Posts Tagged ‘Anxiety’

6th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

This latest four-tracker from Panic Lift continues the trajectory of themed EPs that it’s been pursuing for a while now.

With two new cuts and a remix of each, it’s reminiscent of the old-school 7” and 12” formats, and ‘Every Broken Piece’ accompanied by ‘Bitter Cold’ would make for a perfect 7”, with the additional tracks – remixes respectively from Mechanical Vein and Tragic Impulse – fleshing out a 12” and CD… Such reminiscences are relevant because Panic Lift’s harsh industrial dance sound is rooted in the 90s when multi-format releases were de rigueur. Much as they were clearly a way of milking fans and boosting chart positions, I do kind of miss those days, since the majority of releases don’t even come in a physical format.

For Stitched, James Francis, aka Panic Lift, revisits the kind of sound that defined his debut, Witness To Our Collapse, and talking of the physical, there’s a strong physicality to both ‘Every Broken Piece’ and ‘Bitter Cold’ – not just their thumping hard as nails grooves and pounding beats, but the overall density of the sound hits with a physical impact, while the forced, rasping vocals equally hit hard, the sound of anguish and rage and a host of mixed and conflicting emotions aflame.

‘Every Broken Piece’ was a feature of Panic Lift’s online performances during lockdown, and it’s from this place of inner turmoil that these songs emerge, with the accompanying notes pointing out that they ‘continue with the familiar themes of stress, coping, and concerns of self-image’, and the rippling synth lines, juxtaposed against snarling, abrasive vocals, are the perfect expression of internal conflict. There’s a lot going on here in the arrangements, with churning metal guitar grazing against cinematic synths, and the slower chorus on ‘Bitter Cold’ brings impact by contrast.

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5th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

The pandemic may be over – or not, depending on your viewpoint or your government – but there’s no question that the pandemic affected us all in some way, shape, or form, and that as much as people are getting on with their so-called ‘normal’ lives, we’re not all fully over it. Some of us may never be.

‘The Day the Drum Stopped’ was penned during the height – or depths, depending on your perspective – of the UK pandemic lockdown, and captures the instantaneous psychological spasm of the moment everything halts abruptly. ‘The Day the Drum Stopped’ is perhaps another way of phrasing ‘the great pause’, and it was a strange time to say the least.

For many – not least of all musicians, those in hospitality and retail – everything stopped. For others, who continued to work from home, while also trying to manage home-schooling, the pause was less pronounced, marked more by the absence of people and traffic in the street when venturing out for the prescribed daily exercise or trip to the local supermarket in the hope of scoring both loo roll and pasta. But no question, it was strange, a plunge into the unknown, the unpredictable, and this was a cause of major anxiety for so, so many.

Kristina Stazaker has articulated this succinctly and in a most accessible fashion on her new single, propelled by some sturdy percussion and ‘builds up to a powerful ending where the drums restart and the electricity of life flicks into action again’. It starts with a solid march, before loping away like a galloping horse, and there’s optimism there, as Stazaker remains positive that ‘the drums will come back again’, and it’s a rush and then… it stops, and you’re left, vaguely nonplussed, wishing there was more. Which seems like life, really. Cracking single, though.

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 Artwork - Kristina Stazaker

Cool Thing Records – 1st April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

BAIT exists as a side-project for Asylums’ Michael Webster and Luke Branch, and they couldn’t be much different, with Webster using this vehicle as an outlet by which to channel all his angst and anger through sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued social observation and critique.

This debut long-player has been a long time in coming. Their eponymous mini-album landed back in March 2017, and apart from the standalone single release of ‘DLP’ in the spring of 2019, they’ve seemingly been dormant, at least in the public domain. But despite the obstacles of geography during lockdown, they’ve been busy, and the last couple of years have provided an abundance of grist to their mill.

The band describe it as ‘a digital post-punk lockdown docu-record which watches the clock, gets the jitters & lashes out just like the rest of us. It’s an internal monologue that accounts the anxiety, the struggles, the pressures experienced living by the sea during an international pandemic’.

