Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Criminal Records – 9th June 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

It may just be something I muse over, but there’s a question of what level is a band’s ceiling – at what point the potential they seem to offer meets with the reality of the fanbase they actually manage to build. Weekend Recover are one of those bands who have long seemed to have hovered on the cusp of breaking through without ever quite going over the line. These things are 10% songs and quality, and 90% luck. So many great bands never reach the audience they deserve. Graft will get you do far, but it’s more about being in the right place at the right time than anything else. Weekend Recovery graft life fuck, and seem determined to make their luck.

The thing with Weekend Recovery is that, while they do have a relatively small but seriously hardcore faithful fanbase, they’ve been prone to change their sound and lineup as often as Lori changes her hair. The stylistic changes are likely consequence of the band’s inner turbulence as much as anything else, but artistically, this is a positive thing: they never stay still, never settle into a comfortable rut, and are always challenging themselves. But the downside to this is that a lot of music listeners are averse to change and like bands to give them something familiar, more of the same. Yes, they like to pigeonhole. Since female-fronted is not a genre, what are they, exactly, apart from a guitar band?

It seemed like they’d already been around forever by the time of the release of their debut album in 2018, having evolved from Katy Perry meets Paramour poppy alt-rock into an altogether grittier, rawer, trashy punk act in the process. Their signing to Criminal Records marked the next step in their reaching a wider audience, garnering more airplay and a busy live schedule found them not only playing to fuller venues, but also scoring support slots with the likes of Starcrawler. The fact they’ve already sold nine of the ten test press vinyl copies at a hundred quid a pop a week before release speaks for itself, at least in terms of their fans’ dedication. But what about building a broader base?

Stepping up venue size to headline The Corporation in their (current) hometown of Sheffield just before Christmas, followed by a sold out show at The Leadmill probably answers the question, at least in part, and having landed themselves on global playlists on Apple, Deezer and YouTube has no doubt been a factor.

Esoteric answers the question in full. It is not more of the same, not least of all with Lori’s greater use of spoken / sprechgesang passages, but does feel like less of a leap from its predecessor, at least in musical terms. That’s probably attributable largely to the fact that this has been their longest-standing lineup in memory, and the fact Dan and Callum make for an outstandingly solid rhythm section. Having a secure home on Criminal Records no doubt also helps. That doesn’t mean that Esoteric is a ‘safe’ record, a blanket and slippers affair, but it’s the sound of a band who have finally found some stability and have been able to concentrate on the job of writing and recording songs instead of juggling a load of distracting peripheral shit like ‘crap, we need to find a bassist’.

There are things I’m unsure of here: the album’s title being a leading one. Meaning ‘obscure’, and commonly referring to specialist, even secret, knowledge only understood by a few, what are they saying here? It’s a title I’d likely associate with some mystical drone or doom band rather than an uptempo rock trio. Is there something subliminal hidden in the lyrics or in the album’s very grooves? I don’t get any great sense of any of this from songs like ‘In the Crowd’, with lines like ‘We’re going in the crowd / it’s getting very loud’. It’s one of those songs that while it may – does – work live with some crowd buzz and energy to drive it along, recorded and out of context, it just sounds rather lame, not to mention pretty daft. It’s an affliction that troubles any bands when they reach a certain status, namely the point at which band life detaches them from real life, and so band life becomes the subject of the songs, with the effect being that in an instant, they stop speaking to and for us, and instead for themselves only. And when a band who articulated what you felt stop doing that, you’re left bereft. And then there all of the woo-hoo choruses and line-fillers. It’s something I see and hear increasingly, so perhaps that’s an aspect of contemporary songwriting I’m not down with, and an indication that Weekend Recovery are bang on the zeitgeist. Perhaps that’s why they’re getting more radio play.

Esoteric balances the grungy, guitar-driven style with the slick, radio-friendly alt-rock of their early years, and kicks off with lead single cut ‘Chemtrails’. Again, there are questions. Growing up, I knew them as vapour trails, before learning the term ‘contrails’. And then they became a source of anxiety as a popular theme on ‘the Internets’ before Lana Del Rey solidified things with her seventh album, Chemtrails over the Country Club. But this is a song about confusion and overload: ‘the waves are slowly sending me insane’ Lori hollers over a choppy instrumental backing that straddles punk and new wave. What to believe in? Who to believe? The world in which we find ourselves is enough to drive anyone insane, and insanity is the only sane response to an insane world.

