Posts Tagged ‘Bandcamp Friday’

Cruel Nature Recordings – 27th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Grunge isn’t dead. Not by a long way. Although, the trouble with grunge is that even at its height, most of the bands weren’t that impressive, and the ones who were achieved the widest success were the weakest, most accessible of the crop. Without the polished and ultimately marketable Nevermind, Nirvana would have never achieved global domination, although both Bleach and In Utero were, and remain, far superior albums, while the like of Tad and Mudhoney are the true sound of grunge, and capture the gritty, sweaty toil of blue collar labour channelled into aural catharsis. These bands never set out to change the world, but to vent their frustrations and ultimately their sense of powerlessness through music.

Perhaps it’s an age thing, but being in sixth form when grunge exploded it felt like not only an exciting time for music, but that this was a wave of music that actually spoke both to and for my generation at the time. In a way I feel rather sorry for the Millennials and Gen Z; the blandness of contemporary music speaks of nothing but surface. Even when addressing genuine issues, there feels like not only an absence of depth, but an absence of real emotion, of soul. Perhaps it’s just that the mainstream industry, represented by the mainstream charts, dominated by mainstream artists on major labels is simply giving the entirety of its focus on monetising slick sonic wallpaper. It seems odd that generations so riven with pain and angst (and who can blame them?) should find solace in this kind of anodyne slop. It can’t just be the numbing effects of antidepressants: something is clearly awry. Small wonder, then, that some delve into their parents’ collections in order to find music that contains what’s missing for them.

New York’s Cronies formed in June 2020 by brothers Jack and Sam Carillo, the press pitch describes the project as ‘the creative offspring of Covid and isolation’. Creative is the word: having pulled in a couple of mates to render this a full band, they’ve already banged out a brace of Eps in the last year ahead of this, their eponymous debut, which Cruel Nature are releasing on another Bandcamp Friday, with Proceeds going to charity.

It’s a bowel-shaking bass note that strikes first, and the sustain is something. And then in lurches a grimy guitar that’s welded to a stumbling rhythm section – and it’s heavy. Then the drawling vocal rips into a fill-throated roar that’s pure Cobain. These guys have taken the relentless battery of Bleach and the nihilistic squall of In Utero as their template, with a dash of thrash and some of the grimy heft of Tad in the mix (‘Slush Fund’ even leans on the riff from Tad’s ‘Behemoth’ but chicks in some stun synths and some manic hollering that’s more reminiscent of The Jesus Lizard), and ‘A Slippery Slope’ throws all of these in at once, along with a sudden change of pace and direction two-thirds of the way in. On ‘Ritchie from Lebanon’ they build a massively dense bulk of noise, the guitars and bass churning, overloading at great volume.

What Cronies have that their peers lack – well, there are many things, if we’re analysing (and of course we are: that’s the purpose of music criticism). But first and foremost, it’s raw passion and energy. There’s nothing slick or ultra-processed about this: Cronies are unashamedly ragged, and really embrace the grunge ethic of the time when most of the bands from Nirvana to Mudhoney were still on labels like Sub Pop. It’s perhaps because of the band’s origins – confined, trapped – that the songs on Cronies teem and seethe with abject frustration. Sometimes, words simply cannot articulate those feelings, and all there is to do is scream and unleash howls of feedback instead of neat chords. And this is what Cronies do, and this is why they speak to us: it’s accepting the limitations of articulation and unleashing a primal howl. It’s powerful because it’s real.

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Dret Skivor – 7th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon, where plague victims were sent to quarantine – and die – is commonly known as ‘plague island’. But the ‘unprecedented’ pandemic that has circulated the globe in the last eighteen months or so has created a new ‘plague island’, where almost every element of dystopian fiction has become a reality.

There’s no question that this is a political album. The cover alone says it all: this is not some fictional place, but an album that’s explicitly inspired by a specific island that is – sadly, for many of us – very real. The UK, the tiny island with one of the highest death tolls in Europe from the COVID-19 pandemic is indeed a plague island – an island ridden with not only literal plague, but metaphorical plague, its seedy government the worst exponents of capitalist excess, and widely reputed as being more corrupt than the mafia, its racist, jingoistic bullshit-by-the-dozen prime minister with more children than he can account for, tossing money at his mistress while in a position of power, slinging multi-million pound contracts to associates to cash in on the pandemic, and misappropriating funds for a lavish refurb on his flat while unable to find the funds for more than a 1% pay rise for medics… A prime minister who would ‘fuck business’ but would still rather let ‘the bodies pile high’ than shut down and further damage his precious economy’. That’s a plague on a plague, a pestilence on an international scale, and also an absolute fucking disgrace.

