Posts Tagged ‘Expansive’

Cruel Nature Records – 29th October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s something magnificent about the naming of Oli Heffernan’s project Ivan the Tolerable. It not only places a charming spin on history, neutralising and disarming the fearsome image of ‘the terrible’ with a superbly balanced piece of bathos, but it’s also so very quintessentially English. It’s the weak smile, the stiff upper lip… it’s not terrible. It’s not good either. It’s, you know, tolerable. No-one died. Or only a few people, it could be worse.

Autodidact II is the follow-up to 2018’s Autodidact, separated not only by three tears abut about a dozen releases. Heffernan is nothing if not prolific, and equally, nothing if not diverse.

This fifteen-track behemoth opens with the fifteen-minute ‘Turkish Golden Scissors (Part I) – there are two subsequent, shorter parts, situated strategically about the album. It’s a meandering progressive piece with pseudo-mystical Eastern leanings, a trippy, psychedelic jazz experience that’s utterly baked, man. There’s a trilling keyboard swirling and twirling around in the midst of the sonic sandstorm, and it’s like a collision between a deconstructed Doors track performed by The Necks.

‘Red Throated Diver’, which is centred around acoustic guitar playing a looping, cyclical motif in the style of Michael Gira, paired with some ominous and atmospheric brass and rippling synths, and clocking in at a fraction over two minutes, is a contrast in every way.

The album’s title is perhaps something of a clue to the form, presenting Heffernan as the self-taught experimentalist finding his way as he navigates the sounds in his head and working through ideas and concepts, and Autodiadact II is big on the expansive, rippling Krautrock noodling, with bubbling analogue synth sounds and trilling tones weaving over lower-end oscillations and grind and lay a gurgling, churning bedrock.

Notes chime into space amidst crackling samples and reverberations that connote space voyages – and ultimately being lost in space. It’s appropriate, as Autodidact II is not an album of focus, butt a work that wanders with or without direction in search of… well, what it’s in search if isn’t entirely clear. Not that it matters. The album started life as three separate recording sessions in July and August 2021 as work for a soundtrack to a series of films about psychogeography and North Yorkshire folklore, and as such, if the expanses of North Yorkshire, the moors and beyond, are buried in a sonic fog of otherness, the psychogeographical element reminds us that the end is not the end: it’s all about the journey. And Autodiadact II, while springing numerous surprises and drifting in and out of an array of varied sonic spaces, leads the listener on a unique, if uncertain journey.

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Mongkong Music – mkng-01

Digital release date: 4th June 2021 / Physical release date: 4th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Having been introduced to the world of microtonal experimentation around a decade ago, I’ve found a certain fascination in those close lenses on the most minute of details – the musical equivalent of peering through a microscope and seeing objects and life forms on a granular, even cellular level. I’ve also learned that anything that can be rendered or viewed from a micro level, it’s probably been done, or otherwise is within someone’s sites to do, or I simply haven’t found it yet. Take, for example, the ensemble Microtub – not a small bath, but a trio of microtonal tubas.

Mycrotom is not a microtonal tom drum, nor a microtonal extension of the work of the Vegetable Orchestra (a ten-piece collective based in Vienna who make music using instruments crafted from actual fresh vegetables). In fact, the moniker is somewhat misleading, for as the press release notes, ‘Tom Simonetti alias mycrotom has created rather large-format sound carpets in the Bertolt Brecht mechanical engineering city of Augsburg. He now presents the same: soundscapes on which you can go out of work and walk away.’

So, it’s actually about sound carpets. I have to confess that I chuckled a little on reading that, before reminding myself of my own habit of describing works as ‘sonic tapestries’ and going into detail about the ‘fabric’ of numerous compositions – and that was before I listened to the album.

The pieces are built on interesting juxtapositions – sparse motoric beats click metronomically through gloopy synth basslines that could have been lifted off early 80s electro cuts on Wax Trax! while xylophone-type chimes ring out lilting motifs. Extraneous sounds are looped to forge unusual rhythms, and there’s a muddy, murky aspect to the sound that makes it difficult to separate the different elements.

Many of the synth sounds are vintage in style, squelchy, thick, fuzzy-edged, and while the arrangements are sparse, the effect is far from minimalist: there’s quite some density to the sound, and what’s more, a lot of Ratoratiyo pursues quite danceable grooves, and with a hybrid of 90s minimalism and 80s robotix, it feels completely removed from anything human.

