Posts Tagged ‘EP Review’

Fierce Panda Records – 24th February 2021

Here we are: it’s the end of February 2021, and COVID-19 isn’t still a thing, but just a few weeks short of a year after the first lockdown was announced here in the UK, it’s pretty much the only thing, and it dominates and dictates our lives in ways we could never have predicted back then – or, arguably, even in September, or at Christmas.

In a time when the music industry isn’t as much in crisis as halfway on its knees and wondering what the actual fuck to do while touring remains off-limits both home and away on account of the pandemic and Brexit meaning the future of the foundations of musicians’ livelihoods is in question, while at the same time the debate over the equity of streaming services for artists has stepped up several notches, the need for an indie label like Fierce Panda seems even more vital. They’ve never gone with the grain and have continued to carve their own niche, focusing on single and EP releases.

The Covid Version Sessions EP is a classic case in point: bringing together a selection of artists you probably haven’t heard of alongside a selection you really ought to have even if you haven’t, it showcases six standalone cover (Covid) version (boom boom) releases, recorded during the pandemic by acts striving to find ways of working together while apart or otherwise unable to operate as normal.

It’s an eclectic mix, with some interesting takes on some well-selected tunes. While we’ve already given praise to National Service’s stripped back, haunting take on The Twilight Sad’s ‘Last January’ (released this January), it’s Moon Panda’s slick, sultry jazz-tinged cover of ‘Call it Fate Call it Karma’ by The Strokes that raises the curtain on the EP. It captures the essence of the original, but somehow manages to sound more authentic, perhaps because of the lack of self-consciously ‘retro’ production.

I’ve long had a soft spot for Pulp’s This is Hardcore album, not least of all because of the admiration inspired by their apparent commercial suicide in following one of the biggest albums of the Britpop era with such a desperately dark pop record. But also, because it has so much more depth and resonance. Desperate Journalist have an ear for drama, so their covering ‘The Fear’ is pretty much faultless: again, it’s a straight rendition, but magnificently executed. The same is true of Jekyll’s rendition of Japan’s ‘Nightporter’, which captures the understated, brooding theatrics of the original.

After Johnny Cash, is there any point on covering ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails’? Ghost Suns arguably step back closer to the original with electronic instrumentation, and in fact swing more to the other side, landing in ambient / synthwave territory. It’s not as good as Cash, and nor is it a good as the original, but then, it was a hugely ambitious undertaking and yes, it stull brings a lump to the throat – because it seems no matter what spin you put on this song, it is a classic that can’t be contained or twisted to be anything other than a blow directly against the heart.

The Covid Version Sessions may not offer much cheer: in fact they’re draped with sadness and remind us of all we don’t have – but they also remind us that we’re not alone in being alone, that it’s ok not to be ok, and that sometimes, the solution is to just take some time out, listen to some haunting melodies and remember that tomorrow is another day, and that for better or worse, nothing is forever.

5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve spent hours racking my brains to fathom what the opening bars of ‘Nouveau Bleach’ – the first track on the eponymous EP by Nouveau Bleach remind me of, and I still can’t bloody make it out. With a name that’s straight out of Nathan Barley, this south London trio are as postmodern as they are post-punk, and the four tracks of their debut EP sets their stall out plainly, with no pissing about.

There’s are elements of The Fall with the ramshackle, rattling guitar that goes here there and everywhere, and especially the yelping, partially atonal vocal, with the simple repetition of the sloganeering refrain ‘Nouveau bleach / Rinse repeat’, conveying the ennui of tedious repetition so succinctly. The baritone vocal has a hint of Editors’ Tom Smith about it, but then, there’s quite a concoction of elements in the mix., and the production being lo-fi and primitive really suits the sound.

‘Pharmakon’ is amore straight head punk tune, and the band soon reveal a simple but effective formula, based on heavy repetition, and ‘Kondonauts’ exemplary – again, The Fall, Public Image, and comparisons to more recent acts from Scumbag Philosopher to Bilge Pump seem reasonable: a propensity for the motoric, for repetitive, cyclical riffs and unmelody still reveal some lovely moments – but mostly jarring, sharp-edged ones that make sitting back and just listening uncomfortable ‘but does it spark joy?’ they ask. In some way, it sort of does, and you join the dots to Gang of Four and snotty, shouty 90s underground and riot grrrl.

