Posts Tagged ‘Eclectic’

6th August 2021

James Wells

Some bands claim to be eclectic, but fail to substantiate those claims in the music itself serving up middling mediocrity, usually of a fairly anaemic indie / rock persuasion. Of course, no act with a diverse range of influences is likely to incorporate all of those influences into a single song (while rendering anything listenable), but, y’know, claiming Bowie and Led Zep and coming on like Oasis just doesn’t cut it.

Helve (not the Leeds post-metal act, but the London indie group) intimate that they draw on an eclectic combination of jazz, folk, electronic and experimental music, influenced by an array of genres and artists spanning Aphex Twin, Radiohead, Slint, Pat Metheny, Nick Drake, Portishead & Bill Evans.

All rolled together at the same time, that lot would sound absolutely fucking awful, but ‘Cabin Fever’ is nuanced in its hybridity, a kind of jazzy, blues influenced stroller at first that gets a bit proggy further down the line.

Singer/songwriter Leon has one of those voices that’s got range – not just technically good vocals, but vocals capable of conveying emotional range and depth too. A bit Thom Yorke, you might say, but also entirely his own, haunting and evocative, and here he spins all the different aspects of isolation – the introspection, the reflection, the self-loathing, the confusion, it all there, and we’ve all been there. Originally penned and demod in 2019 (as a much longer, more post-rock orientated tune with samples and other stuff in the mix) and rerecorded for this, their debut release, it feels particularly salient.

‘Cabin Fever’ isn’t an instant grab; instead of big hooks and an attention-grabbing chorus, it’s more of an atmosphere-orientated mood tune. Jazzy without being Jamiroquai, it’s the sound of late-night basement bars, and while it’s very much a product of our immediate times, clearly betrays roots that reach back further.

Slick on the image to select streaming service:

Helve artwork

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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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&Follow – 25th September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

So big a space to fill… the absence of live music leaves an abyss of indescribable scale. Social media has been aflame with outcry over the treatment of this so-called ‘unviable’ industry, crippled by restrictions – an industry that generates many, many billions of pounds for the economy. Over and over, I’ve read articles and personal pleas from those involved about the plight not only of musicians and venue owners, but the invisible but essential contributors, the sound and lighting engineers, the roadies, the studios, and it’s all so, so painful and heart-rending.

The fourth, penultimate instalment of the Isolation and Rejection compilation series which brought the Front & Follow label temporarily out of hibernation contains a further twenty-four contributions from a vast array of artists, known and unknown, assembled here under the common banner of all having been previously rejected by labels. Their loss is our gain and that of Front & Follow, whose inclusive approach to curating this series has made for a truly enriching journey over the last few months.

There is a leaning toward the electronic, and Pulselovers’ ‘Orphans’, which lands early is typical of the atmospheric strain that’s something of a staple of the F&F catalogue. Neither dance nor ambient, it’s understated, rippling, the gauzy layers pinned together by lowkey but insistent beats.

Daphnellc’s ‘Sinker Flies The Plane’ starts out jittery, hyperactive, edgy electronica that tinkles and flutters, before going all out on the hard, pounding beats, and contrasts with many of the more delicate, wispy compositions on offer here. Then again, with ‘Slava Xenoxxx’, Bone Music hit a dense industrial groove, bursting with snappy snare explosions and a blitzkrieg of samples, and for 80s robotix electro, Function Automat’s ‘Data Data’ is proper vintage, and not without a massive nod to not only Kraftwork, but also DAF and Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Nag Nag Nag.’ In a parallel universe, this was recoded in 1978 and a truly seminal cut that brought its makers international renown.

These more accessible works are countered by the industrial-strength dark ambience brought by Revbjelde and the gouging aggressive dark drone attack of ColdSore, and Howlround push this to the next level with an overloading mess of pulsating distortion.

MJ Hibbert bucks the electro trend with his pithy acoustic indie, and if it seems a shade incongruous it’s all the more essential because of it: the spirit of these compilations is inclusivity, and this is what gives these largely instrumental, experimental, oddball collections soul.

