Posts Tagged ‘Grunge’

Sargent House

Christopher Nosnibor

Chelsea Wolfe and her band drummer Jess Gowrie came together while touring Wolfe’s Hiss Spun album in 2017. I reasonably expected Chelsea to be the dominant force here, and it’s perhaps because of that expectation that Self Surgery, the fruits of their collaboration under the moniker of Mrs Piss, hits as hard as it does. It’s the best kind of collaboration, greater than the sum of its parts, and finds Wolfe standing equal creative billing.

If Wolfe’s albums are marked by a degree of poise, control, balance, then those are tossed to the wind in a deluge of noise on Self Surgery. It’s unrefined, even messy in places, and all the better for it. It feels like a true exploration as the pair cut loose, dredge deep, and find what’s really inside themselves.

‘To Crawl Inside’ is but an intro track, 43 seconds of no-wave buzz and a vocal stew that bubbles discord and disquiet. It sets the tone in that it’s raw and ragged, angular and challenging, but it barely begins to set the levels for volume and abrasion. On Self Surgery, Wolfe and Gowrie crank it up and go all out.

‘Downer Surrounded by Uppers’ blasts headlong into a grunge blast, and we’re talking more early Hole than the stereotypically formulaic quiet/loud dynamic of what’s come to be associated with grunge since Nevermind and Live Through This redrew the template and rendered it accessible. It’s not the only full-throttle grunge explosion: ‘Nobody Wants to Party with Us’ is throws in some skull-cracking percussion and an industrial edge that lands it somewhere between Pretty On the Inside and The Downward Spiral. It’s heavy-duty.

‘Knelt’ finds Chelsea in more familiar territory, with a grinding, low-registering bass and swirling maelstrom of distorted guitar providing a dense, murky backdrop to a breathy, brooding vocal that’s reminiscent of ‘Spun’. But while still cinematic, and also deep, dark, and weighty, as well as simultaneously ethereal, the guitars wrapped in layers of effects and drenched in reverb, there’s a different feel to the production here: less polished, less precise, everything is more up-front, more direct.

If the first half of the album is intense, the second is next level: muscles twitch and nerves jangle in the face of the upshift in pace and intensity that begins with the driving riffery of ‘M.B.O.T.W.O.’ and steps up with ‘You Took Everything’, which is shadowy, gloomy, gothic in mood, stark snare ricochets shaping the direction as screaming banshee backing vocals fill the backdrop with a fearful hauntology.

The title track is a daunting morass of dingy bass and pulverising percussion that paves the way for the mess of no-wave noise that is the pair’s titular tune and sums up what their about perfectly, as the guitars and dual vocals swirl in currents of feedback before a driving drum thrash that calls to mind Bleach-era Nirvana hammers to an unexpected moment of calm to fade.

Because of its timing, and its staunchly uncommercial titling, this project could well be a bit of a sleeper, but the fact is, it’s as strong as anything Wolfe has released during her career to date, and is a truly killer album in its own right.

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Christopher Nosnibor

It’s no secret: I fucking love cheese. To the extent that it’s the single foodstuff that prevents me from being vegan, and to the extent that if I had to live on any one type of food, it would be cheese. Forget pudding, gimme the cheeseboard. In fact, scrap starters and mains, just give me all the cheese. My 4-tier wedding cake consisted of a wheel each of Brie, Stilton, Cornish Yarg, and a truckle of mature cheddar. So I kinda feel that Chronic Johnny’s debut single is a song that should appeal, regardless of actual content.

Harrogate may not be an obvious place to spawn a ‘wild noiserock trio’ like Chronic Johnny, but on reflection, it makes sense: it’s a lovely, leafy, middle-class market town close to York. What could possibly spur a bunch of guys to make angular, guitar-driven racket, the sound of anger and frustration in a setting like this? Well, precisely a setting like this. There’s always something to rebel against, always a reason to feel disenfranchised. And always a reason to make noise.

