Archive for the ‘Singles and EPs’ Category

22nd February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Everyone wants to be The Fall, everyone rips off The Fall but no-one actually sounds like The Fall – not even The Fall, at least in their first post Mark E Smith incarnation. That’s only half true: ‘No Man’s Land, the lead single from upcoming debut album Gastwerk Saboteurs sounds very much like The Fall in places. Hardly surprising given the musicians involved. How about the slightly flat, nasal vocal? San Curran’s spent a long time around MES’s work, but then again, flat, nasal vocals are common to both punk and indie bands from over the last 40 years, and he doesn’t end a single line with an ‘uh’, so his delivery isn’t entirely a derivative emulation. What’s more, when he steps up and starts gibbering at pace into a wash of reverb, there’s a vocal energy on display here that The Fall were missing for most of the last decade and a half, and from this alone, it becomes apparent that this is something new, something emergent, something born out of a need to create more than out of a desire to trade on legacy.

So, yes, it has heavy echoes of The Fall, because the musicians involved have been The Fall for the last decade or so: muscular riffs, driving drumming, a certain tension and a nagging repetition provide the core elements of ‘No Man’s Land’, a song which probably articulates in some way the position these four men find themselves. But as Imperial Wax, it sounds like they’re establishing a new home and a new identity.

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Imperial Wax

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22nd February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

I was – for reasons I forget – watching Alain de Botton’s lecture entitled ‘Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person’ the other week. ‘We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well,’ he says. ‘In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?”’

Maybe I give off a certain vibe, but increasingly, I find myself encountering people who are more up-front about their defects, and while I find I’m still surrounded by stressers, anxietisers, low-mooders, neurotics, etc., at least I get to choose the ones I feel comfortable sharing my time with instead of discovering way down the line that they’re completely fucking nuts. That’s not actually intended as a flippantly disparaging or critical comment, for the record: we’re all fucking nuts, and I’m as warped as anyone.

It’s not just in my personal life I’m a magnet. It’s in my (second) professional life, too that people approach me from nowhere. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to assimilate. My online persona is just that: it isn’t me. Then again, I write, and I put it – a part of myself – out there, daily.

This epic digression is in fact contextual narrative. Having been approached via Twitter, a PR was angling for a review. Close friends are right: I am soft and maybe I am too nice. But then, I don’t want anyone to think I’m actually the guy who does The Rage Monologues live. Said PR was touting the latest single offering from Miel – who is, in fact, Swiss contemporary art collector, singer-songwriter, psychologist, and philanthropist, Miel de Botton, who lives in London. De Botton is the daughter of the pioneer of open architecture asset management Gilbert de Botton, and the sister of Alain de Botton. It’s a small world.

The cover art illustrates the sentiment of a desire to escape, to be elsewhere, to be immersed in someone else, and this conveys the sentiment of Londoner Meil’s new single ‘It’s been such a long hard road / I wait for you /I need your love to get me through / take me away / to the deepest sea / finally you and me together at last’, she sings in a dreamy pop tone against a backdrop of rippling piano, synth strings and understated beats.

“When I wrote this, I was imagining an ideal man whisking me away to the tropics. Understanding and thoughtful, he would be bringing me joy, ridding me of loneliness,” says Meil. It’s pure fantasy escapism, of course, and in some form or another, it’s a sentiment that has a universality to it that’s undeniable.

Neatly wrapped in some deft pop packaging, ‘Take Me Away’ radiates pure quality, and augers well for her forthcoming second album.

Come Play With Me – 8th February 2019

With some luscious chiming, chorus-soaked guitar, jittery drumming, wandering bass and vocals reminiscent of Mark E Smith circa 1978, Treeboy & Arc’s latest – released through Leeds label Come Play With Me’s singles club, sharing a 7” with Japan’s Jebiotto in a joint effort with Japanese Label Call & Response – is a belter.

