Posts Tagged ‘math rock’

Cruel Nature Records – 29th July 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, social networking really works. When Facebook isn’t about infighting, trolling, bitching, pissing and moaning, and people accept contact from strangers based on mutual friends and mutual interests, good stuff happens. I can’t exactly recall how I came into contact with James Watts, who runs Newcastle-Upon-Tyne based tape label Panurus productions, but some months after, I ended up performing in London alongside Lump Hammer, one of his numerus musical vehicles, thanks to another mutual friend with a penchant for big, noisy guitars who found me via Aural Aggro reviews. And so it came to pass that said mutual friend – Owen, from Modern Technology – introduced me and Steve Strode, who’s also in a bad and who also runs another Newcastle-based tape label, Cruel Nature Records. Fret! happen to feature Strode on guitar (twang), alongside Rob Woodcock (credited with ‘flails / screams’) and Cath Tyler (‘thrum / la’). And with cover art by Tom McCarthaigh, the design/layout is courtesy of none other than James Watts. It really is a small world. Especially in Newcastle.

This is lo-fi, low-budget, scuzzy. The production is proper rough, the guitar sound fuzzed-out and unpolished – we’re in home-recorded four-track demo quality here, with crackling at the edges and needles pushing the top ends of red, and opener ‘Belly’ comes on like early Fall with its repetitive riffage played rough ‘n’ ready. It seems fitting, not only because this is a cassette release, but because this is underground in every way.

On the lumbering slow-pace riff noise of ‘Hucknall’ (pretty much all of the titles are indecipherable one-worders), there’s a hoarse howl all bit buried in the mix, by accident or design, countered by a drawing monotone counterpoint. ‘Davy’ goes for the all-out screaming racket that not quite metal but is unquestionably all-out in its frenzied brutality, but most of the album favours the frenetic but contained blistering squall of 90s alternative. By which I mean bands like Fudge Tunnel, Terminal Cheesecake, Helmet, are all viable and appropriate reference points, and by which it should be apparent that this is a monster riffageous racket of the highest order. ‘SUSD’ sows it down, grinding away at a repetitive cyclical riff that’s as messy as hell, wash with distortion, reverb, and tremolo, while ‘Cowboy’ piledrives into got/psychobilly/hardcore/crust-punk territory with obliterative fury.

Is there an element of nostalgia in the appeal of this, as a 43-year old fan of grunge and more subterranean 90s alternative? Well, naturally, but that really isn’t the primary appeal here. What appeals about A Vanity Spawned By Fear is the simple fact that it’s raw and uncompromising and blindingly intense. It isn’t pretty or nice, and isn’t supposed to be. It wouldn’t work if it was.

The last track, ‘Country’ is a slow, hesitant cross between early Pavement and Shellac. But A Vanity Spawned is most definitely not derivative, and there’s nothing remotely lifted or directly referential here. Instead, they amalgamate a mass of influences and condense them in a mould of their own making. It’s hard, heavy, and difficult. Stylistically, it isn’t any one thing, but it’s completely ace.

AA

Fret - Vanity

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19th July 2019 – Buzzhowl Records

Christopher Nosnibor

This quartet from Richmond, VA, may have a name that suggests quiet, introspective contemplation and piety, but their third EP, which follows ‘Touched’ (2015) and ‘ICUP’ (2017) whips up an unholy racket.

It’s a lumbering, off-kilter, shouty discord that defines their sound. Chugging, math-tinged rhythms cut across with angular guitars that evoke the spirit of Shellac, The Jesus Lizard, and the essence of the Touch & Go roster from the late 80s and early 90s. It’s gnarly, gut-churning, challenging – and hits the spot like a punch to the oesophagus.

Should we consider why there seems to be a resurgence of music that recrates that period around the grunge explosion, when alternative music that wasn’t grunge but centred around dirty-as-fuck guitars and difficult rhythms that would come to define ‘math’ rock? Probably. Back then, there was a revolt against radio-friendly rock, the slick sonic paste being pumped out by major labels. Of course, the ‘alternative’ sound very quickly got co-opted, but no-one was ever going to flog acts like Tad or Tar or Helmet or Guzzard to the masses even when Warners were angling Ministry at MTV and A&M had launched Therapy? As a top 40 singles band. The bands who got signed and broke through may have changed the face of the musical scene, but it was always the bands who remained underground who defined the era.

Now, with the chasm between mainstream and everything else wider than ever – and long beyond the point at which it becomes unbridgeable – the underground is more resolute than ever. They’re never going to make on this… but they have every inch of credibility intact as they channel their frustrations against an ever-grimmer world of conformity and vacuity. The bands that matter aren’t in it for the money – but then, they never were, and Prayer Group are admirable in their absolute lack of compromise.

They’ve just unleased the EP’s closer, ‘The Other’ by way of a taster. It’s nicely representative, and trust me, you need it.

