Posts Tagged ‘Lo-Fi’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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1st January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Surt Skum’ is a sweet Swedish treat and translates to ‘sour foam’ – at least according to the missive that accompanies the latest release from psych rockers Cave Suns and their missive from Tier 3 Newcastle, who report that they ‘entered their lysergic bubble of a practice room, to escape the impending mask strewn, gig parched landscape of the North East’.

Emerging from a series of improvisations, this EP offers some solid – if ragged – grooves and a fuckload of energy – not to mention some wild wah-wah action.

The title track kicks things off in a suitably raw but dynamic style: propelled by motoric drumming and a throbbing, repetitive bass that provides the backdrop to a sprawling, wah-laden lead, it’s a dense rush of heavy kraut-infused psych played rough ‘n’ ready, and this sounds lie a one-take live in the studio affair, and the up-front drum thump that clatters and crashes through ‘Sleep Never Rusts’ isn’t so much underproduced as unproduced – but the sounds very like Joy Division’s ‘Dead Souls’, and the nagging bassline isn’t the only factor in this epic builder.

Six-and-a-half-minute finale ‘Sloop John Dee’ brings goth-tinged Celtic guitars as if played by Hendrix to a heavy stoner riff that’s welded – albeit loosely – to a stomping tribal beat that’s pure new wave.

It all adds up to a pretty intense experience, and a cracking release.

Panurus Productions – 4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Although August is the peak of the British summer, its end often seems to mark a sharp shift into Autumn; less a transition than a rapid cut. It’s a trick of the mind and a distortion of memory, of course, but summers always seemed longer and hotter in childhood; the realisation that what once felt like an infinite expanse of time which was free to fill or squander at will is, in fact, but a heartbeat in a life is a source of deep anguish. There is never enough time. No-one ever lay on their death-bed lamenting that they wished they’d spent more time watching repeats of Bargain Hunt or Homes Under the Hammer or whatever, no-one complains that they read to many books or spent too much time living their life, do they? The torment of a constant awareness of the passage of time is self-sabotaging, as the paralysis of panic grips hard. And pitched as ‘a screaming elegy for lost moments and isolation’, this is precisely what Centuries of August, which takes its title from a line from a poem by the solitary and reclusive Emily Dickinson, articulates.

If everything seems to be dominated by themes of isolation and derangement in 2020, then perhaps that’s because the magnitude of the events – or non-events – we’re living though exit on a scale that is truly all-consuming. Even the most introverted and reclusive are finding the isolation difficult to deal with: there’s a world of difference from choosing not to go out and see people, and not having the choice, especially as for many, music events provide a safe space where it’s possible to feel included and among people without the need for the kind of forced interaction that’s part and parcel of the workplace, and where it’s possible to experience a sense of community and collectivism without conforming to the less comfortable social conventions.

2020 has revealed new shades of darkness, and Centuries of August expresses anxiety, panic, rage, fear, isolation, in every one of those shades – as long as it’s black.

It’s a low, ominous synth drone that brings fear chords like creeping mist in a graveyard that marks the stealthy arrival of ‘Ripe for Solitude, Exhausted by Life’ – before all hues of murky black metal hell break loose. It’s a thunderous tempest of the darkest, densest noise, pounding hard and fast, before eventually dissipating once more into to quiet clouds of synth.

‘The Breezes Bought by Dejected Lutes’ is by no means the Elizabethan romantic piece the title suggests, but a savage blast of bleak and brutal mid-range sludge. There are drums, guitars, and vocals in the mix somewhere, but everything is a grimy blur and it’s impossible to identify anything distinctly.

Quavering dark ambience cast shadowy shades of gloom over the opening moments of ‘This Lamentable Autumn’; a picked lead guitar line adds a rich, brooding atmosphere, and then there’s everything else, coughed up from the very bowels of hell, a swirling sonic fog that goes beyond pea soup to the consistency of treacle, and wading through the barren soundscape for sic and a half minutes almost precisely recreates the experience of the last eight months in sound, before eight-minute closer ‘Under the Lowering Sky’ bulldozes in with cranium-crushing density.

That Centuries of August takes the lo-fi production values of the genre to its more extreme limits is integral to its appeal: the fact it’s so murky as to border on the frustrating is a source of power here, accentuating the oppressive density of the compositions to a level of intensity that hurts. But it’s the kind of pain that’s the perfect mirror, reflecting the conflicting nature of time, amplified by the anguish of living in the now.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Eric Copeland, operating outside of his main musical outlet of Black Dice, continues his understates solo career with the discreet release of Dumb it Down. It’s almost as if he’s on a campaign of anti-promotion, and would prefer his work to spread by word of mouth and osmosis. There’s a perverse logic in that, which corresponds with his unusual career trajectory: bursting onto the scene as an act with decidedly hardcore leanings, Black Dice released a slew of singles and Eps between 1998 and 2000 that charted their evolution towards abrasive experimental noise, before an unexpected swerve saw their debut album in 2002 present expansive pieces of an infinitely more chilled-out nature.

Having subsequently influenced – and crossed over with – Animal Collective who, they put in contact with the Fat Cat Records label back in 2003, Black Dice may have been somewhat eclipsed and Copeland’s solo work existing some way below the radar.

Dumb it Down isn’t exactly a hugely commercial proposition, to be fair: the title track is the first on the album and while it got a sort of bouncy feel to it, with hints of early Wire, Suicide, Stooges, and Cabaret Voltaire tossed together and blended with a psychedelic twist, most of it’s buried in so much murk: it’s fuzzy, bassy, and sounds like a demo recorded on a condenser mic. But then, it’s cool, because it also sounds like a lot of the stuff on the Pebbles compilation series. So yes, it sounds more like a lost gem than a contemporary work, and this is true of the album as a whole.

Across the album’s ten tracks, all of which are so swampy that they sound as if they’ve been recoded from underwater, or from the next room. There are some viable sabs of electro-funk, with hints of Taking Heads and dashes of 80s robotix all churned in together, but it seems to have been recorded and mixed to deliberately undermine any commercial potential. In the past, commenting on the likes of The fall, Pavement, and Silver Jews among others, I’ve suggested that lo-fi production or not, you can’t keep a good song down, but Copeland has seemingly gone out of his way to absolutely fucking bury an entire album’s worth f good song – give or take.

There are strains of Silver Apples’ analogue tripouts which emerge from the dark depths, ‘Motorcycles’ sounds like Suicide playing ‘Louie Louie’ in a basement bar three blocks away. And far from dumbing things down as the title suggests, this album presents a real challenge to the listener, namely ‘do you have the patience?’ Well, do you? Such patience is rewarded, however much frustration the audio levels may cause, because the no-fi primitivism is, ultimately, integral to the experience of the album.

The MP3 age has made us snobbish about fidelity – and the trend for 180gm vinyl pressings likewise. And some may say that there’s no excuse for rough, sloppy recordings anymore, but anyone who recalls or has a taste for lo-fi, be it 60s psych, late 70s / early 80s bedroom 4-tracking will vouch for the way in which this kind of stuff can touch the listener in ways which resonate beyond the articulable. Ultimately, Dumb It Down is lowkey, lo-fi and low-impact, and I like it.

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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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