Posts Tagged ‘alternative’

Fierce Panda Records – 20th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Just two months on from the release of ‘Tear Ourselves In Two’, Jekyll follow up with ‘Catherine Wheel’ to cement their reputation as a band with a knack for a bona fide indie pop classic.

This one is particularly relatable on a personal level. I felt as if I was living in a different world from most people during lockdown. While friends, family, and many people on social media were managing by revelling in the masses of free time they sound themselves with on their hands and blasting through books and Nexflix boxset binges and bakery galore, and articles in the media about how people were re-evaluating their lives and work/life balance during ‘the great pause’, I found my anxiety was finding new peaks not because I was scared of the virus or running out of pasta or loo roll, but because with working and home-schooling, and surrounded by the tornado of panic what was engulfing friends and colleagues, I had less than no time, less than no energy, and weeks would evaporate.

In the event, the best part of sixteen months evaporated. Nothing happened, nothing really got achieved, and everyone got older, at least those who made it. I’d been spinning, windmilling at a frantic pace just to stay still, and still am. What is there to show for it?

Lockdown – when it eventually did happen in the UK – hit hard and fast and everyone clenched. Emerging from lockdown has been long and slow, and still feel like a massive adjustment, as if rising to the surface could induce the psychological equivalent of the bends. But here we are.

Singer Joel describes ‘Catherine Wheel’ as being about ‘the disorientation and panic of feeling that your life is passing by faster than you can keep up with, before you’ve even figured out what you want from it or how to use the precious time you’ve got to its full potential.’ Because life is too short, and every day wasted is a day closer to death. Butthole Surfers nailed it with the line ‘it’s better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven’t done’. To do nothing… well, you may as well already be dead. But being forced to do nothing – that’s hard to stomach.

‘Catherine Wheel’ is succinct but explosive, three-and-a-half minutes of pent-up energy finding its release. It starts off with a gentle acoustic guitar that conveys a wistful sort of feeling, and is vaguely reminiscent of early Mansun, then very swiftly piledrives into a soaring guitar melded to a thumping, busy drum beat – loping, rolling, urgent, a beat on every beat and bursting with energy, and there’s a lot going here, and not just deep layers of reverb. It’s got that vaguely psychedelic / goth hue of The Horrors, but Jekyll are very much their own band rather than being in thrall to anyone.

If Muse frustrate with their immense pomp, then on ‘Catherin Wheel’ Jekyll capture the positive elements without being so overblown, distilling the elements down to create something that possesses a palpable intensity and that head-squeezing claustrophobia while at the same time looking outwards to the possibilities. It’s got a dark new wave edge, but it’s a truly killer single and a song for the times.

Catherine Wheel

Prank Monkey Records – 11th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The story goes that London four-piece Muscle Vest reportedly ‘formed in 2018 over a mutual appreciation for ugly rock music’, and that’s what they serve up on their debut EP – a sweaty, guitar-driven dirty rock workout that’s brimming with churning riffs, grease and grime. They come out all guns blazing and firing wildly in all directions with the manic racket of ‘Creepy Crawlie’, a juddering, angular rager that melts the best of 90s noise into a mangled metal nugget in the vein of later acts like Blacklisters and Hawk Eyes, and it very much sets the fast and furious tone for the rest of the EP: ‘Stray’ bears fair comparison to Blacklisters’ ‘Shirts’, with a throbbing riff blasting out against a low-slung bassline. If Shellac and Big Black are in the mix, so are The Jesus Lizard and early Pulled Apart by Horses.

Muscle Vest pack in a boatload of adrenaline and bring ALL the noise: it’s fucking ugly and monstrously brutal, and those are its positive points. It ain’t polished or pretty, and if you’re on the market for something gnarly, look no further.

‘We’ll all be dead / we’ll all be dead one day’ vocalist Dave Rogers howls nihilistically into a tempest of abrasive guitar noise that churns and grinds on ‘A Slow Death’. He’s right, of course: the question is whether we will die a quiet, peaceful death, or a horrible, painful one, shrieking in agony for the duration of those final hours. This is very much the soundtrack to the latter, and it’s almost enough to make death sound appealing. Because, well, better to go out screaming than to flicker out. The last track, ‘Blissbucket’ is a minute and three-quarters of blazing napalm, taking its cues from hardcore punk and tossing in all the jarring, jolting guitars that scratch and scrape at all angles across the relentlessly churning rhythm section. It’s fast and furious and brings the EP to a blistering close and then some. It positively burns with an intense fury, and it’s beautifully brutal. Gets my vote, and then some.

