Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Panarus Productions – 25th January 2019

Sometimes, I don’t help myself. I allow myself to disappear down rabbit holes of hypertext and to indulge myself in the worst, most mentally unhealthy ways while writing thinly-veiled work of fiction. Right what you know, right? Only, when what you know is anxiety laced with paranoia from two decades of exposure to corporate culture and rolling television news, gravitating towards the things you feel you should know more about to bolster the experiences of what you know, the echo-chamber of confirmation-bias just becomes a screaming howl of endless reverb.

And depressingly often, sooner or later, life imitates art. Over the last few days, I’ve received texts from friends telling me they’re witnessing scenes reminiscent of Retail Island at the very retail park that inspired the book. It was of course inevitable: in a time when the news channels have evolved into irony-free replicas of The Day Today, it’s night-on impossible to separate Ballardian dystopias located in credibly near futures from news reportage.

It was similarly inevitable that I would gravitate towards this release by Heat Death Of The Sun – or, moreover, that it would otherwise find me one way or another. The label promises

‘half an hour oppressive electronics’ and a work that’s ‘very much the soundtrack to some kind of automated authoritarian surveillance network’. Of course I’m sold.

The first of the album’s five tracks, ‘Currency of Faith’ opens with a recording of Dylan Thomas reading ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ in expansive, ominous tones: slowly, low, rumbling drones begin to eddy around and slow, deliberate beats crash in like thunder. Before long, it’s built into a claustrophobic buzz with extraneous noise surges and a monotonous industrial rhythm clattering, half-submerged but cutting through the murk with a sharp metallic edge. Oppressive is the word, and not even a choral intervention can lift the atmosphere beyond subterranean dankness.

A tension-inducing uptempo beat – an insistent clicking hammer that thumps and thumps and thumps – introduces ‘The Relentless Pound of Austerity’ and continues to thump away monotonously for over ten minutes, amidst a whirling eddy of off-key atonality, a midrange buzzing and a collage of samples. There’s no way you can get comfortable listening to this as you feel your heartbeat increasing and your jaw clenching spontaneously, especially near the end when a shriek of digital feedback increases to an unbearable, ear-splitting level and engulfs everything. It’s fucking horrible – and as such, it’s the perfect soundtrack to the now, the lack of levity and lack of breathing space the sonic representation of the inescapable blizzard of media we’re subjected to all day, every day.

Guiding the listener through a bleak soundscape of dark ambience pinned together by monotonous rhythms, the experience of listening to this album is an uncomfortable one: even the delicate twitter of birdsong is imbued with a sense of impending doom. And it leads down the path which culminates in the pounding industrial grind of the title track. Awkward oscillations shiver behind a slow electronic beat while mechanical noise and voices echo into the abyss for eight full minutes, spreading an atmosphere of dislocation and alienation that fittingly draws the album to a stark, cold close.

Heat Death

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Monika Entreprise – monika93 – 7th December 2018

Although active on the German music scene since the late 70s, it wasn’t until 2007 that Gudrun Gut released her first solo album. She’s maintained a steady output over the last decade, while also operating labels Monika Enterprise and Moabit Musik. And while very much married to the field of electronic music, one could never describe her work as predictable or standard, and Moment is no exception. Describing it not as an album, or even a collection of songs, but a ‘statement’, she promises a work which is ‘stark, somber, sultry, and clever, [on which] the sides slide between ballad and lament, synth-pop and spoken word, anthemic and abstract.

From the opening motoric beat and throbbing electronica of ‘Startup Loch’, over which Gudrun Gut lays monotone robotic vocals, Moment presents a sparse retro electro style. Heavy repetition and monotony are the defining features of the album’s fourteen tracks which thud away, on and on. ‘Lover’ is exemplary, grinding out a single looped pulse over a square 4/4 beat bereft of fills for over five minutes, while the cover of Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ is an object lesson in cold clinicality, stripping out the flamboyance – and tune – on the original, and replacing both with a discordant drone.

As much DAF as Kraftwerk, it’s every inch German-built in its fabric. The atmosphere is one of detachment and sterility, but in that clipped early 80s style that makes optimal use of reverb and precise production. There’s something about that stripped-back analogue synthiness paired with mechanoid percussion that’s more chilling and glacial than contemporary digital production can muster. And by these means, Gudrun Gut gives a lesson in distancing, in detachment, in music that segregates the cerebral from the soul.

The experimentalism becomes more pronounced as the album progresses. ‘Biste schon weg’ pulls apart structure and stretches at the edges of linear time to warp some woozy bass and glitchy, clattering beats which slowly collapse from rhythm to deconstruct the very components of composition, presenting an exploded view of music-making. Gradually, the forms become increasingly indistinct, more fragmented, more abstract, delineated and disconnected. Cohesion crumbles to slow-drifting sonic separation as delineation and decay define the evermore nebulous forms.

