Posts Tagged ‘Post-Punk’

Warren Records – 16th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

We think we may have mentioned Cannibal Animal once or twice before here on Aural Aggro – and there’s a very good reason for this: the Hull band make a dark, dense, swampy post-punk racket that owes as much to The Cramps and The Volcanoes as anyone else, on account of the serpentine lead guitars and reverb-soaked surf sound. With a thunderous rhythm section, it’s more like surfing a tsunami than coasting on the crest of a wave, mind. Throw in a dollop of early 90s underground noise – think in particular early Therapy? And you’ve got the measure. Their latest offering, ‘A Decline in Morality’ is a belter. As if lead single ‘Ellipsisism’ didn’t already demonstrate it already.

The band explain that ‘Lyrically these songs are about the moral compass of specific fictional characters’, with ‘Lack of Skin’ turning focus to ‘the candle burning nymphomaniac’. If ever a track distilled a potent blend of tripwire tension and a loose, near-tribal groove, it’s this one, with bone-rattling beats and a fat, fuzzy bass driving a fury of guitar bathed in cavernous echo. The effect is one of terrifying entrapment, but edged with a twist of sleaze.

The desperation and anxiety that drives the band’s work has hit critical mass here: it’s less about sonic density and thick, overdriven guitars, and more about scorching, wild-eyed mania. And I can’t recall the last time I heard a conventional fade-out…

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/2gS3ogYcsSaW67jmKTcLAz

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Cannibal Animal -Decline

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Christopher Nosnibor

It’s my second visit to Wharf Chambers in as many evenings. It’s a good job the beer’s cheap. And that it’s a nice little venue. And that the promoters, TV’s Over, have booked some quality bands. I’ve just about recovered from the blistering assault of Svetlanas the previous night when I arrive.

There seems to be a certain misapprehension that music reviewers hang out with bands and are mates with all the bands, their managers, PR and labels, and it may be true for some, but I prefer to preserve a certain professional distance as a rule. You never know when an act may deliver an absolute stinker of an album, and then what do you do? Blow your critical integrity, or the friendship? And so I find it’s generally better – safer – to keep people at arm’s length. And that’s a rule I apply to life in general.

But, necessarily, for every rule there is an exception, and it so happens that two of them are on the bill tonight, in the shape of the two support acts, Leeds’ Wharf Street Galaxy Band and Lincoln’s Suburban Toys. Both acts feature individuals I know and like, but also know well enough to share an honest appraisal. These things matter.

WGSB have evolved a fair bit over the last year, and the set has changed radically over the time. The fare they’re touting now is, dare I say it, significantly more commercial than before. It’s all relative, of course: the set opens with a loping marching rhythm, feedback and an eternal bass rumble before Dave Procter enters and paces the venue, hollering impenetrably into a loudhailer, building toward a monotonous chant of the song’s title, ‘Freedom is Compulsory’, culled from their eponymous debut EP.

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Wharf Street Galaxy Band

‘Hector and Harass’ is an altogether more accessible effort, with a terrace chant of a chorus, and as I listen and smirk, I remember that in fact, this is my fault. Yes, my review of the aforementioned EP inspired the title, and there are no two ways about it, this is exactly what they do, especially here.

In a set that’s as much, it would seem, designed to torture the band as the audience, they bludgeon away at repetitive, cyclical riffs, looping bass motifs and singe-chord assaults, topped with repeated refrains (‘fucking useless stupid bastard’ they drone on ‘Clueless Advocate’) ‘Sex Master’ mines a squelchy bass groove and funky drum that threatens to veer into Duran Duran / Associates territory. Which is no bad thing. Puffins dominate the closing duo, as does a thunderous PiL meets Fall Krautrock groove dominated by a relentless, juddering bass.

Suburban Toys have had more lineup changes than I’ve had hot dinners, and could probably rival The Fall or even The Damned. They’ve probably been going nearly as long as The Fall, too, off and on, although the difference being that their mainstay is still with us, and it’s bassist Vincent Ramsey (or Vinnie, as he’s named on the website) who’s the consistent feature of their revolving-door credits. And like The Fall – to appropriate from John Peel – they are always different; they are always the same. A number of the songs (notably ‘Far Away’ and ‘Salamander’) are familiar to me from (dare I say it?) some 25+ years ago, but have been overhauled to varying extents.

