Posts Tagged ‘Album’

‘Taxonomy Of Illusions’ is the opening track to Amplify Human Vibration, a full length soundtrack from Brighton cinematic post-rock duo Nordic Giants.

Amplify Human Vibration is the soundtrack to an upcoming short film, directed by the duo, that hopes to shed a positive light on the everyday world we live in. The crowd-funded film will be proceeded by the soundtrack, released on CD & Vinyl with the film given away online for free at a later date. The opening track of the soundtrack, ‘The Taxonomy of Illusions’ is named after and features a speech given by Terence McKenna at UC Berkeley in 1993.

“This opening track highlights some of the great illusions most of us have unwillingly accepted as our reality. The toxic consequences are now clear for everyone to see, so its really up to us to face our issues -not tomorrow, but today! The message of this song is not to create any more fear or negativity but to help realise our problems so we can empower ourselves and step out from this illusion/delusion we are living in,” say the band.

Listen here:

Amplify Human Vibration  is released on October 22nd.

Nordic

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Young God Records – 28th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The great Swans back catalogue reappraisal and re-release continues with a brace of albums from near the end of the band’s initial incarnation. The latest pairs Swans’ 1995 album The Great Annihilator with Gira’s simultaneous solo release, Drainland. 1995 was a fertile year: Jarboe also released Sacrificial Cake through Alternative Tentacles in the same year, in some respects mirroring the period eight years previous, when two different Skin albums – effectively Gia and Jarboe solo releases – appeared in 1987 and 1988 in near synchronicity with Swans’ pivotal Children of God. Indeed, while the ‘definitive’ reissue programme is both extremely welcome and is a genuine boon for Swans fans both new and old, it does highlight the complexity of the band’s back catalogue. Precisely which album sits with which is a question which will never find an easy resolution, but on balance, Gira and Young God have made a decent fist of presenting a cohesive and linear recataloguing of the band’s initial history.

The Swans album The Great Annihilator arrived some three years after the epic twin salvoes of Love of Life and White Light from the Mouth of Infinity, which had represented both an evolution and a return to form following The Burning World in 1989. And while The Great Annihilator clearly belonged to the same broad phase as its immediate predecessors, it also felt more focused and more intense. It also stands as a transitionary album, the last studio release before the immense, everything-through-the-wringer churning mash of Soundtracks for the Blind, at which point the first phase of Swans collapsed and terminated.

Soundtracks perhaps hinted at the direction the reincarnated Swans would take on their return, but lacks the immensity of the sound they would produce on their post-millennial return, and equally lacks the focus of The Great Annihilator, and in this context, it’s this album which stands as such a significant document of the band in the later years of their first phase. The 2002 reissue saw the album augmented with a six-minutelive recording of ‘I Am the Sun’, which is also included here. However, this version is more about presenting a ‘restored’ version, returning to the recently-excavated original tapes to deliver the album as intended.

Great Annihilator / Drainland (Remastered 2017) - PRE ORDER

By this point Gira had perfected the cavernous, monotone drone which is now his signature: emerging on Children of God and honed over the course of White Light and Love of Life, on The Great Annihilator and Drainland the dark, bleak detachment conveyed in that vocal is as terrifying as any of the growling, barking threats of violence contained on Filth and Cop. He may have sounded brutal in his rage on those releases, but here Gira affects a demeanour which is altogether calmer, and consequently all the more dangerous in its psychopathy. He no longer sounds like a tortured, tormented human soul: he sounds like he’s detached himself from humanity.

What makes The Great Annihilator such a strong album is its range, which is equalled by its force and its cinematic production, balancing slow, repetitive, hypnotic tracks with explosive, percussion driven compositions. As such, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the ugly / beautiful juxtaposition which characterises the Swans ethos. The raw, visceral Jarboe-led ‘Mother/Father’ is gruelling in its intensity and contrasts with the mesmeric ‘Killing for Company’ and the expansive, uplifting ‘Where Does a Body End?’ (which stand among some of my all-time favourite songs by Swans – although, if truth be told, in the scheme of their vast output, it would be easy to fill a double album with my favourite songs by Swans).

‘I Am the Sun’ shares common ground with previous percussion-led tracks like ‘Power and Sacrifice’ (which stand a world away from earlier percussion-led tracks as featured on their albums prior to Children of God, which very much marked a turning point for the band), but at the same time, offers the first hints of what the band would evolve to produce during their second, post-millennium phase. Elsewhere, ‘Mind/Body/Sound/Light’ and ‘Celebrity Lifestyle’ display a certain newfound commercialism (beyond the folk leanings of The Burning World), magnificently counterpointed by Gira’s monotone baritone drone. And who else could succeed with a line like ‘she’ just a drug addiction, a self-reflecting image of a narcotized mind’? ‘Alcohol the Seed’, meanwhile, is sparse, stark and harrowing, the direct, declarative lyrics standing at the point where art and life intersect to deliver maximum discomfort to the receiver. ‘Killing for Company’ is delicate yet beyond dark, a song which reflects Gira’s interest in serial killers and takes its title from Brian Masters’ 1993 biography of Dennis Nielsen.

