Posts Tagged ‘Reissue’

Tacoma, Washington mathcore/metalcore greats Botch have released a new song and video, ‘One Twenty Two,’ their first song in twenty years.

The track will be included on the re-issue of their wildly influential second album, We Are the Romans, which was also announced today, available as a 2xLP and CD on November 4th via Sargent House.

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There was never any intention for the band to release anything else, but when guitarist David Knudson went to write his debut solo album, it made sense. He explains:

“During Covid, I was writing my debut solo LP, and mentally, I was sick of everything in quarantine. Lots of frustration had set in at home, and I figured the best way to deal with it was to write something heavy. I had no intention of writing anything for Botch, but when I was thinking of a singer to collaborate with, I thought, “Hey, I know the best hardcore singer ever to do it,” so I hit up Dave V. He was super excited and so it just kind of snowballed from there. There was never any intent or conversation about getting back together or writing. It just happened so naturally and was a great release for all of us to make it happen without any of the traditional pressure an “active” band faces.”

Bassist Brian Cook, guitarist David Knudson, drummer Tim Latona, and vocalist Dave Verellen formed Botch in 1993, becoming one of the most ground-breaking and influential bands during a pivotal shift in heavy music. Their final show was June 15, 2002, the same day as the release of their final EP, An Anthology of Dead Ends. The members would go on to play in These Arms Are Snakes, Minus the Bear, and Russian Circles, among others, with acclaim for the band coming mostly post-breakup. We Are the Romans went on to become one of the most influential albums for the genre garnering posthumous acclaim across the board.

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Southern Lord – 23rd April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Covering multiple works in a single review feels like a major short-changing exercise, and I feel I should apologise to the artists involved in advance. It kind of depersonalises and maybe even cheapens the coverage, and I remember how I felt when the book version of my PhD thesis finally received a review, only to find that it was in an article alongside three other books. It may have been a paragraph of praise, but nevertheless, it was a solitary paragraph in a long article. Nine years of work, 90,000 words and 300 printed pages given a one-paragraph thumbs up… meh. But still, better than a thumbs-down or no paragraph.

A decade on, it’s still not settled with me, and I always try to do better. But sometimes, bundling makes sense and feels justified and this is one of those times.

Having spent many a virtual column inch in recent years bemoaning how Record Store day has made a deep descent from being an event that served to raise awareness of independent record shops to another cash-in for major labels cranking out shitty reissues on limited colour vinyl to wring yet more funds from completists while at the same time driving some of the most shameful scalping activity anywhere on line, it’s a relief to find something positive about RSD 2022.

That something comes of course from an independent label in the form of Southern Lord, who, as a sidenote, had commendably stuck to producing outstanding vinyl releases regardless of trends, fashions, popularity, or Record Store Day, and, admirably have continued to release whatever the hell they please, with a catalogue that’s an equal balance of cult hardcore punk re-releases and cutting-edge works of crushing weight that perpetually push the parameters of metal, with recent releases from Neon Christ and Big | Brave highlighting the polarities of the label’s interests.

This pair of RSD releases exemplify this span to perfection, and while admittedly one is a reissue, the other very much is not – and as such, they represent the label’s standard release scheduling. As the press releases outline, ‘The Catatonics were one of NYC and Syracuse’s pioneering hardcore punk bands…While the band’s seminal Hunted Down EP has remained one of the most highly sought-after releases of the genre, the heightening collector’s price made this 7” inaccessible to most people. Southern Lord has now elected to re-release this EP as a 12”, with bonus tracks.” And, meanwhile, Forest Nocturne is ‘the first full length solo venture of Greg Anderson, under the moniker of The Lord. Inspired by the great horror film composers of the 70s and 80s, Anderson turns his back on the riff worship of Goatsnake or SUNN O))) and instead creates a truly unsettling atmosphere heavy with tension, offset by 90s Scandinavian death metal’.

