Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Cruel Nature Records – 17th November 2019

Christophe Nosnibor

Nathalie Stern made her solo debut with Firetales in 2010: almost a decade on, she delivers a follow-up in the form of Nerves and Skin. The album promises to ‘builds on the experimental folk traditions of her debut, awash with vocal harmonies, synth loops and drones but with the maturity of an artist who knows their craft and is top of their game’.

Although now resident in Newcastle, Stern’s roots are Swedish, and it’s traditional Swedish folk which informs her music. While I have precisely no knowledge or experience of Swedish folk music, the compositions here, as the title suggests, conjure a sense of the barest essence of human existence. Nerves and skin the components essential to the senses, especially touch, are here exposed and highly sensitive. As much as anything it’s the organic feel that permeates the album that renders it so subtly affecting as it drifts and melds to form a sort of biological symbiosis with the listener’s internal mechanisms while it plays.

Stern’s voice is the primary instrument here, and she builds layers of harmony, often by unconventional means, with breaths and short, wordless sounds looped to form cyclical motifs atop sparse synth drones

‘Luchdora’ brings low-impact, lurching beats that thud soft and there’s a heartbeat thump on ‘Then You Talk of War’, which delves into darker territories with moody bass oscillations over which layers of choral vocals build majestically.

‘Deep Sleep’ wheezes monotonously, a lugubrious drone: Nathalie’s vocal is barely a whisper, haunting, ethereal, the melody a sing-song lullaby with an uncanny, shadowy twist that may not exactly be Chuck Palahniuk, but is still moderately unsettling. ‘Moderately unsettling’ is a fair summary of the atmosphere that creeps across the compositions as the album unfolds. Although fear chords creep all over the gloomy ‘Stig in Lucia’, it’s not overtly dark, but the disembodied vocal echoes evoke a certain cognitive dissonance.

And for all its oddness and otherness, it’s on an instinctive, human level that you experience Nerves and Skin: you feel it, somehow, almost subliminally, and it touches parts rarely reached and in ways that are abstract and indefinably, but nevertheless real.

AA

cover

Bubblewrap Collective – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s 2019, but Right Hand Left Hand’s third album leaps us back to 2004. But let’s be clear: this is not a criticism. ‘Zone Rouge’ follows on from their self-titled, Welsh Music Prize-nominated second album, and, according to the press release, ‘tells the story of humanity’s contempt for the earth beneath us, the air above us and the people around us.’ The titles of the album’s 11 tracks each refer to ‘a location on Earth where something bad has happened: An act of corruption against the planet, an act of evil against fellow humans and occasionally both.’ Obviously, there’s scope for this to have been an album of infinite duration with a new track added every three seconds for all eternity, but there have to be limits.

Instead, what we have is a concise and urgent post-rock statement on the state of the planet. Being largely instrumental, the sentiment and intention isn’t immediately apparent or openly conveyed without some kind of preface, ‘Zone Rouge’ doesn’t scream ‘environmental crisis reaction!’ or ‘mass killing’ or ‘war’. A lot of this is pretty smooth, expansive, cinematic, with well-placed but ultimately controlled crescendos. The production is sensitive to the mood and the from, but ultimately, it’s clean, dynamic, textured.

There are departures: ‘Prora’ is a kind of choppy, post-punk funk effort with vocals, and it feels rather incongruous in the scheme of the hefty back-and-forth riffery and heavy atmospherics that pervade. ‘Chacabuco’, featuring Taliesyn Kallstrom of Cardiff’s ESTRONS feels particularly anomalous, being some kind of trippy indie / alt metal hybrid. For what it’s worth, it’s a belting tune and single-worthy in its own right, but stands out like a sore thumb in the context of the album.

At times, it feels like the Right Hand Left Hand doesn’t know exactly what the Right Hand Left Hand is doing, but for the most part, Zone Rouge is a solid post-rock album, pushing into an array of stylistic territories with rare aplomb.

AA

Right Hand Left Hand

Christopher Nosnibor

The trouble with receiving more shit than you could ever listen to in a week on a daily basis means you lose track now only of what you’ve got, but also where much of it came from. The positive spin is that life becomes a constantly-rolling conveyor-belt of surprises, some of which are pleasant.