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Following a handful of corking releases including US release of the stunning debut by Health Plan, fledging Iowa label Nim_Brut look set to really make their mark with the release of the snappily-titled compilation DEPRIVED OF OCCUPATION AND PLEASURE WE FEAST.

It boasts a cracking array of contributors, and the first available track is ‘No Cure For The Lonely’, a cover of the Swans song from their 1992 album Love of Life by HUBBLE, the rather more gentle side-project of Ben Greenberg, guitarist with New York’s harshest, Uniform.

I personally have a serious soft spot for White Light /Love of Life era Swans, despite many diehards being less keen on the more accessible folksier sound that defined it: the songs felt rather more like songs instead of crushing slabs of brutality, and instead we witnessed the band discover a more expansive, epic sound.

The last track on Love of Life, ‘No Cure for the Lonely’ is a simple, sparse acoustic song that’s only a couple of minutes in duration and finds Michael Gira downbeat and introverted, and HUBBLE recreate the mood perfectly – albeit with a much fuller arrangement and a more psychedelic folk sound.

Ben says ‘It’s a Swans cover, with four finger tapping through an approximation of Terry Riley’s ‘Time Lag Accumulator’ method via a Boss DD-5, which is actually the guitar sound for every Hubble track.’ The floating vocals are bathed in reverb and are definitely secondary to the intense guitar work that dominates. It’s unexpected, and inventive, and sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

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9th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The remastered re-reissues of avant-experimentalist oddballs Photographed by Lightning continues apace with the emergence of Dust Bug Cecil (or, to give it its full title, The Rise and Fall of Dust Bug Cecil and the Winking Cats, supposedly taken from an obscure book about a direct to disc recording pioneer, and may in turn be a skewed play on Ziggy Stardust. Of course, everything is skewed in the world of PBL, and if Music From the Empty Quarter wasn’t evidence enough of this, then this should be enough to convince anyone: presented here as a whopping thirty-eight track document (2 CDs worth), Dust Bug Cecil is augmented with the entirety of their other 2002 album, Let Me Eat the Flowers. On the strength of this, it vocalist Syd Howells and co (here represented by Dave Mitchell (vocals, bass, keyboards); Bionio Bill (drums & percussives); Roland Ellis (saxophone); Chris Knipe (mandolin & fiddle), and Rev Porl Stevens contributing vocals to ‘White Master’)) had perhaps ingested more than just pansies prior to these sessions.

As Howells recounts it, ‘following the behemoth like Music From The Empty Quarter we went in search of tunes. Found some too. Glued them together with words and somehow found ourselves making a ‘pop’ album.’ In comparison to its predecessor, Dust Bug Cecil is a pop album in that there are none of the sprawling ten-minute epic headfucks on offer here, with most of the songs – and, indeed, they are songs – clocking in around the three-minute mark. It’s ‘pop’ in the style of the dark pop of post-punk, but its values are ostensibly altogether more punk, and its sound is primitive and murky. It’s pop in the way The Jesus and Mary Chain write breezy, surfy pop tunes and bury them in is a squall of noise that renders them almost indistinct.

There are melodies and choruses bursting out from every corner, but in context of 2002, songs like the album’s opener, ‘Eyes on Stalks’ and ‘Numb Alex’ sound like early 80s new wave demos: driving Joy Division-esque bass dominates a rhythm pinned down by a frenetic drum machine that sounds like it’s struggling to keep up with the throbbing energy, and there are hints of The Cure and B-Movie in the mix here.

