Posts Tagged ‘The Black Angels’

Ahead of the release of the debut album, Druids and Bards, out later this month on Yr Wyddfa Records, Welsh alt-rock/indie act have released a further single in the shape of ‘Away we Go’.

Hear it here:

Championed by Gary Crowley on BBC Radio London and Playlisted on Amazing Radio’s A List, with BBC Radio Wales support from Huw Stephens and Adam Walton, North Wales Indie-Psych Band Holy Coves have had quite a year so far. They share a brand new single called ‘Away We Go’ before their highly anticipated new Druids And Bards album is released via Yr Wyddfa Records on the 14th of October.

Through long time friend and Producer David Wrench, Holy Coves were put in touch with Texan Producer Erik Wofford (The Black Angels / Explosions In The Sky) and have built quite a magical working relationship, one where Wofford found himself on Mixing and Mastering duties for the material and certainly contributes to their new sound.

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Partisan Records – 16th September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s simply impossible to keep up with everything all the time. It feels like a recurrent theme, and even something of a mantra: so many bands, so little time.

Over the course of eighteen years, The Black Angels have cemented their position as, as their bio puts it, ‘standard-bearers for modern psych-rock’. And that’s not hyperbole: it’s a fair assessment.

2010’s Phosphene Dream was a major let-down, particularly in the wake of two such stunning predecessors, with Passover and Directions to See a Ghost. Consequently, feeling disillusioned, both Indigo Meadow and Death Song bypassed me, but Wilderness of Mirrors landed in my inbox with the promise of a return to early form after a five-year gap – or, as they put it, ‘marks a triumphant return with their foot on the pedal. Political tumult, the pandemic and the ongoing devastation of the environment have provided ample fodder for their signature sound and fierce lyrical commentary’.

For Wilderness of Mirrors, the band worked with Brett Orrison (co-producer) and Dinosaur Jr engineer John Agnello ‘to achieve something fresh and new while retaining their heavily influential classic sound’.

Wilderness of Mirrors is epic and feels like it needs to be a double album simply because it has such weight and important in a way that’s hard to really define. It’s not sprawling and awkwardly indulgent: yes, it does contain fifteen songs, but less than half extend beyond four minutes. But it’s an album of density.

Opener ‘Without a Trace’ starts out tentative-sounding distant before the bass crashes in like a landslide and in an instant, the listener is sucked into a dense sonic whirl. It’s the gritty bass that also dominates the pulverising ‘History of the Future’ that lands somewhere between Ther Jesus and Mary Chain and Ride, with some blistering guitar that’s a wall of fuzzing, fizzing treble against a busy beat and a bass that buzzes so hard it practically cuts the top off your head. And just like that, you’re back to remembering why this band mattered in the first place. Everything is a murky swamp of reverb, a deep 60s vibe radiating through the 80s and 90s filter.

I’ve long noted how the Jesus and Mary Chain essentially played surf pop with feedback and distortion, and ‘Empires Falling’ follows this approach magnificently, and with its relentless rhythm section and squalling guitars, it bears strong and obvious parallels with A Place to Bury Strangers.

It’s best played at high volume, of course: this is guitar music to melt the brain, and if songs like ‘El Jardn’ and the acoustic ‘Here & Now’ are more accessible, melodic and overtly indie, they offer some much-needed respite, while still boasting some howling guitars. There’s a vaguely gothic hue to the sneaking guitars and dubby grooves of ‘Make it Known’ and the slower ‘The River’, and it works well in contributing to the album’s rich and varied atmosphere and contrast with the jittery tension of the title track.

Ultimately, the best thing about Wilderness of Mirrors is that is sounds like The Black Angels – quintessentially, unmistakeably, with its motorik grooves, simple, repetitive riffs and song strictures that define the chorus not by a significant shift in key or chords, but by the explosion of sound, the simple structures executed with rare panache. They’re definitely on form here.