The Catatonics release certainly gives value for money: the original 1984 7” released on Anorexic Nympho Records featured five tracks: this reissue features a whopping eighteen. Following the bonus intro cut if ‘Descending in E’, the original EP accounts for tracks two to six, while the rest is an almost exhaustive gathering of compilation tracks, early demos and live recordings, all remastered from original tapes. Only two of the eighteen songs run beyond three minutes, with most clocking in under two, and this is rough and ready, ball-busting full-throttle, relentless fury, nonstop-pounding hardcore at its rawest and most furious, and the live cuts are particularly raw and brutal, making this a unique and comprehensive document of another underground band’s short but high-impact career.

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The Lord’s debut is a very different proposition: it’s clearly contemporary for a start, although it’s steeped in vintage metal stylings, and driven by an understated and simple but gut-churning bass that digs tunnels beneath your ordinary lives. Forest Nocturne is an album that twists and turns, and more significantly, gnaws like rodents, and like woodworm, at the smooth, flat planes of sonic normal. I say ‘normal’, as if that’s a thing – but The Lord conjure vast aural expanses, broad vistas that invite the listener to bask in the rich density, before tearing it to pieces.

A slow, swelling church organ droned doomily on ‘Church of Hermann’, a piece which is truly awe-inspiring. This is an instrumental album that definitely marks a departure for Anderson and feels more like early Earth than Sunn O))). Then again, it’s doesn’t really sound or feel like either.

Thick swells of strings that build into brooding, megalithic waves, define the power of this instrumental work. ‘Forest Wake’ starts with the wail of a siren, and brings bulldozing bass and power chords wrapped in gut-punching clouds of distortion. Those clouds dissipate for a time, and the atmosphere looms large and heavy as things unfurl, but take a moment to breathe and there’s nothing to see here other than smoke and that absence… It grinds, and it absolutely fucking kills, going full Sunn O))) drone doom on ‘Old Growth’. Forest Nocturne is hard and harrowing, immense, epic, beautiful, and yet at the same time devastating. The last track, ‘Triumph of the Oak’ is a new shade of heavy, an angering mess of thrashing chords that crashes down so, so hard.

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Finally, thanks to Southern Lord, there are releases that are actually worth getting up and queuing for at the weekend.

Human Worth

Christopher Nosnibor

Since their formation in 2002, Enablers have forged a career that has truly defied categorisation, and they’ve maintained a steady output, delivering eight albums – occasionally in flurries, sometimes with longer pauses between – each of which has pushed different directions and different boundaries.

But while their debut saw them showcase a sound that was different, it was their second album, released on Neurot in 2006, that really made a definitive statement that set Enablers in afield of their own creation. 2006 is now a whole terrifying fifteen years ago, and so, just as the time is right to reflect and reappraise the feat that is Output Negative Space, so the time is also right for a magnificent reissue courtesy of Human Worth. And being a Human Worth release, 10% of the proceeds plus Bandcamp cut going to charity – on this occasion, Sounds of Saving, who aim to improve mental health and reduce suicide rates by celebrating the power of human connection to music and directing people to the resources they need before it’s too late – in respect of drummer Joe Byrnes, with this release also marking the tenth anniversary of his passing.

The album features the lineup of Joe Byrnes (Drums), Pete Simonelli (Words ), Kevin Thomson (Guitar), and former Swans bassist Joe Goldring (Guitar & Hammond), and they really do cohere as a unit: the interplay between the four is outstanding; everything flows, so fluid, so natural, so intuitive. The chemistry and the electric vibe is immediate from the opening track, ‘Five O’Clock, Sundays’, which touches so many areas, crosses so many boundaries, and yet belongs to no one genre.

Simonelli’s delivery certainly isn’t rap, but then, it’s not singing either; it’s spoken word but with a sort of poetical, beat slant, with rhythm and a wonderful cadence that’s calm, even, but dynamic, too. The instrumentation is a bit jazz but it’s not jazz, it’s a bit mathy but doesn’t have quite that cutty, choppy, angularity, instead meandering and noodling, but without ever hinting at indulgence, and then there are crests and waves and low-level crescendos.

