Posts Tagged ‘bleak’

Cruel Nature Records – 24th June 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Hot on the heels of second album Can’t Be Arsed, Cruel Nature have repackaged the eponymous debut from the Manchester makers of ‘kitchen sink punk for the 21st century with a whole side’s worth of remixes from both previous releases – including two pretty radical reworkings of snarling single cut ‘Brain Driver’.

First, to revisit the debut – it’s a primitive, noisy document of disaffection. Adam Stone’s drawling, sneering vocal style is vintage punk, less about holding a tune as conveying attitude, and from the off they set the tone with the seven-minute ‘Food Chain’. A thick, dirty bass grinds out just a couple of notes over a plodding drum while Stone vomits vitriol. If ever a track encapsulated the monotonous drudgery of existing in Boris Johnson’s Britain, this is it. Most of the songs churn away for around seven minutes, but if you’re wondering just how far a band can push low, slow, trudging bass repeating the same simple motif atop a plodding beat, then the answer lies in ‘Half Priced Chickens’ – and the answer is just shy of fourteen minutes. This quarter-hour slog is a gloomy, dark, monotonous trudge: the kick drum sounds like a wet lump of wood, and the sneering shoutiness is replaced by a blank monotone spoken word, and in combination, they create an oppressive sonic fug. The scenes depicted are mundane. Words drift in and out – mobility scooters, office, boyfriend, cough mixture, cheese pasty – and these objects assume bleak resonance as you ask yourself, ‘is this it? Is this life?’ and the answer is there, slumped, devoid of energy, eyelids half closed: yes, this is life. And this is as good as it gets. And it’s fucking endless. Until it ends, in a swampy morass of slow decayed distortion and noise.

The final track, ‘Bunker’ locks into an uptempo groove, but while the drums rattle and bounce away, the mood remains tense, equal parts The Fall and Uniform. As the track progresses, so the anguish builds, and the effect is cumulative Stone hollers roughly about world war as feedback wails and the bass and drums just batter on, and on. Same old, same old…

There’s nothing pretty about Pound Land – the band or the album – and this is a good thing: they deal with the gritty reality of living in shit times. Pound Land articulates the languorous torpor of demotivation, of waking daily to feel the aching anguish of being beaten by life, every minute of every day. Sonically, it’s a long, long way from early Swans, but the density and oppression are very much shared aspects.

By the end of the five tracks, you’re absolutely harrowed and drained.

The remixes are a nice addition, though. The Ruffians on the Train Remix of ‘Brain Driver’ ventures into swampy, almost avant-jazz / trip-hop territory, before kicking into gnarly space-rock swirl. The drums are crisp but overloading, while the bass is pure punishment. Where remixes for most other bands are either dancier or more ambient or whatever, this set – with three of the six from R.O.D., these are primarily exercises in accentuating the gnarliness of the originals, with everything simply sounding even heavier, more crushing.

Pound Land is the real soundtrack to the now. They may have to change their name to Tenner Land before the year’s out the way things are going, so you’d be wise to bag this while you can, and hunker down before things get really tough…

AA

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Tartarus Records – 25 February 2022

James Wells

Dark Worship came together in what they describe as ‘the bleak and unsettling landscape of the post-industrial American Midwest’ and is less of a band and more of a collective of musicians from various bands, co-ordinated by J. Meyers (Axioma, Aureae Crucis). They pitch their sound as dark, and it is, but this is a different kind of dark: Flesh of a Saint has the murky lo-fi production values of black metal, which serves the bleak atmospherics well, but it’s not metal, and nor is it dark ambient or tethered to any specific or clear genre.

The two-and-a-half-minute shock of ‘We’ve Always Been Here’ begins as an ominous drone before erupting into swampy grunge spewed from Satan’s sphincter: there’s a nagging guitar riff half-submerged in the mix, and a thudding kick drum stammering out a beat that’s on the brink of a panic attack, and it only gets dingier from hereon in.

There may only be six tracks with a total running time of just over twenty minutes, but over its duration, Dark Worship live up to their name: punishing percussion hammers and clatters before giving way to doomy, funeral synth drones to provide the backing to harsh, shouted vocals on ‘Culling Song’, and it evokes the mangled noise of Prurient. It’s heavy listening. ‘Hollow Body’ brings a rasping vocal, the empty rasp of the walking dead, grating from a purgatorial pit shaped by a pulsating low-end throb.

