Posts Tagged ‘Political’

21st October 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

What a week to drop a new single. Especially if you’re a politically-charged British band. And particularly if you’re Benefits. Their meteoric ascendancy continues unabated: still without label, management, or PR, they’ve had the video for their new single premiered on none other than Rolling Stone Magazine’s website. They are most certainly not your typical Rolling Stone act. Yes, the magazine may historically have been an outlet for Hunter S. Thomson’s writing and been both political and cutting edge, more recently, it’s been very much more establishment. But it’s reach is huge, and if this suggests by any means that Benefits have gone establishment, you’re either nuts, or you’ve not heard of Benefits before.

For a band like this to be given such a platform isn’t simply a big deal – it’s practically the sounding horn of revolution. And as the British government collapses around our ears faster than 24/7 scrolling news can update their marquees, the timing could not be better.

Against a grinding, undulating, distorted mechanical throb, Kingsley Hall delivers another lacerating dissection of Real Life, carving his way through anxiety and dayjob drudgery, corporate and political doublespeak, endless bullshit filtered and amplified through the echo chambers of social media, ‘failure masked as victory’.

Two-thirds in, a hefty industrial beat kicks in and gives a solidity to the squalling blast of thick, thick noise, and the roaring rage yields to a crisp, clinical spoken word monologue that in many ways hits even harder than that savage raw-throated primal scream, and there’s glimmer of home as he intimates ‘we can win this’… and then, abruptly, nothing. It’s the most unexpected ending to a sing since Dinosaur Jr’s cover of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’.

It’s also Benefits’ most uncompromisingly brutal and heavyweight release yet, as well as their most fully realised.

The world is changing fast. We may be quite literally drowning in shit on the coasts of this brown and deeply unpleasant pleasant land, but Benefits are doing their bit to make it a better place, not by bringing sunshine, but telling it like it is.

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Benefits are on your in November:

May be an image of one or more people and text that says "enefits 18/11 GLASGOW stereo 23/11 LONDON oslo 19/11 SUNDERLAND pop recs 24/11 NOTTINGHAM bodega 20/11 SOUTHAMPTON joiners 25/11 MANCHESTER yes 21/11 EXETER cavern 26/11 LEEDS brudenell 22/11 BRISTOL strange brew tickets all shows available www.benefitstheband.com on sale friday 10am"

Christopher Nosnibor

I like trains. Ironically, it was a lack of trains that almost prevented my making this show, as the largest national strike in the series yet meant there were none operating. David Martin and his band also likes trains, as he reminded us during one of his few brief exchanges with the audience during the set, going on to add “we support the action”. So would many in the audience, judging by the response.

While we’re waiting for things to get underway, we’re afforded the opportunity to appreciate the magnificent surroundings to a backdrop of minimal instrumental beats, before northern noise duo Polevaulter take to the stage assault our ears with a truly abrasive racket. Having given a platform to the emerging Benefits late last year, ILT have come up trumps with another killer support act this time. Complimentary but contrasting to the headliners, Polevaulter hit us with stark, crisp programmed drums and dirty live bass grind and feedback and shouty vocals. They’re a powerful hybrid of post-punk and industrial, and crank out a blinding wall of nihilism. As much Cabaret Voltaire and Factory Floor as Benefits or Sleaford Mods, they equally belong to the Leeds lineage of drum-machine driven post punk defined by the mutant noise of Age of Chance.

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Polevaulter

More minimal beats pave the way to an atmospheric intro as I Like Trains take to the stage and launch into a set that – unsurprisingly – is dominated by tracks from KOMPROMAT, their first album in eight years. There’s a palpable urgency to the performance, which launches with the triple salvo of ‘A Steady Hand’, ‘Desire is a Mess’, and ‘Dig In’.

They’re tight and look reinvigorated – and Guy Bannister still looks the same as he did back in 2005, switching between – and sometimes simultaneously playing -guitar and synths, integral to the rich, deep, and full-bodied sound, while the visuals make for a full 360-degree multisensory experience. They still kill the crescendos, too, and I’m reminded once again why I’ve been coming back to see this band for the last fifteen years: they really do put everything into their shows, and play hard, too.

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I Like Trains

They pack the songs in tight, with minimal chat or pause, and deliver ear-shredding bursts of noise from seemingly out of nowhere, and tonight, they’re as good as they’ve ever been. Having moved from a baritone croon to a more spoken style of vocal, David Martin actually pushes himself a lot harder in his delivery: there’s real passion behind every line, and – more irony – in having assimilated slogans and double speak clichés into the fabric of his lyrics, he’s truly found his own voice as a writer.

