Posts Tagged ‘New Wave’

ITN Corporation – 3rd November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

In the Nursery – or ITN as they’re sometimes referred – have been in existence for some thirty-five years but the Sheffield act centred around core duo of brothers Klive and Nigel Humberstone have existed well beneath the radar for the duration of their career. This hasn’t prevented their music being featured on Game of Thrones, Interview with a Vampire, The Aviator, and Beowulf, amongst others, and 1961, which follows over two dozen previous albums after some six years’ silence, showcases a set with a cinematic quality which is ideally suited to TV and movie soundtracks.

While the album’s title and overarching theme is significant on a number of levels, not least of all it being the year of the birth of the Humbertstone brothers – as well as landmark historical events including the construction of the Berlin Wall – its sound exists out of time, and if it does betray a link to any period, it’s the 1980s. Post punk collides with orchestral grandeur across the album’s nine tracks, which explore a broad array of atmospheres and spaces, with judiciously placed samples and – occasionally – vocals bringing variety and range.

A stocky bass enveloped in eddying synths, cool and spacious dominate the marching beat of ‘Until Before After’, the album’s opener, which hints at the kind of brooding, atmospheric post-rock of early iLiKETRiANS. If the comparison seems dissonant in terms of time-frame, it’s testament to ITN’s ever-shifting sonic form and their endless capacity for evolution.

If the idea of a choir of soaring operatic vocals reminiscent of Karl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna’ atop a sweep of dramatic strings by what sounds like a full orchestra sounds ostentatious, the execution of ‘Torschlusspanik’ elevates is miles above pretention to true art.

Rippling pianos, soaring, graceful strings, chiming guitars and murky percussion all form the fabric of an intriguing album: ‘Grand Corridor’ conjures a claustrophobic intensity worthy of Joy Division, while the acoustic guitar led ‘Pacify’ has echoes of Bauhaus on Burning from the Inside and ‘Solaris’, with its pounding percussion and a bassline that’s pure Peter Hook, is a major standout.

There’s a lot going on, and it’s all good: 1961 is a spectacularly articulate album that never ceases to reveal new layers, new corners, new depths.

AAA

1961

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Burn Church Press – 26th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Just because I’ve spent the last decade whittling down my cassette collction from over 500 to fewer than 50 doesn’t mean that I don’t think the tape renaissance isn’t cool. It represents a return to the appreciation of tactile, physical media, as well as a format that has a certain fragility which adds to its appeal: the idea that the cassette was cheap, convenient but also potentially damageable and disposable means that it’s possible to enjoy something of an ambivalent or even conflicted relationship with cassettes, often on a tape-by-tape basis. The return of the cassette suggests bands are haring back to a bygone age when acts – before the advent of the CD-R – would sell tapes at their gigs. These were often bands too new or too skint or too unsigned to have any vinyl releases.

The title of the debut release by Newcastle post-punk band Lost on Me also reminds us of the pre-internet era when bands would cut a demo and send it around gig promoters and record labels the like in the hope of getting gigs and more exposure, or even a recording contract and the chance to record in a proper studio rather than on a beaten-up four-track borrowed from a mate.

‘Protection’ bursts from the speakers in a blizzard of fractal, interlooping guitars, a mass f chorus and delay, and one might be forgiven for an initial thought which incudes Editors by way of a reference point – I’m thinking forst album era, I’m thinking ‘Munich’ in particular. But then Martin Downing’s dense, dark baritone enters the mix, and its heavy timbre has far more ‘gothy’ connotations, calling to mind Chris Reed from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry.

‘Landslide’ is a chiming pop tune at heart with a nagging guitar line, but the throbbing bass and deep, growling vocal casts heavy shade across its sunny surface. Third track ‘Balance’ brings a sinewy tension and a density that, again, is reminiscent of the Lorries.

