Posts Tagged ‘Soma Crew’

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of those lineups that has cult appeal written all over it. It’s also wall-to-wall quality. So while The Crescent may not be rammed – it was always going to be challenge to fill a 350-capacity venue in York on a Tuesday night in August with a lineup specialising in experimental and Kratuy workouts – those present are enthusiastic and know they’re in for a treat.

As I absorb Neuschlaufen’s immersive set, I’m increasingly aware of how much they sound – and even look like – so many of the improv-led experimental rock acts from mainland Europe I hear, courtesy of one Berlin-based PR in particular. These bands have substantial but ultimately underground and disparate cult followings, and release their albums on microlabels in batches of numbered editions of 300 or so, and perform in cool but nice venues around Germany and The Netherlands. Neuschlaufen are as good as any of them, and watching the trio manipulate sound – sometimes intuitively, sleekly, and sometimes by using electrical tape to pin keys on a synth down to sustain a note for ten minutes uninterrupted – is a real treat. An extended two-chord workout around the set’s mid-point – and the whole thing is magnificently and intuitively structured – is pinned together with piercing synth and clanging metallic guitar forging serpentine shapes Ash Sagar weaving a strolling six-string bassline. At times they mine a seam that brings together Bauhaus, PiL and The Fall, with shuddering bass grooves underpinning clanging, repetitive guitar-lines which are so angular as to cause flesh wounds.

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Neuschlaufen

It seems that every time I review Soma Crew, I comment on how they’re better with every outing. It’s not just my ears, or forgetfulness: it’s a fact. It’s been a long and slow ascent, but everything about them is totally cohesive, and tonight they spin their hypnotic brand of pulsating psychedelic rock in the tightest, most mesmerising style I’ve yet witnessed. The sound is rich, dense textured, and they’re brighter, clearer, groovier and trippier than ever.

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Soma Crew

Dave Keegan, standing in on bass, does a fantastic job: he holds the rhythm down perfectly with a heavy tone, pinned to Nick Barker’s insistent drumming, and the occasional nifty run for variety. The drumming is a defining feature, and I’m not the only one to note that Nick has, seemingly, one T-shirt and one rhythm. It’s this consistency and his complete lack of drumming ego which places him as one of my all-time drumming heroes.

On ‘Danger Zone’, they amalgamate Joy Division, The Back Angels, and The Doors to forge a unique sonic compound that encapsulates the brilliance of Soma Crew, and closer ‘Celluloid’ builds to a full-throttle sonic attack.

I can barely read a word of the notes I took during Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band’s set, and there aren’t many. I was too busy standing, absorbed, by the trio’s seamless and utterly compelling performance. With elements of psych and prog and 70s rock and out and out rhythm-driven jamming, and songs like ‘The First Ren Minutes of “Cocksucker Blues”’ to groove out on, there’s a lot to get lost in.

They have a simple setup: drums, bass, guitar, a single amp apiece. Nothing fancy. And yes, there are epic guitar solos comparable to Neil Young and Dinosaur Jr (one track even bears more than a passing resemblance to ‘Like a Hurricane’ in its chord sequence, and the emotion Forsyth wrings from those six strings is almost tear-jerking in places). But – and here’s the important point of note – nothing is overdone. However exemplary the musicianship – these guys can’t just play, thy can fucking play – at no point during the set do things ever descend into self-indulgence. This is a major, and extremely rare, feat. But not a bar passes without an ear to structure, and a remembrance of the importance of the audience’s entertainment.

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Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band

At no point to these guys go too far out on a limb, lose the crowd with tangents or indulgence. They’re well-rehearsed and tight as hell, but equally, they’re not so slick as to feel like they’re going through the motions, and this is when wigging out is at its best. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band define intuition, and play with an understated showmanship that’s something special.

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25th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

National Instruction is Soma Crew’s debut album. This is something of a technicality, as they rebranded shortly after the release of Another Dead Insect in 2015. And while all of the defining features of their previous incarnation remain, Soma Crew, having solidified with their current lineup, can be seen to have made marked progress since then.

