Posts Tagged ‘alternative’

Partisan Records – 16th September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s simply impossible to keep up with everything all the time. It feels like a recurrent theme, and even something of a mantra: so many bands, so little time.

Over the course of eighteen years, The Black Angels have cemented their position as, as their bio puts it, ‘standard-bearers for modern psych-rock’. And that’s not hyperbole: it’s a fair assessment.

2010’s Phosphene Dream was a major let-down, particularly in the wake of two such stunning predecessors, with Passover and Directions to See a Ghost. Consequently, feeling disillusioned, both Indigo Meadow and Death Song bypassed me, but Wilderness of Mirrors landed in my inbox with the promise of a return to early form after a five-year gap – or, as they put it, ‘marks a triumphant return with their foot on the pedal. Political tumult, the pandemic and the ongoing devastation of the environment have provided ample fodder for their signature sound and fierce lyrical commentary’.

For Wilderness of Mirrors, the band worked with Brett Orrison (co-producer) and Dinosaur Jr engineer John Agnello ‘to achieve something fresh and new while retaining their heavily influential classic sound’.

Wilderness of Mirrors is epic and feels like it needs to be a double album simply because it has such weight and important in a way that’s hard to really define. It’s not sprawling and awkwardly indulgent: yes, it does contain fifteen songs, but less than half extend beyond four minutes. But it’s an album of density.

Opener ‘Without a Trace’ starts out tentative-sounding distant before the bass crashes in like a landslide and in an instant, the listener is sucked into a dense sonic whirl. It’s the gritty bass that also dominates the pulverising ‘History of the Future’ that lands somewhere between Ther Jesus and Mary Chain and Ride, with some blistering guitar that’s a wall of fuzzing, fizzing treble against a busy beat and a bass that buzzes so hard it practically cuts the top off your head. And just like that, you’re back to remembering why this band mattered in the first place. Everything is a murky swamp of reverb, a deep 60s vibe radiating through the 80s and 90s filter.

I’ve long noted how the Jesus and Mary Chain essentially played surf pop with feedback and distortion, and ‘Empires Falling’ follows this approach magnificently, and with its relentless rhythm section and squalling guitars, it bears strong and obvious parallels with A Place to Bury Strangers.

It’s best played at high volume, of course: this is guitar music to melt the brain, and if songs like ‘El Jardn’ and the acoustic ‘Here & Now’ are more accessible, melodic and overtly indie, they offer some much-needed respite, while still boasting some howling guitars. There’s a vaguely gothic hue to the sneaking guitars and dubby grooves of ‘Make it Known’ and the slower ‘The River’, and it works well in contributing to the album’s rich and varied atmosphere and contrast with the jittery tension of the title track.

Ultimately, the best thing about Wilderness of Mirrors is that is sounds like The Black Angels – quintessentially, unmistakeably, with its motorik grooves, simple, repetitive riffs and song strictures that define the chorus not by a significant shift in key or chords, but by the explosion of sound, the simple structures executed with rare panache. They’re definitely on form here.

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17th September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Manchester’s Dirty Laces have been away for a while, and not through choice. The pandemic skittled most bands and brought an abrupt halt not only to gigs, but working in general, since most bands don’t live together and when it comes to music-making, it’s simply not always feasible to work remotely, tossing audio files back and forth virtually. I shan’t labour this too hard, but what was The Great Pause for some was The Great Anxietor for many – whether it be because of having no work or being furloughed on reduced pay, or working and home schooling at the same time, or simply dealing with isolation, fear of the virus, or being cooped up with people who weren’t people to be cooped up with, so many of us had something to keep us awake at night and which probably hasn’t fully left us yet.

For many, emerging out of the other side of it all, we’ve found that we’re not the same as before, and there’s some re-evaluation has taken place, albeit not necessarily on a conscious level. Good, I say. Life’s too short to expend what little life you have on pintless crap and people who give nothing in exchange for taking everything.