Most spoken word with backing feels very much like that – spoken word with fumbled instrumentation or otherwise awkward and juxtaposed. Not so Output Negative Space. This feels like a band, a complete collaboration, where each contributor is fully cognisant of the bigger picture, that their part is just that – a part of a whole, where nothing works unless everything works. And everything does work. There isn’t a second that doesn’t hit a sweet spot in terms of the performers coming together.

Output Negative Space is a stunning journey, and it’s wildly unpredictable. And yet it works.

There are moments when riffs break out and things get as almost conventionally rock; elsewhere, as on ‘Mediterranean’, everything happens all at once and comes in from all angles, and there really isn’t a moment that’s predictable – but at the same time, it’s not unduly jarring, and it doesn’t feel disorientating or chaotic. What it does feel is remarkably balanced; all of the elements combine to forge a real sonic synergy, and the music is so, so sympathetic and intuitive in the way it provides an understated backdrop to Simonelli’s nonchalant, world-weary vignettes, brimming with observations, details, and aa palpable sense of humanity.

Fifteen years on, it still sounds fresh, unique, and absolutely amazing.

With a small and selective roster and a keen focus on quality, Human Worth have done a super job, to, producing a limited edition run of heavyweight 180g vinyl, packaged in a gatefold sleeve which includes a hand numbered booklet featuring writings by vocalist Pete Simonelli and friends of the band remembering drummer Joey Byrnes 10 years after his passing, accompanied by rare tour photography by Owen Richards.

In all, it’s pretty special.

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Empty Quarter – 1st June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The latest instalment in the reissue series of albums by oddballs Photographed by Lightning is something of a departure from its predecessors – but then, each album marks a different departure, and if one thing this contemporary appraisal of their back catalogue highlights is that they never stated still or retrod ground, which each release existing in a completely different realm from those which came before.

Recorded in 2002 and released in 2004 and considered by the band to perhaps be their strangest offering (and it’s got some tough competition), it lists as its inspirations the works of Kenji Siratori, Friedrich Nietzsche, Suehiro Mauro, Georges Bataille, J G Ballard. I’m often particularly intrigued when a band’s citations are literary, or otherwise non-musical, perhaps because in some respects, while there is naturally much crossover between all creative disciplines, literary influences tend to be more cerebral, ideas or concept-based over sonic. When a bands say they’re influenced by Led Zeppelin, you can probably hear certain stylistic elements in the composition: but you’re not going to hear elements of Ballard in the guitar technique of any band – although with a substantial catalogue of releases to his credit, Kenji Siratori is a notable exception to the rule, particularly as the experimental Japanese polyartist’s forays into extreme electronica and harsh noise in the vein of Merzbow actually do very much resemble his literary works also as a brain—shredding sensory overload.

This is certainly a fair summary of the experience of this album: the title track, a mere intro at under two minutes, is a blend of scratchy, synthy noise with extraneous elements collaged here and there.

‘The Embryo Hunts in Secret’ and ‘Putrid Night’ are both a sort of psychedelic new wave collision, and with the wandering basslines that veer up, down, and everywhere amidst treble-soaked chaos, the effect is disorientating dissonant, as if everything is slowly melting or collapsing in on itself. Everything is murky, dingy, kinda distant-sounding and discordant. Take ‘Kundalini Butterly’ – a spiralling kaleidoscopic mess or scrawling feedback and a bass that sounds like an angry bee bouncing around inside an upturned glass, coming on like Dr Mix covering Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Nag Nag Nag’.

Blood Music is noisy, but it’s not straight-ahead guitars noisy: instead, it’s a mangled menage of bits and bobs hurled together – not clumsily, but then, not delicately, either, with pulsing washes of rhythm throbbing and crashing all around. It gets weirder and darker as they plunge into ‘My Hole’, where the bass bubbles and throbs beneath a continuous stream of trilling distortion, synth whistles and wails, and there’s a lot of overloading, whupping distortion that derails the helicotoptoring synths and froth and foam that sloshes around at the lower end of the sonic spectrum. ‘Dark Sun’ goes kind of industrial with a hefty, thunking beat, with a relentless, distorted snare, low-slung, booming bass and heavily treated vocals, and there’s chaotic piano all over the place: the emphasis is very much on the dark here.

