Posts Tagged ‘Nostalgia’

Christopher Nosnibor

Last week, there was a brief buzz around the Internet observing that on 1st September 2021, 1980 was as far away as the start of World War 2 was in 1980. It’s one of those startling perspective moments that takes some computing. Being five in 1980, WW2 felt like ancient history, despite the fact my father was born before the end of the war. To me, the music of the 1980s still feels comparatively recent, and I can recall events from the 80s – The Falklands War, for example – with remarkable clarity. And yet I have colleagues who are adults who weren’t even born until the late 90s, who feel the music of the 80s is as relevant to them as I find most music of the 50s and 60s.

It seems crazy to think, then, that The Sisters of Mercy’s last studio album was released a few months before their tenth anniversary shows in Leeds in February 1991, and now, here we are, belatedly marking their fortieth year in existence. Not that no new album means no new material: they may still play a lot of old favourites, but The Sisters are by no means a heritage band (seemingly to the annoyance of some of their older fans who lament the fact they don’t still sound like it’s 1985).

This trio of dates sees a different support act each night, and if the return of previous recent supports AA Williams and I Like Trains makes perfect sense, Jesus Jones being tonight’s openers seemed like an odd choice.

The last time I saw Jesus Jones was supporting The Cure as part of Radio 1’s Great British Music Weekend in December 91. I’d never really been a fan, and the highlight of their set for me was the dreadlocked guitarist falling off the stage. Still, they were fun enough, and the same is true thirty years later. As they kick off with the indie rave bleepfest of ‘Zeros and Ones’ I’m immediately reminded that while the guitar sound was alright, they were just too melodic and lacking in nuts for my taste. ‘Right Here, Right Now’, with its baggy beat sounds both dated and a bit thin. Bassist Al Doughty throws Peter Hook shapes, while Ian baker nominally plays keyboards, spending most of the set charging around the stage and lurching his keyboard around on its stand. It was annoying back in the 90s, and it’s perhaps even more annoying now. Interestingly, for a band with a lot of hits, they tend to focus more on material from the rather edgier first album, with ‘Info Freako’ being a clear set highlight.

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Jesus Jones

There’s some grand JG Thirlwell-style style dramatic orchestral ambient cross played over the PA between bands, and with lights moving a curtain suspended from the incredibly high ceiling, the sense of theatre, and of occasion, are considerable, not least of all the nod to the band’s legendary ‘Wake’ performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1985. Tonight, the curtain comes down rather than up to reveal the band in positions, from which they step forward and positively burst into ‘But Genevieve’. It’s immediately apparent that the three of them have been itching to get out to do this, and the rare level of energy Eldritch had shown on the last tour, just days before lockdown in March 2020 is exceeded here. Effusing welcomes and greetings with unbridled enthusiasm. It’s uncharacteristic to say the least, but it’s a joyous reunion that’s massively appreciated by the gathered crowd, which spans a notable demographic, including a lot of people, both male and female, who were probably barely born around the time of the twentieth anniversary show, let alone the tenth. And why not? For all the ‘goth’ copyists who’ve emerged through the years, there is only one Sisters.

They’re straight into ‘Ribbons’, and it’s stonking, delivered with real zeal, before steaming into a full-throttle ‘Crash and Burn’, which has long been a standout among the post-studio year. If tonight’s set list is remarkably similar to that of the Leeds show last year, it’s hard to find fault in the song selection: there will always be songs that would have bene nice to hear – ‘Better Reptile’, for example, or, indeed anything from the Reptile House EP, but you have to hand it to The Sisters for remaining true to their lack of compromise. Any other band with their catalogue would have dug up ‘Body Electric’ and more earlier songs for a truly career-spanning set to mark the occasion. But that simply isn’t how they work. Deal with it, or don’t.

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The Sisters of Mercy

Being the first night, a few minor slips were probably to be expected – there were missed cues for both guitarists, wrong chords and wrong lyrics, but these were all part of the buzz: for so many years, The Sisters have been accused of going through the motions or otherwise playing safe. Tonight, they’re giving it everything and more. That it’s not always pitch-perfect is part of the appeal, and reminds of the Sisters of old, with a particularly interesting / old style vocal performance on ‘No Time to Cry’, a song Eldritch has always seemed to struggle with by writing lyrical lines too long without a pause for breath. He does, however, manage occasional sups from a bottle of something that most certainly isn’t water between songs and sometimes verses, and this seems to keep him buoyant and energised.

