Posts Tagged ‘Spoken Word’

CD/DL Fourth Dimension Records/Foolproof Projects FDCD107/PRJ049

7th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The blurbage: Void Axis is Brighton duo Map 71’s fourth album. The previous one, Gloriosa, released on Fourth Dimension as both a limited edition cassette and, later, a CD featuring bonus material, saw them garnering more praise and attention than before. During the interim they have continued to play live regularly and have a few more shows planned around the UK in September and October, including an appearance at the Fourth Dimension Records’ label night at Cafe OTO on 19/10/2018, where they share the bill with Alternative TV, Richard Youngs and EXTNDDNTWRK (Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods’ solo endeavour). A 2×7” compilation will appear to coincide with this likewise featuring a track by them. Lisa Jayne (words and voice) and Andy Pyne (drums and electronics) are based in Brighton and became Map 71 in 2013.

The critique: This is glorious. It’s not accessible, easy, light. In fact, it’s anything but either. Atonal vocals and clattering motoric percussion dominate. We’ve moved a long way from The Fall and Kraftwerk, but at the same time, MAP 71 call to mind the sparse simplicity of Young Marble Giants, but synthier and dronier.

Blank, monotone narratives about nothing in particular drift out over repetitive synth oscillations and cyclical synthesised rhythms. For ever.

‘Nuclear Landscapes’ presents a thunderous, murky, barrelling noise by way of a backdrop. The rhythms are messed-up, sound bouncing against sound to build a dark mess of noise like tennis balls in a tumble dryer. Elsewhere, ‘The Future Edge’ goes murky and dips into Suicide territory with its dark, dank, throb which provides the sonic backdrop to Lisa’s expressionless spoken-word narrative.

‘Armour and Ecdysis’ goes spacious and eerie, with fear chords and heavy echo and infinite delay creating an unsettling atmosphere, while ’21:12’ goes dark and robotic in in its plundering of early 80s post-punk electronic works for inspiration. And it works Void Axis is tense and dark, and clinical and difficult in a stark analogue way.

Void Axis isn’t an album to engage with on an emotional level: there’s no engagement or resonance here.

Sonically, I’m reminded in some ways of Dr Mix and the Remix’s Wall Of Sound – the album released by Eric Debris post-Metal Urbain through Rough Trade in 1979 and which provide a blueprint for both The Jesus and Mary Chain and Big Black. Being one of my all-time favourite albums, this is a good thing: Void Axis is spectacularly primitive and claustrophobic and insular. And in its revisiting the technologies and production values of almost 40 years ago, Void Axis is also imbued with a certain sense of authenticity, despite its being spectacularly out of step with, well, pretty much any zeitgeist. Let’s face it, no-one else sounded like Dr Mix back then, and nor has anyone before or since, and the same is true of the drum-machine thump-led treble overload of Big Black.

But ultimately, what sells Void Axis is that is doesn’t sound like any other album. MAP 71 have found their niche.

AA

MAP 71 – Void Axis

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It’s not often that an evening of live music begins with spoken word poetry. It’s a shame, as the two media can often prove complimentary. John Cooper Clark supporting The Fall and KJ Farrington supporting Sleaford Mods stand out in my mind for all the right reasons.

Self-professed punk poet and nerd, Henry Raby, gets things going with a couple of pieces. A seasoned performer who seamlessly rides out any fluffed lines (and can turn forgetting a line into a plug for his book), he’s relaxed and emanates an energy that’s infectious, and which is paired with a disarming affability.

Katie Watson’s poetry is personal, confessional, brimming with anxiety and keen observations, and rendered with fine details and a certain self-effacing humour. Her delivery is superb: having previously caught her not s long ago at a spoken-word night in a small room, she seems to revel in the bigger space, the challenge of a larger audience, and being faced with a microphone.

What Henry has a knack of bringing to events he’s involved in is a spirit of inclusivity, of equality, of unity. We’re all misfits together here. So, the board gaming nerds, the varied shades of gender and a range of musical and literary tastes are all catered for here.