Dave Mitchell’s lyrics are, we’re led to believe, to have been inspired by whatever he was reading, but buried low in the mix, bathed in reverb and given a grating metallic edge, he sounds like a malfunctioning Dalek chanting incantations. To be clear, that’s by no means a criticism.

Final track, ‘Frame’ is more overtly ambient, but dark, with a certain industrial hue as it shifts to pound out a relentless beat against braying sax and a whirlpool of aural chaos: I’m not about to suggest that PBL were going through any kind of NIN phase, but there are hints of parallels with The Fragile in places here.

Everything about Blood Music is seemingly designed to challenge, to present the music in the least accessible way possible – and it’s far from accessible to begin with, for the most part. The dark density of the sound is heavy, and there’s something quite deranged about the album as a whole, in a way that’s hard to define… but deranged it is. Which seems a pretty fitting summary of the band’s catalogue as a whole: the only thing you can really predict is their unpredictability.

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9th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The remastered re-reissues of avant-experimentalist oddballs Photographed by Lightning continues apace with the emergence of Dust Bug Cecil (or, to give it its full title, The Rise and Fall of Dust Bug Cecil and the Winking Cats, supposedly taken from an obscure book about a direct to disc recording pioneer, and may in turn be a skewed play on Ziggy Stardust. Of course, everything is skewed in the world of PBL, and if Music From the Empty Quarter wasn’t evidence enough of this, then this should be enough to convince anyone: presented here as a whopping thirty-eight track document (2 CDs worth), Dust Bug Cecil is augmented with the entirety of their other 2002 album, Let Me Eat the Flowers. On the strength of this, it vocalist Syd Howells and co (here represented by Dave Mitchell (vocals, bass, keyboards); Bionio Bill (drums & percussives); Roland Ellis (saxophone); Chris Knipe (mandolin & fiddle), and Rev Porl Stevens contributing vocals to ‘White Master’)) had perhaps ingested more than just pansies prior to these sessions.

As Howells recounts it, ‘following the behemoth like Music From The Empty Quarter we went in search of tunes. Found some too. Glued them together with words and somehow found ourselves making a ‘pop’ album.’ In comparison to its predecessor, Dust Bug Cecil is a pop album in that there are none of the sprawling ten-minute epic headfucks on offer here, with most of the songs – and, indeed, they are songs – clocking in around the three-minute mark. It’s ‘pop’ in the style of the dark pop of post-punk, but its values are ostensibly altogether more punk, and its sound is primitive and murky. It’s pop in the way The Jesus and Mary Chain write breezy, surfy pop tunes and bury them in is a squall of noise that renders them almost indistinct.

There are melodies and choruses bursting out from every corner, but in context of 2002, songs like the album’s opener, ‘Eyes on Stalks’ and ‘Numb Alex’ sound like early 80s new wave demos: driving Joy Division-esque bass dominates a rhythm pinned down by a frenetic drum machine that sounds like it’s struggling to keep up with the throbbing energy, and there are hints of The Cure and B-Movie in the mix here.

The guitars buzz like flanged wasps on the vaguely baggy / shoegazey ‘Lady Lucifer’, prefacing the sound that A Place To Bury Strangers would come to make their signature. Elsewhere, the sound swings from almost straight 60s-tinged indie on ‘Let Me Eat the Flowers’, while ‘The Remains of a Tramp Called Bailey’ sounds like a head-on collision between The Pixies and The Psychedelic Furs, and ‘The Risen’ comes on like early New Order. If it reads like I’m chucking in a list of seemingly random and incongruous artists by way of confused and confusing reference points, it’s because that’s what the listening experience is like. None of the elements of the album are unique by any stretch, but their hybridisation very much is. The 60s garage vibe of ‘Untitled (for Dylan’) and the Fall-like scuzz of ‘David Dickinson Said’ (with its obvious but necessary ‘cheap as chips’ refrain) are well-realised, and suit the lo-fi production values.