And Chronic Johnny make a cracking noise of a decidedly 90s alternative vintage, all spiky, overdriven guitars that jerk and jolt, and peppered with a substantial dash of rockabilly / surf spice, not least of all in the manic, yelping vocals. It’s such a frenetic, hybridized racket that comparisons are pretty pointless; it’s more that this furiously dirty din, driven by a growling, busy bassline, draws together the essence of a period in time, and drags it, squalling and brawling into the present. It’s gnarly, and it kicks ass.

Christopher Nosnibor

Here in Britain, sophomore is such a music journo word: because of the structure of our education system, it simply doesn’t occur in any other context. The fact the same is true in Australia perhaps makes it an odd choice of name for an Australian band, but one suspects there’s a degree of knowingness around this, paired with the fact that the band is essentially a second project for noisy alt-rock duo Mannequin Death Squad, which sees Elly and Dan joined by Vanessa and Shelly in a quest to pursue a slightly more indie / pop direction.

‘Social Distancing’ is, as you might expect, another in a blizzard of recordings inspired by current events – or, indeed, non-events, as the days melt into one another – but does stand out as being particularly good. Maybe I’m biased; maybe it just resonates: it’s not the virus that’s putting me in a psychological spin, but news and social media, through which the landscape changes by the hour.

‘I can’t breathe / with all this information thrown at me’, are the opening lines, and it pretty much encapsulates the experience a connected digital society in which everyone has an opinion and data overload is more of a syndrome than something theoretical. I feel that communication with even me closest friends is becoming increasingly difficult as we all become zombified by bewilderment.

From a quiet, picked guitar intro, in classic grunge style, it breaks into a big, guitar-driven chorus, but the guitars chime rather than drive, and the vocal harmonies are so sweet as they advise ‘don’t listen to the radio /don’t listen to those TV shows’. I’ve been feeling the pain of government disinformation a lot lately, and much as keeping informed is useful, I’m beginning to question the validity of the exercise. But the real crux comes near the midpoint on the refrain ‘and the lonely get lonelier’ and it lands hard. Because it’s true. We all feel isolated to varying degrees, because we are, literally, in isolation – but some are more isolated than others.

Stuck indoors with your family may be tense and torturous, and only having text or Skype or similar may be a woefully weak substitute for human contact, but what about those without any of these things? The sentiment is touching, and it’s also a belting tune, that ultimately lands like The Pixies doing anthemic.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Six whole years in the making In Her Eyes Lies the Golden Dawn is the third release from Austin TX’s Black Earth. Before we get to the album, take a moment to reflect on that. Six years. Can you even remember how the world was six years ago? It as another world. We were all different people. I’m going to assume the members of Black Earth have been busy wit life. Life has a habit of devouring time. Yu get sidetracked by dayjob and family, and suddenly, six years have passed. No sarcasm: this is how it happens. I expect some people will have been on tenterhooks for this.

‘She is the Void’ brings an ‘Unplugged in New York’ kind of vibe by ay of an opener, only without vocals, it’s lot less angsty, and it practically bleeds into the title track, which starts out Mark Lanegan before bursting into a chorus that’s more a grunged-up Zeppelin and wraps with a big rock climax around the mid-point. Being over eight-and-a-half minutes, it’s a bit of a beast. I may not be entirely sold on the ‘eyes / thighs’ rhyme but hey, when it comes to good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, there’s currency still to be found in booze and birds type relationship stuff.

‘I never meant to hurt you / but you gave me no choice’ goes the opening of ‘Pushing Back My Hand’, and I find myself wondering just how comfortable I am with it, before I remind myself that it’s a mistake to align artist with art, and there’s nothing here that in any way condones any kind of misogyny. In fact, what we have is a pretty straight-ahead blues-grunge album, and a solid one at that.