If it sounds like an explosive, incoherent identity crisis, it’s because it probably is: Nouveau Bleach are absolute magpies, and not entirely discriminate, which is actually an asset: everything is material, and they bring it together in a broiling melting pot to create a unique and antagonistic fusion, and it kicks ass.

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26th February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

LA instrumentalists Teethers, centred around drummer and composer Andrew Lessman, brings together an unusual fusion for their debut release. With contributions straddling jazz, avant garde, and indie pop, for Teethers, Lessman has brought together an eclectic lineup, consisting of Graham Chapman on bass, guitarist Alexander Noise, Joe Sanata Maria and Ted Faforo on saxophones and Stefan Kac on tuba. The results are, as you might expect, unusual.

There’s a smooth, jazzy, swingy pop vibe that permeates the EP#s three tracks, and as ‘Goose Chasing’ indicates, they can locks down a tidy groove and create music you can bop to, nod along to, even dance to… and then they’re more than capable of – and willing to – drive that train straight off a cliff into a wild frenzy of horn-driven discord and madness. This is bit a brief introduction that sets the scene for what Teethers are really all about: the twelve-minute ‘Monopoly on Violence / Mushroom dance’ is a multi-faceted, shifting exploration of rippling shades and expansive soundscapes.

It’s rambling, at times immensely proggy in a vintage sense, and at times it just can’t seem to make up its mind as it ambles and weaves hither and thither, a mellow jazz meandering that hits some frenzies peaks and altogether more sedate intersections. It’s one of those pieces that transitions enticing and irritating in a mere blink – and that’s not even a criticism. Condensing so many elements into its space, it’s difficult to keep up.

The third track, ‘Love Poem’ is seven-and-a-half minutes of dappled sunlight painted in music, with a clean, picked guitar chiming in a simple, hypnotic sequence that’s a post-rock / contemporary prog crossover laced with soft, delicate strings. It’s perhaps the most focused and conventionally coherent of the three compositions, on what is a fairly wide-ranging set – so wide-ranging that it’s not easy to immediately assimilate, and even more difficult to pin down – not just stylistically, but in the most basic terms of formulating an opinion. Is it any good? Do I like it? Does it matter? There’s certainly no doubting the technical proficiency on display here, and having the confidence and audacity to make music that straddles so many boundaries and genuinely challenges the listener is an achievement worthy of recognition.

AA

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Epidemic Records – 25th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The timing couldn’t really be much better for an Italian hardcore act going by the name of Locked In, and it’s not much of a challenge to deduce the inspiration for their return to making music after a seven-year break.

According to their bio, ‘Locked In were quite active between 2007 and 2013 and played Italy and Europe extensively before coming to a full stop. Locked In were quite active between 2007 and 2013 and played Italy and Europe extensively before coming to a full stop.’

Or perhaps it was more of a semi-colon, since this digital five-tracker is scheduled to be followed by another EP some time next year. The prospect of ‘next year’ reminds me that while 2020 has oftentimes felt apocalyptic, like the end of days, the end of time, like a full stop on life, it is, and will be, ultimately, no more than a pause or semi-colon in the grand scheme of things. Meanwhile, there’s plenty to be enraged about, and while the lyrics may be entirely indecipherable, there’s nothing like some fast and furious hardcore punk to purge any pent-up fury and to channel any conflicting, confusing or otherwise unplaced emotions.

With the five tracks on offer here each sitting around the three-minute mark, the whole set is dispatched in around fifteen minutes, and it’s pretty primitive and raw: the guitars are played hard and fast, and while the playing of all the instruments is tight enough, the lack of production and definition on said guitars means they’re blurry enough to mask any blurriness; likewise the drumming give precedence to pace over precision, and that’s all exactly as it should be.

