Posts Tagged ‘Punk’

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s probably not much to say or write about Lydia Lunch that hasn’t been said or written before. A cult legend in her own lifetime – a rare thing indeed – she remains one of the most formidable performers around. Tonight – performing the only northern show of three UK dates with Weasel Walter with her ‘Brutal Measures’ spoken word show (why said show happened to be in York… Those present weren’t merely grateful, but overjoyed, but those present were depressingly few in number), she’s uncompromising from start to finish.

Before Lydia and sidekick Weasel Walter who drums and generates all mind of noise to accompany her take stage, Leeds punk foursome Flies On You deliver a visceral, in-your-face set of primal punk songs. It’s a challenging and emotional show, a mere fortnight after guitarist and lad songwriter Andy Watkins’ sudden and unexpected death. Front man Doug Aikman clearly struggles at times, but still pulls of a storming performance. And while the basis of what Flies on You do is meat-and-potatoes old-school punk, there’s a distinctly post-punk vibe that borders on goth in their rattling basslines and screeding reverby guitar peels. Moreover, it’s delivered with passion and a certain degree of wit – and the refrain ‘Katie Hopkins in human form’ is a great line whichever way you look at it.

She may have mellowed with age, but Lydia Lunch is still infinitely more fierce in every way than pretty much anyone. It’s all relative. And she may not be large in stature, but her presence fills the room. Her voice is a cracked rasp for the most part, but she uses it to compelling effect. It’s not about being seasoned, either: this is her nature, who she is. Raw, real. Intense. Intense. Intense.

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‘Brutal Measures’ is an extended spoken-word piece set in a number of movements, split by segments of hefty percussion and augmented by extraneous noise passages. Or, as Lunch’s bandcamp page describes it, ‘a longform composition featuring tense spoken word versus manic free drumming outbursts, glued together by cryptic electronics’. Recorded live, there’s an improvisational aspect to the musical accompaniment to Lunch’s words, which she delivers alternating between two mics, one clean, one heavily reverbed. The twenty-minute recorded take stretches to a full fifty-minute set live. And yet there is no filler: the drum solos breaks are tight, taut, concise and blistering. The instrumental electronic passages and the extraneous noise which both accompany and intersperse the chapters are intriguing, and the beer barrels Lydia uses as a table for her notes double as percussion instruments in the sometimes cacophonous batteries of sound between spoken word passages.

She does get slightly pissed off when the stand for the clean mic slides down and is uncooperative, and the venue techs are slow to react – but then, who wouldn’t be? But she doesn’t make a deal of it, and continues her narrative stream regardless. She’s a performer, not a diva.

As a spoken word performer myself, I am in awe. For me, it’s a challenge, and one I sometimes struggle with. Even the good nights are challenges. Lydia is in a league of her own. She holds the room, even with a whisper. She silences the chatting tossers at the bar. Not because she’s dictatorial: she does it for everyone who’s paid to hear her and Weasel and the chat at the back.

Words fly every which way as Lydia sparks in all directions: she’s a relentless conjurer of images and ideas, with a perspective on everything. Even delivered slow, mean and low, it’s often hard to keep up with her endlessly swerving trajectory, but it all comes together to present a version of her world-view. And yes, it is pretty brutal, all told.

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It’s an early finish – but then, it’s a Monday night – but what the set lacks in duration, it more than compensates in intensity – did I mention intensity? If some spoken word performances leave the audience departing wilting because they’re a trudge, tonight is very different: Lydia Lunch and Weasel Walter create something utterly compelling, that leave the audience wilting by virtue of its immense force. Spoken word at its best.

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30th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

On the strength of the cover, with its sombre-looking black and white image of a fledgling gull (I think – I’m not David Attenborough) perched atop a post with the sea behind it, all the way to the horizon where it meets a brooding sky, you would expect The Earth Swan Sings Again to mark a turn towards serious, introspective and altogether less hectic approach to music-making. And in some respects, it is.

