Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

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

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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

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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.

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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

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Nefarious Industries – 1st November 2019

The one thing that’s been consistent about experimental noise-rock duo Cinema Cinema across their previous releases has been their capacity to confound expectation. Their freeform approach to rock has always made them hard to place in a fixed sense, although Sonic Youth and Live Skull are reasonable references against which to pitch their guitar-driven racket that’s been given to stray into expansive space rock workouts.

Each release has ventured into different stylistic territory, at least at points, and while 2017’s Man Bites Dog did bring some sax into the mix, they’ve predominantly maintained a no-wave rock focus – until now. With CCXMD they cut the cord that holds any ties to the conventions of rock to go all-out on the freeform, and this time it’s jazz. Not even jazz-rock, but a weirdy, off-the-wall, jazz oddity with swirling ambient currents. CCXMD is a genuine ‘wtf?’ release.

Where are the guitars? And words? There are practically no vocals, and the vocals there are, are mangled and so low in the mix they’re barely audible. There are guitars, but they’re practically absent on the first two tracks – short, semi-ambient fragments – and when they do finally appear on the third track, ‘Colours’, it’s more the sound of tuning up, accompanied by pan-pipes and with stuttering percussion that lollops and rolls and crashes chaotically without ever taking form. You’re on the edge of your seat waiting for something – you don’t even really know what – but you don’t get it. It’s hard to tell what you actually do get.

‘Cyclops’ threatens to settle into a rock-riff groove before veering into all kinds of chaos with parping sax trills and every shade of jazz mania mewling like demented cats here there and everywhere, and the album’s thirteen-minute centrepiece, ‘Ode to a Gowanus Flower’ is an exercise on patience-testing as they wander through evocations of Eastern mystery. It’s difficult to listen to because it’s difficult to place and even more difficult to settle in with. This isn’t because it’s a departure, this is simply by virtue of the fact that this is a challenging album it its own right. It’s deranged, messy, unpredictable, incoherent and all the jazz. But it’s ambitious, interesting, and sees Cinema Cinema really test both themselves and their fans. And that’s a good thing: remaining static is tantamount to being dead. And moreover, any band that finds its niche and sticks to it consigns itself to a trajectory of diminishing returns.

Cinema Cinema are following their creative urges and aren’t dictated by any perception of fan demands or dictates: they do what they do because they’re driven to do it, and certainly not because of any label or trend. And this is why Cinema Cinema are such an essential band, and why they’ll endure. They don’t give a fuck about what you’re into. They do their own thing. And that is art.

AA

Cinema Cinama

Front & Follow – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Front and Follow is a label that’s carved a special niche in the cassette release corner of the industry, and has, for those in the know, become a trademark of quality. But sustaining such consistency – or even anything – as a one-man operation is hard work, and often with little reward. As such, while I was sad to learn they’re taking a break, they’re signing off with an incredibly strong release, courtesy of Ekoplekz, who is also embarking on an indefinite break.

The album’s pitched as ‘drawing parallels between present day Britain and that of the turn of the 80s, Ekoplekz looks back to that era’s industrial and post-punk soundtrack for inspiration,’ and the press release continues: ‘In a land increasingly brutalized by austerity and divided by nationalism, the tensions that informed some of the post-punk era’s most important works (Red Mecca, Unknown Pleasures, Metal Box) haunt this collection of bleak postcards from the present’. The present is indeed bleak, unless, of course, you perhaps run a hedge fund with billions backing a no-deal Brexit or you’re a major corporation invested in climate change denial or pharmaceuticals. But then, if you’re in that bracket, you’re probably on your private jet grabbing bitches by the pussy and going gammon about these smelly hippy protestors or somesuch. For the rest of us these ae dark times that require a dark soundtrack, and as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s no surprise that we’re experiencing a different kind of 80s revival at the moment. Brutal and divided pretty much sum up both UK and US politics and cultures , as well as further afield. Who actually feels safe on the street? Who actually feels safe as a career artist? Who isn’t remotely concerned, doesn’t feel concerned, panicked, anxietised? We don’t need Duran Duran replicas like The Bravery, and even Editors and Interpol’s take on post-punk feels lightweight in the face of the crises that define the current – and so Ekoplekz plunge deep back to the late 70s source to dredge real darkness and despondency here, and in doing so, In Search of the Third Mantra soundtracks the present – bleak as it is.

