Posts Tagged ‘Strange’

Bearsuit Records – 31st August 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

I may have mentioned it before, but I always get a buzz when I see a jiffy marked with an Edinburgh post stamp land on my doormat mat and I realise it’s the latest offering from Bearsuit records. Because while whatever music it contains is assured to be leftfield and at least a six on the weirdness spectrum, I never really know what to expect. That lack of predictability is genuinely exciting. Labels – especially micro labels which cater to a super-niche audience tend to very much know their market, and while that’s clearly true of Bearsuit, they’re willing to test their base’s boundaries in ways many others don’t dare.

Andrei Rikichi’s Caged Birds Think Flying is a Sickness is most definitely an album that belongs on Bearsuit. It doesn’t know what it is, because it’s everything all at once: glitchy beats, bubbling electronica, frothy screeds of analogue extranea, mangled samples and twisted loops and all kinds of noise. As the majority of the pieces – all instrumental – are less than a couple of minutes long, none of them has time to settle or present any sense of a structure: these are fragmentary experimental pieces that conjure fleeting images and flashbacks, real or imagined.

‘They Don’t See the Maelstrom’ is a blast of orchestral bombast and fucked-up fractured noise that calls to mind JG Thirlwell’s more cinematic works, and the same is true of the bombastic ‘This is Where it Started’, a riot of rumbling thunder and eye-poppingly audacious orchestral strikes. Its counterpart and companion piece, ‘This is Where it Ends’ which closes the album is expensive and cinematic, and also strange in its operatic leanings – whether or not it’s a human voice is simply a manipulation is immaterial at a time when AI—generated art is quite simply all over, and you begin to wonder just how possible is it to distinguish reality from that which has been generated, created artificially.

Meanwhile ‘At Home I Hammer Ceramic Golfing Dogs’ is overtly strange, a kind of proto-industrial collage piece. ‘What Happened to Whitey Wallace’ is a brief blast of churning cement-mixer noise that churns at both the gut and the cerebellum. Listening, you feel dazed, and disorientated, unsettled in the stomach and bewildered in the brain. There is simply so much going on, keeping up to speed with it all is difficult. That’s no criticism: the audience should never dictate the art, and it’s not for the artist to dumb things down to the listeners’ pace, but for the listener to catch up, absorb, and assimilate.

‘Player Name: The Syracuse Apostle’ slings together some ominous atmospherics, a swampy dance beat and some off-kilter eastern vibes for maximum bewilderment, and you wonder what this record will throw at you next.

In many respects, it feels like a contemporary take on the audio cut-up experiments conducted by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin in the late 50s and early 60s, and the titles only seem to further correspond with this apparent assimilation of thee random. I suppose in an extension of that embracing of extranea, the album also continues the work of those early adopters of sampling and tape looping from that incredibly fertile and exciting period from the late 70s to the mid-80s as exemplified by the work of Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Test Dept, Foetus. These artists broke boundaries with the realisation that all sound is material, and that music is in the ear of the beholder. This strain of postmodernism / avant-gardism also follows the thread of Surrealism, where we’re tasked with facing the strange and reconciling the outer strange with the far stranger within. Caged Birds Think Flying is a Sickness is an album of ideas, a pulsating riot of different concepts and, by design in its inspiration of different groups and ideas, it becomes something for the listener to unravel, to interpret, to project meaning upon.

Caged Birds Think Flying is a Sickness leaves you feeling addled and in a spin. It’s uncanny because it’s familiar, but it isn’t, as the different elements and layers intersect. It’s the sonic representation of the way in which life and perception differ as they collide.

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17th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s something quite surreal about the imagery of ‘eye gymnastics’: it’s highly visual, yet at the same time, beyond physicality, and as such, it possesses a cartoon-like quality. This surrealism extends to the cover art, too: what exactly are we looking at here? It’s the debut album from a Lithuanian duo consisting of Viktorija Damerell and Gailė Griciūtė, who first came together in 2018.

And so it is that these clues are also representative of the music: the words are strange, fragmented, abstract – but also not, with improbable and incongruous images, and the album’s first piece, ‘Eye Gymnastics’ could be something of a signature tune for the pair. It’s sparse, the beats subtle, distant, subdued, yet insistent as they pulse through eddying swirls of semi-ambient synth drifts, through which a spaced-out, vocal dreamily intonates lyrical abstractions. If surrealism has a certain preoccupation with dreams and the subconscious, then on Nothing Supernatural, Eye Gymnastics plunder that inner realm for inspiration and render it in such a way as to remain to the vagueness, the indistinct focus of the fugue state, the disconnects and strangeness of dreams, and recreates the way those sensations and images echo, hauntingly, in the waking hours which follow those most vivid of nocturnal experiences.