While still incorporating the wildly disparate elements of his recent previous albums – of which there are many, and then some (he’s put out a full dozen in the last decade) – The Earth Swan Sings Again feels less manic, more refined, but no less magpie-like in its amalgamation of a broad range of genres. And on this outing, Reaks has gone even further out on the jazz trip he embarked upon with Track Marks last year. This may seem strange for an artist who doesn’t really like jazz, but Reaks is an artist who doesn’t allow genre prejudice to contaminate his creative process. This is postmodern art at its intertextual best: everything is equal, and it’s all material. What counts is how that material is used, recycled, adapted. Etc.

This all makes for a more accessible set of material, but of course it’s all relative, and songs with titles like ‘I Stroked Her Like a Leper’, ‘Her Body Convulsed’ and ‘Today Hurts More than Mercy’ are never going to have the commercial appeal of the mediocre shit of Ed Sheeran or Bastille or whatever cal R1 is spinning on an endless brainwashing loop these days, and that’s before you even get to the music itself. ‘She stretches open like a parasite’s echo,’ Reaks sings by way of a refrain on ‘She Stretches Open (Like a Parasite’s Echo)’. It’s vaguely disturbing, and entirely surreal, but in keeping with his abstract / cut-up approach to the creation of art.

Bringing a more low-key vibe that’s dominated by a post-punk atmosphere, The Earth Swan Sings Again is darker and challenges in different ways from preceding efforts. The basslines are still dubby but less rampantly wild, and more about driving by stealth. The guitars are still choppy, but veering toward the picked and understated – apart from the immense and brain-meltingly OTT jazz/prog wigouts that splurge all over the place unexpectedly and incongruously – they’re altogether more subtle. Well, the guitars, maybe: the OTT jazz/prog wigouts are maybe less so, but they work, and there’s a sense that Reaks knows all of this. As one of the most singular artist practising at this moment in time, Reaks knows what he’s doing, and also knows that one chooses art of commercial success. And this is art.

The Earth Swan Sings Again is dark and stark, low-key yet eclectic, and at times inexplicable. Of course it is: it’s an Ashley Reaks album, and when it comes to walking the line between genius and madness, Reaks has forged a career by joyously straddling it and raising two fingers to convention of any kind. Outré creative talents like Reaks are few and far between, and while the mainstream grows ever safer, ever more diluted, ever more background and by-numbers, the need to artists who rub hard against the grain grows ever greater.

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Ashley Reaks – The Earth Swan Sings Again

Headcheck Records – 17th February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It seems an age since we featured a review of Weekend Recovery’s single ‘Focus’ here at AA. It was, in fact, September 2016, when James Wells noted the band’s ambition and suggested they were probably ones to watch.

Here we are, a year and a quarter later, on the eve of the release of their debut album. They’ve relocated to Leeds, and have an extensive touring schedule and slots lined up at Camden Rocks and Rebellion Festival this year. And it feels good to be able to say ‘told you so.’

Weekend Recovery have certainly done it the hard way: sheer grit and determination, hard plugging, hard gigging and a succession of strong single and EP releases are how they’ve got here in a comparatively short time. It helps that they’re a cracking live act, but ultimately, it all comes down to having songs. And Weekend Recovery have songs.

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They describe the songs on Get What You Came For as being ‘their most mature and personal tracks to date,’ and it’s telling that none of the material from previous releases is included here. As I said, they have songs, and plenty of them. So many bands knock out debut albums that collect their singles and EPs and augment them a clutch of new songs, and leave you wondering if they’ve shot their load before they even got as far as an album. Not so Weekend Recovery: Get What You Came For is a proper album, and it possesses a unity and cohesion. It also maintains the pace throughout, avoiding the all-too-common mid-album mid-tempo slump.

They bail in hard with blustering guitars on ‘Turn It Up’, a grungy / punk tune with a descending chord sequence and some nifty bass runs backing a vocal delivery that’s as much Debbie Harry as anything, and it’s a vintage punk pop vibe that radiates from ‘Oh Jenny’ (again, we’re talking more Blondie or Penetration than any contemporary Kerrang! Radio fodder by way of a comparison if you need one).