Crumbs describe themselves as ‘a post-punk pop party pack’ who like ‘pets and puns’ (and alliteration, on this evidence). The four-piece blend jangly 90s indie with a grunge sensibility. Pavement would be an obvious, but fitting touchstone, and at one point I find myself thinking about a collision between The Cure and Carter USM, while elsewhere, there’s a new song that boasts a chunky, funky bass groove and choppy, fractured guitar worthy of Gang of Four. It’s an eclectic and compelling mix. The guitarist has some of the dirtiest overdrive I’ve heard in a while, creating a strong contrast to the crisp, chiming tone that features in most of the songs’ verses. It’s a simple dynamic, but highly effective. Playing on the floor in front of the stage, the sound in the front rows is mostly backline, and this only heightens the experience of the band being in such close proximity to the audience.

Crumbs

Crumbs

Having only caught the second half of Dream Nails’ set at Live at Leeds, and found it to have been good fun, I was keen to see how they’d go over the duration of a full headline set.

They’re high-octane and high-energy from the get-go, and if there was any question over whether or not they could sustain it for a full set, they answer it with a resounding yes. There really is no let-up in their four-chord poppy punk thrashabouts. The lyrics veer between vulnerability and vehemence, and while they may lack overt depth or subtlety, the directness is part of the appeal. And behind the effervescent performance style, and the bouncy, accessible tunes, there are some serious issues, largely centring around the challenges of being a woman in the world today.

And these are the reasons why I’m here. I go to gigs to watch and listen to bands. As a music critic, I write about them, and because we live in a very visually-orientated age, pictures accompanying a review are often useful. But Dream Nails don’t like having their pictures being taken by men, and since I didn’t have any female company in tow to shoot a pic on my behalf, there’s no image here.

Men snapping away make them feel uncomfortable. Especially men in my demographic with certain types of camera (I’m 42, although the post on their Facebook page which appeared within a short time of the show’s ending would suggest they think I’m older, and I prefer t travel light). Fair enough. Although generally, if you’re going to implement a policy, such as no photography without consent, it’s better to state it up-front. But when that policy is called during the show, and applies only to a few – well, men, actually – the issue becomes rather thorny under scrutiny.

Nobody likes to be singled out, especially not based on an assumption, and even less when the assumption is incorrect – because that’s prejudice. To be singled out as one of two men with cameras, with the justification that they hadn’t given consent, and fuck the male gaze, was not comfortable. I can live with uncomfortable: I’m aware that my own performances have a tendency to evoke a very tangible sense of discomfort and awkwardness. But no-one is ever singled out or humiliated, and it’s not about ‘unlearning oppressive behaviours’.

But more than anything, I found not only the approach troubling, but what it represents. Now, the battleground of gender is one of which I have only a cursory knowledge, but I am acutely aware of the divisions and infighting between the various identifiers. But ultimately, being a straight white male, I’m in the bracket which is the worst of the worst on the enemy scale. As we mark the centenary of The Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave British women over 30 the right to vote, at the same time as picking through the fallout of the events that led to the #metoo campaign, it’s clear we’ve still got a long way to go and that male oppression is rife.

However, the ‘calling out’ of ‘creepy’ guys taking photos of a band performing assumes that all men are creepy and only go and see bands with women in because they want to go and ogle women. Which also seems to undermine the idea that as women making music, people –regardless of sex / gender (I’m aware the correspondence between the two varies considerably) – may simply appreciate their art, and, like so many others, shoot snaps for posterity or social media because it’s the age we live in. To judge an individual based on the behaviour of a number (not even necessarily a majority) is prejudice in action.

This – literal – finger-pointing may have been well-received by a sector of the audience, but even if it hadn’t been directed at me, it would still have sat uncomfortably on a personal level: publicly humiliating someone based on an assumption is very much a knee-jerk response, the likes of which result in heated arguments. My knee-jerk reaction was to omit Dream Nails from the review altogether, but precisely what would that achieve? Certainly nothing productive. First, what’s actually needed is rational debate and mutual understanding of commonality. Second, they played a decent set, and went down well with a crowd of a respectable size, which is no small feat – especially in York on a Thursday night.