As has become CPWM’s signature, this split single showcases a brace of contrasting but complimentary acts, each contributing a classically single-length single – if that makes sense. The medium is the message: 7” singles were, and remain, an artform. Brevity is the key. Giving enough, while leaving the listener wanting more.

And in three and a half minutes, Treeboy & Arc do exactly that, combining hooks with edge, packed into a hell-for-leather song about a car crash.

Jebiotto’s contribution is a shade further off-kilter and a little more difficult, but that’s the benefit and joy of a split 7”. It’s a taster, there’s no commitment, and if one side’s stellar, you’re made. If the other side’s got grower potential, then it’s a double win. And this is very much a double win.

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Treeboy & Arc

7th January 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

I like Modern Technology before I’ve even heard a note. Drummer Owen approached me through Facebook having clocked Aural Aggravation with a link to the East London duo’s debut EP. Most bands starting out want to get on the radar, and get some cash back for the hard graft they’ve put in trying to get to the point of putting music out into the public domain, especially as a physical release – and this comes in limited-to-200 clear vinyl in addition to the digital version – but they’re donating all profits between Mind and Shelter, perhaps two of the most vital charities in the age of austerity.

I may not have written much about the plight of the homeless, although the fact we have a massive problem here in Britain right now requires no qualification, but I have touched on mental health on more than one occasion here in the past. The oft-shared statistics are just statistics, but in my day-job (yes, I work for a multinational who deal in insurance and investments, because, incredibly reviewing bands no-one’s heard of and writing books no-one reads doesn’t pay the bills) I’m often required to step out of my role to help people and to listen to people. They all have trouble. They’re all stressed. They’re all anxietised. Some are depressed. I know how they feel, and they know it. It really is good to talk. No, not just good: vital. This is my daily reality. So the fact that the bulk of CD I get sent for review which I don’t choose to keep end up at my local Mind charity shop is just something I do. Because it’s important to do what you can, right?

According to their bio, Modern Technology formed through ‘a shared frustration of the post-truth society and political unrest that is currently suffocating our global conscious’. The one positive of political turbulence is the spur to creativity: it’s no coincidence that that post-punk emerged during the Thatcher era, and it’s fair to say that the parallels between then and now are strong. One major difference now, however, is that it’s practically impossible to sign on and form a band: zero-hours contracts and the benefits system mean that even looking for work is a full-time job, and the economics of making music simply don’t stack favourably. But regardless of economics, all that shit has to go somewhere. You need to process. You need to vent. Modern Technology sound like a band who are doing this not for fun, but because they need to.

The EP’s opener provides a theme tune of sorts: entitled ‘Modern Technology’, it launches with an ear-shredding blast of splintering noise, before pulverizing drums, grating bass and squalling feedback hammer out a sonic landslide of a backdrop to a hollering vocal, half-lost in an avalanche of reverb. Christ! They’ve got the savagery of early Head of David coupled with the goth-noise mania of The Birthday Party.

It certainly sets the tone and tempo: ‘Project Fear’ is two minutes of overloading, distorted fury that makes optimal use of lo-fi production values for maximum impact. It hits like a punch in the guts. Deciphering the lyrics isn’t easy and at times is pretty much impossible, but the sentiment is more than adequately conveyed by the medium. Besides, the titles speak for themselves in many respects, as they take the most mundane aspects of contemporary capitalist living and attack them with shuddering sonic barrages. Shades of psych filter through the scuzzed-up tumult of no-wave noise. And deep from within that sonic cyclone screams the painful truth: everything is fucked.

When they do slow it down, as on the grinding ‘Select Retail’, they bring out the brooding theatricality and highlight the depthlessness and superficiality of consumerism with the blank slogan / refrain ‘Select retail / reject detail’. But then they also do choppy, bass-led Shellac-tinged angularity on ‘Queue Jumper’. Closer ‘Modern Detritus’ distils every last ounce of frustration and compresses it into a dense roar of thunder.