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I Like Trains

Mid-set, they play a rearranged version of ‘The Beaching Report’ from Progress Reform. With some screwdriver slide guitar work, it’s bleak and haunting, and simply had to be played. Reform, reform… What goes around comes around, history repeats, and cuts bite ever harder. The song’s relevance now brings a lump to the throat: today’s strikes aren’t purely about pay, but reforms that will have a significant impact on safety.

History and remembrance have run as themes through I Like Trains’ work since their very beginning, but tonight, observing the contrast between the refrain of ‘Terra Nova’, of Scott’s doomed arctic expedition – ‘More’s the shame / they will remember my name’ – and Boris Johnson’s gurning face against the slogan ‘God loves a winner’ during The Spectacle’ – which absolutely kicks – is a sobering experience.

Toward the end of the set, they finally concede to a proper delve into the back catalogue (although there are no songs from Elegies to Lessons Learnt – thanks to the early finish meaning we don’t get the ‘Spencer Percival’ encore of the night before) or The Deep), giving us ‘A Rook House for Bobby’ (dedicated to the memory of Debs, “perhaps the biggest I Like Trains fan”) and ‘Terra Nova’ back to back, both bringing ear-bleeding crescendos.

They close with an absolutely stonking extended rendition of ‘The Truth’, with a thudding, insistent bass groove chopping a deep furrow against a backdrop of warped images of Liz Truss. The climactic thrust which sees David nailing the truth of the truth and appropriating my own stage performance style in the process (and who wouldn’t want to, right?), tossing screwed cards into the crowd and flipping the written cues in all directions… it feels like a performative metaphor, whereby the truth is discarded wantonly, recklessly, with no regard, before he finally intimates ‘The truth will trickle down… I am totally out of my depth’. He’s never been more intense than this, and I Like Trains have never felt more vital.

15th September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

The evolution of I Like Trains continues with their first new output since 2020’s Kompromat, which marked a seismic shift both sonically and lyrically. Not their first, either, since they made a giant leap after Elegies for Lessons Learnt, after which they made the change from being iLiKETRAiNS to I Like Trains and towards a more conventional dark alternative rock style. But Kompromat saw them ditch the last vestiges of jangling echoed guitar and baritone crooning in favour of politically-charged angularity, that saw them become more aligned with Leeds forebears Gang of Four than anything remotely tied to their post-rock roots. It was unexpected, but it really suited them.

One thing I have immense respect for I Like Trains for is their self-awareness, and knowing when something has run its course. Elegies took the historical events recounted against brain-melting crescendos format established on Progress Reform to its absolute limit with the nine-minute ‘Spencer Percival’. They recognised that, and moved on. Kompromat was a one-off, and ‘The Spectacle’ bookends that particular spell.

As they write, “‘The Spectacle’ is a standalone single. Part of the KOMPROMAT world, but not quite closure. There’s more where Boris came from.”

We know this to be true: Johnson’s replacement continues his trajectory down towards the lowest common denominator soundbites without substance. Only whereas Johnson’s ideology was largely built around what favoured Johnson, Truss seems blindly fixated on hardline Conservatism, even if it bankrupts the country. And ironically, having dismissed Scotland’s first minister as an ‘attention seeker’, the new Prime Minister’s penchant for a cheesy photo op seems to only accentuate her obliviousness to pretty much everything. As such, The Spectacle continues, and the refrain of ‘Keep it light and repeat it often’ continues to resonate beyond Boris.

But ‘The Spectacle’ is a transition that unfurls before your eyes / ears and is one of those songs that ends in a completely different place from where it started without it being clear where the transition took place. It’s a disorientating, time-bending experience, smoke and mirrors and spin in action, and a brilliant piece of songwriting.

It starts out with the choppy guitars and largely spoken vocal style of Kompromat, which finds David Martin stomping in the steps of not only Mark E Smith, but closer to home, James Smith of Post War Glamour Girls / Yard Act – a style which suits him remarkably well – before the song takes off in a different and unexpected direction around halfway through, when he tosses the mantra and launches into a slab of lyrical critique over guitars that slow at first, before building in crashing sheets of noise and a mangled solo breaks out, and drags the song to a taut finish. They pack a lot of action into just shy of four and a half minutes, and they’re unashamed in pointing out that the single – like so many singles – is a promotional device, here with the purpose of enticing punters to the upcoming merch-flogging opportunity which is their forthcoming tour.

