Posts Tagged ‘angular’

Ex Records – 23rd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

‘We always start from zero when we make a new album,’ the band explain of their creative process. This could well be the essential factor in their enduring nature: in avoiding the trap of becoming predictable to either their audience or themselves, they’ve remained fresh and innovative, continually testing their creative limits. Almost forty years and twenty-odd albums since their formation as an anarcho-punk band, The Ex are noteworthy for their eternal evolution and their refusal to stands still or to retread old ground. Collaborations, side-projects, and shifting lineups have also proven integral to this ethos, and it’s been almost eight years since their last album together as a quartet.

27 Passports sees them return once again reinvigorated, refreshed and ready to reinvent rock once more. And they do, in the way only a band with three guitars (but no bass – Moore’s baritone guitar provides essential tonal range here) and infinite vision likely can.

As the title suggests, this is an album of movement. Or, moreover, perhaps an album that creates the illusion of movement. 27 Passports is accompanied by a 40-page booklet of photos shot by Andy Moor. They’re odd, devoid of context or narrative meaning. Simultaneously eye-catching and mundane, they’re snapshots of life, devoid of perspective or implication: a row of feet on a train; a rusting car; a swan with its head under water; a traffic jam. These images provide an appropriate visual accompaniment to the disjointed, semi-abstract and immensely oblique lyrics and the musical content.

The first track, the six-and-a-half-minute ‘Soon All Cities’ is driven by a loping rhythm and crashing cymbals and builds a hypnotic groove slashed through with angular guitars which clang and scrape and layer up with volume and distortion. More than the choppy guitar work that often strays into the atonal and discordant, as do the vocals, it’s the percussion that really provides the focus of 27 Passports, pinning the loose and purposely obtuse guitar work in place and holding everything together.

If the claim that ‘there are some remnants of their African adventures’ (a reference to their collaborations with Getachew Mekuria) sits at odds with the spiky post-punk schematic, ‘The Sitting Chins’ subtly and strangely weaves ‘world’ music elements into the jolting barrage of chaos. If there was ever an antithesis of Paul Simon or Sting, this is it, and this fact alone makes 27 Passports an essential album.

For the most part, the compositions eschew linearity in favour of locking into a space and pushing away at a single motif for as long as seems reasonable, and sometimes beyond. This is very much a selling point. At to B is overrated: it’s about the journey. And it’s less about the distance than the motion itself. Take a walk: multiple laps of the block will not only achieve the same exercise effect as walking for miles toward a destination, but new details will reveal themselves with each circuit. No two circuits of the same short route will ever be the same. 27 Passports may be transcontinental in intent, but looking the wrong way down the binoculars is what it’s really about.

Barrelling bass scours the lower sonic realms on the robotic, motorik, ‘New Blank Document’; equal parts Gary Numan and early Swans, with heavy hints of The Fall’s ‘Spector vs Rector’ in its messy fabric. Such discord scratches away at the psyche, drills into the cerebellum, and unsettles the equilibrium.

In contrast, ‘Footfall’ deploys the same methodology and the same instrumentation, but against the relentlessly thumping beat, there’s a nagging aspect to the cyclical riff which has an intuitive emotional drag, a certain resonance. There’s something special about a certain descending three-chord sequence… and of course, they almost bury it beneath layers of jagged trebly noise. And that only renders it all the more beautiful and captivating.

There are some wonky pop moments present, too, with the Pavementy ‘The Heart Conductor’ bouncing along nicely, with a catchy vocal melody riding on top of the off-kilter guitars that are reminiscent of early Fall. Of course, when it comes to The Ex, comparisons are vaguely pointless beyond providing guidance for the uninitiated: with such an expansive career, it’s their work which has influenced many of the acts that stand as useful reference points. Of the surviving bands of the period – The Fall being no more and having arguably plateaued a good few years ago and Pere Ubu only offering occasional sparks – it seems like The Ex are the last ones standing who continue to really extend their reach and to challenge themselves and their listeners. 27 Passports is an absolute stormer, and an album which stands up against anything else going – period.

AA

The Ex - 27 Passports

Advertisements

Superstar Destroyer – 16th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s pleasing to see that Bearfoot Beware are still here after eight years and a bunch of EPs to release a third album. They’re one of those bands who are destined to remain on the fringes of cultdom, who will never be huge, but who produce art, and do it for the love. Now more than ever, in a climate where the industry is all about money and is populated by careerists and independent bands and venues are simply unable to sustain their existence due to the world needs bands like this. Bands who are driven by passion and a desire to make the music they want, without keeping an eye on trends or pandering to markets. They’ve always done their own thing, and ‘Sea Magnolia’ is no sell-out and offers no concessions. To anything. They’re as DIY, and uncompromisingly all-over as ever, and, best of all, they’re showing no sign of their frenetic energy dissipating or being otherwise subdued or contained in order to mould their style to accommodate commercial pressures.

