Posts Tagged ‘Lo-Fi’

11th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Stoke on Trent’s pottery industry may not be what it once was, and apart from Robbie Williams, who’s not a good advertisement for any city, it’s not exactly renowned for its music. But then, underground artists tend not to be renowned generally, existing as more of a loose-knit and divergent community. It was through this community that I first heard the sounds of Plan Pony, although I’ve known the man behind the project – again, through the community – for some time.

Single release ‘Martyr’, backed with ‘Martyr II’ (and accompanied by a third track, ‘Hipster Soufflé’ on the ultra-limited CD-R edition) is a dank, muffled, chunk of raw experimental noise layering that combines elements of gnarly punk, early industrial, and no-wave.

Created using sampler, delay pedals, voice, loops, guitar and found sounds all recorded to tape, it’s primitive, raw, and the epitome of DIY in the best possible sense: this is the sound of an artist making art out of a need to make art, without having even the peripheral vision of one eye on any kind of audience.

‘Martyr’ thuds in with a muddy sequenced drum that sounds like a wet pair of balled socks being slapped around inside a cardboard box. The guitar sparks like the jack lead’s been plugged directly into the mains, and the shouty vocals are all the echo and utterly impenetrable. The result is an angular, abrasive noise that sounds how I expect some of Uniform’s demos to sound.

‘Martyr II’ is very much a contrast: the same production values and tonal range this time provide the context for a slice of brooding dark ambience, an instrumental (de)composition that creeps and spreads like mildew.

These are dark times, which are evidently inspiring some dark shit: and this is some dark shit right here.

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7th May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Of all of the releases that have been created under the great lockdown of 2020, this may be one of the most inspired, innovative, and also poignant I’ve encountered yet.

Although the project has been, in part, something to keep York-based lo-fi instrumentalist owl (Oli Knight) busy and connected while there’s no live music, no band rehearsals, or studio time to be had, its foundations are far deeper: the liner notes explain that the album is ‘dedicated to the memory of Alex Winspear who we sadly lost 13/09/2011’, and continue with further detail:

‘Alex had the idea to record pieces of music with as many people as he could in as many different styles, since then I have always wanted to do a similar thing. He inspired me as a musician and a human and I’m happy that I managed to get so many people to be a part of this project, I think he would have loved this’.

As such, all proceeds from Family & Friends are being donated to the Samaritans, and it’s available on a pay-as-you-feel basis.

The album’s forty tracks feature no fewer than thirty-seven contributors, including parents – because if nothing else, being confined to the home has made people resourceful, and to use what’s immediately to hand. As it happens, mum brings hefty percussion and a driving psych/desert rock vibe that’s quite a standout, so it’s a win there.

No doubt partly on account of geography, there are a number of contributors on this album I either know personally, or have seen performing locally, and in some odd way, they provide not only a warm glow of pride, but also a certain sense of comfort.

The first piece features Alex Winspear with owl., and was constructed using a sample from a salvaged recording. Its placing feels obviously significant under the circumstances, and in many ways counts for more than the gentle, flickering jazz-tinged acoustic post-rock of the actual composition, which, it has to be said, is extremely pleasant.

All of owl’s parts were recorded to iPhone in a single take, and any errors remain preserved. This is integral to the lo-fi authenticity of his work, and give it not only an immediacy, but also a humanity that’s disarming, endearing. None of the pieces have titles, beyond the names of the performers, and their range is remarkable, from rolling piano that broods and emotes, to flighty folk, and warpy glitchtronica.

Members of Bull independently provide sounds on two of the tracks, while Charlie Swainston is very much a notable name, but it’s Lou Terry’s scratchy country that stands out, along with

Ste Iredale and Jean Penne’s spoken word segments, which bring a different dimension – primarily words – to proceedings. Elsewhere, Matthew Dick’s gloopy, spacious, looped bass work is quite hypnotic, and paired with a full percussion track, there’s an expansive rock vibe being mined to full effect.

Martyn Fillingham from …And the Hangnails and Wolf Solent, who brings noise and drone are obvious namechecks, and their contributions are also worthy of mention musically.