If the final ‘Well of Light’ sounds redemptive, the light at the end of the tunnel, think again: it’s more like being sucked into the vortex after the last drops of energy have been sapped from your limbs and you hang, lifeless, waiting for the end. Oblivion can’t come too soon. Worship the dark.

AA

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28th January 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

So I’ve been bigging up OMNIBAEL from the outset – not because I’m acquainted – that cuts no ice with me as a critic, and if I don’t dig the music, I’m not going to back it for anything – but because I really rate what they’re doing. And what they’re doing is… well, they’re not entirely sure. OMNIBAEL are on a voyage of discovery, and they’re inviting you – and me – and all of us – along for the ride. They have no idea where it’s headed or where it will end, and that’s a large part of the appeal. So much supposedly ‘experimental’ music is scripted and scored. Rain Soaks the Earth Where They Lie is an experiment within a long-term experiment.

Each release to date has been a document of an evolution, and their debut album roper is no exception. Twittering feedback gives way to ripping riffage that’s distorted to fuck on opener ‘Mind is a Mess’ that’s the gnarliest of black metal melted into the darkest pits of burning torture, a missive from a purgatorial inferno.

I may have written on this album elsewhere, including some abstract liner notes that capture its essence, but I haven’t previously reflected in detail on the listening experience. It’s not pleasant, but it is intense, and it is, in the same way as it is with listening to Uniform, or The Body, a full-on body slam. It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, and it’s a physical experience – one that’s like taking a kicking from a gang. Drums hammer in like boots reining in on the ribcage, and there’s absolutely no fucking mercy across the album’s nine tracks.

The churning murk of the eight-plus minute ‘Last Days’ is pure Throbbing Gristle, and this is dark, gnarly, nasty. ‘The Repetition’ starts with a mess of overlayed tape loops that’s very much reminiscent of the Burroughs / Gysin tape loops that so influenced Cabaret Voltaire in the early days, and after a moment of crackling electronica that strays into Whitehouse / Merzbow territory, it plunges deep into torturous melting industrial metal, a dingy mess so dark and so charred as to be corrosive to the organs. It ccu88ulminates in punishing screeds of howling feedback atop thunderous percussion that hammers like thunder. There are some deeply fucked-up vocals low-down in the mix, too.

It’s not pleasant, and listening to this breeds tension upon tension, you feel your muscles tense and your head grow tight at the temples and the back of the cranium. If the dank and gloomy ethereal ambience of ‘Rung Keep’ evokes swimming underwater, it equally feels like the soundtrack to drowning slowly, and there really are no breaks on this album: despite its sonic and textural variety, it’s heavy all the way. ‘Sound of the WW2 Story’ may be a brief interlude with some soft ambience akin to the swafting of a jellyfish, but it’s still dense, tense, and oppressive, and offers but two minutes breathing before the thundering punishment of ‘Flowering backwards’, which callas to mind Swans circa 1986 and early Godflesh in dub form. The volume, the power, the force, all combine to create something utterly cruising.

Listening to Rain Soaks the Earth Where They Lie is hard. It’s a brutal nihilism I’ve been craving and welcome unreservedly; it articulates the fact that life is pain. But the pain is without letup. Rain Soaks the Earth Where They Lie is uncomfortable, painful, and very, very necessary.

Om

Panurus Productions – 1st October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a cliché to say ‘I don’t know where the time goes’, and it’s often, if not an outright lie, then at least somewhat disingenuous. Between dayjob work, school runs, cooking, other domestic chores, gigs, occasional TV, and writing reviews, it’s pretty obvious to me and most people who know me where my time goes. I know where my time goes. This doesn’t make it less of an issue. The fact I’ve been chipping away at this particular review for days, even weeks, adding a few words here and there, is testament to the time-deficient lifestyle. I can’t even quote remember where I was going at the start of this by the time of the finishing point, but ultimately, I suppose the point is that time is something that is ephemeral, fleeting, something of which we’re all too often acutely aware and are in thrall to and yet at the same time, it is simply a construct by which to structure our existences.

