Posts Tagged ‘Grunge’

7th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Argonaut are back with a new line-up and a new EP. You’d never guess from the title about there being a new EP. Having booked the studio for eight hours, the whole session was wrapped in six, with ‘minimal overdubs or embellishments’ as they put it. This honest, unlaboured approach gives the songs a directness and urgency which is integral to the appeal here.

All clocking in at between two and a half and three minutes, the four tracks on Argonaut’s latest offering are punchy, spiky, and with uncluttered arrangements and lo-fi production values, are perfect examples of punk/new wave crossover, delivered with the zeal of riot grrrl and grunge. And it’s great fun.

The band indulge their pop tendencies with a gloriously joyful rendition of Strawberry Switchblade’s ‘Since Yesterday’ (they do quite a line in covers, as it happens). It’s faithful to the original, but where the original was a shade twee, their take is free, vaguely ramshackle, and has a superbly messy guitar sound fizzing away.

With guitarist Nathan sharing the vocal duties on ‘March!’ – which is built around a simple, cyclical chord sequence played jangly and off-kilter – they come on like Brix-era Fall, and it’s the exuberance that crackles from ‘Girl Talk’ that pretty much serves to define the spirit of the EP.

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Sacred Bones Records – 31st August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Magus is Thou’s first full-length since 2014’s Heathen. It’s perhaps fair to say that the three EPs which preceded it – which they forewarned would be ‘a complete sonic departure from Magus and from each other’ – which effectively constituted albums in their own right – did nothing to prepare us for this.

But what exactly is this? As the album’s press blurb acknowledges, they’re ‘often lumped in with New Orleans sludge bands like Eyehategod and Crowbar, [but share] shares a more spiritual kinship with ‘90s proto-grunge bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden’, while ‘the band’s aesthetic and political impulses reflect the obscure ’90s DIY hardcore punk found on labels like Ebullition, Vermiform, and Crimethinc’. All this makes them hard to place.

The album’s opener, ‘Inward’, provides just over ten full minutes of snarling fury that carries enough weight to crush weaker souls who may venture forth expecting any of the soft musicality of the Inconsolable EP (which revealed Thou to be capable of extreme gentility, and, indeed, extreme beauty).

Things turn very black and very sludgy and very heavy on ‘Transcending Dualities’; and while it’s a snarling, low-tuned mess of slow-creeping sludge, there are stray notes that break free to squeal to break the trudging oppression. Bryan Funck’s twisted vocals draw every ounce of excruciation into the mix.

‘The Changeling Prince’ brings grace and grandeur to proceedings, and the hushed intro and expansive sound of ‘Sovereign Self’ (the second of three songs to cross the ten-minute mark) calls to mind Amenra, but his is a whole other level of gnarly, demonic savagery, and the overall sonic density is suffocating.

But Magus does find Thou continue to expand and explore in all directions, and there are three shorter tracks that serve as interludes between the towering monoliths which are the songs themselves: the cacophonous racket of ‘My Brother Caliban’ contrasts sharply with ‘Divine Will’, with its ethereal female vocals and pounding tribal drums. Elsewhere, the sprawling epic that is ‘In the Kingdom of Meaning’ introduces a psychedelic twist to the doomy trudge. And there are passages of extreme delicacy, rich in evocative atmosphere, which draw the lister into quiet clearings with dappled light where an air of calm radiates before the shadows loom, the clouds gather and the next tempestuous storm breaks. Such tension-building passages and contrasts of mood and volume create a compelling dynamic and makes Magus a mighty album which requires attention and exploration of the detail.

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27th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

They’re still touring their debut album, Get What You Came For and already Weekend Recovery are moving on with a new EP that marks another step in their ever-advancing evolution.

If the album saw them ditch the Kerrang-radio-friendly Paramore-influenced alternative rock of their early efforts in favour of a more direct, punk style (nevertheless marked by a pop sass that passed a nod to Blondie), this latest effort finds Weekend Recovery get grittier and grungier. And once again, it’s a move for the better, and while it may not exactly be garage but more grunge, it is full-tilt and raw, while also benefitting from a fuller sound that showcases the material to best effect.