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Christopher Nosnibor

This is by no means the first time I’ll have mentioned that sometimes, the best gigs are the ones you have to drag yourself to. The dragging here is no reflection on the bands, so much as the fact that when work and life are sapping your soul and you’re not feeling like doing anything ‘people’ orientated, the prospect of venturing out to be among people on a Tuesday night is not one that fires a burst of enthusiasm. You want to stay home. You want to hibernate. But the combination of beer and live music is so often the best therapy – and this proved to be one of those nights.

I have long lost count of the number of times I’ve seen or otherwise written about both Soma Crew and Percy, and while they both fit the bracket of ‘local’ bands, they’re both bands who bring great joy to see, and no-one dismisses London bands who only play a circuit of half a dozen small venues in London as ‘local’, do they? And you can’t watch ‘local’ bands in London with a decent hand-pulled pint in a proper glass for £4 a pint, either.

All three bands are playing on the floor in front of the stage, and The New Solar Drones have a lot of instruments spilling out, including a maraca, triangle, and timpani. It’s quite a sight to behold on entering, and the additional percussion goes a long way to giving the band a distinctive sound. Mellow country flavoured indie branches out in all kinds of directions. The rolling, thunderous drums lend a real sense of drama to the waves of noodling synths. The guitar workout on a song about Hollywood gets a bit Hotel California, but it’s well executed. The final track marks a shift from laid-back easy-going Americana into some kind of post-rock progressive folk that’s rather darker and lasts about ten minutes, complete with clarinet solo. They’ve got some rough edges to iron out, but the songs are solid and it’s an impressive debut.

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The New Solar Drones

With a new album around the corner, this is Percy’s first gig in seven months. Three quarters of the band are crowded to one side of the stage, while singer/guitarist Colin is on the other. Either it’s because he’s a grumpy sod, or perhaps just because his guitar amp is so bloody loud. ‘Going off on One’ kicks off the set energetically and sets the pace for a career-spanning selection that focuses on the more uptempo aspects of their catalogue. Bassist Andy’s post-lockdown look is J Mascis, but he charges around cranking out low end beef, and it’s the rhythm section that dominates, while Paula’s keyboards bring some melody and definition in contrast to the scratchy guitar sound.

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Percy

“Fray Bentos pie! With gravy!” The slower, synthier ‘Alice’ sounds more like Joy Division than their usual jagged post­punk grind and graft, but while most of the lyrics are indecipherable, the pie and gravy seem to be the focus. They really attack the snarling ‘Will of the People’, and its relevence seems to grow by the day. Colin comes on like Mark E Smith at his most vitriolic… and there, I failed in my attempt to review Percy without recourse The Fall. Seems it just can’t be done. They close with a brand new song, ‘Chunks’, about ‘chunks in gravy!’ Yep, definitely a theme, and if Percy are something of a meat and potatoes band, it’s in the way The Wedding Present are hardy perennials and brimming with northern grit.

A resonant throb gradually leaks from the PA, and from it emerges Soma Crew’s quintessential motorik pumping. Standing near the front, I reflect on the fact I could use a wide angle lens to get all of them in. They have a lot of guitars. The front man from The New Solar Drones is on keys and lap steel and, later guitar, and the lap steel accentuates the band’s overall drone and gives something of a Doorsy vibe.

They’re on serious form tonight, sounding solid and energetic. Shifting up to three guitars, they hit a swinging rock ‘n’ roll blues boogie groove.

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Soma Crew

While I find myself drifting on this tripped-out repetition, I consider the fact that less is more. Chords, that is, not instruments. Four guitars (if you count the bass) playing three chords in an endless cycle is better than two guitars, which in turn is better than one. The songs and structures are simple: the effect is all in the layering up and the reverb. Listening to bands that are overtly about the technical proficiency is often pretty dull. Passion and mood count for so much more. Volume helps, and with a brutal backline and sympathetic sound man, they hit that sweet spot where it hurts just a bit even with earplugs. Simon’s slightly atonal droning vocals are soporific, and everything just melts into an all-engulfing wash of sound. ‘Mirage’ kicks with volume and solid repetitive groove, while ‘Say You Believe’ is straight up early Ride/Chapterhouse, before ‘Propaganda Now’ is a blistering drive through a wall of Jesus and Mary Chain inspired feedback that brings the set to a shimmering, monster climax.