With In Search of the Third Mantra, Ekoplekz sets his spheres of reference out early, with ‘High Rise Dub’ carrying Ballardian connotations and ‘K-Punk’ taking its title from the seminal blog of the early noughties by the late Mark Fisher, to whom the album is dedicated. This, then, without wanting to sound elitist, is no mindless replication of an array of retro tropes, but a considered assimilation of myriad sources, distilled into something wilfully challenging. We would expect nothing less of K Craig, filmmaker and front man of currently-resting Last Harbour. This is quite a departure, but works in context: while we don’t get brooding vocals and arch-gothic sonic structures, there’s a brooding nihilism that rumbles at the core of In Search of the Third Mantra in the same way it lurks so many albums of the period, and a lot has to be credited to the production.

It’s got grooves and danceable beats, but it’s also possessed of a dehumanised detachment, a sense of distancing and dislocation: you’re in the zone and in the space where you’re feeling the distance, the disfunction. The fact that this doesn’t fit, the fact that you don’t fit.

The spartan electronica of the former, with its dubby bass and rhythm that shuffles and clatters conjures a sense of alienation and otherness, while the latter brings things down a notch darker, laser bleeps and eerie vaporous notes hover ominously. ‘Do the Meinhof’ goes full motoric, channelling the insistent industrial grooves of DAF and Cabaret Voltaire into a tense death disco pounder laced with icy synths.

The sonic touchstones are all very much in evidence as the listener is led through a haunting desert of sound, dark, murky, menacing. ‘Accept Nothing’ has hints of The Cure’s Carnage Visors soundtrack, and the atmosphere which permeates all ten compositions is unforgiving and inhospitable.

There’s a degree of linearity to the album’s sequencing, and each track feels sparser, less defined, and with this progression there comes an increasing sense of collapse, of emptiness, and while sonically, the pieces are spacious, the atmosphere is evermore paranoid. One feels as though familiar structures are falling away, disintegrating. By the time we arrive at ‘Heart Addict (In Make Up)’, there’s little left beyond an almost subliminal, stunted dub bass that twitches anxiously alongside a barely perceptible beat, and we’re left, alone, disorientated, and teetering on the precipice just inches from the void.

AA

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Bearsuit Records – 27th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Edinburgh-based Bearsuit Records has established itself as a reliable source of weird stuff, a large proportion of which comes from Japan, a country renowned for producing some of the most brilliantly bizarre music. Needless to say, I’m a fan, and admire label owner Dave Hillary’s unswerving commitment to giving niche artists a home.

A trilling fairground waltz with stuttering microbeats provides the backdrop to the ethereal vocal on the title track, leading the listener into the weird and wonderful world of Haq, which is a collaborative musical vehicle for Japanese duo N-qia (Nozomi and Takma, the latter of whom is renowned in certain cult circles for his eight albums released under the Serph moniker) and the ultra-prolific Ediburgh based enigma that is Harold Nono.

Evaporator is a quintessential Bearsuit release – meaning, it’s way, way out there, strange and bewildering, in the most otherworldly sense. Evaporator is an album that more or less defines cognitive dissonance. It’s a headfuck, but that’s not a criticism. We need to be challenged: all too often, we’re presented with sonic chewing gum and shrug and think ‘yeah, that’s ok’. Ok is not ok, of course: we’re swimming in a sea of mediocrity and we need to break free of is tireless tide.

It’s all going on – at once – on ‘Dustboy Horrorshow’, which collides dreamy post-rock with pounding double-speed beats before taking a brief turn for the heavy in the midsection, before the industrial grind is dispersed in a ripple of fairy-lit world music to fade. And it only gets weirder and more incongruously juxtaposed from hereon in.

Ballistic beats and floaty mellowness collide, and often, as they explore the space between The Cocteau Twins and the Prodigy and somehow, in their state of dementure, attempt to bridge it by fusion. This shouldn’t work, and in places, it doesn’t, but that’s all the more reason to celebrate their efforts: experimentation and collaboration shouldn’t be about perfection, and even necessarily about the end product. The creative process is what matters.

That said, the end product, weird and baffling as it is, has more than its share of moments, and this five-tacker comes with a bunch of remixes of the EP tracks as well as an alternative mix of ‘Bees in My Feet’ from 2013’s Nocturnals. The approaches to remixing are ide-ranging and varied, and serve to highlight just how eclectic the composite elements of Haq’s original compositions are.

AA

Haq – Evaporator