The production is definitely their smoothest yet, and it’s very clear: the guitar is dense, but it’s backed off and is very much mid-rangey and there’s a lot less bitey distortion, and this is evidenced in the rerecorded version of ‘No Guts All the Glory’. This is, without doubt, the song that will likely be their anthem: it’s catchy, it’s ballsy, it’s tight, you can sing along and mosh to it, and it’s got broad relatability. But then there’s no shortage of meaty tunes along the way: ‘Dangerous’ brings urgent post-punk of an early 80s vintage with hints of Siouxsie and the Banshees to the party, while ‘I Don’t Like You Anyway’ pairs a low-slung bass and pummelling drum with some sinewy guitars and a stomping chorus, and there’s an offhand sneer to the verse that’s next-level nonchalance. Then there’s ‘The Knife’ which is one of those anthems of hurt that people can relate to and invest in, and if ‘Her’ is, on the face of it, a folksy ballad, it’s a fair bit more than that if you tune into the lyrics.

And perhaps this, this is the secret wisdom: the secret to unlocking the potential that’s been there all along. The songs on Esoteric feel more evolved, more fully formed, and the switches between melodic hooks and bursts of anger and energy give them an exciting dynamic. For all of the poppiness, there’s some real darkness, and some weight, too. The songwriting across the set is more consistent, too, and when bolstered by the production, it all seems to have really come together here.


WR Esoteric Cover – 9th June 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

On clocking this in my inbox, I fleetingly felt a flicker of amusement as I recalled a long-lost article I had written over a decade ago about fictitious musical genres, which included LARPcore, where bands inspired by Viking Metal re-enacted historical battles in full costume. (I also mentioned Symphonic Doom before the term appeared as a thing). Then I realised that, as I’m prone to doing when I’m not concentrating, I’d misread, but then on reading the notes which accompany the new album by Kent Clelland, aka LapCore (which makes a lot more sense in context of what he does musically), my amusement was replaced by a certain crackle of excitement.

For this reason, it’s worth quoting: ‘With Fear_of_D[istraction] LapCore continues his exploration of digital audio synthesis and distortion techniques, researching the complex tonal digital structures he affectionately refers to as cTonality. In contrast to the more upbeat and aTonal album LapCore 132 (his 2017 full-length self-published release), Kent Clelland has freed himself to explore the darker, and more cerebral faces of computer music composition. With multi-channel oscillators he brings sonic entrainment into the musical range of frequencies as opposed to the typical sub-audible entrainment frequencies, composing melodic and harmonic parts with the artefacts to create cTonalities.’

But here’s where it gets interesting, and will likely prove divisive:‘Weaving polymetric binaural oscillators with a lopsided bass drum engine, he lulls your senses into a state of receptivity upon which he then sews synthesised tapestries inspired by his hyper-perceptual, cancer-treatment-infuenced dogma adventures in the pre-pandemic delirium. LapCore produces these tracks as an attempt to preserve his brain damaged audio hallucinations, sharing them in a venue larger than the space between his ears.

‘The performance of LapCore’s Fear_of_Di[straction] (2017-2022) is a 48 minute sonic quilt of recordings of AI Musical Agents during training sessions intricately hand-sewn into the fabricated projection of the audio dimension.’

Yes, Fear_of_D[istraction] incorporates elements of AI. ‘Nooo!’ people will likely shriek and no doubt some will be unhappy even with my writing about this album on this basis for propagating the death of the artist. But the death of the artist – if we take ‘the author’ in a broader context – has long been a preoccupation of literary theory and postmodernism, as far back as Roland Barthes’ 1967 essay of the same title. Yet now, as we find ourselves pondering what some are variously referring to as post-postmodernism or metamodernism, there is mass panic over the chimera we have created with speculation that not only artists but most occupations will be obsolete in a matter of years and we will soon be driven to extinction by our errant creation. I’m reminded of numerous sci-fi novels, not least of all Michael Chrichton’s Prey. Published twenty years ago, it feels more relevant now than ever, as is the way with much true science fiction, which takes current science and projects hypothetically forward, but also demonstrates that this fear is nothing new. And yes, of course, we – as a species – have pursued this end. Our demise through AI seems unlikely, but if it does happen, we probably deserve it.

While AI photos and even falsely-attributed Guardian articles are giving great cause for consternation – understandably – overall, it’s still the potential of AI which is scarier than the current capabilities, and this is nowhere more evident in music, where it’s fair to say that most purely AI generated compositions are toss. But also, in more experimental fields, composers have been using algorithms and customised programmes to generate sound since the advent of computers and synths – and I have covered countless of these in the last fifteen years.