Family & Friends is ambitious, and succeeds on so many levels, not least on the artistic level that is contains some nice tunes, and with such diversity, there’s something for everyone. Buy it: it’s for a good cause.

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15th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Argonaut offshoot Videostore have swiftly established themselves as a DIY act who can kick out solid tunes in no time at all, and as having embraced the immediacy of the technology at their disposal to write, record, and release tunes in the space of a week.

Under life on lockdown, many bands are taking to the net to pump new output direct to fans, but Videostore, having already adopted the model, are ahead of the curve, and their latest single, ‘Building Breaking’ is exemplary: a buoyant blast of overdriven guitars that fizz in choppy bursts over a vintage drum machine, it’s the pinnacle of punk.

The cover at reminds me of various scenes I’d observe on my walk to work up until a month ago: regeneration gentrification; so often change for change’s sake, collapsing new buildings. I made it something of a project to photograph all the cranes and diggers, scaffolding, tarpaulin and holes. I intend to actually use them for something one day. Meanwhile, Videostore have tied this image into a commentary on the constant state of flux that’s come to define out cityscapes with a constant programme of demolition and (re)construction… but for what end?

The accompanying home-shot-video is simple but effective, and the fact they pack some sweet harmonies and a neat hook into just 54 seconds is beyond impressive.

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Wormhole World – 10th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Aaagh! It’s food porn overdose on ‘Jesus, God of Tower Hamlets’, the first track on ‘Looking After The Duck’, the new album by Crumpsall Riddle, aka Steven Ball and Jude Cowan Montague. Ball drones out ingredients – an Instagram wet dream or recipe for disaster dependent on your perspective – and a ream of random shit that seemingly splices news headlines and myriad found phrases read in a monotone like a shopping list over a thrumming drone that’s reminiscent of Suicide before Cowan Montague wails the fuck over it all in a truly demented fashion… and there it is: the soundtrack to our times. Nothing makes any fucking sense. To return to a paraphrased third-hand summary of Deleuze and Guratari’s assessment, a schizophrenic mindset it the only sane response to a late capitalist society. So what about now? Is this the end days of capitalism? What does anything even mean? And is looking for answers the most futile pursuit ever?

It’s clear JCM thrives on collaboration, and to describe her as ‘flighty’ is no criticism here: eclectic and diverse would be equally fair synonyms, but would fail to fully capture her free-spiritedness where it comes to her myriad creative projects. Steven Ball proves to be an inspired choice of co-conspirator for the making of musical mayhem. Suffice it to say that the abstract post-punk of Looking After The Duck, which comes with hints of Wire, couldn’t be much further from Hammond Hits, the uber-retro collaborative album recorded with Matt Armstrong, recently reissued on vinyl: while this album was an exercise in reconstructing a vintage pop aesthetic, Looking After The Duck indulges a far more experimental urge, and manifests as minimal, lo-fi indie affair that’s more reminiscent of Young Marble Giants.

‘Is this the end of the clock?’ they chant drably, repeatedly, on ‘Terra Unknown’, while circuits fizz and analogue synth sounds whizz and swish every whichway around them.

Wibbly electronic drones, pulsations, and oscillations abound, and a disembodied, wordless backing vocal provides the backdrop to abstract atonal spoken word on the nine-minute ‘Songs of Sol’, a would-be folk shanty in a parallel universe. And then it descends into a humming wash of bubbling pink noise and an analogue thrum that rises and falls, ebbs and flows, while Ball continues a never-ending monologue diatribe of randomness, a William Burroughs style cup-up without the focus. Yes, I’m struggling to find a thread of sense here, but sense of overrated in a world in which sense and linearity have all but dissolved.

The album as a whole is a disconnected, disjointed testament to postmodernity, collaging more vintage sounds – a trilling organ synth sound quivers a mournful backing to ‘The Old Man’ – with fragmented slivers of extranea, and leaning toward more arbitrary song structures over linearity. Looking After The Duck is, to my ears, leftfield and brilliantly out there: many will find it plain weird and tuneless. Many would be wrong: it’s oddball experimentalism that spawns innovation and progress. It’s also truer to the internal dialogue than many would admit, and it’s this uncomfortable truth that can be unsettling. People are scared to be presented with a mirror to their minds. This knowledge doesn’t make Looking After The Duck any less awkward or uncanny. But it is strangely brilliant, and no mistake.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Videostore – the lo-fi indie duo consisting of Argonaut members Nathan and Lorna – are on a major roll at the moment, and their latest effort – pitched as a ‘love song for the apocalypse… channelling Stooges, Suede and Spacemen 3 guitars against a relentless drum machine and Atari samples’ – is their strongest to date.