The sonic haze which hangs heavy over all of their previous recordings and which defines their live sound is present and correct. On National Instruction, there’s also a wilful raggedness to the performances, with guitars and vocals titling off-kilter every which way, often to quite disorientating effect. It’s also by far the best-realised representation of what Soma Crew are about, showcasing a dense, murky sound, and a climax-centric approach to forging layered songs which plug hard at a single cyclical riff, nailed tight to a simple, repetitive drum pattern. Yet it’s also the work of a band who are evolving, and National Instruction marks a clear progression from their Soma EP release last autumn.

Si Micklethwaite’s vocal style isn’t conventionally tuneful, but then a melodic attenuation is by no means a prerequisite for singing in a rock band. Given the atonal drone elements of Soma Crew’s compositions, which are more focused on creating an atmospheric dissonance than a technically precise, melody-driven musicality, it works, and, bathed in reverb and a kind of fuzzy-edged soft-focus, he sounds more comfortable than on any release he’s featured on thus far.

‘Got It Bad’ features what is probably one of their most overtly catchy choruses to date, with a more clearly defined structure than any previous song – but it’s perfectly offset by a guitar line that heaves off to the left during one of the chord changes which launches said chorus. The nine-minute ‘Pyramids’ finds the band locking into the kind of groove they work the best. A spindly echo-drenched lead guitar wanders, spider-like over a chugging rhythm and spare, motoric beat that typifies their slow-burning brand of Black Angels-influenced psychedelic rock. Elsewhere, ‘Dangerzone’ is tense and angular, with eddying swells of abstract sound and feedback building into a cyclone of immersive noise close to the end. This is something they’ve got a real knack for.

Having heard a fair few of the cuts on Natural Instruction played live, it’s gratifying to observe just how well they’ve replicated the spirit and energy of the live sound on songs like ‘Remote Control’, which carries a shuddering, ramshackle Fall-esque vibe within its jagged two-chord battery. The album’s second eight-minuter, ‘Westworld’ starts of slow, sedate, but simmering: it’s never a case of if it’s going to break, but when, and while maintaining a pedestrian pace, it’s almost halfway through before the drums thud in. And then the guitars get up the volume… and then… and then… By the end, it’s still plodding away but the layers have built up and it’s a big old racket.

There’s something of a trickle toward the tranquil on the last two tracks, with the closer, ‘Maps and Charts’ being a particularly sedate – not to mention accessible indie tune. But rather than being an anti-climax, it reveals newly emerging facets of the bands, perhaps hinting that future releases will see them further extend their range.

 

Soma Crew - National Instruction

We love  a bit of Soma Crew here at Aural Aggravation. ‘Got it Bad’, which prefaces the release of their new album, is perhaps the most definitie statement of their sonic capabilities yet. Check it hre:

 

Christopher Nosnibor

Any longstanding fan of The Fall accepts that inconsistency is not only par for the course, but part of the band’s enduring charm. The appeal of Mark E Smith, and, by default, The Fall, has always been a perverse one: revered by fans, loathed by pretty much everyone else, The Fall are the epitome of singularity. Recent years have seen them hit an uncharacteristic groove: the core of the current lineup has been in place for the best part of a decade now, and while it’s yielded some fine moments, there’s not been anything to touch the quality of Fall Heads Roll in 2005. I’d been reluctant to take a £25 punt on them delivering a decent show but when a friend who was unable to attend offered me his ticket, I joyfully accepted. Because it’s The Fall after all.

Tonight’s lineup makes perfect sense: local support and Aural Aggro faves Soma Crew are all about the motoric beats and plugging away at repetitive riffs, and having been gaining momentum of late, this is a big night for them. They certainly rise to the occasion: given the opportunity to play a full-length set to a substantial and receptive crowd, they meld together as a unit and crank out a set of psychedelic krautrock grandeur. One of the band’s more recent recruits, bassist Andy Wiles, brings movement and dynamism to the stage act, and they rock out hard amidst a tumult of FX-laden guitars and thumping mechanoid drums. No fills, nothing fancy, just a relentless groove.