They pack the riffs, and that’s a fact. ‘Left Behind’ is particularly ball-busting, coming on with enough weight as to sound like Melvins covering some vintage cock rock. ‘She’s a Do or Die’ brings more dirty heft, the guitars thick and overdriven, and there comes a point where skirting sabbath touchstones becomes impossible, although the swaggering space-rock midsection is more Hawkwind and finds the band going all out on going all out, and it kicks ass. And as for the colossal closer, ‘She is the Universe’… woah. It brings the riffs, the repetition, and locks into a dense psychedelic groove, which breaks around the seven-minute mark to return to Mark Lanegan territory, before piling into a massive guitar finish.

It’s so easy to dismiss blues / rock albums – even those that incorporate grunge and psych – as being a bit standard, and being much of a muchness. But that’s a genre thing: let’s face it, within any genre there will always be tropes that form a level of format. This is where it comes down to quality of material and execution, and on In Her Eyes Lies the Golden Dawn, Black Earth have both.

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Blacl Earth

22nd April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Argonaut offshoot and Aural Aggro favourites Videostore have certainly been keeping busy during lockdown: just days after unleashing the lightning strike blast of the 54-second ode to redevelopment, ‘Building Breaking’, with the inclusion of three more previous singles, they’ve delivered a full ten-song album. Better still, the speed of its creation imbues every second with an urgency and immediacy that grabs the listener and keeps a solid grip right to the end.

It’s pitched as the soundtrack to an imaginary 1980s Brat Pack movie set in a Videostore. The songs provide a background for the small-town, the journey and the relationship. Please insert your own characters, plot twists and angst!’

‘Building Breaking’ kicks it off in a flurry of fizzy guitars, and keeping it front-loaded, the dreamy showgazer that is ‘Every Town’, and for all the buzzsaw bangers, there are some beautifully melancholic moments to be found here. They evoke not only a (recent and modern) bygone era, but also conjure a sense of the downbeat and the run-down.

If nostalgia has painted the 80s as an era of shininess, newness, and the dawn of the new consumerism, Vincent’s Picks reminds us that there has always been deprivation, worn-down backstreets and downtrodden folks living mundane lives. The people who rarely feature in big-budget movies. Vincent’s Picks is not about car chases and explosions, espionage and cold-war action. There’s grit and grain, and accessible lo-fi alt-pop in the form of ‘Math Club’. Elsewhere, ‘Aloner’ goes all-out on the big anthem, and they absolutely nail it: what it needs is a montage to accompany it, and lots of shots of rain-soaked brooding.

The opening lines of ‘Not Alone’ have a timeless universality about them, although resonate deep at this moment in time, as Nathan sings in a low, cracked voice that contrasts with Lorna’s clean candyfloss tone, ‘Would you like a cigarette / would you like a cup of tea? / I’m sorry you’re alone… Would you like another drink? / Would you like to watch TV?’. Around the world, there are so many who would pretty much kill to have a drink or cup of tea with another human being. It breaks into a monster guitar break and mess of overloading distortion that’s like Dinosaur Jr gone industrial.

The Pixies-esque ‘My Back’ is an absolute scorcher, and the cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ is unexpected, and really rather good: Lorna takes the lead vocals and it’s a kinds Cure meets Strawberry Switchblade that does justice to a classic. You can almost imagine a reworking of the video inbuilt into the imaginary movie, before ‘Sleep Complete’ brings things to an uplifting resolution.

Vincent’s Picks isn’t an overtly or explicitly concept or soundtrack album, but it does set itself up to present a kind of narrative flow, and it works well. More importantly, there isn’t a duff song on it, which makes it one of my picks, too.

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28th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Brighton four-piece Deaf Surf, having emerged from various punk bands and spent their first year in existence gigging hard, formally announce their arrival with ‘Sofa’, a jagged slab of (post) punk that’s pissed off and angsty and picks at the anguish and (self) -loathing that comes from FOMO. If you associate sofas with comfort, relaxation and the pleasure of binge-watching box sets on Netflix, then brace yourself: Deaf Surf’s sofa is hard and lumpy and full of angst.