Most struggled in one way or another during the pandemic, some unspeakably, and for a great many, the lasting effects of the trauma of lockdown and isolation are every bit as bad as those of the virus itself. Many lost loved ones, but were unable to gain closure or grieve with friends and relatives due to restrictions – while, it turns out, the government of ‘Great’ Britain partied on. It was often hard to know what to make of anything: conspiracy theories abounded, but over time, some of those theories began to look rather less far-fetched, and under such close surveillance, people could be forgiven for getting paranoid, for being angry.

Sea Change is one angry record. But to describe it as such is to overlook the emotional range it articulates: it’s an album that gives voice to anxiety, panic, fear, trauma. Perhaps it’s the ‘internal monologue’ aspect of its evolution is why it really speaks. As is so often the case, in the personal lies the universal, and it conveys the rapid changes in mood and general state of confusion, questioning, and self-doubt that defined the lockdown experience for so many of us. And just because we’ve left lockdown doesn’t mean that we’ve left lockdown behind, psychologically, meaning that Sea Change’s resonance goes far beyond that defined period in time which spawned it (‘inspired probably isn’t the word).

The mood is tense and dark throughout, and the production has that mid- to late-80s Wax Trax! Industrial feel to it: the guitars are gritty, but everything is condensed into a dense lump of sound that batters rather than saws at the senses. ‘No Sleep for Light Sleepers’ is more minimal, haunting, but also ominous, the processed spoken word like the mutter in your ear that just won’t let you settle.

It’s not entirely without humour, either: if the frenzied, pounding ‘DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA’ encapsulates the way in which a heightened state of anxiety is a shortcut to a loss of perspective, whereby the smallest, most trivial things give cause to great panic (things you know are irrational, like, say, getting twitchy when your phone battery drops below 49%), it also highlights just how self-obsessed and microfocussed we are as a society (that that incident at the Oscars totally engulfed the internet against a backdrop of war, a cost of living crisis, and rising Covid cases and hospitalisation is perhaps the definitive moment in our culture of self-absorption, and perhaps, in the wake of lockdown panic, the need to have something to fret and opine over obsessively just to fill the gap). It’s not all completely oppressive, either: ‘Electric Murder’ is a straight-up dark electropop tune that would comfortably sit in Depeche Mode’s catalogue.

‘The Weight of the Water’ finds them punching through a steely grey mesh of guitars, and it’s dense and tense; the jitters amp up tangibly on ‘Somewhere to Be’. ‘I’ve got somewhere to be… I’ve got somewhere to be’ Webster repeats as if a mantra, like the White Rabbit trapped in a postmodern world in which all holes have been concreted over and gentrified in the name of ‘progress’. ‘Sugarlumps’ leaps from a queasy, claustrophobic wheeze to a roaring metal blast reminiscent of Ministry’s Filth Pig, and the album ends with a ferocious finale with ‘We Will Learn to Bark’, the sound of pure catharsis.

It’s pretty much an instant grab, but Sea Change is definitely an album that offers up more over repeat plays.

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Sea Change

14th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a slice of blues-hued alt-rock that deals with paranoia and a sense of disconnection from other people, right? Blackpool’s Rendered land their second single on Valentine’s day, and it’s a proper punch in the kisser

It begins with a slow-build, a big, spacious guitars chime that’s bordering on shoegaze before exploiting a classic quiet / loud verse / chorus, and when the guitars kick in for the chorus, boy do they kick in strong. It’s the perfect vehicle for the lyrics which wrestle with internal contradictions and the troubles of mental health; the fear and loathing, flipping between the urge to lash out and to simply hide.

