Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Humpty Dumpty Records – 11th May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s quite the introduction: ‘Jérôme Deuson is an unstable musician’ is the opening sentence of the press release that accompanies his seventh album as aMute. But how many musicians are stable? And what even is stability? Is anyone entirely stable? Is it even a desirable state? So often, creativity emerges from a state of inner turmoil, or tempestuous emotional flux. There are, of course, infinite shades: this is just to peel back some of the layers of the initial and likely awkward response to the statement.

Some Rest is not the millpond calm the title may imply: it’s only some rest, not total rest, and in truth, the rest here is minimal, on an album that’s clearly the work of a restless soul.

The album’s structure and sequence is unusual, opening with the longest composition by far: the title track is almost eighteen minutes long, and transitions from a delicate swirl of strings through a vast, shoegazey post-rock vista to an expansive, driving rock workout. While there are strains of feedback amidst the humming melodic drifts and samples which echo, almost buried in the mix, and the whole thing builds to a sustained crescendo, it’s still a more sedate experience than its predecessor, the tempestuous 2016 album Bending Time in Waves.

Side two begins with the gloopy, bubbling ambience of ‘I’ve Seen it All’ before sliding into eerie dissonance on ‘Dead Cold’, which exploits ringing chimes which give way to softer, picked guitar and a more tranquil, melodic space, disturbed only be the vocal, processed and burred with distortion. It’s sort of melancholic, sort of trippy, sort of dislocated, sort of abstract, sort of shoegazey in a trilling organ swamped in echo sort of way. It’s all amplified into a fizzing digital funnel on ‘The Obsedian’, which features Christian Bailleau, emerging as a grand, slow-moving and mournful piece reminiscent in some respects of Dylan Carlson’s more recent work, exploring as it does the pitch, tone, and timbre of the guitar in near-granular detail. Closer ‘Maria’, with hints of early Pink Floyd, is similarly drifty, dreamy, trippy, echoey-warped, and it tapers away into vaporous clouds.

Because of its ever-shifting nature, and its sonic range, Some Rest provides only the briefest of respites for the listener to relax, creating as it does an atmosphere of flux and continual movement.

AA

aMute

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Trace Elements Records – 3rd August 2018

Frozen Flowers Curse The Day is the latest release from pioneering avant-guitarist Robert Poss, founding member of the legendary wall-of-guitars group Band Of Susans, who (in)famously started out with three members named Susan and usually maintained three guitarists in their ever-shifting lineup, which at one point featured a pre-Helmet Page Hamilton.

The development of the album Frozen Flowers Curse The Day was performed, recorded and mixed by Poss at Trace Elements Records studios in New York City with guest drummers including Dahm Majuri Cipolla (Torres, Lydia Lunch, Japan’s Mono) helping out on two tracks.

Being a solo release rather than a full-band effort, Frozen Flowers Curse The Day isn’t an overtly ‘rock’ album in terms of material or instrumentation and primarily features guitar and loops of strings, to sometimes woozy and disorientating effect. But Poss’ approach to guitar playing, lauded by none other than Steve Albini, is certainly distinctive.

Much of the material here is jangling drone, drifting, chiming indie shoegaze. It’s pleasant, easy on the ear, undemanding. In a good way. Frozen Flowers Curse The Day is an album which explores texture, tone, and mood, but above all, it follows the distinctive compositional template of Band of Susans in that the songs tend to bludgeon away at a simple three or four chord sequence while layers of droning chords or feedback build over the top as the song progresses.

This approach is very much to the fore on the album’s second track, ‘The Sixth Sense Betrayed’. Elsewhere, on ‘Partial Clearing’, Poss works the eddies and streams of swirling drone and exploits the basic mechanics of the instrument to create something quite compelling.

While much of the album is given to switch-flicking, string-tamping, knob-tweaking. It’s not so much about the simple chord motifs or notes which hang in the air, but more about their manipulation. But however much this an album shaped by technique you’d never call it a ‘technical’ album. Nores ripple and chime and collide against one another in washes of reverb in the most dreamy, immersive of fashions.

