Posts Tagged ‘Shellac’

Prank Monkey Records – 11th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The story goes that London four-piece Muscle Vest reportedly ‘formed in 2018 over a mutual appreciation for ugly rock music’, and that’s what they serve up on their debut EP – a sweaty, guitar-driven dirty rock workout that’s brimming with churning riffs, grease and grime. They come out all guns blazing and firing wildly in all directions with the manic racket of ‘Creepy Crawlie’, a juddering, angular rager that melts the best of 90s noise into a mangled metal nugget in the vein of later acts like Blacklisters and Hawk Eyes, and it very much sets the fast and furious tone for the rest of the EP: ‘Stray’ bears fair comparison to Blacklisters’ ‘Shirts’, with a throbbing riff blasting out against a low-slung bassline. If Shellac and Big Black are in the mix, so are The Jesus Lizard and early Pulled Apart by Horses.

Muscle Vest pack in a boatload of adrenaline and bring ALL the noise: it’s fucking ugly and monstrously brutal, and those are its positive points. It ain’t polished or pretty, and if you’re on the market for something gnarly, look no further.

‘We’ll all be dead / we’ll all be dead one day’ vocalist Dave Rogers howls nihilistically into a tempest of abrasive guitar noise that churns and grinds on ‘A Slow Death’. He’s right, of course: the question is whether we will die a quiet, peaceful death, or a horrible, painful one, shrieking in agony for the duration of those final hours. This is very much the soundtrack to the latter, and it’s almost enough to make death sound appealing. Because, well, better to go out screaming than to flicker out. The last track, ‘Blissbucket’ is a minute and three-quarters of blazing napalm, taking its cues from hardcore punk and tossing in all the jarring, jolting guitars that scratch and scrape at all angles across the relentlessly churning rhythm section. It’s fast and furious and brings the EP to a blistering close and then some. It positively burns with an intense fury, and it’s beautifully brutal. Gets my vote, and then some.

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1st July 2021

Christopherr Nosnibor

No doubt it’s an age thing, but the title of this compilation from Leeds noisemakers Thank – a collection of everything they’ve released to date, which number three in total existing across a brace of EPs and a one-off single – makes me think of Maureen Lipman in the 1987 ad for BT when he grandson tells her he‘s failed all of his exams except pottery and sociology, and she famously cries, ‘He gets an ology and he says he’s failed… you get an ology you’re a scientist!’ I’m amused by this, and I have an A-level in Sociology, and I’m certainly no fucking scientist (I also have a PhD in English literature, and lot of good that’s done me, too). As a further pointless digression, the title also reminds me of the third album by another legendary Leeds band, That Fucking Tank.

This is relevant, because back in 2004 or so, Tank were ubiquitous, and proved to be an absolute revelation. It wasn’t that the DIY ethos was anything new – it emerged when punk broke, and has long been a major feature of the Leeds scene. Track back about 40 years and The Sisters of Mercy were representing Leeds internationally on their own label. Whatever bollocks recent governments have spouted, the North has always been a powerhouse of its own making. Free of the sway of whatever’s cool in London at any given time, the Noeth – and particularly Leeds – has forged its own identity and done its own thing. And Leeds has, over the last tent o fifteen years, been a city with a scene throwing up a lot of angular, noisy stuff.

Emerging from the DIY microscene centred around the rehearsal space / occasional gig venue that was CHUNK, Thank draw on a host of influences from home and away, but sound like no-one else.

That debut EP, Sexghost Hellscape, from 2017, was – and still is – a wonderfully deranged mash-up of all kinds of strains of noise, with throbbing synths and punchy fink-tinged post-punk basslines reminiscent of Gang of Four providing the backbone of some off-kilter blasts of noise and some ragged, shouty vocals. The insistent pounding of ‘Punching Bag’ – a dismal, depressed swipe at celebrity taking ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ as its starting target – has that twitchy relentlessness of Shellac about it, and it really only cuts loose right at the end. Thank get delayed gratification – and sometimes they really torture us: there’s no real gratification on the squirming, crawling eight-and-a-half-minute dirge of ‘Petrol Head’ that grinds mercilessly like early Swans. It has the roaring rage of hardcore, slowed to a glacial crawl, and it twists at the gut with its low, slow percussion-driven relentlessness.

Standalone single ‘The Curse’ is an anguished roar of rage – it’s sparse, mangled, messy, and comes on like Uniform minus the riffs. It’s pretty fucking dark and brutal.

Skip on to the last EP, and it’s an even more rabidly raging effort, harder, harsher, more furious. ‘Commemorative Coin’ ups the rage another forty percent. It’s like PIL on steroids: pink and fuck, but more articulate than some three-chord thrash, many time more oppressive and infinitely more powerful. In contrast ‘Think Less’ goes full 80s electro, but it’s jitter, jarring, a three-way collision between Talking Heads, Revolting Cocks, and DAF. It’s crazed, manic, and intense. ‘No Respect for the Arts’ is all-out, foaming-at-the-mouth frenzied. It’s raw. It’s passion, and it’s real. And they speak from the heart here. Please was released in the Autumn of 2019, and this reminds us that the arts were being battered to fuck long before the Covid pandemic shut everything down. Over the last decade, successive Tory governments have been shafting the arts from every whichway. Artists have a right to be angry, but so few articulate that anger so directly though their music. We have reason to thank Thank.