The stuttering bursts of drums propel the wistful, emotive closer, ‘New Beginnings’ into territories which bring together contrasting dynamics to good effect, and once more indicate that these guys have studied the darker (and often more drum machine driven) side of the early 80s alternative scene. The production also contributes to the effect in a major way, with deep, deep reverb all over everything and a slightly hazy, murky analogue veil hanging over the guitars, in particular the thick bass tones. It’s all in the details, and they’re certainly not lost on me.

 

Lost on Me - Demonstration

1st December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

With Stranded on the Path, The Clouded Lights showcase a sound that’s very much rooted in the distinctly post-millennium revisioning of the post-punk sound, in the vein of early Interpol, Editors, et al, as well as contemporaries both regional (The Exhibition, for example) and international (New York’s New Politicians come to mind). So, there’s a real precedent, and a sense that The Clouded Lights are part of an expansive zeitgeist. Increasingly, it feels like that zeitgeist exists under the shadow of the apocalypse: the fear of the mushroom which loomed large over the 1980s is in many ways reborn in the 2010s (which still don’t sound like a real decade, but what can you do?) It’s an observation I’ve made previously, but the point is worth restating: the parallels between the early 1980s and the present are astounding – and depressing – and it’s small wonder that so much contemporary music echoes the sound of 30-odd years ago.

One of the key elements in the bands of the original new wave – Joy Division in particular, but listen to any of the darker, gothier bands, like Danse Society, Skeletal Family and you’ll find the same stylistic features – is strong, dominant drumming. The Clouded Lights have nailed the drumming, with a percussion style that’s urgent, tense, and, importantly, tight. The EP’s first track, ‘Borrowed Hearts’, is arguably the strongest and an obvious choice of lead, which balances bounce and bleakness, and is propelled by a busy, bluster-filled bassline that brings energy.

I’m a sucker for songs driven by rolling tom-led drumming, and the slower ‘Barter With the World’ ticks the box nicely. Chiming guitars and a vocal melody which casts melancholy shades define the song, and across the EP’s four tracks, there are some strong harmonies.

While shaded with heavy hints of darkness and defined by spindly, fractal guitars, Stranded on the Path is by no means a wholly bleak, pessimistic release, and the strong choruses and a leanings toward more uptempo material means it’s a release that’s inspiring, rather than a soundtrack to hang yourself to. It’s also a strong set, which suggests that, with live dates booked for the new year, The Clouded Lights could well be ones to watch in 2017.

 

The Clouded Lights - Stranded on the Path

Bearsuit Records – 9th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It begins with an immense drumbeat and a warped guitar that calls to mind early Swans as it warps and distorts… but then, behind a piston-pumping mechanoid beat, it all goes a bit Stereolab. Within a minute, I’m feeling confused, disoriented, as chimes hang gracefully in the air above a demonic, guttural snarl and discordant synth chimes and eerily chirpy whistles. What the actual fuck is this? And how does the music relate to the title, or vice versa? Nothing about the album is remotely evocative of plump older women with their eyes down, smashing away with their dabbers in the bustling pursuit of the next line, and nor does it conjure any images of the 70s heyday of the bingo hall, the smoke-hazed babbling equivalent of the WMC. Annie & the Station Orchestra’s Bingo Halls is an entity unto itself.

Pitched by the label as ‘a little experimental and challenging in places’, it’s also sold as being ‘very melodic, playful and pretty accessible in its predominantly instrumental context.’ These things are all relative, of course and this is a Bearsuit Records release: these guys are all about the far-out, the whacky, the weird – something I salute them for. There is, most certainly, a degree of melody and accessibility about this release but don’t think it’s some kind of Justin Beiber / Lady Gaga / Little Mix bollocks.