This split release on Newcastle cassette label Panurus Productions promises ‘two sides of bleak catharsis on this transatlantic split from Petrine Cross and Tower of Filargyria.’ And that is precisely what it delivers, with three tracks from each artist, both of whom scour the depths of darkness in contrasting and complimentary ways.

Black metal may have relatively modern origins in musical term, but its murky invocations speak of something altogether more ancient, and Petrine Cross has a way of transcending time and genre, taking the standard tropes and merging them with atmospherics so dark and dank as to blur to near-ambience. The muffled production values which are core to the genre are something not only embraced here, but utilised to create a distancing and a sense of ‘otherness’: this isn’t drums, guitars, vocals, it’s a dense wall of sound that envelops your entire being, and smothers the senses, stifling, suffocating, like a cloud of mustard gas.

There’s a point near the end of ‘Sobriquet’ where everything simply erupts into an explosive crescendo that hits like a bomb, and the sound is like mud, dirt, rocks and splintered body parts – being splattered in all directions from an immense crater. You’ve no idea of the song’s lyrics or real meaning, only the impact of this devastating moment. But there’s light. The third and final PC cut, ‘The Grecian Bend’ seems to offer glimmers from amidst the murk, with some delicate wisps and washes of sound. There’s a rare subtlety and delicacy about this that resonates on a subconscious level.

Tower of Filargyria, apparently referencing ‘the medieval term meaning love of money or silver, rail against their monumental namesake, produce three tracks of sample laden anti-capitalist black metal’. We have to take this on trust, of course, as what this manifests as is a blistering assault of guitars so trebly they hurt and snarling vocals with so much reverb everything clangs into a mesh of noise, the drums thumping away somewhere low in the mix like a pillow thwocking around in a washing machine.

Samples of lectures and speeches dissecting the beast of capitalism abound, and the semi-ambient opening to the third and final ToF track, the eleven-and-a-half-minute ‘Capitalfascist State Apparatus’ (no question about the sentiment / agenda there) works particularly well in the way it draws the listener in – which makes the ‘metal’ section all the more disappointing, being quieter, and of a very different sound quality. It feels more like a demo than a finished take – but for that, it’s true to black metal production values, and it’s one of those songs that gets better as it goes on, and builds and builds to a roaring crescendo of howled, raw-throated vocals and thundering percussion amidst a squall of guitars and feedback. It’s a real whorl of noise and comes on full-throttle, and this – THIS – is the release. It’s been a long time in coming.

Catharsis is hard to beat, but the downside is that it’s often hard to know how to manage the drop, the slump which follows – and it inevitably does. This split release is all the catharsis, and it’s one the listener can project onto and draw inwards from. It has immense (dark) force: the only slump is for the listener on the realisation that after forty-five minutes of immersion in the gnarliest, most painful depths of anguish, it’s over.

AA

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24th September 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Pink Turns Blue have been around practically forever, having formed in 1985, and while they may not be widely regarded among the first wave of goth acts, they very much emerged from that milieu as a duo with a drum machine, and what they’ve achieved over so many of their peers while lingering on the peripheries is longevity. Having re-emerged in 2003 after an eight-year hiatus, they’ve continued to mine the classic post-punk seam that’s distinctively theirs, due in no small part to Mic Jogwer’s vocals. And of course, what goes around comes around. Their return in the early years of the new millennium was well-timed, coinciding with the point at which the post-punk renaissance bloomed with the likes of Editors and Interpol breaking through. There were of course countless also-rans, and bands who emerged but failed to fulfil their promise, but nevertheless, time has proven that the style has remained current, and the darker the times, the greater the craving for dark tunes, and this is where Pink Turns Blue really prove to be as contemporary and vital as ever.

Their eleventh album was written, recorded, mixed, and mastered during lockdown in their Berlin studio, and the first thing that strikes about Tainted is just how bleak it is. It’s achingly majestic, it’s magnificent, and possesses some wonderful hooks and choruses, but there’s an all-pervading atmosphere of sadness, of melancholy that’s draped over every beat and radiates from every note. Glimmers of positivity are dampened by an air of resignation, optimism doused with defeat. The next thing that soon becomes apparent is just how consistent the album is. It’s not only all killer, but had a remarkable cohesion. It’s true that that for cohesion you might interpret sameness, and they do operate with a fairly limited sonic palette. One suspect this is at least in part the result of the material being the product of three guys in a studio without any external input or interference.