After blasting through strong renditions of ‘Alice, ‘Dominion / Mother Russia’ and a brooding ‘Show Me’, Andrew gets to take a break – and no doubt have a quick fag – while the guitarists get to play rock gods and race about the stage as they showcase a new instrumental.

‘Marian’ and ‘First and Last and Always’ are dispatched at pace, before Dylan switches to acoustic guitar for ‘Black Sail’. ‘When I’m ready, motherfucker!’ Eldritch admonishes him as he strikes the first chords prematurely, but it’s good-natured banter, and it’s a strong rendition. I’m vaguely amused by the prospect that this was written while Eldritch was loafing around watching Netflix’s airing of the raunchy pirate series prequel to Treasure Island. Heave away, indeed. It’s followed by a personal favourite of mine, ‘I Was Wrong’. Eldritch was always a deft lyricist, and ‘I can love my fellow man / but I’m damned if I’ll love yours’ is a classic.

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The Sisters of Mercy

It paves the way for a truly searing rendition of ‘Flood II’, with ben Christo’s guitar blistering and burning from the very first howls of feedback, and Eldritch again finds his full voice. He may not hit all the right notes on a technical level, but is unquestionably at his best when he just fucking goes for it and sings up instead of mumbling and growling. So, to be clear to the detractors: missed notes and off-key but performed with passion beats grumbling low in the mix while trying to hold the tune. That said, his voice sounds stronger now than at any point on the last decade or more, and it seems fair to say the Sisters aren’t done yet.

After the first encore of a mesmerising ‘Neverland (A Fragment)’ and the throwaway, truncated ‘Lucretia’, I’m forced to skip for a train back to York, missing the second encore – but I’ve left happy. We can’t realistically expect as fiftieth anniversary show, but for the time being, it’s a joy to see The Sisters of Mercy emerging from lockdown energised and sounding solid.

14th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I’d take cheap red win over red, red wine any day: back in the early to mid-90s as a poor student (back when such a thing existed), Liquorsave – the off-license department of Kwik Save, who at the time were selling their No-Frills baked beans for 3p a tin – it was possible to purchase a bottle of Hungarian red wine at 12% ABV for £1.85. It was actually better – by which I mean not only stronger, but also fuller-bodied – than the £5-£6 bottles of French wine. Nowadays, cheap mis under a fiver, but I’ll still stand by budget wines from the right sources, and in the absence of pubs, people, and life in general over the course of a year of lockdown, cheap red wine has become a friend on a par with strong Polish lager.

Anyway: on ‘Cheap Red Wine’, Muca and the evasive, semi-illusory Marquise paint a laid-back, smoky picture from a minimal sonic palette, evoking the spirit of smoky basements bars of times gone by. It wasn’t so long ago you could find somewhere down some stairs that was open till 1 or 2am and sip a bottled beer or a whisky and feel like you were somewhere else while people smoked… but time is relative. Nevertheless, the easy-going, laid-back jazzy vibes of ‘Cheap Red Wine’ evoke a pretty deep nostalgia, and it hits harder than the song itself, which is simple, melodic, reflective, landing somewhere between Amy Winehouse and Portishead.

Based around a simple acoustic guitar and Muca’s magnificent vocal that drawls, but isn’t quite lazy per se, ‘Cheap Red Wine’ builds to incorporate layers of strings and a wandering electric guitar solo, and conveys a heavy ache of emotion, too. An understated instant classic.

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Cheap Red Wine_Artrwork_Kelly Emrich

11th December 2020

London trio Slow Cooked Bears are all about the hybridity, bringing together a mixture of visceral alternative noise rock to forge what they describe as ‘a left-field, avant-garde sound that’s both nostalgic and modern with elements of grunge, synth pop and reverb heavy post-rock’.

Now, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, especially now it’s become the last cash cow for late capitalism to milk, and there’s never been a better time to milk it dry than in 2020 when half the world is stuck at home, unable to socialise, see friends or family, shop or conduct all of the activities that have been part of everyday life for the last century. Who doesn’t yearn for the past? Who hasn’t at some point in recent months delved into musical memories that remind them of time spent in the company of friends?

Their releases to date all carry something of a spacey theme, that seem to have little correspondence to the oddball barbarism of the band name, which makes ‘The Grand Scheme’ something of a departure from Eclipse (2018) and Space Odyssey (2019).