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Suburban Toys

What they do is simple enough, and it’s a tried and tested formula: poppy punk songs with just the right balance of bite and bounce. They sit well alongside the female-fronted poppy punk bands they reference, which include Blondie, No Doubt, Penetration, and X-ray Spex. Abi is bubbly and energetic and a likeable performer, who brings a real presence. Her vocals are strong, but not overpowering or overtly spiky, enhancing the band’s accessibility. They’re proficient, they’re tight, they’ve got some decent tunes and endless bass runs, and most importantly, they’re uptempo and fun. They go down well, and deservedly so.

Culture Shock may be one of the key exponents of Ska Punk, and noteworthy for being Dick Lucas’ band between Subhumans (whose drummer Trotsky actually did a stint with Suburban Toys some years later) and Citizen Fish, but it’s simply not a genre I can get into. Maybe it’s the awkward stylistic straddling, paired with uncomfortable cultural appropriation that doesn’t it well. Maybe it’s the tendency of fans to feel the compulsion to go all Dick Van Dyke and dance like a bunch of Cockney chimney sweeps when presented with anything ska punk. Maybe I’m just difficult and hyper-critical. But Culture Shock simply offer nothing to excite, let alone shock: it’s all so very predictable. Any rebellious intent is diminished by three decades and the delivery being in the form of party tunes.

The nostalgia is tangible: you can see it on the punters’ faces. And I get it. It’s just not my nostalgia. I’ve already got what I came for, and with a 5:30 alarm in prospect, I slip out into the night to leave the old punks to their party.

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

22nd May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

They call it ‘moody indie rock’, and point to their ‘poignant lyrics, sugary guitar licks, throbbing basslines and soul-shaking drums’. And yes, it’s all of these things: ‘Night of the Underdog’, the follow-up to their debut, the ‘Stranded on the Path’ EP, which emerged in December 2016 continues to work the seam of brooding post-punk revival, a la Interpol et al.

There’s been no shortage of bands pushing the same line over the last few years – inching toward the last decade, even – but then again, there have been bands cranking out three-chord punk tunes for the best part of forty years now , and no-one’s really complaining, As is the case with any musical style, the question isn’t ‘does it sound completely unlike anything I’ve ever heard before’, but ‘is it done well?’ followed by ‘is it a decent song?’

‘Night of the Underdog’ is very much a decent song that’s well done. It begins gently, with an acoustic guitar and wistful melody, building fractal, interweaving, guitars and snaking melodies over a detailed yet propellant rhythm. Oh, and there are some killer bass runs, too. Bass runs are criminally underrated.

Given the tendency for every release going to crank everything up to the max, it’s refreshing to hear a song where the individual instruments benefit from clarity and separation, and yet there’s simultaneously a soft analogue haze around the guitars and with a vaguely psychedelic twist that says paisley shirts and patchouli oil, the whole thing is magnificently 1984.

B-side ‘Borrowed Hearts’ is a tense, twisty affair, brimming with urgency. Crisp, clean guitars edged with reverb jangle in a crackle of treble, but again, while the guitars fragment into a cascade of kaleidoscopic movement, the energetic rhythm section stands to the fore and drives the song home in climactic fashion.

There was a time when this release would have represented the perfect 7” release, with the B-side standing as strong as the leading A-side. Nowadays… it’s a killer release which should massively expand The Clouded Lights’ horizons and audience.

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The Clouded Lights -Night of the Underdog

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

Christopher Nosnibor

The fact the word ‘fan’ comes from ‘fanatic’ is perhaps worth bearing in mind. A band can probably be considered to have achieved a certain level of fan appreciation when they see the same faces in the crowd at venues around the country on a given tour. As one of those fans who’s attended multiple (although never more than a couple or three) dates on a tour for several bands, I’ve found it interesting to observe how audiences in different cities react, and also how those reactions feed into the performance. And, of course, there’s a certain curiosity about a band’s consistency. And in my capacity as a critic, the same is true – although it’s fair to say that as far as my second time of seeing Weekend Recovery in a month is concerned, I’m attending as both fan and critic. Having just unveiled their debut album, their touring schedule has amped up considerably, with almost three months of dates around the UK now to promote it, followed by a cluster of festival dates in the summer.