Modern Technology are the real deal: this isn’t music being made with one eye on a commercial ticket, but music that’s born out of compulsion, the urge to purge. It’s art. It’s raw, it’s visceral, it’s painful. And in expressing the agony of frustration, it’s perfect.

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cover

Silber Records – 6th December 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The five soundscapes on Internecine Vampires are exploratory and carry an air of the vague and tentative. That isn’t to say indecisive or uncertain: Fisher has a clear sense of purpose here, and this mellifluous ambient work ventures into some interesting sonic territories, not least of all in the juxtapositions of texture and tone.

The liner notes describe the EP as ‘a free wheeling exploration of un-winnable situations & social conflict that drew inspiration from everything from chess, Star Trek, & Timothy Leary to considering the ways in which social groups too often fail to connect in meaningful ways’, and explain how ‘Fisher was also thinking about how queer & trans individuals are too often placed in the unwinnable situation of being evaluated on their ability to “pass” & considered inauthentic in relation to the “authentic” dominant culture… The unwinnable situation is an invitation to redefine the terms of success; to imagine different ways of being & of relating to the world & those around you; to reject simple binaries & to reject the internecine vampires that lurk within ourselves & our culture. Individuals are meant to be recognized as just that, individuals.’

I may have a doctorate in English literature, but ‘internecine’ is a new entry in my vocabulary. Meaning ‘destructive to both sides in a conflict’, it’ a strong addition and it’s the perfect selection for describing the gender wars which are currently raging in all directions, wreaking havoc with destructive infighting around what very much ought to be a common cause. The wider narrative is that gender conflict is a convenient distraction from everything else, particularly given that those battling it out tend to be left-leaning individuals. While I’m not about to suggest which battles anyone should choose, I do have a certain personal interest in the lines marked out between the sides, for reasons I’m disinclined to retread and labour here. Individuality should be a given right: what the world needs is for those individuals to unite against the enemy of governmental tyranny, etc., etc, etc.

On ‘Maps Of Loss And Longing’, soft xylophonic notes hover in a mist of reverb and slowly twist and warp. It’s subtle, but tangible. ‘Maru’ offers elongated, scraping drones of feedback and low, sonorous hums below, which twist together and twist apart. It’s delicate, graceful, sans form, and undirected. ‘Zugzwang’ brings a mournful violin, a banjo picked in a sparse, mournful fashion, against a dolorous, funereal beat and the occasional blurt of extraneous noise, while closer ‘Soon’ is a slow-turning sonic drift, a soft, supple cloud that changes form slowly, almost subliminally. It’s perhaps analogous to the EP and its message, in that it works as a piece of music, but its intent isn’t necessarily apparent. Objectively, this is no obstacle to the appreciation of what is a neatly-gathered and carefully-poised ambient instrumental assemblage that flows naturally and fluidly to form a cohesive piece of work.

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Luka Fisher – Internecine Vampires

7"/DL – Not on label – 16th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Pharoah Chromium’s Gaza was one of the most remarkable, and incredibly powerful releases of 2016: an audio collage constructed primarily with audio captured during during operation Protective Edge in Palestine in July and August 2014, it was a document of life in a war zone.

The press release which accompanies this 7” vinyl-only release, described as ‘a spoken word record with a sonic background’ explains that ‘Quatre heures à Chatila’ is a continuation of the Gaza project’, although this time the focus is on ‘the massacres that took place in the refugee camps Sabra and Shatila over the course of three days in September 1982, in Beirut, Lebanon’.

Of the Gaza LP, I suggested that context was everything, and this is also true here, as the accompanying text explains: ‘In an eerie twist of fate, one the most talented and subversive writers of the 20th century happened to be visiting Beirut at the time these gruelling events occurred. He was one of the first foreigners to enter the camps and witness the carnage. His text “4 hours in Shatila” is a minutious and poetic account of the war crimes Genet’s eyes encountered and endured for 4 hours that day’.

As such, the release – culled from the Eros & Massacre album project – features Elli Madeiros reading two segments of Jean Genet’s text against an electronic backdrop of elongated drones and a drifting wave of overlays from buzzing top-end and extraneous intrusions that bend and twist forged by Ghazi Barakat (aka Pharoah Chromium), and augmented by guitar courtesy of Osman Arabi on ‘Une Photographie a Deux Dimensions’ on side 1, and whispers courtesy of Rahel Preisser on ‘Saint Genet à Chatila’ on side 2.

‘Une Photographie a Deux Dimensions’ creates a creepy, unsettling atmosphere, flickering sonic shadows skitter this way and that behind the narrative, and while perhaps it’s best appreciated in its native tongue and without the encumbrance of text or the need to engage in activity which distracts from the listening experience as intended, the availability of an English translation of Genet’s text on-line does help in fleshing out the context. It also serves to render the full horror of the experience explicit.

The shorter ‘Saint Genet à Chatila’ is built – at least at first – around a looped, cascading motif. The vocal is delivered close-mic and with a certain urgency as digital diddles flit every which-way, spider-like across stop-start surges of bass that start sparse but echo to rolling thunder. It’s spine-tingling and uncomfortable, although one suspects something is lost in translation – or lack of.

Fittingly, as much as Genet’s depiction of the gruesomeness streets littered with bloodied corpses is horrific, it’s the pains he goes to to articulate the limitations of any given medium which render his account so powerful:

‘A photograph doesn’t show the flies nor the thick white smell of death. Neither does it show how you must jump over bodies as you walk along from one corpse to the next. If you look closely at a corpse, an odd phenomenon occurs: the absence of life in this body corresponds to the total absence of the body, or rather to its continuous backing away. You feel that even by coming closer you can never touch it. That happens when you look at it carefully. But should you make a move in its direction, get down next to it, move an arm or a finger, suddenly it is very much there and almost friendly.’

As such, Barakat must necessarily accept that the medium of sound can only convey so much, and while the composition and recital evoke the bewildering scenes and the effect of witnessing them first-hand, they can never truly convey that lasting traumatic impact.

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Chatila_front

Armalyte Industries – 7th December 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

However dark, gritty and sleazy <PIG> have gone over the course of their lengthy (try 30 year) if sporadic career, there’s always been both a wry humour and an appreciation of pop in evidence. This has been thrust to the fore in the latest releases in the shape of the grimy but shiny glam of ‘Risen’ and Raymond Watts’ most recent collaboration with Sasha Grey for a cover of KC and the Sunshine Band’s ‘That’s the Way (I Like It)’ which was pure pop and pure filth in equal measure.

The three covers on offer here – Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas’ and ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ (John Lennon) – are quite surprising in their straightness, but that isn’t to say there isn’t a twist. That is to say, it sounds like <PIG> covering some Christmas classics. Of course, the instrumentation is a little different, and Watts’ gravelly, low-throated style is distinctive to say the least – meaning that George Michael’s heartbroken lament is transformed into a leery come-on with more than a hint of Tom Waits about it, not to mention guitars that sounds like a Status Quo 45 played at 33.

‘Blue Christmas’ trudges and grinds, with Watts delivering his best snarling, sneering JG Thirlwell imitation against a backdrop of Bryan May guitars and soaring chorals. The incongruity is both genius and magic. Wrapping things up with ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, Watts backs off the irony, the sleaze, and the bombast. There’s no knowing wink behind the gravelly croon here, and it’s genuinely touching. And with all of the profits from this release going to

International Rescue Committee, the purpose of which is to ‘reunite refugee families torn apart by war, persecution or harmful policies’, we get to see a different side to <PIG>: for all of the theatricality, for all of Watt’s near-preposterous showmanship, there’s a real sense of humanity not even a scratch beneath the surface. With Black Mass Watts proves he’s not only the God of Gammon but a decent human being, spreading the real spirit of Christmas in these particularly bleak, Trump and Brexit-dominated times.

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Pig - Black Mass