Recorded in the fallout of the pandemic in solitary rural Wales, ‘Midnight Mile’, essentially speaks of that re-evaluation and the realisation that it’s time to dump the fucking rubbish: the band say the song is about ‘Escaping toxic people, toxic habits, embracing happiness and learning how to ‘free your mind and bathe in love’. It might sound a bit hippie for a band born out of punky garage rock – but ultimately, when you boil it down, punks and hippes alike share the aesthetic of sticking it to the man and people who suck.

This outing is a hybrid of garage and grunge and brings a stadium rock swagger and a dash of industrial and calls to mind Headswim and Filter – it kicks in instantly with a nagging riff and chunky bass. It’s not just the drawling vocal that sounds more American than Mancunian: the production is pretty slick, rendering the gritty, emotionally dense, sincere performance radio-friendly and digestible for a more commercial market – and the big chorus absolutely seals its broad appeal. It’s better than Headswim, but not quite as good as Filter.

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James Wells

Fucking hell, we really are running out of names, aren’t we? To the point where even otherwise memorable bands are forgettable because of their ultra-generic name. And some acts sink without a trace because they’re simply impossible to even find through an Internet search. Actor is an obvious example for me, but then we’ve recently had Loungewear grace these virtual pages, and now bloody Tracksuit. How would The The or The Police have faired in the Internet age, I wonder? I mean, stepping aside from the fact their music is tedious and people would probably skip their songs faster than ever now. But it seems like bands aren’t even trying now: Sports Team? Two very different acts operating as Working Men’s Club? Are they trying to bury themselves before their careers have even begun, or do they simply have no imagination and no concept of how The Internet works? Or have we simply reached the apogee of postmodernism, the point at which truly everything has been done, there is no ‘new’, only regurgitations and rehashing, and culture has reached its inevitable dead-end?

It’s a shame Tracksuit have doubly done themselves a disservice with a moniker that’s not only super-generic but also a bit shite, especially as it really doesn’t reflect what they’re about at all. It’s a shame because ‘Ghost of Rome’ is decent. It’s not some lame rappy shite or laid-back bedroomy r ‘n’ b: it’s fundamentally a stripped-back psychedelic rock tune with a keen sense off dynamic and a palpable energy, meaning there’s a lot to like as they dig in with a lively and buoyant bass groove that’s got action and detail. It’s got a heavy 70s vibe about it and it kicks ass – but probably doesn’t need anymore cowbell, because everything is just right.

Click the image to listen:

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9th September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

London-based Parisienne alt-noise-grunge threesome A Void have been kicking around for a bit now, although most of their kicking around seems to have been in London with few ventures beyond. During lockdown – a spell where they did a few online streams and the like – I found myself contemplating the strange geography of bands – specifically how in many places, ‘local’ is used disparagingly to denote an act who’ve failed – or declined – to venture beyond the vicinity of their region, and for any ‘regional’ act to ‘make it’ nationally, they need to venture to the capital, whereas in London a band can chug around the city’s venues forever and seem like they’re actually on tour without the word ‘local’ ever cropping up.

In politics, we complain about how just London-centric everything is, and back in the 80s and 90s, the same accusations were levelled by nine tenths of the country at the music press, as represented by Melody Maker, NME, and Sounds. It seems pretty trivial now we no longer have a music press, but back then it was frustrating to read endless reviews of London gigs by bands who never played outside London.

A Void don’t just hark back to that in their remaining firmly lodged in London, but in their ramshackle grunge-influenced stylings: for all of their time on stage, they’ve stubbornly shunned the common tendency to tighten up and get slick, with their shows being wild, chaotic, and clearly joyfully cathartic, which is completely in keeping with the music itself, which is pitched as being ‘FFO Hole / Silver Chair / Babes In Toyland’, and which got me wondering if there are any FO Silverchair, or if anyone even remembers them now.

This rough, raw immediacy carried through into their debut album, Awkward and Devastated, which featured some pretty wonky playing in places. It in now way detracted from the listening experience – quite the opposite, in fact, rendering it all the more real, all the more honest – but even now, I still find myself thinking ‘wow, they left that in?’

Penned by frontwoman Camille Alexander during lockdown, this second album was recorded between 2019 and 2021 in London, with producer Jason Wilson (Reuben, Dinosaur Pile-Up), the blurbage describes it as ‘a record delivered with a visceral, personal energy that touches on themes of heartbreak to womanhood to battles with mental health.’