It kicks in with a big swaggering blues riff and burns into a grungy alt-rock descending chord sequence for the chorus. It’s hooky as hell, and they sound confident but not cocky, and there’s a 90s vibe that hints vaguely at Placebo while they’re kicking out Zeppelinesque guitar breaks spun through a contemporary filter that alludes to the likes of Rivals Sons and (earlier) Royal Blood. As such, it’s nostalgia, but with a twist, and it works. In the grand scheme of things, and even by any measure, this is a pretty strong single cut.

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The Secret Warehouse of Sound Recordings – 23rd September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Maybe it’s just me, perhaps I’m tired and emotional or perhaps I’m just feeling particularly sensitive as the long-term effects of an absence of live music and being generally cut off from people bites harder as the nights draw in and the days grow shorter, but I’ve started to feel a real heavy-hearted ache lately for the things I miss. Maybe these are my October Blues, which means the arrival of this single is perfectly timed – not to lift the spirits, but to reflect that inward-facing melancholy that comes with the urge to hibernate or hunker down by a log fire.

Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I spent lazy evenings in basement bars listening to live blues, and it’s perhaps precisely because of that that Muca & La Marquise’s latest single, fills me with pangs of nostalgia.

Stripped-back and simple, primarily an acoustic guitar and voice, it evokes simpler times – while at the same time being absolutely timeless – of late-night smoky basement bars, with its jazz-tinged blues and laid back laconic delivery. La Marquise has a magnificent voice – timeless, classic, smooth. The guitar-playing is similarly understated, but follows a nice, chilled slow blues chord sequence and there’s an exquisite break, too, that draws you in and drifts away on a magnificent wave of melancholy.

20th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

I was on the edge of my seat for a cover of Inner Circle’s 90s reggae-pop classic when this landed with me, but on balance, this offering from Windsor-based quartet Saharas is better.

It’s vaguely horrifying to consider the notion that anything jangly and melodic indie with a tense, post-punk undertone, reminiscent of the class of, oh, c2003 or 2004 may qualify as connoting a certain nostalgia. But then, nostalgia is a vague and intensely personal sensation. Being the age I am, I’m probably more likely to feel pangs for 1994 than 2004. And yet, 2004… pre-family, disposable income, part-time work… strolling down to my local record shop mid-morning on a Monday and splurging disposable income on the latest vinyl… Yeah, I can buy into a nostalgia for that, as I recall strolling home with releases by the likes of Editors, Interpol, She Wants Revenge, The Organ, stowed in a nice square carrier bag. I miss it. The likelihood is that someone 10 years younger will feel a nostalgia for whatever they were doing in 2004 (which may well have been a variation on the same thing).

‘Sweat’ very much captures not only the sound, but the energy surrounding the zeitgeist of the first few post-millennial years, which blended a certain optimism with the pessimism of almost twenty years previous. It boasts a spectacularly nagging chorus-soaked guitar-line that hints as much at Yazoo’s ‘Don’t Go’ as Editors’ ‘Munich’.

It’s all extremely fitting for the current climate: dark times call for dark music, and also inspire a yearning for better times. The early years of the millennium, by which time the euphoria of Labour’s 1997 landslide had slipped into a malaise even before the recession hit, echoed the wilderness of 30 years previous. In 2018, 2004 looks like a hoot.

But most importantly, it’s a cracking tune with hooks galore, and it would be so in any decade.

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Saharas - Sweat

Christopher Nosnibor

It seems as if this release is designed to cause maximum confusion. It’s called 2014 and is being released here in 2017. It was ‘originally’ released by German label Attenuation Circuit on 8th August 2017, and has been – so far as I can make out – independently released by the artist himself, with the subtitle of Attenuation Circuit 2017. Given the album’s contents, it sort of works.

The accompanying blurb – which is in fact culled from a review published on August 12th (is this chronology messing with your orientation yet?) is a curious mix of hyperbole, unusual metaphors and theoretical reference points:

‘Gintas K will shower the ears with a whole lot of incredible data streams, all clustering electronica bits and bytes that drop down in a wild way. As if data communications had been flushed through the shower head, tumble down and ending up together in the drain. Strangely when the tap is closed and these electrodes have calmed down in their dripping ways, they actually form beautiful sounding music… well, music might not be the word for all to say, but it does feel like there is a lot of beauty to be discovered in these busy data dada streams.’

