Posts Tagged ‘Country’

Christopher Nosnibor

Steve Kendra has probably received as many words praising his work as anyone to have been covered here at Aural Aggravation, but the chances are, it’s gone unnoticed, since he’s rarely, if ever mentioned directly or by name. As the rhythm guitarist in York’s premier purveyors of psychedelic drone, Soma Crew, his contribution is something I’ve long admired. Like drummer Nick Clambake, Kendra’s brilliance lies in his humbleness, and his appreciation that the sum is always greater than the parts. A great rhythm section sticks to rhythm and keeps it together. Sounds simple, but it’s much harder in reality. It requires great concentration for a start. And it takes humility too not want to step into the spotlight in one way or another. But this is precisely why he’s the perfect player for Soma Crew, content to keep his head down, face obscured by the peak of his cap, and bludgeon away at two or three chords for six or seven minutes.

Just as he’s the quiet one of the band – not that they’re really big talkers most of the time – he’s quietly been working on his own material as Kendroid. It’s essentially a solo vehicle, but with input from as handful of people well known in York music circles, not least of all instrumental and production assistance from Dave Keegan, and to date he’s recorded and released two full-length albums, The Last Love Song on Earth (2019) and Poetry Love & Romance (2021) – so while these aren’t- hot-off-the-press new releases, it’s never too late to catch up. In fact, the whole promo build-up of a clutch of singles and videos in the run-up to an album’s release and then the explosion of reviews in the weeks and months around it, I get, but it does create a false sense of there being a certain window for new releases. The reality is that albums have a slow diffusion, and more often than not, people discover albums and artists months, years, even decades, after their emergence.

Kendra’s route to being a musician has been far from conventional: the man didn’t even pick up a guitar till he turned 40, and is by no means a muso. I have a lot of respect for that, and have found that oftentimes, technical education is a limiter to creativity. Steve can’t read tab and doesn’t know music theory – and consequently, isn’t hampered by conventions.

The chronology of the material is chewy: most of the songs on the second album were written before those on the first, and the second album is more of a lockdown exercise to document/ purge the journey that preceded The Last Love Song.

The Last Love Song on Earth presents a pretty eclectic set, spanning low-key blues and reminiscent of Mark Wynn before he went punky/shouty and went off to support Sleaford Mods (Married to the Rain’), to Soma Crew-esque space rock workouts that toss in dashes of Stereolab and Pulp (‘Mexican Heart’), and songs that incorporate elements of both, along with an experimental twist, with the swampy ‘Incel’ and brooding grind of ‘Deam Lover’ that has hints of Suicide in the mix contributing to the diversity that draws in The Doors to Mark Lanegan.

Poetry Love & Romance is quite a different animal, and while recorded in lockdown, it’s not – unusually – a lockdown album, packed with the anxieties of forced captivity or separation. But it is, in another way, a definitive lockdown album, in that its recording is one whereby the sound and production is determined by limitations, being largely acoustic – although Dave Keegan again features in a musical capacity, as well as engineering, mixing, and mastering.

We’re straight in with an easy country swing, with acoustic guitar and simple drum machine for the title track, and it sets the style for the album as a whole, which is mellow, sparse laid back, and pretty country. These are songs that paint pictures, sketches of scenes, some faded and tinged with the distance of time and reflection, and it’s quite touching at times.

Poetry Love & Romance does feel like something of a stopgap, but who wasn’t waiting for life to restart in some way the last couple odd years?

It’ll be interesting to see what Steve does next, but what he’s done thus far is interesting, and a clear step away from his guitaring day-job, and a such, it’s a bold move that’s yielded some great results.

Christopher Nosnibor

This is by no means the first time I’ll have mentioned that sometimes, the best gigs are the ones you have to drag yourself to. The dragging here is no reflection on the bands, so much as the fact that when work and life are sapping your soul and you’re not feeling like doing anything ‘people’ orientated, the prospect of venturing out to be among people on a Tuesday night is not one that fires a burst of enthusiasm. You want to stay home. You want to hibernate. But the combination of beer and live music is so often the best therapy – and this proved to be one of those nights.

I have long lost count of the number of times I’ve seen or otherwise written about both Soma Crew and Percy, and while they both fit the bracket of ‘local’ bands, they’re both bands who bring great joy to see, and no-one dismisses London bands who only play a circuit of half a dozen small venues in London as ‘local’, do they? And you can’t watch ‘local’ bands in London with a decent hand-pulled pint in a proper glass for £4 a pint, either.

