).

Anyway. The new album. 16 new songs. While Dark Matter/Dark Energy was concerned with the enormity of cosmic existence, What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away places its focus more closely on existence closer to home, exploring ‘the beauty and violence of nature’. Inevitably, there’s a human perspective on this: most creatures simply adapt or die in the face of nature’s force: only mankind marvels at nature, while at the same time believing it can harness, defy or otherwise conquer its unstoppable force. Yes, as a species, we’re smart, we’re highly evolved, but we’re completely deluded.

The press blurb pitches it as being ‘a game changer in the tradition of Manchester bands like Joy Division’ (can an album that forms a lengthy tradition be a gamechanger? Surely it must cut free from tradition in order to do this), and it features appearances from Kirk Brandon (Theatre of Hate, Spear of Destiny), and 84-year-old folk singer Shirley Collins, one of England’s premier folk singers of the ’60s revival. Chris Packham also contributes, as does the ‘legendary’ Jordan, who practically invented the punk look in 1975.

What Nature Gives… probably is justifiably a game-changer in that it reaches far beyond the parameters of post-punk and expands massively on The Membranes’ output since their return. Sonically, it’s an immensely expansive piece, featuring as it does the 20-pieceBIMM Choir, pitched against dark drones and heavy atmosphere – and of course, driving bass and choppy guitars. What were you expecting, some ambient/prog crossover effort?

It gets off to a strong start as ‘A Strange Perfume’ weaves a tripwire lead guitar over tribal drumming and a driving bass while choral vocal soar in and out before exploding into a grainy blast of distorted guitar. It’s a hell of a rush, and the production while full, is up-front and punchy.

Robb’s bass on the expansive title track is pure Peter Hook, while his vocal is stark, flat, metallic, calling to mind Ian Curtis. But the soaring lead guitar, strings, and layered backing vocals take it to another dimension. ‘A Murder of Crows’ offers something different again, a furious blues/funk attack that kicks like The Screaming Blue Messiahs at their most manic.

Steve Albini once said something about putting your best songs at the start of an album, and it may be the case that the initial force dissipates after this on What Nature Gives… as the band explore deeper, darker, more expansive territories. But this is considered, paced, and musically articulate. ‘Deep in the Forest Where the Memories Linger’ is evocative and forceful in equal measure, with ethereal choral sweeps swooping over thrusting guitars, before ‘Black is the Colour’ – a song about ‘the dark heart of winter’ and ‘the time when nature’s cycle in at its lowest ebb’ – is delivered in a style reminiscent of The Fall, sneering and spitting over a stocky, cyclical bassline. That this song features on the ‘Summer’ side of the vinyl’s seasonally-themed four sides is telling in terms of the mood: Winter is a recurrent theme here, and maybe I’m projecting my own feelings into the songs, but the urge to hibernate or hang myself are strongest during the bleak months of long, dark nights spent indoors brooding and reflecting on all shades of melancholy. ‘The Ghosts of Winter Stalk this Land’ and Winter (The Beauty and Violence of Nature) pursue the same theme, with the latter exploring synthy territory as a backdrop to Chris Packham’s spoken-word narrative.

‘A Murmuration of Starlings on Blackpool Pier’ continues the theme of ‘A Murder of Crows’. And builds the drama, with samples crackling in over brooding strings and tense, hushed vocals, while ‘The Magical and Mystical Properties of Flowers’ mines a classic loud/quiet grunge dynamic, blasting out with a storming three-chord riff.

It’s all there on ‘Nocturnal’ with a crackling synth-driven verse, thumping bass groove, choppy Gang of Four guitars, and a hook that references Joy Division’s ‘Transmission,’ and in context the press release makes more sense: this is an album which actually harks back to and connects with the touchstones which lie at its roots. It’s not derivative, but intertextual in construction. But the most important point of note is that it’s incredibly well-conceived, and the execution of an album that’s so ambitious in scope is outstanding, and What Nature Gives… sees The Membranes hit a new creative peak.

