Posts Tagged ‘Noise Rock’

Ex Records – 23rd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

‘We always start from zero when we make a new album,’ the band explain of their creative process. This could well be the essential factor in their enduring nature: in avoiding the trap of becoming predictable to either their audience or themselves, they’ve remained fresh and innovative, continually testing their creative limits. Almost forty years and twenty-odd albums since their formation as an anarcho-punk band, The Ex are noteworthy for their eternal evolution and their refusal to stands still or to retread old ground. Collaborations, side-projects, and shifting lineups have also proven integral to this ethos, and it’s been almost eight years since their last album together as a quartet.

27 Passports sees them return once again reinvigorated, refreshed and ready to reinvent rock once more. And they do, in the way only a band with three guitars (but no bass – Moore’s baritone guitar provides essential tonal range here) and infinite vision likely can.

As the title suggests, this is an album of movement. Or, moreover, perhaps an album that creates the illusion of movement. 27 Passports is accompanied by a 40-page booklet of photos shot by Andy Moor. They’re odd, devoid of context or narrative meaning. Simultaneously eye-catching and mundane, they’re snapshots of life, devoid of perspective or implication: a row of feet on a train; a rusting car; a swan with its head under water; a traffic jam. These images provide an appropriate visual accompaniment to the disjointed, semi-abstract and immensely oblique lyrics and the musical content.

The first track, the six-and-a-half-minute ‘Soon All Cities’ is driven by a loping rhythm and crashing cymbals and builds a hypnotic groove slashed through with angular guitars which clang and scrape and layer up with volume and distortion. More than the choppy guitar work that often strays into the atonal and discordant, as do the vocals, it’s the percussion that really provides the focus of 27 Passports, pinning the loose and purposely obtuse guitar work in place and holding everything together.

If the claim that ‘there are some remnants of their African adventures’ (a reference to their collaborations with Getachew Mekuria) sits at odds with the spiky post-punk schematic, ‘The Sitting Chins’ subtly and strangely weaves ‘world’ music elements into the jolting barrage of chaos. If there was ever an antithesis of Paul Simon or Sting, this is it, and this fact alone makes 27 Passports an essential album.

For the most part, the compositions eschew linearity in favour of locking into a space and pushing away at a single motif for as long as seems reasonable, and sometimes beyond. This is very much a selling point. At to B is overrated: it’s about the journey. And it’s less about the distance than the motion itself. Take a walk: multiple laps of the block will not only achieve the same exercise effect as walking for miles toward a destination, but new details will reveal themselves with each circuit. No two circuits of the same short route will ever be the same. 27 Passports may be transcontinental in intent, but looking the wrong way down the binoculars is what it’s really about.

Barrelling bass scours the lower sonic realms on the robotic, motorik, ‘New Blank Document’; equal parts Gary Numan and early Swans, with heavy hints of The Fall’s ‘Spector vs Rector’ in its messy fabric. Such discord scratches away at the psyche, drills into the cerebellum, and unsettles the equilibrium.

In contrast, ‘Footfall’ deploys the same methodology and the same instrumentation, but against the relentlessly thumping beat, there’s a nagging aspect to the cyclical riff which has an intuitive emotional drag, a certain resonance. There’s something special about a certain descending three-chord sequence… and of course, they almost bury it beneath layers of jagged trebly noise. And that only renders it all the more beautiful and captivating.

There are some wonky pop moments present, too, with the Pavementy ‘The Heart Conductor’ bouncing along nicely, with a catchy vocal melody riding on top of the off-kilter guitars that are reminiscent of early Fall. Of course, when it comes to The Ex, comparisons are vaguely pointless beyond providing guidance for the uninitiated: with such an expansive career, it’s their work which has influenced many of the acts that stand as useful reference points. Of the surviving bands of the period – The Fall being no more and having arguably plateaued a good few years ago and Pere Ubu only offering occasional sparks – it seems like The Ex are the last ones standing who continue to really extend their reach and to challenge themselves and their listeners. 27 Passports is an absolute stormer, and an album which stands up against anything else going – period.

