Posts Tagged ‘Shellac’

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

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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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throat_bareback-1024x1024

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s fitting that a band as wildly eclectic and sonically unpredictable as Bearfoot Beware should have a suitably varied and contrasting but complimentary lineup of bands on the bill for their album launch show. And it turns out that tonight is a night of energetic bassists.

Ganglions’ bassist is almost swamped by her instrument, but she kicks out some thumping basslines around which the Sheffield trio forge an unusual blend of grungy post-rock jazz with melody. It’s an unusual blend. Some moments border on the twee, a shade muso, even a touch indulgent in their noodliness, but their tightness carries the complexity of the songs’ structures and nagging, interloping guitar motifs which even incorporate currents of reggae and skiffliness. They’ve also got enough energy and drive – both the songs and the band themselves – to make it all pull together, making their set engaging and entertaining.

Ganglions

Ganglions

It’s quite the leap to go from a compact three-piece unit to the sprawling ten-legged groove machine that is ZoZo. RSI means that front man Tom has had to ditch the guitar and stick to vocals only. The two vocalists are set up in front of the small stage, and Fred really throws himself into the choppy, cutty guitar parts.

However, it’s the exuberant lunges of bassist Joe, who cranks out some driving bass noise, that provide the band’s most striking visual focal point, while sonically, it’s the big, raucous, sax sound that defines the band’s brand of art-rock. Their frenetic funk fusion calls to mind aspects of Gang of Four, Talking Heads, and Shriekback, but their more flamboyant inclinations and pop sensibility perhaps owes more to acts like The Associates, ABC, and Orange Juice. They’re as tight as they are lively, as well as being good fun.

ZoZo

ZoZo

Bearfoot Beware blur final soundchecking with the actual set, lurching headlong into scorching rendition of ‘Point Scorer.’ It’s a hell of a way to introduce the new album to the crowd, and they follow with a couple more newies before touching on the back catalogue. The songs twist, turn, lumber and lurch unpredictably, and as I watch them, I can’t help but wonder just how much they must rehearse to memorise the complex song structures and play every change with such precision. They don’t just play, either, but really perform. Again, it’s the bass player, Richard Vowden, who provides the axis around which the band spins, both as a physical and sonic presence. Energy emanates from him as he bounds and lurches around, legs going all over, a perpetual blur, his contortions almost literal interpretations of the musical compositions, while the chunky grooves hold down the spasmodic, fractured guitars.

Bearfoot Beware

Bearfoot Beware

Their Pavement meets Shellac meets No Age stylings make for an angular racket, but it this somehow suggests a band out of time and hung up on the US alternative scene of the 90s, its delivered with a twist that’s representative of the contemporary Leeds scene. It’s perhaps hardly surprising that a band whose members have established a rehearsal space and studio that lie at the heart of a DIY subscene all of its own should epitomise it.

I’ve digressed, and am no longer focusing on the set, but any launch event is only the beginning of a journey. Bearfoot Beware are here, and they’re now, and they’re kicking ass with Sea Magnolia. Tonight, they’ve thrown it out to Leeds, and tomorrow the world. It deserves to float.

Superstar Destroyer – 16th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s pleasing to see that Bearfoot Beware are still here after eight years and a bunch of EPs to release a third album. They’re one of those bands who are destined to remain on the fringes of cultdom, who will never be huge, but who produce art, and do it for the love. Now more than ever, in a climate where the industry is all about money and is populated by careerists and independent bands and venues are simply unable to sustain their existence due to the world needs bands like this. Bands who are driven by passion and a desire to make the music they want, without keeping an eye on trends or pandering to markets. They’ve always done their own thing, and ‘Sea Magnolia’ is no sell-out and offers no concessions. To anything. They’re as DIY, and uncompromisingly all-over as ever, and, best of all, they’re showing no sign of their frenetic energy dissipating or being otherwise subdued or contained in order to mould their style to accommodate commercial pressures.

The title connotes infinite blandness, an absence of character. This certainly isn’t the case where BB’s lively sonic firecrackers are concerned.

The album kicks off in shouty fashion with the angular, jolting ‘Point Scorer’, which manages to swerve in some noodly mathy moments between the jarring chords. The tracks are packed in tight, and hard on its heels slams in the riffy, grungy, ‘Without a Shot Fired’. It’s got a driving urgency and has a hard(core) edge.

If ‘Knot in the Rope’ calls to mind Shellac in terms of its instrumentation and the choppy guitars and chunky bass, it’s certainly no bad thing. It’s a big, dense, shouty sonic ruckus. And then it goes a bit Pavement just over halfway through. As it happens, ‘shouty sonic ruckus’ pretty much covers the album as a whole – and most of their back catalogue, got that matter. But Sea Magnolia feels more organised – however haphazard, chaotic and discordant it is. Because it has some nifty riffs, and the rhythm section is strong and sprightly as it leaps and lurches with precision timing from one segment to the next. ‘No Wisdom’ is particularly twisty, turny, amped up, choppy, jarring. And with the majority of the album’s nine uptempo tracks clocking in around the three-and-a-bit minute mark, it’s succinct and a lot more focused than it probably first appears.

None of the songs on here is straightforward: you won’t find anthemic choruses done to death over predictable structures, and lyrically it’s as just as non-linear in formulation. Every couple of bars you find yourself wondering what’s going to happen next, and whatever you’re probably expecting, it won’t be that. This, of course, is precisely the album’s strength. Predictable it isn’t and there’s never a dull moment. And yet for all that, they still throw in some decent hooks amidst the chaos. It’s a massive achievement – and a great album, if you can hack it.

Bearfoot Beware – Sea Magnolia

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Bearfoot Beware