‘Logic by Machine’ contains human voices – sampled, distanced, detached – against a sparse, rhythmic loop. It’s anything but comforting, and leaves one feeling even further adrift, alienated. It’s a strange experience that twists at the cognitive filters in unexpected ways. After all, none of the elements are new or particularly unusual – but their assemblage is, and in ways that are difficult to place a finger on. And it’s that difficulty of placement that lies at the heart of the challenge for a listener. You ask yourself ‘how does this fit with my experience?’ and ‘where do I belong in all of this?’ There are no handholds or footholds in terms of emotional resonance, in terms of experience. And precisely what does this convey? The sounds may be warm, but the experience is somehow cold, with a sense of separation.

It’s from this place of distance, a position of removal, isolation, that we begin to explore the spaces of Ratoratiyo, and the exploratory adventure begins.

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BIG | BRAVE share a video for "Of This Ilk" – taken from their forthcoming album VITAL arriving on CD and Digital formats this Friday via Southern Lord, and with LP to follow in Summer. Pre-orders are now live and available via the Southern Lord store, Southern Lord Europe, Bandcamp and Evil Greed.

About the new song and video, which originally premiered via Roadburn Festival’s digital edition, Roadburn Redux, vocalist Robin Wattie comments, "This video and song is an ode to those that understand this all too well, all too deeply. There is a silent form of suffering that most do not share. It is a private shame that is very public. The percentage of the global population that take these painstaking, costly efforts in whitening, or rather more aptly, bleaching their skin is higher than a lot would understand, let alone, would ever consider. There is a billion dollar industry in injectables and cream-like products containing harsh and even life-threatening chemicals to lighten, clarify, and whiten one’s skin. This video is an ode to my younger self, and to all the other children, teens and adults of the past, present and future that have used bleach in every way possible, that withdrew from the sun, used clothespins on their nose, scraped their skin raw, buying every product available, in trying every means they can think of to achieve this exclusive coveted lightness, whiteness."

Watch the video here:

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Southern Lord – 23rd April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Canadian trio BIG | BRAVE return bolder, heavier, and more intense than ever on Vital. But when to start?

I seem to recall an essay by William Burroughs which contained the advice for writers that narrative had to be visual in order to work – meaning that writing about a ‘indescribable monster’ just wouldn’t cut it: readers need to be able to visualise the monster in order for it to be scary. Writing about music may be a slightly different discipline, but the challenge is always to convey not only what the music sounds like – the objective bit – but how and why it makes you feel the way it does – the subjective, critical bit. After all, you’re not a music critic without providing any critique. And yet the first – and for some time, only – word that comes to mind to ‘describe’ the experience of listening to Vital is ‘overwhelming’.

The crushing power chords crash in after just a matter of seconds on the first mammoth track, ‘Abating the Incarnation of Matter’. But it’s the jolting, juddering stop / start percussion that hits so hard that really dominates. There’s so much space – and time – between each beat, that it feels as if time is hanging in suspension, and you catch your breath and hold it, waiting, on tenterhooks. And it’s this, the sound of a tectonic collision, juxtaposed with Robin Wattie’s commanding yet incredibly delicate, fragile vocal that makes it such an intriguing and powerful experience. As the song progresses, the anguished calling becomes a ragged, hoarse-throated holler and you feel the emotion tearing at her vocal chords, ‘dissolving each layer until there is little matter left’.

The yawning throb of feedback that fills the first minute and a half of single ‘Half Life’ sounds like a jet preparing for takeoff. And when it stops, it’s the hush that’s deafening and uncomfortable. The lyrics are actually an excerpt from the 2018 essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by Alexander Chee. And when the music ends, leaving nothing but Watties’s acapella vocal, they’ve never sounded more stark and intense. Once you become adjusted to noise, there is little more shocking to the system than its absence. And so it is in life: we’ve become accustomed to traffic, to bustle, to busy shops and offices, to streaming media – and when it stops, we struggle to know what to do.

And so it is that the dynamics of Vital are so integral to its impact. ‘Wilted, Still and All…’ is different again. The album’s shortest track is still of a dense tonality and substantial volume but manifests as a billowing cloud of grumbling ambience, and it provides a certain respite ahead of the punishing ‘Of This Ilk’ – nine and a half minutes of slow, deliberate, and absolutely brutal punishment, a bludgeoning assault on a part with Cop-­era Swans. The drums and bass operate as one, a skull-crushing slab of abrasion that hits like battering ram, while the guitars provide texture as strains of feedback howl and whine. The false ending halfway through only accentuates the force ahead of the extended crescendo which follows. It’s the repetition that really batters the brain, though: bludgeoning away at the same chord for what feels like an eternity is somehow both torturous and comforting. The third and final movement is rather more tranquil, but nevertheless always carries the threat of another wave of noise, which doesn’t arrive until the title track, a nine-minute finale that grinds out a dolorous drone, a crawling dirge where a single chord and crashing beat rings out, echoes and decays for what feels like an eternity.