What’s pleasant is a matter of taste, of course, meaning not everyone in my position would be enthused on stumbling on the dark, industrial-strength electronica of Kojoohar × Ködzid Goo – less a collaboration than a collision of Ukranian Andrei Kojoohar (who produces industrial / power electronics as Kadaitcha, and synthpop / triphop / downtempo under the Fogscape moniker), and Ködzid Goo from Russia, who specialises in bleak darkwave.

It’s no criticism to say that Дотла represents the sum of its parts. ‘Сулема’ (trans:‘Sulema / (Mercury Chloride)’ sets the tone with churning atmospherics paving the way for a thudding industrial rhythm and shivering electronica. It’s low-tempo, intense and claustrophobic. There’s no space to get comfortable here: there’s barely space to breathe. Its as dark as the black on charcoal cover from beginning to end.

There are dark hip-hop elements buried deep in the songs, too, and the hybridity contributes to the otherworldly distancing that defines the sound.

Whether or not the lyrics lose anything in translation, I couldn’t comment, but there’s something fascinating about their viscerality and potent images, with the opening lines of the final track, ‘Полынь’ (trans: ‘Polyn’ / Wormwood’ being fairly typical:

Eye slits plastered with phlegm completely,

eyelashes sealed with wax tightly

All the humanity has a single mind,

and now it starts getting distracted

Wrapped in food plastic film deceitfully,

it rots in its semiconsciousness

Drowning unhelpfully in swampy lakes,

trudging scarcely through powder dunes

The same song closes off with the equally dark lines:

Dust settled on our senile scalped heads

Successively having turned into powder

We all were born at the wrong time in vain

Blossomed in the wrong place all over

Delivered in a blank monotone, devoid of emotional and humanity, it sits well with the stark, mechanoid instrumentation that thumps and grinds low-end bass throbs welded to dead-hearted beats, overlaid with icy synths.

Hard, stark, cold and dystopian in every sense, this release offers no comfort and no breaks, no hooks and no easy inroads. It’s a difficult and singular work that reminds us that we’re all on the outside, all alone, and all doomed.

AA

cover

Southern Lord – 25th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The appearance of a new Sunn O))) album just six months after Life Metal represents a significant upsurge in their usually steady output. But then, as much as it is a standalone document, Pyroclasts exists in many ways as a companion and counterpart to Life Metal, which in the slow-moving scheme of Sunn O))) represented a seismic shift on a par with Monoliths and Dimensions in that it brought a new focus. The question posed by Life Metal centred around what precisely could Steve Albini bring to Sunn O)))’s eternal drone guitar noise. In the event, his ‘stick the mics in front of the amps at a precise distance and angle and let the tape roll’ approach brought new sonic dimensions (but no monoliths) to the fore, giving the band a new and unexpected richness of sound. It’s this clarity and depth that also defines Pyroclasts recorded during the same sessions.

An element of ritual is integral to much of Sunn O)))’s work, and while this is perhaps nowhere more evident than in their live performances, the very nature of the music, the image, and the titling of their albums alludes to a certain type of repetitive organisation and (pseudo)spiritual convention. The origins of Pyroclasts is rooted in that ritualism, as is explained in the press release:

‘The Pyroclasts album is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning, or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at Electrical Audio during July 2018, when all of the days musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the days session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion.’

And so the four pieces on Pyroclasts last between 10’54” and 11’04”, and being aware of the time constraints imposed by the players, the endings make sense: the first track, ‘Frost’, is close to what sounds like a natural ending as the drone hum hangs, but fades uncommonly fast when ordinarily they’d let the note hang for an eternity. Likewise the last of the four, ‘Ascensions’, which starts higher, faster, more aggressively than is usual for Sunn O))), and ends abruptly as though the tape was simply stopped dead – which it probably was.

Given the band’s maximalist tendencies and a propensity for sprawling sludgescapes spanning fifteen to twenty minutes this discipline and concision offers a new insight into their methods. Four tracks and a running time of circa forty minutes is tight for Sunn O))), and it works remarkably well.