The band haven’t been around that long in real terms – I first caught them a couple of years ago in a basement bar in Leeds, and they were good, but clearly still searching for their identity, although Lauren came on like a star in the making, rocking up in a faux-fur coat and ready to kick ass. And not only live but on record, she’s really evolved as a performer, and behind the scenes, as an artist. The same goes for the rest of the band, too: this is solid and assured, and everything about In the Mourning marks a progression.

They’ve dug deep for this, and the press release points out that ‘Lori has doubled down on the transparent window into her own turbulent world that ‘Anyway’ [from the album] provided with a formidable and resonating track in ‘I’m Not That Girl’. The song in question finds the band mining an almost country seem albeit amped up to eleven with driving guitars dominating the chorus of this gut-spilling reflective confessional.

But it’s the choppy ‘Bite Your Tongue’ that grabs the attention as the EP’s opener, a thumping four-square bassline underpinning a quintessential grunge dynamic of chiming chorus-soaked verse guitar and overdriven chorus. And they totally nail it, with a hefty, heads-down riffcentric mid-section. Beneath the breezy woah-oh-oh-oh chorus, there’s a tension that’s both sonic and emotional, and the title track steps it up a couple of notches, propelled by a twisted disco groove that drives an explosive chorus. The guitars are up-front and meaty, and Lauren’s delivery balances melody with a raw passion that comes from churning internal anguish that has to find an outlet.

In the Mourning sees Weekend Recovery take another leap into forging their own identity, growing bolder and braver and more confident. Where they’ll be in another 18 months… I’m on the edge of my seat to see.

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It’s not often that an evening of live music begins with spoken word poetry. It’s a shame, as the two media can often prove complimentary. John Cooper Clark supporting The Fall and KJ Farrington supporting Sleaford Mods stand out in my mind for all the right reasons.

Self-professed punk poet and nerd, Henry Raby, gets things going with a couple of pieces. A seasoned performer who seamlessly rides out any fluffed lines (and can turn forgetting a line into a plug for his book), he’s relaxed and emanates an energy that’s infectious, and which is paired with a disarming affability.

Katie Watson’s poetry is personal, confessional, brimming with anxiety and keen observations, and rendered with fine details and a certain self-effacing humour. Her delivery is superb: having previously caught her not s long ago at a spoken-word night in a small room, she seems to revel in the bigger space, the challenge of a larger audience, and being faced with a microphone.

What Henry has a knack of bringing to events he’s involved in is a spirit of inclusivity, of equality, of unity. We’re all misfits together here. So, the board gaming nerds, the varied shades of gender and a range of musical and literary tastes are all catered for here.

Crumbs describe themselves as ‘a post-punk pop party pack’ who like ‘pets and puns’ (and alliteration, on this evidence). The four-piece blend jangly 90s indie with a grunge sensibility. Pavement would be an obvious, but fitting touchstone, and at one point I find myself thinking about a collision between The Cure and Carter USM, while elsewhere, there’s a new song that boasts a chunky, funky bass groove and choppy, fractured guitar worthy of Gang of Four. It’s an eclectic and compelling mix. The guitarist has some of the dirtiest overdrive I’ve heard in a while, creating a strong contrast to the crisp, chiming tone that features in most of the songs’ verses. It’s a simple dynamic, but highly effective. Playing on the floor in front of the stage, the sound in the front rows is mostly backline, and this only heightens the experience of the band being in such close proximity to the audience.

Crumbs

Crumbs

Having only caught the second half of Dream Nails’ set at Live at Leeds, and found it to have been good fun, I was keen to see how they’d go over the duration of a full headline set.

They’re high-octane and high-energy from the get-go, and if there was any question over whether or not they could sustain it for a full set, they answer it with a resounding yes. There really is no let-up in their four-chord poppy punk thrashabouts. The lyrics veer between vulnerability and vehemence, and while they may lack overt depth or subtlety, the directness is part of the appeal. And behind the effervescent performance style, and the bouncy, accessible tunes, there are some serious issues, largely centring around the challenges of being a woman in the world today.

And these are the reasons why I’m here. I go to gigs to watch and listen to bands. As a music critic, I write about them, and because we live in a very visually-orientated age, pictures accompanying a review are often useful. But Dream Nails don’t like having their pictures being taken by men, and since I didn’t have any female company in tow to shoot a pic on my behalf, there’s no image here.