Moreover, feminism, at its heart, is about attaining equality for women. To substitute misogyny with misandry is not a push for equality, but to simply invert and replicate the behaviours of the guilty, and thus perpetuate division. Dream Nails generously commented on their Facebook thread, ‘Also if u r a male fan who is feeling affronted by this, pls remember you are still always welcome at our shows without your cameras.’ So, credit where it’s due, they’re still espousing equality. But is conditional equality really equality? Not really. Obviously, I’m grateful for the concession to be allowed to attend their shows in the same way anyone else is.

I shouldn’t feel the need to state that I’m not anti-feminism; quite the opposite. Moreover, I’m fundamentally opposed to any -ism that promotes inequality, discrimination, prejudice. And so, while Janey Starling may have provoked something personal in her actions, my beef isn’t so much directed at her or the band, but at the way complex and difficult issues are addressed, without any attention to the details or any sense of nuance, with too many people shouting about the lack of consideration they’re shown by others without showing that same consideration in return.

They ended their set with a blistering rendition of ‘Deep Heat’.

Constellation Records – 15th June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Bush Lady, originally released in 1985, is described as ‘a unique and magical record by any definition’, and as ‘an invaluable example of contemporary First Nations music that blends traditional folkways with modern composition’. Obomsawin is a member of the Abenaki Nation and one of Canada’s foremost activist documentary filmmakers: with over 50 films to her credit, she’s not primarily known for her musical output, with Bush Lady being released as a private pressing, half of which languished in her home for years and years.

It’s not easy to place. It’s not folk; it’s not spoken word. But then, these aren’t conventional songs either, although there are some charmingly pleasant flickers of woodwind and strings. But it’s primarily about Obomsawin’s vocals. Her voice conveys so much; against monotonous, thudding rhythms and trilling notes, eerie discord and wandering abstraction, she swings between blank monotone and quirky vocal contortions that jar the spine.

The real thing about Bush Lady is just how fresh and contemporary it feels, and sounds, never mind the fact it’s 33 years old. It’s not that nothing’s changed in this time, but an indicator or the creative prowess and sheer otherness of Alanis Obomsawin’s art.

AA

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s probably not much to say or write about Lydia Lunch that hasn’t been said or written before. A cult legend in her own lifetime – a rare thing indeed – she remains one of the most formidable performers around. Tonight – performing the only northern show of three UK dates with Weasel Walter with her ‘Brutal Measures’ spoken word show (why said show happened to be in York… Those present weren’t merely grateful, but overjoyed, but those present were depressingly few in number), she’s uncompromising from start to finish.

Before Lydia and sidekick Weasel Walter who drums and generates all mind of noise to accompany her take stage, Leeds punk foursome Flies On You deliver a visceral, in-your-face set of primal punk songs. It’s a challenging and emotional show, a mere fortnight after guitarist and lad songwriter Andy Watkins’ sudden and unexpected death. Front man Doug Aikman clearly struggles at times, but still pulls of a storming performance. And while the basis of what Flies on You do is meat-and-potatoes old-school punk, there’s a distinctly post-punk vibe that borders on goth in their rattling basslines and screeding reverby guitar peels. Moreover, it’s delivered with passion and a certain degree of wit – and the refrain ‘Katie Hopkins in human form’ is a great line whichever way you look at it.

She may have mellowed with age, but Lydia Lunch is still infinitely more fierce in every way than pretty much anyone. It’s all relative. And she may not be large in stature, but her presence fills the room. Her voice is a cracked rasp for the most part, but she uses it to compelling effect. It’s not about being seasoned, either: this is her nature, who she is. Raw, real. Intense. Intense. Intense.