All three bands are playing on the floor in front of the stage, and The New Solar Drones have a lot of instruments spilling out, including a maraca, triangle, and timpani. It’s quite a sight to behold on entering, and the additional percussion goes a long way to giving the band a distinctive sound. Mellow country flavoured indie branches out in all kinds of directions. The rolling, thunderous drums lend a real sense of drama to the waves of noodling synths. The guitar workout on a song about Hollywood gets a bit Hotel California, but it’s well executed. The final track marks a shift from laid-back easy-going Americana into some kind of post-rock progressive folk that’s rather darker and lasts about ten minutes, complete with clarinet solo. They’ve got some rough edges to iron out, but the songs are solid and it’s an impressive debut.

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The New Solar Drones

With a new album around the corner, this is Percy’s first gig in seven months. Three quarters of the band are crowded to one side of the stage, while singer/guitarist Colin is on the other. Either it’s because he’s a grumpy sod, or perhaps just because his guitar amp is so bloody loud. ‘Going off on One’ kicks off the set energetically and sets the pace for a career-spanning selection that focuses on the more uptempo aspects of their catalogue. Bassist Andy’s post-lockdown look is J Mascis, but he charges around cranking out low end beef, and it’s the rhythm section that dominates, while Paula’s keyboards bring some melody and definition in contrast to the scratchy guitar sound.

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Percy

“Fray Bentos pie! With gravy!” The slower, synthier ‘Alice’ sounds more like Joy Division than their usual jagged post­punk grind and graft, but while most of the lyrics are indecipherable, the pie and gravy seem to be the focus. They really attack the snarling ‘Will of the People’, and its relevence seems to grow by the day. Colin comes on like Mark E Smith at his most vitriolic… and there, I failed in my attempt to review Percy without recourse The Fall. Seems it just can’t be done. They close with a brand new song, ‘Chunks’, about ‘chunks in gravy!’ Yep, definitely a theme, and if Percy are something of a meat and potatoes band, it’s in the way The Wedding Present are hardy perennials and brimming with northern grit.

A resonant throb gradually leaks from the PA, and from it emerges Soma Crew’s quintessential motorik pumping. Standing near the front, I reflect on the fact I could use a wide angle lens to get all of them in. They have a lot of guitars. The front man from The New Solar Drones is on keys and lap steel and, later guitar, and the lap steel accentuates the band’s overall drone and gives something of a Doorsy vibe.

They’re on serious form tonight, sounding solid and energetic. Shifting up to three guitars, they hit a swinging rock ‘n’ roll blues boogie groove.

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Soma Crew

While I find myself drifting on this tripped-out repetition, I consider the fact that less is more. Chords, that is, not instruments. Four guitars (if you count the bass) playing three chords in an endless cycle is better than two guitars, which in turn is better than one. The songs and structures are simple: the effect is all in the layering up and the reverb. Listening to bands that are overtly about the technical proficiency is often pretty dull. Passion and mood count for so much more. Volume helps, and with a brutal backline and sympathetic sound man, they hit that sweet spot where it hurts just a bit even with earplugs. Simon’s slightly atonal droning vocals are soporific, and everything just melts into an all-engulfing wash of sound. ‘Mirage’ kicks with volume and solid repetitive groove, while ‘Say You Believe’ is straight up early Ride/Chapterhouse, before ‘Propaganda Now’ is a blistering drive through a wall of Jesus and Mary Chain inspired feedback that brings the set to a shimmering, monster climax.

I stumble out, my ears buzzing, elated. Because everything came together to surpass expectations to make for an outstanding night.

18th March 2022

James Wells

It’s late March, and after an unseasonably warm and sunny few days, we’re back to single figures and sleet and snow forecast for Scotland the north of England. It’s enough to make you want to hibernate, or maybe escape to somewhere else – somewhere open, free. A lot of people felt this yearning over the last couple of years, and it’s that which Sweet Giant have harnessed for the first single from their forthcoming four-tracker, to conjure a breezy, summery vibe.

The twangy guitar bounces along with a laid-back groove that’s pure 70s Americana, and the vocal harmonies are both sweet and giant, it’s chilled and breezy and easy on the ear in a way that’s transporative, but define exactly how and why and it drifts away on a sunbeam. Best to just go with the flow.