The guitars buzz like flanged wasps on the vaguely baggy / shoegazey ‘Lady Lucifer’, prefacing the sound that A Place To Bury Strangers would come to make their signature. Elsewhere, the sound swings from almost straight 60s-tinged indie on ‘Let Me Eat the Flowers’, while ‘The Remains of a Tramp Called Bailey’ sounds like a head-on collision between The Pixies and The Psychedelic Furs, and ‘The Risen’ comes on like early New Order. If it reads like I’m chucking in a list of seemingly random and incongruous artists by way of confused and confusing reference points, it’s because that’s what the listening experience is like. None of the elements of the album are unique by any stretch, but their hybridisation very much is. The 60s garage vibe of ‘Untitled (for Dylan’) and the Fall-like scuzz of ‘David Dickinson Said’ (with its obvious but necessary ‘cheap as chips’ refrain) are well-realised, and suit the lo-fi production values.

Sonically, Dust Bug Cecil is nowhere near as challenging as Music From The Empty Quarter, and it was almost inevitable that they had to do something different, having taken the avant-jazz oddity to its limit. Then again, of course, there’s still the customary weird shit, like the squelchy racket with spoken word of ‘Bob’ and ‘Pablo’, and the doomy industrial synth robotix of ‘Be This Her Memorial’, which mean it’s hardly the most accessible album going and it is quite bewildering just in terms of its stylistic eclecticism.

It’s unquestionably a mixed bag, and not all of the efforts are completely successful or gel quite as hoped, something the band themselves acknowledge with hindsight. But it’s still very much a musical, if not commercial, success, showcasing a band capable of wild diversity in their creativity, as well as a band who’ve spent a career making the music that pleases them over anyone else.

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2nd April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Hot on the heels of February’s ‘Sabotage’, rock duo Arcade Fortress return with ‘Uppercut (Pembroke Boxing Club Tribute)’. Celebrating the club, which is run by Christopher McEwan, who’s the chairman of Great Britain Disability Boxing, and as such, it’s a celebration of triumph in the face of adversity, of the power of perseverance and the strength of the human spirit. Uplifting and lively in its lyrics, ‘Uppercut’ showcases a much more hard-edged sound than its predecessor, it’s also a full-on TUNE that comes blasting out with real attack from the very first bar. It’s less Survivor and more Therapy? The guitar buzzes hard and is driven by a relentless percussion that pummels away, and hard, with an adrenalizing effect that really grabs you. For all its edge, though, ‘Uppercut’ still boasts a solid hook (sorry, unintentional).

Clocking in at under three-and-a-half minutes, ‘Uppercut’ packs a punch (and I’m happy to own that pun) and raises the expectations for the forthcoming album.

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19th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Elba’, the second single cut from their forthcoming second album, Small Worlds, finds alternative / post-rock act Mount Forel conjuring a shimmering sonic tapestry of atmospheric instrumentation. From a hazy mirage of shifting sounds emerges a slow-burning laconic tune that twists desert rock with country and a progressive twist.

For reasons I can’t quite pin down, I find myself thinking of The Eagles, and ‘Horse with No Name’ by America, even though it really doesn’t sound like either. What it does have, though, is a certain laid-back, vintage Americana feel that’s kinda nice. Maybe I’m getting old, maybe I’m tired, maybe I’m stressed, maybe it’s just nostalgia, but nice is alright.

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29th January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I have a hunch that the ethereal, bohemian songstress may not have been born Gabrielle Ornate, but it’s certainly fitting for the kind of light, decorative, yet expansive and kaleidoscopic electropop showcased on her debut single, ‘The March of the Caterpillars’.

Yes, it has that quintessentially 80s vibe, but then that in itself has become something that’s grown beyond its origins to become a genre unto itself, meaning that this single is both of a time and timeless. Propelled by a solid beat and buoyant bassline, it balances elements of both rock and pop, it’s a perfect vehicle for Gabrielle’s vocal, which switches from quiet and contemplative to full and bold in the choruses.

Lyrically, it’s about evolution and ‘respecting one’s roots’, but said lyrics are largely oblique and poetical, spinning together a succession of thoughts and images to form a semi-abstract flow, which works nicely.

It’s a strong debut, and Gabrielle seems to have emerged in full-fluttering glory.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Hailing from Hastings, Kids Love Surf came together during the eternal year of lockdown, coming together due to a shared love of dreampop to collaborate remotely from March 2020. Following on from debut single ‘OYO’ which found favour with BBC introducing.