Soma Crew

Soma Crew

The Fall – when they finally appear on stage some time around quarter past ten – hit a fairly solid, if uninspired – groove, too. Smith looks unsteady as he navigates the path onto the stage and tries out a couple of different mics. Against the LED backdrop, which I watched countless men well into their 40s and 50 be photographed before the show, they crank out a set which promisingly features a snarling rendition of ‘Wolf Kidult Man’ early on, but from thereon focuses exclusively on recent – and seemingly unreleased – material. In itself, it’s standard Fall.

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The Fall

But while fans reach out and grab his leather blazer-style jacket in adulation and the substantial mosh-pit goes nuts, it strikes me that all is not well with MES. To criticise him for being unintelligible, for pissing about with mics, the guitar settings, well, it’s redundant. It’s what he does. The first time I saw The Fall in ’94 at the cavernous York Barbican, touring Cerebral Caustic with the classic twin-drummer lineup: neither drum kit had any mics before the set was out and it sounded awful to begin with. But it’s small wonder bassist Dave Spurr stands so close to his amp, as it guarding it from marauders: Smith repeatedly silences Pete Greenway’s guitar, and drum mics – and well as cymbals – are tossed over and about the stage at will, and of course Smith spends much of the show dicking about with mics. One mic, two mics, radio mic, wired mic, backing vocal mic, spare mic.

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The Fall

If it were any other band, the venue would have emptied after three songs. People would be concerned for the singer. But it’s MES. He’s a legend! But as he wavers and slurs, hollering unintelligibly, by turns gurning toothlessly, lolling his thick tongue and sucking his gums, it all feels far from legendary. Smith’s performing, throwing poses, tinkering absently with atonal keys, doing all the things he does, but he doesn’t seem entirely present, and oftentimes, he looks quite lost. Like an ageing grandparent with slowly advancing Alzheimer’s, there’s something sad about his performance.

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The Fall

Standing on a stage awash with beer, Smith removes his leather coat. He then passes his mic into the audience (who sound better than he does); he then collects the coat he’s just removed and leaves the stage unsteadily. He returns, wearing the coat again, and, looking lost, begins hollering through his hands until someone in the front row picks up the mic that was returned to the stage in his absence. He looks grateful, and begins to holler and drawl into the mic instead.

With the recent material being very much one tempo and one dimension, the music, while well-played, fails to really grip the attention, a problem exacerbated by Smith’s non-stop sonic sabotage. Without any real standout tracks (‘Reformation’? ‘Sir William Wray’? Forget it), everything blurs into one stodgy sequence of stocky but forgettable riffs.

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The Fall’s Setlist

The first encore fails to offer any back-catalogue excitement, but they finally end the set with a second encore in the form of a solid but unremarkable (and rather hurried-sounding) stomp through ‘Mr Pharmacist’.

But it’s not the lack of back-catalogue material that’s the issue here. The Fall, who for all time have been lauded and adored as the most essential band by virtue of their unwillingness to conform or to bend in the face of trends, feel depressingly lacking in relevance (in contrast to peers Killing Joke, who played the same venue only a couple of weeks ago). The blame must sit squarely with Smith: lacking in focus and, seemingly, a real sense of where he’s at, the show felt awkward, confused, uncoordinated and generally underwhelming, and Soma Crew were definitely the better act on the night.

 

A year or so back, maybe, from the ashes of York-based psychedelic drone act Muttley Crew emerged York-based psychedelic drone act Soma Crew. Sort of. The same band in essence, it was undoubtedly time for a change of name, but there’s been something of a lineup reshuffle in the process, and, on the evidence of this, the first Soma Crew EP, a sonic evolution too. This means that while there are still heavy hints of Black Angels, and the songs are still built around two or three chord chugs swathed in layer upon layer upon layer which twist and turn over the course of six minutes or more, there’s new stuff going on which wasn’t present on the Muttley Crew album which came out in the Spring of 2015.

