Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

ANTIME – ANTIME20

Christopher Nosnibor

According the bio, ‘Bad Stream is guitars and machines vanishing in the spaces between Radiohead, The Notwist and Nine Inch Nails only to reemerge amidst ambient, noise, and drone. It marks Martin [Steer]’s attempt to release his own history, alienation and loneliness into the chaos of the digital world and to retain their substance in doing so.

This is very much Martin’s thing, essentially a solo project, and the album represents five years of work, of gathering, of sifting, of seeking ways to represent the realities of life in contemporary society.

“I look at my phone even while I’m playing guitar,” says Martin Steer, “and that isn’t even entirely voluntary. The 2010s really changed my perception of how digital technologies and social media affect me as a musician. Through Bad Stream I want to make sense of this particular kind of anxiety, and to use sensory overstimulation as a way to develop an independent and progressive musical language.”

I can relate. Starting out as a writer around the turn of the millennium, I was fascinated by the idea of postmodernism – because although the concept emerged in the 70s in considering writing of the 1950s and 1960s, I was completely engaged in the notion that this was something that was happening now. Whatever McLuhan, Lyotard, and Jameson, or Deleuze and Guattari had to say about the effects of accelerated communications and a ubiquitous blizzard of media and sensory overload, nothing could truly predict or account for the psychological impact of living in the second decade of the second millennium. Nothing we’ve seen before corresponds with the endless twitching, the nagging anxieties of text messages without response, the barren Facebook page, the diminishing Twitter following, the hassling, haranguing, emails and messages, the relentless barrage of information and contact from every direction.

Besides, theory and practise, however closely they endeavour to merge, invariably and inevitably exist with degrees of separation. And so it is with Bad Stream. It’s a nicely-assembled album, with some suitably dark and intense moments, and the production balances the slick, crisp ultra-digital with the messy, reverby, sonic halo that pulls it all back a way.

I often wonder what the musical landscape would look like if Nine Inch Nails hadn’t happened. It seems that one act not only spawned a genre unto themselves, but reshaped the musical landscape, to the point that what would once have sounded ‘edgy’ now sounds mundane, and so much can simply be filed as ‘derivative of Nine Inch Nails’. In drawing in a samples, semi-ambient segments and more besides, Steer extends hi sonic palette beyond the NIN template – but by the same token, Reznor’s shadow looms large over the majority of the compositions here.

Amidst the accessible (granted, it’s all relative) electro tunes, the bleak ‘Drown on Mars’ builds a pulsating bass groove over an insistent beat that call to mind the darker, more downbeat moments of The Downward Spiral and With Teeth. But where Steer separates from Reznor is his unswerving tendency to offer melody and chorus over obliterative noise. On the one hand, it’s a relief: life is punishment enough – but on the other, there’s a sense that he simply doesn’t push far or hard enough, and fails to convey the anguish, the anxiety, the trauma. ‘Polyzero’ is a cracking stab at surging shoegaze with a resonant electro throb, and it’s perfectly executed – a kind of hybrid of ‘March of the Pigs; with Nowhere era Ride. And I dig. But Bad Stream fails to convey the claustrophobia and relentless bombardment and the mental anguish it engenders. It’s a relatively minor criticism, though: everything is fucked-up enough as it is, and do we need more music that mirrors, even amplifies back, the torment of the overload that is life as we experience it? I’m too fried to conclude right now…

AA

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Sacred Bones – 8th June 2018

I’m accustomed to feeling tense and anxietised. It’s more or less my default setting. The insomnia. The 4am sweats, the nocturnal panic attacks that feel like asphyxiation. There are peaks and troughs, of course, although I often find that immersing myself in music that probably ought to add to my unsettlement has something of a neutralising effect. After a few wavering weeks, during which I discovered that Naproxen isn’t the painkiller for me right now, experiencing shortness of breath, accelerated heartbeat and heightened anxiety being the most pronounced of the side-effects. None of this was especially conducive to writing, and even listening to music was proving to be less enjoyable than usual. The prospect of facing my inbox was more than I could reasonably bare most days. A week after my last dose, I’m feeling the calmest and most overtly ‘normal’ I’ve felt in a fair while. If this is perhaps excessive disclosure, it’s a question of context. However objectively I want to operate as a reviewer, listening to music as a ‘job’ inevitably entails an element of the personal. There’s simply no escaping this. Any response to art necessarily involves a subconscious and emotional element. A critic is a person, not a machine: we don’t critique and opine with algorithms.