Men snapping away make them feel uncomfortable. Especially men in my demographic with certain types of camera (I’m 42, although the post on their Facebook page which appeared within a short time of the show’s ending would suggest they think I’m older, and I prefer t travel light). Fair enough. Although generally, if you’re going to implement a policy, such as no photography without consent, it’s better to state it up-front. But when that policy is called during the show, and applies only to a few – well, men, actually – the issue becomes rather thorny under scrutiny.

Nobody likes to be singled out, especially not based on an assumption, and even less when the assumption is incorrect – because that’s prejudice. To be singled out as one of two men with cameras, with the justification that they hadn’t given consent, and fuck the male gaze, was not comfortable. I can live with uncomfortable: I’m aware that my own performances have a tendency to evoke a very tangible sense of discomfort and awkwardness. But no-one is ever singled out or humiliated, and it’s not about ‘unlearning oppressive behaviours’.

But more than anything, I found not only the approach troubling, but what it represents. Now, the battleground of gender is one of which I have only a cursory knowledge, but I am acutely aware of the divisions and infighting between the various identifiers. But ultimately, being a straight white male, I’m in the bracket which is the worst of the worst on the enemy scale. As we mark the centenary of The Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave British women over 30 the right to vote, at the same time as picking through the fallout of the events that led to the #metoo campaign, it’s clear we’ve still got a long way to go and that male oppression is rife.

However, the ‘calling out’ of ‘creepy’ guys taking photos of a band performing assumes that all men are creepy and only go and see bands with women in because they want to go and ogle women. Which also seems to undermine the idea that as women making music, people –regardless of sex / gender (I’m aware the correspondence between the two varies considerably) – may simply appreciate their art, and, like so many others, shoot snaps for posterity or social media because it’s the age we live in. To judge an individual based on the behaviour of a number (not even necessarily a majority) is prejudice in action.

This – literal – finger-pointing may have been well-received by a sector of the audience, but even if it hadn’t been directed at me, it would still have sat uncomfortably on a personal level: publicly humiliating someone based on an assumption is very much a knee-jerk response, the likes of which result in heated arguments. My knee-jerk reaction was to omit Dream Nails from the review altogether, but precisely what would that achieve? Certainly nothing productive. First, what’s actually needed is rational debate and mutual understanding of commonality. Second, they played a decent set, and went down well with a crowd of a respectable size, which is no small feat – especially in York on a Thursday night.

Moreover, feminism, at its heart, is about attaining equality for women. To substitute misogyny with misandry is not a push for equality, but to simply invert and replicate the behaviours of the guilty, and thus perpetuate division. Dream Nails generously commented on their Facebook thread, ‘Also if u r a male fan who is feeling affronted by this, pls remember you are still always welcome at our shows without your cameras.’ So, credit where it’s due, they’re still espousing equality. But is conditional equality really equality? Not really. Obviously, I’m grateful for the concession to be allowed to attend their shows in the same way anyone else is.

I shouldn’t feel the need to state that I’m not anti-feminism; quite the opposite. Moreover, I’m fundamentally opposed to any -ism that promotes inequality, discrimination, prejudice. And so, while Janey Starling may have provoked something personal in her actions, my beef isn’t so much directed at her or the band, but at the way complex and difficult issues are addressed, without any attention to the details or any sense of nuance, with too many people shouting about the lack of consideration they’re shown by others without showing that same consideration in return.

They ended their set with a blistering rendition of ‘Deep Heat’.

Sometimes, I just need a night off. And what better way to unwind than going to see a trio of noisy bands? It may be something of a busman’s holiday for a music critic, but a night-off gig means there’s no obligation to produce a review. Which means I can drink all the beer and not care about making notes, about remembering anything other than the atmosphere, the overall experience of whether the bands and the night were any good. Right? Only, I’ve gone and done it anyway. For posterity. Out of habit. And because it’s shows like this that provide the best entertainment, but rarely get the coverage -or attendance – they deserve.

Granted, it’s baking hot and it’s Wednesday night after the universities have split for summer. But it’s free entry, dammit! And the lineup features bands who’ve travelled from Hull! And bloody good bands at that!