We’re all trapped in the wheels of capitalism, but ILT show that they can simultaneously play and subvert it – while at the same time making great music. ‘The Spectacle’ is as sharp as a pin, and ILT continue to thrive as strong as any virus in a post-pandemic world.

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22nd July 2022

James Wells

With their second single since whittling down to a duo, The Virginmarys continue to show that limited personnel and permutations of instruments does not equate to limited ideas or musical power.

‘You’re A Killer’ is unashamedly political, and articulates the anger of the many who aren’t millionaires and billionaires, coupled with the anxiety that pervades all aspect of life right now: ‘Working my bones and still earning a fraction / I’m hooked to my phone like a fatal distraction’ is as succinct a summary as you’ll hear all year, and that’s some nice wordplay in action too.

And it’s all blasted home in three minutes of jittery, choppy, raucous punk ‘n’ roll. The fire in their bellies rages hard and the chorus is 100% hook. There are hints of eighties rock in the mix too: imagine The Cult circa Sonic Temple played in the spirit of ’77.

The difference between the late 70s and early 80s and now is that Thatcher was at least up front and the working classes knew they were being shafted. Now, people are – literally – dying -starving as they queue at foodbanks and wait ten hours for ambulances and entire days in A&E while our leaders brazenly lie, and in recent years, the lies have become more threadbare and the bodies continue to pile high, heaped on the pyre of democracy as we sleepwalk into fascism.

The Virginmarys suck it all in and spit it out in a full-throttle guitar-driven blast of anger: global warming, the rich travelling on their jollies while the nation is sedated by the media, the new opium of the people, toward engineered social division.

The outlook is bleak, but this isn’t a bleak song: it’s a proper, raging protest song. Listen up, and wake up.

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The Virginmarys Artwork

Scruff of the Neck

Christopher Nosnibor

False Heads preface the arrival of their new album, Sick Moon, which is due at the end of September with the single ‘Thick Skin’, produced by Frank Turner.

Front man Luke Griffiths tells it straight when discoursing on the single’s inspiration and purpose, saying ‘“Thick Skin’ is about how much I f****** hate the current political discourse. To me, politics seems to be completely and utterly middle-class from left to right – class has been seemingly removed from a lot of left-wing politics.”

It’s hard to argue when the leader of the Labour opposition, supposedly the party of the workers, is a knighted ex-lawyer. Small wonder the workers are applauding RMT union head Mick Lynch as the voice of the people, since he’s the only one who’s really telling it like it is, and using his platform opportunities to explain just why everything is so fucked. No-one else is talking about how wages aren’t the issue in the “cost off living crisis”, it’s the fact that wages are being suppressed to preserve profits. People are struggling while CEOs rake in staggering salaries and bewildering bonuses and shareholders reap megadividends at the expense of the poor cunts who do the work and so effectively make those profits possible.

Griffiths goes on: ‘It’s also about social media politics. That kind of rage and vitriol is some form of lashing out for mental health problems and it’s like a form of addictive behaviour. I understand this, dealing with depression and having a history of drug abuse, and I understand how difficult it is to not let that rage inside you come out in vicious ways. But I just feel like social media has allowed a million different forms of religion, nationalism and tribalism to be completely normalised. Our brains are rotting and there is no hope, and every time I feel like there is I’m stung again.’

Again, it’s relatable on a mass scale. Religion is no longer the opium of the people: it’s social media, and it’s divisive, crushing, and debilitating.

‘Thick Skin’ packs all of this into two minutes and forty of guitar-driven grunge with a radio-friendly edge that sits between Asylums and DZ Deathrays, in that it balances attack with melody, big guitars with strong hooks. It’s a cracker!

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June 2022 – Ten Foot Records

Christopher Nosnibor

Most bands start out splurging output and slow down over the course of their career. Percy aren’t most bands, and over the last decade have accelerated their output. And also, contrary to the common trajectory, instead of mellowing, they’ve got angrier, gutsier, ragier. Monorail really does find them at the top of their game, bursting with zeal and brimming with vitriol, kicking arse like never before.

‘Chunks’, premiered at their recent York show supporting Percy slams in hard and angular, landing between Grotesque era Fall and Truman’s Water. Jagged, jarring, it’s a full-throttle it’s an instant headache. ‘We’re all just chunks in gravy’, Colin Howard snarls and sneers, and it’s punchy – a very different kind of throbbing gristle. There’s no let up as they pile into the scorching ‘I.C.U.’ and it’s immediately clear that Percy have hit a new level.

