Posts Tagged ‘Expansive’

This is It Forever – 9th October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The years between 2004 and 2008 are something of a musical blur now, a period – well over a decade past – spent at the Brudenell and various other venues – immersed in endless post-rock sets. The similarness of so many bands wasn’t a problem: if any one band could be considered immersive, then the scene as a whole melted into one protracted wash of chiming guitars and a succession of crescendos that became almost an integral aspect of life itself as everything drifted into a mist that was pure escapism from the drudgery of work.

I didn’t actually manage to catch Bradford’s Falconetti, and instead came to them by way of a mate who picked up an EP – the self-released debut Oceanography – at Jumbo Records in Leeds on the basis of the staff write-up (Jumbo’s attention to detail with the inclusion of a blurb for everything they stock, coupled their support for local and regional acts really is special)

Falconetti were active between 2003 and 2008, and the fact A History of Skyscrapers contains just eight tracks while representing (almost) the entirety of their output (barring ‘Solid State’ from their last EP, given away at their final show in 2008, and the outlying hip-hop crossover collaboration ‘Falconetti vs The Enemy’), which emerged slowly along the way is evidence of just how they didn’t rush their work. It may or may not have hampered their short-lived career, but listening back now with fresh ears, it’s clear that the small legacy they have left is practically faultless.

If the title, and the connotations of ‘a history’ suggest chronology, then A History of Skyscrapers brings a certain disappointment, in that the tracks aren’t arranged in order of release, and do don’t provide a sense of the band’s evolution over time: the idea here is that A History of Skyscrapers approximates the debut album that never was.

‘Finisterre’ stays with the nautical themes that dominate their work, but breaks from the instrumental form to incorporate soaring, semi-operative female vocal curtesy of guest singer Emma Adams, against a shimmering, lustre-filled guitar.

‘Body of Water’, from the 2003 Oceanography is outstanding, building as it does from a delicate meandering into a full-on heavy riff noise that betrays their appreciation of Jesu and takes it further into lunging God/Godflesh territory with grinding guitars, lumbering bass, and some wild free jazz horns.

Lifted from that final EP, ‘Sonatine’ is lugubrious, spacious and the sound of a band expanding and experimenting, while the twelve-minute ‘Straits of Messina’, from 2007’s Finesterre is a slow-simmering exercise in subtlety and texture that’s minimal and mournful and moving, as is fitting for a composition about the site of a major earthquake in 1908, which had a magnitude of 7.1, almost completely destroying the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria, with the loss of between 75,000 and 82,000 lives.

For all of the bleak history, there is a grace and elegance about Falconetti’s work, and while much of the sound of very much rooted in the time, not least of all the mournful brass and rolling guitar lines, softly picked and reverb-heavy, over a decade on, their brooding atmospherics and range, which incorporates elements of shoegaze and dream pop and ambient and even post-punk mean that Falconetti sound as fresh and exciting as ever.

There’s a strong temptation to reflect on what could have been, but knowing how fickle and chance-based the music industry is, it’s as likely they’d have stalled and faded around regional small-venue gigs as it is they’d have progressed to headlining 200+ capacity venues nationally and acquired the kind of cult following in mainland Europe that would have kept them going nicely. So instead, it’s better that A History of Skyscrapers is viewed with the appreciation for the music as it is: as ‘Magna Via’ builds to a cathedral of a crescendo, we’re reminded of just how cathartic and invigorating the best of post-rock was, and still is. And while Falconetti may be no more the music still remains – and is now considerably easier to access, thanks to This Is It Forever and this compilation.

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Bubblewrap Collective – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s 2019, but Right Hand Left Hand’s third album leaps us back to 2004. But let’s be clear: this is not a criticism. ‘Zone Rouge’ follows on from their self-titled, Welsh Music Prize-nominated second album, and, according to the press release, ‘tells the story of humanity’s contempt for the earth beneath us, the air above us and the people around us.’ The titles of the album’s 11 tracks each refer to ‘a location on Earth where something bad has happened: An act of corruption against the planet, an act of evil against fellow humans and occasionally both.’ Obviously, there’s scope for this to have been an album of infinite duration with a new track added every three seconds for all eternity, but there have to be limits.

