Posts Tagged ‘diverse’

Come Play With Me – 11th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

These are difficult times, fraught with division – not just the well-established social and economic divides, but with infinite fragmentation and fallout over issues and identities. It seems unfathomable that there should be any need for debate when it comes to racism and sexism, and yet here we are in 2021 and still these topics are divisive, and while Pride events have done much to raise awareness, gender issues are not only grounds of immense discrimination, but also division, and, in some quarters, infighting. It’s difficult, and for many, incredibly painful.

Over the five and a bit years since its inception, Leeds label Come Play with Me has done a lot of work to represent the under-represented, primarily in giving a platform to local artists. Its latest compilation is billed as ‘a callout to support women, marginalised genders and LGBTQ+ artists based in Leeds and further afield around the north of England’, and as such has a specific and explicit agenda, and above all, serves to provide a platform and to send a message of unity and solidarity.

The blurb informs us that ‘The album features a collection of 12 brand new diverse tracks from an exceptionally talented group of artists including emerging shoegaze/dreampop sensation Bored At My Grandma’s House, renowned composer and Carnatic vocalist Supriya Nagarajan, art-rock collective Dilettante (led by multi-instrumentalist Francesca Pidgeon), and soul/pop singer-songwriter Tyron Webster.’ And it’s true: Side By Side showcases an eclectic range of artists, which is a solid representation of the diverse, cross-cultural melting pot that is the scene in and around Leeds.

Tryon Webster isn’t the kind of artist you’re likely to see playing in any venues like The Brudenell or Wharf Chambers or Oporto: they may have a local slat, but are more geared towards guitar bands and alternative acts, and Webster’s smooth r’n’b is decidedly more mainstream, as is the smoky would of Dilettante’s soulfully smoochy ‘Single Sleeve’.

Then, in contrast, Bored At My Grandma’s House’s ‘China Doll’ demo is a magnificent sliver of lo-fi indie with some effortless low-key harmonies over a sparse acoustic-guitar-led backing and minimal arrangements.

Long Legged Creatures were the last band I saw perform a proper gig, back on 14th march 2020, and I was impressed by what I referred to as their ‘electro/post-rock/psych hybrid’, and ‘Creatures’ is certainly a drifting, dreamy number – but then again, Witch of the East mine a dreamy post-punk / post-rock seam with ‘Something’s Wrong’. Shauna’s ‘Modes of Thinking’ welds the iciness of The Flying Lizards withy some deep dance groove action that’s half nightclub, half industrial motorik grind.

The chances are, not everyone will love every track on here, and adherents of the live Leeds scene will likely be surprised by just how much non-noisy, soul and jazz-flavoured sounds are on offer here: Day 42 are leagues away from, say, Pulled Apart By Horses, and sound more like Sugababes. But that’s not only ok, it’s the very point of this release. Regardless of musical preferences, it’s impossible to fault the quality of any of the acts showcased here. Moreover, this goes beyond genre and style and musical preference. This is a statement of inclusion. Embrace it.

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NIM – 17th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

As labels go, Iowa-based NIM is pretty new: established only last year during lockdown, it has to date put out just five releases, initially showcasing the work of those directly associated with the label or otherwise close to its contacts – which is so often how DIY labels begin. Artists unable to find an outlet, or otherwise feeling no affinity with any particular label or scene, decide to carve their own niche by setting up for themselves. And before long, they’re not only putting out their own stiff, and stuff by their mates, but have started to build a roster.

It’s all about ethos and ethics: labels who start up because there’s a gap in the market for the music they want to hear and therefore make it themselves are very different from labels who set up with the express purpose of being a label. But NIM clearly have some ambition, as the release of the debut from Health Plan earlier this month indicated: featuring members of Blacklisters, Dead Arms, USA Nails, and The Eurosuite, they’re something of an underground noise supergroup, and the release felt like quite a coup for the label. And then, there’s this…

Again, it’s a million miles from mainstream, but in terms of pulling together some highly respected – and incredibly exciting – cult acts, this is a flagship release, the kind of thing that is almost certain to put the label on the map, in the way that the first couple of Fierce Panda compilations did in the 90s, and thee On The Bone collections some 20-odd years later, showcasing acts as diverse as That Fucking Tank and The Twilight Sad alongside Wild Beasts, Pulled Apart by Horses and Dinosaur Pile-Up. On the one hand a snapshot of the time, but on the other, an incredible document and a testament to ambition.

