Posts Tagged ‘EP Review’

15th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Lately, being goth isn’t so much of a cause of derision, since everyone has been facing some existential angst about isolation and death in some form or another. It may sound a shade facetious, and the truth is, it is, but the point stands: circumstances have forced many people to reflect differently on life, and to experience a kind of alienation, as a result of separation and distancing in the most literal of senses.

And it is upon this thought that Johnathan|Christian singer/co-writer, Christian Granquist reflects when considering this new EP: “Unlike previous releases, the lyrics and inspirations on this one is a bit of a paradox” he says. “Some of our ‘usual’ vocal topics like loneliness, isolation and of course death have become so much more relevant during the pandemic. And for the exact same reason they appear less relevant, as they become less metaphorical.’

This EP may only contain four tracks (which feels like the optimal EP set, corresponding with vinyl 12” from the 80s), but does showcase some considerable stylistic range.

With ‘My Dying Words’, the duo spin a brooding goth tune that’s in keeping with the second wave style, and would be quite at home on a Nightbreed release. Lyrically, it’s one of those ‘big ego’ protagonist songs ‘You’ll never meet someone like me again’, he bombasts in the chorus.

The title track is a piano-led piece, that brings with it a certain theatricality and some moody strings. With live-sounding drums, the feel of the production is quite different, too. Recorded as a duet, it works well, presenting as a dialogue that plays out the themes of absence and missing, and the way those feelings can interplay, and drag on the soul.

After the brief string-draped interlude if ‘My Beautiful, Broken Butterfly’, ‘Never Trust a Man (With Egg on His Face)’ pitches a drably spoken-word vocal delivery against a sparse backdrop of spindly guitars and a remarkably danceable beat, coming on like a goth Pest Shop Boys and building to a majestic finish.

A strong EP doesn’t only have strong songs, but is also sequenced in such a way as to have a flow, and Together, We’re Alone very much has that. It feels like more than simply four songs in the same space, but a self-contained unit.

AA

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Prank Monkey Records – 11th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The story goes that London four-piece Muscle Vest reportedly ‘formed in 2018 over a mutual appreciation for ugly rock music’, and that’s what they serve up on their debut EP – a sweaty, guitar-driven dirty rock workout that’s brimming with churning riffs, grease and grime. They come out all guns blazing and firing wildly in all directions with the manic racket of ‘Creepy Crawlie’, a juddering, angular rager that melts the best of 90s noise into a mangled metal nugget in the vein of later acts like Blacklisters and Hawk Eyes, and it very much sets the fast and furious tone for the rest of the EP: ‘Stray’ bears fair comparison to Blacklisters’ ‘Shirts’, with a throbbing riff blasting out against a low-slung bassline. If Shellac and Big Black are in the mix, so are The Jesus Lizard and early Pulled Apart by Horses.

Muscle Vest pack in a boatload of adrenaline and bring ALL the noise: it’s fucking ugly and monstrously brutal, and those are its positive points. It ain’t polished or pretty, and if you’re on the market for something gnarly, look no further.

‘We’ll all be dead / we’ll all be dead one day’ vocalist Dave Rogers howls nihilistically into a tempest of abrasive guitar noise that churns and grinds on ‘A Slow Death’. He’s right, of course: the question is whether we will die a quiet, peaceful death, or a horrible, painful one, shrieking in agony for the duration of those final hours. This is very much the soundtrack to the latter, and it’s almost enough to make death sound appealing. Because, well, better to go out screaming than to flicker out. The last track, ‘Blissbucket’ is a minute and three-quarters of blazing napalm, taking its cues from hardcore punk and tossing in all the jarring, jolting guitars that scratch and scrape at all angles across the relentlessly churning rhythm section. It’s fast and furious and brings the EP to a blistering close and then some. It positively burns with an intense fury, and it’s beautifully brutal. Gets my vote, and then some.

Cover art

AA

Elli Records – 21st May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Mathematic graduate turned musician (Conservatory of music and jazz studies) Daniele Sciolla has, it would seem, found a suitable home on Elli Records: just look at those precise, diagrammatic, geometrically-precise cover designs.

There was a time I’d have likely dismissed all of this as one massive nerdgasm, and have been largely unimpressed by the tale of his ‘trips all around Europe searching for rare synthesisers’, but through exposure I’ve come to appreciate the minutiae that are the obsessional objectives of works like this, which really probe deep into the tiniest nuances of sound which can be achieved through the working of these machines.

This EP goes deep into the relationship between sounds, tones, and individual notes, and as the notes explain, ‘On each track, synthesisers are either presented as a timbrical mass, or left alone by themselves, in which case even the smallest details of a single synth become audible.’

Once acclimatised and accustomed to the granular, detailed explorations, it’s not difficult to grasp why there is such a fascination with analogue equipment: the extraordinary versatility they offer when all of the variables are tweaked, even infinitesimally, is a thing of wonder.

Sciolla’s five comparatively short pieces – only one extends beyond four minutes, and the whole EP is under fifteen – retain a sense of musicality that’s often absent from many experiments in analogue, and while there are many wows and flutters, and rapid-bouncing stammers that sound like ping-pong being played at a million miles an hour, there are structural elements that give the pieces shape. There are even brief moments that fleetingly call to mind Hot Butter’s ‘Popcorn’, although to be clear, there’s nothing quite so buoyant or cheesy on offer here. But there is a sense of fun, a certain playfulness – or perhaps it’s the sound of sheer joy.

AA

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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.

Bleach

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.