Instead, what we have is a concise and urgent post-rock statement on the state of the planet. Being largely instrumental, the sentiment and intention isn’t immediately apparent or openly conveyed without some kind of preface, ‘Zone Rouge’ doesn’t scream ‘environmental crisis reaction!’ or ‘mass killing’ or ‘war’. A lot of this is pretty smooth, expansive, cinematic, with well-placed but ultimately controlled crescendos. The production is sensitive to the mood and the from, but ultimately, it’s clean, dynamic, textured.

There are departures: ‘Prora’ is a kind of choppy, post-punk funk effort with vocals, and it feels rather incongruous in the scheme of the hefty back-and-forth riffery and heavy atmospherics that pervade. ‘Chacabuco’, featuring Taliesyn Kallstrom of Cardiff’s ESTRONS feels particularly anomalous, being some kind of trippy indie / alt metal hybrid. For what it’s worth, it’s a belting tune and single-worthy in its own right, but stands out like a sore thumb in the context of the album.

At times, it feels like the Right Hand Left Hand doesn’t know exactly what the Right Hand Left Hand is doing, but for the most part, Zone Rouge is a solid post-rock album, pushing into an array of stylistic territories with rare aplomb.

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Right Hand Left Hand

Sargent House – 14th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Emma Ruth Rundle clearly likes to keep busy. Her career with The Nocturnes crossed over with her joining The Red Sparowes, which in turn crossed with the start of her solo career, which saw the release of ambient effort Electric Guitar: One in 2011, while also embarking with another band in the form of the trio Marriages in 2012. Her sprawling and rapidly-expanding discography is a document of a restless soul, and a spirit who’s not only creative but incapable of taking respite.

On Dark Horses may only contain eight songs, and none of significant length (the album clocks in around the forty-two minute mark, harking back to the days of an album fitting snugly, ideally with just a little breathing room, on one side of a C90 cassette), but it’s got range and intensity.

There are dark, haunting undertones to the dramatic shades cast on opener ‘Fever Dreams’, which bursts loud from between delicate wisps of fractal guitar before taking a more languid and wistful turn around the mid-point. ‘This shit is real,’ she agitates at one point. This shit is also graceful and expansive and powerful. ‘Control’ – one of the album’s real standouts – begins gently, mellow, chiming guitar that’s a post-rock country crossover providing the backdrop to Emma’s lilting country-infused vocals… before the deluge of distortion crashes in like a landslide. And keep on crashing, thunderously, a massive mess of sludgy weight, burying the drums an all but the cymbals, mashing and crashing away in the background. ‘Darkhorse’, too, builds gradually, chimes gracefully, and roars like thunder beneath a delicate vocal.

While any Chelsea Wolfe comparisons have merit, particularly in relation to the front end of the album, Emma Ruth Rundle brings a whole slew of other aspects to the party on On Dark Horses there’s a heavy folk element, both to the music and in Emma’s voice. Then again, post-rock passages yield to blistering crescendos that also draw on the most explosively soaring shoegaze.

When she takes it downtempo, as on ‘Races’, there are deep, sad guitar notes which arc, aquiver with reverb. And across the album, the sense of depth conveyed by the rich textures and the three-dimensional fullness of the sound render the songs with a rare physicality and intensity.

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Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses

Young God Records

It’s perhaps too much to convey the experience of hearing Soundtracks for the Blind for the first time on its release in 1996. Admittedly, hearing any Swans release for the first time was memorable – I was introduced in the late 80s via Children of God, which, aged 17, was unlike anything I had heard before. It was what one might call a pivotal moment. I was compelled to explore their back-catalogue, which yielded a succession of further pivotal moments, not east of all on the discovery of Cop.