‘Paranoia’s what they tell me I got /Well it’s real to me and it won’t stop now / (Must be the enemy!)’ guitarist/vocalist Dale Ball hollers in a blend of pain and panic, articulating the anguish of decoding situations; after all, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you, and just because you feel you can’t trust anyone, doesn’t mean you’re delusional or overly fearful, and it’s a fact, not hype, that you can’t be too careful… but then, to what extent can fear rule your life before it’s no life at all? It’s a fine line, and right now, so many people are so on edge about everything. The language of fear used to ensure compliance during lockdown gave many the jitters, and shaking that fear isn’t proving so easy. Then you turn on the news, there are stabbings and murders of random strangers all over, the government has been proven to have bene constantly lying the whole time, and now continue to lie about the fact they’ve been lying in the face of concrete evidence, and who can you believe or trust when you can’t even trust yourself or your own instincts?

Well, you can trust Rendered to deliver solid tunes with real resonance, if nothing else, and ‘Must Be The Enemy!’ is the proof.

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Cool Thing – 18th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Hot on the heels of their explosive return with ‘Drama Drama Drama Drama’, BAIT continue the assault with the delivery of ‘My Tribe’, off their eagerly-anticipated long-player, Sea Change.

Pitched as ‘the voice of pandemic anxiety’, Michael Webster explains that “’My Tribe’ was written at the very beginning of the pandemic when none of us knew what the fuck was going on. It got me thinking about survival and protecting my family from the unknown. There’s reference to primal activities in contrast to the mundane activities taken up to pass time during isolation.”

This encapsulates the contradictions of the early days of the pandemic: the confusion, the fear, the panic, the sheer bewilderment and sense of ‘what the fuck?’ as the guidance changed daily and we were told to work from home and batten down the hatches: the number of times we heard and read the word ‘unprecedented’ was unprecedented’ – far more so than the pandemic itself. No-one knew how to react, because no-one really knew what they were even reacting to, really.

Clocking in at almost four minutes, it’s one of BAIT’s longer efforts, and it’s driven – as has rapidly become established as their style – but a thick, snarling, repetitive riff in the vein of Killing Joke, and the comparisons don’t end there, given their sociopolitical leanings. In short, it continues the trajectory of their eponymous mini-album debut, and cements everything harder, denser than before, and then veers off into hard technoindustrial that’s more the domain of KMFDM and the like for the final minute.

Tackling isolation and the internal conflicts so many of us suffered, it’s angry, but in no specific direction – because who do you direct that anger at? Some of it goes inwardly, of course, wrestling with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, while some of it goes outwards and into the air because fuck shit, life just isn’t fair. Why here? Why now? Just why? That sense of helplessness and frustration pervades every moment of anger and anguish, and it’s almost as if BAIT were a band ready-made for the pandemic.

But while it may feel like ‘Merry Easter, Covid’s Over’ may be a tune for the coming months, it’s readily apparent that the psychological repercussions of the last two years will be long-lasting for many. The social divisions that became raw gaping wounds through Brexit have only become more pronounced, as people have become more entrenched and seemingly harbour more violent feelings towards others, and on-line aggressions have begun to manifest in an upsurge in the ugliest behaviours since people have been allowed to get back out there. Something is awry, and the world is dark and more fucked-up than ever. This, seemingly, was the plan all along: divide and conquer. This is not some conspiracy theory, it’s not about some ‘plandemic’; it’s an opportunistic power-grab by governments following a neat-global shift to the right. They want people to be scared, and, as it happens, people have reason to be scared – jut not necessarily the reason it seems on the face of it.

‘Keep them occupied / lock them up inside’ is a neat summary of how things have been managed. They slide in the line ‘Under his eye’, and while they may have been bingeing on Netflix, the totalitarian regime of The Handmaid’s Tale seems a lot closer to home now: we are living in the midst of almost every dystopia ever penned made real.

BAIT have got the soundtrack down, they’re both the reassurance that you’re not alone in feeling what you feel, as well as the articulation of the painful truth. And they’re kicking ass all the way.

 

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30th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Ten months on from last year’s ‘Summer ‘ EP, headed by lead track Recovery, Sleep Kicks return with ‘My Own Demon’, and it’s a solid second single to say the least, putting meat on the bones of the live acoustic version that featured on the EP.

