Posts Tagged ‘Lo-Fi’

19th June 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Having put their lockdown Argonaut side-project Videostore to bed with a one-off live show, Nathan and Lorna Argonaut have resurfaced under a new guise. It’s similar to the Videostore format – simple, lo-fi indie, and if there was ever any question over their no-budget ‘bedroom’ credentials, then the video for this first offering – which is as much Toyah and Robert as anything else – is all the evidence you could want.

It’s neat, simple, catchy, and as usual exploits the contrasting dual vocals over fizzy guitars and aa primitive drum machine. The lack of pretence is disarming, and it’s a solid tune – and clocking in at under a minute and a half, it really is as no-frills as 3p beans and 19p loaves of bread back in ‘95.

1st April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Details of this eponymous EP release from Leeds-based The Reflecting Skin are sparse. It’s only since the advent of social media and the ubiquity of the Internet that we’ve come to expect to know everything about an act and its releases – the who played what, the lyrics, the inspiration for and meaning of songs, who their musical influences are, favourite films, etc., etc. And why do we need to know? What actual benefit does it serve, and to whom?

What matters is that this is seriously harsh and heavy. A grinding chord booms, overloading the speakers by way of a welcome with ‘Ceramic Rash’. It’s slow, doomy, dirty and dark, and devoid of percussion, crawls like larva. The vocals are half-buries and swathed in so much reverb as to sound like they’ve coming from the bottom of a well – a well the shaft of which goes down, not to the water table, but the very pits of hell.

It stops abruptly, and it straight into the crashing thud of ‘Limb Off’, which finds The Reflecting Skin go full band and full-throttle gnarly hardcore nastiness. The production is authentically primitive – it’s so dirty, so rough and raw, with the feel of a Walkman recording, and playback with fluff-encrusted tape heads, but this isn’t an impedance, because it simply sounds right. If it slots right in along the mid 80s hardcore vintage, it’s equally very much contemporary Leeds underground / DIY. It’s not slick by any stretch, even the track editing sees each one cut and the next begin, but this is very much integral to the appeal and the form of genre – and it’s totally nonstop no-fi brutal racketing, punching in your face.

I’ve no idea what the title is about, but ‘IMA-IW-BF’ is so distorted it hurts: a raw, raging rehearsal tape from a damp basement or clungy garage, it’s a descending chord sequence that grinds and growls, like a half-pace Melvins trudge but with raw-throated roars for vocals… while ‘Split Wires’ clocks in at a half a minute and just quite simply the sound off punishment at a hundred miles an hour. They really do save the gnarliest noisiest shit for last, though: the six-and-a-half-minute ‘Nocturnal Cough’ is built around the nastiest, most gut0churning bass imaginable. It makes your stomach lurch to the point you want to puke, and it’s propelled by thumping drums that threaten to burst your eardrums.

It would be a stretch to describe The Reflecting Skin as a fun or enjoyable listen, because, quite simply, it hurts. But as ultra-heavy and uncompromisingly brutal releases go, it’s an absolute beast.

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Tartarus Records – 25 February 2022

James Wells

Dark Worship came together in what they describe as ‘the bleak and unsettling landscape of the post-industrial American Midwest’ and is less of a band and more of a collective of musicians from various bands, co-ordinated by J. Meyers (Axioma, Aureae Crucis). They pitch their sound as dark, and it is, but this is a different kind of dark: Flesh of a Saint has the murky lo-fi production values of black metal, which serves the bleak atmospherics well, but it’s not metal, and nor is it dark ambient or tethered to any specific or clear genre.

The two-and-a-half-minute shock of ‘We’ve Always Been Here’ begins as an ominous drone before erupting into swampy grunge spewed from Satan’s sphincter: there’s a nagging guitar riff half-submerged in the mix, and a thudding kick drum stammering out a beat that’s on the brink of a panic attack, and it only gets dingier from hereon in.

There may only be six tracks with a total running time of just over twenty minutes, but over its duration, Dark Worship live up to their name: punishing percussion hammers and clatters before giving way to doomy, funeral synth drones to provide the backing to harsh, shouted vocals on ‘Culling Song’, and it evokes the mangled noise of Prurient. It’s heavy listening. ‘Hollow Body’ brings a rasping vocal, the empty rasp of the walking dead, grating from a purgatorial pit shaped by a pulsating low-end throb.