They haven’t changed fundamentally: they’ve always been sociopolitical, and they’ve always cranked out driving riffs with a choppy, discordant edge, accentuated by Howard’s Mark E Smith influenced slightly nasal sprechgesang, and there’s a clear continuity that’s run from their self-released 2013 debut album, A Selection of Salted Snacks, through their debut album proper, Sleepers Wake on the esteemed Mook label and 2020’s Seaside Donkeys, which featured the Brexit demolition anthem, ‘Will of the People’.

Monorial isn’t so much about evolution or progression as it is about hitting that sweet spot – which really isn’t so sweet. In other words, their two years out from gigging during a tumultuous time socially and politically has seen them really hone their frustrations into their most attacking material yet. Same style, same form, just harder, faster, more pissed off. It’s not only their best work to date, but it’s absolutely essential listening, especially for those who still reminisce about John Peel and the golden age of indie, because these guys are everything you could want and Monorail has future cult classic written all over it.

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Christopher Nosnibor

This is by no means the first time I’ll have mentioned that sometimes, the best gigs are the ones you have to drag yourself to. The dragging here is no reflection on the bands, so much as the fact that when work and life are sapping your soul and you’re not feeling like doing anything ‘people’ orientated, the prospect of venturing out to be among people on a Tuesday night is not one that fires a burst of enthusiasm. You want to stay home. You want to hibernate. But the combination of beer and live music is so often the best therapy – and this proved to be one of those nights.

I have long lost count of the number of times I’ve seen or otherwise written about both Soma Crew and Percy, and while they both fit the bracket of ‘local’ bands, they’re both bands who bring great joy to see, and no-one dismisses London bands who only play a circuit of half a dozen small venues in London as ‘local’, do they? And you can’t watch ‘local’ bands in London with a decent hand-pulled pint in a proper glass for £4 a pint, either.

All three bands are playing on the floor in front of the stage, and The New Solar Drones have a lot of instruments spilling out, including a maraca, triangle, and timpani. It’s quite a sight to behold on entering, and the additional percussion goes a long way to giving the band a distinctive sound. Mellow country flavoured indie branches out in all kinds of directions. The rolling, thunderous drums lend a real sense of drama to the waves of noodling synths. The guitar workout on a song about Hollywood gets a bit Hotel California, but it’s well executed. The final track marks a shift from laid-back easy-going Americana into some kind of post-rock progressive folk that’s rather darker and lasts about ten minutes, complete with clarinet solo. They’ve got some rough edges to iron out, but the songs are solid and it’s an impressive debut.

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The New Solar Drones

With a new album around the corner, this is Percy’s first gig in seven months. Three quarters of the band are crowded to one side of the stage, while singer/guitarist Colin is on the other. Either it’s because he’s a grumpy sod, or perhaps just because his guitar amp is so bloody loud. ‘Going off on One’ kicks off the set energetically and sets the pace for a career-spanning selection that focuses on the more uptempo aspects of their catalogue. Bassist Andy’s post-lockdown look is J Mascis, but he charges around cranking out low end beef, and it’s the rhythm section that dominates, while Paula’s keyboards bring some melody and definition in contrast to the scratchy guitar sound.

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Percy

“Fray Bentos pie! With gravy!” The slower, synthier ‘Alice’ sounds more like Joy Division than their usual jagged post­punk grind and graft, but while most of the lyrics are indecipherable, the pie and gravy seem to be the focus. They really attack the snarling ‘Will of the People’, and its relevence seems to grow by the day. Colin comes on like Mark E Smith at his most vitriolic… and there, I failed in my attempt to review Percy without recourse The Fall. Seems it just can’t be done. They close with a brand new song, ‘Chunks’, about ‘chunks in gravy!’ Yep, definitely a theme, and if Percy are something of a meat and potatoes band, it’s in the way The Wedding Present are hardy perennials and brimming with northern grit.

A resonant throb gradually leaks from the PA, and from it emerges Soma Crew’s quintessential motorik pumping. Standing near the front, I reflect on the fact I could use a wide angle lens to get all of them in. They have a lot of guitars. The front man from The New Solar Drones is on keys and lap steel and, later guitar, and the lap steel accentuates the band’s overall drone and gives something of a Doorsy vibe.

They’re on serious form tonight, sounding solid and energetic. Shifting up to three guitars, they hit a swinging rock ‘n’ roll blues boogie groove.