Sonically, Dust Bug Cecil is nowhere near as challenging as Music From The Empty Quarter, and it was almost inevitable that they had to do something different, having taken the avant-jazz oddity to its limit. Then again, of course, there’s still the customary weird shit, like the squelchy racket with spoken word of ‘Bob’ and ‘Pablo’, and the doomy industrial synth robotix of ‘Be This Her Memorial’, which mean it’s hardly the most accessible album going and it is quite bewildering just in terms of its stylistic eclecticism.

It’s unquestionably a mixed bag, and not all of the efforts are completely successful or gel quite as hoped, something the band themselves acknowledge with hindsight. But it’s still very much a musical, if not commercial, success, showcasing a band capable of wild diversity in their creativity, as well as a band who’ve spent a career making the music that pleases them over anyone else.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Originally released in 1999, Music from the Empty Quarter was Photographed by Lightning’s fifth album. The band described it as ‘their Troutmask Replica, their Tago Mago’, forewarning the listener that it’s ‘a monstrous slice of avant jazz, musique concrete Lovecraftian horror and should under no circumstances be listened to while under the influence of ‘substances’, and it’s immediately clear why. Like Trout Mask, it seems to be an album intended to be as difficult and challenging as possible, the sound of four musicians playing four different tunes in different keys and time signatures at the same time.

A strolling bassline stops and starts, runs and halts against a thunking beat. Everything’s up to the max, resulting in a slightly fuzzed-out sound, murky with the edges frayed by distortion. And over all of it, horns honk and parp, weaving weird patterns. This is the first of the four parts of ‘Al Azif’, scattered at strategic points across the album, with the same nagging bass motif recurring on each, as if in some attempt to give some sense of structure or cogency to the deranged, sprawling mass of weirdy noise. While three of the four parts are comparatively short, ‘Al Azif 4’ is a colossal twenty-one minutes in duration, but there’s a hell of a lot to wade through before – namely the whole of disc one.

‘Reptiles Invent The Amniotic Egg’ is a slow-trudging grind, somewhere between Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin’s GOD, and SWANS, and ‘Foehn’ occupies similarly dark, weighty territory. Meanwhile, ‘Pop Song’ stands out as the most accessible track here, a snappy number with an actual semblance of a tune that’s reminiscent of early Public Image – but after a minute and a bit, they’re done, and back to making the most chaotic racket going with the frenzied discord of ‘The Assembly of Membranes’, and taking things up a notch on ‘Timing of Cellularisation’ which sounds like The Fall playing next door to Merzbow, and they’ve both left the door open and you’re standing in the corridor between the two.

By the time you’ve been battered by the murky wasteland that is the noodling delirium of ‘Mosses Invade the land’, with its impenetrable vocals, and the unexpectedly folksy lo-fi indie of Sugar Fist – part Silver Jews, part Syd Barrett, you arrive dizzied and dazed at ‘Al Azif 3’ with a strange sense of déjà-vu, before disc two arrives with more of the same – literally. That sensation of being on an endlessly recurring loop is a headfuck almost on a par with Rudimentary Peni’s Pope Adrian 37th Psychristiatric, but perhaps more realistically an approximation of The Fall’s ‘Bremen Nacht’ repetitions on The Frenz Experiment and accompanying 7”.

The demented, snarling vocals, that gibber and gnash away into the drifting fade of horns is most unsettling as disc two gets dubby and deranged on the fourth instalment, and after the brief interlude that is ‘Hypoxia’, the fifteen-minute title track is a yawning, droning swirl of somnambulance, a ritualistic swell and groan with laser rockets arcing over its bubbling, swampy expanse.

This is fucking heavy stuff: not heavy in the metal sense, but in the sense that’s it’s relentlessly oppressive and lasts an eternity. It’s absolutely bloody great, but it’s also probably the soundtrack to life in purgatory. You have been warned.