The title feels vaguely ironic in the context of the disconcerting, dislocated vocal treatments of the ominous and eerie ‘Tree Tops’, where a glitchy, industrial beat clatters in thick and leaden. Then again, it’s dark pulsations feel as much the product of a troubled mind as of anything supernatural.

While there are some significant leanings towards ambience and hypnotic drifts imbued with an ‘otherly’ feel, elsewhere, snarling, growling electronics dominate a number of the tracks, with ‘Sadness and Joy’ being really quite heavy, with a gloopy bass that whips and whirs and fizzes. ‘You Destoy Me’ epitomises this industrial darkness: the murky drumming pumps away with the palpating tension of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘March of the Pigs’, while the multi-layered vocals whisper and echo dark thoughts, and the relentless pulse of ‘Let it In’ is harder and harsher still, the bass drum a booming throb, the snare – such as it is – a smash of distortion. You don’t want to let it in: no, you want to shut it out, make it go away. It’s not pleasant, it’s uncomfortable, claustrophobic, suffocating. Sparse and spooky, ‘Bitter Night’ bridges the territory between Young Marble Giants and Throbbing Gristle.

It’s unsettling, a creeping burrowing into the brain, as if overhearing someone’s internal monologue. This is not what you’d really call a ‘relatable’ experience, at least for the majority. It’s not full-on horror, but it is chilling, challenging, eerie, unsettling. But it’s also compelling, hypnotic, and a quite remarkable debut.

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Nothing Supernatural art

Bearsuit Records – 15th Octoberr 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I strongly believe that the most potent writing encapsulates the foibles and unpredictable nature of life itself, be it ‘credible’ dialogue that makes no sense, or seemingly inexplicable sub-plots and character deviances that seem incongruous. For all their irrationality and incongruity, these things seem more relatable, more real, than the artifice of linearity. Because life isn’t linear. Life is unpredictable. Life makes no sense. And life isn’t only what happens while you’re making other plans, but life exists in the detours and dead-ends, in the swerves off-piste and the unexpected diversions.

So, to begin with a detour, it seems like a reasonable place to begin by confessing that ‘invalid’ is a word I struggle with. It seems somehow wrong that ‘invalid’ as in one who is incapacitated by illness, injury, or disability, is a homograph of ‘invalid’ as in ‘not valid’, faulty, expired, of no worth. If coincidental, it feels like a particularly cruel linguistic twist. If not coincidental, if feels all the crueller.

This is relevant, because with next to no biographical information available, I find myself trying to picture Bunny & the Invalid Singers while listening to their latest offering, the idiosyncratic Flight of the Certainty Kids. It’s been a full sixteen years now since I first encountered the quirky Edinburgh act – ensemble? Collaborative project? – reviewing second album The Invalid Singers back in the summer of 2015. A lot has changes since then, but Bearsuit Records pursuit of oddness has remained undiminished, and so has Bunny’s.

Prefaced by the single release of ‘The Certainty Kids’ b/w ‘None of This Happened’, Flight of the Certainty Kids delivers on the promise of something that’s a bit retro, a bit kitsch, a bit Stereolab. It’s a bit everything, to be fair: a bit lounge, a bit calypso, a bit whimsical, a bit glitchcore bit microtonal, a bit of fun – and totally unpredictable, an eye-popping swirl of hybridity.

There’s nothing noisy or harsh about this, there’s nothing difficult about the sounds or the structures, and Flight of the Certainty Kids is very kind to the ears. And yet it’s this proximity to something accessible that renders the album all the more uncomfortable. I suppose you may call it uncanny or unheimlich.

Just as things are settling into a mellow drift on the first track, ‘A Sniper’s Heart’, a deep bass throb and thumping beat crash in and take things down a completely different, and altogether darker, alley. There’s a dash of East Asian influence on the aforementioned ‘None of This Happened’, while ‘Buckled & Bleeding’ melts ambience and prog into some kind of dystopian elevator music. Shuddering beats stutter and tremor like palpitations on ‘The Certainty Kids’, rupturing the surface of summery synths and in turn setting an uneven surface for the soft acoustic guitar that subsequently emerges.

For every element of ease, of tranquillity, there is one of jarring otherness, from the stealthy orchestral strikes of ‘There’s More Conjuring to be Done’ – which suddenly yield, albeit briefly, to some monumental riffing, before spiralling into some ultra-noodly synths, and then again transition into some delicate pastoral folk. How do you reconcile these elements?

It certainly shouldn’t work, and I’m scratching my head as to why it does while the trilling woodwind of ‘This is Happening’ drifts over me, then suddenly slaps me to alertness as it switches to an indie disco stomper. And here we are: this is an album that doesn’t even agree with itself? How are we supposed to know what’s happening, if it is or isn’t? Maybe we’re not supposed to, or otherwise it’s best if we don’t.

