Posts Tagged ‘Sub Rosa’

Sub Rosa – 6th March 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Hey, I’m a sucker for any band who mixes rock, new wave, psyche, kraut, experimental and repetitive music. Consequently, I was sold on the pitch or Babils’ fourth album even before I’d slipped the disc into the player. Reduced to a five-piece following the passing of co-founder Michel Duyuck in November 2014, Ji Ameeto represents the first release of the Brussels-based collective without Duyuck.

The album contains just two tracks, each around the sixteen-and-a-half minute mark. The title track is one of those swirling psych-hued expanses which find layer upon layer of sound emerge, converge and diverge at an infinite array of angles. And all the while, the rhythm section keep on plugging away, thumping out a hypnotic, motoric beat and locked-in bass groove. If my opening sentence reads sarcastically or as being somehow facetious, that’s only partly the case. There is something about long songs that go on and on and on that I find hard to resist. Perhaps it’s an extension of Henri Bergson’s theories on comedy, whereby he suggested that repetition was a key facet of successful comedy, to music that render such heavily repetitious grooves so compelling. Or perhaps it’s the fact there are effectively two songs going on here: the unstinting, relentless rhythm section which hammers on down an unswerving path, countered by everything else, not so much a hotchpotch of incidentals but a succession of fragments and slivers of songs overlaid in top of said rhythm section.

‘C’est la raison pour laquelle nous ne cesserons jamais de recommencer’ throws together a spaced out baggy bassline and shoegaze guitars – and production values – with dark, gothic overtones. Honking horns bleat wildly at incidental junctures, while spiralling guitar breaks rupture from the vast foggy vistas conjured from the swirling sonic depths. At times a cross between The Cure’s Carnage Visors and early Ride, but at the same time altogether more immersive and ‘druggy’ sounding, it’s a disorientating composition which not only celebrates but positively hinges on the contrast between the dissonance and weirdness of the lead lines, and the consistent solidity of the bass and drums as they drive onwards towards the horizon, holding down the same grove for an eternity and more.

 

Babils

Advertisements

Sub Rosa

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not entirely clear, but it appears that Book of Air is a series of album releases with different collectives interpreting it differently, with VVOLK being the second collective after Fieldtone who released a Book of Air album in 2015. But perhaps given the nature of the project, identity is something which is of little to no consequence, names mere markers for marketing purposes. This is, after all, very much music where its origins and its makers are not only interchangeable and very much in the background but largely invisible – as is the music itself. This is a project about the listener, about perception, and about intangibles.

While I must confess that I’m unfamiliar with the concept of ‘bundled compositions’, I can readily grasp the concept of an album comprising four pieces performed by some eighteen improvisational players with musical roots in jazz and classical. Their collective objective is to investigate and interrogate improvisation in close relation to present time, asking the questions ‘what are the possibilities in playing music, when changes in the music pass unnoticed?’ and ‘how does our hearing and memory react to these slow changes?’ The album’s concept, then, is based around making music which is perceived less in the present time, ‘but rather occurs in our memory of the past’. As such, the album’s form pieces (spanning four sides of vinyl, and mastered as just two tracks of approximately twenty-five minutes apiece in duration on the CD) are built around slow notes and the compositions evolve at an evolutionary pace and are based around the gradual transition of the seasons, with the first track ‘Lente > Zomer’ giving way to ‘Herfst > Winter’.

Some time around the fifteen-minute mark during ‘Lente > Zomer’ I realise there are slow cymbal splashes washing over the gradual turning drone that forms the track’s foundation. Gradually, so gradually, the sound swells and grows in volume and resonance. Guitar notes flicker in the slow-turning sonic mass and imperceptibly, darkness turns to hint towards light. The two tracks segue together, with ‘Herfst > Winter’ beginning as a light, delicate undulation which draws out time itself as the notes interweave like starlight from distant galaxies making their way through space to be seen by human eyes millions of years later. The images of ice-capped mountains inside the album’s gatefold are appropriate: time move at a pace akin to that at which mountain ranges change. Such things are also relative: while the Himalayas continue to rise as the Indian tectonic plate continues to drift and buckle against the Eurasian, the Appalachians are slowly eroding. The analogy extends to the arrangements, which explore in painstaking detail the way sounds interact and reverberate against one another. And it all happens a truly glacial pace

‘Herfst > Winter’ tapers to a sparse dissonance around the sixteen-minute mark, simmering down to a hushed yet insistent throbbing tone, a frequency that nags at the nerves despite being soft-edged and gentle. The instrumentation is delicate and understated to the point that this is not an album one really listens to, but simply allows to wash over oneself and to form an almost subliminal listening experience.