Oftentimes, when bands refer to their songwriting as having matured, it usually means they’ve gone safe, and are all about the craft, man. Chin-stroking introspection paired with layered-up acoustic-led laments, soulfulness, an emphasis on musicianship, and all that shit. There’s none of that shit on Get What You Came For: by maturity, they mean they’ve focussed and refined their approach, trimming any trace of fat to produce songs that are sharp and direct, powerful and punchy. Dull, overworked, overthought, it isn’t.

The Paramore / Katy Perry comparisons which applied to their previous works no longer hold here: it’s less pop and more punk, and there’s a hard edge and tangible fury which drives the songs here. Instead of prettying things up with an eye on the commercial, Weekend Recovery have tackled the turbulence of life head on and sculpted it into music you feel. Lead single ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’ is the most overtly commercial and poppy cut here, but the guitars are sharp and there’s a barb to the lyrical angle on dating sites and the inherent narcissism of social media.

When they do slow it down and strip it back on ‘Anyway’, it’s Courtney Love’s solo material that comes to mind. And while it’s not up there with the first two Hole albums, I’d take solo Courtney over the last two Hole albums any day. The title track is a gritty minor-chord crunch with some thumping percussion, singer Lauren snarls venomously, while at the same time displaying a certain sass, before ‘I Wanna Get Off’ wraps the album up with a full-throttle flurry of guitars.

There’s a real sense that Get What You Came For captures the real Weekend Recovery. They’ve broken loose from the mouldings of their early influences and found their true identity here. And, no longer concerned with confirming to a form, or even being so bothered about being liked, they’ve unleashed the rage, harnessed all the pain and the fury that drives that creative urge, and channelled it honestly. The end result is an album that’s driving, immediate, engaging – and exhilarating, exciting, energetic, and very good indeed.

Weekend Recovery - Get What You Came For

Everyday Life Recordings – 8th December 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

They’re described as ‘motorik-punk outsiders’. Something about those three words grabbed me. Individually, they’re words I read several times a day in reference to bands being thrust in y direction for a critical appraisal. The world of music PR and criticism – not that many critics seem to be especially critical these days – is awash with cliché. And cliché begets cliché: no-one’s interested in inventing the next big thing: it’s far safer all round to recreate the last big thing in an infinite loop of regression. Punk never died, it just got diluted and turned into guitar-pop for teens too sappy to handle anything heavy. But when did the Krautrock revival begin? When The Fall emerged with their Can-influenced repetitious racket in the second half of the 70s, acts like PiL and Joy Division may have cited leading exponents Can and Kraftwerk as a touchstone, but few really embraced the now-ubiquitous ‘Apache beat’ innovated by Neu! And it is ubiquitous, and has been for some years now.

Still, few punk bands of any strain incorporate relentless, repetitive 4/4 rhythms in an overtly Krautrock way. Moderate Rebels, however, have really made this their signature (if you’ll pardon the pun). Not that they’re ‘punk’ in the sense it’s commonly perceived, nor in any of its contemporary revisions: Moderate Rebels have very much taken the spirit of The Fall as their template, and having set the template, they work the absolute fuck out of it over the course of the thirteen tracks on this, their debut album.

There’s certainly something Fall circa Bend Sinister or Frenz Experiment about the chugging ‘Extraordinary’ with its drawling, monotone an almost off-key multiple vocals, repetitious lyrics and endlessly looping chord sequence and beat. It should be as tedious as hell, but the longer it stretches out, the more it drags you in, and it’s a killer earworm. The only criticism is that it simply isn’t long enough. It’s a trick they repeat on a number of occasions, with guitars that jangle and scrape at skewed angles over strolling basslines and pulsing synths. And all the while, the rhythms hold steady, mid-tempo, stomping along with minimal fills. These aren’t songs that follow verse / chorus structures, evolve, build, or ‘go’ anywhere. The effect is simply cumulative. And that’s only amplified over the album’s duration: dipping in’s fine, but it’s best played as a whole, and better still, on repeat for a full afternoon, to achieve optimal enjoyment and appreciation.