‘Time Frames Marking Time’ hints at ‘Elizabeth Stride’ from Band of Susans’ final album, 1995s Here Comes Success, and even echoes ‘Frere Jacques’, but these are fleeting moments, and that’s the whole point: this is really about transition ad ephemerality and the effects of the briefest of memory triggers from an artistic point of view. ‘I’ve got a Secret List’ is more up-front, a thunderous drum track thumping away beneath multiple layers of guitars, over which Poss strains over a repetitive lyric, while closer ‘I’ll Curse the Day’ comes on like Springsteen in a 4-track tape portastudio.  And yes, while battering away a single motif and simple chord structure, it does invite comparisons to BoS. Significantly, it holds up to those comparisons: Poss certainly hasn’t lost it.

Robert Poss

Radio Bongo

Christopher Nosnibor

The cover art – a photograph of the stump of a recently-felled tree – is one of those exercises in magnificent blandness. It’s the fact it’s clearly in an urban setting which perhaps gives the greatest clue to the music it accompanies; it’s the discarded trainer which actually makes the shot, however. The image really only makes sense in context of the liner notes, which begin ‘The spiral of a record. The routine of life. The growth rings of a tree. The rhythm of a drummer. The groove.’

Production credits go to a President Bongo, and Execution is listed as being the first volume in ‘Les Adventures de President Bongo’ – which, apparently, ‘is a unique work of art that will reveal itself over the next seven years, give or take, in the form of 24 LP’s.’ This is quite ambitious, and while I still have no real handle on the concept or direction after several listens to this album, ‘adventure’ seems to be an appropriate choice of word.

The album contains two tracks, ‘Drama’ and ‘Transmission’. ‘Drama’ certainly fulfils its promise, but in the most unexpected ways. It begins with gloopy electronic pulsations, a sort of semi-ambient dance vibe rippling, soft-edged and mellow. So far, so chillout-orientated, club-friendly mediocre. But then extraneous drones hover and scrape at oblique angles across it, at complete odds with the chilled waves. It takes a while to build, and before the beats kick in. ‘She can make it,’ croons Þormóður Dagsson, over and over again. It’s a cool groove, alright. His voice is so sweet, so smooth, so achingly soulful. He could probably sing a shopping list and still make you melt. But while the vocal sits with the mellow bubbling synth, it’s the discordant noise that swells to dominate the mix. The jarring incongruity of the clash forges less a dynamic tension than it serves as an apparent act of brutal sabotage. And then the drumming goes absolutely fucking berserk, and the whole thing whips into a brain-bending, bewildering mess of sound. The groove is buried in the tumult, from which eventually emerges a driving, bass-dominated jazz-rock groove. Where did that come from? Dagsson’s voice continues to float, untouched, surrounded by a halo of reverb, through the wild wig-out. It all goes jungle with added whistles and bleeps further down the line, and it’s fair to say you’re unlikely to experience a similar seventeen minutes of song anywhere else.

Well, apart from on side two, perhaps. ‘Transmission’ creeps in by stealth before taking a turn for the dubby. It strolls along, bouncing echoes hither and thither. The vocal performance is understated, low-key, yet all the more effective because of it. A note hangs in an echo as a kaleidoscopic spiral of synth notes swirls around the steady, toe-tapping beat. There’s none of the wild experimentalism of the previous track here, the focus instead being on building laid-back atmospherics and a smooching groove that shuffles on unassumingly.

Groove, then, comes in many shapes and forms, and some are less obvious than others. Tilbury take the groove and twist it, bend it, kick it around a bit, push it close to breaking point. The curious nature of the music indicates a curiosity about music on the part of the creators. The end result is pretty damn strange, but also strangely enjoyable. It’s all in the execution….

AA

Tilbury - Execution

Christopher Nosnibor

Paul K first came to my attention with the release of Glitch Code’s debut album, Gifted_Damaged, a real standout release for 2016 in the sphere of dark electronic pop. Omertà saw Paul venture out as a solo artist last year, and revealed a very different musical aspect: instrumental, dramatic, and in places a bit proggy, it found him explore some expansive sonic territories with impressive results.

The Fermi Paradox sees Kirkpatrick expand on this – immensely. And expand is the word: this is expansive both conceptually and sonically, and he explained that ‘the album is about the theme of isolation, exploring our place in the universe and questions “are we alone?” to the perspective of social isolation through social media… It looks at the space race and the billions spent on wondering if we are alone in the universe vs. the juxtaposition of so many lonely people on our own planet.’