The first taster we got of it was ‘Sad Events Reoccur’; presented here in two conjoined parts, a six-minute slow-burner of a single felt like a pretty daring way to mark a return after couple of years, but A Void really aren’t a band to be bothered by commercial considerations and it showcased an altogether meatier, chunkier sound that suited them well, and as such, makes for a strong start to the album.

‘Stepping on Snails’, also released as a single, has a certain swing to it, and is a winner with its explosive chorus and vocal harmonies, but it’s the thick, gritty bass that really holds everything together as the guitar wanders around hither and thither, ad I’m reminded of the squalling mess of Nirvana’s In Utero, where at times the guitar seems to serve to provide only texture and tone, while the rhythm section is what keeps the shape and prevents it from collapsing into incoherent noise.

There’s a reflective tone to ‘One of a Kind’, at least in the verses, before the distortion kicks in on the guitar and it’s a well-realised slice of tortured angst that runs the full gamut of churning emotions.

Dissociation is a giant leap forward from Awkward and Devastated, which was appropriately titled and we can see just how much everything about the band has evolved. The songwriting is more structured, but without losing any of its sense of dynamics, and the production really has optimized a much, much more solid performance in playing terms. It’s still raw and fiery, Camille still roars like she’s possessed and the force is strong, but this feels altogether more professional. That should by no means be equated to overpolished or selling out in any way: this newfound focus facilitates a more accurate articulation of the songs and the band’s intentions.

There’s not a dud track here, and the ones that aren’t instant grabs are strong growers, from the barren, bereft ‘2B Seen’ and ‘5102’ that revive the spirit of the criminally underrated Solar Race to the more accessible ‘In Vain’ that actually slips into a groove and bursts into an anthemic finale with a hook worthy of Alanis Morissette while at the same time bringing a touching emotional sincerity.

To describe an album as ‘mature’ feels like a vaguely damning praise that connotes a transition towards dullness and mediocrity: this is most certainly not the case with Dissociation. It’s just an altogether better realised set of songs: A Void have lost absolutely none of the fire, but have found the best method to get everything across, and it punches hard.

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2nd September 2022

James Wells

The last time we encountered Slow Cooked Bears here was back in December 2020, on the release of their single ‘The Grand Scheme’, the follow up to the stark, tense-sounding ‘Space Odyssey’.

They’ve been hard at it back on the live circuit since then, and these things change bands, harden them, shape them, give them focus, and a reforged sense of identity. Well it can, or it can crush them. The London trio have followed the former path, and rather than becoming crushed by the wheels of industry, have been building themselves nicely.

Pitched as being for fans of The Smashing Pumpkins, Queens of the Stone Age, Placebo and Pixies, ‘We’ll Never Be Apart’ was produced with Michael Smith whose former clients include Wolf Alice and Anteros, and promises ‘a giant leap’ – and yes, it delivers.

With a rolling bass and chiming guitar by way of an intro, it breaks into a big bridge that becomes a surging chorus. You don’t get many songs where the hook is the guitar section after the vocals, but with ‘We’ll Never Be Apart’, they bring it. And, while in places it hints at the kind of early 00s arena indie, the songs packs in drive and edge that’s emotionally rich and owes more to the likes of The Twilight Sad than it does to Keane or Coldplay back in the day.

On other words, it really is a huge evolution that sees the band straddling boundaries. It’s got enough heft to not be a complete sell-out, but it’s certainly not as dark or edgy as ‘Space Oddysey’, being a whole lot less Joy Division / Editors / Interpol / Cinematics, and less Placebo in collision with Royal Blood and Black Keys than ‘The Grand Scheme’, and hinting at ambitions of broader horizons.

Objectively, it’s a great tune, and could well mark a turning point for the band. Is it too early for me to say I preferred their earlier stuff without sounding like a hipster cockend? Guess that depends on the next single, right?