And so it is that Deprived of Occupation and Pleasure We Feast opens with a cover of Swans’ ‘No Cure for the Lonely’ by HUBBLE, which happens to be the ambient side project of Uniform guitarist Ben Greenberg, and also features a contribution from Rusty Santos, renowned for his work with Animal Collective, among others, and Obviate Parade, aka Paul McArthur, singer from Damn Teeth – not to mention a contribution from the mighty Health Plan.

Alright, so none of them may be household names, but they all carry some considerable cred in those more niche circles. And, alongside an array of obscuritants, they set out the NIM stall nicely, with an array of dark ambience and noisier efforts. This isn’t about establishing a ‘house’ style or otherwise making a specific statement: instead, this is as celebration of diversity, a divergent array of artists united by their lack of conformity.

HUBBLE’s cover is an almost psychedelic folk, semi-acoustic effort, while Rusty Santos wanders through quite mellow if deep trancebient territory, in contrast to the unapologetic noise abrasion of Health Plan’s ‘Food Grief’ lifted from their eponymous debut. If your tastes are narrow, avoid this: this is one for the eclectivists, and the first three tracks alone are enough to shred most brains.

Gareth JS Thomas’ ‘How You Feel’ stands out as a masterclass in thunderous, percussion-driven abrasive noise, and provides a particularly stark contrast to Obviate Parade’s noodlesome lo-fi neoclassical jazz-tinged meanderings and the frenetic post-punk squall of ###’s contribution, which lumbers hard with a Shellac-style riff and changes direction multiple times over the course of its three-and-a-half minutes.

Deprived of Occupation and Pleasure We Feast is challenging, both sonically and in its diversity: the chances are that few will like everything, and many won’t like anything at all. But those who like some will likely find more to like, because it’s a smorgasbord of weird and wonderful, and is a shining example of artistic collectivism, and Deprived of Occupation and Pleasure We Feast shows how NIM is a hub for a disparate array of artists who are doing very different things, but respect and celebrate that diversity.

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9th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The remastered re-reissues of avant-experimentalist oddballs Photographed by Lightning continues apace with the emergence of Dust Bug Cecil (or, to give it its full title, The Rise and Fall of Dust Bug Cecil and the Winking Cats, supposedly taken from an obscure book about a direct to disc recording pioneer, and may in turn be a skewed play on Ziggy Stardust. Of course, everything is skewed in the world of PBL, and if Music From the Empty Quarter wasn’t evidence enough of this, then this should be enough to convince anyone: presented here as a whopping thirty-eight track document (2 CDs worth), Dust Bug Cecil is augmented with the entirety of their other 2002 album, Let Me Eat the Flowers. On the strength of this, it vocalist Syd Howells and co (here represented by Dave Mitchell (vocals, bass, keyboards); Bionio Bill (drums & percussives); Roland Ellis (saxophone); Chris Knipe (mandolin & fiddle), and Rev Porl Stevens contributing vocals to ‘White Master’)) had perhaps ingested more than just pansies prior to these sessions.

As Howells recounts it, ‘following the behemoth like Music From The Empty Quarter we went in search of tunes. Found some too. Glued them together with words and somehow found ourselves making a ‘pop’ album.’ In comparison to its predecessor, Dust Bug Cecil is a pop album in that there are none of the sprawling ten-minute epic headfucks on offer here, with most of the songs – and, indeed, they are songs – clocking in around the three-minute mark. It’s ‘pop’ in the style of the dark pop of post-punk, but its values are ostensibly altogether more punk, and its sound is primitive and murky. It’s pop in the way The Jesus and Mary Chain write breezy, surfy pop tunes and bury them in is a squall of noise that renders them almost indistinct.

There are melodies and choruses bursting out from every corner, but in context of 2002, songs like the album’s opener, ‘Eyes on Stalks’ and ‘Numb Alex’ sound like early 80s new wave demos: driving Joy Division-esque bass dominates a rhythm pinned down by a frenetic drum machine that sounds like it’s struggling to keep up with the throbbing energy, and there are hints of The Cure and B-Movie in the mix here.

