Archive for the ‘Singles and EPs’ Category

13th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Being a Sister of Mercy is a long way from being a full-time job, an even Andrew Eldritch must have a lot of time on his hands these days. Ben Christo isn’t one to sit idle, though, fronting Night by Night between 2008 and 2015, before founding Diamond Black the following year, as well as working alongside Raymond Watts on Pig’s Prey &Obey.

With their second single entitled ‘Ghost in the Glass’, it all hints at something that’s a bit, well, stereotypical goth, you might say – something The Sisters have always tended to avoid, despite being saddled with the somewhat ignominious tag of being the godfathers of the genre. But you’ll not find any bats or graveyards or introverted moping in the Sisters’ back catalogue, and thankfully, Diamond Black are more about the hard edges of polished steel than the soft feelings of doomed romanticism and despair.

‘Ghost in the Glass’ is built around a very contemporary Sisters-like guitar riff, a driving rhythm and spindly lead line creating a distinct dynamic tension. The guitars are up-front and pack some grit and heft, making this a more overtly ‘rock’ proposition, but the first point where Diamond Black clearly depart from The Sisters is in the live drumming, which, tight as it is, gives a freer feel.

The second and perhaps most obvious point of departure is in the vocal style: singer J.I.Turunen is Finnish and brings a quintessential mainland Europe rock delivery: strong, but clean and melodic. Proper singing, if you will. If it carries echoes of classic 80s rock, it equally suggests that their biggest audience lies cross-channel, rather than domestically. This isn’t a criticism, not least of all because I must confess to having a soft spot for Andreas Bruhn’s solo album – and this, with its punchy rock attributes, is way better.

The production’s expansive, but doesn’t detract from the forward thrust of the guitars and the result is a song that’s simultaneously widescreen and punchy. The bottom line is that Christo has a knack for a chunky riff and a decent tune, and it’s great to hear some of them being recorded and released. More, please!

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Diamond Black

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22nd May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

They call it ‘moody indie rock’, and point to their ‘poignant lyrics, sugary guitar licks, throbbing basslines and soul-shaking drums’. And yes, it’s all of these things: ‘Night of the Underdog’, the follow-up to their debut, the ‘Stranded on the Path’ EP, which emerged in December 2016 continues to work the seam of brooding post-punk revival, a la Interpol et al.

There’s been no shortage of bands pushing the same line over the last few years – inching toward the last decade, even – but then again, there have been bands cranking out three-chord punk tunes for the best part of forty years now , and no-one’s really complaining, As is the case with any musical style, the question isn’t ‘does it sound completely unlike anything I’ve ever heard before’, but ‘is it done well?’ followed by ‘is it a decent song?’

‘Night of the Underdog’ is very much a decent song that’s well done. It begins gently, with an acoustic guitar and wistful melody, building fractal, interweaving, guitars and snaking melodies over a detailed yet propellant rhythm. Oh, and there are some killer bass runs, too. Bass runs are criminally underrated.

Given the tendency for every release going to crank everything up to the max, it’s refreshing to hear a song where the individual instruments benefit from clarity and separation, and yet there’s simultaneously a soft analogue haze around the guitars and with a vaguely psychedelic twist that says paisley shirts and patchouli oil, the whole thing is magnificently 1984.

B-side ‘Borrowed Hearts’ is a tense, twisty affair, brimming with urgency. Crisp, clean guitars edged with reverb jangle in a crackle of treble, but again, while the guitars fragment into a cascade of kaleidoscopic movement, the energetic rhythm section stands to the fore and drives the song home in climactic fashion.

There was a time when this release would have represented the perfect 7” release, with the B-side standing as strong as the leading A-side. Nowadays… it’s a killer release which should massively expand The Clouded Lights’ horizons and audience.

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The Clouded Lights -Night of the Underdog

This is it Forever – 12th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Ok, I’m biased. Thomas Ragsdale’s work as one half of worriedaboutsatan and Ghosting Season has enthused me for over a decade now, and his solo work, too, has consistently mesmerised and enthralled me. This isn’t just journo gush: his work is rich and immersive and simply never disappoints. His latest offering, the three-track ‘Under Dwellers’ EP is no exception.

