Posts Tagged ‘Band of Susans’

12th April 2019

Creativity is one of those things that’s innate, and as such, while it’s something that can be suppressed, sidelined, ignored, overlooked, and can even lie dormant for protracted periods, it’s an urge that never dies.

Karen Haglof stepped in to play guitar with Band of Susans after two of the three Susans who featured in the original lineup departed after the first album and featured alongside Paige Hamilton on 1989’s Love Agenda and the band’s Peel session, also released as an EP before departing to pursue a more solid, and what some might call ‘grown-up’ career’.

Most people in bands have day-jobs on account of the economics of music-making, but few have successful headline careers in medicine. And yet, after building a career as an oncologist for some twenty years, Haglof felt the urge to get back into music. And somehow, she’s found time to release three albums and an EP since 2015 – although their writing and evolution goes back a little further.

Karen says of her music, “I love a heavy drum beat and thick deep bass. I love noise and wall of sound guitars and idiosyncratic rhythms. I love open D and finger style. I love a crunchy guitar. I love sly lyrics and depth of feeling. I love a pop song and a pop groove. I love a dance groove. Does all this come through in my music? I don’t know, but I am always trying for it to come through.”

Tobriano is certainly a lot poppier than anything Band of Susans released, and definitely boasts some tidy grooves, bringing to the fore elements of country and vintage radio-friendly rock. But pop should never be viewed as synonymous with lightweight, weak, or disposable. ‘Humbled and Chastened’ brings some beef, while ‘These are the Things’ brings some jazz brass and a solid groove. Elsewhere, the choppy guitars, insistent drums and raw sax of ‘Favour Favour’ calls to mind the early years of The Psychedelic Furs, which is certainly no bad thing.

To describe Tobriano as ‘mature’ isn’t to do it a disservice or dismiss it as dull: it’s an album that’s laid back, confident, assured. It isn’t about testing limits or pushing boundaries, and it’s in that sense that Tobriano is mature. What it is about is enjoying act of making music, and celebrating musicianship and creativity. And this very much does come through in the music, making for solid listening pleasure.

Karen Haglof online.

karenhaglof-e1537816517825

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Trace Elements Records – 3rd August 2018

Frozen Flowers Curse The Day is the latest release from pioneering avant-guitarist Robert Poss, founding member of the legendary wall-of-guitars group Band Of Susans, who (in)famously started out with three members named Susan and usually maintained three guitarists in their ever-shifting lineup, which at one point featured a pre-Helmet Page Hamilton.

The development of the album Frozen Flowers Curse The Day was performed, recorded and mixed by Poss at Trace Elements Records studios in New York City with guest drummers including Dahm Majuri Cipolla (Torres, Lydia Lunch, Japan’s Mono) helping out on two tracks.

Being a solo release rather than a full-band effort, Frozen Flowers Curse The Day isn’t an overtly ‘rock’ album in terms of material or instrumentation and primarily features guitar and loops of strings, to sometimes woozy and disorientating effect. But Poss’ approach to guitar playing, lauded by none other than Steve Albini, is certainly distinctive.

Much of the material here is jangling drone, drifting, chiming indie shoegaze. It’s pleasant, easy on the ear, undemanding. In a good way. Frozen Flowers Curse The Day is an album which explores texture, tone, and mood, but above all, it follows the distinctive compositional template of Band of Susans in that the songs tend to bludgeon away at a simple three or four chord sequence while layers of droning chords or feedback build over the top as the song progresses.

This approach is very much to the fore on the album’s second track, ‘The Sixth Sense Betrayed’. Elsewhere, on ‘Partial Clearing’, Poss works the eddies and streams of swirling drone and exploits the basic mechanics of the instrument to create something quite compelling.

While much of the album is given to switch-flicking, string-tamping, knob-tweaking. It’s not so much about the simple chord motifs or notes which hang in the air, but more about their manipulation. But however much this an album shaped by technique you’d never call it a ‘technical’ album. Nores ripple and chime and collide against one another in washes of reverb in the most dreamy, immersive of fashions.

‘Time Frames Marking Time’ hints at ‘Elizabeth Stride’ from Band of Susans’ final album, 1995s Here Comes Success, and even echoes ‘Frere Jacques’, but these are fleeting moments, and that’s the whole point: this is really about transition ad ephemerality and the effects of the briefest of memory triggers from an artistic point of view. ‘I’ve got a Secret List’ is more up-front, a thunderous drum track thumping away beneath multiple layers of guitars, over which Poss strains over a repetitive lyric, while closer ‘I’ll Curse the Day’ comes on like Springsteen in a 4-track tape portastudio.  And yes, while battering away a single motif and simple chord structure, it does invite comparisons to BoS. Significantly, it holds up to those comparisons: Poss certainly hasn’t lost it.

Robert Poss