Posts Tagged ‘Lo-Fi’

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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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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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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