The BandCamp blurb describes it as ‘Three pieces of music paying tribute to the world beneath our own’, and goes on to describe how ‘Acid lines are fed through tape echo and back into a reel to reel machine… Randomised synth arps clatter around unpredictably inside a distortion unit… Crumbling piano melodies faintly cry out over the hiss and hum of modern circuits… Sounds made by a human, but with no control. Music for beneath the grit and surface of our modern world’.

Ragsdale translates all of these things into something more than pitch, more than process jargon, and presents a set of atmospheric, semi-ambient compositions, rich in tone and texture, and which utterly envelop the listener.

There is little point in detailing either the structure or sound of the individual pieces, or much else for that matter. Dark clouds drift and scrape, twist and turn and swell to fill the air. Yet There is depth, and above all a certain intangible grip and pull here. One listens. One reacts. One feels it, somehow, subliminally, a head-tingling, gut-pulling soundwork.

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Thomas Ragsdale - Under Dwellers

Jahmoni Music – JMM209 – 23rd February 2018

James Wells

Straight into weird shit territory here. Wordless, atonal vocals layer up, ululating and droning and whatever, the tape stretched and slowed and generally fucked about with, while a monotonous bass throb and thumping industrial beat holds an insistent four/four. Think The Fall crossed with Throbbing Gristle. It’s not the full picture, but is a flavour of ‘To Evacuate is Difficult and Infrequent’. It may or may not be a song about bowels. But probably is.

DJ Marcelle is certainly not a DJ in either the conventional or contemporary sense: nor does she present the image of the club DJ throwing down bangin’ tunes for the euphoric masses. Her website uses a kind of Scooby Doo Mystery Machine typeface, and her tour photos all document the soups she’s consumed. This explicit lack of coolness is a cause to celebrate her as an artist. This is not about trends or commercial endeavours: this is about making art with sound.

‘To Reveal the Secret’ is a lo-fi mess of sample loops and clattering drums, and calls to mind the jittery experimentalism of the early 80s avant-garde scene: again, the shadow of TG looms, but equally, the playful oddness of early Foetus and lesser-known acts like Meat Beat Manifesto offshoot Perennial Divide. It pretty much bleeds into ‘Walking Around Aimlessly’, another mash-up of looped samples and old-school tape effects, mining that seem of William Burroughs cut-up inspired audio experimentalism that marked Cabaret Voltaire’s first few albums. Firecracking percussion and wild analogue bleeps provide the fabric of the frenetic finale, which lands in the form of ‘To Sing Along’. The irony is as heavy as the bass, and it rounds of a set that’s noteworthy primarily for its weirdness and apparent celebration of the random.

And random’s where it’s at. Psalm Tree is weird but groovy.

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DJ Marcelle

16th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

I have to eject and check the disc to make sure I’ve not bobbed in New Order’s debut after hitting ‘play’ on this CD. I haven’t, but The Vaulted Skies have that whole c.1980 sound down to a tee, with the clinical rhythms and steely synths shaping the landscape.

The Vaulted Skies – as if the band name wasn’t indication enough – plunder the seam of the dark post punk style that occupied the first half of the 80s, and – while a roll-off touchstones and reference points feels a shade reductive, it’s entirely relevant and appropriate to namecheck The Rose of Avalanche and Rosetta Stone.

The opener, ‘Does Anyone Else Feel(Strange)? culminates in an explosive kaleidoscope of retro synth and thunderous drums that calls to mind ‘Walk Away’ by The Sisters of Mercy and this overtly gothy groove carries through the other three songs on this EP. ‘The Night’ lurches and lunges and bucks over a thick, warping bass groove.

When they slow it down and do the sparse atmospheric thing, as on ‘The Falling Man’, The Cure’s Faith looms large as an influence, with heavy traces of Japan in the mix. Whoever described them as ‘the lovechild of Robert Smith and Boy George’ was at least half right.