Artwork - Slow Cooked Bears

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been a very long while since scuzz-punk rock duo Mannequin Death Squad came to our shores, and even longer since they last set foot in York – but hailing from Melbourne, Australia, it’s been quite a while since they’ve set foot anywhere outside their province, with now fewer than six lockdowns and more than 260 days under restrictions during the pandemic, which led to Victoria’s state capital to be dubbed the “world’s most locked down city”, according to the BBC. Hardly conducive conditions for a band who thrive on playing live.

MDS seems to have harnessed all of that pent-up energy for this month-long UK tour, scheduled at relatively short notice, but before they’re on, they’ve got a solid bill of local talent in support, too (let’s face it, four bands for £7, you can’t go wrong), and first on, up-and-coming KissKissKill (styled as XXK so as to avoid any iffy connotations, and who’ve been around a while but seem to be finally kicking things up a notch) prove to be a solid opener giving an assured performance. Their sound may bet kinda standard rock with some big guitar solos, but they’ve got a good level of energy and enthusiasm. Singer Gemma-Louise performs with her eyes as well as with powerful lungs, and she’s backed by some solid riffs and she bounces around a lot: they all do, apart from the bassist who hides at the back behind his straightened hair. They’re a lot of fun, and clearly have potential for great things.

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Ketamine Kow bring mouth frothing energy and aggression. They’ve had their songs shared on Twitter by Sleaford Mods. The front-cunt’s proper mental and the songs are almost secondary to the spasmodic energy as he charges around maniacally, getting in people’s faces and generally creating a disruptive energy. I mean, there seems to be something not quite right about the guy, but this is the spectacle of a performer who lives every second of the performance for real. Like a young Iggy Pop, it’s all for the moment. There are some squalling riffs and pounding percussion going on behind the manic screaming and shouting. Ketamine Kow could well be the new Baby Godzilla: with the exception of the drummer, who also provides strong second vocals, the band spend as much time in the crowd than on stage, the singer everywhere all at once, hollering from the back of the room, leering in and looming over the crowd, or writhing on the floor. Skinny white boys with gangly limbs, you can’t imagine that being in a band is likely to help any of the members of Ketamine Kow to pull: they’re sweary, sweaty, raw, authentic punk, and so, so angry – and fucking brilliant.

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Ketamine Kow

The Bricks Draw the Line at the start of the set, and they seem to get sharper, more solid, more meaty with every outing, and singer Gemma is more confident and more commanding than ever. The sound is a perfect amalgamation of juggernaut bass with choppy stuttering riffs that splinter onto shards, with heavy hints of Gang of Four and Wire with martial beats. In terms of performance, Gemma doesn’t ‘do’ much – no bouncing about, no, posing: she doesn’t have to. The voice is immense, and is all the presence, allowing the three middle-aged blokes (no criticism, especially as they’re clearly having a blast playing the songs and have the sound absolutely nailed) to fade into the noisy background.

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It’s gone 10:45 when Mannequin Death Squad start, but when they do it’s incendiary: the set is back to back killers, heavily raiding their 2016 debut mini-album ‘Eat Hate Regurgitate’ alongside songs released on-line since and brand new material, too. They’re loud and they’re tight with a full sound, the dual vocals really defining the sound over the big, grungy riffs. They play hard and fierce. ‘Sick’ lands third before a new track off the forthcoming debut album. Elly’s eyes lol up into her head as she kicks out the riffs. The mid-set instrument switch seems to take it up a notch, and Dan steps out from behind the drums to take over the guitar and lead vocals, and stomps the stage fiercely. Meanwhile, the hi hat’s fucked and zip on her trousers is bust, but still Elly doesn’t miss a beat. They’re committed, alright. Live shows don’t come better than this.

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Mannequin Death Squad

Things are running late and curfews are a kicker for most venues these days, especially those in residential areas, so they’re forced to truncate the set a little – and so what it lacks in duration, they compensate in energy, turning the small venue into a total sweatbox as they deliver the title track from their forthcoming debut album, ‘Super Mental Psycho’ as the penultimate song, and it’s blistering. We’re all wiped and melting by the end, and while there’s no chance of an encore, the rush to the merch and to chat to the band after showed the level of appreciation. And rightly so – they’re one of those bands who never disappoint.