The comparisons I drew to A-Ha and Editors in reference to its predecessor are again applicable here, as the Norwegian foursome spin a hypnotic atmosphere through the medium of strolling bass and chiming, reverby guitar to carve a song that’s a balance of taut 80s pop and brooding new wave, and anthemic is the only word to describe its epic finish. With a wash of guitars and a powerful, uplifting ‘wo-ah-hoh’, you could easily picture this being played in front of a packed arena with several thousand hands waving aloft in time.

Yet, at the same time, the delivery of this big, soaring chorus, is quite a contrast to the lyrical content, which are so striking in their intimacy:

Always feels like someone’s coming after me

Never seem to find a cure for this anxiety

Every day it stays the same, I fear tomorrow’s call

Would be better if it never came at all

We all have our demons and our anxieties, but tend not to talk about them, despite the fact we probably ought: free and open discussion is the only way we will change attitudes to these things, and normalise the topic of mental health, and how it feels to wake up wishing you hadn’t. But we’ve all – or nearly all – been there at some point. It takes real strength to not only commit such lines to paper, but also actually sing them out loud, but it’s that investment of emotion that resonates, and – as I often say – in the personal lies the universal. And this, this reaches out and touches the soul in a special way.

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Crocodile Laboratories – 4th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

It seems almost beyond banal to remark that we live in troubled, troubling, challenging, and anxietised times. Since the turn of the millennium, and certainly for the last decade or so now, it feels as if we’ve been hurtling inexorably toward the end of days. Not one aspect of our existence is sustainable. We’ve known it for some fifty years, but here we are, staring into the swirling void the black hole that is our absence of future, and it’s nothing short of utterly fucking terrifying. It’s small wonder everyone’s cracking, that mental health issues are beyond rife to the point that it feels like half the population is struggling with some form of stress, anxiety, depression or related disorder. Are we getting better at speaking up, diagnosing, and treating these things – or could it simply be that we haven’t evolved at the pace of technology and society, and we’re just not built to cope with contemporary existence?

There was no way that when Amy Studt, after many, many years in the wilderness, and having followed a long, hard, road through recovery and stuttering false starts, could have envisaged the world she would finally deliver her comeback album to. So on the one hand, the recent events which saw the president of the United States of America first attempt to dismantle a 16-year-old-girl whose mission drive positive action against climate change, only for her to utterly demolish him by turning his words back on him, have no bearing on Amy’s album, the optimistically-titled Happiest Girl in the Universe. But on the other, the ‘happy young girl looking forward to a bright future’ Twitter duel is perhaps as relevant as it gets. Because in the personal lies the universal.

And Amy’s album is an intensely personal document of breakdown and recovery, and the title reflects the glowing hope of light at the end of the tunnel, of being able to find and cling to those moments of happiness, however fleeting, and accept that for all the darkness, there is light, and that light is what matters.

The singles, released at regular intervals over the last few months to give a slow-build engagement with the album have done more than pique the interest, but have built a steady-evolving picture of her creative rebuilding, and an insight into the long and difficult process that has seen her use creativity as a form of therapy.

From the haunting ‘I was Jesus in Your Veins’, which opens the album to the delicate piano-led introspection of the title track which draws the curtain with an air of soft calm , of homely comfort and a certain relaxedness that conjures images of Sunday morning coffee curled up in a chair taking it easy with a book or whatever.

But Amy sings of Diazepam, of depression, but also of empowerment: ‘Violently With Love’ is, on the face of it, a simple piano tune with vocals, but it’s a forceful songs that goes beyond ‘power ballad’ to an emotive tsunami. ‘I paid my dues. I played it your way. Now this s my way’, she sings on ‘Let the Music Play’. The video features footage of her from her childhood and beyond and evokes a deep nostalgia that’s resonant and affecting, and reminds us of the ageing process that affects us all. These are moments, locked in time, but they’re the moments of a one-time child star who’s different now. Older, wiser, perhaps, but also a traumatised adult who’s lived. Yes: she’s been there. She’s been done over by the industry. She’s still here. Survival is revenge.