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The Ex - 27 Passports

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Interstellar Records – INT043

Christopher Nosnibor

And suddenly, one cold, wet, dark, depressing November night, an album arrives that slaps you round the face, hard, and makes its presence known. And within three songs, you know it’s probably one of the best things you’ve heard all year. And it’s a concept album.

I’d been thinking that 2017 hasn’t been a great year for music, while chewing on the irony of the fact I often berate people making the same complaint for their failure to look in the right places: there is always good – awesome, exciting – new music emerging from somewhere. Admittedly – and this shouldn’t be about me, but I find that reception of music is an intensely personal and individualism – I may not have in the most receptive of moods, or have kept up with as much of the music passed my way this year, but 2017 simply doesn’t feel like one of the greats, despite having a handful of clear highlights. But these highlights are less about objective merit and commercial success, and what’s actually stuck. This, however, is an album with immediate impact. It grabs the listener by the throat in the opening bars. And it doesn’t let up.

According to the liner notes, ‘Calamitas deals with danger babe Ruby, who stole Silvio Berlusconi’s heart, Satan deceiving us all by using the purgatory doctrine, dictator Kim Jong Senior (II), the sexiest man alive back in the days, beautiful femmes fatales with a look that kills, the man who cut off his own leg to get disablement pension (he didn’t succeed), personal misery, the best days of my life, the abyss that is staring back, etc.’ So, it’s a true story, albeit one where the narrative is buried beneath a strain of sinewy guitars and barked vocal delivering impenetrable lyrics. And that’s all good.

‘Calamitas’, we also learn, means ‘loss, disaster, damage, harm, defeat and misfortune’. These things, the album’s ten tracks convey with crystal clarity through the medium of raging, guitar-driven noise. And as much as Calamitas is a snarling, gnarly mess of brutality, it’s gritty, tense, and cut from a different cloth from so much murky metal thrashing.

I’m reminded as much of anything of the swagger of Girls vs Boys on their debut album, Hey Colossus, and Henry Blacker, and there’s a strong flavour reminiscent of Helmet and The Jesus Lizard and the Am Rep / Touch and Go label styles. There’s noodly, Shellac-meets-Tar math-grunge on ‘A Knife for Every Heart’ and ‘Best Days of Our Lives’, which builds a tripwire tension. ‘Fuck me Blind’ is darkly claustrophobic, built around a cyclical riff, sinewy top guitars and ballistic hollering. There’s also a gnarly blues undercurrent to many of the songs here, and for all the messy guitars, the bass is pure thunder and lays down some irresistible grooves over the course of the album’s ten cuts. There’s a dark, gritty vibe and a gloriously ragged edge to it all, and Markus Dolp’s gruff, Cookie Monster vocals have hints of Tom Waits and JG Thirlwell.

Some cuts do venture into all-out hardcore punk / metal attack, like the squalling black mass that is, opener ‘Anti’ but what makes Calamitas such a corking album – beyond the fact that it simply is a corking album – is its range. Yes, it’s all a bloody, brutal, guitar-driven mess of noise, as becomes a band who’ve spent two decades exploring the terrains of noise-rock, but it’s sonically articulate while it rages blindly and incogently. It’s the perfect balance, and the frenetic and the furious drive that defines Calamitas makes for a gloriously intense listen.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or is a friend on Facebook is likely to have seen that I tend to draw attention to the fact that I won’t be chained to my desk at home writing music reviews because I’m taking a ‘night off’ involving beer and live music – in other words, I’m out and about watching live music, which I’m invariably reviewing. As such, these nights off aren’t really nights off in the strictest sense. Those who know me in person know that I never really take a night off, regardless, and that includes the nights when I go and watch live music as a paying punter, or a mate has very kindly bought me a ticket to join them watching one of their favourite bands. These are indeed rare occasions, but should constitute a true night off. But that simply isn’t how I work. Truth is, I no longer know how to have a night off. Stopping would likely kill me. Besides, I feel owe practically everything to underground music in some way or another.