Sifting through the scores of emails, I’m cheered to find a fair few releases to get excited about. Where to start? Well, this seems like a reasonable opener…

That Uniform and The Body should come together – or perhaps collide, screaming head-on into one another – is a logical, if terrifying idea. It’s pitched as ‘a collaboration that pushes both bands far beyond their roots in industrial music and metal – creating an immersive listening experience that truly transcends genre’. And I suppose it does. The Body have long pushed far beyond the confines of metal, and have forged a career that thrives on collaboration – or, put another way, a career that extracts new levels of nastiness by channelling carnage through other acts.

It’s a messy, murky sonic miasma that seeps from the speakers: a cacophony of impenetrable shrieking – like some mass acid-bath or people trapped in a burning room as the flames seer their flesh – tears through a thick aural sludge that’s heavy on bass and light on production polish.

A nervous drum machine pumps frantically, as though in the throes of a panic attack, beneath a mess of noise on ‘The Curse of Eternal Life’. The vocals are distorted, dalek-like, and there’s more screaming in the background, and with everything buzzing and whirring away, it’s impossible to know what the fuck’s going on, let alone if there’s any kind of attempt at a tune in there. It’s like listening to the Dr Mix and the Remix album played on a shit stereo through next door’s wall.

There are crushing guitar chords and crashing beats on the slow grind of ‘Come and See’, evoking the essence of early Swans or Godflesh, but with Michael Berdan’s sneering vocal style, there’s an overtly punk aspect to the pulverizing industrial trudge. It may be one of the most structured compositions on the album – in that there are actual chord sequences audible through the sonic smog – but it’s still hard going. But then, it’s no accident: neither act is renowned for its accessibility or ease of listening. And when two acts as uncompromising as Uniform and The Body meet, and there’s still no compromise, then the sum is instantly an exponential amplification of uncompromising. It was always going to hurt: it was simply a question of how much. And it’s nothing short of punishing.

When they do turn things down a bit, back off the guitars, and tweak musical motifs from the electronic setup instead of extraneous noise, there are hints of melody – and even grace – these emerge through the fog on ‘In My Skin’, and in context, it’s almost soothing. In any other context, though, maybe not so much. It’s like saying that Prurient are soothing in comparison to Whitehouse.

Mental Wounds Not Healing is – to use a term all too often tossed about in reference to anything a bit raw or intense – visceral. Listening to the album, I realise I’m grinding my teeth, chewing my lip and gnawing at the inside of my check. I’m clenching my jaw, tightly. My shoulders are hunched. Mental Wounds Not Healing isn’t just intense: it makes me feel tense. The density and lack of separation makes for a sound where everything congeals into an oppressive morass. The production – such as it is – only emphasises the claustrophobic sensation; being unable to distinguish one sound from another elicits a broiling frustration, and a certain paranoia, as you wonder if maybe there’s something wrong with the speakers or your hearing. It’s not pleasant, and the seven songs – none of which run past the five-minute mark – make for an endurance test. And yet for all that, it’s a powerful experience. It’s no wonder the wounds aren’t healing: this is the soundtrack to scratching and scraping at the scabs, picking away until the blood seeps once more. Insofar as any psychological damage foes, this isn’t going to help, but it’s fair reflection of various tortured states.

AA

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Ventil Records V009 – 24th May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

ƒauna’s style is billed as ‘dystopian avant pop’, and her second album is a magnificent mosaic of alienation. Vintage drum machine sounds click and pop out spartan rhythms, overwhich bibbling synths loop and ripple.

The press release emphasises the album’s dominant themes – facing down an uncertain future, dissecting new digital identities, the importance of political activism – and points to the fact that Infernum is very much an album of our times. But so much of the album’s intrigue lies in its juxtapositional positioning, its straddling of contemporary and retro. This also applies in absolution to the sonic makeup of the album.

The first track, ‘Primus’ has ƒauna outline – in a detached robotic voice – the circumstances surrounding the making of the album. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the album as a whole, a work of retro-futurism which may or may not be autobiographical. It’s a mistake to synthesis the artist and the art, and this of course connects with the issues of identity – in particular virtual and digital identities. Who is ever truly themselves on-line, in public, in company? In any context, identity is a construct, and ƒauna explores the layers of construction here.

Supposedly emerging from ‘a dark crossroads between conceptual pop, downtempo hip-hop, and the euphoria of the club’, these influences manifest primarily in sparse electro compositions which resonate with the kind of tape-looping experimentalism of the underground of the late 70s and early 80s. The structures and overall production are sparse, the compositions perversely disjointed, deliberately angular, with .