As much as the quirkily playful application of abstract digitalism does clearly it comfortably within the framework of Dadaism, it’s also a work which readily aligns itself to the postmodern, in the way that it effectively recreates the experience of information overload, and does so in a fashion which is both nostalgic and retro (the sparking circuits are more dial-up than fibre optic) and executed with a certain hint of parodic pastiche. At the pace of progress as it stands, even 2014 feels like a point of nostalgia on the cultural timeline: a year which predates the vote for Brexit and the accession to power of Donald Trump, it may be a year with little going for it and which has little to mark it as memorable, but many would likely concur that 2014 stands in a period which is better than the present.

2014 is certainly one of Gintas K’s noisier and more challenging releases. While Slow was a subtle and quite quiet, delicate work, 2014 is far more up-front and attacking in every respect. It’s also more difficult to position, in that it absolutely does not conform to simple genre categories like ‘ambient’, instead straddling vague brackets like ‘electionica’, ‘industrial’, and ‘experimental’.

Hurtling from the speakers from the get go streams a barrage of gloopy digital extranea, a glissando of chiming binaries and a dizzying digital wash that flickers and flies in all directions, an aural Brownian motion of beeps and bleeps.

The eight-minute ‘max’ starts very much as ‘min’, with a full three minute’s silence, before a brief crashing facsimile of some metallic kind of percussion makes a fleeting appearance. There are sporadic clunks and scrapes and minute glimmers of higher-end frequencies, but for the most part, the silence of space dominates the clutter of sound.

‘5 zemu ir max2’ sounds like R2D2 having a seizure, with occasional blasts of distortion and random thuds punctuating the frenzied stream of bleeps. It’s ten minutes long. And I have no idea what the title – or indeed any of the titles attached to the individual pieces – stands a s reference to, just as the overarching 2014 has no obvious connection to the seven tracks it contains.

Crackled a gloops and bloops and whiplash blasts of static, crashes like cars impacting at speed and jangling rings all congeal into a digital mush which bewilders and disrupts the temporal flow. 2014 is disorientating, and not just in the immediate moment, but in terms of a wider placement and sense of time / space.

Gintas K - 2014

Anticipate Recordings – 17th March 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The cover art gives little to nothing away, but at the same time, it’s perhaps a remarkably accurate representation of the blurring, blending overlays of contrasting tones and textures which define the ephemeral pieces which form the abstract picture which is A Passage of Concrete.

The album pitch details how A Passage of Concrete ‘ebbs and flows across an electroacoustic narrative of fragmented memory tethered to the present moment, unravelling movement, location, distance in a story that cares about place as both texture and emotional notation. Honig’s sense of place and the way he utilises it is disparate and varied, from field recordings made in busy streets, to parks and empty apartments, via high-ceilinged spaces. One might say that  Honig is preoccupied with both sonic and psychological reverberations and resonance, and that A Passage of Concrete represents the coalescence of these things.

Scratchy and distant shuffling scrapes, flickering, arrhythmic beats provide the backdrop to a sparse delicate acoustic strum on ‘Apartment Workshop’. Steady, pulsing beats pin down the extraneous sonic ripples and segments of ambient audio captured in bustling crowds, while ‘Forest of Refractions’ wraps droning organ undulations around a glitchy beat. The mellow keys which radiate dappled light on the two ‘Fugue State’ pieces are pleasant but innocuous, and while ‘dark’ notes resonate across bouncing beats over the album’s duration, it’s not easy to get a handle on. Yet for all that, it’s not an album which possesses the deep draw of emotional engagement.

While the album’s fourteen tracks, many of which are fragmentary, and a number of which are but sketches of around a minute in duration, are exercises in the vague and the transitional, the percussion, fluid as it is, provides a certain solidity to the compositions in structural terms. The effect is to give A Passage of Concrete a greater sense of tangibility than an album which is purely abstract and ambient. As such, its capacity to connect with and conjure from the listener’s memory is reduced. It lacks that essential, if evasive and indefinable quality of being haunting and evocative. Ezekiel Honig may be a master at conveying his own mental geography, but A Passage of Concrete lacks the abstraction required to render it universal. So where do you go?

On ‘A Slow Expansion,’ the classic evocation of nostalgia, the crackle of a worn vinyl groove fleetingly emerges. I can’t be drawn. The crackle track, the ultimate cliché of nostalgia, has become Vienna: it means nothing to me, and stands as nothing more than a signifier of ersatz nostalgia. It no longer holds any emotional resonance.