If the final ‘Well of Light’ sounds redemptive, the light at the end of the tunnel, think again: it’s more like being sucked into the vortex after the last drops of energy have been sapped from your limbs and you hang, lifeless, waiting for the end. Oblivion can’t come too soon. Worship the dark.

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4th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Short review for a short single, where the reading time and running time are probably about the same, and that’s the way we like it. Yes, London fuzzy indie punk noisemakers Argonaut return after an enforced hiatus corresponding almost precisely with the covid pandemic and its successive lockdowns and restrictions, which curtailed any in-person collaboration or rehearsals for so many bands.

Nathan and Lorna kept themselves occupied and active with their lo-fi bedroom indie side-project, Videostore, which they put to bed with a one-off live show, paving the way for the return of Argonaut. And what a return it is!

Inevitably, there’s much stylistic overlap between Videostore and Argonaut, and both acts espouse the same DIY aesthetic, while kicking out punchy pop tunes, but the input of the rest of the band and their influence on the sound is apparent when listening to this, not least of all in the way the vocal harmonies come together – and bounce off one another – and the impact of live drums as a sturdy spine holding together the retro synth sounds that wibble around with a Stereolab vibe, which is countered by the fizzy, treble-maxed guitar fuzz that crackles away at a restrained distance in the mix.

With ‘Futoko’, Argonaut pack enough energy into two-and-a-quarter minutes to run a house for a week, and deliver it with such infectious vibrancy it’s hard to resist: it’s exactly what the world needs right now.

AA

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1st December 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Just shy of a year since Cave Suns threw their improvised ‘Surk Skum’ EP into the plague-ridden void, they return with a proper lo-fi DIY release, consisting of four pieces, ‘improvised live one take each song apologies included’ they write. The set was captured on an iPhone and is released on a limited edition cassette (and digitally, of course).

Beyond the world of the major label (and the domain of the indie label with some cash behind it), this increasingly appears to be the future of the little band. With the chances of getting signed and getting bankrolled these days practically nil even for solids acts with some commercial potential and significantly less than zero for artists doing anything without that commercial potential (which isn’t to say there’s no audience or demand), they’re taking thee means of production into their own hands and just getting on with getting their music out there. If one positive thing has emerged from the last couple of years under the pandemic – and let’s face it, it’s been hard to find anything positive, particularly for bands and small venues (I’m hesitant to say ‘the music industry’ because Ed Sheeran and Eric Clapton won’t have suffered too heavily from the lack of touring options in terms of bank balance or their ability to reach audiences or shift units / merch and I’m sure the likes of Warners aren’t questioning their viability right now) – it’s the fact that perhaps finally any stigma around self-releasing has been eradicated. That said, for Newcastle’s Cave Suns, it’s business as usual: they’ve been self-governed and self-releasing since 2014 and haven’t been troubling studios in order to lay down their intrusive improvised sessions, preferring instead to capture live shows and rehearsal room jams

‘Dunder Salt’ is a kind of mellow psychedelic swagger with a buoyant bassline and bopping beat that seems to all cast a nod to the verse of The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’. With minimal progression, there’s a Krautrock element to the vaguely jazzy, vaguely funky groove. It’s a solid jam, but it’s not until the eleven-and-a-half-minute ‘To Who It May Concern’ that they really show us what they’re capable of. Mystical, eastern-inspired scales twist in a slow-building swell of sound, a hum and a drone of bass and tentative drumming before emerging on a vast sonic plateau. It’s one of those compositions that stops and starts so often that it’s hard to decide if it ever really gets going, or if it’s several pieces string together; perhaps more reasonably it’s best described as several movements with a succession of ebbs and flows and sustained crescendos, often with the drums pounding hard with insistent thrashing of cymbals and hitting some solid grooves even with the stretches of meandering guitar.

‘Essesse’ kicks off wide two with something altogether lighter, more technical, with a mathy aspect, and also more overtly proggy, you might even go so far as to describe it as jaunty – but then, you may not. It’s kind of a collision between That Fucking Tank, Muse, and Royal Blood. Maybe it’s more as well, It’s certainly their most ‘muso’ cut to date, and is also highly accessible.

