Posts Tagged ‘Lockdown’

5th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

The pandemic may be over – or not, depending on your viewpoint or your government – but there’s no question that the pandemic affected us all in some way, shape, or form, and that as much as people are getting on with their so-called ‘normal’ lives, we’re not all fully over it. Some of us may never be.

‘The Day the Drum Stopped’ was penned during the height – or depths, depending on your perspective – of the UK pandemic lockdown, and captures the instantaneous psychological spasm of the moment everything halts abruptly. ‘The Day the Drum Stopped’ is perhaps another way of phrasing ‘the great pause’, and it was a strange time to say the least.

For many – not least of all musicians, those in hospitality and retail – everything stopped. For others, who continued to work from home, while also trying to manage home-schooling, the pause was less pronounced, marked more by the absence of people and traffic in the street when venturing out for the prescribed daily exercise or trip to the local supermarket in the hope of scoring both loo roll and pasta. But no question, it was strange, a plunge into the unknown, the unpredictable, and this was a cause of major anxiety for so, so many.

Kristina Stazaker has articulated this succinctly and in a most accessible fashion on her new single, propelled by some sturdy percussion and ‘builds up to a powerful ending where the drums restart and the electricity of life flicks into action again’. It starts with a solid march, before loping away like a galloping horse, and there’s optimism there, as Stazaker remains positive that ‘the drums will come back again’, and it’s a rush and then… it stops, and you’re left, vaguely nonplussed, wishing there was more. Which seems like life, really. Cracking single, though.

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 Artwork - Kristina Stazaker

Cool Thing Records – 1st April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

BAIT exists as a side-project for Asylums’ Michael Webster and Luke Branch, and they couldn’t be much different, with Webster using this vehicle as an outlet by which to channel all his angst and anger through sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued social observation and critique.

This debut long-player has been a long time in coming. Their eponymous mini-album landed back in March 2017, and apart from the standalone single release of ‘DLP’ in the spring of 2019, they’ve seemingly been dormant, at least in the public domain. But despite the obstacles of geography during lockdown, they’ve been busy, and the last couple of years have provided an abundance of grist to their mill.

The band describe it as ‘a digital post-punk lockdown docu-record which watches the clock, gets the jitters & lashes out just like the rest of us. It’s an internal monologue that accounts the anxiety, the struggles, the pressures experienced living by the sea during an international pandemic’.

Most struggled in one way or another during the pandemic, some unspeakably, and for a great many, the lasting effects of the trauma of lockdown and isolation are every bit as bad as those of the virus itself. Many lost loved ones, but were unable to gain closure or grieve with friends and relatives due to restrictions – while, it turns out, the government of ‘Great’ Britain partied on. It was often hard to know what to make of anything: conspiracy theories abounded, but over time, some of those theories began to look rather less far-fetched, and under such close surveillance, people could be forgiven for getting paranoid, for being angry.

Sea Change is one angry record. But to describe it as such is to overlook the emotional range it articulates: it’s an album that gives voice to anxiety, panic, fear, trauma. Perhaps it’s the ‘internal monologue’ aspect of its evolution is why it really speaks. As is so often the case, in the personal lies the universal, and it conveys the rapid changes in mood and general state of confusion, questioning, and self-doubt that defined the lockdown experience for so many of us. And just because we’ve left lockdown doesn’t mean that we’ve left lockdown behind, psychologically, meaning that Sea Change’s resonance goes far beyond that defined period in time which spawned it (‘inspired probably isn’t the word).

The mood is tense and dark throughout, and the production has that mid- to late-80s Wax Trax! Industrial feel to it: the guitars are gritty, but everything is condensed into a dense lump of sound that batters rather than saws at the senses. ‘No Sleep for Light Sleepers’ is more minimal, haunting, but also ominous, the processed spoken word like the mutter in your ear that just won’t let you settle.