So, while I’ve dug what I’ve heard of Part Chimp, my attendance is not in capacity of reviewer or rabid fan – although by the end of the night, I’m both. I’m already a fan of Joe Coates and his Please Please You gig promotions, though – the shows he puts on are carefully curated and the PPY name can be relied upon as a guarantee of quality. Likewise, I’m a huge fan of Wharf Chambers as a venue, and not just on account of the fact they sell decent beer on draught from as little as £2.80 a pint.

And so it is that Thick Syrup make for extremely worthy openers. Their Facebook page describes the band as ‘Garage rock/funk/post punk/hard rock… but none of those things specifically’, and it’s a fair summary. Boil it down, and they’re a solid alternative rock band, whose singer, Gemma, performs from somewhere in the audience, often right at the back of the little venue and facing the stage, on account of the fact she can’t hear what it sounds like from on stage. Out front, it does sound good, and while they’re not big on between-song banter they are big on sturdy, rocking tunes dominated by meaty, overdriven guitars. They’re good fun.

Thick SyrupThick Syrup 2

Thick Syrup

Grey Hairs, hailing from Nottingham, offer a different kind of fun – one marked by a front man possessed of an almost psychotic intensity. The rhythm section is immense, and the foursome kick out a supremely hefty racket. The riffs are big, ballsy, grunged-out slabs of noise: they’re a good fit by way of a main support for Part Chimp, and the fact that they’re also touring with Hey Colossus in May should perhaps give a fair indication both of their sound and their quality. With a new LP, Serious Business released at the start of the year, the set draws substantially on this shouty, sinewy collection, evoking the spirit and sound of vintage Touch and Go and Amphetamine Reptile releases, as well as contemporaries like Backlisters at al who draw inspiration from gnarly 90s US rock. The heavy chug of ‘Sausage’ is full-on, but then, ‘Backwards’ shows they’ve also got a knack for a cracking chorus too. They’re a motley bunch, and it’s no critiism when I observe that front man James is no pin-up. But the image they present corresponds with the angst they channel over the 9-5 grind and the twitching anxiety of immersion in mere existence amidst a morass of bland culture and the conflict of possessing a creative bent. Oh, and they’re bloody loud.

Grey Hairs

Grey Hairs

Part Chimp, however, are much, much louder. I mean, they radiate noise from every orifice and every pore. And when the guitars serrate your skull and the bass vibrates your solar plexus and every riff is as heavy as a small planet and the drums as hard as basalt, reviewing becomes a far bigger challenge than you might think. Instead of analysing precisely why Part Chimp are so bloody awesome, what about the performance completely blew me away, why I felt euphorically drunk on a lot less beer than I know I can handle, I spend an age pissing about on the Internet trying to establish precisely how hard basalt is, and how it compares to the more common ‘hardness’ reference point of granite. I discover that basalt is more porous and is considered a medium hardness rock, whereas granite is classified as a hard rock; and so my word selection seems appropriate: Part Chimp are heavy, the riffs as weighty as hell, but they’re not hard rock band. There’s a malleable, sludgy aspect to the sound. I’m still no closer to qualifying or objectively quantifying the experience of watching four guys, a few years older than myself and by no means cool in the rock star sense, or in any way ‘the kids’ might consider cool, working up a sweat as they hammer out this immense, furious racket.

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Part Chimp

They play a fair few songs from the new album, (and the first to be released following their reunion last year, following a five-year break), Iv released today. And that’s Iv, not the numeral for four. The riffs on the new songs are slow, heavy, fully doomy and laced with a psychedelic stoner infusion. There’s no pretence or posturing: there’s a keen sense that these are regular guys, who have regular lives, and when they’re not doing regular stuff, they’re making music. Music that’s noisy, dense and jarring, yet in a perverse way has the capacity to be immensely uplifting. They’re relentless, and play hard, and, as is only fitting, there’ a lot of hair being thrown about down the front. It’s music to go apeshit to. Part Chimp: All Brilliant.