The 11-minute ‘13th Celebration’ that rounds off the EP and the remainder of side two is built around a repetitive bas throb that evokes the monotonous groove of Suicide, but overlaid with a sprawling guitar jam that’s part prog, part space rock, all improv. They lock into a neat groove for a time and really rock out, but then slow it down and trip out, crawling to the close.

Hypnotic, groovy, completely free of the shackles of genre and commerce, No Guards knows no limits and captures Cave Suns on fine form.

AA

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Bearsuit Records – 25th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Home of all things odd from Edinburgh and Japan, Bearsuit Records, has a new signing, in the form of Edinburgh-based singer/songwriter Eamon the Destroyer. Eamon also records as Annie & The Station Orchestra, and is one half of Edinburgh purveyors of noise Ageing Children, both of whom have received mentions here. If his name has the hallmarks of a mythical war deity or some evil comic book character, his music is altogether less megalomaniacally threatening. The press blub describes it as ‘lo-fi miserablism with a side order of noise / mumbling & whispering – or something’ – and on hearing these two tracks, which serve as a lead-in to Eamon’s debut album, A Small Blue Car – this vagueness makes perfect sense. And, of course, like most Bearsuit releases, it’s about the only thing that does.

It’s rather welcome to see a release that resembles a conventional A-side / B-side single release in 2021, and what’s noteworthy about this one is that the two tracks are actually quite similar, sonically and stylistically, leaving no confusion as to what the Destroyer’s sound is.

Against a minimalist backdrop of quite country guitars, the Destroyer croaks flatly about, well, what, I’m not entirely sure – every line seems to turn on a contradiction or some bathetic construction, like ‘Nobody knows it / well nobody ought to’. Instrumentally, it’s sparse and scratchy, and the vocals sound like they’re coming from a CB radio that’s only just tuned to the edge of the channel. But in the mix there’s a scrape and chatter of extraneous background noise and some cronky feedback, and around the mid-point of ‘My Drive’ it takes a massive left turn into altogether louder territory.

The whole vibe is downbeat and melancholy, and driving emerges as a theme in ‘Silver Shadow’, alongside some vague but wistful images that drift around in a wash of sad, Cure-esque synth and a crashing tide of distortion. It’s more mood-affecting than you would likely expect, and while very much appreciating the unusual mix, it left me feeling downcast and slightly sad, which is a clear indication that either I’m heading for a mood slump, or there’s more craftsmanship to Eamon’s songs than the surface suggests.

AA

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Wild Goose Chase Records – 27th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Little Musgrave – the vehicle for Brussels-based Joey Wright – was conceived and recorded during the first Coronavirus lockdown, and its homemade, DIY, lo-fi stylings are perhaps representative of the style and form that will, ultimately, prove to define the period from Spring 2020 to Summer 2021 as musicians, twitchy and desperate for release took to recording at home, minus bands, and without access to studios or even half their kit, let along bandmates. Primitive drum machines, apps, recording and even mixing on mobile phones and releasing via Bandcamp has for many been the only way.

Why not wait? You may ask. Because creatives often need to create and to put it out there: creativity is a compulsion, and for many, public reception is validation of their output, even though got many it’s equally a source of anxiety and self-doubt.

‘Matches’ is a no-messing mess of sinewy guitars chopping out some rough and ready post-punk tinged indie that lands, lay-legged and in a heap between The Fall and Pavement. Wright isn’t really a singer in the conventional sense, often adopting a more Sprechgesang mode of delivery – although that isn’t to say he can’t sing, and there are some brief moments of melodic reflection. This is also a fair reflection of the abstract / elliptical lyrical content, which is wildly veering and often abstract, but not without moments of sensitivity.

The lack of polish, while borne out of necessity, is endearing in that it also presents a lack of pretence. And, also of necessity, the fizzing guitars and simple, insistent rhythms that pump away and pin the loosely-played songs together, are found alongside, as the liner notes proffer, ‘sounds which could have been recorded live in the dentist’s chair – we’re talking drills, saws and high-pitched whines’. With trips to the dentist off the table during lockdown, one assumes these extraneous sounds were sourced elsewhere, and primarily around the home. It’s remarkable just how unsettling a blender or electric shaver can sound when recorded and played back out of context, you know.