The lyrics list everyone’s ‘best lives’ splashed all across social media while singer Manon bitterly reflects on her own vicariously-lived life, ‘another, another, another adventure from my sofa’.

Sonically, Deaf Surf come on with clanging, grungy off-key guitar and a raw, DIY post-punk feel reminiscent in some aspects of Solar Race, in others of Come and Live Skull. The song builds to a raucous crescendo, and it’s all over in a succinct 3:22.

It’s a hell of a debut, and as of this moment, Deaf Surf are my favourite new band.

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Deaf Surf

21st February 2020

James Wells

So the name sounds like either a virus or some kind of lozenge or medicine marketed to soothe the symptoms or a kind of virus, and the Birmingham quartet may trade in the kind of blues rock that’s been kicking around the last forty years since Led Zeppelin invented the heavy blues rock genre, but fuck it: ‘Frosty’ kicks ass. It does so by virtue of volume, and by bringing a dirty grunge twist, but first and foremost, it kicks ass because it’s solid.

It gets straight down to business. It’s got a lumbering, spiralling, circular riff that twists around on itself, and the guitar’s cranked up to eleven while the rhythm section thunders along and it’s everything Reef wanted to be, but failed to reach.

Ones to watch? Hell yeah.

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Cruel Nature Records / Sapien Music – 6th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of those releases that doesn’t piss about: ‘Mambo’ blasts in with a squall of discordant guitar and shuddering bass that immediately calls to mind Shellac and The Jesus Lizard, and it’s one of those ‘holy shit!’ Moments where you remember why coming into this kind of stuff in the early 90s was such a revelation. It’s the combination of power and unpredictability that was exciting them and still is now, and Tankengine have both in spades, zooming off every which way on the crash of a cymbal.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise: two members of Tankengine were previously in Yourcodenameis: milo, and the disparate elements that defined their work are abundantly in evidence here. And so as not to confuse this, their second EP, with their eponymous debut, they’ve named it twice. Consequently, I no longer quite so strongly feel the urge to form a band and name it Minotaur, with a view to the first tour being labelled the Minotaur Tour, the tour in support of the eponymous album the Minotaur Minotaur Tour, and the tour supporting the stop-gap EP before the second album the Minotaur Minor Tour. I also digress spectacularly.

The point I’m coming to is that Tankegine live up to the connotations of their name from the opening bars of opener ‘Mambo’, which twists and winds its way through a succession of sections that sound like completely different songs smooshed together yet somehow find a flow in some perverse mathtastic way. It’s all topped off with vocals that sound a bit like Jello Biafra, and it’s punk to the max. Hard on its heels, ‘Giant’ is everything all at once, a driving grunge beast with moments that sound like Talking Heads emerge between proggier segments, while there’s more of a John Lydon intonation in the vocals

‘Swagger’ sounds like it’s going to be a ballad, and it maintains a lower tempo, but shifts from being introspective and reflective, into a roaring inferno of anguish and overdriven guitar, and ‘Banshee’ combines post-hardcore aggression and shouting with a heavy goth hue, with a throbbing bass groove and chorus-coated guitars and a baritone croon.

On paper, it portrays as something between an identity crisis and a breakdown, but in the ears, it’s an identity crisis and a breakdown that resolves itself with a strange cohesion, and it’s all manifest in the six-minute closer ‘Flicker’, which begins low-key and strolls along and takes it time with some mellow melodies before finally delivering a squalling crescendo worthy of such a tumultuous, tempestuous EP, climaxing in a deafening roar that can only lead to stunned silence.

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Cruel Nature Records – 9th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Cruel Nature clearly aren’t going for a major cash-in with this release, a 12-years-after-the-fact album containing the final recordings of a band who, while building a cult national following during their existence between 2002 and 2008, were predominantly a local phenomenon in their stomping grounds around Gateshead. Which means you may be forgiven for not being entirely au fait with Marzuraan and their work, of if you haven’t been o the edge of your seat and dripping with anticipation for this limited-to-75-copes cassette compendium.