It’s not entirely without humour, either: if the frenzied, pounding ‘DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA’ encapsulates the way in which a heightened state of anxiety is a shortcut to a loss of perspective, whereby the smallest, most trivial things give cause to great panic (things you know are irrational, like, say, getting twitchy when your phone battery drops below 49%), it also highlights just how self-obsessed and microfocussed we are as a society (that that incident at the Oscars totally engulfed the internet against a backdrop of war, a cost of living crisis, and rising Covid cases and hospitalisation is perhaps the definitive moment in our culture of self-absorption, and perhaps, in the wake of lockdown panic, the need to have something to fret and opine over obsessively just to fill the gap). It’s not all completely oppressive, either: ‘Electric Murder’ is a straight-up dark electropop tune that would comfortably sit in Depeche Mode’s catalogue.

‘The Weight of the Water’ finds them punching through a steely grey mesh of guitars, and it’s dense and tense; the jitters amp up tangibly on ‘Somewhere to Be’. ‘I’ve got somewhere to be… I’ve got somewhere to be’ Webster repeats as if a mantra, like the White Rabbit trapped in a postmodern world in which all holes have been concreted over and gentrified in the name of ‘progress’. ‘Sugarlumps’ leaps from a queasy, claustrophobic wheeze to a roaring metal blast reminiscent of Ministry’s Filth Pig, and the album ends with a ferocious finale with ‘We Will Learn to Bark’, the sound of pure catharsis.

It’s pretty much an instant grab, but Sea Change is definitely an album that offers up more over repeat plays.

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Sea Change

Christopher Nosnibor

Snakerattlers are BACK! Almost two years to the day since their last show, the ass—kicking psychobilly duo are back on the circuit, and landing in style to launch a new album, The Left Hand Path at the same time.

Snakerattlers have always embraced their DIY position as something that enables them to do things their own way, and this event is exemplary: whereas album launches are often massive blow-outs with loads of bands and balloons and gimmicks, which mean you’re knackered by the time the headliners take the stage, they’ve gone for something that’s truly special and personal, in the form of an afternoon show with no supports, playing the album live in its entirety for the first ad only time, with some talk about the inspiration for each song before its played. It’s also noteworthy that said album is only being released on CD and vinyl: no downloads or streaming. A proper album, old-school.

The times on the door list Doors as 2:30 and Snakerattlers 3-4pm, and it’s getting busy when I arrive at 2:40, and while I am not tall, I’m amazed by the fact that practically everyone in the place is a fucking giant, so I grab a pint and get down the front, quick. Dank ambient atmospherics rumble over the PA.I figure there’s probably not much point trying to photograph the scribbled set list since the pitch of the launch event is to play the new album through as a one-off. So I suppose this is something of an in-the-moment first-hearing album review as well as a live review.

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They’re punctual, and Dan’s grin is something to behold. He may be shitting his pants nervous, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone look happier to be onstage before. As a band who usually play around a hundred shows a year, a two-year enforced break probably felt like having their limbs amputated.

They’re straight in with a swampy reverby tune with no lyrics beyond ‘wooh’ and ‘huh!’ by way of an intro, and it feels like they’ve picked up precisely where they’ve left off, although it very soon becomes apparent that there’s been a significant shift in the world of Snakerattlers as they start working through the album. That’s what happens when there’s a global pandemic and successive lockdowns, and Dan is a lyricist who very much writes about the moment, meaning there’s a lot of contemplation and a darker atmosphere across the album as a whole. And while Dan is the voice and the mouth of the band, Naomi’s contribution should never be underestimated. Quiet, serious-looking, she’s the perfect counterpoint in terms of character, while her drumming has a natural feel to it, and a nice, easy swing, even at pace.

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‘One Hand’ is a song not about wanking, but about friendships (or lack of) and in some ways, independence, echoing the sentiments of The Fall’s ‘Frenz’. It starts gentle and sensitive, then goes blamm! ‘No Friend of Mine’ continues the theme of friendship, “All relationships are empty and temporary,” Dan comments in the song’s preamble, nabbing a Mansun lyric in the process, before launching into a rambunctious country-punk knees up. It’s about a minute long.

The songs feel evolved, and show a keen attention to changes in tempo and pacing, and the album sequencing also feels considered – which corresponds with the formats of choice, with the jangly ‘Rattle in my Bones’ ahead of the darker, gothy ‘I Remain’, with hints of The Gun Club. It’s slower, and fully anthemic, and I find myself prickling with goosepimples. ‘In the Ground’ is a contemplation on death penned during the pandemic, and it’s mid-tempo, minor key punk, and utterly magnificent to boot.