More often than not distilled into sub-three-minute bursts, clattering percussion and jarring angles are defining features; ‘Your Reputation Precedes You’ pitches a semi-spoken word performance over a clanking industrial-edged backdrop, while elsewhere, ‘Workers’ day’ is dissonant, difficult, and antagonistic, but as a thunking synth bass groove emerges through it all, it takes on an awkward electrofunk vibe that evokes the stylings of early Shriekback – before dissolving into a mess of feedback, whirs, and buzzing, and the scratchy Fall-esque ramble ‘Stick By Stick’ collapses into mangling noise.

And while Matches doesn’t sound like The Fall per se, its wild eclecticism and the levels of discord achieved by the guitars (are they in tune, let alone playing the same key? Just listen to ‘Which of you has done this?’ to get a handle on the stylistic collisions that aren’t just characteristic but define the album.

Weird and wonderful with the emphasis on the latter, Matches is inventive and unusual. At times difficult and brain-bending, it’s also self-aware and interesting, and deserves some time to adjust to. It’s not mainstream, but it’s got real cult potential.

AA

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9th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The remastered re-reissues of avant-experimentalist oddballs Photographed by Lightning continues apace with the emergence of Dust Bug Cecil (or, to give it its full title, The Rise and Fall of Dust Bug Cecil and the Winking Cats, supposedly taken from an obscure book about a direct to disc recording pioneer, and may in turn be a skewed play on Ziggy Stardust. Of course, everything is skewed in the world of PBL, and if Music From the Empty Quarter wasn’t evidence enough of this, then this should be enough to convince anyone: presented here as a whopping thirty-eight track document (2 CDs worth), Dust Bug Cecil is augmented with the entirety of their other 2002 album, Let Me Eat the Flowers. On the strength of this, it vocalist Syd Howells and co (here represented by Dave Mitchell (vocals, bass, keyboards); Bionio Bill (drums & percussives); Roland Ellis (saxophone); Chris Knipe (mandolin & fiddle), and Rev Porl Stevens contributing vocals to ‘White Master’)) had perhaps ingested more than just pansies prior to these sessions.

As Howells recounts it, ‘following the behemoth like Music From The Empty Quarter we went in search of tunes. Found some too. Glued them together with words and somehow found ourselves making a ‘pop’ album.’ In comparison to its predecessor, Dust Bug Cecil is a pop album in that there are none of the sprawling ten-minute epic headfucks on offer here, with most of the songs – and, indeed, they are songs – clocking in around the three-minute mark. It’s ‘pop’ in the style of the dark pop of post-punk, but its values are ostensibly altogether more punk, and its sound is primitive and murky. It’s pop in the way The Jesus and Mary Chain write breezy, surfy pop tunes and bury them in is a squall of noise that renders them almost indistinct.

There are melodies and choruses bursting out from every corner, but in context of 2002, songs like the album’s opener, ‘Eyes on Stalks’ and ‘Numb Alex’ sound like early 80s new wave demos: driving Joy Division-esque bass dominates a rhythm pinned down by a frenetic drum machine that sounds like it’s struggling to keep up with the throbbing energy, and there are hints of The Cure and B-Movie in the mix here.

The guitars buzz like flanged wasps on the vaguely baggy / shoegazey ‘Lady Lucifer’, prefacing the sound that A Place To Bury Strangers would come to make their signature. Elsewhere, the sound swings from almost straight 60s-tinged indie on ‘Let Me Eat the Flowers’, while ‘The Remains of a Tramp Called Bailey’ sounds like a head-on collision between The Pixies and The Psychedelic Furs, and ‘The Risen’ comes on like early New Order. If it reads like I’m chucking in a list of seemingly random and incongruous artists by way of confused and confusing reference points, it’s because that’s what the listening experience is like. None of the elements of the album are unique by any stretch, but their hybridisation very much is. The 60s garage vibe of ‘Untitled (for Dylan’) and the Fall-like scuzz of ‘David Dickinson Said’ (with its obvious but necessary ‘cheap as chips’ refrain) are well-realised, and suit the lo-fi production values.