And this is where, as a critic, the duel between objectivity and subjectivity sets its markers and gets to tussling. Objectively, it’s derivative and by-numbers. Subjectively, it’s got a gloomy emotional draw and a certain tension. Objectively, it’s well-executed. Subjectively, those nagging guitar parts and basslines hit the spot. So where you do go?

From a purely personal perspective – and if truth be told, and response to music has to be personal – the technicalities and matters of production count for nothing when a work hits and resonates on a personal, emotional level, which is never remotely objective or rational, but always instinctive, gut-driven. And when aspects of my personal life are difficult, I invariably find I’m prone, if not to regression per se, but to a certain tendency toward nostalgia. And all of the acts The Vaulted Skies draw on, intentionally or otherwise, pull me back to being 15-21. My formative years, my musical discovery years, my goth years – years I never fully left.

Do I get a sense of actual nostalgia from this? No. members of The Vaulted Skies probably weren’t born when any of the aforementioned bands were in existence, or even in the early 90s. It’s not their fault they were born too late. They cannot control time or style. But they cannot control their musical output, and it completely does it for me.

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Vaulted Skies

Neon Tetra Records – 2nd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

With a thumping bass groove and trashed-out disco beat backing the sneering mania of the vocals, ‘Soundhaus ‘comes on like some kind of electro/goth hybrid. To liken this to a combination of the knowing dumbness of Zodiac Mindwarp and the hyperstylization of Sigue Sigue Sputnik with a dash of Electric Six probably sounds like harsh criticism, but it’s intended as high praise. They look cooler and a fair more menacing, too (by which I mean vaguely psychotic) – and with an edge that hints at a certain level of aggression, not to mention a nagging guitar line, ‘Soundhaus’ has a lot going for it.

There is a bit of a ‘what the fuck?’ element to it all, but that’s a large part of the appeal. If it’s in any way representative of the album, then they could well be one of the acts of 2018.

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Mickey 9s

Come Play With Me – 6th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

I happened to catch Brooders when they supported Hands Off Gretel in York last summer, and was taken by their grungy tunes. Specifically, the combination of weight and melody. They’re probably to young to grow stubble, let alone have been born when Kurt Cobain was still alive, and yet they’ve got the whole thing nailed, encapsulating the spirit of c.1992 with aplomb.

‘Lie’ captures all of this, along with the energy of their live show, perfectly. The hefty psychedelic aspect of the sound is also well-represented. You might reference Alice in Chains and Queens of the Stone Age, and justifiably but there’s a sludgy density to the sound that brings another dimension.

Adam Bairstow (guitar / vocals, and to differentiate from the other Adams in the band – they’re like the Ramones or something, only they’re all called Adam) says of ‘Lie’, “It’s a culmination of the stresses and pressures that come with love, loss and paranoia all rolled into one brutally honest, twisted, chaotic track.”

For all this, it’s a strangely ambiguous sensation that bubbles in my gut when I wrestle with the notion of the youth of today appropriating the music of my own youth. However objectively one tries to critique music, it’s inevitable that any response to music or any art is personal and entirely subjective. Because the purpose of art is to stir an emotional response which has nothing to do with the mechanics and technicality of its production or process.

Is part of their appeal to me the fact they stir a certain nostalgia? As it happens, no. Grunge may have embossed itself within the sphere of my musical appreciation in my teens, but what I, like anyone else – I like to think – responds to is the language of sound and the overall sonic experience, spanning lyrics, instrumentation and dynamics.

These elements are all fundamental to the driving force that is ‘Lie’. There’s nothing about this snarling mess of overdriven guitars that suggests they’re trying to artificially recreate the zeitgeist of a previous age, or that they’re anything but entirely authentic. Most importantly, ‘Lie’ is a full-blooded, full-on riff-driven effort that sees Brooders come on with all guns blazing. And it’s a real rush.

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Brooders