As such, The Fermi Paradox ranges from the macro to the micro, casting an eye to the farthest reaches to the most inner of anxieties. So while in terms of what it delivers, The Fermi Paradox isn’t a million miles from its predecessor, in terms of intent and focus, it’s a very different beast from Omertà.

Such isolation is something that’s immensely relatable: I’ve found myself in discussions with a surprising number of people, many with anxiety issues, conflicted over social media. It’s a different kind of paradox from the question of alien lifeforms the title refers to, but nevertheless, it’s a paradox. The dependence on the endless stream of posts and comments is countered by the despondency the belief that your own life is no match for others’, the sense that other people breeze through life, happy and carefree while your own life is fucked. Any sense of connection feels flimsy, secondary to a sense of disconnection and inadequacy. And what happens when, just for five r ten minutes, your phone goes silent: no texts, no notifications? The silence you’ve been craving is a howling void of emptiness.

It’s with ponderous piano and soothing strings that ‘Anomaly’ opens the album, and it’s mellow but twistedly poignant. It’s clear that Kirkpatrick knows how to tug at the emotions without words. The motif that runs through ‘Sagan’ makes me think of ‘Forever Autumn’ from ‘The War of the Worlds’ – surely one of the most heartbreaking songs ever committed to tape. Or maybe I’m just a sap. Nevertheless, regardless of whether this is about the music itself or my response to it based on, its drift into lilting piano and achingly sad strings is simply beautiful.

It’s on ‘Ecce Homo’ that Paul reaches into expansive territory, a cinematic, layered progressive-style piece with soaring chorals and supple rhythms, it drives, but also meanders. At times, as on the opening of ‘Exegesis’, Kirkpatrick slides into near-ambient territory, but for the most part, it’s about sedate, spacious soundscapes, defined by rolling, soft-edged bass. As the album progresses, the song titles suggest a shift from the more inward-looking to gazing out into the cosmos.

Are we alone? Always. Intensely. But with The Fermi Paradox, Paul K has produced a magnificently-crafted soundtrack to play into the void.

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House Of Mythology – 6th July 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

In expressing my lack of enthusiasm for David Tibet’s collaboration with Youth under the moniker of Hypnopazūzu, I seemingly gave rise to mirth with my reference to ‘pseudomystical bullshit’. Tibet can laugh it off, but after so long churning out material that veers between the indulgent and the vapidly whimsical, I’m not convinced it’s a laughing matter.

Now, I’ll admit, I’ve never really got to grips with Current 93 – their catalogue was beyond overwhelming long before I even discovered music beyond the mainstream, and their output exists s far beyond the mainstream that I had to pass through Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse and a slew of others having spent my early teenage years mining the seam of goth and (what was then) contemporary industrial and real indie to even learn of their existence. Context counts, and however influential Tibet has been in ultraniche, cult circles, it doesn’t alter the fact that some of his art and affiliations over the course of his career have been questionable.

ZU93 is the effectively named new collaboration between David Tibet and the ever-changing Italian group Zu, centered around Massimo Pupillo and Luca Mai. Mirror Emperor operates around a concept or theme that’s never really rendered with any clarity. All of the song titles reference the titular Mirror Emperor, but they who, what, and wherefores are absent, and there’s little guidance in the lyrics, which are fragmentary, hallucinatory, abstract and non-linear. This in itself is no problem: life is fragmentary, hallucinatory, abstract and non-linear, and we’re all accustomed to postmodern art and its fragmentary, hallucinatory, abstract and non-linear representations of the life experience.

Musically, it’s sparse but powerful. In terms of composition and arrangement, Mirror Emperor is widely varied, but very much leans toward the dark and ominous. There are brooding strings that soar and sway, drift and drag. There are moments of deep resonance and thick sonic density. Far from being a skippy, trippy, easy ride, it’s often difficult and challenging. ‘Confirming the Mirror Emperor’ is built around a dense, murky bass that booms and surges over a slow, heavy beat, before layers creep over and lift it somewhere altogether different.

Tibet’s delivery is the stumbling block. Every word is delivered with the same sense of immense portent, as if each phrase is a revelation of cosmic proportions. Which it isn’t. ‘And quickly…. A knuckle cracks… into space… Opens up her… and feels…’ he gasps with breathless wonder. I’m more breathless with wonder as to how he can still pull this shit off.