But working within such limitations places the focus on the songwriting, on the tunes, on the delivery, instead of throwing in all sorts of fancy stuff.

The guitar to opener ‘Not Even Trying’ evokes the into to ‘Severina’ by ‘The Mission’, and it’s got that same solid four-four strike on every beat bassline that Craig Adams made his signature back in the early days of The Sisters of Mercy, and which has become something of a defining feature for so many gothy post-punk bands, and it makes the song an instant grab. ‘I’m not even trying’, Jowger admits blankly, as if admitting defeat from the outset, and setting the pessimistic tone that echoes through single cut ‘There Must Be So Much More’. It’s a song of yearning, of questing, and of determinism, and a song Editors would have likely killed to have penned for one of their first two albums.

This isn’t an album of depression, but the sound of downward-facing defeat, of staring at the ground and wondering where it all went wrong. ‘Never Give Up’ encapsulates the conflict, the inner turmoil of staring emptiness and defeat straight in the face and realising there are only two choices. But to never give up is not a positive thing, merely the stubbornness that comes from not knowing what else to do.

The bass and guitar are melded together in a tunnel of chorus and reverb, and tied to a relentless drum track, and it’s gripping and compelling. ‘Why Not Save the World’ has heavy echoes of mid-80s Depeche Mode and would sit comfortably on a She Wants Revenge album, while ‘I’m Gonna Hold You’ comes on like New Order as covered by A Place to Bury Strangers, with a nagging bass and brittle guitar that grips hard.

Just as Robert Smith can make a skippy pop song sound tear-jerkingly sad, so when Jowger sings of the joys of ‘a new day’, it’s with a wistful melancholy that aches deep and you feel something tug in your chest as you swallow it down, that inexplicable sadness. ‘Listen to the bumble bee’ he sings on ‘Summertime’, and it’s carried a way on a chiming jangle of guitars that are so wistful, while the tone is of deep nostalgia. A perfect sunny day can have its joy marred by the realisation that it isn’t quite as perfect as sunny days of a time gone by, happy, carefree times that will forever be trapped in the memory as magical, but now faded and never to be recreated.

The song structures are comparatively simple and straightforward, and built around repetitive chord sequences and guitar motifs, and there’s nothing fancy about any of the playing – which is absolutely key to the success.

Any fan of Interpol or Editors would do well to explore Tainted – but then again, so would any fan of not only post-punk, but anyone with ears and with a heart and soul. It’s a masterful work in music of the mood. The mood is low, the mood is sad, and this is an album of real depth that speaks and resonates beyond the immediate.

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Ventil Records – V026 – 4th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Ultimately, it’s apparent now that social media changed everything. But one thing specific was the relationship between artist and audience. Historically, the distance between the two was clear and also integral. The last, ten to fifteen years hasn’t only seen that separation eroded, but a certain expectation that the artist should engage directly with the audience via online platforms, be it social media or a blog maintained as a part of their website. As a marketing tool, it makes sense, but it’s hard not to feel that something has been lost along the way. Is it right that the artist should be made accessible, or that there should be an expectation of there being some kind of quite direct interaction? It’s not even necessarily about maintaining a persona or a degree of enigma: many artists are introverts by nature, and don’t create art to stand in the limelight in front of it. Many artists create to escape something, or simply to expel or have an outlet for that which they cannot convey by any other means.

I’m often not particularly communicative myself. I don’t want to talk about it, whatever it is – assuming I even know. I simply want to write or make ‘music’. But I did, recently post on Facebook about how I often berate myself for not being as productive as I would like to be. People were largely sympathetic, but few, it would seem, truly ‘got it.’

One artist who truly does understand that eternal restlessness is polyartist Maja Osojnik, and her quest for creativity is unstinting. Having been involved in several visual exhibitions, a live stream, and various compositions in recent months, she’s also recorded an album with collaborator Matija Schellander to deliver the debut Rdeča Raketa (Red Rocket) album.

This album is both very ‘now’ and also very much an expiration of the human condition, specifically its failings and how communication is key, but very much prone to failure.