‘The Water’ marks a stylistic departure, with a shift toward grand, sweeping cinemascopic sounds over a brooding piano. Studt’s voice is bathed in echo as she soars skywards once more, and in place of the quiet, intimate tone of the previous tracks, she spins skywards into the territory more common to Chelsea Wolfe and Zola Jesus. Stretching out to the five-and-a-half minute mark, it’s vast and immersive.

She’s no longer just a little girl: Amy’s a full-fledged artist ad while her years in the dark represent troubling times and reflect more on society than the artist, they’re past. Happiest Girl in the Universe is not an easy album, lyrically. Its lyrics are painfully introspective, raw, open, honest. But musically, it’s simply magnificent, and for all the pam and anguish there isn’t a song on here that isn’t lilting, melodic, and plain lovely. Happiest Girl in the Universe contain ten songs, and every last one is perfectly crafted, poignant, and touching. Amy is definitely winning: here’s looking to a brighter future.

ROOM40 – RM491 – 12th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not even as much as a distant rumble. It’s barely the sound of air. An uneven hum eventually creeps into the realm of audible perception, but it’s still so quiet as to be questionable: is my mind playing tricks? Am I imagining sound to fill the silence. The whir of the disc in the player is still louder, and stands to the fore because of its higher pitch. But no, the rumble is growing now. I’ve been sitting here for three minutes or more, but now, the sound is upon me, and it’s like an approaching helicopter, thick, beating the air. It reaches a point of sustained crescendo, from whence if continues to grow, from a low roar to an excruciating multi-tonal blitz that fills the room and fills my head. Treble whines and drones above the gut-clenching low-end and scrapes. It makes for an intense and unsettling ten and a half minutes, and I’m reminded, perhaps inevitably, of Merzbow and Kenji Siratori in the way the piece’s power stems not only from the detail of tone, texture and volume: the shifts are gradual, but definite. And then it stops. Silence. The contrast. The silence is more bewildering than the noise, at first.

Thus I am introduced to the work of Australian artist Thembi Soddell. Love Songs is an exploration and articulation of experiences of ‘insidious forms of abuse within supposedly loving relationships, in connection to certain forms of mental illness.’ The album succeeds in that Soddell conveys the relatable, if not necessarily the universal, in the personal. Without the specificity of lyrical content, the listener is necessarily invited, even compelled, to pour their own experience into the spaces in the sound, to interact with the moments of dissonance and discomfort.

At times eerie and tense, at others calm, yet always with a certain undercurrent of unease, Love Songs is every bit as dark as the cover art implies. The accompanying text summarises it nicely, saying ‘it’s equal parts horror, anxiety, relief and exhilaration, often in the same instant.’

‘Repetition Compulsion’ alternates hushed passages with seering screeds of noise which halt abruptly and unexpectedly, and if ‘Who is to Blame’ employs the same type of approach, the explosions of noise are of an altogether different intensity, an all-out wall of noise that’s full Whitehouse at times, although Soddell’s focus on tonal variety is the key point of interest here. The final composition, ‘Epilogue’ returns to the territory explored on the first, ‘Object (Im)Permanence’, beginning as silence before erupting into a sustained, violent, sonic assault. The screaming upper frequencies are pure torture, and as the howl and whine of the sounds fuse to form an oppressive, painful and impenetrable wall, it feels like it will never end. And you want to… but equally, you don’t. I let the sound engulf me and a certain energy courses through me. Where is the release? There. Finally, in the arrival of silence. The end.

