Posts Tagged ‘Shellac’

Neurot Recordings – 2nd August 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The best collaborations are greater than the sum of the parts, and transcend 2 + 2 = 4 equations of artists playing to type while rubbing up against one another in a predictable fashion. We often hope for more, but artists seldom really deliver.

The self-explanatory Neurosis & Jarboe, originally released in 2003, now fully remastered and with entirely new artwork from Aaron Turner, and available on vinyl for the first time sounds neither like Neurosis nor Jarboe, nor 50/50 Neurosis and Jarboe, but something that draws on the best elements of both to forge something very, very different.

The lugubrious slow grind of Neurosis is present in the low bass churn and the more ethereal elements of Jarboe’s vocals, which have brought grace to Swans since 1986 and her own solo work over a good two decades now. Both artists’ work has a certain timelessness about it.

In context, this is both noteworthy and, if not exactly ironic, a point of cognitive dissonance. In my head, 2003 is recent and this reissue is shockingly close to the original release. But this is the point at which the passage of time and its acceleration comes screaming in my face to remind me that 2003 was sixteen years ago. There are kids who’ve been born and are now of a legal age to raise families and to vote since the album was first released, and yet Swans calling it a day the first time around in ‘96 with Soundtracks for the Blind still feels quite recent. How is this album sixteen years old? Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, and Neurosis & Jarboe has very much stood the test of time, largely because it doesn’t sound quite like anything else.

‘His Last Words’ is perhaps the most overtly ‘modern’ cut on offer, and after a slow guitar grind, hits a groove that straddles dance and psychedelia. But there’s a deep, dark atmosphere that creeps over this and the album as a whole, with the majority of the tracks stretching out beyond seven minutes and pushing repetitive motives which worm their way under the skin and penetrate the skull by means of sonic bludgeoning.

The nine-minute ‘Erase’ brings some heavy, emotion-wrought doom-country with a distortion-tinged vocal that alludes to a dirgy Come, with Jarboe sounding more like Thalia Zedek in the song’s early minutes before the anguished howl emerges, culminating in a throat-tearing, raw-spewing roar by its uncomfortable climax.

Then, ‘In Harm’s Way’ recreates the woozy two-chord grating attack of early Swans when they were at their most gut-churningly jarring and abrasive, and it hits hard.

So why remaster, and why now? What does it add? According to Steve Von Till, ‘We recorded this ourselves with consumer level Pro Tools back then, in order to be able to experiment at home in getting different sounds and writing spontaneously. The technology has come a long way since then and we thought we could run it through better digital to analog conversion… This new mastered version is a bit more open, with a better stereo image, and better final eq treatment’.

And because they got Bob Weston of Shellac, and engineer at Electrical Audio to work on it, it does sound bloody great and lands with maximum impact. And the new artwork’s rather nice, too.

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Neurosis and Jarboe

16th August 2019

Their first release in a couple of years finds bassist Lachlan Anderson return to the fold after eight years away. Recorded in just one afternoon, the EP exudes urgency and marks a return to earlier form. The guitars jolt and scratch, sharp treble explosions that crackle like fire. They’re choppy and cut across the rhythm section at blurred, oblique angles, fraying the edges as they side and scrape skewiff and frenetic. The rhythm section pins it all together tight, but it’s attacking, relentlessly kinetic and propulsive, driving, and simultaneously solid and agile.

‘These songs find the band much more raw and harsh than they have sounded in years. Maybe it’s something personal or maybe it’s because the world is on fire’, writes Nate Holdren in his enthusiastic text which accompanies the release. It’s true: New Zealand may not be the place most directly feeling the pain of Trump or Brexit or now Johnson, but it’s clear it’s no place to be. In fact, the bottom line is that there simply is no place to be right now, with rapidly accelerating climate change and, quite simply everything. We’re all doomed. But while we’re all screwed, at least we still have art and music.

‘Casualties of Decades’ slams in hard by way of an opener, machine gun drumming driving a stop/start riff attack that’s a blend of Shellac, Fugazi, and Trail of Dead. ‘What We Choose to Remember’ is also reminiscent of Shellac, the minimal lyrics half-spoken, half shouted, and half buried beneath angular guitar blasts and a throbbing bass that’s less of a groove than a hammer assault. It’s the bass that dominates ‘Everyone Else’ and hold the whole blustering, blistering racket together. ‘Break the Mirror’ rams it home in a blistering minute and 23 seconds, a full-tilt stuttering frenzy of (post)punk noise that goes hell for leather in a scream of feedback.