A Passage of Concrete is not a bad album by any means. In fact, it’s an extremely interesting album, but one that’s difficult to appreciate on anything but an artistic or musical level. Sonically, there’s no questioning the accomplishment of the material on display. But to measure the extent to which Honig succeeds in his goal is entirely subjective: what will resonate with one individual won’t touch another. But at its best, music transcends everything: sound transcends language and sound attains absolute universality. A Passage of Concrete fails to achieve this ultimate goal of connecting the listener’s psyche through abstraction, because it feels somehow prescriptive. Honig’s structures steer the listener in the direction of his headspace rather than providing a conduit for the listener to interact fully by exploring their own. The end result, then, is a pleasurable listening experience, but one which lacks the capacity for full immersion and to truly move the listener.

Ezekiel Honig - A Passage of Concrete

GoldMold Records – 10th February 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Once upon a time, everything was tapes. The romanticism of a frustrating and often inconvenient medium has endured perhaps largely on account of the potential impermanence of their nature: how many music fans of the cassette age mourn the loss of a beloved recording on account of a moment’s forgetfulness which resulted in overrecording, or some freak event which resulted in demagnetisation? How many hours spent spooling and respooling tape which had become mangled in the heads, or otherwise stretched or snapped? The albums of yesteryear, all recorded to quarter inch tape, slowly decaying are an integral backdrop to our appreciation of the existence of the sounds they contain.

But is with books in the printed medium over digital text, it’s easier to form a bond with an artefact which feels somehow personal and personalisable. Just as a book with various creases and marks, perhaps even annotations develops a tangible, unique sense of ownership a Kindle edition never can, a playlist can never have the same resonance as a lovingly-sequenced mix-tape with hand-scribbled notes accompanied by a creased post-it or page from a spiral-bound notepad containing a covering note, folded into quarters and stuffed inside a scuffed case. On an emotional level, at least, sonic fidelity counts for less than fidelity to a pure moment, and it’s the thought that counts: those analogue documents of yesteryear can contain the entirety of a crush that dissipates in weeks or the early stages of a lifelong relationship on any level.

While the debates over the nostalgia ‘industry’ continue to rage, it’s fair to say that the renaissance enjoyed by the cassette is not a purely economic one. After all, the costs involved in burning a bunch of CD-Rs and stuffing them into handmade sleeves is negligible, and even though a bulk batch of 100 C30 cassettes can be obtained for in the region of 55p per unit, the time and effort required to dub even a small run of tapes is proportionally greater than any number of CD-R burns. But the changing nature of the music industry means that where it’s at now is in the small-scale, the personal, and the idea that an artist or label has invested time and personal attention on a product imbues the object with an instant emotional resonance.

The debut release from Glasgow’s Forehead – the vehicle of Sean Garrett (said to be ‘the shyest frontman you’ll ever meet’ and mother goose of the Lovely Ladies) – is appropriately named, as it is being released – if you hadn’t already deduced – on (baby blue) cassette, in a limited edition of just 15. It’s also being released as a download of course. Because no artist makes a release exclusively for 15 people.

The blurb notes that the four tracks contained herein ‘have been about for a while but are only being released now, a testament to Sean’s wholly unwarranted modesty’. And yes, the songs are superb, in a sketchy, nervous, hesitant yet achingly sincere way. You get the impression that Garret’s shyness is integral to the material, to the extent that its awkwardness defines what makes it special. And by no means interpret awkward as clumsy: there’s a skilled songwriter hiding behind the sonic fog here.

Regardless of the protracted journey between conception, recording and release, in keeping with the EP’s title, Bedroom Tapes conveys the spirit of 90s analogue enthusiasm. Low-key, lo-fi indie rock songs, reminiscent less of Pavement and more of Silver Jews, define the Forehead sound. This only serves to amplify the nostalgic quality of the release, evoking the excitement of hearing something stubbornly lo-fi, dubbed from a cassette or a record, the grind of a worn stylus on cheaply-pressed vinyl, for the first time.

Forehead also captures the awkward shyness of J Mascis on ‘Honest’, and the swampy plod of ‘Corner Pieces Falling Apart’ bursts into slanted psych-hued noise before crawling off to hide under the table.

 

Forehead