Taking the “darkness dial to 10” as he puts it, ‘All Hope is Lost’ emerged from a dark place during lockdown. It’s tense, and while it’s not quite Joy Division, it’s pretty damn bleak – but still manages a hook. ‘Small’ is more old school rock ‘n’ roll, while ‘It Comes’ (if that’s what it’s actually called) is a churner about insomnia, while ‘Spooks’, which emerged last year is more standard Snakerattlers uptempo Fall-esqu rockabilly – or rattle rock, as they prefer to call it.

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There’s another switch with the twangin’ instrumental boogie ‘Wolf Dance’ that paves the way for the final double salvo of kick-ass tunes, culminating with the fast, angular ‘We are Your Hell,’ inspired by a dickish punter facing off to the band at their last gig in Leeds on 5th March 2020. It’s a storming finale to the album, and to the set. It’s been exactly forty-five minutes, and it’s been a blast from beginning to end.

And with that, they’re off to man the merch stall. Rock ‘n’ roll! Yes, Snakerattlers are most definitely BACK!

Southern Lord – 25th February 2022

For many, the days of the longest, hardest lockdowns are, it would seem, behind us. And yet the shadow of the pandemic continues to hang long as dark; it’s hard to move on and truly put it behind us when life continues to be anything but normal; signage and masks and booster reminders are the new normal, and we face a new normal carrying scars of a personal nature, each and every one of us. Successive lockdowns, periods of isolation, have all affected us in different ways, and we’ve all suffered some form of trauma or psychological damage in living through conditions we’re simply not equipped for.

For many creative types, working through the experience has manifested in new artistic output. There’s something about channelling that anxiety into something, even if not direct or specific in addressing the issue, that helps to somehow minimise, contain, or otherwise manage it. Thurston Moore’s latest project, like so many was born out of a lockdown environment, and it’s an exploratory work, in so many ways. A series of instrumental guitar pieces recorded during the summer of 2020, it’s a document of, as the liner notes outline, a period where, ‘as the world confronted the pandemic shutdown and as the people of good conscious stood up against the oppression of racist police oppression and murder.’ It goes on to ask, ‘How much screen time does a parent allow a child? How much screen time does a child need to realise a world which has the means to coexist as a community in shared exchange?’

This feels like numerous issues, simultaneous but separate, have collided to inspire this album, and raises as many questions as answers. Moore is clearly placing his flag alongside Black Lives Matter, and it struck me – and surely many others – that the protests should have taken place when the world, pretty much, was in lockdown. How could this be? This was a moment in time when protest felt impossible. In fact, anything felt impossible. But the murder of George Floyd was a trigger and it marked a tipping point of something far, far bigger for so many. This was about centuries of oppression and division. The scenes aired over the news channels, globally, were electrifying. But how does this relate to monitoring the screen time parents should grant their children? Surely it’s less about the amount of time, but parental control, and the extent to which parents grant their children exposure to current affairs? That said, it’s something I’ve wrestled with myself. As a child, I had no interest in anything on the news; my own daughter, aged 10, is genuinely interested and has her views on our prime minister, our government, and the pandemic, and more. While I feel a duty to protect her from scenes of violence and endless report of rape, murder, abduction, and brutal crimes against women and children, I also feel that a certain degree of exposure to ‘the real world’ is beneficial, just as I’ve come to see that many computer games encourage problem-solving and eye-hand co-ordination. Screen time isn’t all bad if you can get over the generational differences. But.. but… no doubt, it’s a conundrum.