Gira’s solo debut, Drainland, has always stood as a singular release, both stylistically and in overall terms of the Swans / Gira oeuvre. It also seems to be one of those releases which has been somewhat overlooked.

The first track, ‘You See Through Me’, which features a serrated, grating, oscillating drone and haunting piano provide the musical backdrop to a recording of Gira, drunk, nasty, arguing with his then-partner Jarboe over money and his alcohol problem. It’s one of those works which crosses a line that will never be readily acceptable, where art transgresses the boundaries of the personal and the public. This, of course, is art of the highest order, that demands the receiver face uncomfortable and painful realities. Simultaneously, Gira, in his capacity or artist, dismantles all sense of persona and lay himself bare in the most unfiltered way imaginable.

It paves the way for what is a difficult album on every level, as he trawls the darkest recesses of his psyche: the lyrics may not be as visceral as those contained on early Swans releases, but they’re every bit as gut-wrenching in their impact, not least of all because they’re so intensely personal.

Great Annihilator / Drainland (Remastered 2017) - PRE ORDER

It’s a dark, stark album, which makes for uncomfortable listening on many occasions: even the more overtly post-Children of God tracks, where Gira spins hypnotic, opiate-hazed acoustic strums, as on ‘Unreal’, it’s more nightmarish than dream-like. And then there are jarring, nauseatingly difficult loop-led nightmare dirges like ‘Fan Letter’. And yet, the album contains moments of true beauty. Songs like ‘Why I Ate My Wife’ (which again alludes to Gira’s serial killer fascination and also draws on, and shares its title with, a piece from 1993 which appeared in Gira’s book of collected prose, The Consumer (1994)), dark as they may be lyrically, are also truly magnificent, and as touching – and well-crafted – as anything Gira has done during his long career.

The mastering seems comparatively quiet, but that’s largely on account of the fact everything tends to be mastered so damn loud and so damn bright these days that much of the dynamic range is lost. The very purpose of this remaster is about audio fidelity and unravelling knots in the original processing. Sonically, this remaster feels richer, denser than the original releases, although it would take obsessive comparison and a lot of time to draw out all of the detail. Most importantly, this release makes two classic Swans / related albums (one being something of a lost or unsung classic at that) readily available once more, and on vinyl, too – The Great Annihilator has been commanding obscene prices on the second-hand market for a long time now, while Drainland was only released in the US packaged with Jarboe’s Sacrificial Cake and is again expensive and hard to come by: as such, it all adds up to an essential release.

2nd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

With seven tracks and a running time in excess of half an hour, it’s one hell of an EP. ‘Elderflower’ is also a whole lot more than the prescriptive ‘post-rock’ tag attached to the duo. Much as I appreciate labelling as much as the next time-pressed music journo struggling to place a band and clutching for pointers for pitching a band in a review, and much as I like a lot of what slots into the post-rock bracket, Defy the Ocean are a band who create music that simply cannot be readily classified on their expansive and accomplished new release.

For a start, it’s more rock than post rock. It’s pretty loud. It’s pretty heavy. There are a lot of vocals. None of these are bad things, and ‘Elderflower’ is a work of depth, range and power. From the get-go, they demonstrate a knack for shifting between segments and moods with real panche, dragging the listener along with them: ‘Rest’, the first track may only clock in at two minutes and fifty-five, but it’s got more twists and turns and ideas and emotional range than some bands’ entire albums.

‘Veils’ is restrained, darkly atmospheric, moody and is perhaps the most post-rock track of the set. But it’s got a bleak, metallic edge that also tips a nod to the mid 90s alternative rock sound.

The title track breaks into full-on grunge mode, the quiet / loud dynamic and brooding atmosphere more Alice in Chains and Soundgarden than I Like Trains, and the crushing power chords are thick and heavy, and paired with a drawling vocal delivery, it calls to mind Melvins – the mellow piano breakdown notwithstanding. ‘Brine’ is serpentine, stripped back, and provides a distinct contrast with its chiming guitars which does call to mind I Like Trains – but then again, the burst of powerchords, distorted vocal and full driving climax, alludes to millennial progressive acts like Oceansize, Amplifier, Porcupine Tree, Anathema, and if anything, ‘Vessel’ amalgamates neoprog with the desert rock vibe of Queens of the Stone Age and their ilk. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s all well-assembled and musically articulate.