Moment is not as the title suggests, a single moment, but a succession of moments which blur into one another. Collectively, the pieces create a unique listening space in which time folds in on itself and stretches, bending, in all directions. A moment to get lost in.

Neue Moment M93 LP Out.indd

Ipecac Recordings – 26th October 2018 (Lauren)

The title of Daughters’ fourth full-length is perhaps self-explanatory. It’s certainly going to not appeal to a lot of people. Most people, in fact. The first track, ‘Cities’ is a grinding dirge driven by a grimy, oppressive low-end throb and crashing percussion that’s reminiscent of early Swans and that plods along for five minutes or so before exploding into a supernova f brain-drilling noise. And then things start getting really ugly.

‘Long Road No Turns’ lurches into truly horrible discord, the atonal semi-monotone vocal pitched against a screeding metallic noise and pumping heartbeat drum that breaks into manic chaos, but somehow ends up with a gentle harpsichord strum to fade. And you’re left staring into space, tense, heartrate accelerated, wondering just what the actual fuck you just heard. This is precisely the album’s appeal. It’s spectacularly unpredictable, and spectacularly noisy, but also impressively articulate in musical terms.

By contrast, ‘Satan in the Wait’ is a mote structured and melodic affair, with picked notes and loping drums building to well-placed crescendos. It’s still a bleak noise-orientated construction, but the slanted Am Rep / T&G influenced racket is coloured with a strain of Bauhaus-like art rock. And Daughters aren’t afraid to experiment: the low-slung sleaze of ‘Less Sex’ is altogether more electronic in its persuasion, a deliberate beat underpinning a deep, dark bass oscillation and big ruptures of racket on top by way of punctuation. It’s low and slow and inches into bleak technoindustrial territory. And yet it sits remarkably comfortably within the overall shape of the album. Comfortable is of course relative.

For the most part, though, it’s a blistering frenzy of angular, guitar-driven noise that sits with the best of The Jesus Lizard, Shellac, Blacklisters with the howling mania of ‘Guest House’ proving a lurching, awkward standout. ‘Let me in!’ Alexis Marshall hollers, deranged.

‘Daughter’ is also exemplary when it comes to the band’s dark, dingy genre-straddling noise, incorporating elements of both electro-based industrial doom-disco and jagged: it’s a monster tempest of difficult noise that’s hard to place and even harder to contain or categorise. The vocals, manic, clean but with the edges fuzzed by distortion; the bass, low, dirty, distorted and thick, the drums gritty and overloading…. And so on.

‘The Reason They Hate Me’ is a thunderous, blistering standout that invited favourable comparisons to Pissed Jeans’ recent work, while the lumbering lurch of seven-and-a-half minute closer melds 90s noise rock, Pavement-inspired wonkiness, and The Fall’s bloody-minded bludgeoning of just two or three chords into oblivion for an eternity. Likewise the taut, nagging ‘Ocean Song’ that exploits not only quiet / loud dynamics to full and challenging effect, but also pushes minimal chords and maximum dissonance to achieve optimal tension and discomfort.

You Won’t Get What You Want isn’t an album that leaves you feeling satisfied. Restless, twitchy, uncomfortable, on edge, yes, drained and even ruined, but satisfied, less likely.

AA

Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want

Green Recordings – 30th November 2018 (Big Mouth)

A Gradual Decline is the debut album by CUTS, the audio-visual project of composer and filmmaker Anthony Tombling Jr. It follows the release of the EP ‘A Slow Decay’, which came out in October. The titles suggest a trajectory, an overarching theme, and Tombling’s preoccupation with environmental issues and global warming is the key here. “We are living in the age of the Anthropocene and it feels like everything is in decline,” he says.

He explains the process and inspiration as follows: “I have tried to make a record that feels like it’s all come from one place. My only musical influence on this was William Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’. Not the music, but the process. The idea of a decline in sound really suited the concept of this record. All this music and instrumentation trapped in this declining digital signal. I wanted it to sound brittle and precarious. I also wanted to avoid doing overly dark material, opting instead for something that was more fragile, melancholic and even hopeful in moments.”

As such, this is a concept work, and a concept that’s conveyed by the medium of chilled-out electronica, propelled by quite mellow beats. And while there is a melancholy hue to the instrumentation it doesn’t exactly say ‘potential collapse of civilisation’ or ‘global warming: aaargh, we’re all fucked’. This is no criticism: it’s hard to reconcile the now with the future prospects was talk about endlessly but never seem to reach. Even positioning the Anthropocene is problematic, although using the increasingly popular placing of post-1945 as the marker, with that year being tipped by the Geological Society as The Great Acceleration in terms of the impact of human activity on climate and environment as the defining feature of the current geological age, is perhaps instructive in the context of Tombling’s comments that “we’re in a moment where extinction is regular. I wanted this record to reflect these frailties.”