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Editions Mego – 1st November 2019

The 80s was an exciting and revolutionary time, and UK label Some Bizzare gave a platform to some of the more unusual exploratory and experimental acts around the middle of the decade, meaning that while acts like Depeche Mode and Soft Cell were mainstays that brought in funds, they were able to release albums by Soft Cell offshoots like Flesh Volcano, as well as work by Foetus, The The, Coil, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Cabaret Voltaire. Their reputation may have slipped in later years following various stunts and a major falling out with Neubauten over unpaid royalties, but the legacy very much remains strong.

The Elbow is Taboo was Renaldo & The Loaf’s fourth and last album of their initial phase prior to their return in 2010, which was released by and Some Bizzare in the UK and Ralph in America in 1987. Marking a significant expansion and evolution on their previous outings in compositional and instrumental terms, and the result of three years’ work, it’s considered to be ‘the definitive statement by the group in this early period’.

There was a 2016 reissue, with a stack of ‘elbonus’ material and I’m sold on the pun alone, but this Editions Mego reissue has to be the ultimate, as in addition to the elbonus stuff, the first 300 vinyl copies and digital editions also include bonus bonus 7” tracks ‘Hambu Hodo’ live and a remix, ‘Hambu Hoedown’, which ultimately sees the album’s original nine tracks expanded to twenty-two. Comprehensive is the word.

But is it any good?

It’s leftfield, weirdy and experimental: the album’s first piece, ‘A Street Called Straight’ melds medieval folk with tribal drumming and something pan-pipey and hints at neofolk but then goes off at some odd tangents, before ‘Boule’ does some kind of quirky somersaults across traditional Japanese music and sparse, clattering electronica. It’s the stuttering, busy-yet- rattly percussion that defines the oddball and off-kilter compositions, from the wonky country twangery of the title track to the marching Krautrock groove of ‘Hambu Hodo’ that lands somewhere between the pulsing electro of DAF and the zany mania of early Foetus. ‘Critical/Dance throws some jazz and atonal bleepings into the mix. It’s this offbeat eclecticism paired with an emphasis on rhythm that renders The Elbow is Taboo simultaneously compelling and bewildering.

The slew of bonus material on Elbonus ranges from fragmentary loops to fully realised versions and songs, spanning disorientating sound collage to audio collisions which are simply dizzying, not to mention quite inexplicable.

If ever an album qualified as a lost classic, it’s The Elbow is Taboo. So if the 80s underground is your scene, you need this. And if it isn’t, then it’s time to get educated.

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Renaldo & The Loaf – The Elbow is Taboo

2nd December 2019

On its release in 2008, the second album by New Zealanders Die! Die! Die! received critical acclaim from the NME and The Guardian here in the UK. But the artwork wasn’t quite as intended, and, well, there’s always room for improvement with a remastering in hindsight. This version comes fully remastered courtesy of original engineer and co-producer Kevin McMahon (Swans, Fat White Family) and with the artwork restored to its full glory, and emerging just a few months after their new EP, it’s seems like Die! Die! Die! are at not so much at a crossroads, but a point of reappraisal while entering a renaissance period.

I reckon I have fair ears and am capable of a fairly obsessive attention to detail when it comes to it – although it’s easier to be obsessive when your listening is limited to a narrow range of bands and albums. Nowadays, I rarely get to listen to albums more than a couple of times, and having – shamefully – not heard the original release, I’m not in a position to explore the details that differentiate this from the original. But I do have ears, and am in a position to consider how a 12-year-old album stands up now.

As a set, in terms of production and mix, Promises Promises pitches the rhythm section very much to the fore, which apparently was ‘partly due to the influence of new bassist Lachlan Anderson, but also because a broken hand limited Wilson’s guitar-playing’ if Wikipedia is accurate. What this achieves is a real solidity of sound, and imbues the songs with a particular sturdiness.

The album is very much geared to uptempo, high octane punky, shouty thrashabouts that are dispensed in two or three frenetic minutes, but elsewhere, there are a number of more considered songs that show – beneath the fuzz and crashing cymbals – a degree of craft in the compositions, despite the fundamentally primitive arrangements.