This is the sound of a band rejuvenated, reinvigorated, a band bursting with energy, passion, and fury. There’s no shortage of things to fuel fury in the world now, and I’m certainly not the only one with a vast thirst for music which channels that fury and frustration.

Die! Die! Die! on Facebook and Bandcamp.

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Die! Die! Die! – O EP

Cruel Nature Records – 29th July 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, social networking really works. When Facebook isn’t about infighting, trolling, bitching, pissing and moaning, and people accept contact from strangers based on mutual friends and mutual interests, good stuff happens. I can’t exactly recall how I came into contact with James Watts, who runs Newcastle-Upon-Tyne based tape label Panurus productions, but some months after, I ended up performing in London alongside Lump Hammer, one of his numerus musical vehicles, thanks to another mutual friend with a penchant for big, noisy guitars who found me via Aural Aggro reviews. And so it came to pass that said mutual friend – Owen, from Modern Technology – introduced me and Steve Strode, who’s also in a bad and who also runs another Newcastle-based tape label, Cruel Nature Records. Fret! happen to feature Strode on guitar (twang), alongside Rob Woodcock (credited with ‘flails / screams’) and Cath Tyler (‘thrum / la’). And with cover art by Tom McCarthaigh, the design/layout is courtesy of none other than James Watts. It really is a small world. Especially in Newcastle.

This is lo-fi, low-budget, scuzzy. The production is proper rough, the guitar sound fuzzed-out and unpolished – we’re in home-recorded four-track demo quality here, with crackling at the edges and needles pushing the top ends of red, and opener ‘Belly’ comes on like early Fall with its repetitive riffage played rough ‘n’ ready. It seems fitting, not only because this is a cassette release, but because this is underground in every way.

On the lumbering slow-pace riff noise of ‘Hucknall’ (pretty much all of the titles are indecipherable one-worders), there’s a hoarse howl all bit buried in the mix, by accident or design, countered by a drawing monotone counterpoint. ‘Davy’ goes for the all-out screaming racket that not quite metal but is unquestionably all-out in its frenzied brutality, but most of the album favours the frenetic but contained blistering squall of 90s alternative. By which I mean bands like Fudge Tunnel, Terminal Cheesecake, Helmet, are all viable and appropriate reference points, and by which it should be apparent that this is a monster riffageous racket of the highest order. ‘SUSD’ sows it down, grinding away at a repetitive cyclical riff that’s as messy as hell, wash with distortion, reverb, and tremolo, while ‘Cowboy’ piledrives into got/psychobilly/hardcore/crust-punk territory with obliterative fury.

Is there an element of nostalgia in the appeal of this, as a 43-year old fan of grunge and more subterranean 90s alternative? Well, naturally, but that really isn’t the primary appeal here. What appeals about A Vanity Spawned By Fear is the simple fact that it’s raw and uncompromising and blindingly intense. It isn’t pretty or nice, and isn’t supposed to be. It wouldn’t work if it was.

The last track, ‘Country’ is a slow, hesitant cross between early Pavement and Shellac. But A Vanity Spawned is most definitely not derivative, and there’s nothing remotely lifted or directly referential here. Instead, they amalgamate a mass of influences and condense them in a mould of their own making. It’s hard, heavy, and difficult. Stylistically, it isn’t any one thing, but it’s completely ace.

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Fret - Vanity

19th July 2019 – Buzzhowl Records

Christopher Nosnibor

This quartet from Richmond, VA, may have a name that suggests quiet, introspective contemplation and piety, but their third EP, which follows ‘Touched’ (2015) and ‘ICUP’ (2017) whips up an unholy racket.

It’s a lumbering, off-kilter, shouty discord that defines their sound. Chugging, math-tinged rhythms cut across with angular guitars that evoke the spirit of Shellac, The Jesus Lizard, and the essence of the Touch & Go roster from the late 80s and early 90s. It’s gnarly, gut-churning, challenging – and hits the spot like a punch to the oesophagus.