Thankology give us no fewer than ten reasons to thank Thank, They stand as the very epitome of the Leeds underground / alternative /DIY scene: uncompromising, unbeholden to trends, and doing it because they believe in it, and just because. Bands like this are rare these days, and Thank stand apart in these times.

For those who’ve had a taste, this will give the full flavour, and for the uninitiated, here it all is. Get stuck in.

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Buzzhowl Records – 28th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Anyone who was around Leeds’ live scene about ten years ago will have likely experienced the bludgeoning racket of Blacklisters. When it came to jarring, psychotic noise-rock a la The Jesus Lizard, they were beyond awesome in both volume and intensity, and they had songs, too. Most bands aspire to producing a body of work, but the reality is, any band that can craft one truly definitive song, then they’ve achieved more than more than 99.99% of bands. With ‘Trick Fuck’, Blacklisters nailed it, and in doing so assured their immortality. While for my money the rough and ready EP version was actually better than the one that appeared on their 2012 debut album, that riff… oh, that riff. Fuck, man. That riff. Anyway, the rest of the debut was absolutely belting.

They went a but quiet on the live scene, but second album Adult, which benefited from a beefier production found them on killer form, and with lead single ‘Shirts’ they actually matched ‘Trick Fuck’.

Geography and life kept them quiet thereafter, with just an EP and compilation of EP cuts and radio sessions keeping things simmering over the last five tears. Yes, five whole years.

But in the bleakest, most barren of times, after an eternity of lockdown, Blacklisters unexpectedly deliver album number three. Its arrival was heralded by the dropping of single cut ‘Sports Drinks’, which opens the album and is an instant classic. It starts with a sinewy guitar then the rhythm section hammers in at a hundred miles an hour and it’s the most driving, energised, manic things they’ve recorded to date. It’s tense, crazed, Billy’s indecipherable yelling half-buried under a punishing squall of guitar.

‘Strange Face’ is another explosion of noise that makes ‘Club Foot by Kasabian’ sound like loungecore, and is so lurching jarring and warped it makes The Jesus Lizard sound soft. The title track, up next, provides no respite, pinning down the kind of cyclical riff that marks all of their best songs, and once more evoking the best of early 90s Touch and Go, particularly Tar.

There is absolutely no let-up here: ‘White Piano’ is furious and it’s back-to-back with the brutal bass-driven feedback fest that is ‘Le Basement’. And that’s what differentiates Fantastic Man from its predecessors: it’s tighter, tauter, than anything they’ve done. If before their tightness was in some way disguised by a squalling sloppiness, the playing on Fantastic Man is rigid muscular, gym-pumped and vascular.

‘I can Read my Own Mind’ is the album’s one moment of levity, with hints of Bleach era Nirvana in the messy mix, but the soupy morass of guitars all layered up in a knot of noodly treble is knotty and takes some wading through, especially with the fuzzy-edged vocals – and then it goes a bit Dead Kennedys, only like a DK 45 played at 33 and the effect is cranium-splitting.

The final track, the six-and-a-half minute Shellac-like rhythm driven mess of nastiness that is ‘Mambo No. 5’ isn’t a cover, just as ‘Club Foot by Kasabian’ wasn’t a cover, which is Blacklisters all over – irreverent to the last, its comedic value is twisted by its sonic brutality. And fuck me, it is brutal: they’ve certainly saved the most violently noisy for last, and it clanks and squalls in a thunder of rums and snarling bass.

It didn’t seem possible, but with Fantastic Man, Blacklisters have taken things up another level. The hooks may be sparse, but the slanted, angular riffs are harsh and heavy, and from out of nowhere, this could well be their best work yet. Fantastic and then some.

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7th May 2020

So, what do you do when your band is forced to take some downtime due to lockdown? Take up crochet? Perfect your breadmaking? Develop a nine-wanks-a-day porn habit? In the case of Chris Garth, guitarist with Post Rock/Metal/Sludge/Progressive Rock act UpCDownC, the answer is ‘work on a new side-project’. And so with an album in the pipeline, he’s unveiled ‘Bricks’ by way of a debut for Dead Mammals.

Immediately, I’m reminded of Shellac, specifically ‘Wingwalker’, but also more broadly of that 90s US noise scene as represented by acts on Touch&Go and Amphetamine Reptile. It’s the dirty, churning bass that really drives it. The drums thump along – more kick and tom, limited cymbal work – and the vocals – crackling through distortion – are half submerged when the angular shards of guitar scream in, a mess of scratchy treble that’s clear in its Steve Albini influence.

‘This song is about a woman / dead woman’ it begins, and judging by the way the monotone verse delivery gives way to anguished howls, the circumstances surrounding this involve some kind of psychopathy, seemingly on the narrator’s part. In context, the obliqueness of the lyrics is integral to the overall experience, which is first and foremost about the sonic compact of that slugging rhythm section and jolting guitar scrape. First impressions count, and ‘Bricks’ is one hell of an introduction.

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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