As the liner notes outline, ‘…and cannot reach the silence deals with the current world of misunderstandings, communicating past each other, willingly and unwillingly overlooking or ignoring each other’s meanings via various fast-paced forms and platforms of communication; and, with that, the tightening of incompatible parallel “realities.” It explores forms of violence; physical and verbal, external and self-inflicted. It explores forms of power; the dangerous thin line between giving power to and giving power over oneself, and forms of subjugation and addiction on both societal and, more significantly, on interpersonal levels. “… Look at us! Beasts, bottomless pits, never to be full! To be fulfilled. Glued onto each other in sweat, a never-ending pain and evenly spread, at all times…”

They go on to ask, ‘In those dark, dystopian lyrics, full of questions, such as “What is being said and what stays unspoken? Who does it refer to? Who is protecting whom? For what reasons? Who is being addressed or what needs to be considered?” the wish, the need and the struggle for self-empowerment, honesty, love and reconciliation is exposed or, at the very least, nourished.’

All of this resonates, and deeply. Only yesterday, I had been considering how depth of conversation seems to have evaporated. People have neither the time more the attention. Conversations were often cut short or curtailed or otherwise hurried back in the days of the office, but that was nothing compared to thee standard one- or two-line text exchanges, comments shared by Skype or Teams. We – collectively – don’t really ‘talk’ anymore. We’re paranoid, time-deprived, stressed. We’re also so polarised and entrenched in our oppositional viewpoints that there is no debate, only division. And with social media, 24/7 scrolling news and infinite notifications from apps, there is no respite – ever. There is no silence, wherever you may seek it.

The three longform compositions on …and cannot reach the silence are heavy and rich with atmosphere. The first, the ten-minute ‘the night is spilling across the room…’ approaches by stealth. A low, slow, ominous drone, intercut with aberrant thuds and squelches. An artisanal, wordless voice drifts in, and it’s haunting, ghostly, otherworldly. What does it mean? The lyrics, sung in a detached tone, are stark, bleak: ‘You were unspoken / She was born already broken….’ Eventually, the words drift out into a wordless undulating hum and the world slowly disintegrates.

The disintegration continues through the lumbering lurch of counterpart composition ‘…like gasoline’. Its slow, yawning rhythmic intonations evoke the heavy grind of SWANS circa 1986, relentless, booming, droning, and it’s the perfect backdrop to Maja’s semi—spoken vocal delivery. She’s robotic, inhuman, empty, even when articulating human emotions – ‘I want to you so bad, I want you so bad,’ she repeats at one point. But is it want, or is it need? Something less about choice or desire, and more about emotional survival? ‘I am tired’ she repeats, over and over, in tones ranging from weary to frustrated, defeated to angry, and you feel it – you know it. The articulation is comparable to one of Bruin Gysin’s permutational poems: only, instead if rearranging the words, the emphasis changes in order to find different meanings of the same words. This one resonates. The tiredness saps your life and saps your soul, and you feel the differences between ‘I’m tired, please leave me be,’ and ‘I’M TIRED! FUCK OFF AND LEAVE ME ALONE!’

The third and final composition, ‘waiting it out’, is fifteen and a half minutes of ominousness. The vocals are all but submerged, a babble beneath the undulating drone and trilling. Synths crank up and head for take-off as they stray into the heavily phased world of early industrial and power electronics, a wheezing wall of wailing synths puffing and groaning and bleeping and whirring and all converging in a seething sonic mound. Towards the end, it ventures skywards in a succession of laser-guided rockets arcing into the sky.

…and cannot reach the silence is an album with an immense range, and an understated intensity – and a magnificent artistic achievement.

AA

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Khatacomb – 7th July 2021

Christopheer Nosnibor

Some artists clearly thrive on collaboration, throwing themselves fully into the possibilities and potentials ideas from other quarters offer. Ukrainian experimentalist Kojoohar, aka Andrii Kozhukhar, is clearly one such artist, with the self-explanatory Split– a collaboration with fellow Ukrainian Acedia and New Zealander Acclimate – is his second release of the year so far.

Split is something of a celebration of darkness, and a coming together of artists with fundamentally divergent styles, and its finding a home on Ukrainian label / webzine Khatacomb is no coincidence, given its commitment to ‘covering various manifestations of Ukrainian post-industrial music, from dark folk to experimental electronics, and art in general’. It’s an immense departure from anything Kojoohar has done before, with his 2019 and 2021 collaborations with ködzid goo exploring the realms of industrial and avant-garde hip-hop.

