Posts Tagged ‘The Fall’

31st May 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Where We Sleep – the supergroup consisting of Debbie Smith of Echobelly and Blindness, Curve and SPC ECO, Beth Rettig of Blindness, and also Axel Ray of United Ghosts – extend their super status on this outing, with Ben Pritchard, formerly of The Fall and currently Manc Floyd contributing guitar work on ‘Control’.

Despite the more indie-leaning backgrounds of the collaborators, Experiments in the Dark espouse more of a post-punk sound, amalgamated with the blurry shoegaze of Curve. There’s reverb galore as the layers of guitar wash over and bleed into one another: ‘What I Deserve’ has one of those classic slow-building intros that’s built around a strolling bass and dual guitars – one chiming fractal, gothy, the other overdriven and set to stun. And from the emerging murk, Rettig’s voice combines sultry and dangerous to strong – yet simultaneously understated – effect.

‘The Desert’ sits between Curve and debut-album era Garbage – and it’s magnificent: rich in atmosphere, dark, brooding, and again centring around a strong rhythmic framework. ‘Control’ is a standout: after gentle start, it bursts into a mesh of guitars colliding over a woozy bass and metronomic mechanised drum sound. And as the track progresses, the icy vocals and treble snap of the snare become increasingly submerged by the squalling noise. ‘Into the Light’ repeats the form, only with the added bonus of a propulsive chorus and a bassline on a par with The Mission’s ‘Wasteland’ overlayed with howls of feedback.

The title track which draws the curtain on proceedings is sparse, stark, and minimal, and owes more to the ghostly, smoky trip-hop of Portishead than anything remotely post-punk or shoegaze.

If Experiments In The Dark is 75% 80s and 25% early 90s, it’s also 100% representative of the zeitgeist in terms of the aspects of the past it draws on. And Where We Sleep’s strength lies in their ability to absorb those elements and draw them together to forge a sound that’s both familiar and fresh, avoiding sounding derivative and instead delivering an exciting set of songs that demand repeat plays.

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Where We Sleep – Experiments In The Dark

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Cherry Red Records – 7th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The Membranes’ very long and even more unusual career reaches a new landmark with the release of What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away marks the release of their ninth album. Forming in 1977 and releasing their debut long-player in ’1980, it would be 26 years between To Slay The Rock Pig (1989) and Dark Matter/Dark Energy following the band’s return in 2009.

John Robb’s career fronting Goldblade from 1995 onwards, as well as a music journalist and Louder than War’s head honcho, with occasional TV ‘talking head’ appearances kept him occupied for much of the intervening time. The fact he’s sustained most of these activities since resuming activity with The Membranes is beyond staggering. How does he do it? The level of energy the man puts into a single gig would leave me crippled for a week (and I’m hardly a layabout).

Anyway. The new album. 16 new songs. While Dark Matter/Dark Energy was concerned with the enormity of cosmic existence, What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away places its focus more closely on existence closer to home, exploring ‘the beauty and violence of nature’. Inevitably, there’s a human perspective on this: most creatures simply adapt or die in the face of nature’s force: only mankind marvels at nature, while at the same time believing it can harness, defy or otherwise conquer its unstoppable force. Yes, as a species, we’re smart, we’re highly evolved, but we’re completely deluded.

The press blurb pitches it as being ‘a game changer in the tradition of Manchester bands like Joy Division’ (can an album that forms a lengthy tradition be a gamechanger? Surely it must cut free from tradition in order to do this), and it features appearances from Kirk Brandon (Theatre of Hate, Spear of Destiny), and 84-year-old folk singer Shirley Collins, one of England’s premier folk singers of the ’60s revival. Chris Packham also contributes, as does the ‘legendary’ Jordan, who practically invented the punk look in 1975.

What Nature Gives… probably is justifiably a game-changer in that it reaches far beyond the parameters of post-punk and expands massively on The Membranes’ output since their return. Sonically, it’s an immensely expansive piece, featuring as it does the 20-pieceBIMM Choir, pitched against dark drones and heavy atmosphere – and of course, driving bass and choppy guitars. What were you expecting, some ambient/prog crossover effort?

It gets off to a strong start as ‘A Strange Perfume’ weaves a tripwire lead guitar over tribal drumming and a driving bass while choral vocal soar in and out before exploding into a grainy blast of distorted guitar. It’s a hell of a rush, and the production while full, is up-front and punchy.