Moderate Rebels are by no means one-trick ponies, though, and there is more to The Sound of Security than calculated monotony and the ploughing of sonic furrows that dig into the psyche by virtue of sheer tenacity.

There are pieces which work spacious atmospherics, with sputtering vintage drum machines bursting through elongated e-bow drones and rippling piano. Elsewhere, the laid-back and loose ‘Waiting for the Water to Clear’, and the slacker country of ‘I’m Feeling the Deep State’ showcase a more indie, Pavement-y vibe.

But mostly, it’s about plugging away, chugging and thumping. The reverb. The repetition. And the repetition. And not to forget the repetition. There is no such thing as too much of a good thing.

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Moderate Rebels – The Sound of Security

20th December 2017

There’s something uniquely enjoyable about watching a band develop from their most formative stages to become the act they aspired to be, and showed the potential to be. I first encountered Seep Away on a bill of noisy shit around Christmas in 2015, soon after they came into existence.

They describe their sound as ‘raw and punkish,’ and not that ‘there’s not too much melody, a lot of anger and a tonne of noise’. Their performance was ragged, and it was clear they were very much in development, both musically and as an act. But the sheer passion and raw energy they poured into that set was something else. They would stop and gasp for breath between songs, having played each one like it was the last song they would ever play.

Over the course of the next two years, they didn’t just get better, they got awesome. Tighter, louder, harder, harsher. Jay Sillence swiftly evolved into one of the most compelling front men you could hope to see: fearlessly in your face, anarchic and unpredictable, and it was clear watching them play that they were loving every minute.

It’s therefore sad that The Blackened Carnival of Societal Ineptitude is a parting gesture. But it’s also a cause for elation that they’re signing off with a collection of songs that encapsulate the sound – not to mention the brutal, ferocious, energy of those later live shows. Circumstance and geography may be behind the band’s demise, but better that than acrimony or creative collapse, and they’re departing on a high. The Blackened Carnival of Societal Ineptitude contains eight tracks and clocks in at around twenty-two minutes and condenses all elements of the essence of Seep Away into that.

‘Rot’ is all about the churning, pulverizing riffage, the ribcage-rattling bass and snarling vocal attack. For dingy, murky, metal-done-dirty, it’s up here with Fudge Tunnel at their best. Single cut ‘Matchstick Man’ throbs and rages. Their rendition of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ has long been alive favourite, and the studio version captures the spirit of their interpretation perfectly. You’ll be leaping round the house hollering ‘baby I like it rrrrrrrrrrroooooaaaaawwwwww!’ for a week after hearing it just once.

The album’s second cover, a take on Minnie Riperton’s ‘Loving You’ sees Sillence come on full Marilyn Manson, and they ratchet up the sneering sleaze to eleven. It’s a showy, metallic-grinding wheeze, brimming with sadistic malice. It’s also a sackful of deliciously manic and suitably irreverent fun.

‘Joie de Vivre’ returns to the snarling, churning, grunt and chug of the heavy grindy / metal / hardcore amalgam that defines the band’s sound, and it’s hard-edged and gnarly in the best possible way. It packs in all of the band’s intensity and full-throttle attack into under four minutes (and is the longest track here).

Closing the album (EP. whatever) in quirky and irreverent style, ‘The Awkward Handjob’ is a piece of silly fairground japery about, er, wanking, of course. It’s fitting that of any band, Seep Away should end their all-too-brief career with a toss-off track about tossing off.

Instead of bemoaning unfulfilled potential or mourning their departure, we should focus on the positive: Seep Away have delivered a blinder of a set here.

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Seep Away - Blackened

Brighton punk/riot grrrl group Pussyliquor have unleashed the video for ‘Kitty Kitty’, the second track from their forthcoming debut single ‘Pussyliquor’s 7inch Wonder’. Taking cues from Cosey Fanni Tutti, L7 and The Slits, they’re exponents of powerful feminist guitar-driven punk.