These remain bleak times, and fir many, the long-term prospects continue to grow bleaker, and releases like this are essential not just in terms of bringing high-quality leftfield music to those seeking sonic solace, but also in creating a certain sense of community and collectivism.

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Front & Follow – F&F062 – 28th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

This twenty-three track extravaganza marks the third of five compilations for which cult label Front & Follow has been briefly resurrected with a view to supporting artists who’ve had their work rejected while raising funds for The Brick in Wigan, a charity for homeless people, which also operates a food back – more vital than ever, sadly.

What I personally like about the series and its approach to its purpose is that as has always been the case with F&F and the artists it releases, is its understatedness. And while there’s a lot of noise about the anguish of isolation under lockdown in the media and social media, the liner notes stress clearly ‘This is not an isolation project – it’s a rejection project’. This is very much representative of F&F’s singularity: the label was always about operating apart from trends or vogues, and as such, while it would inevitably cater to a niche audience, it wasn’t a fickle one.

While many of the artists are unfamiliar and probably not only to me, Social Oscillations and Sone Institute stand out as acts whom I’ve reviewed on previous releases on F&F.

Musically, and in terms of quality, though, it’s very much a level playing field, and it’s not hard to grasp why, having been inundated with submission for their modest project proposal, they decided to release a full five volumes.

It’s straight in with the eerie, spooky-sounding dark ambient courtesy of Social Oscillation’s ‘Dreich’, a word that’s stuck with me since my time in Glasgow around the turn of the millennium. It’s so descriptive, and yes, the song’s grey, sombre tone fits it nicely.

As with the previous volumes, despite being largely electronic and instrumental in its basis, the stylistic span is impressive: from minimal, dubby-techno to experimental post-rock via the most vaporous ambience, it’s all here, and curated so as to be perfectly sequenced.

With the super-murky ‘Crawling Guardian’, Everson Poe evokes the spirit of The Cure circa 17 Seconds and Faith before it goes crushing doom metal in the final minute, and the dingy production only amplifies the oppressive atmosphere. Elite Barbarian’s ‘Gat Trap’ is particularly unsettling and particularly impossible to pin down as is groans and rumbles; Newlands’ ‘Father Sky’ is a hypotonic chant, and ‘Orla’ by Farmer Glitchy is tense, claustrophobic, uncomfortable. Jonny Domini’s ‘New Pink Shirt’ is a bit of a departure, being a kind of Pavement-meets-The Fall lo-fi indie racket. It’s pretty cool, and John Peel would have loved it. Dolly Dolly’s ‘HEADS’ is a neat, if rather twisted, spoken word piece, and while it’s perhaps understandable why it may have ben hard to home, it’s no reflection on its being a good piece.

And, yet again, you can’t help but think that those who rejected all of these tracks, no doubt with an ‘it’s good, but just not for us’ let-down, are the ones who have missed out, and it’s all to the benefit of Front & Follow with their accommodating policy in curating this series.

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Weeping Prophet Records – 31st July 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The facts and the pitch are that Fuse Box City is a new London based band. They combine indie and electronic with noise and melody; the intricate layering of which produces a rich sound that provides a platform for Rachel Kenedy’s fragile yet mellifluous vocals to sit on top. Talking about the stuff that matters all in the same breath.

I like hybridity and eclecticism, and have developed an increasing appreciation of some of the 80s samplist / looping acts that broke through in the late 80s. It wasn’t immediately apparent at the time, but this wasn’t about simply making dance music and turntable scratching and drum machines: this was utilising emerging technology to create a soundtrack to our ever-faster, ever more fragmented experience of life.

Revisiting the spirit of then makes sense to an extent: we’re witnessing even less comprehensible times, even faster, more fragmentary lives, and even niftier tech while in a position to cast an eye back over recent history.

But sometimes blending lo-fi indie and experimental electronica and throwing in bits of prog and 80s hip-hop means the elements don’t always gel especially well, and ‘Shine On’ makes for a shaky, somewhat chaotic and disjointed start.