LapCore incorporates AI as simply another tool in his kit, and has used this hybrid of man and machine to forge a work that melds Krautrock and minimal techno, microtonal experiments and harsh electronics to eye-opening effect.

The first of the album’s seven compositions, ‘Stuck Like a Magnet in Switzerland’ is built around grating oscillators and some extreme stereo panning, which is well-executed, and immediately grips both sides of your cranium and squeezes. The flow of blooping synthesised rhythms is rent with a buzzing distortion the like of which some of us will remember as the way a mobile phone signal would interfere with the TV – and at three times the volume of the busy bubbling track, it comes as an uncomfortable moment of shock. All kinds of feedback and interference disrupt the musical melange thereafter, dial-up tones and all kinds of electrical chaos collide and crackle unpleasantly. But being unpleasant doesn’t make it bad: this is one of those works that is relentlessly challenging in its pursuit of ‘difficult’ tones, textures, and frequencies, often simultaneously.

‘Microdose’ feels more like an overdose, as an angry hornet the size of a lion takes residence in the space at the front of your skull, right in the sinuses, and vibrates your brain without mercy against a backdrop of disjointed techno. This is some brutal synth torture, and elsewhere, there are drones and whistles reminiscent of early Whitehouse and Throbbing Gristle, atop dome very DAF-like electronica. ‘Americium’ is busy, a constant drip and froth of watery notes bouncing against one another – and it sounds experimental. And this is the key to appreciating Fear_of_D[istraction]: it’s not a work that tries to pretend to be a human creator hiding behind AI for a laugh, and nor is it the sound of AI running wild. Instead, it’s an album which sees its creator consider the challenge ‘how can we use this?’

If it sounds somehow ‘impersonal’, the same is true of much electronica; by the same token, Fear_of_D[istraction] very much sounds like a guy pressing buttons and twiddling knobs and looking to see just how much disruptive, disturbing synthy noise he can throw over a sequenced beat. The artist isn’t dead yet.

Room40 – 2nd June 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve been engrossed by Lawrence English’s works for some years now, and my appreciation of him and his methods were only enhanced when I conducted an interview with him about ten years ago for a now-defunct site (so many are now: the idea that once online it’s there forever has been proven false, and we’re all sitting, bewildered by as rapidly-vanishing archive of the recent past), where we touched on cut-ups and William Burroughs and I was struck by the depth of his knowledge and references.

But I have grave concerns around future history, or the future of history. While the move to digital was hailed as a move toward permanence, incorruptibility, the opposite has proved true. No-one writes anything down anymore, no-one produces additional. tape copies. If your hard-drive gets fucked, so does your entire library. The Cloud? Do you even know where it is? Does it even exist?

While we reflect on this, let us also consider this album and its slow gestation. David Toop is another artist I’ve spent some time listening to, and writing about, including his Breathing Spirit Forms three-way collaboration with Akio Suzuki and Lawrence English, but this is the first time just the pair of them have worked together, and Lawrence explains its evolution as follows: ‘Over the years, David and I have shared an interest in both the material and immaterial implications of sound (amongst other things). Moreover we’ve connected many times on matters which lies at the fringes of how we might choose to think about audition, our interests seeking in the affective realm that haunts, rather than describes, experience. The Shell That Speaks The Sea very much resonates from this shared fascination… I’m not exactly sure when we first mooted this duet, but I sense its initial trace is now more than a decade ago. I tend to live by the motto of ‘right place, right time’ and I believe David likely also subscribes to this methodology. A couple of years ago, David and I reignited the duet conversation and began exchanging materials. As a jumping off point, I explored a series of field recordings that, for me at least, captured something of this affective haunting that I mentioned previously’.

And haunting it is: ghosts of memories and fragments of half-recollections lurk and loom amidst the thick, dark shadows forged by the unsettling sounds. The title suggests an album of soft ambient washes, a gentle tidal swash, a soothing, tranquil work. It is not.

‘Abyssal Tracker’ is remarkably atmospheric in a sparse, gloomy, sense, and provides a fitting introduction to the duo’s idiosyncratic work, compiling sighs and vocal rasps over elongated strains of feedback and a suffocating atmosphere. Shrill shrieks echo out over eerie notes and a scratching insectoid clamour in the trebly range. Thuds ripple beneath the surface: there is so much texture and detail here, you find yourself looking about nervously, seeking the various sources and to see what’s over your shoulder, or hovering above your head.

Clanks and clatters and clanks and thuds are the dominant features of this album, and is lasers fire into the abyss of emptiness on the dense and disturbing ‘Reading Bones’, which scratches and scrapes, while there are earth-churning low-range disturbances – and words, but they’re indecipherable, spoken in low, whispering grunts, and it’s impossible to decipher even the language, sounding as it does like an ancient incantation.