‘Britomart Sunset’ nicks the bassline to Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’ and whacks up the tempo and steers it back into the driving dark punk territory of JD’s Warsaw years, and it’s killer. There is absolutely nothing more exhalating that a thumping bass groove placed front and centre. ‘Whitehorses’ is a standout with its mechanised, motoric drumming which thumps away as the rest of the band push away at a couple of chords with remarkable patience. The again, the title track lays sinewy guitars interweaving over a driving bass and powerhouse percussion, a collision of frenzied punk and icy new wave paranoia to create a perfect tension.

Promises Promises – reissued, remastered, whatever – is simply a corking album, and if its being remastered and reissued gives it a new lease of life, then it’s all to the good.

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IHeartNoise – 16th July 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

What am I being sent now? Admittedly, I have some time for IHeartNoise with their championing and general backing – not to mention occasional releasing – of music that most would like file under ‘weird shit.’ As the label remind us, ‘rock music with oddly-tuned guitars, varied rhythms, clouds of dissonance, and bursts of energy wasn’t too hard to come by in the 1990s’.

Howcha Magowcha, the second album by Turkish Delight, originally released in 1988 (and which follows IHeartNoise’s cassette rerelease of their 1996 debut last year), isn’t quite as weird as all that, but it’s hardy accessible or mainstream. In the main, it’s a high-octane, helium-filled punky thrashabout, and really rather fun. And while punk-pop has very clear connotations in contemporary terms, aspects of Howcha Magowcha belong to the time when indie bands like Voodoo Queens and Rosa Mota and Huggy Bear were cranking up the amps and revelling in the juxtaposition of ramshackle punky noise delivered with a pop sensibility. And Howcha Magowcha is bursting with tunes – all delivered with a spiky, angular energy.

The feel is very much of the era. We’re not talking grunge or nu-metal, but are deep in the domains of the weird underground that emerged and occupied the pages of Melody Maker and the NME for a while, and would often be found spun by John Peel. Reference points are likely pointless given this level of obscurity.

Anyway: let’s skip comparisons and get to the music, which is about jolting tempo changes, jarring key switches, contrast between pretty-pretty female vocals with throaty male vocals, as evidenced no more keenly than on ‘Smooth Karate’. ‘Li Cold Vas’ has the jangle of The Wedding Present and blends it with the angularity of The Fall and the obtuse oddness of early Pram, while ‘Sea Quest’ goes Slanted era Pavement with additional full-throttle US 90s noise. ‘Metronome’ creates new levels of angularity, and explores lyrical avenues of abstraction that twist the mundane and really mess with ideas of the ordinary. ‘No Sky’ slows the pace and goes all moody, before it erupts in all directions… extra points for the epic closer, appropriately entitled ‘Close’ that goes from nagging verses to explosive tornadoes of noise by way of choruses and veers all over the place over the course of seven minutes – in contrast to the three-minute blasts of the rest of the album.

There isn’t one song on here that stands out as a single: Howcha Magowcha is very much an album, and a discordant, noisy one at that. There’s no time to settle into any of the songs: mellow moments are torn in half with propulsive drumming and low-slung bass, while the guitars fire off in all directions. It’s music that keeps you on edge, engaged, exhilarated. And however big the 90s revival gets, they’ll never make ‘em quite like this again.

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Turkish Delight

Young God Records

It’s perhaps too much to convey the experience of hearing Soundtracks for the Blind for the first time on its release in 1996. Admittedly, hearing any Swans release for the first time was memorable – I was introduced in the late 80s via Children of God, which, aged 17, was unlike anything I had heard before. It was what one might call a pivotal moment. I was compelled to explore their back-catalogue, which yielded a succession of further pivotal moments, not east of all on the discovery of Cop.