Screen Time offers no answers. As is often the case with instrumental works, there is little to be gleaned from them in and of themselves, and the titles offer little by way of interpretive guidance. The only thing that really struck me about the titles, in fact, is that several share their with cure songs: ‘The Walk’; ‘The Dream’. ‘The Upstairs’ feels like an allusion to ‘The Upstairs Room’ (the title of the 12” EP version of ‘The Walk’; but then again, all of the compositions are ‘the’ something: ‘The View’, ‘The Neighbour’, and these reflect the shrunken worlds we inhabited during this time: four walls, the view from the window, and the TV as the window to the world. There was nothing else but to look, and to ponder. Screen Time is a work of ponderance. It doesn’t have to be coherent, because coherent thought isn’t the state of the world right now. Show me someone who has a firm handle on everything that’s going on and I’ll show you a bullshitter. No-one knows anything, and we’re all just fumbling, stumbling through.

Many of the pieces on Screen Time are short, fragmentary, and sparse, only half-formed, but evocative and atmospheric: ‘The Walk’, a minimal piece consisting of a heavily chorused and echoed guitar trickling a cyclical motif for a minute and fifty-one seconds is exemplary. Elsewhere, ‘The Upstairs’ is a haunting piece led by disorientating, discordant piano that tumbles along.

At times reminiscent of Earth, or more specifically Dylan Carlson’s more recent solo work, Screen Time borders on ambience in its slow, soft unfurlings. The final piece, the nine-minute ‘The Realization’ is almost hypnotic; slow, with deep, resonant notes that reverberate and hover while harmonics chime and soar.

As a listening experience, Screen Time is pleasant, absorbing. I like it. But what does it say? It speaks for Thurston Moore alone, just as any such release can only speak for its composers and performers. That’s ok. When stitched together, in time, all the voices will combine to present the full picture. For now, what simply matters is that each voice keeps adding to the tapestry of documenting the present, a time unlike any other.

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24th September 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Pink Turns Blue have been around practically forever, having formed in 1985, and while they may not be widely regarded among the first wave of goth acts, they very much emerged from that milieu as a duo with a drum machine, and what they’ve achieved over so many of their peers while lingering on the peripheries is longevity. Having re-emerged in 2003 after an eight-year hiatus, they’ve continued to mine the classic post-punk seam that’s distinctively theirs, due in no small part to Mic Jogwer’s vocals. And of course, what goes around comes around. Their return in the early years of the new millennium was well-timed, coinciding with the point at which the post-punk renaissance bloomed with the likes of Editors and Interpol breaking through. There were of course countless also-rans, and bands who emerged but failed to fulfil their promise, but nevertheless, time has proven that the style has remained current, and the darker the times, the greater the craving for dark tunes, and this is where Pink Turns Blue really prove to be as contemporary and vital as ever.

Their eleventh album was written, recorded, mixed, and mastered during lockdown in their Berlin studio, and the first thing that strikes about Tainted is just how bleak it is. It’s achingly majestic, it’s magnificent, and possesses some wonderful hooks and choruses, but there’s an all-pervading atmosphere of sadness, of melancholy that’s draped over every beat and radiates from every note. Glimmers of positivity are dampened by an air of resignation, optimism doused with defeat. The next thing that soon becomes apparent is just how consistent the album is. It’s not only all killer, but had a remarkable cohesion. It’s true that that for cohesion you might interpret sameness, and they do operate with a fairly limited sonic palette. One suspect this is at least in part the result of the material being the product of three guys in a studio without any external input or interference.

But working within such limitations places the focus on the songwriting, on the tunes, on the delivery, instead of throwing in all sorts of fancy stuff.

The guitar to opener ‘Not Even Trying’ evokes the into to ‘Severina’ by ‘The Mission’, and it’s got that same solid four-four strike on every beat bassline that Craig Adams made his signature back in the early days of The Sisters of Mercy, and which has become something of a defining feature for so many gothy post-punk bands, and it makes the song an instant grab. ‘I’m not even trying’, Jowger admits blankly, as if admitting defeat from the outset, and setting the pessimistic tone that echoes through single cut ‘There Must Be So Much More’. It’s a song of yearning, of questing, and of determinism, and a song Editors would have likely killed to have penned for one of their first two albums.

This isn’t an album of depression, but the sound of downward-facing defeat, of staring at the ground and wondering where it all went wrong. ‘Never Give Up’ encapsulates the conflict, the inner turmoil of staring emptiness and defeat straight in the face and realising there are only two choices. But to never give up is not a positive thing, merely the stubbornness that comes from not knowing what else to do.