The press release promises ‘11 widescreen, electronic compositions in response to global political and environmental breakdown,’ and explains how A Gradual Decline addresses the planet’s current fragility using actual field recordings of ice collapsing from glaciers’. This isn’t apparent in the music itself, and a lot of A Gradual Decline given to quite simple, straight-ahead electronica, and while there are warping synth washes to be found hither and thither, it’s gentle and genteel and doesn’t instil a gut-churning sense of panic. Then again, some of the pieces are quite stark and spacious.

The album’s trajectory is – as the title suggests – gradual. The pace slows and structures become increasingly loose and delineated, beats more fractured and fragmented as it progresses. It’s fitting: the slide into increasingly turbulent weather isn’t something noticeable on a day-to-day basis and on a global scale, rapid change is relative.

But by the time the listener has drifted through the rippling piano rolls and low-stuttering pulsations of ‘Maboroshi’ and the dilapidated slow-drone ambience of ‘Fear of Everything’ which suddenly vanishes to nothing after thirteen minutes of formless drift, the sense of journey becomes finally apparent.

A Gradual Decline is an album that makes more sense and grows in appeal with time to absorb and assimilate, to reflect and to refocus. Given time, A Gradual Decline makes sense. Its just a shame we don’t have the luxury of time to save the planet.

AA

CUTS - A Gradual Decline

Ipecac Recordings – 23rd November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Planet B finds Justin Pearson – of Dead Cross, Retox, and more bands and projects than even he could probably name – pair up with hip-hop producer Luke Henshaw. The result is a gloriously mangled hybrid of punk and hip-hop that’s more in the vein of the crossover collaborations that featured on the Judgement Night soundtrack than anything thrown up subsequently by nu-metal or anything else that’s followed. No doubt this is something Ipecac head honcho Mike Patton considered when the album landed with the label, having delivered the belting ‘Another Body Murdered’ with Faith No More in collaboration with Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. back in ’93.

Having spent what seems like forever criticising people for becoming fogeys prematurely and becoming locked in an era that corresponds with their late teens / early twenties and bemoaning the fact that there’s no new music that’s any good, I’ll confess with no small disappointment that just typing that gave me a major pang of nostalgia, and that I haven’t listened to any mainstream or chart music in about eight years now, and I really don’t know who’s who or what the kidz are listening to now (and although I have been subjected to ‘What Does the Fox Say?’, Pingfong’s ‘Baby Shark Dance’ and ‘Skibidi’ by Little Big, I’m not sure how representative these are of anything). But the notion that there’s no new music that’s any good is patent bollocks. The fact of the matter is there’s more good new music emerging now than ever before – it’s just a matter of taste and knowing where to find it. Ipecac, it has to be said, are pretty consistent as a source of things both noisy and strange, and while the styles and forms may not be entirely predictable, the quality usually is. Planet B’s eponymous debut is illustrative, and while it’s new music with roots in older music, it still doesn’t sound quite like anything else current.

Political and pissed off, Planet B is an album with attack, taking not the mellowed out doped-up end of hip-hop but presents a fiery force-for-change antagonism that’s more Body Count or Beastie Boys at their best. As one would reasonably expect from an act featuring Justin Pearson, the result isn’t pretty, but it is pretty intense, and ‘Crustfund’ makes for a strong start: deep, pounding hip-hop beats and snarling synths provide the backdrop to an uncompromising and aggressive vocal courtesy of Kool Keith, (one of a roll-call of inspired guests featured on the album).

Things take a turn for the more direct and driving with the fast-paced pulsating groove of ‘Join a Cult’ – the backing sounds like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, while the vocals are a pure punk whooping holler, brimming with anger and nihilism. ‘Manure Rally’ and ‘Come Bogeyman’ are also thunderous stompers reminiscent of Ministry (the latter featuring the percussive talents of Martin Atkins), and big mid-tempo beats and dense, looping low-end are one of the defining features of the album as a whole. This certainly contributes to providing Planet B with a sense of cohesion – which is much-needed given its eclecticism.

Like many, I’m wary of covers of songs I really, really like, and am often heart howling in despair ‘Sacrilege! How could they do that?’ or, conversely, ‘why did they bother? It doesn’t do anything different.’ The cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down’ is unexpected – slowed down, stripped down, it’s brutal and ugly – and quite outstanding.

