Posts Tagged ‘Lo-Fi’

After a lengthy hiatus from 2013 to making a return to the fray this summer, Benjamin Heal’s Cowman alter ego is back with a vengeance: hot on the heels of the Crunch’ EP, which was essentially the salvage from an aborted album project, we have a full-length album proper in the form of Slaughter.

The title may or may not be a fairly off-the-cuff and easy reference to its being recorded at a studio by the name of The Slaughterhouse – evidently not the one in Driffield, favoured by Earache acts back in the day, since it was destroyed by a fire in the 90s – but it equally seems appropriate to the tense, tortured atmosphere that pervades this release.

Kicking off energetically with ‘Hydrant’, this is the sound of Cowman reinvigorated. It’s still gloriously lo-fi, and still warrants Pavement comparisons I effortlessly tossed at its predecessor, but this carries the unbridled excitement of those early EPs which preceded Slanted. But moreover, it’s fuller, scuzzier, dirtier, somehow more adrenalized, and also more frenetic, more angular, as if Trumans Water had witnessed the apocalypse. In this sense, it’s very much a return to the gnarly grind of 2013’s Artificial Dissemination and Palpating the Rumen (2009).

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This tension carries on into ‘Rinka’, two and a quarter minutes of multi-layered mumbling vocals largely submerged beneath a hefty chug of rhythm guitar and a lead guitar that just about carries a motif, but wanders and around as if half-blinded and disoriented by a spinning compass on a map that’s missing bits.

‘Blackstock’ is a full-on wall of sound, the mangled vocals echoing impenetrably in a churning cyclical riff, and it’s not until ‘Kissing the Rock with Eyes’ that we get something approximating a groove, but even then, it’s impossible to settle into it for long. The beat may be vaguely baggy, but it’s urgent, thwacked out at a hundred miles an hour while the guitars are cracked up, overdriven and grungy. Something has happened here, and perhaps perusing the 2010 Cowvers album, which includes rough-as-fuck renditions of songs by Big Black, The Fall, yes, Trumans Water gives a clue of the roots to which Cowman is returning to here, but there’s also a newfound sense of purpose here, as if there’s a real need to channel some post-pandemic angst into big, bad, noise.

‘Itch’, clocking in at a minute and forty-one is pure Big Black, with a squall of treble-to-the-max guitar clanging over a pummelling blast of drum machine, before the dark, dank mass of the lumbering closer, ‘Wichita Black Sun’ rolls in and mines a mid-tempo motoric groove for over a quarter of an hour. The nagging monotony is integral to the experience, like a feedback-strewn reimagination of Lard’s ‘Time to Melt’ and the entire back catalogue of Terminal Cheesecake pulped into a single document.

While ‘Crunch’ was fun, Slaughter feels like the real Cowman. It’s not an easy or accessible record; in fact, it probably requires four stomachs to fully digest, but it’s a magnificent set of dingy alt-rock noise with firm roots in the early 90s, the likes of which is rare these days, yet seems fitting for these challenging times.

Listen EXCLUSIVELY to album tracks ‘’Blackstock’ and ‘Sticks, Stones, Fingers and Bones’ here:

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7ebra are a new duo consisting of 25-year-old twin sisters from Malmö, who grew up playing music together. Inez plays electric guitar and sings, Ella plays a keyboard, organ and Mellotron – whilst manually playing drum samples with her feet – as they both sing haunting harmonies in a way that only twins can.

Beautiful but punk, minimalist but epic. The duo have already made their mark on the Swedish music scene with support slots for Bob Hund and The Dandy Warhols. ‘If I Ask Her’ is the addictive debut single and the first taste of their Tore Johansson (The Cardigans, Franz Ferdinand) produced debut album that will be out early 2023 on PNKSLM Recordings.