Such sparse sound arrangements demand considerable restraint for so many musicians, and the collective result in many respects is one of subtraction. And yet, this is by no means a negative assessment. The music’s presence increases after the slow fade to silence.

VVOLK

Sub Rosa – SR388

Christopher Nosnibor

As significant as the fact Cristian Vogel has worked with the likes of Radiohead, Maxïmo Park, Chicks on Speed, Thom Yorke, Jamie Lidell, Neil Landstrumm and Dave Tarrida is the fact that the CD and vinyl versions of this release have completely different track-listings, with only two tracks featured on both. That’ probably quite an expensive pain in the arse for hardcore fans, especially as the versions here are remastered, and the CD release features a previously unreleased version of ‘Around’.

So, as the title suggests, this compilation picks the best cuts from Vogel’s 90s output, and presents them, remastered in 2015 by the artist himself (indeed, he’s been systematically remastering the majority of his early work, offering tweaked versions of his extensive back catalogue through BandCamp).

In terms of sequencing, the CD (the focus of this review) makes more sense than the vinyl. With the exception of the very last track, the material is sequenced chronologically, with Disc One spanning 1993 to 1995, with tracks culled from Beginning to Understand and Absolute Time, and Disc Two spanning 1996 to 1998, from All Music Has Come to And End and culminating in Busca Invisibles. It may be an obvious point, but it’s significant, in that it does mark a clear linear evolution of Vogel’s music.

Repetition lies at the heart of the compositions, with looping motifs running end-on-end with shifting layers of instrumentation on top, and with explorations of tonal shifts providing the focus and points of interest over progression or changes of key or tempo. ‘Machine’ combines techno robotix and Krautrock with drifting ambient currents, while ‘Beginning to Understand’ contrasts echo-heavy metallic, treble tones with thumping bass frequencies. Minimalist beats and stark bass grooves define many of the tracks, particularly on Disc One.

The tracks from Absolute Time showcase denser sound, the dominant beats making for a harder feel, more driving and propulsive. On tracks like ‘In’ and ‘Absolute’, it’s all about the frequencies; the bottom-end tones sit in the frequency range that really batters the eardrum, while the higher frequencies are cosseted in dense aural cushions while stomping 4/4 beats bump and grind hard.

The output from the years ‘96-‘98 are given less extensive coverage, with, for example, only two tracks apiece from Specific Momentific, Bodymapping, and Busca Invisibles featured (in contrast to the six cuts from Absolute Time and five tracks culled from All Music Has Come to an End . Nevertheless, it more than gives a flavour of Vogel’s output, and Disc Two begins with ‘Absence of Fear’ which marks a rather different approach from the earlier works. With a much looser, less claustrophobic sound, it’s built around contrast and juxtaposition, and with complex rhythm patterns criss-crossing one another to quite disorientating effect. In many respects the twelve tracks on this second disc are the more interesting, in that they show Vogel’s experimentalism pushing to the fore. While firmly positioned within the parameters of techno, these recordings document a desire to expand the territory of the genre, and it’s not difficult to hear in these nuanced pieces why Cristian Vogel is so respected, both within is field and far beyond.

Vogel

 

Cristian Vogel on Bandcamp

Cristian Vogel – Classics at Sub Rosa (with audio)

Sub Rosa – SR406 – 5th May 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s no escaping the band’s name. It’s striking, to say the least. Simply calling a band ‘phallus’ would be something, the connotations numerous and not all positive. Putting it out there is a strong challenge to the (potential) audience’s sensibilities, and is as likely to deter many listeners in itself. There may be puerile implications, and an element of silly shock, but what does this say about culture and society? Human history, even prehistory, is in many respects, the history of the phallus: the Romans were obsessed by the power of the phallus, rendering it a totem. Freud was famously fixated, and 60s and 70s feminism marked the opening of a discourse concerning phallocentric society, as they strove to rebalance things. While the phallus in this context is more metaphorical than literal, what matter is the fact that discourse is far from over.