Although the production is significantly cleaner and the overall, and the vibe altogether less violent, Planet B shares shouty, sneering, snotty common ground with Uniform’s The Long Walk. And as The Long Walk is one of my favourite albums of the year (despite its relentless fury and clanging noise invariably leaving me physically and emotionally drained and with a headache), it’s a big thumbs up for Planet B.

AA

469426

OUS – OUS017 – 30th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibpr

Juxtapositions… oppositions… rippling waves of abstraction shimmer in broad washes while darker current bubble beneath… but the mood soon turns ugly as the bubbing low end becomes a churning throb and the soft waves harden into sharp-edged shards and extraneous sounds interrupt the smooth edges.

On ‘Feel Safe’ time and sound warp and blur: the time signature is but an illusion, an allusion to time rather than any true marker, and the naturally-occurring rhythms which emerge from the interweaving notes are constantly shifting, at first disorientating but gradually the while weft and warp becomes an aural blanket that softly smothers the senses and envelops the listener.

Nemeček conjures so many layers and with such subtlety it’s often hard to appreciate just how much is happening simultaneously. The soft rolling bass and drifting, cloud-like mid-ranges of ‘Organs’ become subject to crackling interference toward the end of the track, while ‘Incidents I’ is a disorientating oscillation.

The digital release benefits from the inclusion if ‘Incidents II’ which segues into ‘Incidents I’ and is a slow-building beat-backed blast of thunder that swells to epic proportions, and while the mellifluous sonic nebulae are as expansive and kaleidoscopically immersive as they come the dense, deliberate beats an booming detonations of sub-bass provide a sense of structure and form that focuses the attention back in. That isn’t to say the form places Recurrences fully foreground, or that the compositions even hint at linearity: they drift in and drift out again without having an overt direction. And all of this is good.

Recurrences is constructed as an ambient work, and its semi-abstract form and drifting layers of soft-focus vapouresness more than fulfil that criteria: that there’s more besides and beyond doesn’t detract from that ambition, and Recurrences is something of a masterclass in advanced ambient which occupies background, foreground, middleground, and twists the psyche all at once.

AA

Recurrences

Forking Paths – FP0015 – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The title has very personal origins for Evan Davies, the man who records under the Blank Nurse / No Light moniker. A sufferer of Pure OCD – a form of OCD which manifests with no external behaviours or rituals, with the compulsions being mental rather than physical – and depression, Davies spent his teenage years tormented by the fear of HIV infection.

HIV 1994 sees Davies confront and channel the experience creatively, using what the press release describes as ‘often-overwhelming mental health issues’ to create song which are ‘like exorcisms for emotions and memories’. The context suggests that this was never going to be an ‘easy’ album, and however deftly Davies combines his wide-ranging and, in the face of it, incongruous and incompatible influences, which span ambient and neoclassical, hardcore, black metal, noise, and house, the clashing contrasts would be awkward enough without the anguish behind the compositions themselves. And so it is that on HIV 1994, Blank Nurse / No Light hauls the listener through an intense personal hell.

‘Blood Fiction’ begins with a collage of voices and extraneous noise before lilting string glissandos and a soft bass steer toward a calmer, more structured path. It provides a recurring motif, but one frequently interrupted by passing traffic and low rumbling noises. And so gentle tranquillity and ruptures of disquiet are crunched into one another before ‘Mocking of the Ghost of Crybaby Cobain’ really ratchets up the intensity with unsettling collision of styles, with pounding industrial percussion and expansive electronica that’s almost dancey providing the backdrop to the most brutal screaming vocals. It actually sounds like an exorcism. Or Prurient with more beats.

And it only gets darker, more disturbed and more disturbing from here: the lyrics are unintelligible, guttural screams of pure pain, and the tunes mangled to fuck, glitchy, twitchy anti-rhythms hammer around behind quite mellow synth washes. ‘Flu Breather’ sounds more like a demon dying of plague in a nightclub conjured in a nightmare, or, perhaps more credibly, the outpouring of indescribable, soul-shredding anguish that cannot be articulated in any coherent fashion.

There are some straight-ahead, accessible moments amidst the cacophonous chaos: ‘Outside the Clinic is a Hungry Black Void of Nothingness’ is a brooding electro-pop piece with a real groove and a narrative of sorts, and calls to minds Xiu Xiu, while ‘No Ecstasy’ goes all Wax Trax!, coming on like late 80s Revolting Cocks . But these tracks are very much the exception, as the majority of the others twist, turn, break and collapse in on themselves. Redemption and light are crushed and swept way in a succession of disconnections and claustrophobic dead-ends. It’s deeply uncomfortable from beginning to end, and much of it sounds like opposing sonic forces at war – which probably makes this a successful work, providing a deep insight into the tortured mind of the artist.

AA

Blank Nurse