Admittedly, I’m here for Cannibal Animal, a band who’ve consistently impressed, both live and recorded: their latest EP is an absolute banger.

Night Owls arrive with squalling feedback and noodling synths, with driving drumming and some melodic hooks. There’s much to like about their brand of sinewy, synthy, post-punk… and beyond ‘I am for real’ their singer hollers ad infinitum during their second song, and nothing in their edgy, angular set gives reason to doubt, although their style is so wide-ranging I do find myself wondering exactly how to position them. But then, it’s not about pigeonholing, but quality of material and performance. And these guys are good on both fronts.

Night Owls

Night Owls

Cannibal Animal’s latest offering marks a significant shift toward the more psych-influenced end of the post-punk spectrum, evoking the sort of surf-goth of obscuritants like The Volcanoes more than the overt rockabilly of, say The Cramps. ‘Ellipsisism’, the lead single from their snarling ‘A Decline in Morality’, which also reminds me of the mega-obscure ‘Genetic Disruption’ EP by Murder the Disturbed (released on Small Wonder, the same label which would release Bauhaus’ seminal ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ 12” in the same year) EP is a clear standout, although it’s the EP’s closer ‘Ripe’ that’s lodged in my head on the train home.

The brittle, flanged, chorus-soaked guitars of the studio renderings are cranked up to the pain threshold and into a thick mess of distortion and shrieking treble, resulting in a set that slams from beginning to end like a sonic battering ram. It’s no criticism to observe that Luke Ellerington isn’t your conventionally appealing front man, but he’s charismatic and compelling and his presence is huge. It’s tense, loud, and thrilling, and I could go home happy after their set.

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Cannibal Animal

But then there’s Lumer, who’ve also made their way from Hull. Theirs is a set of angsty, aggressive post-punk with pummelling tom-driven drumming that’s tense and expansive.

I’ve had a few pints by now, since I’m not planning to review the show, and spend some time marvelling at their keyboardist’s dubious moustache and the fact the singer bears a passing resemblance to a young Kirk Brandon.

Lumer

Lumer

The one thing about gig drinking is that there’s always someone way drunker than you, and while I’m conscious of gaps in my notes, I’m more conscious of the fact there’s a really drunk guy who keeps falling over while moshing loosely. People keep picking him up and throwing him back upright, before he lurches toward the stage. But he’s happy and they’re cool with it, and as outstanding as the music, it’s the community spirit. It’s truly uplifting and a joy to witness.

I’m also conscious that the volume is so intense that the sound is mushy, especially standing as close to the speakers as I am… and it doesn’t matter. The energy that crackles from the band, and which is bounced back by the audience is immense.

If you want clean sound, stay home. If you want to get out of your skin, cut loose and live, go and watch live bands in small venues.

I need to take more nights off.

Svart Records – 31st August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

I read ‘ffo Unsane, Jesus Lizard, Shellac, Blacklisters’ and practically jazzed my pants before I’d even opened the email, let along downloaded the promo. That was before I read the slick, sleazy, fluid-dripping pitch for Finland-based Throat’s sophomore album, as seeing the band plunging ‘head first into unprotected encounters with musical elements hardly even hinted at on their previous releases.’

‘Safe Unsound’ opens the album with a sparse into: just guitar and baritone croon that invited comparisons to Glenn Danzig. But then the guitar goes to picked notes and the atmosphere builds into more Neurosis territory… but they keep pulling back. You’re waiting for it to break, for something to happen… How long is it reasonable to hold back? I recall seeing Shellac-influenced Glasgow act Aereogramme circa 2003 and being bored to tears: there simply wasn’t enough reward for the patience of enduring the build-up. But then, Shellac can be masters of frustration: just listen to Terraform.Thankfully, Throat cut loose and hit the distortion pedals around the three-and-a-half minute mark during this eight-and-a-half minute epic. And the song has a sort of coda which is a repetitive, grinding loop worthy of early Swans, which culminates of two minutes of screeding feedback and noise. So far, so punishing. And there are still another seven songs left to go.