It’s not all quite so skin-pricklingly tense, but much of it is: ‘Mouth Cave’ is dark, dank, low and rumbling, but has textures and what sounds like the trickle of running water spattering in the background amidst the cavernous gloom, and if ‘Whistling in the Dark’ sounds like a simplistic description, it’s accurate – but also suspenseful, scary and bordering on horror tropes; the whistling is deranged and floats through a heavy, crackling doomy drone. There are more ominous mutterings amidst the creeping darkness of ‘The Chair’s Story’, which feels like casting a look back through the ages through a thick fog at scenes of torture and pain and great sorrow and forward, to a laser-bleeping future.

As I seem to be prone to lately, I found myself nodding through fatigue but also, simultaneously, tense and alert during The Shell That Speaks The Sea, an album which possesses vast sonic expanses and a bleak, oppressive atmosphere. Each track offers something different, and this only accentuates the ‘otherness’ of the music this album contains; it’s like walking through a series of disturbing dreams, whereby each scene presents a new unfamiliar setting, and there are hints of BBC Radiophonic Workshop and vintage sci-fi about this incredibly imaginative work.

It may have taken a long time to piece together, but the results make the labour more than worthwhile.



Human Worth – 19th June 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

I’d love to avoid tedious repetition but it’s hard to review yet another Human Worth release without mentioning just how fucking great this label is, because the name means what it says – it’s a label of rare integrity, which always donates a percentage of proceeds to charitable causes, more often than not one local to the artist, and for this release by ‘shape shifting south London noise rock outfit Thee Alcoholics’, 10% of proceeds from this record will be donated to the south London based charity The Lewisham Primary Care Recovery Service.

They’re also outstanding with their radar for quality noise, and Thee Alcoholics sit comfortably on the label’s roster, delivering ‘songs that rail against injustice, intolerance and institutionalised Great British apathy – neatly wrapped around screeching, trash guitar riffs and blast beat driven bass synths. Mixing the gnarly, outsider big muff energy of early Tad and Mudhoney with the industrial crush repetition of Godflesh. Ugly vocals are buried somewhere between the Brainbombs and Girls Against Boys.’

Could it get any better? Well, actually, yes! The EP’s artwork, by Tony Mountford, tips a hat to Therapy?’s live 7inch ‘Opal Mantra’, while the recording itself is pitched as ‘a document of the journey so far – 30 minutes of agro [sic] drunk rock n roll. In the red sizzle of a load of broken equipment. The band barely holding it together in their chaotic element.’ Oh, and it’s mastered by Jon Hamilton of Part Chimp.

Human Worth may be a young label, but the sense of musical history and heritage that informs their choices is remarkable, and all of the references trace a solid lineage to the early 90s – and it’s hard to overstate just how exciting those short few years were. Because as much as it was about Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine breaking the mainstream, it was about a current of alternative guitar-based music which occupied John Peel’s playlists and infinite column inches in Melody Maker (if not so much the NME). And the live ‘Opal Mantra’ EP is absolutely fucking blinder and makes for an admirable reference point, packing as it does raw and ripping renditions of ‘Innocent X’ and ‘Potato Junkie’ alongside one of the best non-album tracks ever. That a band could chuck a song like that out in such a fashion was a revelation at the time and it’s interesting to see all of these references come together here.

For me, Tad was always way more the quintessence of grunge than, say, Pearl Jam, the gritty, sweaty metal heft of songs about farming and manual labour really getting to grips with the reason the Seattle scene emerged representing the blue-collar – or perhaps more accurately the plaid-collar demographic who needed to vent after several hours of slog and grind. And Thee Alcoholics really capture that mood, often at a frantic pace that suggests a strong influence from mid- to late-eighties hardcore melded with nineties noise and grunge.

Live recordings can be difficult: too crisp and clean and so polished and overdubbed it doesn’t sound live, or otherwise just dingy and shit; this one is great because it’s not dingy and shit, but isn’t exactly ‘produced’ either: it’s dense and you can hear the audience – sometimes shouting to one another during the songs, because they’re tossers – and it all makes for a document that’s perhaps flawed to some ears, but is, as a document, absolutely perfect because you really do feel like you’re there.

Live At The Piper features live renditions of songs from their debut album released on cassette, and seven-inch releases, and it’s warts-and-all in the vein of The Fall’s Totale’s Turns – and it needs to be: it’s a proper live document rather than some polished-up, super-dubbed-up, hyper-clean fictionalised reimagination of events, as they power through eight songs in twenty-four minutes.