‘Timeless’ is a word that’s so often used and misused in describing music, but with Vital, I mean it to be understood rather more literally, in that time stalls and everything – time, perception, and the world itself – hangs, frozen in suspension. While listening to Vital, nothing exists outside this moment, and everything is sucked into the vacuum of its making. You can barely breathe or swallow, and for the time it’s playing, there is nothing else but this.

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Minimalism and instinct, structure/freedom and meticulous timing form the cornerstones of BIG | BRAVE’s precise, rhythmical sound.

Lyrically, the new album VITAL explores the weight of race and gender, endurance and navigating other people’s behaviours, observation and protest. The band further commented “this album involves what it means navigating the outside world in a racialized body and what it does to the psyche as a whole while exploring individual worth within this reality.”

Our first glimpse of the album arrives today in the form of a video for the track "Half Breed", consisting of a single shot of a single performative action that can be read as the representation of the damage an external force can have on someone or something without ever having to bear any responsibility and consequence.  BIG | BRAVE adds "The action of shovelling dirt onto the person, also acts a way to discredit, shame and discriminate the individual. With the victim (on screen), being painfully covered with dirt by the perpetrator (off screen), all we have to witness is the damage done and left behind. We are aware of what is happening, what has happened, but the source is kept anonymous and can easily be missed and overlooked."

VITAL features the core trio Robin Wattie, Mathieu Ball and Tasy Hudson, for their most collaborative record they’ve made so far. The band say “having cut our teeth in very different musical backgrounds respectively, our intuitions vary, which has an interesting effect on our individual approaches and ears.”
For this record, BIG | BRAVE once again made the trek down to Rhode Island to record with Seth Manchester at Machines with Magnets. They remark “we fully trust his instinct as an engineer and his creative output, getting to experiment with textures, concepts, layers, and with pretty much every single recorded sound, the process of making records with Seth is an absolute journey in sonic exploration".

Watch the video here:

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Photo by Mathieu Ball

Music For Nations – 22nd January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Wardruna were recently the focus of a rather unexpected article on ‘the rise of dark Nordic folk’ in The Guardian. It was largely positive, about how a largely obscure underground scene was reaching a wider audience, and emphasised the elementary influences of the distinctly non-metal genre. It was a feature that also doubled as a plug for new album Kvitravn, which, we’re told, is a continuation of the Runaljod trilogy in musical terms, but at the same time marks ‘a distinct evolution in Wardruna’s unique sound’.

And it is indeed a unique sound, and the album begins with haunting acapella vocals and rumbling atmospherics before picked strings and pounding martial drums fill the air with bold patterns. The sense of scale and depth that characterises the album as a whole is brought to the fore from the very start. More than this, it’s a sense of something primeval and non-linguistic that pervades Kvitravn. Like many listeners, I have no comprehension of the words, which are sung in elongated vowelly drones, the voices coming together not so much in harmony but in throng. And there is something immensely powerful about that. I suppose that the voice as an instrument taps into some deeper consciousness and resonates on a level that’s more genetic or spiritual than gnostic.

Tense and mournful violins provide the main accompaniment to the lugubrious vocals on the six-minute title track. It’s the roar of the sea that brings the arrival of the funereal shanty that is ‘Skugge’. The thumping motoric ‘Fylgjutal’ with its brooding bassline and repetitive guttural vocal growling is incredibly Germanic, and referencing Rammstein doesn’t seem entirely inappropriate here in terms of connecting to anyone unfamiliar with Wardruna: the drums pummel and it’s intense in a relentless way, battering away for the majority of its expansive seven and a half minutes before taking a more poet-rock turn to the close. It all drives forward toward the ten-minute ‘Andvevarljod’ or ‘Song of the Spirit-weavers’ which is epic in every sense and encapsulates the album within a single, immense track.

The instrumentation is, by and large, spartan, and if the string arrangements connote more traditional folk, then ethereal droning backdrops and tribal drumming hark back to something more traditional still – that is to say, that what we commonly associate with ‘traditional’ is often fairly modern, and that all too often our sense of history and skewed and myopic.

Kvitravn evokes images of forests, of caves, of barren mountain tops and vast expanses of moorland, and wide open spaces without people… the occasional wolf or bear, maybe, but a preindustrial world, of wildness and wilderness. And while it does have a certain ‘soundtrack’ feel to it, nothing feel forced or artificial. Kvitravn doesn’t feel like an ersatz replica of Nordic dark ages, but as if it was actually created there and has leaked forward through time to the present, untouched. As such, it’s a moving experience.

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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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