Everything about ‘Elderflower’ points to a band who aren’t confined to any one format or bank of instruments, which makes for a refreshingly varied collection of songs, and one which demands repeated listening in order to reveal its full richness.

 

Defy the Ocean EP

2nd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Gang of Four’s Entertainment! Still stands as one of the definitive post-punk albums, capturing the zeitgeist of the late 70s. ‘Left’ and ‘socialist’ weren’t terms spat derisively by the media. The early years of Thatcher’s dismantlement of the country in the pursuit of the neoliberalist dream was already finding many disenfranchised and angry, with musicians articulating the sentiments of a generation in voicing dissent and dissatisfaction. Sound familiar?

I’ve been listening to Gang of Four since I was in my teens: too young to appreciate them in their day (I was born in1975), I was hooked a good decade before Franz Ferdinand and others started namedropping them and their status as one of the most important bands of the era. This isn’t any kind of hip gloat – not least of all because it would be a pretty shit one if it was. But my experience of the band live until earlier this year was limited to a few shitty VHS recordings, and the not so shitty various artists compilation VHS from circa 1984 that I picked up at a car boot in the early 90s.

So finally seeing them play live in 2016, given that the current lineup only features one original member could have been a disappointment on a monumental scale. But it wasn’t. the current lineup not only sounds great, but still has that vital sense of tension, of danger, that was always the band’s trademark.

‘Live… in the Moment’ captures this perfectly, and is released in two different forms: During a year spent touring the world, the band recorded two of the best, namely their sold-out show at New York’s Irving Plaza (which will be available as a DVD or download) and their penultimate show of 2015, at London’s Islington Assembly Hall, which will be available as an audio CD, double coloured vinyl album and download. The DVD will be packaged with the CD. Both, it has to be said, are excellent.

As a live recording, the quality is good, but it’s not excessively crisp or polished, and doesn’t scream heavy EQing, mixing, overdubbing. No, this is an honest, real live album that captures the intensity and immediacy of being in a room with a band playing live at high volume. If sounds and feels like a live album: as it should: any act who sound exactly the same live as in the studio may be musically accomplished, but fails to make the live ‘experience’ an actual experience. What matters most is that the separation between the sinewy, choppy guitar lines and elastic, funk-infused stop/start bass grooves is spot on.

Similarly, the concert visuals, whole shot from a number of cameras, is straight-ahead: dark, murky, primarily from a lower, audience vantage point. Budget? Maybe, although I’d prefer to watch something that replicates the actual experience of the live show, rather than some ponced-up, glossy fixed-up representation. My only criticism of the footage lies not with the footage itself – I can handle the wobbles and slightly amateurish hand-held pans – but the editing: the cuts are simply too fast, and the zooms on fretboards, etc., simply too… zoomy. With multiple angles to choose from, they haven’t always picked the best. Still, it’s watchable enough in a way fits with the rough ‘n’ ready, ‘as it was’ approach. Moreover, it sits with the band’s general ethos: this is no major-label, big-money production and no corporate exec’s coining it at the expense of hard-working artists.

The track listing draws from across their albums with the exception of Mall, although no-one’s going to be disappointed to see that Entertainment! Is well-represented, with ‘Love Like Anthrax’, ‘Damaged Goods’, ‘At Home He’s a Tourist’, ‘History’s Not Made by Great Men’ and ‘I Found That Essence Rare’ all featuring. The DVD also features ‘Return the Gift’, which doesn’t appear on the CD, as well as non-CD cut ‘I Love a Man in a Uniform’. They all sound great, spiky and urgent, ‘To Hell With Poverty’ as pertinent now as 38 years ago. Irrespective of their influence, Live… In the Moment shows that Gang of Four are very much a going concern, and a band who aren’t only relevant after all this time, but a cracking live act.

 

Gang of Four Live

On June 17, iconic avant-rock ensemble Swans are releasing The Glowing Man,  the fourth and final studio album from this line-up since their reactivation by band primum mobile Michael Gira in 2010 after a 14 year hiatus. This will be followed by their customary year-long world-wide tour celebrating the release after which Gira says, "I’ll continue to make music under the name Swans, with a revolving cast of collaborators…touring will definitely be less extensive." This is an excerpt of "Cloud of Unknowing" from the live concert DVD that will accompany the deluxe 2-CD release:

Bronze Rat Records – BR5 – 26th February 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m late to the party here. Lauren Laverne’s already been bigging up this collaboration between Michael J Sheehy and former Dream City Film Club bandmate Alex Vald. I guess that’s the price you pay for having a full-time job that isn’t listening to and playing music, and you don’t have a production team to sift through your promos. I don’t begrudge Lauren getting in first, because I’m pleased to see the latest work by musicians who, in their former incarnation, recorded not one, but two Peel sessions.