The bass and guitar are melded together in a tunnel of chorus and reverb, and tied to a relentless drum track, and it’s gripping and compelling. ‘Why Not Save the World’ has heavy echoes of mid-80s Depeche Mode and would sit comfortably on a She Wants Revenge album, while ‘I’m Gonna Hold You’ comes on like New Order as covered by A Place to Bury Strangers, with a nagging bass and brittle guitar that grips hard.

Just as Robert Smith can make a skippy pop song sound tear-jerkingly sad, so when Jowger sings of the joys of ‘a new day’, it’s with a wistful melancholy that aches deep and you feel something tug in your chest as you swallow it down, that inexplicable sadness. ‘Listen to the bumble bee’ he sings on ‘Summertime’, and it’s carried a way on a chiming jangle of guitars that are so wistful, while the tone is of deep nostalgia. A perfect sunny day can have its joy marred by the realisation that it isn’t quite as perfect as sunny days of a time gone by, happy, carefree times that will forever be trapped in the memory as magical, but now faded and never to be recreated.

The song structures are comparatively simple and straightforward, and built around repetitive chord sequences and guitar motifs, and there’s nothing fancy about any of the playing – which is absolutely key to the success.

Any fan of Interpol or Editors would do well to explore Tainted – but then again, so would any fan of not only post-punk, but anyone with ears and with a heart and soul. It’s a masterful work in music of the mood. The mood is low, the mood is sad, and this is an album of real depth that speaks and resonates beyond the immediate.

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Demo Records / Crossness Records – 30th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

While I’m no fan of remix albums as a rule, the last year or so has clearly made it difficult for artists to create new material, and since touring’s been off the table, options for maintaining profiles – or making sales – have be limited to say the least. And with time to reflect and review, revisiting and revising previous output through fresh eyes seems more than reasonable.

It’s also refreshing to see ‘Could Divine, Remembered’, the release from anrimeal (the recording project of Ana Rita de Melo Alves), described not as a remix album, but a ‘meditative companion piece to her debut album ‘Could Divine’’. As the blurbage explains, ‘‘Could Divine, Remembered’ refuses the limits of the traditional ‘remix album’ – sure, there are remixes here, but amongst them you’ll find demos, reflections, confessions, rituals, and the artist’s own heartbeat. The sum of these parts is an immersive audio documentary about the making of Ana’s debut. For those familiar with ‘Could Divine’, this is a chance to look behind the scenes and magnify its meticulous detail; for those unfamiliar, it allows a first visit to an abundant internal world.’

I fall into the latter camp, although drawing lines across between the tracks on this new reworking and the original proves an informative exercise, and the reworked titles provide some insight into the inspirations or ideas behind these alternative renditions of each song (notably ‘Encaustic Witches’ returns here as ‘Encaustic Witches as an Ambient Track to Help Me Sleep’ and ‘Headrest’ appears as ‘Headrest, A Story About Feeling’. Elsewhere, explanatory or embellishing details appear, as ‘Death’ becomes ‘Death is a Burning Ritual’.

“When I think of nature, nothing happens,” she says at the very start of the album on ‘Hello and a Half’: it’s quite a contrast to the twitter of birdsong and lo-fi acoustic guitar that heralds the arrival of ‘Marching Parades’, the opener on ‘Could Divine’, and immediately we’re parachuted into the documentary aspect of this fascinatingly multi-fascinated work, which lays Ana’s workings out bare. Cars pass as the speech takes on an almost spoken word narrative form – but even that’s not straightforward as delays double-up her voice and as she explains how the album is about her ‘going into the wild’, it seems that some of that wild is more psychological than literal, an exploration of internal territories hitherto uncharted. At times, it ventures into the kind of disorientating cut-up tape works of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin in the late 50s and early 60s, and elsewhere, her monotone voice, against a sift, dappled backdrop is soporific and sedative.

This is an album of ideas and of origins, of snippets and sketches, as well as of reworkings and revisions. It’s bitty, but somehow hangs together remarkably well as an insight into Ana’s creative process. At the same time, in straddling the before and after that sit either side of Could Divine, it questions the notion of the ‘end product’, the idea that there is ever a ‘finished article’.