Maybe it’s a matter of adjustment, or maybe the band really do find their groove better as the album progresses, and it’s when they slow things down a bit as they do first on ‘Pub Licker’ and then on ‘Crossing Swords’ that things begin to feel rather more cohesive, and find FBC explore a territory that sounds like a trip-hop reimagining of Young Marble Giants.

The album’s closer marks another departure: the thirteen-minute ‘Bendy One’ starts out a low, slow semi-ambient work with a murky beat stuttering away like a fibrillating heart, and low in the mix before slowly taking form: the beat becomes ore solid, regular, insistent, and comes to dominate a vague wash of a droning backdrop which stretches and yawns and swells behind Kenedy’s soaring choral vocal. Somewhere along the way it emerges as a new ag stomper with a thumping tribal beat and some squirming electronics that bubble away in the background of some approximation of a celebratory sunset incantation.

The end product seems to be that of a band who are ideas-rich and unafraid to experiment, while still finding their feet and sense of direction. Despite its messier moments, which often boil down to execution as much as concept, it’s a bold debut, and never uninteresting or uninspired.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Coaxial is one of a number of musical vehicles for musician and academic Benjamin J. Heal. For the uninitiated, it’s perhaps worth running some of his biographical information:

His prolific COWMAN project (2005-present) continues to plumb the depths of puerile noise-punk and a lo-fi trash aesthetic, following the footsteps of a more composed Hanatarash and early Boredoms. 2014’s acclaimed Tosokurui-no, under the pseudo-Japanese guise of Hitobashira-ni, illuminated the artistic potential found in exploring the limits of control and chaos in a band environment utilizing guitar, drums, synthesizer, sampler and gong. 2016’s The Brightness on Dead Water (as morimori) showcased contrasts between digital and analog, electric and acoustic, songs and sounds; nudging the chaotic themes of its predecessor into fields of more organic abstraction.

Coaxial – shortly to be reissued on casette by Cruel Nature represents the outlet for his explorations in instrumental electronica, and on Neo/ism there’s humour and wordplay not just in the song titles, but in the compositions themselves. This is apt, given that the Neoist art movement was largely satirical in its purpose, revelling in the depthlessness of postmodernism, and sometimes defined as ‘a prefix and a suffix with nothing in between’. Accordingly, the atmosphere on Neo/ism is denser than its light and airy predecessor, Ear Kites I (2018), but rather less heavy and sinister than 2017’s Reductio ad Absurdum.

It’s a vintage organ synth sound and even more vintage drum machine track that kicks starts the album with the seven-minute ‘Homobile’ (geddit? Linguistics jokes are always a nonstop laughriot). It lands between chillwave and krautrock, but some subtly de-synced chord changes have a vaguely disorientating effect at the start, before tapering off towards semi-ambience around halfway through and the beats dissolve to vapour.

‘Jocks v. Cocks’ is all about the juxtaposition: the track goes harder on the percussion, while the bubbling synths warp and twist, before ‘The Gay Gun’ plunges deeper into bloopy robotix territory, a melting pot of textures and tones swimming in a kind of sonic Brownian motion. ‘The Lonesome Onanist’ goes darker, and Heal’s application of long, grating drone notes that defines many of the tracks on Neo/ism is very much at the fore here.

There are strong technoindustrial elements in the mix, but then there’s a lot going on throughout, often simultaneously. Moreover, the composition seem to become increasingly strange and dislocated as the album progresses: ‘Homocrcy’ marks the mid-point with some spaced-out, space-age dubtronica, ‘Pink Noise’ crackles and pops in a time-shifting microtonal explosion, and ‘Gay Baby’ sounds like it should have featured on the soundtrack to an episode of Nathan Barley.

This all perhaps leads to the question of how serious any of this is, which in turn leads to the question of whether or not it actually matters whether or not the intent is parodic: one can’t hear intent in a recording, and can only engage with the contents of the recording itself. Given the way in which the sound of Neo/ism is characterised by contrast and variance, the experience elicits no one response, but many. And it’s quite a groove.