‘A Ghetto Thing’ is two minutes of throbbing, thrashing fury, rushing its way to the safety of a pub car park in blitzkrieg of noise, while ‘Turn on the Radio’ is built around a driving riff which switches up a key for the chorus; the vocals are half buried and the drums dominate everything and it’s all over in less than two minutes, which is time enough to do the job of grabbing you by the throat and kneeing you in the nuts several times. It’s a hell of a racket, but amidst the frenetic crashing of cymbals and general murk is a song that’s strong enough to lodge in your brain, and it’s rare for bands this noisy, this messy, to incorporate ‘catchy’ elements, favouring instead sheer force and sonic impact – which they do elsewhere, not least of all with the high-impact forty-one second detonation that is ‘Sweetheart’. Then again. ‘She’s the Man’ is built around a nagging locked-in industrial groove, but it’s also scuzzy as hell, and it’s not hard to see where the Godflesh and Girls Against Boys references come in, and it’s arguably the strongest song on the set, a low-sling grinding wheeze emerging from shards of feedback.

Six-and-a-half-minute set closer ‘Politicians’ is low, slow, and grimy – which is extremely fitting, really, and the booming, sludgy bass is just magnificent.

As with the B E L K release, Human Worth have adhered with the old hardcore ethic of releasing a band in its rawest, most unadulterated form, and it works because it preserves the energy and integrity of the moment. It ain’t pretty, but it’s real.



Mille Plateaux – 19th May 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

Fase Montuno is the twenty-seventh release by Cristian Vogel. Yes, the twenty-seventh. Depending on which version you get, this one has seven or eight tracks, all reliant on old synth and drum machine sounds, giving it very much a late 70s / early 80s vibe,

As the accompanying notes detail, ‘This highly personal release is a visionary take on the futuristic potential of Latin American electronica, and promises to be a thrilling journey through Vogel’s musical imagination, every track infused with his signature creativity and energy.

Vogel has lingered on the fringes of dance music for the entirety off his career, and Fase Montuno goes very much all out on accentuating the dance elements of the pieces. That doesn’t mean that Fase Montuno is a chart-dance album, not at all. But with its Larin American influences, it’s very much music you can dance to, if you’re that way inclined – and if you’re not, well, it has groove, and that’s something anyone can get into.

The title track is a busy, bleepy six-minute chiptune that builds layers and energy as it progresses. Things get glitchier and gloopier on ‘Temples in the Sky’ with some busy polyrhythms which flicker over pulsing beats and swathes of swashing synths. It’s sparse, but at the same time there is much happening, sometimes incidentally, sometimes simultaneously.

Always, the beats are dominant, even when pitched subtly. ‘Labyrinth and Warrior’ mines a specific seam of techno I find quite oppressive despite its spaciousness, whereby the repetitions are tightly looped and I find myself feeling as if I’m trapped in a nagging glitch of just a second or two and physically can’t move. Ironic, perhaps, that certain dance music should, instead of moving me, render me utterly paralysed and almost suffocating with claustrophobic panic. But there it is. For those reasons, I find this and uncomfortable experience, and difficult to enjoy.

And so it is that the nagging grooves of Fase Montuno lead nowhere other than inside, burrowing into themselves and clanking away hermetically: there is nothing beyond this is and of itself, and while many find release and escape in this form of music, for me, it’s like being zipped up in a bag where I’m unable to move my limbs and then thrown into a darkened room – worse than sensory deprivation, it’s like the drip-drip-drip of water torture.

I can’t blame Cristian Vogel for my extreme and quite irrational reaction to his music: it’s meticulously crafted, and the frequencies, the mix, are magnificent, and evidence – as if more evidence were needed – Vogel’s enduring appeal in his field.



Riot Season Records – 23rd June 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

Having had something of a chuckle at Henge for their pseudo-space mythology and psychedelic psilliness, I find myself squaring up to purveyors of genre-straddling experimental doom, Codex Serafani. Their biography explains: ‘Their journey started a long time ago, some say on Saturn, some say in the subconscious of the human psyche, coming out in different manners through the ages, channeled by mystics, witch doctors, shamans, free thinkers, free spirits. But we do know that what has become Codex Serafini travelled here from their home world on Enceladus in 2019 and crash landed into the music scene of Sussex.’ Of course they did.

But what are the chances that a I’m writing this review, an article from The Guardian pops up in my news feed reporting on how astronomers have spotted a six-thousand mile plume of water vapour blasting from Enceladus – a small moon belonging to Saturn believed to be one of the most promising places in the solar system to find life beyond Earth? As coincidences go, this was an usual one, and one which befits this band.