Dream City Film Club were band out of time, and the same may be true of United Sounds Of Joy. However, the way in which music is disseminated and received now as opposed to 20 years ago means that outside the mainstream at least, music is more likely to be accepted on its own merits rather than on the basis of prevailing fashions.

There’s a strange polarity at play here: it’s harder than ever to break into the major league to achieve top-flight status and all that comes with that, in the form of international success, wealth and recognition. But the infinite fragmentation of everything beyond the mainstream means that bands can connect with niche-level audiences globally, and aren’t reliant on radio play or support at home to attain a degree of recognition. If there’s any justice, the channels now available will enable United Sounds of Joy to connect with the audience they merit.

Yes, they are an acquired taste. For those unfamiliar with his previous work, Sheehy’s soft, haunted croon comes of a surprise at first, and in this musical context, it’s particularly unusual. It’s simply so rare to hear vocals on what is, in effect, an ambient audio work. Yet with hints of Scott Walker, minus the arch theatrical side, Sheehy’s voice is perfectly suited to the

The music is wispy, vague, hauntingly intangible. Shimmering guitars tremolo in ‘The Sun That Hides a Darker Star, and the monotone spoken word of ‘Dust Veil’ cracks dryly over the sparse bassline and dark, pulsating industrial wasteland conjured by the crunching, mechanical rhythm. ‘Wounded Moon’ has something of a Michael Gira / Angels of Light quality to it, calling to mind the sparse, folkier later works, infused with a slow-burning drone.

It’s a greatly understated work, at times it’s almost sonically subliminal – yet it still succeeds in achieving a most hypnotic effect. And that’s precisely why it warrants exposure, exploration, consideration. By no means an immediate album United Sounds Of Joy is most definitely an intriguing album, built on many layers. It’s not one to hurry, but one to explore.

United Sounds of Joy

United Sounds Of Joy Online

Reveal Records – 11th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Vigils comprises a suite of 11 sparse piano-led compositions. As a unit of work, its pace is predominantly sedate; the strings are subtle, graceful, and the mood is thoughtful, reflective. This is very much Birkin’s objective here, and he describes the album as ‘a soundtrack to the idea of looking back at our present from somewhere in the future’. But Vigils is not an album that cries nostalgia. It does not evoke a sense of longing for a future past. But equally, nor does it soundtrack a sense of guilt or a desire to separate from the part. It evokes the passage of time, of retrospection, of ageing, but without resorting to Instagram filters. Vigils is about time, but doesn’t set out to evoke a specific time as such, and in doing so, transcends time.

In context, ‘Accretions’ is surprisingly spirited and uptempo – that isn’t to go so far as to say it’s pop, but the rippling chords and hooky repeated motifs are accentuated with big chords that imbue the piece with a boldness that romps along in a way which is overtly accessible.

‘Moonbathing’ introduces picked acoustic guitar and harmonious vocals while a violin weaves shades of pastoral folk, while the orchestral chamber music of ‘Atomhog’ is sweet, crisp, and uncluttered in its arrangement.

Birkin explains the concept behind the album its artwork by observing that “Significant human evolution is not fast and loud but slow and quiet. So slow that you almost don’t notice it happening. Except when you look back and see changes after they’ve happened…that’s when you see the giant leaps.” Based in Derbyshire, Birkin formulated the album secluded in his isolated residence in an old mill, itself an artefact from a bygone era repurposed for contemporary living.

And while we – that of course is me speaking on behalf of an assumed section of the population right now – often speak of the unbridled pace of change, in real terms it’s all relative. Mobile phone models and laptops may change faster than you can blink, but that’s only superficial change. Lifestyles, attitudes, the big things, change much more gradually, almost imperceptibly. And indeed, it’s during those imperceptible, gradual changes, that the leaps occur.

I daresay that no-one living in the Industrial Revolution felt as though they were living in a period which would come to mark a pivotal period in human history, just as those living in the inter-war or post-war years we likely too busy simply living to consider the present as a period. Similarly, growing up in the 80s never felt like the dawn of the digital age or late capitalism, and there’s very little obvious difference between pre- and post-millennial life as it goes. But in the present, the eighties feel like another life, the sixties and seventies like historical fictions.

Time is but a construct measured in lived experience, and subtly, subliminally, by implication and by simply side-stepping stylistic trappings of past, present or imagined future, Richard J. Birkin captures all of this in a beautiful, poised and soothing collection of work.

 

Richard-J-Birkin-Vigils

Richard J. Birkin Online