The guitars buzz like flanged wasps on the vaguely baggy / shoegazey ‘Lady Lucifer’, prefacing the sound that A Place To Bury Strangers would come to make their signature. Elsewhere, the sound swings from almost straight 60s-tinged indie on ‘Let Me Eat the Flowers’, while ‘The Remains of a Tramp Called Bailey’ sounds like a head-on collision between The Pixies and The Psychedelic Furs, and ‘The Risen’ comes on like early New Order. If it reads like I’m chucking in a list of seemingly random and incongruous artists by way of confused and confusing reference points, it’s because that’s what the listening experience is like. None of the elements of the album are unique by any stretch, but their hybridisation very much is. The 60s garage vibe of ‘Untitled (for Dylan’) and the Fall-like scuzz of ‘David Dickinson Said’ (with its obvious but necessary ‘cheap as chips’ refrain) are well-realised, and suit the lo-fi production values.

Sonically, Dust Bug Cecil is nowhere near as challenging as Music From The Empty Quarter, and it was almost inevitable that they had to do something different, having taken the avant-jazz oddity to its limit. Then again, of course, there’s still the customary weird shit, like the squelchy racket with spoken word of ‘Bob’ and ‘Pablo’, and the doomy industrial synth robotix of ‘Be This Her Memorial’, which mean it’s hardly the most accessible album going and it is quite bewildering just in terms of its stylistic eclecticism.

It’s unquestionably a mixed bag, and not all of the efforts are completely successful or gel quite as hoped, something the band themselves acknowledge with hindsight. But it’s still very much a musical, if not commercial, success, showcasing a band capable of wild diversity in their creativity, as well as a band who’ve spent a career making the music that pleases them over anyone else.

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Front and Follow – F&F064 – 30th October 2020

It’s taken me a while to get around to this, the fifth and final instalment of Front and Follow’s lockdown fundraising compilation series, Isolation & Rejection, as the last couple of months in particular have found many, including myself in a weird lockdown limbo: schools are back, but I’m not back at the office for the day-job, and regular social activity remains more of less off-limits, even here in tier 2 York. So, not really an excuse, so much as an explanation f how work/ life balance hasn’t been entirely conducive to devoting the time deserved by a mammoth release like this, which certainly deserves more than a cursory glance and a few lines lauding the series’ quality to date and its having raised some £2,000 for The Brick in Wigan.

When I say ‘mammoth release’, Volume 5 contains twenty-four tracks, making a total of 115 tracks released across the whole series. And these aren’t all short efforts, and nor are they of a single genre, so taking this in isn’t like a set of two-minute three-chord punk tunes where the options are ‘yeah, no, ok’.

Yet again, the stylistic breadth, paired with the depth of quality is astounding, and given the open-door policy that was the criteria for this series – namely that submissions must have been previously rejected for inclusion elsewhere – it just goes to show how many remarkable artists there are out there. While there have been some curious and oddly-matched contributions in the mix, it’s fair to say that despite the acceptance of all submission, there hasn’t actually been a duff track in the entire series.

Volume 5 maintains that record. That all important opener this time comes courtesy of Assembled Minds, whose ‘The Eerie Machine Hums a Barley Song to the Sun’ is a lo-fi retro-vibing easy listener in the vein of Stereolab, with all the analogue and some bendy discord to give its Krauty instrumental groove an additional twist. With ‘Mute’, Accidental Tones’ bring the eerie shit, with a dolorous loop of funeral bells, before A.R.C. Soundtracks introduce 80s drum machines to a deep post-punk synth drone, and what ‘Exhibit F’ lacks in duration is packs tenfold in density. It’s a pretty dark opening by any standards, but as a compilation…Not that compilations are never bleak, but there’s a certain expectation that they showcase a certain degree of accessibility: and maybe this is why so many compilations re only so-so: they’re designed with one eye on commercial appeal and drawing a broader audience. Because Front and Follow never even cast a glance at a broader audience and the premise of this series isn’t remotely populist, they’ve remained free to do what they do best.

Cahn Ingold Prelog’s ‘Dwieddon’ is a grainy mess of pink noise and static that crackles like the heavy patter of rain, disrupted by an arrhythmic beat that clunks along awkwardly at first, before a pulsating thud booms in with an incongruously dance feel, while Heat Evolution bring some glitchy, swampy pulsations and some big explosive blasts.