With a name which references Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus, an illustrated encyclopaedia of an imaginary world, written in an imaginary language, it’s clear these guys have a keen interest in the realms of fantasy and mythology, to state it lightly.

I suppose that the concept piece whereby the concept includes the artist as much as, if not more than, the album goes back to Bowie – but back in 1972, this was new and novel, and moreover, Bowie was unique and an artist whom you could almost believe was from another planet. But even then, however much the concept became all-encompassing, it was also clear that the concept was a persona. But to base an entire career on a persona – not a media or public persona, but a far-fetched one which requires the suspension of disbelief – can be somewhat limiting. Where do you go when you’ve explored the concept to its logical limits?

In creating such a vast and multi-faceted alternative universe, Codex Serafini have ensured an abundance of time and space in which to explore and expand their concept, and rather than it being self-limiting, the challenge will be to test the capacity of their imagination, not only conceptually, but also musically.

While the adage that you should never judge a book by its cover hold some merit, one can tell much about an album by the ratio of its duration to the number of tracks, and The Imprecation Of Anima has a running time in excess of forty-five minutes and contains just four tracks. We know we’re in ‘epic’ territory before hearing a note, and the first of the four compositions, ‘Manzarek’s Secret’ unfurls slowly with a long droning organ (which one suspects is no coincidental nod to The Doors) and chiming percussion. It’s not long before a thick, gritty bass and reverb-heavy vocal incantations are joined by some wild brass to burst into the first of numerous big, jazz-flavoured crescendos. At nine-and-a-half minutes long, it’s epic, but only an introduction ahead of the fifteen-minute swirling mystical monster that is ‘Mujer Espritu’, which brims with Eastern promise and sprawls in all directions at once.

Single release ‘I Am Sorrow, I Am Lust’ is perhaps the least representative song of the album as a whole: it’s snappy, exuberant, uptempo, jazzy, rocky, busy, climactic, and fairly structured – and clocking in at three minutes, it feels like a single when standing alone, but more like an aberrant interlude in context of the album ahead of the seventeen-and-a-quarter minute ‘Animus in Decay’. Now this is a wig-out! It’s heavily psychedelic and transitions through a succession of passages on the path to – what? Enlightenment? It’s certainly a journey, whichever angle you approach it from. It builds and grows in volume and tempo, then falls again and there are some expansive ponderous sections and shifts like sand dunes in a vast sonic expanse.

And so it may be that the concept is a little daft, but they deliver The Imprecation Of Anima – a work that’s as ambitious as it is immense – with absolute conviction, and the vast sound pulls you into Codex Serafini’s (other) world. Inventive and accomplished, it’s a truly mighty record.



Cosmic Dross – 26th May 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

When it comes to spaced-out, trippy conceptual stuff, I can’t help but wonder if large quantities of drugs are involved, or of the creators are just a bit crackers. Their debut album Attention Earth! Featured a song called ‘Mushroom One’, which makes mee think drugs – or perhaps just the image they want to portray. The members of HENGE, Mancunian purveyors of self-styled ‘cosmic dross’ go by the names of Zpor, Goo, Grok and Nom, and Zpor, their ‘front-being’, explains of the new album: “Alpha Test 4 is our third Planet Earth LP release. With each record we have sought to fine tune our extraterrestrial sounds for human ears, optimising these alien frequencies in order to more effectively access the pleasure sensors in the Sapien brain…We believe that the wisest lifeforms are always open to new learning, and we have been conducting our own studies on the human beings that we’ve encountered on Earth so far. We have discovered that exposure to this alien music can have a profound effect on the human nervous system, and have recorded an average increase of 72% in the happiness levels of human specimens attending our experiments”.

If you’re going to do performance, you need to commit to it completely: there can be no half-measures, no stepping out of character off stage, and HENGE clearly live and breathe being HENGE, and one would like to think they’re entirely aware of the absurdity of it all, but happy with the trade of preserving the identities they enjoy at home and in their dayjobs or whatever. I’m going to at least hope that Zpor doesn’t insist that his wife and kids and colleagues address him as such.