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Monotype Rec – MONOLP018 – 14th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

However broad one’s mind and tastes, there will inevitably be some artists who will baffle, bewilder and leave one somewhat dazed. Carp’s Head, a collaboration between Ghédalia Tazartès, Pawel Romanczuk, and Andrzej Zaleski is one of those releases. So much so, that my first reaction was one of borderline horror, a recoiling, an internal cry of ‘what the hell is this?’

‘Danse Inverse’ begins with a bleep. Minimal electro? Nope. A grizzled yet semi-operatic yellering starts up, almost simultaneous with a strolling bass, wonkily-played and a woozy accordion. Tazartès whoops and grunts, growls and emotes wildly like a drunken French opera singer impersonating Tom Waits, while the cacophonous musical backing veers and weaves all over. The weirdness only continues and as the album progresses, taking the listener on a bizarre journey around the globe and as observed through the eyes of three madmen. ‘You’ll Be Wise’ comes on like Scott Walker on acid, while the quietly crooning ‘Zither Song’ is sparse and eerily haunting in a mystical, dream-like way. ‘Orient Calling’ marks a continental shift in terms of the musical inspirations and influences, a droning sitar accompanies Tazartès’ yodelling ululations and low, chesty quaverings.

The album’s centrepiece is the nine-minute epic ‘Wolves and Birds’, a bleak and disorientating expanse of dark ambience. The wordless vocalisations convey a sense of lack, of absence, as they float, wailing and disembodied through the sonic wastelands. There’s plenty of weirdness on the other side of the bridge, too, with tweeting, trilling pipe notes and scratchy layers of sound by turns tickling and teasing the listener’s senses.

Jazz percussion breaks out unexpectedly at various points, bringing an odd and somewhat incongruous swing to proceedings. With its ‘Trout Mask’ connotations and overt otherness, Carp’s Head is many things: it is, in fact, remarkably focused and feels extremely cohesive in its order, less experimental and more built on musical intuition between the players. I’m not sure I recommend it, or if so, to whom, but there’s no question that it’s interesting or different.

 

Carps Head

Alrealon Musique – ALRN072 – 31st October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

New York underground act The Strange Walls aren’t conformists or readily categorised: previous releases have been called shoegaze, darkwave, post punk, art punk, experimental, outsider. I’m not even sure what ‘outsider’ is supposed to sound like, but they’re big into their pseudonyms, thus cultivating an air of mystery around the band and their music. Emerging from an ever shifting lineup, core trio of the class of 2016, consisting of Jon V. Worthley, Dan Drogenous and Regna Yates, assisted by Jimmy Ayatollah and John Spreaders have whipped up something appropriately esoteric and wide-ranging for this release.

More significantly, …Won’t Last straddles many genres and yet subscribes wholly to none. A slow, ominous echoey bassline rent with shrieking, ghostly incidentals provide the musical backing to Regina’s vocal, which sings a vaguely familiar melody. But then it’s straight into a squalling lo-fi post-punk racket reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain and A Place to Bury Strangers crossed with The Pop Group. It’s hard on the ears, and the contrast is almost schizophrenic. When an album’s tracks are as diverse as this, spanning psychedelia and folk and sometimes incorporating elements of at least two or three within a single song, it’s inevitable that some tracks will appeal more than others, and this is something which is wholly subjective. Yet the fact that there are some clear standout tracks is an objective observation, and the sequencing of the tracks accentuates this fact. The bleak electro sound of ‘In Time’ combines steely synths with a dash of dark pop sensibility which calls to mind early 80s Cure, and with its primitive, distant drum sound and reverb-soaked synth oscillations, ‘White’ lands somewhere between Cocteau Twins and Silver Apples, and these tracks inevitably sound stronger against the softer, less structured folky strummers. ‘Snow Day’ leans heavily on early New Order, while ‘Yawdons’ fulfils the criteria for obligatory droning experimental piece.

The ramshackle production equally works both for and against the album as a whole. Being better suited to some tracks than others, at times adding space and partially obscured sonic depths, at other simply sounding messy. The result, then, is an album that’s a bit hit and miss. Not bad, and in places brilliant, but a few tracks that will likely become skippers after a while.

 

The Strange Walls