It kicks in hard and that vintage mechanised drum track pumps away like a piston all the way through to the finish: no fills, nothing fancy, nothing but uptempo motoric 4/4 with that classic Roland-type snare sound.

The guitars are big and fizzy and when the extra distortion kicks in, it hits that treble explosion sweet spot that takes the top off your head, and you just don’t get that buzzsaw bliss with slick studio production.

The dual vocals contrast Lorna’s sassy drawl with Nathan’s blank monotone croak and the end result comes on like a riot grrrl rendition of a Pixies song covered by Metal Urbain.

Yet for all the retro, ‘My Back’ is very much a song for now: these are dark, paranoid times and it feels like we’re on the edge of the abyss, and this guitar-driven blitzkrieg is the perfect soundtrack.

Argonaut offshoot Videostore self-release another li-fi DIY digital single in the form of ‘Sleep Complete’. A slice of dreamy, DIY, no-fi indie, it boasts a breezy, easy tune. And that’s what it’s all about:

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Videostore - Sleep

James Wells

There’s a reason we’ve been backing London punky indie / alt rock / neo riot grrrl act Argonaut on these pages for a while now. Partly, it’s because we dig their DIY aesthetic, but mostly it’s because we did their scuzzy, grungy, guitar-drive pop tunes. Because there really is no substitute for a solid tune.

This might not be their own solid tune, but the second single in this year’s DIY trilogy is an exuberant and enthusiastic rendition of Cindy Lauper’s 80s classic. It’s kinda chaotic and magnificently lo-fi, but it’s a sincere homage and very much conveys the importance of placing the emphasis on FUN. They’re clearly enjoying themselves, and it’s a joy that’s contagious.

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Argonaut - Girls

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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London-based “Anti-Music Collective” Moderate Rebels release ‘Beyond Hidden Words’, streaming from 25th June, from their just-completed second album, due out in November on Everyday Life Recordings.

Describing it as an ‘un-song’, Moderate Rebels say, “We’re not sure what this music is exactly. It arrived with us as a feeling, then a defiant chant, a repeating half hallucination set to building noise, an invocation of strong communal power and hope, through the confronting of the uncomfortable, and the taking of some personal responsibility for being part of that conversation… The sound of a dream, set to the dream of a sound.”

Moderate Rebels follow their debut album ‘The Sound Of Security’ and ‘Proxy’ EP, both released in 2017. The collective’s previously stated approach to their songwriting is “to use as few words and chords as possible”.

Get your lugs round ‘Beyond Hidden Words’ here:

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Moderate Rebels Beyond Hidden Words front cover HR

Robot Needs Home – 13th April 2018

James Wells

According to the press blurb, Kermes are a ‘self described queer-indie-punk band, born in the heart of Leicester’s close-knit DIY music community. Over the course of an EP and now their debut album, their music explores themes of transgender identity, depression, misogyny, anti-capitalism, queer relationships and being an increasingly visible target in an increasingly hostile world’.

Meanwhile, the band describe their sound as ‘trashgaze, or screampop, depending on the light’.

Lifted from the upcoming debut album, We Choose Pretty Names, ‘Yr Beast’ pulls together seemingly incongruous elements of Wild Beasts and Sonic Youth, with a dash of early Pavement to produce a wonky, angular blast of punky indie. The message is strong, clear and proud: ‘i was the beast of yr cisgender pain / and i am not sorry for the state of my body / i’ll never be sorry for that.’ The defiance of the refrain ‘I don;t have to take this from you’ is uplifting and empowering, and while its context is specific, it possesses a real universality.

They carry it off with a joyously unpolished and exuberant delivery: instead of sounding pissed off or preachy, it’s disarming and fun in an unpretentiously ramshackle way.

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Kermes