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‘Brutal Measures’ is an extended spoken-word piece set in a number of movements, split by segments of hefty percussion and augmented by extraneous noise passages. Or, as Lunch’s bandcamp page describes it, ‘a longform composition featuring tense spoken word versus manic free drumming outbursts, glued together by cryptic electronics’. Recorded live, there’s an improvisational aspect to the musical accompaniment to Lunch’s words, which she delivers alternating between two mics, one clean, one heavily reverbed. The twenty-minute recorded take stretches to a full fifty-minute set live. And yet there is no filler: the drum solos breaks are tight, taut, concise and blistering. The instrumental electronic passages and the extraneous noise which both accompany and intersperse the chapters are intriguing, and the beer barrels Lydia uses as a table for her notes double as percussion instruments in the sometimes cacophonous batteries of sound between spoken word passages.

She does get slightly pissed off when the stand for the clean mic slides down and is uncooperative, and the venue techs are slow to react – but then, who wouldn’t be? But she doesn’t make a deal of it, and continues her narrative stream regardless. She’s a performer, not a diva.

As a spoken word performer myself, I am in awe. For me, it’s a challenge, and one I sometimes struggle with. Even the good nights are challenges. Lydia is in a league of her own. She holds the room, even with a whisper. She silences the chatting tossers at the bar. Not because she’s dictatorial: she does it for everyone who’s paid to hear her and Weasel and the chat at the back.

Words fly every which way as Lydia sparks in all directions: she’s a relentless conjurer of images and ideas, with a perspective on everything. Even delivered slow, mean and low, it’s often hard to keep up with her endlessly swerving trajectory, but it all comes together to present a version of her world-view. And yes, it is pretty brutal, all told.

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It’s an early finish – but then, it’s a Monday night – but what the set lacks in duration, it more than compensates in intensity – did I mention intensity? If some spoken word performances leave the audience departing wilting because they’re a trudge, tonight is very different: Lydia Lunch and Weasel Walter create something utterly compelling, that leave the audience wilting by virtue of its immense force. Spoken word at its best.

Moabit Music – 27th January 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Despite having three previous albums to her credit, including one with Gudrun Gut, this is my first encounter with Canadian spoken word artist Myra Davies. I sometimes wonder, as an occasional spoken – or shouted – word performer myself why there aren’t more talkers putting out spoken word recordings. As a medium, spoken word is enjoying a surge in popularity, with both open mic and curated spoken word nights springing up all over, in addition to those longstanding ones which have survived, sometimes by virtue of being the only platform around for a form of entertainment which is, one could argue, the oldest of all.

There are a fair few big name authors who have extensive catalogues – Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs, Henry Rollins are among the first names which spring to mind – but apart from the odd clip on YouTube, it seems that very few writers who read aloud commit their voices to the recorded medium. Granted, some writers simply aren’t cut out to perform, and sadly, their readings to their material a disservice. But then, when done well, performance can bring a piece of writing to life and convey elements of the work not always immediately apparent to a reader. It’s all about the emphasis, the intonation. And there’s nothing to say spoken word recordings have to replicate the experience of those readings which take place in pubs and libraries: there is infinite scope to render the words very differently and to add myriad depths and dimensions – as Joe Hakim’s collaboration with Ashley Reaks and the recent album by The Eagertongue evidence – when done well, spoken word can be exciting and can reconfigure whatever perceptions one may have of the genre – which, of course, isn’t really a genre. Because spoken word can spill into so many other fields, and far beyond rap at that. Kate Tempest? C’mon, please! Her accessible, right-on doggerel may be well-meaning, but it’s little more than sixth-form poetry delivered in a hip-hop style without the beats.

On Sirens, Myra Davies brings the beats, thanks to her two musical collaborators, Beate Bartel and Gudrun Gut, who provide the backing to alternate tracks Despite this, Sirens demonstrates a remarkable cohesion, and doesn’t flip-flop between styles. Davies is a fantastic orator: she’s not only blessed with a cool, laconic tone, which benefits from her dry Canadian accent, but she’s also got a real sense of what works for narrating her own words. Sounds simple, but many writers lack this skill.

‘Armand Monroe’ sets the tone: sparse, angular, electropop with a funk groove, it’s cold yet fiery, as Davies spins out a succession of evocative imags. Jittery, tense robotix with propulsive, grinding synths abound, and wibbly loops and sumptuously spacey motoric beats dominate the album. ‘Golddress’ is a taut effort: listening through ‘phones, I find I have a racing pulse and my sense of anxiety increases as the track builds: it’s steely, detached tone is curiously out of kilter with real time and current space, it’s hard to let it simply pass.