Pyroclasts is exploratory and experimental in context of Sunn O))), and in revealing new facets while at the same time mining the same seam the band have explored since their inception, it’s an interesting and highly necessary document of their evolution and practises. Moreover, it’s another booming slab of texture-heavy droning doom and absolutely classic Sunn O))).

AA

700829

Gizeh Records – 25th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Although having contributed to various projects and collectives, including a number of independent soundtracks that have appeared through Gizeh, it’s been a while since Christine Ott last released anything as a primary artist. Nanook of the North, a collaboration with Torsten Böttcher, who brings hang drum, kalimba, and didgeridoo to Ott’s diverse array of instruments.

Nanook of the North is another soundtrack to a film which ‘tells the daily life of the Eskimo family living in Hudson Bay. Fights for life, constant shifts, fishing, seal hunting… The spectator shares the life of the family of the far north’.

As a release, this has been a long time in coming, having been first commissioned in 2013 by La Rochelle International Film Festival.

From the first strike of percussion, which sends a low, rippling hum on which eerie atmospherics build in layers like thick mist, the pair conjure highly evocative soundscapes. Pairing piano with non-western instrumentation makes for some fascinating and utterly compelling combinations, with unusual melodies taking shape along the way. Whereas many soundtracks place the compositional emphasis on atmospherics and vague structures, Nanook of the North stands out for its tendency toward keenly co-ordinated structures and definite tunes brimming with chiming melodies.

There are moments of brooding, shade that contrasts with the unexpected levels of light that fill this album, and ‘Walrus Hunting’ balances drama and playfulness through the incorporation of jazz tropes. Elsewhere. ‘Winter’s Coming’ conveys the ominous sense of darkening days and a creeping chill, while ‘Et le blizzard’ is surprisingly calm and soothing as opposed to the tempest one would reasonably expect. But then, the silence of a blizzard can be a strangely tranquil experience.

The range on Nanook of the North is impressive: it’s expressive and conveys such an array of moods and spaces, while at the same time retaining a compositional and instrumental coherence. And while the places these pieces speak of are bone-breakingly cold, the listening experience is most heart-warming.

AA

GZH93DP-Digital-Sleeve

Buh Records – 20th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Apophenia: the tendency to perceive connections and meaningfulness in random noise, e.g., clouds resembling animals or human faces. Ale Hop’s Apophenia, which we learn ‘suggests possible and reimagined South American geographies’, contains an abundance of random noise. Ale Hop, we find, isn’t a band as such, but ‘a Berlin-based artist, researcher, and experimental instrumentist (sic) from Peru. She composes electronic music, by blending strains of noise, pop, avant-garde, ambient and a complex repertoire of extended techniques for electric guitar and real-time sampling devices which she uses as her sound vocabulary to craft a performance of astonishing physical intensity, saturated of layers of distortion and stunning atmospheres’.

And on the strength of this outing, she grasps atmosphere in a major way. These pieces are hefty, deep, and often dark, not to mention challenging. Ale Hop doesn’t do easy accessibility, and that’s a good thing. This is one of those releases I’m proud to say is about art. I can’t truly fathom it, and certainly can’t justify it.

The press release pitches ‘atomized field recordings and sound samples. recollected from video archives from her homeland, Peru, the composer interweaves unknown territories, by mimicking mountains and oceans, but also grey skies and violent cities, with droning and shrieking textures of electric guitars mixed with spoken chatters and sizzles’.

Somnambulant drones and ethereal elongated notes which hover and hum dominate the album’s eight compositions. There are no easy inroads here. In fact, there are no inroads at all.

‘Side Effects’ is an odd piece of spoken word with extraneous noise, and the mix oddly pitches background sounds to the fore to disorientating effect. It’s only three-and-a-half minutes long, but it’s three-and-a-half minutes of warping drones and static hiss and crackling.

There’s dark turbulence on ‘Lima’, which plunges the listener into subterranean spaces of disquiet and discomfort, while ‘Onomatopoeia’ appropriately brings a gloopy, swampy soup of sound, and the title track – a succession of scraping shards of electronic feedback.

And what does it all mean? That I fail to sense ‘South American geographies’ doesn’t mean they’re not present in every moment, but reminds us that artistic intention and the artist’s spheres of reference and influence often differ from those of the audience, who can only truly receive art from their own solipsistic vantage point. As such, dissemination and reception rarely correspond, and this is never more apparent than when considering the experimental and the avant-garde, where theoretical context counts for nought to much of the audience.