In a mad, mad world, the crazy world of Bunny & the Invalid actually seems pretty rational – lose yourself in the mania, and things seem a whole lot better. Don’t question it, don’t overthink it, just delve in.

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Bearsuit Records – 20th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Try as I might – and I do, I really do – I find it impossible to avoid words like ‘weird’ ‘whacky’, and ‘oddball’ in reviews of anything released on the Edinburgh micro-label Bearsuit Records. This is no reflection of a lack of vocabulary on my part: it’s simply what they do. Every boutique label needs some kind of signature or house style, and a micro-label really needs a niche. Bearsuit specialise in stuff that’s so far out it’s beyond.

Fear of the Horizon is actually pretty conventional by Bearsuit standards – but these things are all relative. ‘Eamon the Destroyer’, the album’s first cut, arrives in a flourish of expansive prog-rock guitar and twittering electronics, all on top of a thumping beat that’s pure dark hip-hop. And then the guitars really takeover and we’re in territory that’s suspiciously close to be being categorizable as ‘rock’. But then ‘The Positive Approach of Talkative Ron’ swings into view in waltz-time and goes all weirdy… and then there’s whistling and another epic guitar solo.

Pancultural influence are infused within the glitching electronic fairground fabric of ‘Woman With the Plastic Hand’, with its stuttering beats and woozy organ sound, while ‘Vandal Schooling’ brings with it a crunch of industrial noise and stabs of bold orchestral brass, taking a sharp turn from abrasive to mellow around the mid-point and locking into a metronomic hard, industrial-disco flavoured groove near the end. For the most part, though, the sounds are soft-edged, mellow, supple, analogue.

‘The Horizon Project’ brings together mellow and woozy, its mellow motifs and nod-along beats cracked with a stylophone break and underlying hiss of distortion. It runs contra to the chilled beats and quite accessible lead melody.

‘Weird’ ‘whacky’, and ‘oddball’… they’re all entirely appropriate adjectives, but fail to account for the depth and range of Fear Of The Horizon. As hard as it may be to take seriously an act going by the name of Bunny & the Invalid Singers, there’s real merit to this work that goes far beyond the superficial quirkiness. ‘Weird’ ‘whacky’, and ‘oddball’ don’t convey the wistfulness, the melancholy, the nostalgia, range of emotions, moods and mindsets.

This is where I should sign off with a suitably witty flourish, or some pun-based punchline, but such flippancy would be to only further undermine the true merits of an album which clearly shows no fear. Fear Of The Horizon is a fun, entertaining, and enjoyable work but don’t let the oddness and goofiness lead you to believe it isn’t serious, or art. Because it’s most definitely both.

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Bunny & the Invalid Singers – Fear Of The Horizon

Monotype Rec – MONOLP018 – 14th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

However broad one’s mind and tastes, there will inevitably be some artists who will baffle, bewilder and leave one somewhat dazed. Carp’s Head, a collaboration between Ghédalia Tazartès, Pawel Romanczuk, and Andrzej Zaleski is one of those releases. So much so, that my first reaction was one of borderline horror, a recoiling, an internal cry of ‘what the hell is this?’

‘Danse Inverse’ begins with a bleep. Minimal electro? Nope. A grizzled yet semi-operatic yellering starts up, almost simultaneous with a strolling bass, wonkily-played and a woozy accordion. Tazartès whoops and grunts, growls and emotes wildly like a drunken French opera singer impersonating Tom Waits, while the cacophonous musical backing veers and weaves all over. The weirdness only continues and as the album progresses, taking the listener on a bizarre journey around the globe and as observed through the eyes of three madmen. ‘You’ll Be Wise’ comes on like Scott Walker on acid, while the quietly crooning ‘Zither Song’ is sparse and eerily haunting in a mystical, dream-like way. ‘Orient Calling’ marks a continental shift in terms of the musical inspirations and influences, a droning sitar accompanies Tazartès’ yodelling ululations and low, chesty quaverings.

The album’s centrepiece is the nine-minute epic ‘Wolves and Birds’, a bleak and disorientating expanse of dark ambience. The wordless vocalisations convey a sense of lack, of absence, as they float, wailing and disembodied through the sonic wastelands. There’s plenty of weirdness on the other side of the bridge, too, with tweeting, trilling pipe notes and scratchy layers of sound by turns tickling and teasing the listener’s senses.

Jazz percussion breaks out unexpectedly at various points, bringing an odd and somewhat incongruous swing to proceedings. With its ‘Trout Mask’ connotations and overt otherness, Carp’s Head is many things: it is, in fact, remarkably focused and feels extremely cohesive in its order, less experimental and more built on musical intuition between the players. I’m not sure I recommend it, or if so, to whom, but there’s no question that it’s interesting or different.

 

Carps Head