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Fire Records – 22nd October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

“What does ‘regret’ mean?” “Well, son, a funny thing about regret is that better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t done.” I have no shortage of regrets, but one is that I saw Come and thought ‘meh’. It was 1993: they were supporting Dinosaur Jr, who’s just released Where You Been?, along with Bettie Serveert in Nottingham. I’d read reviews of, but was still yet to hear Eleven: Eleven at the time. They’d been all over the press with that debut album. And I just didn’t get gripped. Maybe it was because, at seventeen, I was just so revved for the headliners I wasn’t in a place to fully appreciate the supports.

I had no way of knowing that their second album would become one of my absolute favourites. Again, having picked up Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I wasn’t immediately enamoured. I guess it took me awhile to appreciate the album’s subtlety and emotional depth – and it has so much depth – but investing in listening properly and not holding out for the big riffery of Nirvana or Dinosaur Jr or the general sound of the class of ’93-’94 unlocks Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Some of it’s about maturity, some of it’s about patience – I didn’t really dig The God Machine on the first few spins of Scenes from the Second Storey.

It was a long album, for a start. Only two of the songs are under four minutes long, and half are five or more. The structures aren’t obvious, there’s not a lot that’s straight verse / chorus / verse. It was also a bit slow, and quite country / blues. It really wasn’t the sound of the grunge zeitgeist of 1994. But one day, somehow, something clicket. Quite possibly it was by absently half-listening to it, that moment arrived in ‘String’. I have this thing, whereby a fleeting moment of a song -m a change of key, chord, a single sound, or something else otherwise minor, extraneous, will absolutely make it for me. By which I mean, I am completely obsessive about this. When a moment strikes me as ‘pivotal’ I simply have to hear it, over and over, and that will be a reason to play an entire song – on repeat. That first scrape of fingers on strings at the start of ‘My Black Ass’ on Shellac at Action Park? Yeah, that’s one such moment. That moment at 3:05 on ‘String’ in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is another. It just hits an instant of musical perfection, and it’s absolute bliss.

The song is a standout – on the CD, it’s positioned after the slow, blooding ‘Let’s Get Lost’ and picks the tempo up. The fact it arrives after a false ending or sorts and a change in direction is key, and the guitar interplay is sublime… The trouble is, explaining it in words simply doesn’t convey the impact, the way it resonates. But there it is. And now, here it is again, remastered. And it sounds great, all over again, as well as giving reason to revisit what is a remarkable and courageous album, one that represents a band committed to making the music they want to make instead of succumbing to trends or record company or peer pressure. And revisiting it only further highlights the dynamics, the tempo changes and unexpected shifts, and the way those sonic twists can instantly alter the mood, and the way the band imbue every bar with emotion. It’s so, so powerful, and all the more so for the fact it isn’t immediate. In fact, all of the things that made it ‘difficult’, that I struggled with at first, are the reasons I love it now and are the reasons it’s such a remarkable and accomplished album, and one that proved without doubt that volume is not the sole driver of intensity. Thalia Zedek’s vocal with its rich patina has a deep rasp, and carries a greater emotional than tonal range, and it’s perfectly suited to the twisting, restlessness of the songs: these are songs to lose yourself in.

The remastering is nicely done – nothing too intrusive, it just feels that bit crisper, somehow, the details clearer, and that’s nice.

The bonus disc, Wrong Sides contains an entire album’s worth of additional material, and with the exception of the demo version of ‘German Song’ (with some magnificent spiralling guitar work and if anything, this slightly less polished take, with the notable addition of clarinet and piano packs only more aching beauty), it’s not a gathering of alternative takes, radio sessions, and rehearsals, but a truly worthy assembly of contemporaneous material – B—sides, stray compilation tracks, and unreleased material, and it’s fair to say that it’s all killer.

‘Angelhead’ – a ‘String’ 12” B-side was recorded on a stop-off on tour, and is one of the most directly riff-centric grungers of the band’s career. ‘Cimarron’ is up there with the best of Come, with some crunchy guitars augmented by sweeping violin. Their cover of Swell Maps’ ‘Loin of the Surf’ is a groove-led math-rock instrumental workout, while ‘Submerge’ is chunky, crunky, dense, lumbering. This is the version that actually predates the one that appears on Eleven: Eleven, and instead came out on the German Sub Pop 12” and CD of the menacing ‘Car’ (also featured here with its warping guitars alongside B-side ‘Last Mistake’. But what matters most is that every single bonus cut here would have been worthy of the album.

With the additions as strong as the album, what the expanded version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell reveals is an insight into a great – if massively underrated – band at their absolute peak.