Tibet’s despondency at the emptiness of contemporary culture is something to which I can relate: his wide-eyed mysticism, more of a throwback to 60s hippiedom than the escape routes available now, I can’t. It feels oddly disjointed and out of place. While his fans’ belief in his visionary prowess and the potency of his lyricism, convinces that posterity will see him aligned with Dylan and Cohen, I’m looking at the Mirror Emperor to check out his threads, and I’m seeing none.

It does get easier with exposure: Tibet slowly diminishes into the background as the music intensifies as the album progresses. ‘The Heart of the Mirror Emperor’ is forged from woozy electronic pulsations which glitch and glow. Ignore the breathy, triptastic babble about the sun and moon and it’s pretty good.

AA

ZU93 – Mirror Emperor

New Heavy Sounds – 20th July 2018

Originally released independently in February, Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0 sees Blacklab’s debut receive a vinyl release, wider distribution, and augmented by an additional track. It sounds like we’re arriving halfway through a song at the start of the album’s opener, ‘Black Moon’. It’s a slow, hefty riff that grinds out of the speakers at high volume. Yes, it’s loud and mastered even louder. Then the pace picks up the drums really get cracking and everything just throbs.

Yuko’s vocals are astonishing, switching between full-on gutsy hard rock, and witchy ethereal, and snarling deep and demonic. And they’re not afraid to send the needles into red, everything cracking with a fuzzy edge of overloading distortion. It’s this in-yer-face production that really makes Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0 the album it is. You don’t just listen to it: you feel it. You visualise the speaker cones on a massive rig vibrating, can almost feel the air being displaced.

‘Warm Death’ takes the face down and exploits the classic quiet / loud dynamic thing, and against a tidal wave of overdriven guitar the banshee howl vocals are nothing short of terrifying. Closer ‘Big Muff’ goes all the way for maximum downtuned sluge, with enough low-end to give rise to an uncomfortable sensation in the bowels. And it does so for ten whole minutes, in an audaciously excessive workout worthy of Melvins.

Coming on at times like Boris at their best, it’s hard to conceive that Blacklab are just two in number. Because this is some dense noise, gritty, driving and raw. There’s chug and grind, and there’s thunderous powerchords in abundance. In fact, there’s no let up – and no filler. And they could only ever have come from Japan: while we’ve seen a number of female-fronted stoner/doom/heavy bands emerging recently, Blacklab stand out as one of the fiercest, most intense and most-far out. They promise ‘Fuzz, fuzz, fuzz, doom, stoner, more fuzz,’ and they deliver it with the knobs all turned to eleven.

AA

Blacklab-Under-The-Strawberry-Moon-2.0

Les Albums Claus – 30th April 2018

Stuart Bateman

Ben Bertrand comes armed with a bass clarinet and a bunch of effects. Recorded live at les ateliers claus in October 2017, NGC 1999 doesn’t sound in any way live, and the five pieces feel very structured and are sequenced in a most cohesive fashion. While the number of singer-songwriters using loop pedals to fill out their sound seemed to explode about 12 years ago, to the point that it’s long been tedious and predictable to witness someone with an acoustic guitar and a little synth layering up the vocals and building simple three-chord strums up to epic choral dimensions.

Bertrand’s application of the equipment is both more subtle and more innovative. The repetitive motifs ripple and bounce against one another, and while there is layering, Bertrand’s restraint is noteworthy, keeping things sparse, low-key, minimal.

Taking its title from a dust-filled bright nebula in the constellation of Orion, 1,500 light years from earth – and distinctive for a black patch at its centre which is believed to be completely empty – the compositions are thematically-linked and contrive to convey a sense of floating in space.

Things to threaten to spiral out of control with shrill, electronic whistles sending the end of ‘V380 Orionis’ (a multiple star system at the centre of Orion and the primary source of light for NGC 1999) skyward. But thereafter it’s very much sparser and quieter. ‘Malkauns on Kitt Peak’ brings a change of tone for the album’s mid-point: a hushed, brooding expanse of elongated pulses which echo out into the darkness, it’s spacious yet strangely airless. For the first time on the album, the clarinet sounds like a clarinet as it meanders through a fizz of skittering treble that falls like shooting stars.

The pieces flow together and transition effortlessly as Bertrand bounces through the abyss with an assurance and tranquillity that’s soothing, but nevertheless strange.

AA

Ben Bertrand – NGC 1999