Robb’s bass on the expansive title track is pure Peter Hook, while his vocal is stark, flat, metallic, calling to mind Ian Curtis. But the soaring lead guitar, strings, and layered backing vocals take it to another dimension. ‘A Murder of Crows’ offers something different again, a furious blues/funk attack that kicks like The Screaming Blue Messiahs at their most manic.

Steve Albini once said something about putting your best songs at the start of an album, and it may be the case that the initial force dissipates after this on What Nature Gives… as the band explore deeper, darker, more expansive territories. But this is considered, paced, and musically articulate. ‘Deep in the Forest Where the Memories Linger’ is evocative and forceful in equal measure, with ethereal choral sweeps swooping over thrusting guitars, before ‘Black is the Colour’ – a song about ‘the dark heart of winter’ and ‘the time when nature’s cycle in at its lowest ebb’ – is delivered in a style reminiscent of The Fall, sneering and spitting over a stocky, cyclical bassline. That this song features on the ‘Summer’ side of the vinyl’s seasonally-themed four sides is telling in terms of the mood: Winter is a recurrent theme here, and maybe I’m projecting my own feelings into the songs, but the urge to hibernate or hang myself are strongest during the bleak months of long, dark nights spent indoors brooding and reflecting on all shades of melancholy. ‘The Ghosts of Winter Stalk this Land’ and Winter (The Beauty and Violence of Nature) pursue the same theme, with the latter exploring synthy territory as a backdrop to Chris Packham’s spoken-word narrative.

‘A Murmuration of Starlings on Blackpool Pier’ continues the theme of ‘A Murder of Crows’. And builds the drama, with samples crackling in over brooding strings and tense, hushed vocals, while ‘The Magical and Mystical Properties of Flowers’ mines a classic loud/quiet grunge dynamic, blasting out with a storming three-chord riff.

It’s all there on ‘Nocturnal’ with a crackling synth-driven verse, thumping bass groove, choppy Gang of Four guitars, and a hook that references Joy Division’s ‘Transmission,’ and in context the press release makes more sense: this is an album which actually harks back to and connects with the touchstones which lie at its roots. It’s not derivative, but intertextual in construction. But the most important point of note is that it’s incredibly well-conceived, and the execution of an album that’s so ambitious in scope is outstanding, and What Nature Gives… sees The Membranes hit a new creative peak.

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31st May 2019 – Constellation Recods

Christopher Nosnibor

The album title may be as soaked in sickly-sweet dripping niceness as it is cliché, but it’s very much a contrast to the name of the Montréal trio responsible for it, just as it is with the music it contains. It’s pitched as ‘an exhilarating and relentless barrage of astringent noise-punk driven by the ferociously wide-screen tri-amped guitar squall of Kaity Zozula, the brawny pummel of Joni Sadler’s drums, and the wry subliminal/phenomenological sing-speak of vocal phenom Ky Brooks’, and one for fans of Au Pairs, Harry Pussy, Magik Markers, Melvins, X-Ray Spex, Life Without Buildings, Sonic Youth, and Perfect Pussy. All of which is to say that it’s a squalling, slanted, angular, gritty, snarling bastard of a record. Noisy? Oh yes, but it’s noise that’s not only about volume but extreme discord, about tones and abrasion that drills into the skull and hammers and the head and kicks at the kidneys and spits in the face while screaming ‘fuck you, motherfucker!’

It kicks off with the title track, a jolting, sinewy mess of choppy, trebly guitar that strains away at a repetitive riff that collapses into an angry buzz before everything goes haywire, any semblance of a tune crashing into an atonal mess of crashing cymbals and whiplash guitar noise that carries the listener away on a mudslide of underproduced sonic discomfort.

Stuttering, jarring guitars that buzz like swarms of furious hornets create crashing discord against calamitous bass and crashing percussion that can’t even pretend to be jazz: it’s wayward, deranged, demented, arrhythmic and difficult, and all better for it. The vocal is more spoken word than singing, the lyrics narrative rather than overtly lyrical. Rhymes ae even further out of the window than melodies, and everything about Honey is challenging and confrontational and rejects all notions of musicality and accessibility – which means it’s bloody great.