I stumble out, my ears buzzing, elated. Because everything came together to surpass expectations to make for an outstanding night.

North Wales Psychedelic rock band Holy Coves announce brand new ‘Druids And Bards’ 24-date UK Tour and are set to release brand new ‘Desert Storm’ single which  on Friday 29th of April via prolific North Wales Label Yr Wyddfa Records.

Dropping swiftly into the slip-stream and following on from the successful ‘The Hurt Within’ which was released last month, ‘Desert Storm’ sets the psych mood with droney riffs, hazy vocals on an epic musical landscape.

Lead by Welsh Singer-Songwriter Scott Marsden, Holy Coves find themselves crossing an unseen threshold on a fantastical new journey where new psych-hazed material spells an exciting new era for the collective.

Through long time friend and Producer David Wrench, Holy Coves were put in touch with Texan Producer Erik Wofford (The Black Angels / Explosions In The Sky) and have built quite a magical working relationship, one where Wofford found himself on Mixing and Mastering duties for the material and certainly contributes to their new sound.

Listen to ‘Desert Storm’ here:

Tour dates are below:

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eMERGENCY heARTS – 6th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

SINE’s new 5 song EP, Mantis 1, is the first in a trilogy of EPs, “Mantis 1, 2 & 3”. The hype for the release pulls a spotlight on the involvement of a name producer, with the EP being ‘produced by SINE founder, Rona Rougeheart in collaboration with esteemed audio engineer Charles Godfrey at Scary American Studio in Austin, TX. Godfrey, in his two decade plus career, has been engineer/producer on over 75 recordings, including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’, It’s Blitz! and Mosquito, The Black Angels, Indigo Meadow, and notable work for…Trail of Dead, SWANS, among so many more’. No question: Godfrey’s resumé is impressive, and there’s similarly no question that a decent producer can make a huge, huge difference, with great production having the capacity to render a recording far more than the sum of its parts (Joy Division simply would not have been the same without Martin Hannett’s work, however unconventional and difficult his methods), while equally, poor production can be crippling. Then again, engineering is perhaps equally important: it’s worth noting that Steve Albini doesn’t consider himself to be a producer, but his engineering skills have brought the life to so many albums, and not just the ones he’s renowned for. Still, for all that, you can’t polish a turd: you still need songs and for them to be played in a way that does the material some kind of justice.

Everything comes together just so on this release, and one question I often consider is how close to the artistic ambition is the end result? I have a sense that Mantis I is everything Rougeheart had in her head at conception.

‘Attack’ certainly brings plenty, a combative, dark disco thud of a beat pitched against a relentless throb of synthesised bass. In contrast, ‘Until’ is more overtly pop, but it’s pop in the way Garbage are pop – eclectic, savvy, the production simultaneously crisp and grimy. ‘Future Whores’ is stark, and if there’s something of an early New Order vibe about it, there’s equally some early Pet Shop Boys, and that’s by no means a criticism. Then again, the expensive, yawning notes border on the mellow new age grooves of The Beloved, while the distorted vocals and thumping bass are more industrial… in combination, it crashes hard in the domain of industrial shoegaze, and if that’s not yet been recognised as a thing, now is the time because it’s here and it’s in your face.

Things get murkier and meaner on ‘Blurred’, where I’m reminded of The Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’, only with a harder technoindustrial edge, and the pulsing, bulbous bass is dominated by Rougeheart’s blank, robotic monotone vocal, that’s treated with a metallic edge and some grainy reverb.

Closer ‘Control’ burrows deeper into the darkness, a shuddering mass of slow velocity – yet for all the crushing grind and gnarly digital distortion, the dislocation and thunderous tribal drums, it still slides in a truly aching bridge with a magnificent vocal melody that evokes wistful summer scenes, before crushing them like ant underfoot in a driving death-disco slam.