Yuss! It’s been a while since Australian duo Mannequin Death Squad gave us new music, but on the brink of an extensive UK tour, they’ve slammed down another slice of grungy, adrenaline-fuelled pink rock in the shape of ‘Super Mental Psycho.

It’s a corker – but don’t just take our word for it: check it here:

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Fast & Bulbous Records – 22nd July 2022.

They’ve been described as sounding like the nagging repetitions of The Fall mixed with the fury of Black Flag, played at 100mph. band names don’t get much more punk than this. And they’re from Leeds, which has in recent years proved to be a hotbed of guitar-driven musical fury. This is what happens when a large city with lots of little venues finds itself in a different place from the rest of the country. Richly multicultural, innovative and entrepreneurial, with a large student population, it’s both a centre for tertiary industry and mass-scale redevelopment and gentrification as well as a place of terrible deprivation. So much for levelling up; so much for the northern powerhouse. But Leeds has always been apart, as its 80s musical heritage is testament to, and since the millennium, it’s been a hotbed of emerging styles, through post-rock and jerky, quirky indie, through math rock and all-out noisy shit, with countless bands emerging – and quickly fading again – in the process.

Scum have survived the pandemic, having formed in 2018, to drop a second EP, and the trio haven’t spent the time away figuring out how to make their millions writing pop songs.

On For Health and Well-Being, the trio are everything they’ve been described as, with a dash of Trail of the Dead tossed into the mix, and it’s a punky, energetic blend of styles that all point to energetic fury. The title tracks is a 25-second spoken word piece where a swell of noise and feedback rises in the background before halting abruptly and the full-throttle guitar attack of ‘Abuserism’ (the longest song at 3:30) piles in.

Blink and you’ll miss the 32-second ‘Vanity Support’: it’s the furious ‘Hard’ that really grabs the attention with its thick riffage and hardcore attitude, and the closer, ‘Intravenous Inconvenience’ powers it to a close.

Take same time out and give it a blast, and do it on work time. Because employers are all about supporting Health and Well-Being, right?

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Banging grungy Aussie duo Mannequin Death Squad – longstanding faves here at Aural Aggravation have announced that they’re returning to the UK for the firs time in five years.

Packing in 15 shows the length and breadth of England as far south a Exeter and venturing north of the border for a brace off Scottish dates in Glasgow and Inverness, while also straying off the beaten track, it’s a major undertaking, and with supports from local acts, these should be some exciting nights.

We’ll see you down the front for at least one….

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Heddlu is the new musical project by Rhodri Daniel. The Ceredigion native was a founding member of renowned Welsh band Estrons who had a major impact on the industry having gained rave reviews from the likes of NME, Vice, DIY and Clash to BBC Radio, Radio X, Ultimate Guitar, The Guardian and Independent.

After finishing the band in 2019, Rhodri became aware that his hearing was severely damaged. Years of touring the live circuit had taken their toll, Rhodri ultimately being diagnosed with hearing loss, tinnitus and severe sensitivity to noise. The effects were so acute, Rhodri was unable to be in the same room as other people, leave the house or play music for almost a year.

A chance encounter with a retired record producer, who’s old forgotten studio on the slopes of the Cambrian Mountains was filled with antique synthesisers, inspired Rhodri to consider music once more. Advised to get outdoors to aid recovery, he embarked on a three-month hike spanning 900 miles of the entire Welsh coastline, where he conceived the new project and was inspired to write the music in his head, to be recorded upon his return. Serendipity led Rhodri back to music, and Heddlu was born. Meaning ‘Police’ in Welsh, from the words ‘peace-force’, Heddlu’s music has been true to its name, offering a force of peace to the songwriter.

‘Auto-Da-Fé’, Heddlu’s 3rd single, (meaning ‘Act of faith’ in the Spanish language), is named after the trial that heretics and apostates faced during the Spanish inquisition, before being condemned. Sung from the dual perspectives of a judgemental inquisitor, and the artist himself, the song conveys a sorrowful and tumultuous scene, echoing how we continually put ourselves on trial for the things that we have done.

Listen here: