Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Wormhole World – 10th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Aaagh! It’s food porn overdose on ‘Jesus, God of Tower Hamlets’, the first track on ‘Looking After The Duck’, the new album by Crumpsall Riddle, aka Steven Ball and Jude Cowan Montague. Ball drones out ingredients – an Instagram wet dream or recipe for disaster dependent on your perspective – and a ream of random shit that seemingly splices news headlines and myriad found phrases read in a monotone like a shopping list over a thrumming drone that’s reminiscent of Suicide before Cowan Montague wails the fuck over it all in a truly demented fashion… and there it is: the soundtrack to our times. Nothing makes any fucking sense. To return to a paraphrased third-hand summary of Deleuze and Guratari’s assessment, a schizophrenic mindset it the only sane response to a late capitalist society. So what about now? Is this the end days of capitalism? What does anything even mean? And is looking for answers the most futile pursuit ever?

It’s clear JCM thrives on collaboration, and to describe her as ‘flighty’ is no criticism here: eclectic and diverse would be equally fair synonyms, but would fail to fully capture her free-spiritedness where it comes to her myriad creative projects. Steven Ball proves to be an inspired choice of co-conspirator for the making of musical mayhem. Suffice it to say that the abstract post-punk of Looking After The Duck, which comes with hints of Wire, couldn’t be much further from Hammond Hits, the uber-retro collaborative album recorded with Matt Armstrong, recently reissued on vinyl: while this album was an exercise in reconstructing a vintage pop aesthetic, Looking After The Duck indulges a far more experimental urge, and manifests as minimal, lo-fi indie affair that’s more reminiscent of Young Marble Giants.

‘Is this the end of the clock?’ they chant drably, repeatedly, on ‘Terra Unknown’, while circuits fizz and analogue synth sounds whizz and swish every whichway around them.

Wibbly electronic drones, pulsations, and oscillations abound, and a disembodied, wordless backing vocal provides the backdrop to abstract atonal spoken word on the nine-minute ‘Songs of Sol’, a would-be folk shanty in a parallel universe. And then it descends into a humming wash of bubbling pink noise and an analogue thrum that rises and falls, ebbs and flows, while Ball continues a never-ending monologue diatribe of randomness, a William Burroughs style cup-up without the focus. Yes, I’m struggling to find a thread of sense here, but sense of overrated in a world in which sense and linearity have all but dissolved.

The album as a whole is a disconnected, disjointed testament to postmodernity, collaging more vintage sounds – a trilling organ synth sound quivers a mournful backing to ‘The Old Man’ – with fragmented slivers of extranea, and leaning toward more arbitrary song structures over linearity. Looking After The Duck is, to my ears, leftfield and brilliantly out there: many will find it plain weird and tuneless. Many would be wrong: it’s oddball experimentalism that spawns innovation and progress. It’s also truer to the internal dialogue than many would admit, and it’s this uncomfortable truth that can be unsettling. People are scared to be presented with a mirror to their minds. This knowledge doesn’t make Looking After The Duck any less awkward or uncanny. But it is strangely brilliant, and no mistake.

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5th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ontario-based singer, guitarist, songwriter, and visual artist Clara Engel has been keeping busy: Hatching Under the Stars is their thirtieth release, and follows just over a year on from Where a City Once Drowned – The Bethlehem Tapes Vol II.

Engel’s songwriting style is subtle and understated, but there’s detail in the arrangements, and they imbue each composition with undercurrents that belie the soft, smooth surfaces. Many of the songs on Hatching Under the Stars share a common theme that links in with the title, with oviparous creatures – mostly birds, as represented by ‘Oiseau Rebelle’ and ‘Old Feathered Devil’, but also the occasional reptile (‘Baby Alligator’) – dominating an album riven with wildlife, ranging from ‘Little Blue Fox’(foxes are notorious raiders of nests for eggs) and ‘Any Creature’.

The instrumentation is sparse across the album’s nine lengthy songs (most it between six and eight minutes in duration), placing Clara’s exquisite voice as the focal point, although there’s a delicate and wistful-sounding slide guitar break and the song builds in both volume and depth in the second half.

‘Oiseau Rebelle’ is slow and haunting, the elongated notes undulating approximating an otherworldly birdsong that sends a chill down the spine. Departing from the album’s overarching thematic, the acclaimed early Modernist artist Marc Chagall is the dedicatee of ‘Preserved in Ice’, a sedate, reflective piece built around a cyclical guitar motif augmented by woodwind.

‘Let me out of this cage,’ she pleads in a soft croon on the eight-and-three-quarter minute ‘Old Feathered Devil’. ‘Let me run around the growing lake / until the morning comes / and I’ll be on my way.” It sounds like a sly deception, somehow, and Engel’s lyrical mastery lies in their ability to slide into different personas. Deftly, and by stealth, they ‘become’.

The version of ‘Little Blue Fox’ here is a completely different recording from the ‘Little Blue Fox’ EP: over a minute longer, it’s slower by miles, and more ethereal, subtle harmonic notes peak above the rolling picked strings while distant beat rumbles almost subliminally in the background.

While Engel’s majestic vocal is the most captivating feature on the album, it’s the way they work it around the quietly hypnotic musical motifs that makes Hatching Under the Stars so special, and listening to the album and allowing it to flow through conjures a reconnection with nature. Listening now, locked down and closed in, recalling stumbling over a urban fox on my way to work early one morning less than a month ago, the creatures of the wild feel like another world.. but as Engel reminds us on the final song, ‘The Indifference of Fire’, ‘mystery will carry on without me’… and so does life. And through it all, nature always wins.

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Ipecac Recordings –15th May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Because Melvins’ staggeringly prolific output clearly isn’t enough to keep singer and guitarist Buzz Osborne occupied, he’s gone and put out a second solo album, following on from 2014’s This Machine Kills. This time working with the equally prolific frequent collaborator and some-time Melvin Trevor Dunn, Buzzo offers up nine primarily acoustic songs.

The first thing to point out is that it doesn’t sound remotely like Mevins. There are some stoner / psychedelic twists spun in, but the overall vibe is one of brooding folk. Buzzo’s trademark full-lunged vocal I more often than not replaced by a hushed, breathy drawl. It’s pretty cool and works well in context. Solemn strings swoop and soar and cast long, lugubrious shadows over soft-strummed guitar: ‘Housing, Luxury’, Energy’ has the guitar feel of one of Nirvana’s acoustic songs, but tears into a heft chorus that growls and lurches hard.

There are some moments where the simplicity is stunning in itself: sometimes, when stripping things right, right back, there is time and space to bask in tones and the way notes resonate. There is a rare beauty in the way acoustic notes hang in the air, the details of how a harder or softer pick or strum varies the intonation. And we get this often on Gift Of Sacrifice: the sparse instrumentation is magnificent, notably on the rolling ‘Delayed Clarity’, but across the album a whole it’s a feature. ‘Science in Modern America’ finds Osborn growl-crooning over a cyclical chord sequence. It’s kinda sci-fi, it’s kinda dystopian and suddenly kinda now. Elsewhere, and in contrast, ‘Mock She’ is some kind of drunk country, and the depths and layers of Gift Of Sacrifice continue to reveal themselves, meaning that what may superficially appear ordinary is, in fact, pretty warped.

So, yes, this being Buzzo, things do weird out in places – many places, if truth be told – like on the brief interlude that is ‘Junkie Jesus’, and the frantic warped string frenzy that is the outro, ‘Acoustic Junkie’. Then there’s the fact that the portentous strum of ‘Bird Animal’, to all intents and purposes a psychedelic acoustic motoric minus percussion, dissolves into fluttering R2D2 bleeps a minute or so before the end. Like the way ‘Mock She’ descends into frenzied free jazz for 30 seconds in the middle, while fractured distortion obliterates the vocals in the final verses. You envisage Buzzo sitting in the studio with the producer, leaning over and twiddling knobs here there and everywhere, and everyone present shouting ‘just leave everything alone!’ But of course, then it wouldn’t have that unique twist that transforms some solid songs into works of warped genius. And that’s precisely what this is.

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Carrier Records – CARRIER049

Christopher Nosnibor

We’re deep into skittery microtonal bleeping territory with this 24-track extravaganza. Sussman’s work is algorithm-based, meaning there’s a certain formality to the proceedings, however chaotic the notations become. And they do indeed become chaotic, explosive,

The first of these tiny sonic snippets, ‘Kr 22.2.6’ is a hyperspeeded barrage of blips that sounds not dissimilar to the old dial-up sound. Wonky chimes and clanging digital bongs abound, along with stammering, clattering metallic beats and popping electronic arrythmia jitter through EQ filters.

Variety comes in the form of splurging squelches, parping electronic squiggles that wobble digital farts: ‘Kr 28.1.6’ almost forges a semblance of a funk groove from the bubbling sonic swap. In contrast, ‘Kr 29.4.13’ ebbs and flows ins surging pulsations that set the teeth and nerves on edge with a squall of digital fizz’, while ‘Kr 30.3.14’ is fun but warped, a detuned piano bouncing every which way in a tidal wash of delay. ‘Kr 31.3.18’sounds like a call from a mobile phone in a washing machine, while ‘Kr 33.5.8’ is a sparking digital blastbeat that showers treble explosions are several hundred shards per minute.

The album as a whole is a morass of digital experimentation, and each piece is but a fragment, with running times ranging from 2:28 to 2:49. It’s bewildering, disorientating, difficult. It isn’t for everyone. But it is interesting.

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Ipecac Recordings – 24th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Some cursory research tells me that Oscillospira is an anaerobic bacterial genus from Clostridial cluster IV that has resisted cultivation for over a century since the first time it was observed. There’s a distinct compositional theme across the album’s eight compositions, although, with high drama and dynamics dominating.

Thirlwell has been mining a rich seam of orchestral drama for a long while now, in a trajectory that began with the 1985 Foetus album Nail. Since then, his projects have become increasingly expansive and ambitious, and the last decade has seen him abandon all trace of anything that could be remotely construed as ‘industrial’ in favour of grand cinematics, not only on the latter Foetus albums, but also the Manorexia releases and soundtrack works and all the other various side projects… Did I mention that over 40 years into his career, despite having tempered his wilder sonic urges, Thirlwell’s creativity and output remains unabated? And yet for all the volume, the quality remains undented. I make no apologies for the fact that I’m a total fan, and have been forever.

Few musicians are even a fraction as articulate as Thirlwell, musically, lyrically, or conversationally. Throughout his lengthy career, he’s retained his somewhat enigmatic status and singular musical view.

This collaboration with Simon Steensland is one of many during his career, and is very much representative of Thirlwell’s output over the last decade: heavy orchestral work with all the widescreen feel of a John Williams work, while at the same time seeing Thirlwell return to territories that bring industrial and orchestral together in a head-on collision.

‘Catholic Deceit’ enters by stealth with a sweep of strings, but swiftly develops into something bold and layered, before crunching metal guitars grind in hard and heavy. Revisiting the religious theme at the album’s mind-point, single release ‘Papal Stain’ follows a similar trajectory, with some energetic jazz drumming and discordant horns clashing crazily over the course of its ten-minute running time.

‘Heron’ goes choral and a little bit original Star Trek, but equally has some hushed, eerie passages that not only provide contrast, but alter the mood significantly. There’s a Swans-like stop-start guitar grind at the heart of ‘Night Shift’ over which monastic vocals echo like a ritual, and ‘Heresy Flank’ pushes a cyclical groove that’s ruptured by some classic orchestral strikes.

It’s not just the arrangements and the varied instrumentation that are outstanding in their immense vision and inventiveness, but the production too: it’s immense, and while the overall effect is one thing, the detail entirely another, as incidentals leap out unexpectedly, and different instruments rise to the to fore. Often, such details are subtle, but the effect and impact are pronounced, and something special.

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March 28, 2020

No preamble, no slow-building intro: Fret! pile in with everything louder than everything else on the full-throttle set opener, ‘Hillbilly’. It’s got swagger and groove, but it sure as hell ain’t country, and similarly, ‘Surf’ is swampy, repetitive, dingy. And of course, I’m excited.

Recorded live at South Street Arts Centre, Reading (UK) 18 March 2017, Fierce Business On South Street documents a set which comprises a large number of songs from the album

Through The Wound The Light Comes In, released the month before. It captures the feel of a live show brilliantly, being raw, unsanitised, and in your face. Right now, when I’m missing gigs so badly it hurts, Fierce Business On South Street reminds me of everything that’s special and unique about that blast of sound in a confined space, with the immediacy and proximity to both the band and other people being leading factors. It’s perhaps ironic that this live recording does more justice to some of the songs than their studio counterparts, but Fret! are a band who are 100% DIY in their aesthetic, and the zero production applied to the releases to date is integral to that.

‘DK’, the first track on Through The Wound, is built around a cyclical bass riff and some churning guitar that slows to a crawl before bleeding into the lugubrious doomy dirge of ‘Dark as a Dungeon’, a downtuned grinder that which features the set’s first vocals. If you’re looking for melody or hooks, look elsewhere. Cut down to seven minutes from the 14-minute studio version, it’s still epic on every level.

They rip through nine songs in just over half an hour, with a succession of short sharp shocks – ‘Cowboy’, ‘Punch’, and ‘Loop’ are all around two-and-a-half minutes, with the penultimate assault, ‘Tired’ being blasted through in a blink-and-miss-it minute and a half. Closer ‘Sonic’ blasts in with a blitzkrieg of snare shots like machine-gun fire and it drives it all home to the finish in style and with all the energy.

The riffage is relentless, and dingy and packs the same sweaty gunge heft of early Tad, and this is so grimy you’ll probably need to shower afterwards.

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13th March 2020

Following on from the single cuts ‘An’ and ‘Zabt’ in January and February, Turkish musician Akkor unveils the full-length album in the form of Durma, which promises ‘an electroacoustic narrative in a progressive cinematic sound universe through piano, synthesizers, soundscapes and recorded/found noises’.

What these releases hinted at, and which the album confirms, is that Akkor’s approach to combining found sound and electroacoustic arrangements are subtle, seamless, even. Rather than collaging cut-up fragments and snippets across one another to disorientating effect, Akkor processes everything, hard, smoothing it together to form a whole that’s textured but remarkably coherent. That there’s an overtly structured feel to the album, with piano motifs and defined beats holding things together is the key here.

The ten-and-a-half minute title track which opens the album is a spacious ambient work that rumbles, scrapes and soars towards the stratosphere before the thudding electro beats kick in and pull it back towards the ground. It’s mellow and expansive, but there’s a solidity at the core of the cloud-like drift.

It sets the tone and the form nicely. With all but one of the seven tracks stretching past the five-minute mark and the majority in the six to ten-minute range, Akkor isn’t afraid to explore, to give his ideas and the sounds that carry them room to breathe. And Durma is one of those albums that’s best experienced as a whole, not because of continuity or flow, but because it sits together as a single piece. And when heard as such, it’s an absolute pleasure.

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