The title connotes infinite blandness, an absence of character. This certainly isn’t the case where BB’s lively sonic firecrackers are concerned.

The album kicks off in shouty fashion with the angular, jolting ‘Point Scorer’, which manages to swerve in some noodly mathy moments between the jarring chords. The tracks are packed in tight, and hard on its heels slams in the riffy, grungy, ‘Without a Shot Fired’. It’s got a driving urgency and has a hard(core) edge.

If ‘Knot in the Rope’ calls to mind Shellac in terms of its instrumentation and the choppy guitars and chunky bass, it’s certainly no bad thing. It’s a big, dense, shouty sonic ruckus. And then it goes a bit Pavement just over halfway through. As it happens, ‘shouty sonic ruckus’ pretty much covers the album as a whole – and most of their back catalogue, got that matter. But Sea Magnolia feels more organised – however haphazard, chaotic and discordant it is. Because it has some nifty riffs, and the rhythm section is strong and sprightly as it leaps and lurches with precision timing from one segment to the next. ‘No Wisdom’ is particularly twisty, turny, amped up, choppy, jarring. And with the majority of the album’s nine uptempo tracks clocking in around the three-and-a-bit minute mark, it’s succinct and a lot more focused than it probably first appears.

None of the songs on here is straightforward: you won’t find anthemic choruses done to death over predictable structures, and lyrically it’s as just as non-linear in formulation. Every couple of bars you find yourself wondering what’s going to happen next, and whatever you’re probably expecting, it won’t be that. This, of course, is precisely the album’s strength. Predictable it isn’t and there’s never a dull moment. And yet for all that, they still throw in some decent hooks amidst the chaos. It’s a massive achievement – and a great album, if you can hack it.

Bearfoot Beware – Sea Magnolia

AA

Bearfoot Beware

Karisma Records – 3rd June 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

When an album contains only six tracks, and is housed in over art like this, there’s a certain degree of indication of what one may reasonable expectancy. Memento Collider fulfils some of those expectations, but confounds just as many. For a start, it isn’t a drone / doom / metal album, although it is heavy and it is dark. And the tracks are on the long side.

Sure enough, the album’s ten-minute opener is a tense, dark and expansive affair, built around an interlooping bassline and uncomfortable, – guitars that bounce contra to said bassline to build an uncomfortable dissonance. It’s heavily steeped in the post punk / proto-goth tradition in the vein of acts like The Danse Society circa 1983, the flat yet portentous, nihilistic vocal delivery only accentuating the awkward and uncomfortable atmosphere, a sonic dystopia.

‘Rogue Fossil’ again works a groove centred around looped motifs, a hectic, nagging bas coupled with urgent, stuttering jazz drumming hammers insistently while the guitar clangs and chimes at obtuse angles against its claustrophobic shell. The theatrical enunciation of the lyrics, in particular the hook (i.e. the song title), which accentuates the ‘i’ in ‘fossil’ adds a peculiar, alien slant to the track’s angular discordance.

‘Dripping Into Orbit’ melds together theatrical goth-tinged art rock and hectic, angular math rock to forge a bleak and uncomfortable sonic space. The rolling tempo changes re disorientating, accelerating and decelerating bar by bar in a fashion that evokes the spirit and sound of Shellac.

As the album progresses, it becomes increasingly locked into an inward-facing mesh of difficulty, an aura charting increasing stress and crackling cognitive disorder. The effect is cumulative, but each song brings with it new layers of dis-ease.

Listening to the jarring post-punk of ‘Gravity Seeker’, the track which features the album’s title buried in its lyrics as guitars trip and trail all over a lugubrious and repetitive groove, I find myself being sucked into a vortex of bleakness and begin to wonder just what kind of hell the and members have endured to produce music this unflinchingly bleak. The recording sessions for Memento Collider can hardly have been a laugh a minute. But perhaps it was a lot more fun than the music suggests: it’s a mistake to conflate the art with the artist, and equally, catharsis can often be the means by which mental equilibrium can be maintained. Its’s healthy to channel all of the ark stuff the weird stuff and the negativity into something creative – and this is indeed dark and weird.

The final track, ‘Phantom Oil Slick’ spans a full nine minutes and fills it with jangling guitars which bounce every which way over a bass that surges and swells before it breaks in a tidal frenzy. It’s dark, intense, and borderline psychotic in every aspect. A collision indeed. Strap in and go for it.

 

Virus

Virus Online