For those not up to speed (and I’ll include myself here), the potted history of Marzuraan is that they started out as the duo of Pete Burn (guitar) and Lee Stokoe (Culver) (bass) before evolving into a full band with the introduction of Rob Woodcock (drums) and Stu Ellen (voice). ‘Taking their cue from bands such as Melvins; Black Flag; Harvey Milk; Earth; Godflesh and Loop, they soon cemented themselves as a pivotal band in the North East’s burgeoning Drone-rock / Trudge-core scene. Revered locally with a strong cult following nationally, they released 3 studio albums, appeared on countless compilations and split records influencing bands such as Bong and Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, before disbanding in 2008’. The title, therefore, is on point and self-aware to the max. But t’s never too late, right?

The recordings here – apart from two tracks which featured on an obscure compilation and split 7” back in the day – represent their final cuts, dating back to 2005 and 2006, and they’ve lain neglected in the proverbial vaults ever since.

But if anything, the timing couldn’t be better: what goes around comes around, and heavy music is very much enjoying a renaissance right now, and the north-east scene is also thriving thanks to various acts associated with microlabels represented by Cruel nature and Panurus Recordings.

It’s the seven-minute ‘Morphine Waterfall’ from the Mare Nero compilation that introduces the release, and it’s a dislocated, angular dirge of a tune that plods and trudges disconsolately through barren territory that alludes to early Swans and 90s Touch and Go, along with peer obscuritants like Oil Seed Rape and Zoopsia: it’s grunge distilled and chilled to sub-zero and as it builds toward the end, the guitars become increasingly discordant, while the snarling, rapping vocal becomes increasingly desperate.

It’s Tar and Girls Against Boys that come to mind through the low-end murk of the chunky riff grind of ‘Golden Roman’, and everything is there for a killer tune but the recording, despite having been remastered last year prior to release. It’s as muddy as hell. It doesn’t actually detract, for what I’s worth, and in many ways is integral to the gritty, lo-fi charm.

It very much sets the level: ‘Muckbucket’ and ‘Blowin’ Cool Breeze’ are built around thumping, repetitive riffs, but the guitars are trebly and skew off at divergent angles.

The final track, ‘Moneybox’, which previously featured on a record split with SINK is a doomy trudge that pushes the influence of early Melvins to the fore as it crawls in a sea of howling feedback and a 23bpm percussive trudge that’s paired with a gut-quiveringly downtuned bass. It’s ace. If you can cope with infinite suspense between drum beats and the striking of a single chord, that is.

Ten Years Too Late shows that Marzuraan were both a band of their time, and a band ahead of their time, sounding utterly contemporary now. Maybe it’s time for a reunion…

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Christopher Nosnibor

In what has been a difficult time for small venues – meaning it’s also been a difficult time for bands who aren’t massive to get gigs – The Fulford Arms in York has gone from strength to strength and while other venues have – sadly – come and gone in the city they’re not only still here, but have built an admirable reputation.

The fact it’s independent and well-run (that is to say professional but also wonderfully friendly), has great sound, and decent beer at the more affordable end of pub prices counts for a lot. That they cater to a remarkably broad range of audiences is another key: it’s easy to stick to tried-and-tested crowd-pleasers like tribute acts or be a ‘rock’ venue, but often to diminishing returns. It’s the only venue in the city you’ll find oddball electronic nights, big-name acts, local acoustic artists, and spoken word events in a single week. Their accommodating approach to new and unusual acts has made the place a real hub for the city’s music scene.

Tonight’s show marks the sixth anniversary of the venue being taken over by its current owners, Christopher Sherrington and Chris Tuke, and it’s very much a celebration of everything that makes The Fulford Arms a great venue. The lineup is very much focused on local acts, and celebrates the diversity of bands active in and around York right now.