With a ragged guitar sound and Simon Micklethwaite’s vocals adopting a sneering, drawling tone, there’s a punk edge to the EP’s first cut, ‘Pulp’. After a left-turning detour around the mid-point, it bursts into a raging racket of dissonance. And all the while, the drums keep on hammering out a relentless mechanoid rhythm, holding it together while everything else collapses to beautiful chaos. The slow-burning ‘Path With Heart’ brings it down a notch or two and offers a more low-key and introspective aspect. It’s exactly the music you’d expect from a band named after a muscle relaxant which works by blocking pain sensations between the nerves and the brain.

‘Vital Signs’ is perhaps the first track here that’s truly representative of their live sound, a motoric droner, with murky, overdriven and reverby guitars yawning and veering across one another over a thumping locked-in groove with no let up for over six and a half minutes. The eight-minute ‘Prizefighter’ begins at a lugubrious crawl. It takes its time… and then the overloading lead guitar breaks in, noodling in a smog of a chugging rhythm to drive it to the end.

The rough edges and hazy production give the songs an immediacy, and beneath the layers of reverb and cavernous delay, there’s a pulsating energy that gives EP 01 (aka Soma) a rare vitality. Rebirthed, re-energised, this band may be habit-forming and should be used only by the person it was prescribed for.

 

Soma Crew

Christopher Nosnibor

Soma Crew were an obvious and natural choice of support for cult psych at The Lucid Dream on their first visit to York in their nine-year career. I first heard The Lucid Dream back in 2010, when they set their stall out with a brace of impressive EPs. Since then, they’ve released two long-players, with a third out next week – hence the tour.

Soma Crew, playing their second set of the day, are on top form. They’re loud, and they’re in synch. In other words, they’re exactly as they need to be for an optimum performance, and they piledrive their way through a set which opens with the spiky, angular ‘Remote Control’ and culminates in a squall of feedback.

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Soma Crew

Call me prejudiced, but I had low expectations for Eugene Gorgeous. It’s a shocking name, for a start, never mind the fact the band members and the gaggle of mates they’ve brought along, who have little to no grasp of gig etiquette or what moshing is about, are barely old enough to drink but fuck me, they’ve got songs and, mannequin-like bassist notwithstanding, energy. Stylistically varied, there’s an alternative / punk edge to the bulk of an impressive set. And, credit to them and their fans, they don’t do the all-too-common thing of sodding off afterwards, and instead stick around for the headliners. It’s a wise choice.

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Eugene Gorgeous

The Lucid Dream ae stunning, and seem determined to make their first trip to the city is memorable one. They may look mundane, but musically, they’re sublime, and they sizzle their way through a set of kaleidoscopic songs which are densely layered and deeply melodic. It’s hazy, blurred, hypnotic shoegaze par excellence. With an early start to the set, it looked like being an early finish, but The Lucid Dream have slowly but surely built a following based on slow-burning epics, and when they announce that they’ve got three songs left and they’re quite long, they’re not kidding: the segued three-track finale sees them lock into a sustained crescendo that explodes for the best part of half an hour. With the set crashing to a climactic close, it makes for an exhilarating and convincing performance. If only they’d had copies of the new album on sale…

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The Lucid Dream

Christopher Nosnibor

Are Three Trapped Tigers really a £10 band? Are they a band who can justify playing 300-400 capacity venues on a UK tour with some 15 dates? The people of York clearly don’t think so, and it’s telling that the majority of those who’ve turned out purchased discount tickets from the main support, Stereoscope. And yes, they’re the primary reason I’m here, too.