‘Coz I Can’ is essentially a statement of intent by way of an opener: in the face of growing state controls, surveillance, and restrictions that extend far beyond virus control on the part of many governments, we need some ‘fuck you’ punk attitude right now, and it seems Locked In are one a band willing to bring it, and do it in the time-honoured fashion of shouting it loud and cranking everything up to eleven. And yes, the faster the better. The adage that you should live every moment like it could be your last is one that very much applies to hardcore in general, and these guys run with it here, cramming in seven missed years of anger into an explosive package. The title says it all, really: they may be dead tomorrow, but they’re not dead yet and are going to make the absolute fucking most of it.

Lead single ‘Dying City’ is likely self-explanatory on the basis of the title, and likely encapsulates the experience of living in Italy at the peak of the pandemic. Here, our perception of Italy has been coloured by a combination of alarming statistics and footage of people singing from their balconies, presenting a narrative of a nation gripped by a sweeping pandemic but ultimately coming together as a community, an ultimately heartwarming and uplifting representation of unity and human warmth. Over here, in England, if only we could be like Italy, as our government praise our grit and community spirit and our NHS heroes… and so we evoke the spirit of wartime community and support as the nation takes to the street to clap ad band pots and pans to say thank you to our national treasures… and we know it’s all bollocks. This isn’t the war, this isn’t the black death, and this is a nation divided, between people who don’t give a shit and would climb over one another and batter one another with crutches to grab the last packet of pasta in the supermarket. This is the reality, and Locked in deliver the soundtrack.

There’s a moment about twenty seconds from the end of ‘No Faith’ where the bass booms and threatens to engulf everything else in the mix: it’s an incredible moment, a proper sonic punch in the guts of the kind that only comes through chance and a lack of time and polish. No pretence, no pissing about: this is the real deal, and one hell of a Christmas present.

AA

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Dret Skivor – 21st December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Initially, this review was to open with the line ‘Dave Procter, the man with more musical projects than the devil has names, has been rather quiet of late’ – but the northern noisemonger doesn’t really do quiet, and doesn’t really do fallow periods either. Procter’s full-time relocation to Sweden from Leeds may mean, sadly, that some of the acts he’s involved with – most obviously The Wharf Street Galaxy Band – are on hiatus, but wherever he goes, he makes noise – quite literally, as demonstrated by his ‘noise walks’. Not that ‘hiatus’ really means anything with lockdown putting paid to so much musical activity anyway. It’s a shame, because Dave’s myriad projects tend to be geared to a live setting – improvised, visceral, and loud. On a personal level, I miss his presence on the scene: a man as comfortable in a pig’s head and lab coat as a red boiler suit, it’s his understanding and acceptance of niche I value almost as much as the noise he makes: no audience? No problem. And so with live performances largely off the table, Proctor’s started out establishing his space in Sweden with the set-up of a new label, Dret Skivor, and this early-doors sampler EP gives a taste of what we can expect – which is, for anyone with a priori knowledge – what you’d expect, namely experimental, and noisy.

On offer here are just four acts with a track apiece, but then, as an EP – which would actually work nicely as a 12” with a different running order – it does the job of showcasing exactly what Dret Skivor is about.

Fern’s ‘Low Pressure Wave’ is minimal lo-fi electro, an erratic pulsation and low-thrumming oscillating drone vibrating against one another to build a headache-inducing tension, fading into a simmering wave with scratchy interference. Claus Poulsen brings the noise and then some, with ‘Machines 2 and 4’yelding an absolutely face-melting five minutes of screeding distortion and treble abrasion worthy of Merzbow. It’s a squall of punishing feedback and overload. IJIN also trades in big, abrasive noise, but ‘OH the JOY’ (which I can’t help but read as sarcasm) takes the form of stop/start slabs of noise, with greater emphasis on lower and mid-ranges – although there’s a gum-curling blast f metallic treble that churns relentlessly throughout somewhere lower in the mix. But this track occupies a different territory from the others being showcased here, being a sixteen-minute behemoth that evolves through a series of transitions – yet for the largest part sustains an undulating, howling sustain that drones in an animalistic anguish against a shifting backdrop. It occasionally tapers ad re-emerges, swelling to a thick, nuclear wind of noise that blasts hard against a grinding sonic earthwork of deep, granular noise.