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Vinyl Eddie Records – VINED006 & VINED007 – 9th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Opposites and opposition – and the way in which those contrasts are core to our understanding of the world and our place in it – have been key points of exploration in art for centuries. The concept of either / or, light / dark, heaven / hell is the foundation of Judaeo-Christian religions and those polarities became the core tropes of Elizabethan poetry, at the dawn of modern literature. Sir Thomas Wyatt’s ‘I Find No Peace’ cements these tropes that have come to define both internal conflict, the turmoil of love, and the fundamental dichotomies of the human condition.

And yet it’s Earth’s Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light, released in two parts that comes to mind when presented with Soma Crew’s new offering, a twin vinyl release capturing two days’ intensive recording to collectively forge one monumental document of the band’s creative work since the release off 2019’s F for Fake in 2019.

I know, I know I always say the same when writing of Soma Crew – which I have done often since they formed under the guide of Muttley Crew back in 2013 – that they get better with every release, with every show. But that’s the simple fact of the matter. They tend not to deviate far from their psychedelic drone style that’s most reminiscent of Black Angels, but that isn’t to say they don’t push their limits in the execution. But most importantly, they know how to batter away at a riff for an age and whip up a psychedelic haze.

Out Of Darkness / Into Light is a slow-burner, and marks something of a shift, and on first listen, I was a shade concerned by the lack of motoric beats and shimmering walls of distortion and delay rippling over cascading riffs. But this is the new direction: the beats are still motoric, but simply more minimal and subdued, and the emphasis has shifted toward a more understated and minimalist sound.

The first track, ‘Phantom’ starts off simple, plugging away at a four-chord riff with a hint of swagger that’s almost Primal Scream. The guitar sound is clean, shimmering, and Si Micklethwaite’s vocal is pretty low in the mix, meaning everything blends together gently. There are heavy hints of early Fall about the six-and-a-half-minute ‘You’re So Cool’ – the easy-tripping clean guitar with its naggingly repetitious riff is straight off Live at the Witch Trials or Dragnet. It’s simple, it’s immediate, and the fact it was recorded on the spot only accentuate these qualities.

Soma Crew don’t do short songs: of the twelve here, only two are under five minutes, with the majority clocking in around the six-minute mark. There’s plenty of throbbing bass runs and repetitions and spacey slide guitar going on here, and these qualities are integral to the Soma sound. They’re not a ‘chorus’ band, but a band who create a hypnotic atmosphere through their endlessly cyclical riffs and the plod of the percussion – by no means a criticism here, as drummer Nick understands that less is more – using a setup consisting solely of snare and floor tom for the duration. This minimal ‘Bobby Gillespie’ setup works well, meaning the instruments occupy the space – or don’t – instead of the conventional sound whereby crashing cymbals fill the sound the a load of top-end mess that so often sounds crap.

‘There’s a Fire’ steps up the urgency eight songs in, but instead of going all guns blazing with distortion and a blast of cymbals and snares, Soma Crew hold steady. The slow down again for the forlorn country meandering of ‘Broken Matches’ and counterpart ‘Machines’ with some nice lap steel work, and there’s no question that Out Of Darkness / Into Light is a more ponderous, reflective set of songs, and rather than being a set of two distinct halves, it’s very much a coherent and unified work.

If anything about Out Of Darkness / Into Light intimates production values that eschew slickness and polish, that’s one of its real selling points: recorded live over two days in January 2020, this is a band at work, and it’s an album that captures what they actually sound like, rather than a studio-based tweaked and fiddled fantasy version of what they might sound like if they were another band entirely. Hearing them stripped back and sparse, they sound musically confident even while Micklethwaite’s plaintive vocal navigates seams of self-doubt and introspection through the lyrics, and this album shows that plugging away at simple, cyclical chord structures is as effective and hypnotic without the deluge of effects as with.

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The Secret Warehouse of Sound Recordings – 29th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The thing that fades with the morning is the night, the hours of darkness in which so many of us find ourselves, if not sleeping, in contemplation or otherwise tormented with thoughts, while others find the memories of the night before receding with the sunrise. And what is so often vivid in those dark hours becomes hazy, intangible, and moved further out of reach with every hour that passes. And it’s that sense of loss, of the passing, of an absence that permeates ‘Fading with the Morning’ with a palpable ache.