‘No Hard Shoulder’ justifies the Jesus Lizard/ Blacklisters comparisons, with its driving guitar and bass welded together and glued to pulverizing drums that forge a Melvins-ish take on grungy stoner rock. Gritty, shouty, unpolished, it also evokes the Touch ‘n’ Go vibe while also hinting at favourable parallels with contemporaries like Pissed Jeans. So far, my jizzed pants are justified, and the rest of the album doesn’t disappoint.

Things go a bit Techno Animal / Godflesh / NIN on ‘Shortage (Version)’ with its hefty, crashing beats, straining digital noise and thickly distorted vocals which, in combination, carve out a lugubrious, funereal piece. Dense and dark I equal measure, it provides a mid-album interlude of crushing, neogoth intensity that stands quite apart from the other tracks. and the sonorous, subsonic bass just kills.

‘Born Old’ slams back into 90’s T&G territory and sounds like Tar at their best. Obscure? Sure, but if you get the reference, the album’s for you. If you don’t, but are digging Throat, you need Tar in hour life. Really. ‘Rat Domain’ slams and churns hard, the jarring grunge riffery whipping up a churn that resonates in the gut, before closer ‘Maritime’ hammers home six minutes of brutally jarring noise-rock, which is angular, sinewy, and relentless in its abrasion, and even brings a hint of the gothic before piledriving into the home straight with a remarkably accessible, melodic finale. If it seems at odds with the rest of the album, it’s hardly a weak finish, and instead demonstrates that Throat aren’t all about the gnarly noise… just mostly.

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16th April 2018 – Riot Season Records

Christopher Nosnibor

For the love, not the money, Every time. I fell out of the loop, and missed out on the promo and wasn’t even aware that one of my favourite active bands had a new album out. And that’s reason to write about it. I feel I somehow owe the band for all of the killer music so far, and owe it to myself for posterity. So, I’m playing catch-up here with the Hey Colossus offshoot, and immediately, what strikes is the grit of the guitar and the murky production that renders The Making of Junio Bonner possibly their grimiest effort to date.

It’s the combination of spindly lead guitar lines that loop over the bowel-bothering bass frequencies before dissolving into overdriven sludge, coupled with the cool-as-fuck drawling vocals that does it. And yes, it’s pure 90s grunge, with big nods to Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, but with the dingy, greasy, rough-hewn raggedness of Tad. Do I like Henry Blacker for being an allusive throwback? Inevitably, grunge is in my DNA having immersed myself in all the bands of the day in my mid-late teens in the mid-late 90s. But no: Henry Blacker don’t evoke nostalgia. However much their template may be of an era, their music is timeless. Because good music is.

Initial spins don’t reveal any instant grabs like ‘Pullin’ Like a Dray’, ‘Cold Laking’, or ‘The Grain’, but then again, it’s time spent with Henry Blacker that allows the growers to emerge: over time, their previous two albums have proved themselves to be solid gold, albeit caked in mud and shit. And perhaps the lack of standouts is an indicator of its absolute consistency: all the songs are equal, and all are equally solid. And solid is the word. The back-to-back dispatching of songs centred around cyclical grooves and relentless riffery places it in the same space occupied by Nirvana’s debut. It grafts and grinds, hawks and chisels away, snarling, spitting, raging.

‘Shingles to the Floor’ is almost an accessible rock tune when you wipe it down. The classic rock intro on ‘Cellmate’ gives way to a panelling, thick, grungy riff that hits that sweet spot of optimum density, where the guitars fill the speakers with a distortion that threatens to overload them with a fuzz that sounds like tearing cardboard while the bass isn’t something you hear but feel. The mangled vocals, half buried, are the perfect addition.

‘Keep it Out of Your Heart’ locks into a thick, stoner groove that Queens of the Stone Age would likely kill to replicate these days. It has a certain overloaded smoothness and a swagger that chugs and chunks as it drives onwards. And maybe it’s one of those tracks that grows as a standout after just a few plays after all…

The density of sound, the way the riffs churn in on themselves and repeat as they snarl and grate, all combine to build a claustrophobic intensity. There’s no room to breathe here, and there’s no slow-tempo lighter-waving anthem at the end of side one: it’s truly end-to-end in conception and delivery.

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Henry Blacker