In contrast, Zherbin’s ‘piece for a router, a tape loop and a plastic bag’ feels a little lightweight, disposable, even. But it’s all relative, and in its own context it’s a grainy bit of noise that digs into the cranium with some surprisingly sharp claws.

More Dret, please!

AA

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11th December 2020 – PNKSLM Recordings

Christopher Nosnibor

Trapped in a box, a loop of ever-diminishing life, it’s not difficult to comprehend why amidst the confusion, the sadness, the frustration, and anxiety, and general bewilderment, nostalgia should grow its presence. Your life sucks, and it probably always has, but it’s easier to cast a hue of fondness over the past than to accept that if the present’s bad, the future is worse. It’s a natural part of the ageing process, too, of course: kids get younger and the music and fashions get worse by the year.

Katja Nielsen, singer and bassist with Swedish punk act Arre! Arre! had been suffering from bipolar disorder a decade before diagnosis. With the outbreak of a global pandemic, band activity curtailed: she found that writing songs helped her process, and so She/Beast was born, with ‘In the Depths of Misery’ being the first of a brace of EP, both of which derive their titles from quotes from Vincent Van Gogh, another bipolar artist.

The liner notes recount how the songs were ‘written and arranged entirely in Nielsen’s living room’ and ‘mark a dramatic departure from the furious pace of Arre! Arre!’s output, instead evincing a lo-fi, pop-rock sound’.

How it translates is as all the dark side of the 80s distilled into a neat package: it’s very much bass-driven, propelled by a drum machine that thumps away mechanically, with economical programming – no fancy fills or extravagant cymbal work – and laced with stark synths. Throw The Cure, X-Mal Deutschland, Skeletal Family, and all the fringe artists from that 1979-83 period who ventured into the darker realms of post-punk, into a blender and you’ve got the sharply piquant flavour of She/Beast.

It’s poppy, but it’s heavy on shade. ‘I don’t know what to do with myself’, she sings lost and aimless on ‘The Sadness Will Last Forever’. The bubbling ‘Born to Fight’ is exemplary of the way Nielsen brings everything together. A looping buoyant synth line that would have sat comfortably on an early Depeche Mode single is welded to a thudding four-four Craig Adams style bassline that dominates the rhythm section, while Nielsen spins a message of self-affirmation in a dreamy style, her voice compressed and floating in reverb.

The loping drums of closer ‘A Fragile State of Mind’ are murky in the mix, but the snare cuts through in the way that’s characteristic of that 80s sound. It’s so, so evocative that it carries almost as much weight and impact as the tune and the lyrical content combined – meaning that in context, this short, five-song EP speaks and resonates on levels far beyond its constituent parts.

AA

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1st January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Surt Skum’ is a sweet Swedish treat and translates to ‘sour foam’ – at least according to the missive that accompanies the latest release from psych rockers Cave Suns and their missive from Tier 3 Newcastle, who report that they ‘entered their lysergic bubble of a practice room, to escape the impending mask strewn, gig parched landscape of the North East’.

Emerging from a series of improvisations, this EP offers some solid – if ragged – grooves and a fuckload of energy – not to mention some wild wah-wah action.

The title track kicks things off in a suitably raw but dynamic style: propelled by motoric drumming and a throbbing, repetitive bass that provides the backdrop to a sprawling, wah-laden lead, it’s a dense rush of heavy kraut-infused psych played rough ‘n’ ready, and this sounds lie a one-take live in the studio affair, and the up-front drum thump that clatters and crashes through ‘Sleep Never Rusts’ isn’t so much underproduced as unproduced – but the sounds very like Joy Division’s ‘Dead Souls’, and the nagging bassline isn’t the only factor in this epic builder.

Six-and-a-half-minute finale ‘Sloop John Dee’ brings goth-tinged Celtic guitars as if played by Hendrix to a heavy stoner riff that’s welded – albeit loosely – to a stomping tribal beat that’s pure new wave.