‘King of the Idiots’ is a brilliantly-engineered electro-pop instrumental with a dark edge, minor chords played on analogue synths wend their way over a thumping programmed beat that says ‘1984’. It builds and swerves and builds some more until it’s ascended to the position of towering space-age electro-rock. The lilting melody of ‘The Return of Banjo Williamson’, which amalgamates elements of oriental chimes with a thrumming bass and juddering electronic beats, quite unexpectedly evokes the spirit of latter-day Cure before going all weirdy Muzak electro.

Doodling, noodling guitars and synths, drenched in echo, place the album somewhere between electronica, Tangerine Dream style ambient Krautrock and post-rock. Is there a term yet for electronic post-rock? If not, there bloody ought to be, and someone needs to let me know what it is, like, yesterday. It’s not as if worriedaboutsatan haven’t been straddling these very genre divides for around a decade. Still, Annie & the Station Orchestra offer something that’s distinctive and unique, and while elements of the various tracks lean towards a range of identifiable genre trappings, the overall effect is one of abstraction, of immediate distraction, and of stubborn non-conformity. This makes for an album that’s idiosyncratically innovative, and stands proudly in a field of its own.

 

Annie & the Station Orchestra – Bingo Halls

Alrealon Musique – ALRN072 – 31st October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

New York underground act The Strange Walls aren’t conformists or readily categorised: previous releases have been called shoegaze, darkwave, post punk, art punk, experimental, outsider. I’m not even sure what ‘outsider’ is supposed to sound like, but they’re big into their pseudonyms, thus cultivating an air of mystery around the band and their music. Emerging from an ever shifting lineup, core trio of the class of 2016, consisting of Jon V. Worthley, Dan Drogenous and Regna Yates, assisted by Jimmy Ayatollah and John Spreaders have whipped up something appropriately esoteric and wide-ranging for this release.

More significantly, …Won’t Last straddles many genres and yet subscribes wholly to none. A slow, ominous echoey bassline rent with shrieking, ghostly incidentals provide the musical backing to Regina’s vocal, which sings a vaguely familiar melody. But then it’s straight into a squalling lo-fi post-punk racket reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain and A Place to Bury Strangers crossed with The Pop Group. It’s hard on the ears, and the contrast is almost schizophrenic. When an album’s tracks are as diverse as this, spanning psychedelia and folk and sometimes incorporating elements of at least two or three within a single song, it’s inevitable that some tracks will appeal more than others, and this is something which is wholly subjective. Yet the fact that there are some clear standout tracks is an objective observation, and the sequencing of the tracks accentuates this fact. The bleak electro sound of ‘In Time’ combines steely synths with a dash of dark pop sensibility which calls to mind early 80s Cure, and with its primitive, distant drum sound and reverb-soaked synth oscillations, ‘White’ lands somewhere between Cocteau Twins and Silver Apples, and these tracks inevitably sound stronger against the softer, less structured folky strummers. ‘Snow Day’ leans heavily on early New Order, while ‘Yawdons’ fulfils the criteria for obligatory droning experimental piece.

The ramshackle production equally works both for and against the album as a whole. Being better suited to some tracks than others, at times adding space and partially obscured sonic depths, at other simply sounding messy. The result, then, is an album that’s a bit hit and miss. Not bad, and in places brilliant, but a few tracks that will likely become skippers after a while.

 

The Strange Walls

Damnably – 26th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Barnsley: a long way off the musical map, eclipsed by Leeds and Sheffield. Yes, hometown of cult goth rock act Danse Society and a burgeoning post-punk inspired alternative indie scene and generally represented by the micro-label Of National Importance, but nevertheless, pretty much off the radar. Enter Bruja, a band credited with creating a ‘DIY junk-punk scene that has seen them hosting their own gigs, pressing up CDs, booking tours and making their own analogue VHS Videos to lighten the depressing reality of zero hours contracts in the service industry, unemployment and increasing xenophobic hostility’.