Over the course of five finely-crafted minutes, The Beatflux build from a delicate, twinkling guitar intro that’s almost post-rock in its persuasion, into a colossal country-tinged grunger and Enrico Minelli’s gritty vocal has a grainy timbre that’s thick with emotion and a tone that says ‘drunk it, smoked it, lived it’.

Musing on how the ‘Sunlight cuts our eyes, changing hue’ may not be a startlingly poetic or vivid image, but it’s all in the delivery as the band conjure something far more evocative in the moment than on paper. ‘Fading With The Morning’ very much harks back to the sound of Alice in Chains, with a keen sense of melody and a layered subtlety in the arrangement that means it gains momentum as it progresses to truly anthemic scale.

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Bearsuit Records – 25th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Home of all things odd from Edinburgh and Japan, Bearsuit Records, has a new signing, in the form of Edinburgh-based singer/songwriter Eamon the Destroyer. Eamon also records as Annie & The Station Orchestra, and is one half of Edinburgh purveyors of noise Ageing Children, both of whom have received mentions here. If his name has the hallmarks of a mythical war deity or some evil comic book character, his music is altogether less megalomaniacally threatening. The press blub describes it as ‘lo-fi miserablism with a side order of noise / mumbling & whispering – or something’ – and on hearing these two tracks, which serve as a lead-in to Eamon’s debut album, A Small Blue Car – this vagueness makes perfect sense. And, of course, like most Bearsuit releases, it’s about the only thing that does.

It’s rather welcome to see a release that resembles a conventional A-side / B-side single release in 2021, and what’s noteworthy about this one is that the two tracks are actually quite similar, sonically and stylistically, leaving no confusion as to what the Destroyer’s sound is.

Against a minimalist backdrop of quite country guitars, the Destroyer croaks flatly about, well, what, I’m not entirely sure – every line seems to turn on a contradiction or some bathetic construction, like ‘Nobody knows it / well nobody ought to’. Instrumentally, it’s sparse and scratchy, and the vocals sound like they’re coming from a CB radio that’s only just tuned to the edge of the channel. But in the mix there’s a scrape and chatter of extraneous background noise and some cronky feedback, and around the mid-point of ‘My Drive’ it takes a massive left turn into altogether louder territory.

The whole vibe is downbeat and melancholy, and driving emerges as a theme in ‘Silver Shadow’, alongside some vague but wistful images that drift around in a wash of sad, Cure-esque synth and a crashing tide of distortion. It’s more mood-affecting than you would likely expect, and while very much appreciating the unusual mix, it left me feeling downcast and slightly sad, which is a clear indication that either I’m heading for a mood slump, or there’s more craftsmanship to Eamon’s songs than the surface suggests.

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19th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Elba’, the second single cut from their forthcoming second album, Small Worlds, finds alternative / post-rock act Mount Forel conjuring a shimmering sonic tapestry of atmospheric instrumentation. From a hazy mirage of shifting sounds emerges a slow-burning laconic tune that twists desert rock with country and a progressive twist.

For reasons I can’t quite pin down, I find myself thinking of The Eagles, and ‘Horse with No Name’ by America, even though it really doesn’t sound like either. What it does have, though, is a certain laid-back, vintage Americana feel that’s kinda nice. Maybe I’m getting old, maybe I’m tired, maybe I’m stressed, maybe it’s just nostalgia, but nice is alright.

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Danny Kiranos, otherwise known by his musical alter ego Amigo The Devil, will release his highly anticipated second full length album, ‘Born Against’, on 16th April (Liars Club/Regime Music Group). A song from it entitled ‘Quiet As A Rat’ is available from today and is the second single taken from the record.
‘Quiet As A Rat’ is comprised of three vignettes that feature characters hiding their inner turmoil in order to maintain a strong outer façade. The video for the song is packed full of gallows humour, in fact literally so, with Kiranos as the narrator of its interlinked tales with themes modelled after both fables and biblical elements. Subjected to what appear to be Jodorowsky-esque tongue in cheek torture and execution attempts, they ultimately represent questions of faith and the doubt of it.

As with many of ATD’s songs, everything serves as a metaphor for something larger that resides within. “Faith without doubt seems unhealthy,” states Kiranos. “It’s an extreme that leaves no room for growth and honest learning, only the mindless repetition of old and sometimes hateful traditions. This song explores the bridge between faith and doubt, nurture and abandon…the fine line between belief and control. It plays to the true value of our spirit and whether we have a purpose to find or if we are the purpose and are simply here to be used and forgotten. You know…real fun stuff.”

Watch the video here:

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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.

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