Membranes-Frt

Panurus Productions – 21st June 2019

Inspector Fogg is Newcastle filmmaker Wayne Lancaster, and his eponymous album threatens ‘ten tracks of warm synth-based stuff.’ For some reason, this makes me think about pissing down my own leg.

The slow, soft wash of sound that marks the album’s arrival in the form of ‘Fuyu’ isn’t nearly as embarrassing or as uncomfortable, the drones swelling and rising in and out of step to forge fluidly fluctuating rhythmic ebbs and flows. Although very much of the album is ambient to the point that structures are lost in the drift, each composition has a distinct identity and mood.

‘The View Across the River’ begins as a delicate strum before yielding to polyrthymic bleepery, while ‘Strange Tales’ is dark and vaguely sinister. If ‘ominous’ sounds like a similar descriptor, it’s different enough to mark the subtle shift in atmosphere as ‘A Year From Now’ casts reflective shadows between held breaths.

There’s more substance to ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, an insistent beat and pulsating synth behind a rolling piano creating a groove that evokes an action sequence in a film. But its erratic stops and starts are jarring, and it’s almost an act of self-sabotage as the one piece that seems to be going somewhere is simply gone in just over two minutes.

The pieces become shorter and seemingly less evolved towards the end of the album, with ‘Oil on the Road’ and ‘Case Closed’ being sketches of around a minute each. The former is driven by a grimy, buzzing synth bass overlaid with 80s-sounding electronic keys that threatens to go all Harold Faltermeyer before an abrupt ending, while the latter is a piano-based outline that has infinite scope for expansion.

Assuming this gradual diminishment of development is all part of a plan of sorts, the logical analysis would be to attempt to unravel its purpose or meaning. But this is art, and art so often defies logic. And while the snippety pieces are vaguely frustrating, the album as a whole is satisfying in its balance of variety and cohesion, and its infinitely preferable to pissing down your own leg.

AA

Inspector Fogg

Bad Paintings – 28th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

My introduction to Elk came a couple of months ago, when I accepted the invitation to see US touring artist Dylan Rodrigue and travelling companion Sie Sie Benhoff playing a few streets from my house. How could I refuse? I wasn’t disappointed by any of the acts, but that night, Elk were a revelation.

Elk is essentially the project of 21-year old Leeds based multi-instrumentalist Joey Donnelly. According to the accompanying text, his brooding and beguiling work on debut album Beech marries up the sound of Daudi Matsiko, Florist and Talons with the lyrical depth of Phoebe Bridgers. Being unfamiliar with any of these – and pardon my existence in a cultural vacuum – I’m judging Elk in isolation and on their own merit. This doesn’t seem such a terrible strategy. Elk’s music emerges from isolation, but also a place of otherness.

Live, Elk is Joey with his brother, Mikey, and it’s Mikey who’s the mouth and the presence, the chirp and the banter. Joey is practically mute, almost embarrassed. He’s the very epitome of shy and retiring. This comes through in his music, too. And such beautiful music it is, too. Words almost fail. In my review of that live show, I drew comparisons to Sigur Ros and commented on Elk’s ethereal post-rock leanings. They’re in evidence here, too, but it’s perhaps important to also note that Elk don’t share the twee, ersatz fable-like trappings of the Icelandic precursors. Yes, it’s fragile, folksy, post-rock, but it’s very much distinctive and affecting without being affected.

Beech contains just seven tracks, and is spare and concise in every way: the arrangements are minimal and uncluttered, with room to breathe in these inward-facing sonic spaces. These are songs that send shivers down the spine, and yet it’s incredibly difficult to articulate the precise source of their effect – which is of course precisely the key. The best music just creeps up on you, reaches in and touches the innermost parts by subliminal, subconscious routes. The fact the music of Elk is so understated is integral to its emotive power. ‘Stupid World’ begins as a simple acoustic composition, with Joey’s plaintive voice hinting at Neil Young and J Mascis, as much in its sad introspection as anything.

It’s quiet, hushed, the very definition of introspective. And it’s truly beautiful.

AA

Elk - Beech