‘Kitty Kitty’ and the recent ‘Get Out’ both feature on the double A – Side limited edition seven – inch vinyl single on their own Revulva Records imprint. To celebrate the single’s release, the band will play a special London launch show at Birthdays in Dalston on Thursday the 28th of December 2017.

Buy the single here, and watch the video for ‘Kitty Kitty’ below.

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Pussyliquor

Christopher Nosnibor

Last time I saw Ming City Rockers, supporting Arrows of Love in Leeds, I wasn’t hugely impressed, and thought that if they put as much effort into the songs as into looking like rock clichés, they might get somewhere. I’m here, in fact, for grungy Australian duo Mannequin Death squad, whose debut EP was one of last year’s highlights. Anyone who caught them on the supporting tour over here, thanks to their Hull-based label, would have witnessed a treat.

Back in the UK once more, they’re gracing York with their presence on the night before dropping their first new material since the Eat, Hate, Regurgitate EP in the form of the track ‘Blue’.

Warming things up are local lads Naked Six. At one time a three-piece, they’re now reduced to a two-piece. But rather than diminishing their power, the guitar / drum combo have focused and concentrated their energy, and with the guitar signal split across two amps, there’s a real depth and solidity to their sound. And it helps that the amps are cranked up loud. It’s the best way to listen to their swaggering, ballsy, hard-edged blues rock. Seb Byford not only has a classic blues rock voice that also works well when they move into grungier territory later in the set, but he’s got a stomp that’s half Angus Young, half frenzied madman as she grinds the riffs into the stage with his heel. It’s a cracking performance.

Naked Six

Naked Six

Mannequin Death Squad certainly don’t disappoint, and it’s telling that the instrument-swapping pair have evolved a set with enough new material to be able to drop killer tracks like ‘KYMS’ from their debut EP without the set being remotely lacking.

The eight-song set, which kicks off with ‘Sick’ from the aforementioned EP boasts almost 50% new and unreleased material. For a band who are yet to really break the market, it’s a bold move, but with a debut album in the offing and so many ace tunes, it means they’re able to arrange the set based not on simply what they’ve got, but to sequence it from a selection that gives the set shape and a dynamic beyond the individual tracks. It’s clear they’ve spent time out and about, on the road, refining their sound, and they benefit from the venue’s appropriate volume to make for an attacking sound.

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Mannequin Death Squad

‘Nightmare’ marks a change of pace and style, bringing a darker hue and a bass-led dirginess to break up the succession of driving grunge tunes with killer hooks which define the band’s sound.

Swapping instruments at the set’s mid-point and again near the end (much to the appreciation of those who thought they were about to finish), they keep themselves and the crowd on their toes, and they work bloody hard to power through a full-throttle set often coming on like Live Through This era Hole, with the added punch of a spiky post-punk edge. They’re fucking awesome.

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Mannequin Death Squad

With a surly-looking female guitarist, a trashy aesthetic, and a slew of uptempo punk tunes, what’s not to like about Ming City Rockers? Regrettably, and despite the consensus of the aged punks going nuts down the front, they still suck. The lack of imagination is the issue. It’s bog-standard spirit of ‘77 4/4 punk, and like many of the bands of the era, at its heart it’s just pub rock played fast with the amps cranked up. The songs are churned out with an abundance of posturing and posing but without any real substance, or tunes, and the sameness gets tedious very quickly.

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Ming City Rockers

They introduce one song as being about playing a gig in Lowestoft where a man chased the singer and ‘tried to pin me down and fuck me, I mean proper fuck me!’ but the lyrics are articulated as something along the lines of ‘wahwahwahwahyaggch’. It’s crass, lowest-common denominator stuff, and much of what happens on stage feels extremely contrived: the walking off stage into the crowd, knocking over cymbals on the way by way of a finale is pretty much emblematic.

Filing out, a few punters could be overheard commenting that Mannequin Death Squad were the best band of the night, and those punters would be right.