For all its length, The Great Annihilator was pretty straightforward, and represented a continuation of the White Light / Love of Life albums. Just a year later, Soundtracks for the Blind was altogether different, and represented a new expansion on all levels. It was about three hours long, for a start. The third song was over a quarter of an hour long, and there were extensive instrumental passages that bordered on ambient. Elsewhere, reworkings of older songs, bent almost beyond recognition (‘YRP’ and ‘YRP 2’ emerging from ‘Your Property’ from 1984’s Cop), surfaced amidst the churning soundscapes drawn from the contents of the library of tape loops and found sounds gathered by Michael Gita over the band’s whole career. It felt like the culmination of a lifetime’s work. It felt fitting it should be Swans’ final studio album, and it seems appropriate that its remastered reissue should arrive when Gira has again called time on the band. Its arrival gives us cause to reflect on the cyclical nature of the band’s career, and the differences and similarities between their first unbroken span and their later incarnation, which closed with another uber epic in the form of The Glowing Man and followed by a live document (as Soundtracks was accompanied by the conclusive Swans are Dead, so The Glowing Man was accompanied by Deliquescence).

This is the first time Soundtracks has been released on vinyl, and naturally, its formatting and packaging is something else: as the press release and Young God website detail, ‘the vinyl package will consist of four LPs in jackets enclosed in a box with a poster, insert and download card. The box set will be a limited edition of 4,000 copies worldwide and once sold out will be followed later in 2018 by a gatefold LP version. The album will also be reissued on CD featuring a repackage of the original digipak for the 1996 Atavistic release plus a bonus disc of the contemporaneous Die Tür Ist Zu EP (a German language version of some of the material from Soundtracks that also includes unique material) recently released for the first time on vinyl in the USA for Record Store Day 2018. Outside of the USA, Die Tür Ist Zu EP will be released as a limited edition companion piece double vinyl set, also on 20th July’. Yes, as with the previous reissues, they’ve gone all put to render a truly definitive edition.

Listening to Soundtracks now, it seems that Gira, having declared the band spent in 1997, spent a long time cogitating over the directions and possibilities that this album presented, and took them as the starting point for the post-millennial iteration: it certainly shares more with this period than its predecessors, with exceptions like ‘The Yum Yab Killers’ which delivers the same kind of punch as ‘Mother/Father’ on The Great Annihilator (and recoded live, with somewhat muffled sound, it still seems a shade incongruous in its inclusion here, although Jarboe sounds so fucking fierce I’d not want to make to big a deal of it). We’re reminded, too, that Soundtracks emerged during a fairly prolific spell for Gira, and it’s perhaps inevitable that elements of other projects – namely the solo album Drainland and The Body Lovers / The Body Haters. ‘All Lined Up’ is a different version of ‘I See Them All Lined Up’ which featured on Drainland. It’s simultaneously more distorted and weirded-out, and more explosive, more driving, more… Swans.

Some of the rambling monologues are quite disturbing (with recordings of Gira’s father talking about his life and excerpts from FBI tapes, amongst other things), but then so is the musical accompaniment that provides the backdrop: ‘I Was a Prisoner Inside Your Skull’ and ‘How they Suffer’ make for uncomfortable listening.

There are some incredibly tender, raw, emotive moments: Gira’s voice, cracked and plaintive on ‘Animus’, as woodwind bursts around him from a hovering hush, is one of Swans’ most affecting moments. For a band whose back catalogue contains some of the most intense sonic brutality ever committed to tape, it’s quite a contrast, and perhaps all the more moving in context.

It’s a sprawling expanse of sound, and it isn’t entirely cohesive. Gira’s conception of sound as something malleable and his approach to dynamics would evolve immensely in the time away from Swans, and as such, Soundtracks is as much a signpost toward the next phase as a bookend to the one it belongs. At the time, it was almost too much to digest. On revisiting, the same holds true. The density of both sound and ideas, the sheer scale of the album, the fact that it condenses fifteen years into two and a half hours… of course it’s too much to bear. This was always the way with Swans: even their gentler albums are delivered with an intensity that transcends words. And this, of course, is the ultimate objective of music – to touch body and mind in ways that are beyond any form of articulation. Soundtracks for the Blind doesn’t simply touch those parts, but poke, prod, squeeze and stab at them.

AA

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