Alpha Test 4 is noodly, doodly, silly fun that harks back to the 70s with its cheesy, wibbly synths and tinfoil futurism that was retro even at the time. It’s not so much prog in its primary inspirations, so much as ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’

‘DNA’ brings stupid funk and daft robotix vocals and it’s probably fun if you’re into it, but mostly it’s annoying: their space-age daft Punk shtick just feels obvious, derivative, passé. And yes, everything is just recycling now: that was postmodernism, where we accepted that originality was dead and celebrated that the future was built on assimilations and permutations of the past. Progress lay in the innovations of new hybrids and how genres were intermingled, and we reached a point, I’m not quite sure when, where it all came down to the execution. It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it… and HENGE do it, and with wild abandon and great enthusiasm.

But great energy does not make for a great record on its own. Alpha Test 4 is bursting with energy and brimming with bubby synths: ‘Ra’ is exemplary, an explosion of Lucozade and Red Bull-fuelled 8-bit twitchy pop that crosses XTC with D‘n’B, and spins in a dash of Eastern promise alongside a swirl of experimentation. The worst excesses of YES are tossed into the mix along with Jean Michele Jarre and Yello. It has its moments, but most of those moments are indulgent and rather corny. But HENGE likely know this and don’t care, because unless they are from another planet and spent their time hovering in space, they’re aware and self-aware, and grasp the absurdity of what they do with both hands before jettisoning the junk, and no doubts regardless of my views – and likely because of them since the chances are everything I dislike is everything fans love – Alpha Test 4 will go stratospheric.



Young God Records – 23rd June 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

Swans are back – again. This is no surprise: they released – as has become standard form – a limited edition demos CD, Is There Really A Mind? through the website as a fundraiser to pay for the album’s recording and release. All ten of the songs which appeared there have made it to the finished album, but, more often than not, in aa rather different form. Unusually, though, the bare-bones demos didn’t all start life as brief acoustic sketches which expanded to twenty-minute sprawlers exploding with extended crescendos: the shapes of the songs were realised early on, and in several cases, the final versions are actually shorter than the drafts. And while Gira hinted at a seismic shift following the gargantuan blow-out of The Glowing Man, heralding the arrival of a new era with Leaving Meaning – and it’s true that the shape of the band has been very different, not least of all with mainstay Norman Westberg and Thor Harris both stepping back to being contributors rather than a core members, Kristof Hahn remains – Swans remains very much ultimately Gira’s vehicle. And so it is that for all of the changes, The Beggar is clearly very much a Swans album, and sits comfortably in the domain of their body of work.

There does very much seem to be an arc when it comes to Swans releases, rather than any rapid shifts, particularly since their 2010 comeback, My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky, whereby the songs grew incrementally longer and more sprawling and the crescendos more drawn out, fewer, and further apart. And so it is that The Beggar follows the more minimal sound of Leaving Meaning, and, like its predecessor, it’s a comparatively succinct statement, at least by Swans standards in the last decade – at least, discounting ‘The Beggar Lover (Three)’, an album-length track which is absent from the album, and occupies the majority of disc two on the CD. This track is, in some ways, contentious: does it even belong on the album, or should it have been released as a standalone work? The album minus ‘The Beggar Lover (Three)’ is still an expansive work, but has a certain flow and sense of existing as a cohesive document. And so it feels like there are almost two different albums here:

As the album’s ‘taster’ tune, the twitchy, trippy, eternally-undulating ‘Paradise is Mine’ indicated, Gira’s compositions on The Beggar are constructed around heavy repetition. This is to be expected: it’s been Gira’s style since day one. The first song, ‘The Parasite’, strips right back to nothing around the mid-point to find Gira acappella, imploring ‘come to me, feed on me’ in a menacing low-throated rasp. And as Gira questions ‘is there really a mind?’ in the psychedelic droning loops of ‘Paradise is Mine’ the tension increases and you start to feel dizzy. and perhaps a little nauseous. This pit-of-the-stomach churn is something that Swans have long been masters of, although quite how it manifests has changed over time: back in the days of Filth, Cop, and Greed, it was sheer force. More recently, it was woozy, nagging repetitions that lurch like a boat on a bobbing tide.

‘Los Angeles: City of Death’ returns to the style and form of The Great Annihilator – a three-minutes hard-punching gloom folk song. After the previous incarnation’s ever-longer workouts, it’s an absolute revelation, and a joy to be reminded that despite the work of the last decade or so, Gira can still write tight songs that you can actually get a grip on and really get into. ‘Unforming’ is a soft country drone, which finds Gira crooning cavernously over slide guitar, and it’s reminiscent of some of the more tranquil moments of Children of God.