All of the reference points and comparisons are so underground that they’re probably worthless if attempting to pitch this to a wider audience, but if you dig Pram, Voodoo Queens, Lydia Lunch, then you’re going to be so into this. Then again, The Fall and Bleach era Nirvana, Siouxsie, Solar Race, and early Pavement are equally in evidence on a scuzzing raketmongous mess of an album that’s magnificently raw and not so much underproduced as delivered as is. This is a band that would work well with some Steve Albini action, but then again, you feel that Honey captures the band perfectly and as intended.

‘Flat White’ is a dirty dinge of spoken words that boil down contemporary hipsterized consumerist culture: ‘flat white and scummy’, although the majority of the album is fast and furious and emerges through a lurching, gut-churning murk. ‘Intrinsic’, unveiled ahead of the album, is a drawling, sprawling ugly mess of guitar-driven disaffection. Flat, trudging, bleak: Brooks’ dry vocal picks apart a repetitious, circular ponderance in a barren monotone against a grinding guitar for an age before the drum thumps in and then everything blasts off into all shades of sharding splinters of screaming nasty.

Nothing about this album is comfortable. I’ve spent the last few days searching for the perfect simile, but there isn’t one. It’s not like being punched in the guts or picked repeatedly in the abdomen, and nor is it remotely like an incision from a sharp blade – more like being hewn into pieces with a rusty saw while being beaten about the torso with a lump of rock. It’s not the volume that’s hard to handle, but the sheer relentless angularity. Nothing fits, and everything grates. Honey is the most awkward and abrasively serrated record I’ve heard all year. It’s so dissonant, atonal, and messed up, listening to it makes me want to puke. And that’s precisely why it’s probably the best thing I’ve heard so far this year.

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Lungbutter - Honey

Saustex Records – 17th May 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

And so the band that is effectively The Fall minus The Man Who Was The Fall-uh, with a name which is a truncation of a Fall album title, deliver a debut album which also bears a title that could easily be a Fall album. As a longstanding fan of The Fall (aren’t we all?) I’ve faced immense conflict over Imperial Wax. My review of their first single was favourable, because unwritten professional obligations somehow and because it was actually good. And actually, the bottom line is that Gastwerk Saboteurs is again good, albeit in a different way and partly because it confounds expectation. But then, what are the expectations? The only expectation of The Fall was that whatever they did, they did, they’d like The Fall. And it wasn’t purely down to Smith’s atonal off-kilter verbiage that this was so: there was something that filtered through that was subliminal, and existed on another level.

So, here we have the debut album by The New Fall. But this does and doesn’t sound like The Fall. For the most part, this is a full-on, no-pissing punk album. It is not a Fall-resurrected album. What do you do with that? The features which defined the band’s final years are all in evidence, and unashamedly here, and on that basis, it’s impossible to sidestep the fact that Gastwerk Saboteurs sounds quite Fall-like in places. But then again, it sounds like a band ploughing hard at a punk-rock furrow with real zeal and loving it.

It drives in fast and hard with ‘The Art of Projection’ which is a straight-on punk effort on one hand, but on the other, it’s got post-punk and a mess of Krauty Fall-iness in the mix.

Prefatory single ‘No Man’s Land’ displayed a heavy Fall influence, but then again, can one rightly describe the band that was The Fall as ‘Fall-influenced’? While some purists beefed that nothing produced their last two decades couldn’t touch anything they did post ’79, ‘81, ‘83, ’85 (because they’ve all got different perspectives and time markers for what they consider the band’s ‘golden age’), the fact is that while they may have settled into a certain groove in later years, if Mark characterised the band with his unique and inimitable vocals, the band backing him, which marked the most stable lineup of their entire career, was a formidable riff-conjuring unit responsible for the music – both its composition and performance. And on that basis, while the closing lineup may not stand as a ‘classic’ in vintage terms, but make no mistake: they were The Fall to the end. But then, they were contractually obliged to sound like The Fall, no doubt. It’s no disrespect to MES that his band should want to cut loose a bit. And Gastwerk Saboteurs finds them cut loose, if only for a bit, kicking out some solid four-chord riffs with sneering attitude.