The demo of ‘Could Flower’ reveals the early shoots of the idea that would become the album’s title track. It’s a haunting acoustic folk piece, which would subsequently metamorphosise into a fragmentary, multi-segmented work that transitions as if through a dream sequence. There’s an ethereal, evasive quality to Could Divine, Remembered, and it places the album in a realm all of its own.

As an aside, all profits from the release will be donated to Plataforma de Apoio aos Refugiados, a Portuguese refugee support organisation. In bleak times, we once again see art being used as a conduit for good – and this, it has to be said, is good art.

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7th May 2021

James Wells

Having just released her new EP “one-woman industrial army” follows single cut ‘Out pf Order’ with ‘Pray’, which goes beyond its superficially religious themes and strives to ‘bring hope to life in lockdown’ described as an ‘outreach for hope – an asking for the sign that there is a future waiting for us in the times where the values we all stand by no longer define humanity’. The press release also goes on to suggest that the music video, ‘a visual representation of this message, takes it to an even darker and more obscure space’.

It’s certainly an extravagant piece of filmography, but that’s no criticism: in lockdown we’ve become accustomed to visuals that – by necessity – are DIY and homespun, with blurry clips of local walks and home interiors, so this is an extremely welcome change. Said promo finds I Ya Toya in an array of dramatic illuminations and dressed in feathers, among other things, while the song itself pivots between a writhing, low-key grind of a verse and a bold, anthemic chorus.

She wrestles with the torment of life in lockdown, the isolation, the aching emptiness, the anxiety and low mood, that not knowing what to do with yourself and the lacking the motivation and wherewithal to do the things you do want to… and it resonates. While so much industrial music – by the very nature of the genre – is depersonalised and lacks that human, emotional edge, ‘Pray’ sees I Ya Toyah break free of the machine to reveal a rare warmth and vulnerability.

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SN Variations – 7th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Did downloading really kill physical formats and the music industry? If you believe the media and the major labels, yes, and again, when it comes to non-major artists, it’s clear that the current industry model is not one that benefits them kindly. Then again, streaming services probably did more damage than downloading – or home taping – ever did. But there is also a very definite flipside, in that the cost of producing physical releases on a small scale is phenomenally expensive on a per-unit basis, to the point that it’s often prohibitive, and that’s before one factors in issues of distribution and postage.

There’s also a matter of purpose: conventionally, singles were released to promote albums, and in order to achieve that aim, tended to be the most commercially viable song(s) from said album that radio stations (and, later, blogs and the like) may play and draw potential buyers in. But artists like Adrian Coker don’t make music that has that kind of marketability. You won’t find his music being played on commercial radio, and a single is probably likely to sell a bunch of albums.

No artist makes music for it not to be heard. And so it is that SN Variations release Adrian Corker’s ‘9 Spaces’ single as a download only, and it makes sense, particularly in context, as a musical work that was only possible via digital means, as Corker explains: ‘This piece started quite a while ago in a room with me, Chris Watson and an electro magnetic receiver made in Russia. It ended with the processing of these parts by Takuma Watanabe and a percussive improvisation by Tatsuhisa Yamamoto that left my original demo in his recording worldising my track in Japan. In between over the last year musicians such as Aisha Orazbayeva, the Ligeti Quartet and Pascal Wyse sent me parts remotely from London and various places around Europe. A track that was made in 9 spaces of which I was in 3’.

It’s in this context that the title makes sense also. And the roll-call of contributors is quite something:

Tatsuhisa Yamamoto – percussion

Takuma Watanabe – max

Chris Watson – field recordings

Aisha Orazbayeva – violin

Pascal Wyse – trombone

Ligeti Quartet:

Mandhira de Saram – violin

Patrick Dawkins – violin

Richard Jones – viola

Val Welbanks – cello

The first version, a quite punishing nine-and-a-half-minutes in duration, begins with grating drones and serrated buzzes, somewhere between an electric hair clipper and a palm-sander, before transitioning into trepidatious territory, with skittering fleeting buzzes and swarming sounds creating an unsettling tension atop a sparse, hesitant bass that stops and starts, single notes echoing and halting, And ultimately, it’s quite challenging – but to be clear, that’s no criticism. Art that isn’t challenging isn’t really art, but entertainment.