While ‘cunt’ may represent the last bastion of hardcore swearing, and carries the most weight in terms of the offense it can impart, ‘it’s the hard dick that offends most’, as Philip Best spits on the Whitehouse track ‘Language Recovery’. Why is that? What is our society so hung up on the erection? Despite the enduring power of the phallus in society through the ages, art and popular culture is more given to celebrating the female form. And from classical antiquity (I’m thinking Michelangelo’s ‘David’, for example) to modern art (take Lucien Freud’s nude male portraits by way of an example here), male genitalia is understated if it’s to be accepted. It’s simply unimaginable that David, an image of the ‘perfect’ male form, could brandish a raging horn. Soft is art: hard is porn. The phallus may be all-powerful but it’s not acceptable on display, it’s ugly, repulsive, threatening, frightening, says society.

So what does this say about Ultraphallus? To take a blunt and literal view, individually and collectively, the band is cock. But not just any old cock. It’s more cock than that. It’s not only a throbbing erection, a pulsating meat truncheon, but amplified to the power of ten. Ultra… it has such a powerfully maximalist suggestion. This band isn’t just the simple encapsulation of the phallus, but thrusts into the public domain the phallus on a scale comparable to the Cerne Abas giant. Is it more confrontational and in your face than Throbbing Gristle? It’s a close call.

Appropriately, the music on The Art Of Spectres is overtly masculine: hard, heavy, rhythmic. It’s hard, uncompromising.

Ultraphallus are Phil Maggi (vocals, samples, electronics, trumpet, percussion); Xavier Dubois (guitars); Ivan Del Castillo (bass); Julien Bockiau (drums). A bunch of giant cocks. And they make challenging music, which pulls an eclectic range of styles together to forge something immense, dark and compelling. The press release notes that Ultraphallus defines their sound with some accents from styles including Western Music, Death metal, Doom-Rock, Avantgarde Psychedelia and Electronic Soundtracks, as a tribute to Rock Culture. But there’s a whole lot more besides lurking in the murky sonic depths of the seven tracks here.

Seven tracks were recorded in four days at Drop Out Studios, South London, with Tim Cedar (Part Chimp leader, Hey Colossus, ex-Penthouse…). The band say that the tracks are inspired by The Residents, Marc Bolan, Mark Frechette and Zabriskie Point, Swans, Autechre, David Bowie, Eva Ionesco, Polanski’s movie The Tenant and Death-Metal. In this respect, the title is germane, as the album finds the band exploring the spectres of their precursors and their peers. They loom large.

Opening track, ‘The Blood Sequence’ combines the grit of black metal with the squalling white noise of power electronics, delivered with the panache of Bauhaus and the theatrical gothic detail of Roz Williams era Christian Death. They really hit their stride with the second track, the seven-minute ‘’Madrigal Lane’ at the heart of which lies a throbbing bass and relentless beat.it builds hypnotically, reaching a frenzied climax of crashing cymbals while Maggi Hollers maniacally in a tsunami of reverb.

‘Let Him be Alistair’ finds Maggi hollering like a drunk impersonating Tom Waits over the skittering sonic backdrop, a slow grinding rhythm section churning out a grainy, Neurosis-like dirge. ‘Whitewasher’ is even slower and heavier: again, the percussion dominates, the lyrics are coarsely shouted, thick, and burning with anguish, evoking the spirit of Godflesh and ‘Greed’ era Swans to punishing and painful effect as the song batters the listener into submission over the course of seven-plus crushing, doom-laden minutes. If the tone mellows and the oppression lifts during the last two tracks, the hypnotic percussion and repetitive nature of the riffs prove every bit as powerful as the final track, ‘Sinister Exaggerator’ builds to a spiralling psychedelic shoegaze swirl.

Despite all of the myriad comparisons and parallels, The Art Of Spectres goes a long way from being any simple homage to the annals of rock and metal, because for all of the references, Ultraphallus don’t really sound like anything or anyone else.

 

SR406_front

Ultraphallus Online