The way Split is split is interesting in itself, with four solo Acedia pieces, one Acedia and Kojoohar composition, and a brace from Kojoohar and Acclimate, making it very much an album of three segments – and as such, split.

In context, the vocal element of Acedia’s contributions come as something of a surprise: against minimal, stark electronic backing, with snaking percussion and strong snare sounds that cut through, Acedia delivers a vocal that’s glacial yet warm in its human vulnerability. Ugh, comparisons feels like lazy journalism, but serve their purpose: Depeche Mode, Ladytron, and New Order’s Movement coalesce in the tone and style on these chilly tunes.

‘You’re already dead’ she intimates in a blank monotone on the cold as ice ‘Cocoon’, and the insularity closes in as each song progresses: ‘Slaughterous Game’ is as dark and dangerous as it gets, so cold that it strikes chill to the very marrow. It’s bleak but bold, and the four Acedia cuts feel like an EP in their own right.

I can’t help but feel that this release would work best in physical format, either as n album with the Acedia tracks on one side and the rest on the other, or as a pair of 12” to give each segment clear separation.

Acedia with Kojoohar conjure some darkly dreamy drone with ‘Forget my Name’, with its rolling, woozy bass and whipcracking snare that slashes away at a slow pace, and dark gets darker with ‘Enwomb’, the first of the pieces jointly forged by Kojoohar and Acclimate. It’s nearly ten minutes of ambient drone that billows and rumbles while treble bubbles and bounces eddy this way and that amidst the grumbling mid-range fog. Sparks fly and stutter incidentally but without effect, and the horizon grows broader in the face of this vast vista despite the grumbling discomfiture and whispering in tongues. It’s unsettling, a squirming, churning, twisting and turning with no breaks in which to find a position that’s comfortable. The same is true of the final track, the second Kojoohar and Acclimate cut, and it’s a cut that cuts deep: serrated edges burr and saw away, and tribal percussion thuds away insistently against subdued but wince-inducing trails of feedback.

None of this is comfortable; none of this is easy. But it’s a contrasting set that strains the edges of convention to create something quite, quite different.

AA

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29th January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

My wife detests The Twilight Sad. I love The Twilight Sad, and am prone to crying at their gigs. I’ve also been called a cunt online for suggesting the intensity of their shows may be akin to witnessing Joy Division at their peak (a suggestion I still stand by: James Graham is capable of conveying a rare emotional intensity in his performances that’s compelling, and at times, borders on the disturbing). They’re a band that are divisive beyond Marmite, but elicit a level of devotion from their fans that’s truly fervent.

When it comes to covering a band that inspire such passion, it’s a big, big challenge, and a huge risk – one of those moves that could be absolute fucking suicide, or inspire career-defining awe.

The last time I wrote about National Service, a four-piece band consisting of Fintan Campbell (vocals/guitar), Daniel Hipkin (bass/vocals), Iain Kelly (guitar/vocals) and Matthew Alston (drums) back in November on the release of ‘Caving’, I actually compared them to The Twilight Sad, so this feels like a much a test of my skills as theirs – and it’s perhaps worth noting that this is the last in a series of cover releases from Fierce Panda, which has also featured Moon Panda, Desperate Journalist, and China |Bears.

Now, you should never mess with perfection, but with their glacial, stripped-back, minimalist take on the song, National Service really capture the wintery melancholy of the original. The dark beauty of the lyrics, which blend sadness with a certain distanced, twisted psychopathy is conveyed with a sincerity that transcends the ethereal atmosphere.

The absence of the soaring finale may come as something of an anticlimax, but this is a well-conceived and magnificently-executed cover, and the distinctive, even slightly unusual vocals delivery, with a certain twang on the higher notes, are well-suited to the song, stamping a unique marker on it while accentuating the multifaceted layers embedded within the song’s dark spirit.

AA

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Cae Gwyn Records – 22nd January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s dark. It’s winter. We’re in lockdown – again / still. Whatever cheer Christmas and the prospect of new year brought – and let’s face it more than cheer, it was a flicker of false hope, or worse still, a diminutive moment of delusional hope – has faded with the return to work (from home) and (home) schooling and the prospect of socialising, pubs, and gigs but a snuffed candle for the foreseeable, meaning that the jaunty Christmas tunes that assailed us last month can well and truly delete themselves while we get back to reality.