It all adds up to a meaty and pretty powerful release, and if the idea of releasing three EPs instead of an album seems perverse, it will be interesting to see how SINE utilise the format after such a strong start.

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Vinyl Eddie Records – VINED006 & VINED007 – 9th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Opposites and opposition – and the way in which those contrasts are core to our understanding of the world and our place in it – have been key points of exploration in art for centuries. The concept of either / or, light / dark, heaven / hell is the foundation of Judaeo-Christian religions and those polarities became the core tropes of Elizabethan poetry, at the dawn of modern literature. Sir Thomas Wyatt’s ‘I Find No Peace’ cements these tropes that have come to define both internal conflict, the turmoil of love, and the fundamental dichotomies of the human condition.

And yet it’s Earth’s Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light, released in two parts that comes to mind when presented with Soma Crew’s new offering, a twin vinyl release capturing two days’ intensive recording to collectively forge one monumental document of the band’s creative work since the release off 2019’s F for Fake in 2019.

I know, I know I always say the same when writing of Soma Crew – which I have done often since they formed under the guide of Muttley Crew back in 2013 – that they get better with every release, with every show. But that’s the simple fact of the matter. They tend not to deviate far from their psychedelic drone style that’s most reminiscent of Black Angels, but that isn’t to say they don’t push their limits in the execution. But most importantly, they know how to batter away at a riff for an age and whip up a psychedelic haze.

Out Of Darkness / Into Light is a slow-burner, and marks something of a shift, and on first listen, I was a shade concerned by the lack of motoric beats and shimmering walls of distortion and delay rippling over cascading riffs. But this is the new direction: the beats are still motoric, but simply more minimal and subdued, and the emphasis has shifted toward a more understated and minimalist sound.

The first track, ‘Phantom’ starts off simple, plugging away at a four-chord riff with a hint of swagger that’s almost Primal Scream. The guitar sound is clean, shimmering, and Si Micklethwaite’s vocal is pretty low in the mix, meaning everything blends together gently. There are heavy hints of early Fall about the six-and-a-half-minute ‘You’re So Cool’ – the easy-tripping clean guitar with its naggingly repetitious riff is straight off Live at the Witch Trials or Dragnet. It’s simple, it’s immediate, and the fact it was recorded on the spot only accentuate these qualities.

Soma Crew don’t do short songs: of the twelve here, only two are under five minutes, with the majority clocking in around the six-minute mark. There’s plenty of throbbing bass runs and repetitions and spacey slide guitar going on here, and these qualities are integral to the Soma sound. They’re not a ‘chorus’ band, but a band who create a hypnotic atmosphere through their endlessly cyclical riffs and the plod of the percussion – by no means a criticism here, as drummer Nick understands that less is more – using a setup consisting solely of snare and floor tom for the duration. This minimal ‘Bobby Gillespie’ setup works well, meaning the instruments occupy the space – or don’t – instead of the conventional sound whereby crashing cymbals fill the sound the a load of top-end mess that so often sounds crap.

‘There’s a Fire’ steps up the urgency eight songs in, but instead of going all guns blazing with distortion and a blast of cymbals and snares, Soma Crew hold steady. The slow down again for the forlorn country meandering of ‘Broken Matches’ and counterpart ‘Machines’ with some nice lap steel work, and there’s no question that Out Of Darkness / Into Light is a more ponderous, reflective set of songs, and rather than being a set of two distinct halves, it’s very much a coherent and unified work.

If anything about Out Of Darkness / Into Light intimates production values that eschew slickness and polish, that’s one of its real selling points: recorded live over two days in January 2020, this is a band at work, and it’s an album that captures what they actually sound like, rather than a studio-based tweaked and fiddled fantasy version of what they might sound like if they were another band entirely. Hearing them stripped back and sparse, they sound musically confident even while Micklethwaite’s plaintive vocal navigates seams of self-doubt and introspection through the lyrics, and this album shows that plugging away at simple, cyclical chord structures is as effective and hypnotic without the deluge of effects as with.

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