Should we consider why there seems to be a resurgence of music that recrates that period around the grunge explosion, when alternative music that wasn’t grunge but centred around dirty-as-fuck guitars and difficult rhythms that would come to define ‘math’ rock? Probably. Back then, there was a revolt against radio-friendly rock, the slick sonic paste being pumped out by major labels. Of course, the ‘alternative’ sound very quickly got co-opted, but no-one was ever going to flog acts like Tad or Tar or Helmet or Guzzard to the masses even when Warners were angling Ministry at MTV and A&M had launched Therapy? As a top 40 singles band. The bands who got signed and broke through may have changed the face of the musical scene, but it was always the bands who remained underground who defined the era.

Now, with the chasm between mainstream and everything else wider than ever – and long beyond the point at which it becomes unbridgeable – the underground is more resolute than ever. They’re never going to make on this… but they have every inch of credibility intact as they channel their frustrations against an ever-grimmer world of conformity and vacuity. The bands that matter aren’t in it for the money – but then, they never were, and Prayer Group are admirable in their absolute lack of compromise.

They’ve just unleased the EP’s closer, ‘The Other’ by way of a taster. It’s nicely representative, and trust me, you need it.

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Prayer Group - Eudean

7th December 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Irk have been tearing it up on the Leeds scene for a little while now, and are a band at the epicentre of the DIY scene surrounding the CHUNK studio / rehearsal room space, tucked away in a rough and dilapidated industrial estate a good half-hour hike out of the city centre. It’s an apposite location for the thriving creative community of metal / sludge / noise bands.

The band describe themselves as ‘three polite wee rascals…. who make ugly, angular, noise-fused, math rock, consisting of drums, bass, and vocals’, and as such, belong to the city’s now well-established post-millennium tradition for producing seriously noisy bands who are bloody good. Many have fallen by the wayside, but a lineage of acts that includes Blacklisters, Hawk Eyes, That Fucking Tank, Holy State, Hora Douse, and yes, we’ll throw in Pulled Apart by Horses here, because they’re hardy quiet or genteel, speaks for itself.

I’ve caught them live a few times in the last couple of years, and have even performed on the same bill, exchanging books with front man Jack (I think Life Pervert is ace; I’ve no idea what he makes of The Rage Monologues). I’ve never once been disappointed by their performances, and it’s a reasonable expectation that Recipes from the Bible should sound like the work of a band who’ve been honing their material live for some time.

But by Christ, Irk really give it some here, and forge the title: this is a sonic concoction that cooks up the most unholy racket going. ‘I Bleed Horses’ begins with a howl and a barrage of frenetic drums and a mass of guitar racket. While you’re picking your jaw off the floor, check that tight, compressed, springy bass sound and the churning throb it produces that just about holds the whole squalling mess of discord together. Less that two and a half minutes in duration, the bled horses bleed out into ‘Life Changing Porno’, another unintelligible blizzard of noise that’s so chaotic it’s not always entirely clear if they’re all playing the same song: the tempo lurches unpredictably and whole racket collides in a spectacularly ugly explosion.

The seven-minute ‘The Observatory’ built around a choppy, cyclical riff reminiscent of Bleach era Nirvana, and again, it’s the menacing bass that dominates as they forge a suffocatingly claustrophobic density. It’s about as close to respite as it gets: with the only other exception being the verses of the lumbering ‘The Healer’, Recipes from the Bible is relentless in its screaming mania and brutal angles. The wild sax action on ‘You’re My Germ’ could be free jazz in another context, but here, it just adds another level of crazed hysteria to the mix.

Taking obvious cues from Shellac and Blacklisters, it’s a set of sharp-cornered, serrated brutality that stops, starts, shudders, judders, jolts and jerks – but unlike Shellac, Jack’s raving, gibbering, rabid vocals break free from the tight limits of the coiled tension of math-rock tropes and instead cut loose and careen into the wild noise of The Jesus Lizard. Snarling, howling, drawling and slavering, there’s something cracked, even psychotic. In combination, it’s a tense, intense set that sound deranged, dangerous: at times, its really quite uncomfortable. That’s a clear measure of success.