Detailing the entire contents of this would be a task beyond gargantuan, but for the most part this is a set comprised of glitchy oddities and grinding sonic earthworks, with dark, heavy atmospheres – das fax mattinger’s nine-and-a-half minutes of deep, shuddering drone is as much a physical experience as it is cerebral, while contributions from Isobel Ccircle and Jonathan Sharp also explore all the corners of dark ambience. There’s throbbing techno and heavy hip-hop on offer, too, but none of it’s especially gentle or kind. And in saying how dark it is, it’s worth mentioning the gloomy synthy goth of Johnny Mugwump’s ‘the mirror cracked’ and the impenetrably dense black metal murk of Petrine Cross’ ‘Absorbed in Artificial Night’.

If Isolation & Rejection Vol 5 explores a quite focused part of the sonic spectrum, it does so in the kind of detail that reveals its breadth, with all shades of electronica and all shades of darkness and shadow covered in its immense span. It’s a strong end to a strong series, and while Front and Follow aren’t giving any indications that this is more than a one-off, there’s no shortage of back catalogue to explore while we wait for the next wave and, maybe, just maybe, the next collection.

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Fire Records – 15th September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s a segment that starts around the six-minute mark on ‘Absent Friend’ where the guitars, soaked in reverb, chime and interweave, forming a delicate latticework of notes which is the very quintessence of post-rock. Hex was released in 1994. While much of the album isn’t quite post-rock as we now know it here in 2017, listening back to the debut album by the band which saw Simon Reynolds famously apply the term ‘post-rock’ (although often cited as marking the term’s coinage, this is as much-debated as what actually constitutes post-rock), it’s not hard to identify this as the definitive moment at which the tropes which define post-rock as we broadly recognise it began to coalesce.

The intense and arduous work that went into Hex would ultimately lead to the band’s disintegration, and it would be a full twenty years before Graham Sutton would reconvene Bark Psychosis to deliver a second album in the form of ///Codename: Dustsucker. But one could reasonably argue that with Hex, Bark Psychosis achieved more than many bands could even aspire to over the course of ten albums.

The delicate, evocative piano of ‘The Loom’, accompanied by soft strings arguably set a certain corner of the blueprint acts like Glissando and Her Name is Calla would come to place at the centre of their sound, and the meandering melodies would subsequently be developed by the likes of Oceansize – admittedly, more neoprog than post-rock, but this only highlights the range of Hex and the far-reaching vision it demonstrates. ‘Big Shot’ boasts a strolling bass and warping, dreamy atmospherics over a rolling glockenspiel and a semi-ambient breakdown in the middle. ‘Finger Spit’ may not feature the kind of epic crescendos which characterise a lot of ‘classic’ post-millennium post-rock, but its hushed, quietly intense space clearly explores surging dynamics. The gloomy discordant brass of ‘Eyes and Smiles’ prefaces the early sound if iLiKETRAiNS. And so on.

Across the course of the seven tracks (these are long expansive compositions), Hex weaves cinematic soundscapes and wring all shades of emotion not from the lyrics and vocals, which are largely secondary, but from the music itself. It has texture and depth, and at its best, possesses a transportative, almost transcendental quality that goes beyond mere music. This, it’s fair to say, has been the ambition of the acts which have come to stand as synonymous with post-rock, disparate and different as they are, from Godspeed You! Back Emperor’s immense, surging soundscapes, to the chiming crescendo-orientated compositions of Explosions in the Sky via the twee elvin twinkles of Sigur Rós.

Hex was certainly not an album of its time. 1994 was the year of In Utero, and Live Through This, Sixteen Stone by Bush, and Weezer’s eponymous debut, as well as Dookie, Smash, and Parklife, and Definitely Maybe, His and Hers, and The Second Coming¸ as well as Dog Man Star. As grunge jostled with Britpop in a divided musical landscape, and in a year which also delivered Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, The Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, and Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible. Put simply, Hex did not fit. Amongst broadly contemporaneous works, it does share more commonality with The God Machine’s Scenes from the Second Storey (1992), Slowdive’s Slouvaki (1993) and Rosa Mota’s Wishful Sinking (1995) (all unappreciated at the time and still criminally underrated) than anything that could be considered zeitgeist.

Now seems an appropriate distance to re-evaluate Hex. And even now, despite so many of its tropes having been absorbed, assimilated and endlessly replicated, it sounds beyond contemporary. It possesses so much depth and range, and conveys a close, personal intensity which has absolutely nothing to do with raging volume. Within or without context, Hex is a remarkable album. Yes, it effectively spawned a genre, and yet, it still stands apart. And that’s every reason to sit back and enjoy Hex not as an influential album, but simply on its own merits, of which there are plenty.

Bark Psychosis - Hex COVER