It all adds up to a pretty intense experience, and a cracking release.

4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

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

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

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

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

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

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

AA

Embr-Idolatry

generate and test – 30th October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The blurb bewilders me before I hear a note, as I read how ‘ʇןǝɯs is a high density package crafted with care and luck from a rare mixture of ingredients. The four track MP (micro-package) takes you on a ride across a one- dimensional checkerboard landscape rendered in colors of euphoria and terror. Players emerge at side exits and diffuse presently. If the album title is unmanageable you can use the unoffending smelt.’

Delving deeper, I learn, ‘Entire package produced on-the-go using mobile phones, some of them rooted. Apps are Nanoloop, g-stomper, termux/python, different media recording apps. Custom app autovoice takes care of slicing the voice tracks and beat aligning them on the track.’

From this fragmentary non-narrative, I’m braced for something irregular, unusual, beyond boundaries, and that’s very much what this is. Micro-package is a fair description of an EP comprising four tracks, none of which really exceed two and a half minutes, although it doesn’t convey the flickering intensity of slow-tripping hip-hop that’s rooted in samplist, cut-up methodology with disjointed loops and fragments providing the fabric of this digital tapestry.

It may not be easy to follow, and at times so deeply immersed in obscure referencing and the exploration of the technology used to create the material, ʇןǝɯs feels as much like a case of experimentalism for its own sake than a document of artistic creativity. The titles are more or less impenetrable, at least in terms of their significance or relevance, although ‘very veird’ is quite odd, if not overtly Germanic, a collage of bleeps and a bubbling stew of vocals simmering over minimal beats and bloopy, stammering bass. It actually makes for a long two minutes, but the richness of the layering and density of the combined source materials is undeniably impressive.

There’s almost infinite bubble and fizz, crackled and grind, particularly on the closer, ‘argh uargh (kann ich ans handy?)’ where the title is a fair summary of the chaotic cacophony it contains.

ʇןǝɯs is messy and uncomfortable, but taking its sequence of input > process > output as a creative model, it’s likely the ultimate summary of 2020.

AA

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Tambourine Machine – 20th November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Nine years on from their inception, and seven years since their last release, Epilogues return from hiatus with a brace of new EPs, simply entitled ‘me’ and ‘you’. Mikey Donnelly has been keeping occupied, recently working solo as miles. and alongside his brother, Joey, who goes by elk.

If the title sounds like this is an exercise in narcissistic, egotistical self-indulgence, you’d be way, way off the mark: yes, Donnelly’s primary focus is himself, but this is a work of deep introspection and is one of those magical moments of fine artistry where the artist finds universality in the personal.

The recording is intimate, close-up, and you can hear every last breath, every scratch and scrape of finger on string and fretboard. The instrumentation is simple, essentially acoustic guitar and voice, with occasional incidentals so subtle as to be barely there. There is nowhere to hide, and that’s largely the point: this is a set of songs that explores identity and picks it apart unsparingly.

In the opening lines of ‘Me’ he sings, quietly, ‘Hello again; it’s me / At least I think that’s who I’m wearing; my character this week’, as he begins to lay himself bare, pulling back the layers of the onion to reveal a fragile core.

A softly quavering ambient drone marks the understated arrival of ‘Two Weeks’, a song so quietly mournful and reflective, and if one applauds the bravery of a statement which says, unashamedly ‘this is me, with all my flaws’, then it’s perhaps even bolder and more powerful to find an artist turning it around and asking ‘who is ‘me’?’. And here, Donnelly succeeds in bringing the two together, taking the listener on a journey that both questions and answers.

Donnelly is, it has to be said, a remarkably eloquent lyricist, each line adeptly spun with a rare poeticism: it’s rare to find a record where simply reading the words on the page is a moving experience.

The final song, ‘The Gap’ begins in typically hushed, reflective style, buy blossoms into a full-band finale, with drums, bass, and chiming guitar as Mikey sings out the refrain, and suddenly, he emerges from the shadows and into the light. For all the rust and dust, death and decay, there is hope and optimism.

   AA

Epilogues - Me

Click on the image to listen.