For all its length, The Great Annihilator was pretty straightforward, and represented a continuation of the White Light / Love of Life albums. Just a year later, Soundtracks for the Blind was altogether different, and represented a new expansion on all levels. It was about three hours long, for a start. The third song was over a quarter of an hour long, and there were extensive instrumental passages that bordered on ambient. Elsewhere, reworkings of older songs, bent almost beyond recognition (‘YRP’ and ‘YRP 2’ emerging from ‘Your Property’ from 1984’s Cop), surfaced amidst the churning soundscapes drawn from the contents of the library of tape loops and found sounds gathered by Michael Gita over the band’s whole career. It felt like the culmination of a lifetime’s work. It felt fitting it should be Swans’ final studio album, and it seems appropriate that its remastered reissue should arrive when Gira has again called time on the band. Its arrival gives us cause to reflect on the cyclical nature of the band’s career, and the differences and similarities between their first unbroken span and their later incarnation, which closed with another uber epic in the form of The Glowing Man and followed by a live document (as Soundtracks was accompanied by the conclusive Swans are Dead, so The Glowing Man was accompanied by Deliquescence).

This is the first time Soundtracks has been released on vinyl, and naturally, its formatting and packaging is something else: as the press release and Young God website detail, ‘the vinyl package will consist of four LPs in jackets enclosed in a box with a poster, insert and download card. The box set will be a limited edition of 4,000 copies worldwide and once sold out will be followed later in 2018 by a gatefold LP version. The album will also be reissued on CD featuring a repackage of the original digipak for the 1996 Atavistic release plus a bonus disc of the contemporaneous Die Tür Ist Zu EP (a German language version of some of the material from Soundtracks that also includes unique material) recently released for the first time on vinyl in the USA for Record Store Day 2018. Outside of the USA, Die Tür Ist Zu EP will be released as a limited edition companion piece double vinyl set, also on 20th July’. Yes, as with the previous reissues, they’ve gone all put to render a truly definitive edition.

Listening to Soundtracks now, it seems that Gira, having declared the band spent in 1997, spent a long time cogitating over the directions and possibilities that this album presented, and took them as the starting point for the post-millennial iteration: it certainly shares more with this period than its predecessors, with exceptions like ‘The Yum Yab Killers’ which delivers the same kind of punch as ‘Mother/Father’ on The Great Annihilator (and recoded live, with somewhat muffled sound, it still seems a shade incongruous in its inclusion here, although Jarboe sounds so fucking fierce I’d not want to make to big a deal of it). We’re reminded, too, that Soundtracks emerged during a fairly prolific spell for Gira, and it’s perhaps inevitable that elements of other projects – namely the solo album Drainland and The Body Lovers / The Body Haters. ‘All Lined Up’ is a different version of ‘I See Them All Lined Up’ which featured on Drainland. It’s simultaneously more distorted and weirded-out, and more explosive, more driving, more… Swans.

Some of the rambling monologues are quite disturbing (with recordings of Gira’s father talking about his life and excerpts from FBI tapes, amongst other things), but then so is the musical accompaniment that provides the backdrop: ‘I Was a Prisoner Inside Your Skull’ and ‘How they Suffer’ make for uncomfortable listening.

There are some incredibly tender, raw, emotive moments: Gira’s voice, cracked and plaintive on ‘Animus’, as woodwind bursts around him from a hovering hush, is one of Swans’ most affecting moments. For a band whose back catalogue contains some of the most intense sonic brutality ever committed to tape, it’s quite a contrast, and perhaps all the more moving in context.

It’s a sprawling expanse of sound, and it isn’t entirely cohesive. Gira’s conception of sound as something malleable and his approach to dynamics would evolve immensely in the time away from Swans, and as such, Soundtracks is as much a signpost toward the next phase as a bookend to the one it belongs. At the time, it was almost too much to digest. On revisiting, the same holds true. The density of both sound and ideas, the sheer scale of the album, the fact that it condenses fifteen years into two and a half hours… of course it’s too much to bear. This was always the way with Swans: even their gentler albums are delivered with an intensity that transcends words. And this, of course, is the ultimate objective of music – to touch body and mind in ways that are beyond any form of articulation. Soundtracks for the Blind doesn’t simply touch those parts, but poke, prod, squeeze and stab at them.

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