Then again, the rolling synth swell of ‘Death Fly’ and bouncy insistence of ‘Lonely at the Top’ are crisp pop, distilled down and refined to its purest, most immediate from, while elsewhere, ‘Went Home Got Lost’ pushes more overtly contemporary dance-orientated tropes to quirky but affecting effect.

It’s an analogue take on an analogous representation of postmodernism: the collision of past, present, and future, with no clear distinction between the boundaries. And watching those boundaries dissolve with every clipped, synthetic beat is fascinating, and in some strange way, quietly exhilarating.

AA

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Exile On Mainstream – 11th May 2018

English intergenerational duo Noisepicker are one of the new generation of two-piece acts who sound like full bands. Not by virtue of any trickery, but because they whack everything up full tilt and rock hard. Peace Off sounds like a band, albeit one with the guitars and drums dominating the mix.

There are so many shades, but for Noisepicker, it’s a spectrum of subtle blues that colours their lumbering, riffy racket. The songs are heavy, raw, the lyrics dark. It may mark something of a stylistic shift for Earl of Mars and former Lord of Putrefaction Harry Armstrong, but he still pours all the anger into it, his thick-throated vocal roar the perfect vehicle for this kind of heavy, heavy scuzzed-out stoner blues metal.

Pulverizing, slow, heavy discord worthy of Swans circa 1984 swiftly yields to swaggering heavy rock on opener ‘No Man Lies Blameless, which thunders away with the grainy grungy heft of Black Sabbath as filtered through Melvins. It sets the tone, and the tempo: Peace Off very much favours weight and groove over pace, the riffs big and gutsy (although when they do pick up the face, as on ‘O What Mercy Sorrow Brings’, they really do drive hard and fast.

‘A Taste of My Dying’ is the grittiest, grainiest blues, dark and dirty and slowed to a crawl. Under any other circumstances, you’d be thinking about grime and sweat, but at this low, low tempo, it’s more of a case of Led Zep on Temazepam. Armstrong gargles and spits the words to ‘He Knew it Would All End in Tears’ against a roar of guitars and crashing drums: there’s nothing fancy about Kieran Murphy’s style, and that’s a virtue, as the songs are focused in a fashion that delivers optimal force.

AA

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Christopher Nosnibor

Having – what feels like an eternity ago – raved about The Holy Orders, I find myself with front man Matt Edible’s sort-of solo album. It’s a fair bit less fiery and more introspective than his work with the band (who recently made their live return and look like getting their shit together again before too long) – to re point that it’s largely mellow and melodic, and draws on laid-back 70s rock for its stylistic touchstones. It’s also quite poppy in places. This isn’t a criticism, but an observation…and unexpected. But then, I’m unfamiliar with Matt’s original musical vehicle, Edible 5ft Smiths, who apparently made ‘one and a half of the greatest undiscovered albums of the noughties before burning up in a small blaze of glory’, and of which the music on this album represents something of a continuation of a trajectory.

‘Advent Beard’ surfaced on-line a couple of years, and as Christmas-themed breakup tunes delivered with roustabout energy and a certain ragged charm. Hearing it in the context of an album, in mid-May when I’m sweltering in some quite unseasonal heat and feeling hayfevery feels a bit incongruous. But on reflection, it’s a song about the sentiment rather than the season, and while Stairgazing isn’t a wet, sentimental album, it is fairly reflective and introspective and – dare I say it – emotional in its tone and content.

The title track is a frenzied fury of angular guitars and vocals that are the sound of a man at every last one of his limits. And then it comes on a bit Dinosaur Jr, which is even better. Elsewhere, ‘Nightclubbing’ (not a cover of either David Essex or Iggy Pop) is a light, folksy-indie effort, and the sparse, piano-led ‘The Healing’, which ventures into post-rock grandeur, with its multi-layered vocals and epic, proggy instrumental play-out, offers another facet of Edible’s songwriting skills.

It’s Matt’s voice that really makes it, perhaps more than the material itself. The man has range, effortlessly moving between gritty and grungy, and soaring sort-of falsetto. In part comparable to James Dean Bradfield in tone and timbre, Edible simply has a great voice: affecting, versatile, listenable and affecting in all the right places,

Stairgazing doesn’t have the rock ‘n’ roll punch of anything by The Holy Orders, but that isn’t grounds for criticism: Matt Edible as delivered a solid and entertaining album that’s quite different, and all the better for it.