Chances are, reviews will tout this as being ‘uncompromising’, not least of all on account of it’s being self-produced by the band (of course). But Recipes from the Bible goes beyond that. Way beyond. It harnesses the full force of the band: so often, bands draft in producers only for the sound to be polished, slickened, rendered overtly ‘studio’. By keeping things in-house, they’ve retained the rawness, and the sheer velocity and unbridled power that defined them, and the sonic vision remains unadulterated. And beneath all of distortion and dirt, the ragged, jagged edges and the feel of a style of playing that’s loose and uncontained, there’s a remarkable and deceptive degree of precision.

It’s hard to find fault with Recipes from the Bible: there isn’t a weak track or an ounce of fat. There’s no filler, and no slack. There’s not a moment of tameness or timidity, and instead, they bring top-level ferocity and relentless fury, and the chances are you’ll be hard-pushed to find a better noise-rock album this year.

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Irk - Recipes

Finnish noise rockers Throat who are set to release their highly anticipated and Aural Aggro approved second album, Bareback on August 31st via Svart Records have shared a second track. ‘Born Old’ is described by vocalist/guitarist Jukka Mattila as ’a deliberate effort to break some formulas we always fall into when writing music. To most people it might sound like the same drivel we always do and in spite of the fact that they’re probably right, we’re proud of our song. Lyrically, ‘Born Old’ is about feeling bad in every which way possible. Feeling good is overrated anyway. Plus there’s a Coil reference in the lyrics, see if you can spot that!’

Listen to ‘Born Old’ here:

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throat-006-by-hilja-mustonen

Svart Records – 31st August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

I read ‘ffo Unsane, Jesus Lizard, Shellac, Blacklisters’ and practically jazzed my pants before I’d even opened the email, let along downloaded the promo. That was before I read the slick, sleazy, fluid-dripping pitch for Finland-based Throat’s sophomore album, as seeing the band plunging ‘head first into unprotected encounters with musical elements hardly even hinted at on their previous releases.’

‘Safe Unsound’ opens the album with a sparse into: just guitar and baritone croon that invited comparisons to Glenn Danzig. But then the guitar goes to picked notes and the atmosphere builds into more Neurosis territory… but they keep pulling back. You’re waiting for it to break, for something to happen… How long is it reasonable to hold back? I recall seeing Shellac-influenced Glasgow act Aereogramme circa 2003 and being bored to tears: there simply wasn’t enough reward for the patience of enduring the build-up. But then, Shellac can be masters of frustration: just listen to Terraform.Thankfully, Throat cut loose and hit the distortion pedals around the three-and-a-half minute mark during this eight-and-a-half minute epic. And the song has a sort of coda which is a repetitive, grinding loop worthy of early Swans, which culminates of two minutes of screeding feedback and noise. So far, so punishing. And there are still another seven songs left to go.

‘No Hard Shoulder’ justifies the Jesus Lizard/ Blacklisters comparisons, with its driving guitar and bass welded together and glued to pulverizing drums that forge a Melvins-ish take on grungy stoner rock. Gritty, shouty, unpolished, it also evokes the Touch ‘n’ Go vibe while also hinting at favourable parallels with contemporaries like Pissed Jeans. So far, my jizzed pants are justified, and the rest of the album doesn’t disappoint.

Things go a bit Techno Animal / Godflesh / NIN on ‘Shortage (Version)’ with its hefty, crashing beats, straining digital noise and thickly distorted vocals which, in combination, carve out a lugubrious, funereal piece. Dense and dark I equal measure, it provides a mid-album interlude of crushing, neogoth intensity that stands quite apart from the other tracks. and the sonorous, subsonic bass just kills.

‘Born Old’ slams back into 90’s T&G territory and sounds like Tar at their best. Obscure? Sure, but if you get the reference, the album’s for you. If you don’t, but are digging Throat, you need Tar in hour life. Really. ‘Rat Domain’ slams and churns hard, the jarring grunge riffery whipping up a churn that resonates in the gut, before closer ‘Maritime’ hammers home six minutes of brutally jarring noise-rock, which is angular, sinewy, and relentless in its abrasion, and even brings a hint of the gothic before piledriving into the home straight with a remarkably accessible, melodic finale. If it seems at odds with the rest of the album, it’s hardly a weak finish, and instead demonstrates that Throat aren’t all about the gnarly noise… just mostly.

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