And so it is that being on just 15 minutes after doors, Soma Crew, playing as a three-piece, perform to an almost empty room. As a venue space, Fibbers is good. But when it’s quiet, it’s a vast, cavernous barn of a place. It’s also a huge space to fill, sonically. The twin guitars melt together in a mass of infinite reverb, and the metronomic drums – an integral part of their sound – are all in place, but something, more than the bassist, is missing. It’s not until toward the end of the set when Simon turns to his amp and whacks it up by 30% that it all comes together. Yes, their swirling, FX-laden psychedelic shoegaze dronescapes need to be heard at volume to achieve the optimal effect. The music needs to form a big, fuzzy sonic blanket, a sound large enough to get lost in. and when they achieve that, as they did at the end, they’re ace. Still, you can hardly blame the band for the sound out front when they’ve barely been given a soundcheck.

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Soma Crew

Also denied a detailed soundcheck, Stereoscope have less kit and so manage to achieve a fuller sound. Playing in near darkness, the trio pump out a set of slow-burning electronic behemoths. The live drumming would have benefited from being up in the mix for maximum punch on his outing, but even so, it brings an essential dynamic to the band’s industrial-edged mechanised sound. Front man Andy Johnson gives some amusing and self-deprecating patter between songs, but his lyrics are as dark as the grinding basslines Tim Wright churns out from his laptop, and as the stage itself. Announcing the last song as a cheery number about depression, he contorts his spindly frame into agonised postures and he pleads to stop the world.

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Stereoscope

So, why did the two support acts only have 20 minutes to soundcheck between them? Well, the headliners needing two hours to prepare for a set just over an hour in duration, in short. Ok, so it is their show. So where are their fans? To be clear, I didn’t turn out to gripe about the headliners. True, I did catch them live as a support act some years ago and was largely unimpressed. I wasn’t able to find my write-up of that show, but listening to their stuff on-line in the run-up to tonight gave me an indication of why I might not have been loving their work. But I was still willing to give them another go, and wondered if live they were more palatable.

And lo, the first track of the set made me think I’d perhaps been too harsh. With some strong, energetic and extremely dynamic drumming driving a relentless succession of twists and turns, but marked by some solid riffage, it suggested a powerful statement of intent and that maybe the lengthy soundcheck was justified – after all, the sound was incredible: the clarity! The crispness! But then the wanking began.

I’m by no means antagonistic toward musicianship. But as much as good musicianship requires technical ability, it equally demands the performer has a sense of listenability. Is it really music when the compositions are and endless succession of noodly snippets, disjointed and disconnected, the sole purpose of which seem to be to show the players’ technical prowess? I’ve long maintained that being a good musician does not necessarily correspond with being a good songwriter, and thee London trio reinforce this with every bar. Musicianship should at some point translate to the creation of music, beyond a showcase of technical ability.

And then there’s the presentation. With bearded hipsters Matt Calvert and Tom Robertson standing behind a bank of synths and looking rather self-satisfied (the former flailing at a guitar and paying less attention to his keyboard and laptop), I can’t help but be reminded of the line in hipster-bashing anthem ‘Being a Dickhead is Cool’ by Reuben Dangoor: ‘I play synth / we all play synths’. Granted, the drummer doesn’t play synth, and I can’t tell if he’s wearing loafers with no socks, but he’s a bearded hipster too.

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Three Trapped Tigers

Watching these guys rapidly disappear up their own anuses, my issues are twofold, and do extend beyond grousing about trendy tossbags making music for trendy tossbags: there really is nothing to get a handle on here. There’s no emotional heft, there’s no sense of trajectory or evolution to the songs. It isn’t that I demand emotional depth from every band: that would be unreasonable. Variety is the spice of life, and fun is important. Only this isn’t fun. They don’t conjure a mood, because no one section last long enough to conjure anything other than dizziness. Three Trapped Tigers communicate nothing, beyond a sense of their own self-importance, which hinges exclusively on the fact they can play their instruments extremely well. And I’m not going to deny that they can, because to do so would be patently absurd. But how do you connect with that, what is there to relate to?

The second is the sense of superiority: if you don’t get this and love it, you’re just not smart enough, maaan. But people respond to tunes, and they respond to art that speaks to them in some way. Three Trapped Tigers don’t speak on any level, and seem to think they’re above tunes. They’re wrong, and being a dickhead is not cool.