It’s an island that also seems to have forgotten how small and isolated it is, both by geography and, now, politically: it’s forgotten it doesn’t have the empire it once did, and so, cut loose from the EU, isn’t an economic powerhouse on a global scale… just a tiny pathetic spec on the map, deludedly flexing its muscles and posturing while plunging further into debt by the hour. It’s a scabby scummy pit of self-importance and irrelevance, where the ruling elite trample the rest every second of the day purely out of self-interest. It’s a hellhole of division and decline that would rather cut off its face to spite its nose, all in the name of reclaiming its borders and blue fucking passports – and all of this is neatly encapsulated in the album’s opening blitzkrieg of noise overload, ‘Wading Through the Dead Bodies to Feel the Sovereignty’.

Because words alone cannot articulate the violent disgust at the country’s policies on immigration, welfare, child poverty, this barrage of cranium-crushing overload is the perfect expression of the rage and the fury – fizzing static and electronic sparks fly through a stammering buzz and headlong collisions of explosive distortion. It’s ten-and-three-quarter minutes of sonic annihilation that’s almost unbearable in its intensity and sheer abrasion. It’s weight and intensity feel like being trapped underneath a tank stuck on a mudbank. You’re clinging on as it tries to run you over the edge, where you can only hope to find a sleazy, lying scumbag lying dead in a ditch before you.

The churning earthworks continue unabated on second track, ‘Bring No Pestilence back’, which dissolves into a babbling, streaming gurgle that accelerates in pace and tapes to a treble as a thin, scrawling drone extends out over its final minutes, before fading to silence. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable, and clearly intentionally so. For all that, it’s not as unpleasant or uncomfortable as living in post-Brexit Britain in a semi-lockdown state and knowing that the future offers no hope on the horizon.

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4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Bandcamp Fridays have been providing a rare and unique lifeline for struggling artists, and while times are still ridiculously tight in what continue to be utterly bewildering times which have hit the music industry where it really hurts – namely grass-roots venues and the artist who depend on them – the opportunity for artists to actually make a proper revenue from sales or downloads and physical releases is a big deal.

And if one thing’s become apparent, its that artists are going all-out to create releases that offer something different for their fans, and the unexpected arrival of an EP of 90s grunge covers from U.S doom quartet Embr.

Recorded in August of this year – in an actual studio, no less – with Matt Washburn (Mastodon, Royal Thunder, Artimus Pyledriver) the EP finds the band bringing a full-blooded sludge tone and a doomy, old-school, Sabbath-esque twist to four songs by leading exponents of the grunge era – with each member of the band selecting a song for inclusion.

Confession time: I absolutely fucking loved Nirvana, and still do. Alive in Chains, I dug, but never really found any enthusiasm for Stone Temple Pilots or Soundgarden, preferring Mudhoney, and the greasy heft of Tad. Nevetheless, what’s clearly apparent from listening to these four cuts is the degree of sincere affection for the songs and the sound that’s on display here. Moreover, they’ve done a great job of selecting songs that suit their own sound, showcasing the strengths of the original songs while sounding like Embr. It’s also something of a revelation hearing songs originally sung by men delivered by a female vocalist, and again, that they’ve pitched them in Crystal Bigalow’s range is a major factor in their success.

If the half-tempo trudge of their take on ‘Heart Shaped Box’ (Crystal’s choice) takes some getting used to, its impact – as the immense power chords drive down hard and heavy – is strong. The ultra-low bass that rumbles at a crawl through the stripped-back second verse is worth the money alone, but ‘Junkhead’ is probably the heaviest track here – which is no real surprise, given that AIC were always at the most overtly metal end of the spectrum in the grunge canon.

Then again, despite the rather poppy middling rock chorus, the repetitive chord sequence of ‘Mailman’ is well suited to a sludgy trudge-along, and ultimately, Embr have done a good job, making Idolatry well worth a punt.

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