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Prayer Group - Eudean

Cave – Allways

Posted: 5 December 2018 in Albums
Tags: , , , , ,

Drag City

Christopher Nosnibor

Allways represents an evolution for Chicago-based psychedelic droners Cave. Perhaps not an evolution in spelling, having delivered an album I can’t help but squirm at whenever I see its title, but that’s not the point when assessing its artistic merits. But nevertheless, Allways is very much a different work from its predecessor, Threace

As the press blurb explains, ‘during the making of the last album, Threace, CAVE was in the process of becoming a quintet. They toured the world afterwards, playing on four continents and eighteen countries – as close to everywhere as they could get. Then they took a minute. They recorded it over time, in Chile and then Chicago. You can hear all of this, the energy of liveness, the reps, and consolidating expanded possibilities within their new alignment, the time away, the distance, and the freshness of returning to recorded sounds, everywhere on Allways.’

And here I find I’m torn. The skewed angles of the previous efforts – which admittedly always alluded as much to jazz as math-rock – have been sanded down a bit, so while there’s still a heavily psychedelic aspect to the album’s compositions, they’re very much predominantly of the jazz persuasion. And this is where I get twitchy. Sure, the nine-minute ‘Beaux’ pushes the space-ruck groove, but there’s some ultra-anal wah-wah action that’s pitched at precisely the level marked ‘irritation’.

There’s nothing to match the epic build and driving sustained crescendo of ‘Sweaty Fingers’, for example. And while they pitch Allways with the enthusiastic babble that ‘their inspiration comes from everywhere – Miles, psych, beats, exotica, library music, rock, punk, the Germans, the New York guys too, minimalists, the Dead, music from India, everywhere!’ I mostly get a lot of jazz here. And you know how I feel about jazz, man. Or if not, then maybe you ought to dig that while I don’t hate jazz per se, I’m on the top flight of picky when it comes to how I like it.

Allways kinda slips to the wrong side, the muso side. It gets mellow, and it gets introspective – not in the analytical, self-aware sense, but in the looping grooves with funk-tinged licks that nag and gnaw beyond insistence to irritation. ‘The Juan’ starts off promisingly enough, a bit of a prog riffing and a bold, strolling bassline that then meanders into more math-orientated territory, and then… well, some intriguingly expansive passages are marred by just too much jazz vibing that makes it an album that requires a beard to stroke to be eligible to listen to.

AA

Cave – Allways

Karisma Records – 3rd June 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

When an album contains only six tracks, and is housed in over art like this, there’s a certain degree of indication of what one may reasonable expectancy. Memento Collider fulfils some of those expectations, but confounds just as many. For a start, it isn’t a drone / doom / metal album, although it is heavy and it is dark. And the tracks are on the long side.

Sure enough, the album’s ten-minute opener is a tense, dark and expansive affair, built around an interlooping bassline and uncomfortable, – guitars that bounce contra to said bassline to build an uncomfortable dissonance. It’s heavily steeped in the post punk / proto-goth tradition in the vein of acts like The Danse Society circa 1983, the flat yet portentous, nihilistic vocal delivery only accentuating the awkward and uncomfortable atmosphere, a sonic dystopia.

‘Rogue Fossil’ again works a groove centred around looped motifs, a hectic, nagging bas coupled with urgent, stuttering jazz drumming hammers insistently while the guitar clangs and chimes at obtuse angles against its claustrophobic shell. The theatrical enunciation of the lyrics, in particular the hook (i.e. the song title), which accentuates the ‘i’ in ‘fossil’ adds a peculiar, alien slant to the track’s angular discordance.

‘Dripping Into Orbit’ melds together theatrical goth-tinged art rock and hectic, angular math rock to forge a bleak and uncomfortable sonic space. The rolling tempo changes re disorientating, accelerating and decelerating bar by bar in a fashion that evokes the spirit and sound of Shellac.

As the album progresses, it becomes increasingly locked into an inward-facing mesh of difficulty, an aura charting increasing stress and crackling cognitive disorder. The effect is cumulative, but each song brings with it new layers of dis-ease.

Listening to the jarring post-punk of ‘Gravity Seeker’, the track which features the album’s title buried in its lyrics as guitars trip and trail all over a lugubrious and repetitive groove, I find myself being sucked into a vortex of bleakness and begin to wonder just what kind of hell the and members have endured to produce music this unflinchingly bleak. The recording sessions for Memento Collider can hardly have been a laugh a minute. But perhaps it was a lot more fun than the music suggests: it’s a mistake to conflate the art with the artist, and equally, catharsis can often be the means by which mental equilibrium can be maintained. Its’s healthy to channel all of the ark stuff the weird stuff and the negativity into something creative – and this is indeed dark and weird.

The final track, ‘Phantom Oil Slick’ spans a full nine minutes and fills it with jangling guitars which bounce every which way over a bass that surges and swells before it breaks in a tidal frenzy. It’s dark, intense, and borderline psychotic in every aspect. A collision indeed. Strap in and go for it.

 

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