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AThembi Soddell – Love Songs

Sacred Bones – 8th June 2018

I’m accustomed to feeling tense and anxietised. It’s more or less my default setting. The insomnia. The 4am sweats, the nocturnal panic attacks that feel like asphyxiation. There are peaks and troughs, of course, although I often find that immersing myself in music that probably ought to add to my unsettlement has something of a neutralising effect. After a few wavering weeks, during which I discovered that Naproxen isn’t the painkiller for me right now, experiencing shortness of breath, accelerated heartbeat and heightened anxiety being the most pronounced of the side-effects. None of this was especially conducive to writing, and even listening to music was proving to be less enjoyable than usual. The prospect of facing my inbox was more than I could reasonably bare most days. A week after my last dose, I’m feeling the calmest and most overtly ‘normal’ I’ve felt in a fair while. If this is perhaps excessive disclosure, it’s a question of context. However objectively I want to operate as a reviewer, listening to music as a ‘job’ inevitably entails an element of the personal. There’s simply no escaping this. Any response to art necessarily involves a subconscious and emotional element. A critic is a person, not a machine: we don’t critique and opine with algorithms.

Sifting through the scores of emails, I’m cheered to find a fair few releases to get excited about. Where to start? Well, this seems like a reasonable opener…

That Uniform and The Body should come together – or perhaps collide, screaming head-on into one another – is a logical, if terrifying idea. It’s pitched as ‘a collaboration that pushes both bands far beyond their roots in industrial music and metal – creating an immersive listening experience that truly transcends genre’. And I suppose it does. The Body have long pushed far beyond the confines of metal, and have forged a career that thrives on collaboration – or, put another way, a career that extracts new levels of nastiness by channelling carnage through other acts.

It’s a messy, murky sonic miasma that seeps from the speakers: a cacophony of impenetrable shrieking – like some mass acid-bath or people trapped in a burning room as the flames seer their flesh – tears through a thick aural sludge that’s heavy on bass and light on production polish.

A nervous drum machine pumps frantically, as though in the throes of a panic attack, beneath a mess of noise on ‘The Curse of Eternal Life’. The vocals are distorted, dalek-like, and there’s more screaming in the background, and with everything buzzing and whirring away, it’s impossible to know what the fuck’s going on, let alone if there’s any kind of attempt at a tune in there. It’s like listening to the Dr Mix and the Remix album played on a shit stereo through next door’s wall.

There are crushing guitar chords and crashing beats on the slow grind of ‘Come and See’, evoking the essence of early Swans or Godflesh, but with Michael Berdan’s sneering vocal style, there’s an overtly punk aspect to the pulverizing industrial trudge. It may be one of the most structured compositions on the album – in that there are actual chord sequences audible through the sonic smog – but it’s still hard going. But then, it’s no accident: neither act is renowned for its accessibility or ease of listening. And when two acts as uncompromising as Uniform and The Body meet, and there’s still no compromise, then the sum is instantly an exponential amplification of uncompromising. It was always going to hurt: it was simply a question of how much. And it’s nothing short of punishing.

When they do turn things down a bit, back off the guitars, and tweak musical motifs from the electronic setup instead of extraneous noise, there are hints of melody – and even grace – these emerge through the fog on ‘In My Skin’, and in context, it’s almost soothing. In any other context, though, maybe not so much. It’s like saying that Prurient are soothing in comparison to Whitehouse.

Mental Wounds Not Healing is – to use a term all too often tossed about in reference to anything a bit raw or intense – visceral. Listening to the album, I realise I’m grinding my teeth, chewing my lip and gnawing at the inside of my check. I’m clenching my jaw, tightly. My shoulders are hunched. Mental Wounds Not Healing isn’t just intense: it makes me feel tense. The density and lack of separation makes for a sound where everything congeals into an oppressive morass. The production – such as it is – only emphasises the claustrophobic sensation; being unable to distinguish one sound from another elicits a broiling frustration, and a certain paranoia, as you wonder if maybe there’s something wrong with the speakers or your hearing. It’s not pleasant, and the seven songs – none of which run past the five-minute mark – make for an endurance test. And yet for all that, it’s a powerful experience. It’s no wonder the wounds aren’t healing: this is the soundtrack to scratching and scraping at the scabs, picking away until the blood seeps once more. Insofar as any psychological damage foes, this isn’t going to help, but it’s fair reflection of various tortured states.

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