Early doors, Miles. sees multi-instrumentalist Michael Donnelly follow the trajectory of his previous band, Epilogues, to a more minimal end. Oh stage, he’s a striking figure, with floppy fringe, specs, above-ankle trews: he’s an 80s/90s hybrid visually, but musically, his delicately-crafted songs are of no specific time, and are perhaps even worthy of being described as timeless. Subtle ambient drones and throbs provide depth to his understated picked acoustic guitar and magnificent soaring vocals on introspective, emotion-rich songs.

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Kids today! With their shit clothes and shit music, not like in my day… You hear it all the time, and not just from crotchety old bastards who remember when punk broke, or even slightly less old bastards who remember when grunge broke, but from people barely in their 30s. That may be true of the crap that gets played on the radio, but beyond the mainstream, we’re in a time where the guitars are getting louder, heavier, denser than ever. And REDFYRN go all out for loud, heavy, and dense, with a breathtaking juxtaposition of floating ethereal folky vocals and punishing sludgy/grunge riffs, with comparisons to Big | Brave and Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard not being unjustified, although there’s also a more direct grunge-orientated aspect to their sound, which is more than straight stoner / doom / sludge and all the better for it. Apart from the bassist, they look pretty straight, especially the drummer, but looks are deceptive. They’re heavy and mega-riffy from the first chord, and when they announce the third song as being heavier, they’re not wrong: the bass positively barks and snarls its way through a grating grind of guitar before spinning into an extended blues jam by way of a midsection.

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REDFYRN

Percy don’t piss about. They’ve been at it long enough that they can pretty much plug ‘n’ play, and you pretty much know what you’re going to get from one of the most consistent bands on the circuit: workmanlike is by no means an insult in context of their Fall-influenced kitchen sink grouchfests. Does the delivery help or hinder? It’s probably appealing and offputting in equal measure – like they give a fuck. In so many ways, it’s business as usual for them: tight even when loose, scratchy guitars clang over busy rhythms as Andy Wiles, centre stage on bass throws all the Peter Hook poses. And they’ve got some cracking tunes: in fact, the current set is bursting with them, and it’s apparent that something has changed in the Percy camp of late, and they’re producing the best songs of their career right now. They really step up the intensity on the Fall-does-dance Middle Class Revolt style ‘Rubbernecking in the UK’ followed by the fiery politicking ‘Will of the People’, which ends in a squeal of feedback. They seem more energised than at any point in the last 20 years, and this is probably the best I’ve seen them in all the years since I first caught them back in 97 or 98.

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Percy

My Wonderful Daze take the stage with the guys looking doomy in smeared makeup. My notes for the evening peter out rapidly at this point as ‘m lost in the performance: the band have an incredible dynamic. Amalgamating some hefty grunge with a deftly accessible side, with bursts of noise and fury erupting from simmering tension they’re in some respects quintessential alt-rock, but don’t sound quite like any other band around. Raw but melodic, and with a compelling focal point in the form of Flowers who channels a gamut of emotional range, they’re solid and exciting at the same time.

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My Wonderful Daze

Cowgirl are a fitting headliner, and so very representative of the core of the York scene, featuring the ubiquitous local legend Danny Barton (who must be in or have been in at least two dozen acts who’ve garnered some appreciation in their hometown and beyond) and another former Federal Sam Coates. He’s sporting some heinous tassels on a fawn suede coat, and a bootlace tie. Who on earth wears those these days? The look is somewhat at odds with the band’s Pavementy slacker indie rock, but they’ve got the tunes and the knack of delivery. A lot of it’s the confidence of seasoned performers, but equally, a lot of it’s down to tidy songwriting, and these guys can kick ‘em out effortlessly and copiously. The penultimate song of set is an extended psych workout that’s not only a departure but the highlight of the performance because it’s good to see them cut loose.

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Cowgirl

What do you say to round off a night like this? There should probably be a pithy one-liner, but I’m all out: the Titanic Plum Porter is top-notch and I tumble out into the cold January night with its full moon, happy that things are good on the scene in York, and that while there may be infinite shit to wade through in life and in 2020, The Fulford Arms will continue to provide an oasis of musical joy.