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Soma Crew

While I find myself drifting on this tripped-out repetition, I consider the fact that less is more. Chords, that is, not instruments. Four guitars (if you count the bass) playing three chords in an endless cycle is better than two guitars, which in turn is better than one. The songs and structures are simple: the effect is all in the layering up and the reverb. Listening to bands that are overtly about the technical proficiency is often pretty dull. Passion and mood count for so much more. Volume helps, and with a brutal backline and sympathetic sound man, they hit that sweet spot where it hurts just a bit even with earplugs. Simon’s slightly atonal droning vocals are soporific, and everything just melts into an all-engulfing wash of sound. ‘Mirage’ kicks with volume and solid repetitive groove, while ‘Say You Believe’ is straight up early Ride/Chapterhouse, before ‘Propaganda Now’ is a blistering drive through a wall of Jesus and Mary Chain inspired feedback that brings the set to a shimmering, monster climax.

I stumble out, my ears buzzing, elated. Because everything came together to surpass expectations to make for an outstanding night.

It may be safe for work / radio, but you certainly couldn’t accuse Benefits of selling out and you’re not going to be hearing this edit of the angry, snarling rant-fest of ‘Flag’ on R1 or Kiss FM or whatever anytime soon or ever.  Which is a shame, because everyone needs to hear these guys: Kingsley Hall and co tell it like it is.

No further preamble required: this gets out vote all the way, now get your lugs round it here:

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Despot – 3rd November 2021

Christiopher Nosnibor

Ukraine continues to reveal itself as having a throbbing underground scene, producing some really high-quality nuggets of experimental and exploratory music. ‘Almost Sugar’ is one of those short albums, occupied with a single longform composition on each side of a cassette or 12” record – and with the wait times and increasingly prohibitive cost of producing short runs of vinyl die to myriad factors including but not exhausted by the pandemic, the cassette is becoming ever more the format of choice.

The cassette is something of an unexpected format to experience a renaissance, largely on account of some hipsterish nostalgia for a format that formed an integral part of the formative years for so many of us. It’s very much a rose-tinted hue: memes about pencils (I always used a Bic biro myself) fail to convey the anguish of a chewed tape that had spooled out, and never mind the hassle of endless hours rewinding and fast forwarding to locate specific tracks, and so on. Much of the cassette experience was centred around frustration, and it was simply something we accepted because that was the format we had, and the only recordable (and re-recordable) one at that. Still, it would be wrong to downplay the joy of the compilation (we didn’t all call them mixtapes back then). But also, there are now practical reasons for the return to the cassette as the physical format of choice, and that’s largely down to cost and availability.

However, as Neill Jameson recently wrote in Decibel Magazine, supply chain issues may soon prove to dent the demand for the cassette again, and while on a practical level, I can’t say I’m too disappointed, on a principal level, I very much am: the two sidedness of the format is closest to replicating the vinyl experience, and the limitations of length have a close relationship to duration of recordings. Format does matter; physical mediums to matter. Necessity isn’t only the mother of invention it’s also the driver of discipline. Two fifteen to twenty-minute sides require considerably more focus than a continuous seventy-two minute expanse.

Title track ‘Almost Sugar’ is fifteen minutes of bubbling analogue exportation, with a whole lot of hissing static and polytonal drones and hums combining to for a slow-twisting, heavily atmospheric work. It’s a high concept piece, constructed around the way in which the sugar crystal ‘changes its structure under any impact’. Consider this fact next time you’re stirring your tea or coffee, or tossing a couple of spoonfuls over your morning cereal, or maybe whipping up a cake batter.

‘Superdry People’, the piece which occupies side two, is darker, murkier, the sound of a slumbering beast awakening, an ominous dungeon rumble emanating from the some subterranean chamber or even the bowels of the earth. According to the accompanying notes, ‘Superdry People’ is ‘a play about «superdry people», who are heading to the pool, apparently to «soak off». Splashes of some substances, mechanisms, fragments of secular talks’, but the title simply makes me think of tossers in trendy expensive coats, and as a London-based brand feigning the exoticism of being from Japan with it’s ‘Superdry JPN’ logos and shit, it’s one that inspires ire that extends to the people who purchase their gear. I hope that this yawning sonic abyss is the conduit which will suck all the real Superdry people into its vortex, never to return. We can but hope.

But while we’re waiting for the tossers to evaporate, this is a perfect album to immerse yourself in.

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