‘Moment’ is everything its rainbow-hued cover art suggests: a dreamy drift of 90s shoegaze, with soft synths and guitars bathed in washes of reverb and effects. The drums are muffled beneath the layers while the bass strolls around amiably, not driving anything, not even holding it down, but simply wandering, and it’s a latticework of jangly guitars that layer away behind a vocal that’s low in the mix and kinda dreamy in a 90s indie sort of a way. There are hints of Stereolab and Disintegration-era Cure in the mix here, and it’s all very mellow and melodic.

As is so often the case with this style of music, I find there’s relatively little to say. That’s not a criticism or complaint, but more of an indication of how, on a personal level, I find myself detached and floating free, how I struggle to engage in the details beyond the effect, beyond the superficial. Because it seems to be less about ]engagement and more about atmosphere, how it speaks beyond words via the medium of music.

The mid-tempo ‘Moment’ is a soft wash of tripping indie that’s easy on the ear, and do you really need a message or much substance beyond that? I’m content to just let it glide….

19th February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

After a few months out, Richard Fox (lead guitar, bass guitar, keys, producer) and Gavin Connolly (vocals, rhythm guitar, piano), aka Arcade Fortress return with the first taster for a new album in the form of ‘Sabotage’ – their first new material since the album Create More than You Destroy last September.

The first point of note is that this most definitely isn’t a cover of the Beastie Boys’ hit. This is a good thing, because you shouldn’t mess with perfection, and should always instead strive to create your own.

‘Sabotage’ is all about self-sabotage and self-doubt: the first verse is littered with images of war and combat, from naval battles to machine gun fire, before bringing things in closer to home, presenting an inner turmoil that melds domestic abuse with a n altogether more Fight Club themed feel, where all the torment and self-loathing coalesces into a harsh-inward facing nihilism and self-loathing:

‘In an abusive relationship with myself / It’s surprisingly hard to remove / This knife from my back / Stuck in my spine because of / My own frenzied attack’, sings Gavin over a sonic backdrop that builds nicely from a sparse picked guitar jangle to a fully-realised anthemic beast of a tune.

There’s nothing particularly fancy about it: it’s not innovative or unusual, but it’s a big tune with a big feel. There is simply no substitute for a killer chorus and a strong hook, and that’s precisely what Arcade Fortress bring here.

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Sabotage artwork

12th February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Released digitally last autumn, Para Lia’s Gone With The Flow gets a ‘proper’ physical release this month. The second album from the German duo, consisting of René and Cindy Methner, has already drawn comparisons to Dinosaur Jr, Arcade Fire, and The Mission, as well as referencing in the press release – the hearteningly specific – ‘early Editors’.

It all makes sense with the blistering opener, ‘My Muse’ – a post-punk influenced adrenaline shot that showcases some wild soloing that somehow manages not to sound wanky. See, I’m not one for guitar solos myself, but find that J Mascis’ best efforts are enough to reduce me to tears. ‘Kassandra’ hits that spot: it’s a cutty post-punk revival effort that’s got the pomp of The Mission, complete with the wordless backing vocals Julianne Reagan delivered to absolute perfection on songs like ‘Severina’, and topped with an absolutely melting solo that twists, turns and weeps all over it. I should probably be tired of this by now, but when presented with just the right blend of nostalgia and quality

They don’t always pull it off: ‘Riders on the Dike’ is more ramshackle punk-folk with a ragged vocal delivery reminiscent of Shane Macgowan that simply doesn’t quite sit, and ‘Time and Again’ follows a folksier bent that grates a shade, feeling slightly forces and off-track despite some soaring harmonies from Cindy.

But it’s more hit than miss, as the slow-burning ‘Fools’ brings swathes of mournful strings to the post-rock tempest that swells as the song progresses, and the tense jangle of ‘Fire’ evokes the spirit of 1985, not just instrumentally but with its thick production, where the bass and guitar clump together, cut through by a sharp-topped snare sound.

‘Kaleidoscope’ is every bit as shimmeringly layered as the title suggests, and notes of New Model Army and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry are present as they drive a forward trajectory with an insistent rhythm section and some choppy guitars pinned back in the mix. Last track, ‘No Time for Butterflies’ combines psych-hued 60s pop, folk, and 90s alternative to forge a pleasant and exhilarating finale, and if there’s little about Gone With The Flow that’s overtly ‘new’, it’s a unique combination of older forms rendered with real style and some solid songs.

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