Instead of sounding like a retro hash of futuristic music from the 80s – to which it does bear clear parallels – Sirens captures a sense of alienation, of otherness. It’s not simply in the weird doubling and echo-based effects on the vocals, or the treatments of the drums, or the twitchy, slowly warping effects of the synth backings – all of which contribute to Sirens being far more than a ‘spoken word’ album – but a combination of all of these factors, with the addition of something intangible. Perhaps it’s simply the restrained force and clinical focus of Davies’ delivery of words which are both gritty and discomforting. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that Sirens is a superlative work of art. A hybrid of spoken word and electro-pop / coldwave / etc., it represents a perfect creative synthesis.

 

 

Myra Davies Music by Beate Bartel & Gudrun Gut – Sirens

6th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Some reviews are seemingly fated. This is one such review: I was slow to get started, and then, having spent several evenings working on a detailed critical analysis, exploring the album’s wild eclectism on a more or less track-by-track basis in a discourse of some eight hundred words, my laptop crashed and most of the work was lost, with the only available version being a collection of notes which were days old. How it happened, when my word processor is set to autosave every five minutes, I have no idea. Thanks Microsoft.

Still, this is an Ashley Reaks album, and a man who can produce three albums in a year – and continue to produce art, and to gig relentlessly, under difficult personal circumstances – deserves the same kind of unbowing attitude from a reviewer.

Because it’s an Ashley Reaks album, anything can happen. And it will. And it does. Following on from Reaks’ ‘punk album’ This is Planet Grot (and a remarkable credible and impressive punk album at that), Growth Spurts, on the one hand, could be considered a return to more familiar territories. But then, on the other, it could justifiably be tagged his ‘jazz album’. The familiar elements of reggae and post-punk inspired dub are present and correct, but this collaboration-based collection of tunes also brings in some wild jazz stylings. The collaborative element is also key here, not only to appreciating Growth Spurts, but to understanding Reaks as an artist, at least as much as it’s possible to grasp such an idiosyncratic and singular individual.

Like his collage artwork, his music is a mish-mash of elements drawn from here, there and everywhere, often bolted together at weird angles and demonstrating incompatible proportions and lines of perspective. He has very much his own slant on things, and his approach is also very much his own: Reaks is one of the few artists who consistently produces work which has the capacity to surprise, to confound, and, occasionally, confuse – which is a healthy response to something which is so staunchly unconventional. You get the impression that Reaks’ raison d’être is to produce art which surprises and confounds himself, as much as any notional audience. His mindset appears to be that if it’s not fresh, unexpected, and if it’s not sincere, then it’s worthless. Collaboration, when done right, yields an output which is greater than the sum of its parts, and draws out facets of each contributor which may not otherwise be known.

As such, Growth Spurts is a world away from his previous collaborative effort, Cultural Thrift (2015) with poet Joe Hakim, on which Reaks stepped toward the rear portion of the stage to provide a background accompaniment (which in itself was a departure given Reaks’ propensity for dizzying soundclashes). Five of the ten pieces – it would be wrong to refer to this as a collection of songs, given that they feature spoken word and poetry – feature writers and poets from a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. They’re disparate characters, as varied as Reaks’ own sources of input, hand-picked to contribute to the album.

The result is dizzying, a rollercoaster journey through a vast swathe of cultural terrain. Each of the collaborative pieces is distinct and different, and finds Reaks attentive to the style of the different speakers. And as the strange, strangles vocal cacophony which introduces the album’s first track, the oddly ominous prog-dub drum‘n’bass neoclassical jazz mixup that is ‘Divorced from the Body’ shows, he’s digging deep to locate new and unexpected hybrids. And yet, amidst the chaos, he still whips up some killer hooks – something so many experimental / genre-smashing artists completely overlook in their quest to innovate, to dazzle with their imagination and technical prowess.