But here are now, this does mean I’m playing compare and contrast with Leeds on a Friday night where Weekend Recovery are the main support, and York on a Thursday, where the band, with their origins down south and now based in Leeds, are headlining. It’s hardly like-for-like. Much as I love York and its music scene, there is a conservatism which runs deep in the city’s gig-going community. Local bands will fair ok, but any act from out of town who isn’t well-known will, more often than not, find there’s a lot of space in the room. So it’s credit to Weekend Recovery that while the place is far from packed, there’s a respectable turnout, especially given that it’s the week before payday.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s my rage. Increasingly, I’ve come to respect and admire and enjoy bands comprising guys of or approaching middle age ranting about the mundane. They’re not all even a fraction as good as Pissed Jeans, but Paint Nothing, while endlessly ripping off The Fall up to 1983, occupy the same office-based miserabilist territory as Scumbag Philosopher. The singer’s wide-eyed intensity augments the spitting anger. The audience may be divided, but those who don’t dig these four shouty, balding midlifers ranting about stuff clearly haven’t lived.

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Paint Nothing

Brooders are probably young enough to have been parented by Paint Nothing, and probably were busy being born when grunge was all the rage. But having built themselves up as a live act with some impressive support slots and single release ‘Lie’ on Leeds label Come Play With Me imminent, the trio bring a finely-honed fusion of abrasive noise and not-so-abrasive melody. When they hit optimal heavy, they’re in the territory of Therapy? in collision with Fudge Tunnel, and the clean guitar sound, that’s awash with chorus and flange is lifted wholesale from Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’. At times they get pretty and it’s more indie than grunge, and with a psychey / shoegaze twist. There’s never a dull moment in their varied but relentlessly riffcentric set.

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Brooders

Last time I saw Brooders, it was supporting Hands Off Gretel at the same venue, so it’s perhaps fitting that Weekend Recovery’s front woman Lorin’s sporting a short dress, holed tights and knee-length white socks, passing a note to the now-classic 90s kindergarten whore look.

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Weekend Recovery

Their set isn’t radically different from the one in Leeds last month, and kicks off with a driving rendition of ‘Turn It Up’ which encapsulates the up-front grunge-orientated sound of the album, which marks a distinct evolution from their previous work. ‘Oh Jenny’ sees the titular character introduced as a ‘colossal slag’ after I’d chatted with Lorin before the show about the merits of ‘colossal’ and ‘massive’ as adjectives (we have a colleague who’s a colossal pussy; my boss is a massive cunt) and the set closes with ‘Why Don’t You Love Me?’ as is now standard, and it’s delivered full-tilt and brimming with a balance of desperation and sarcasm.

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Weekend Recovery

In between…. Lorin may not pogo as much or appear as bouncy in general as the last time I caught them, but bassist Josh (wearing the same outlandish shirt as at the Leeds gig – not that I can comment on outlandish shirts) and guitarist Owen throw lunging, leg-splaying poses all over. But this isn’t mere posturing: they’re really giving it all the energy. And the crowd appreciate it. Did they get what they came for? Of course.

Sett Records – 23rd March 2018

James Wells

Acquainting myself with the band, it transpires that they were founded in the 90s, and that this is the ‘post-punk rock-noir’ outfit’s first album since Return to the Breath in 2000. 18 years? What the fuck have they been doing? I remember the music press making a deal of the five years it took for The Stone Roses to deliver The Second Coming, although that pales against the eternity My Bloody Valentine took to record the follow-up to Loveless. And as for The Sisters of Mercy… Well, they’ve been holding out 27 years now. Something about a contract for a million quid not being forthcoming, or something.

There are some clear Sisters influences to be found in the mix of Chandelier. They’ve got that echoey, chorus heavy guitar sound down and it’s an interloping weave or notes against a strolling bass which heralds the arrival of Chandelier, and its opening track and single cut ‘Beginnings’. Part ‘First and Last and Always,’, part God’s Own Medicine era Mission, part mid 80s Cult… it’s all there.

The one thing that’s clear is that the last 18 years haven’t been spent innovating or reinventing their sounds or bringing a dynamic, unexpected edge to the classic ‘goth’ template. There’s nothing wrong with the songs or their execution, other than the fact they sound painfully studied and generic. So, the press blurb references a lengthy roll-call of The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cocteau Twins, Sisters of Mercy, The Joy Formidable and Republica (I’m really not hearing any Republica in the mix, although the shadows of Rose of Avalanche and Rosetta Stone before they went all NIN loom large).

While the sounds – the echoic, fuzzy valvey guitars, for example – are vintage, warm, organic, and the mechanised percussion sound is par for the course, the emotive edge of Chandelier feels excessively studied and lacking in personality. From the drum reverb to the controlled flange, everything about the album is familiar to the point of déjà-écoute. It’s very much rote and by-numbers. It’s got everything, apart from passion and energy. And originality.

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Autumn - Chandalier