Posts Tagged ‘gloom’

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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Plinki – 15th April 2021

I’ve been vegetarian since around 1994 or 95. My vegetarianism amuses some people, including a couple of friends who are such hardcore meat enthusiasts the prospect of a meal without at least some meat element makes them shudder and quiver and slowly foam away like a slug having salt poured over it. Then again, there’s a real risk they might dehydrate through salivation at the prospect of a tray of meat. Yes, the promise of meat can have a profound and indeed physical effect.

On this album, Anat Ben David and collaborators aren’t promising any meat you can actually eat and digest, but only chew on, which will no doubt disappoint my carnivorous chums. But there is much to chew on, and to ponder, as they present a vast array of styles and sounds that don’t always sit comfortably aside one another and will test many listeners on a number of levels. At times it’s pop, and with an electronic beat, but at others, it’s overtly experimental. And what does the cover art say?

Each of the songs on the album according to the liner notes, takes as its starting point ‘a text by a different author’ with ‘the new compositions bringing out a shared theme: the interaction of humans and the natural world and the assimilation of technology into our being’.

The five tracks on The Promise of Meat are stunning in their dramatic structures, their contrasts, their juxtapositions, and Anat’s soaring operatic vocals are utterly breathtaking. And there is no one overarching style that defines the album beyond the method, a focus on the minimal, the brooding. Pitched against groaning, droning electronica and stammering synths, it’s a striking sensation that creates a certain cognitive dissonance? What is this? How does one process and assimilate it?

‘Naked Axes’, the first song, is sparse and dissonant, dramatic and while the vocal is perhaps most reminiscent of Billie MacKenzie and there are hints of the high drama and tension of The Associates, it’s Scott Walker’s later work that’s perhaps the closest comparison here.

‘Cherish the Birds; is a chorus of delirium, while ‘Face Mixed With Phone’ is a stuttering barely- there dual-vocal acapella / spoken word piece with some bloopy, gloopy incidentals. It’s a shade awkward, especially when growls and whoops collide with shuddering organ-like drones and the crack of the snares of vintage drum machines to forge a wibbly sonic mirage.

The title track, a sprawling ten-minute morass of meanderance, is where things really get weird, and it’s sonorous, lugubrious, as an acoustic guitar plods a deadened strum, augmented by mournful brass sounds sad, lost notes into nothing, and amidst squelches and digital glitches. As atonal and varikeyed vocals collide against one another in the instrumental drift, it becomes increasingly disorientating and deranged.

Maybe this isn’t an album to process or assimilate in the usual ways. There is no clean or simple way to position this or to otherwise feel comfortable with the unexpected transitions and perspectives. But it is an album to spend time with, and to reattenuate your expectations by.

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16 November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The latest six-tracker from GHXT goes for the slow-building intro with the low, slow ‘Shimmer’, where the murky, distorted guitar drone and twang cascading out over a retro drum machine stutter that’s backed off in the mix but cuts through sharp as a whip. It’s the Sisters of Mercy’s Reptile House EP slithering into a stranglehold of The Black Angels on ketamine with a dash of Barbed Wire Kisses era Jesus and Mary Chain.

Two years on from the appropriately-titled Gloom EP, the New York duo return with another batch of weighty, dark material which demonstrates their continued evolution, and the fact the EP format is one which suits them particularly well.

While operating from a comparatively limited sonic palette – dense, overdriven guitar that’s got a big, thick valve sound, minimally-programmed drum machine, and reverb-swamped female vocal they manage to do a lot with it: ‘Come Home’ is Curve-y shoegaze, while ‘It Falls Apart,’ released as a single in October, is a big, bollock-swinging swagger of messy blues, boasting a monster lead solo that sprawls over the entire track. Gloom and blues and murk dominate, casting heavy shadows and a hint of goth over the mood, but there’s so much more besides: the rich timbre of the guitar as it spins a slow-unfurling picked riff on closer ‘Die High’ calls to mind recent works by Earth and Dylan Carlson.

As the nights draw in on the approach to winter and the world feels like an increasingly apocalyptic hellhole, there’s something comforting about GHXST’s brand of immersive darkness.