‘Doppelgänger’, the debut single from IsoPHeX, aka 19-year-old Cian Owen from Anglesey, it pitched as ‘brooding electronica of the highest order’, and it fits the bill and no mistake.

If you’re expecting – or wanting – more dark ambient, you’ll likely be disappointed, although ‘Doppelgänger’ brings atmosphere in spades, and one that’s cold and dark.

It may only be three minutes an eighteen seconds in duration, but ‘Doppelgänger’ melds an array of styles, incorporating hip-hop and sparse electro to create something that’s simultaneously bleak and dynamic, as chilly synths wrapped like mist around a hectic beat: uptempo hip-hop or downtempo drum ‘n’ bass? Who cares? Despite the urgent pace of the stammering rhythm, ‘Doppelgänger’ is sparse, minimal, and edgy, a twitchy trip through dark alleyways at night, tense and paranoid. Is there something there? Or is it all in your head? Keep one eye over your shoulder. Keep moving. Trust no-one. Apart from me, of course, when I tell you this is a killer tune.

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2LP Editions Mego – Digital release date: 4th December 2020 / Physical release date: early February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Initially – and indeed, oftentimes – On Feather and Wire sounds very like so many slightly noodly minimal electro albums, incorporating elements of pop and krautrock to forge some neat synthy moments, fairly light and accessible and propelled by soft but insistent beats and bubbling bass grooves, and it’s pleasant enough, with the darker overtones providing depth and detail. Rivet’s reverence and enthusiasm for the technology is apparent, as is his appreciation for the likes of both Chris and Cosey and Kraftwerk. The invited comparisons to COH are warranted, and if the synthy explorations of the 70s and into the early 80s with the emerging industrial scene is your bag, then the appeal here is clear: there’s plenty to like, but then again, not a lot to distinguish Rivet from myriad other artists of the era or his myriad peers operating in the same field, which seems to be increasingly populous.

‘Glietende Liebe’ has hints of DAF, but then equally of Cabaret Voltaire, and even Depeche Mode with its buoyant repetitive motif. Vocals are limited just the occasional phrase, more shouted the sung, and it seems Rivet – that’s Mika Hallbäck Vuorenpää – is more than happy for the listener to wrestle – or not – with the questions of intention and meaning, as, according to the liner notes, ‘interpretation is flung open as the audience are invited to gauge what on earth is going on here… Are these songs? Are these lyrics? Words melt as beat perpetually takes us deeper into flight. Throughout this trip sharp snares punctuate ghost melodies as vocals rise and vaporise. Shadows hover the walls leaving holographic traces of the duality between fun and fear, the unexpected drifts diagonally across the audio plane teasing and taunting the listener’.

‘Keloid’ is an out-and-out minimal dance tune, and ‘Mag Mich’ is pretty much straight-up EBM, and all of this is fine and neatly executed by largely unremarkable. ‘Sodden Healer’, on the other hand is stark, clinical, dangerous in its detachment. Fragmented vocals cut across one another against a backdrop of grating analogue bass oscillations.

But ‘Coral Spate’ comes as if from nowhere, a standout and standalone, the absolute distillation of every feature of the album culminating in five minutes of claustrophobically gripping intensity, It’s the sound of anxiety, of agoraphobic panic, in ways that are difficult to pinpoint and even more difficult to express. Whereas the dislocated retrofuturism of ‘Ordine Kadmia’ sounds like so much cyberpunk and so many 80s sci-fi movie soundtracks, and is the kind of composition that’s affecting because there’s a certain sense of the unheimlich about its stark robotic repetitions and whipcrack snare sound, it’s precisely the extreme familiarity of ‘Coral Spate’ that’s so uncomfortable – suffocatingly so. And yet the experience of discovering that physical spasm articulated, given a soundtrack, is perversely comforting. It’s a rare and dichotomous sensation that’s difficult to reconcile – but then, art is at its best when it challenges us. The more it makes us feel, however much it hurts, it’s fulfilling that function of taking us beyond the limited boundaries of whatever comfort zones we may have and challenging us to confront those innermost fears by mirroring them back at us.

For this alone, this track alone, I wholeheartedly recommend this album, but maybe should forewarn those of a weaker disposition that it isn’t all breezy grooves.

AA

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