The sign of artistic success in this context is not whether or not the audience grasp the context or intention but whether they connect with the work – on any level – despite a lack of a priori knowledge.

Apophenia is a challenging listen, but is an album that holds up and ‘works’ when removed from its context. It’s all about atmosphere, and the universal language of sound.

BR127_front

Panurus Productions – 18th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

WHELM
verb
past tense: whelmed; past participle: whelmed
engulf, submerge, or bury.
"a swimmer whelmed in a raging storm"
well up or flow.
"the brook whelmed up from its source"

It’s funny: I’d never really considered the true meaning of ‘whelmed’, and I’ve simply used it as a blank space between under- and over- and in some vague and misguided attempt to be amusing on occasions. But the definition provides the preface to the accompanying text for this split release featuring two spectacularly abstruse purveyors of gnarly noise, the latter of the two acts featuring Panurus head honcho (and indeed solo honcho) James Watts with grunts and growls.

The moment I clapped eyes on the name Bodies on Everest it lodged in my brain s one of the best band names going. There are thought to be currently around 200 unrecovered bodies on the world’s highest mountain, and it doesn’t take much searching of the Internets to find a library of images of frozen corpses. As such, the name isn’t only gruesome but highly visual in its connotations. And it’s also incredibly fitting:

Talk about a mammoth build… BoE’s first track, ‘My Mother in the Mountains Affects My Gym Coat at Work’ is a sprawling twenty-minute behemoth that starts gently, atmospherically, musically, with a strolling bass and takes its time to swell into the blistering, raging racket it winds up as, first growing in volume before ultimately being buried beneath the most agonising deluge of extraneous noise. And it’s a glorious tsunami of noise that they bring, with the vocals – and there aren’t many – howled, anguished – buried in the wall of noise as screaming feedback howls over the thunderous bass – it’s around twelve minutes in that I realise that said bassline has maybe only two notes – that grows evermore agitated. And in the end it all collapses into a churning squall of feedback and contact hum.

‘Can Ghosts See Dogs’ brings muffled samples of dialogue into the mix before bringing the gnarly noise centres around a low-slung bass churning out a repetitive groove, over which there’s some psychotic yelling, and‘(Yes)’ follows a similar format, but places the emphasis on loping rums, at least until the bowel-shaking bass loop slithers in at half speed and the percussion recedes.

Th fifteen-minute ‘Kicking my Landlord’ Head In’ goes punky postpunk grind groove while at the same time not exactly deviating from the formula, and it’s every bit as brutal as the title suggests, calling to mind Head of David’s HODICA racketfest.

Lump hammer aren’t a band who provide calm or contrast, serving up five tumultuous compositions built on gut-churning noise. Where do you take such a brutal, squalling grind of bass and drums paired with roaring vocal that veers between growling guttural and howling demonic throat-ruining screams? There’s no answer, really. Lump Hammer are also appropriately named, delivering a brutal bludgeoning in lieu of anything tuneful. The bass dominates the sludge mess, and it is a mess, an overloaded deluge of distortion from which it’s difficult to decipher, well, anything much.

‘Pigfish’ is the first, and clocks in at under three squalling minutes, before they settle into the six- or seven-minute zone. Each track is a lumbering sludgefest, tortured and torturous. Yes, it is all unintelligible raw-throated howling against a backdrop of rumbling bass, crashing rum and discordant guitars. And that’s everything that’ ace about it.

‘Tired’ pairs things back a looong way, trudging through a sparse space while he crawling ‘Manual Labour’ pounds away at a crawl that lands between early Swans and early Godflesh, with a dash of early Pitchshifer thrown in. It’s heavy, for sure.

Closer ‘FFS’ stretches the underlying formula out for almost eighteen minutes. Amidst the bass / guitar sludge that sounds like the grind and scrape of earthworks and some vocals where there are almost decipherable words. Almost. It’s a truly purgatorial noise and fifteen minutes feels like forever at 35 BPM.

This is dingy, dirgy, heavy, and utterly punishing. As such it may be a perverse pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.

AA

cover