‘I’m a shithead unforgiven… I’m an insect in your bedclothes…’ Gira drones on the ten-minute title track. For all of the artistic progress and evolution over the decades, Gira is still chained to the tropes of self-loathing and the darkest, most self-destructive introspection, and this is dolorous, doomy, and bleak …and then about four minutes in, the drums crash in and the sound thickens and they plug into one of those nagging grooves that simply immerses you and carries you upwards on a surge of sound. ‘My love for you will never end’, Gira moans, ever the subjugate, before the vocals conclude with an anguished, wordless strangled gargle as the riff kicks back in and swells to a monumental scale seemingly from nowhere.

‘No More of This’ is mellow and almost uplifting, both sonically and in its message – at least until near the end, when Gira reels off a list of farewells, and as much as ‘Ebbing’ seems to be about drowning, it’s a sliver of sunny-sounding psychedelic folk. And then ‘The Memorious’ hits that dizzying swirl of repetition that feels like a kind of torture. It’s hard to really articulate just how there can be music that makes you want to puke because it’s so woozy, wibbly. It’s the sonic equivalent of watching Performance. You don’t need to take a trip to take a trip.

‘The Beggar Lover (Three)’ represents a massive detour that does and doesn’t sit within the flow of the album. It’s either the penultimate track, or an appendix, depending the format of your choice. However you approach it, this is drone on an epic scale. Five minutes into ‘The Beggar Lover (Three)’, which starts out a trickle, with a robotic female spoken word narrative, everything just goes off – mostly drums, but also noise. When this tapers away, we’re left with the sound of sirens, ominous drones, and then after some hypnotic droning, there’s another monster surge, a nagging guitar motif riding atop a thumping beat and heavy swell of drone. It soon crackles into a grand wheeze of electronica, And a detonating wall of noise, and at the end, it all collapses. Around the eighteen-minute mark it really hits a heavy groove and blows you away.

The Beggar is certainly not the kind of heavy of Swans early releases, but it’s still heavy. It may not possess the sledgehammer force of the original. It’s beyond strong.

Once again, Swans have produced an album that’s more than an album, more than anything.



Dependent Records – 2nd June 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

Now in their twenty-seventh year, Girls Under Glass return after an extended break – of some seventeen years – with a new album that wasn’t wholly planned. As the bio notes, explain, when they started composing some new tracks for an EP to round off a planned boxset of their complete works, ‘The fire reignited and songs kept coming… [they] understood that their batteries had recharged to bursting point after a 17-year break and the projected EP turned into a full-length.

The trouble with being forerunners and progenitors is that time catches up. What was innovative at one time becomes assimilated, absorbed: ‘influential’ becomes commonplace, however much you keep moving. And while Backdraft shows that Girls Under Glass have progressed, it also shows how external elements have, too – even within the spheres of post-punk and goth, which on the face of things, haven’t evolved all that much. Emerging bands are still emulating The Cure and The Sisters of mercy circa 1985, and oftentimes if feels as if these are genres locked in time – but then, the same is also true of punk, and contemporary grunge acts.

At least Girls Under Glass can lay justified claim to being there at the time and laying the foundation stones for the sound that endures over thirty years on, and they’re fully accepting that this new outing draws on the sound and sensations of their previously active years in the 80s and 90s. ‘Night Kiss’ brings all the synth-goth vibes where early New Order and third-wave goth acts like Suspiria meet, but there’s much to chew on across the ten songs on Backdraft. ‘Tainted’ – which features Mortiis on guest vocals – has a more industrial feel – but that’s industrial in the way that Rosetta Stone drew on Nine Inch Nails for Tyranny of Inaction than Ministry. It’s got grit and magnetic bubbling synths and some hard grooves, but the aggression is fairly restrained.

Single cut ‘We Feel Alright’ has a vintage vibe and sits in the bracket of ‘uplifting goth’ – it may not bee recognised as a thing, but it sure is, and propelled by a pumping disco beat, it’s one of those songs that brims with an energy that makes you want to raise your arms and your face to the sky as you’re carried away on the driving rhythm and expansive synths and guitars.

The six-minute ‘No Hope No Fear’ blissfully ventures into Disintegration-era Cure stylings, with a bold, cinematic approach, while ‘Everything Will Die’ is a quintessential slab of Numanesque electrogoth It’s uptempo, even poppy, but it’s dark, and if the Hi-NRG pumping of ‘Endless Nights’ is a shade cliché, but they redeem the dip with the sparse six-minute ‘Heart on Fire’ with its sepulchral synths, before erupting into an epic climax that’s like a shoegaze / synthwave take of Fields of the Nephilim.

Ultimately, Backdraft is a solid album: its roots are deeply retro, and it’s not one hundred percent hit, but it’s a solid addition to the catalogue of a band whose longevity speaks for itself.