‘V2’ is subtler, quieter, stealthier, the drones trimmed, more mid-range, cleaner, manifesting as more like organ notes that quiver and quaver into space, disturbed only by the occasional extraneous disruption. As such, it’s more ambient and less upfront. It’s also everything a single should be: a snapshot of the artist, showcasing different aspects of their sound in contrasting and complimentary fashion.

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Herhalen – H#023 – 21st May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The press release for this second album by The Incidental Crack – a collaboration between Justin Watson, Rob Spencer and Simon Proffitt – which follows last year’s Before The Magic describes the trio ‘exchanging field recordings, samples and random noise between Manchester, Wigan and North Wales, culminating in studio sessions focused on detailed processing and sound manipulation. They have yet to meet. Maybe one day when this is all over, in a pub in North Wales, free from this madness’.

As such, it’s a classic lockdown project, a virtual collaboration that proves that when it comes to the making of music, distance doesn’t have to be an object. In fact, it’s probably easier to collaborate without the logistics of brining people together in the same place at the same time. Writing on the project, Justin (one half of The Gated Canal Community and formerly of Front & Follow, a label which will be familiar to regular readers of AA), notes that Municipal Music ‘includes tracks recorded during the same period, using our now foolproof approach of sharing stuff, fiddling with it, sharing some more etc.’, adding, ‘It kept me sane at least during the last year!’

That is something that’s certainly relatable: keeping occupied has, for me, been the only way to keep myself together. I’m not saying it’s healthy, it’s just how it is. And increasingly, I’ve found abstract music easier to manage. Structured music, anything overtly ‘song’ orientated and rhythm driven is, all too often, just so much noise and instead of providing a welcome point of focus, feels just like being smacked from all sides at once. So while there may still be a lot going on in this, it’s not psychologically disruptive, and is suitably absorbing and immersive.

There are three extended-length tracks in all, which exploit the full dynamic range, with a strong focus on texture. The first, ‘The Second Cup of Tea of the Day’ is strong – certainly more English Breakfast or Nambarrie than Earl Grey or anything herbal – and probably inspired by the sound of a boiling kettle that’s been manipulated and fucked around with. However, it sounds at first more like a freight train, an extended continuous roar occupying the first three minutes before it gradually abates in volume and intensity, and gentler, softly-woven ambient drones fade in. there are still rumblings and incidental clatterings, forging a soundscape that never fully reconciles the tensions between the elements of soft and harsh, the light and dark. Bubbling Krautrock with bulbous beats collides with metallic shards of grating noise.

‘Just Passing Through’ is appropriately positioned in the middle, and is altogether gentler, softer, warmer, and pursues a more conventional ambient line. But there are peaks and troughs and ebbs and flows as the sound swells and at times shifts toward more unsettling territory, with some woozy oscillations that tug uncomfortably at the pit of the stomach before receding and allowing calmer vibes to return once more.

The third and final cut, the fourteen-minute ‘Ice Cream at the Pavilion’ starts with what sounds like the crashing of waves against a rocky beach in a storm, which strangely reminds me of a number of occasions we’ve had ice cream at the coast on family outings, because it’s always ice-cream weather for children. Voices chatter and babble and whoop excitedly, while a dolorous church organ begins to while away majestically in the background. Eventually, it’s superseded by a barrelling drone and a throbbing, slow-pulsing sound that swells and surges.

There’s a certain wistfulness and nostalgia to be found in the spaces in and around Municipal Music, although perhaps some of that’s my own reception aesthetic, a response as much to the circumstances of its creation and the allusions of the title, both of which remind me I’ve not left my own municipality in months, haven’t met any of my collaborators or friends in so very long, and yearn for both proximity to (some) people and also the countryside and country pubs. All of these thoughts wash around in my mind as the sounds surround me, and it occurs to me, finally, that Municipal Music is good music to think to.

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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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