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AA

Textile Records – May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Just as I don’t really do jazz, I don’t much do country, either. But for every rule – or perhaps more of a broad, general guideline – there necessarily has to be an exception. So here I am, sipping hot black coffee having just ejected an album by Marc Sarrazy and Laurent Rochelle, which goes way over the limit on the jazzometer and has left me shaking my head and thinking there’s just no way I can review that objectively, and looking at a plain white paper sleeve stamped with six song titles under the header ‘J.O.M.F BLOOM’.

The biographical commentary that ‘the band is moving more slowly these days, with core members Tom Greenwood and Michael Whittaker living in the more rural corners f Northern California’ is perhaps an understatement: Bloom was a full three years in the making. But it’s not just its evolution that was gradual: compositionally, too, the pieces are slow-growing and sparse. The quietly picked guitar notes resonate outwards as woodwind trills over the hills on the instrumental intro piece, ‘Pipe’ It’s kinda quiet, sort of ambient. A sudden swell of noise ends abruptly to make way for the sedate country ramblings of ‘Radiating’. If you dig downbeat country tines that drag on for over eight minutes, this is going to do it for you bigtime. If you don’t… It’s laid back to the point of horizontal, the lyrics drawled rather than sung, and as such decipherable only in snippets.

But while this is very much a country album, it’s anything but conventional or straight ahead overall. ‘Wreck’ is slow-building, initially just guitar and Greenwood’s cracked croon. But before long, a tumult of crashing cymbals, overloading electric guitar feedback and straining saxophone create a glorious cacophony. Wild brass and woodwind shriek and squeal all over the raucous stomp of ‘Strike’. A sort of country/blues heart pulses beneath the chaotic racket that pummels in all directions and drives toward the horizon of abstraction. ‘Wildgeese’ brings dolorous trudging before the lo-fi plod of ‘Golden Bees’ thuds its way to the album’s conclusion in a muddy haze of echo.

On Bloom, Jackie-O Motherfucker fuse the mellowest, most downcast of country with the most awkward jazz dirges, which drone and wheeze and scrape at divergent angles across the linear country compositions. It may be country at its core, but it’s a whole lot more.

AA

Jakie-O Motherfucker

ROOM40 – 5th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

A single, repetitive beat rings out for what feels like an eternity. With nothing else to focus on, the mind begins to conjure deceptions: is it entirely consistent in tempo and timbre? Or are some beats vaguely out of step by an infinitesimal fraction of second? Are some strikes harder or softer than others? A sparse chord rises up, slowly, then stops abruptly. The beat goes on. Another chord swells…. Repeats, disappearing the same way as the first. Then just as something threatens to build, the beat stops. The notes drift, without form, direction, or guidance. Eventually, just as tension and a certain confusion begins to mount, everything comes together: the rhythmic thud, the strings, the soft ambience and the faint strains feedback, combine to create a resolution. Unsteady, somehow incomplete, but a resolution. And so it is that ‘Neither Flesh not Fleshless’ sets the tone for At the Still Point of the Turning World.

The album takes its title from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’, the first of his Four Quartets sequence:

IV

Time and the bell have buried the day,

The black cloud carries the sun away.

Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis

Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray

Clutch and cling?

Chill

Fingers of yew be curled

Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing

Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still

At the still point of the turning world.

This collaborative work is preoccupied with time and how we experience it, and the accompanying blurb observes how the two artists were very much working both with and against one another in the creative process – which seems an apt analogy for the human relationship with time itself. On the one hand, it’s simply a concept, and an intangible: and yet we see and feel it, in the short and long terms: there is no escaping time, and no-one ever fought time and emerged triumphant. The still point is but the blink of an eye, and the turning is endless despite its invisibility. These are the irreconcilable and dichotomous tensions which inform the sonic push-and-pull Gama and Fernandes explore and exploit in these compositions, which are simultaneously smooth but turbulent.

‘The Patterns is Movement’ is a slow swell and glide of sombre strings pitched against a desolate but mournfully graceful piano: the form is vague, but there is something rather post-rock about the brooding disquiet. It segues into unsettling, rumbling industrial clanking way off at a distance. The haunting clangs of metal are cold, without comfort. I’m pulled back into the mindset of the worker: the ghosts of heavy labour still haunt the structures of the tertiary industries which now dominate the western world. The final coupling of the sparse and altogether lighter ‘Lucid Stillness’ and ‘Shaft of Sunlight’ pitch the album to a calmer, more redemptive close.

While much of the movement within the compositions on this album is slow, and often somewhat non-linear and marks a trajectory that’s divergent, indirect and non-evolutionary, there is, nevertheless, an indisputable sense of movement that’s perpetual.

AA

Joana Gama   Luís Fernandes – At the Still Point of the Turning World