Posts Tagged ‘alternative’

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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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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Human Worth – 26th February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

From the first twisted, dingy powerchords that herald the arrival of Fraught in Waves with the punishing – and appropriately-titled ‘Breakage’ – it’s abundantly clear that Gaffa Bandana’s debut album is going to be an absolute fucking beast. The rest of the album only verifies this as fact: Fraught in Waves is indeed an absolute fucking beast. It may only contain six tracks and have a total running time of half an hour, but the sheer intensity is ear-bleeding, eye-popping, and gut-tearing. Yes, this is a truly physical experience, one that’s exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure.

Gaffa Bandana is Gill Dread (Bruxa Maria) and Jennie Howell (So3ek, Sleeping Creatures, Gorse, Dooman Empire), and Fraught in Waves was first released as a digital-only effort back in September of last year.

While they’re pitched as a punk duo, the pair’s noise is a full-throttle hybrid of hardcore and sludgy noise, the guitars coming on like Fudge Tunnel covering Tad. The clattering drums also call to mind the heavy noise scene of the 90s: if obscure namechecks like Oil Seed Rape and other band on the Jackass label spark a light of recognition, then we’re speaking the same language. And the vocals are just terrifying: deranged, demonic, they’re at a pitch that’s rare in the fields of either punk, metal, or doom – it’s a cracked, guttural howl, bordering on a shrieking agony.

The contrasts are a major factor in its impact: the riffs are stop / start, and for all the density, there’s a lot of space where metallic clanging chords simply hang in the air before everything piles back in, hard, and deliberate.

There are hints of The Jesus Lizard about the churning ruckus of ‘Charm Offensive’ with its choppy guitar buzz and the hollering vocals low in the mix – but if you’re looking for more contemporary touchstones, Blacklisters and (early) Hawk Eyes are fair comparisons: jolting, metallic, uncomfortable and unforgiving, everything lurches one way and then the other, from stuttering stalls to incendiary riffage that absolutely burns, there is absolutely no room to breathe, not an inch to unwind in. This shit it tense, the kind of tension you feel in your chest and your stomach, and the seven-minute behemoth that stands as the album’s centrepiece, ‘Paralysis of Will’ is all the anguish, all the torture.

Every track feels more tempestuous than the last. ‘Evil Whispers’ has its moments of stuttering Shellac-like mathy judders as it stammeringly halts and resumes, but ultimately, it’s the relentless, balls-out, stomach-churning riffing that defines the sound. There isn’t a clean note to be found in this furious mess of noise. It’s rare for an album to grab you by the throat quite so brutally, and to maintain its choking grip without a moment’s respite, but Fraught in Waves is full-throttle from beginning to end. It is harsh, it is relentless, and at times borders on the psychotic. It’s pure catharsis, and it’s perfect.

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