This once again returns us to what’s become something of a recurrent theme of late in my reviews on these pages: the depressing way in which austerity Britain and particularly post-Brexit Britain is a dark and dismal place, as depressed and divided as in the late 70s and early 80s. I was barely a child at the time, but essentially grew up against the backdrop of the miners’ strike and the Falkland’s war, followed by the Gulf War. War on TV in the 80s and 90s was a revolution in itself: now it’s wallpaper, but coupled with the effects of a long-term conservative government and the sense that history is repeating with a grim predictability whips up a cyclone of bleak feeling.

Impressively, Bruja have landed themselves on Damnably – home of Shonen Knife, Wussy and Oktoboke Beaver –  for the release of their new single. Promising ‘post-industrial, South Yorkshire modulatory desolation from a young band with a mean age of 24’, ‘Tori’ is a magnificently catchy post-Placebo new-wave influenced tune with a tremolo-heavy flanged-out lead guitar and driving rhythm section. Counterpart ‘Sculie’ is infectiously pop at its core, but propelled by some energetic drumming and a guitar sound that shimmers with the sound of an early 80s chorus pedal.

Times may be bleak, but it’s a good time for music. And this is good music.

 

Bruja

Staubgold – Staubgold 141 –20th May 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Vivien Goldman knows people. She’s written about so many in her capacity as a widely-published journalist, and she’s worked with a fair few, too, and as such, Resolutionary is a fascinating document of her collaborations, recorded during a particularly fertile period between 1979 and 1982. The roll-call of musicians featured on the eight tracks here is staggering: John Lydon, Keith Levene and Bruce Smith (PiL) Robert Wyatt, Steve Beresford and David Toop, and Vicky Aspinall (The Raincoats), and Neneh Cherry, amongst others, all feature here.

In many ways, Resolutionary is an odds-and-sods effort, a curio, a retrospective exhibition which focuses on the individual artist’s career more than its context, and which represents what was essentially a brief period in Goldman’s career, which has since been devoted to the documentation of music-making, rather than the actual making of music. But Goldman’s musical legacy is noteworthy, however scant. Her brief time with The Flying Lizards remains a career-defining spell, despite the fact that she wasn’t the one who provided the vocals on their biggest hit, ‘Money’. But in many ways, that’s a positive. No-one wants to be pegged as a one-hit wonder, their life spent in the shadow of that singular moment, and more importantly, Resolutionary serves to realign history, to an extent.

It’s an interesting aside to note that Public Image’s ‘This is Not a Love Song’ was inspired, in title at least, by The Flying Lizards track ‘Her Story’, which features here. Indeed, the two Flying Lizards tracks, ‘Her Story’ and ‘The Window’ (both of which feature Goldman on vocals, the latter of which was also composed by her) represent the detached, minimal pop they’re famed for. Big, strolling basslines are again the defining feature of these off-kilter noodles. Although readily available on The Flying Lizards’ eponymous debut, revisiting them in the context of Goldman’s output rather than that of the band offers an alternative context.

The dubtastic quirky kitchen-sink pop of solo cuts ‘Launderette’ and its attendant B-sides, released on the ‘Dirty Washing’ 12”, are worth the money alone. ‘Private Army’ is a colossal six-and-a-half spaced-out dub-based beast, the percussion and sax spiralling into a vortex of reverb. ‘P.A’ Dub’ – the dub version of ‘Private Army’ does dub out the vocals.

The Chantage tracks are the most accessible, with a lighter tone and style, with the pop reggae of ‘Same Thing twice’ proving a buoyant standout. But then, the Gallic theatricality of ‘It’s Only Money’ is equally beguiling and showcases Goldman’s range.

The interview with Vivien, recorded in 1981 and released on a cassette compilation is interesting, articulate, energetic, and insightful, although the audio quality is less than brilliant, and one does have to strain at times to decipher what’s being said. Still, as a historical document, its appearance on the disc is more than justified. The extensive liner notes, too, are pretty good, and overall, this is a quality package.

 VG_LP1.indd

 

 

Vivien Goldman Online