‘The Gentle Art of Ignoring’ with Sylvie Hill is the most outright jazz track on the album, and her sassy vocal delivery and confident Canadian accent brings another sharp dimension to an album which displays almost infinite dimensions, but there’s just so much to take in. But if you need a pointer for where to start, start with the basslines. The crashing jazz-influenced drum ‘n’ bass drumming, the wild brass, the myriad perspectives of the different vocalists all slot into place over those low-down basslines that stroll and groove and leap and boogie. Get on down.

 

Ashley Reaks - Growth Spurts

Unsounds – 54U

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of many releases I’ve been sitting on – figuratively speaking – for a long time without getting round to playing. I tend to listen to CDs while at work in my day-job, and digital promos at home (because I can’t stream or download on work systems), and while I can stuff a bunch of regular CDs into a jiffy and carry them to and from the office, the packaging of this release made it simply impractical. That, and the fact I had to battle long and hard with myself to resist the urge to burn the thing.

It’s not that I have any kind of objection to any of the artists in this three-way collaboration, or take issue with its premise, namely a series of portraits of radical heretical figures from across history, spanning Caravaggio and the Marquis de Sade, to William Burroughs and Johnny Rotten. In fact, it’s a concept I can get on board with, and for months I’ve looked at the magnificent packaging, a box-type affair which folds out to reveal a CD, a DVD and a book containing all of the words to the tracks – some in French, some in English, some in a combination of the two – forming a rich linguistic tapestry. Published in an edition of just 1,000 copies, including 26 lettered copies, it’s a work of art, not a disposable piece of trash. But the box is a giant flip-front matchbook. The front cover is made of fine sandpaper, and glued inside the flap, on its own, stark and inviting is a match, a full fore inches long. What would be more in keeping with the spirit of the project than burning it without hearing so much as a note, and reviewing the sound of the fire taking hold and the rustle of art burning, the colour of the dancing flames and the texture of the ash? It would hardly be Watch the KLF Burn a Million Quid, but nevertheless… I’m a pussy. I was also too curious to explore the contents of the package. And having heard the album and watched the film, there was no way I could even pretend to burn it. I’m weak. I’m no heretic.

Chaton, Moor and Moore are no heretics, either: they’re artists who appreciate heretics. It’s not always obvious to whom each piece relates, and perhaps a priori knowledge of the individual heretical figures is beneficial, as is an ability to translate French. ‘The Things that belong to William’ does not mention Burroughs by name. However, the bilingual text, in referencing ‘a Paregoric Kid’, ‘Pontopon Rose’, ‘Joselito’, ‘Bradley the Buyer’ and a host of characters and scenes from Naked Lunch and beyond, the connection is clear – to those versed in the author’s work. ‘Poetry Must Me Made By All’ is, then, presumably, a dedication to Comte de Lautreamont, pro-plagiaristic precursor of the Surrealists, Situationists and Neoists, as well as the cut-up technique of Burroughs and Gysin.

Textually – these are texts and not lyrics, delivered in a spoken word / narrative form – it’s an erudite work, researched, intertextual, referential. Sonically, it’s no more immediate. Oblique, obtuse, challenging: these are the first descriptors which volunteer their services in untangling Heretics.

‘Casino Rabelaisien’ is a tense effort, with angular guitar clanging perpendicular to a gritty, awkward bass grind. Chatton remains nonchalant and monotone amidst the chaotic no-wave cacophony. ‘Dull Jack’ begins with Thurston’s voice alone, before churning guitars slither in. There are no regular rhythmic signatures here, no ‘tunes’, no hooks or melodies: instead, this is a set which uses instruments in a more abstract way, conjuring uneasy atmosphere and often simply attacking the senses.

With the guitars of Moor and Moore duelling, playing across one another as much as with one another, the effect is jarring, uncomfortable. Both players employ atonality and discord within their performances, and when discordant passages collide, it’s a brain-bending experience.

Heretics is a work which delivers on its promise and conveys the spirit of the outré, unconventional artists who inspired it. It is, in addition, a true work of art. Don’t burn it.

Heretics