Listen here:

Live
Aug 25 – Stockholm, Sweden – Hus 7 – w/ Ghost Woman
Aug 27 – London, UK – The Shacklewell Arms
Aug 28 – London, UK – TBA
Oct 20-22 – Rotterdam, Netherlands – Left of the Dial Festival
Dec 2-3 – Gothenburg – Viva Sounds Festival
(more dates TBA)

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30th June 2022

James Wells

‘i write weird songs for weird folks’ writes alien machine, all in lower case. ‘A solo artist pretending to be a 3 to 5 piece garage punk outfit,’ ‘the sea complains’ is their fourth release. Details of this US-based artist are sparse to non-existent, but it appears that having emerged in 2014, they lay creatively dormant before deciding to reconvene with racketmaking during the pandemic, which seems to be a common thing as people sought ways of dealing with the strangeness and the isolation.

This is raw, primitive, and psychotic. The skewed, angular, murky mess of the first track, ‘math’ sounds like it was recorded on a Dictaphone in the living room while the band play their first rehearsal in the basement. The overall effect is very much early Pavement (pre-Slanted, those EPs collected on Westing were betonf lo-fi) / Silver Jews lo-fi so slack as to not give a shit about being in time / holding a tune / anything at all really, and it’s played with the wild, frenzied mania of Truman’s Water. Then again, ‘coward’ is a pulverising screamo-fest that brings in elements of Shellac, the guitars sliding and jerking in all directions over a loping drum beat, and closer ‘aquaburst’ goes fill Truman’s, with clanging Big Black guitars and everything going off all at once, but not necessarily in the same key or time signature.

It’s a headache-inducing discordant buzz, and it’s wonderful.

There’s nothing particularly weird about this – although fans off mainstream chart music would likely disagree – but it is a hard-on-the-ears trebly racket, that’s so slack it can’t even be arsed raising a finger to production or concessions to clean sound. It doesn’t get much more DIY than this.

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27th July 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

The multi-talented, multi-discipline and perhaps, sometimes, not-so-disciplined Benjamin Heal returns in his Cowman guise, under which he’s been operating since 2005 with a new EP, his first in a decade, after previous creative detours with Coaxial and various other projects.

Over the course of a sporadic and low-key career, li-fi, slackerist Cowman has – impressively, whether by fluke or by design – appeared on bills with a slew of cred cult acts, including Ack Ack Ack, Gum Takes Tooth, Cove, Pifco, and John Parish. These notable highlights are well-deserved, but it’s a pleasure to witness cowman making a comeback, instead of simply revelling over former achievements.

Crunch is a magnificently loose knockabout and if Pavement comparisons may seem lazy shortcuts, they’re also entirely justified. But then… then… there’s a whole lot more. The first track, ‘Concrete Eyes # Turpentine’ , with its inexplicable punctuation, starts out a fairly straightforward, if angular indie kicker in the vein of Slanted era Pavement, with wonky, off-kilter guitars that sound vaguely out of key, but then spins off into an epic swirling expanse of psychedelic post-rock. The whole thing is almost ten minutes long, drifting into a long, sluggish drone in the final minutes.

There’s an easygoing picked guitar line that contrasts with jittery drums on ‘Concrete pink Dots’ before the distortion kicks in, and it does so hard, creating a dense whorl of noise that almost buries the drums, until they surrender to the barrage of din, and we find ourselves drifting in a cloud of hazy shoegaze guitar. It’s mellow, but it’s loud, and that’s where the hypnotic ‘Bloody Diffuser’ picks up as it embarks on another ten-minute sonic journey, a slow-smouldering soundscape heavy on delay and reverb. Switching through a succession of segments, where the transitions are jolting, flicking changes rather than seamless transitions, it’s by turns doom drone and psychedelic drone, but ultimately, it’s all the drone – and that’s a good thing.

Ordinarily, two versions of one song on the same release feels a bit lazy, but then again, I spent the 90s buying singles on three formats in order to obtain all the versions and B—sides, and I have a hunch that Benjamin is also well-versed in the maxi-single and the like, and it so happens that the cropped version of ‘Tobacco Eyes’ that rounds it off actually feels like a single that had it been released circa 92 would have been lauded in the press as being in the vein of Pavement and Truman’s Water. And in fairness, that’s just as true in 2022.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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