Sonically, Dust Bug Cecil is nowhere near as challenging as Music From The Empty Quarter, and it was almost inevitable that they had to do something different, having taken the avant-jazz oddity to its limit. Then again, of course, there’s still the customary weird shit, like the squelchy racket with spoken word of ‘Bob’ and ‘Pablo’, and the doomy industrial synth robotix of ‘Be This Her Memorial’, which mean it’s hardly the most accessible album going and it is quite bewildering just in terms of its stylistic eclecticism.

It’s unquestionably a mixed bag, and not all of the efforts are completely successful or gel quite as hoped, something the band themselves acknowledge with hindsight. But it’s still very much a musical, if not commercial, success, showcasing a band capable of wild diversity in their creativity, as well as a band who’ve spent a career making the music that pleases them over anyone else.

AA

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Christopher Nosnibor

Videostore continue to make the most of lockdown, with the pair banging out a second mini-album, comprising three of their recent singles along with three brand new tracks. Does the title have a significance? Does the end of lockdown mark the end of Videostore as Nathan and Lorna return to work and also reconvene with Argonaut? Perhaps time will tell, but for now, this is a document of the effects of life in confinement – or, as they put it, ‘what happens when you are locked down with Disney plus and Taylor Swift and Spacemen 3 CDs for company.’

It’s an interesting blend, but also a hybrid that works and is distinctively Videostore: scuzzed-out lo-fi pop songs that articulate ennui and nostalgia with a rare energy. As ever, it’s the contrast between Nathan’s worldweary monotone baritone and Lorna’s light, lilting, airy tones that really distinguish and define their sound.

It starts off with single cut ‘Superhero Movies’, a lively blast of choppy guitars where they ruminate on the disparity between movies and life, whereby everyone aspires to be a superhero from the comfort of their sofa. Media and unattainable aspiration is also the focus of ‘Your Perfect Life’. ‘Halfway There’ is a middle-aged lament that finds Nathan mulling over the passage of time, and in its downtempo mood and delivery, I’m reminded of The Fall’s ‘Time Enough at Last’, and even the semi-spirited call of ‘techno techno techno techno’ and a swerve into synth territory near the end can’t lift the melancholy mood – that’s a job for the blistering Pixies-like blast of single ‘Your Mind’, which stands out even more in context.

Low-key single ‘Anglepoise’ marks another return to Brix-era fall stylings, and there’s something affectingly sad in the sound of tiredness, of defeat. The last song, ‘Go’ is the biggest surprise of the set. It’s not a cover of the Moby track, but it is an all-out electro dance banger. It’s incongruous, so say the least, but there are some trademark squalls of noise among the trancey synths and insistent beats.

They Closed Down The Videostore may only contain six tracks, but it’s their most diverse work yet – and if the store remains open, the indications are they’ve no shortage of ideas to pursue.

AA

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26th February 2021

It seems only fitting that lo-fi indie duo Videostore should return to the roots that inspired their vaguely nostalgic moniker and the theme for their debut album Vincent’s Picks for their latest lockdown single release with a song which Nathan says was inspired by ‘sitting around watching superhero movies.’

Certainly, inspiration for a lot of art has been coming from closer to home this last year, and most life has been lived vicariously for many of us. Movies provide a much-needed escape when the limits of your life are just four walls, and this punchy, guitar-driven single is exemplary of Videostore’s resourcefulness. Written and recorded just a week ago, accompanied by self-filed footage (mostly shot at home or in local parks in a single day) and assembled by Dave Meyer, it’s once again a strong sell for the DIY methodology that facilitates not only full artistic control but a greatly reduced time-lag between conception and release, ‘Superhero Movies’ celebrates its uncomplicated evolution – Nathan sitting on the sofa with one of his many guitars, parked in front of a laptop, the pair supping wine.

‘This is not my movie’ Lorna sings, increasingly frenzied, as she spirals and spins around, beshaded, in a park somewhere as the guitars fizz and the bass thumps against an insistent drum machine.

And while this is ostensibly an indie tune, the tumultuous distortion of the buzzsaw guitar and the overall production is actually reminiscent of Big Black – in particular their cover of Wire’s ‘Heartbeat’. It’s not entirely pretty, and it’s better for it: ‘Superhero Movies’ packs all the energy, and delivers it with a raw immediacy that really hits the spot.

AA

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