‘Saying Nothing’ packs a primitive post-punk chop, and there are plenty of fine and overtly unpolished songs wedged in tight here. If anything, it’s the rough ‘n’ ready rawness of this socio-politically-charged album that defines it far more than any musical lineage. It’s a fresh start, and a strong one.

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22nd February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Everyone wants to be The Fall, everyone rips off The Fall but no-one actually sounds like The Fall – not even The Fall, at least in their first post Mark E Smith incarnation. That’s only half true: ‘No Man’s Land, the lead single from upcoming debut album Gastwerk Saboteurs sounds very much like The Fall in places. Hardly surprising given the musicians involved. How about the slightly flat, nasal vocal? San Curran’s spent a long time around MES’s work, but then again, flat, nasal vocals are common to both punk and indie bands from over the last 40 years, and he doesn’t end a single line with an ‘uh’, so his delivery isn’t entirely a derivative emulation. What’s more, when he steps up and starts gibbering at pace into a wash of reverb, there’s a vocal energy on display here that The Fall were missing for most of the last decade and a half, and from this alone, it becomes apparent that this is something new, something emergent, something born out of a need to create more than out of a desire to trade on legacy.

So, yes, it has heavy echoes of The Fall, because the musicians involved have been The Fall for the last decade or so: muscular riffs, driving drumming, a certain tension and a nagging repetition provide the core elements of ‘No Man’s Land’, a song which probably articulates in some way the position these four men find themselves. But as Imperial Wax, it sounds like they’re establishing a new home and a new identity.

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Imperial Wax

Come Play With Me – 8th February 2019

With some luscious chiming, chorus-soaked guitar, jittery drumming, wandering bass and vocals reminiscent of Mark E Smith circa 1978, Treeboy & Arc’s latest – released through Leeds label Come Play With Me’s singles club, sharing a 7” with Japan’s Jebiotto in a joint effort with Japanese Label Call & Response – is a belter.

As has become CPWM’s signature, this split single showcases a brace of contrasting but complimentary acts, each contributing a classically single-length single – if that makes sense. The medium is the message: 7” singles were, and remain, an artform. Brevity is the key. Giving enough, while leaving the listener wanting more.

And in three and a half minutes, Treeboy & Arc do exactly that, combining hooks with edge, packed into a hell-for-leather song about a car crash.

Jebiotto’s contribution is a shade further off-kilter and a little more difficult, but that’s the benefit and joy of a split 7”. It’s a taster, there’s no commitment, and if one side’s stellar, you’re made. If the other side’s got grower potential, then it’s a double win. And this is very much a double win.

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Treeboy & Arc

Christopher Nosnibor

Casting an eye back to my reviews from last year, I discovered that it took me until 14th January to lug my carcass to see any live bands, and that was just up the road to see some friends play. Well, it’s friends playing that has forced me out of my hole for my first gig of 2019, too. For this, I’m grateful to the Wharf Street Galaxy guys: I don’t fare so well at this time of year, and the urge to hibernate all too often overwhelms the will to socialise.

After the hike from the station to Hyde Park Book Club, I’m pleased to find them near the bar sipping soft drinks and coffee, although I’m ready for beer and the Northern Monk Heathen IPA (purchased before realising it registers an ABV of 4.2%) does the job nicely as we riffed about various methods of making coffee and matters of male grooming – rock ‘n’ roll over 40s style.

Tonight’s show is the 50th birthday celebration of Neil Gumbley, guitarist in the first band on the bill: apparently, he’s not keen on birthday celebrations, but is keen on gigs, so decided to put one on with bands he likes.

The scrappy, scant nature of my notes is less as a result of the beer, but more as a result of being too busy enjoying the bands and conversations in between acts, although Vat-Egg Imposition make enough of an impact to not really require any notes to jog the memory. Musically, they’re all about the Fall-like repetitions, which is cool, but nowhere near as striking as seeing a bloke dressed as an egg and lofting a yellow carrier bag. It transpires the bag contains packets of crisps, which are distributed to the audience before they perform ‘I Bought You Crisps’, a tale of everyday heartbreak that’s both sad and funny. For entertainment, they’re top-notch, and I might even say egg-shellent.

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The Vat-Egg Imposition

Wind-Up Birds aren’t bad either. I’m understating here. Choppy post-punk guitars and a stonking rhythm section propelled by some tight, crisp drumming define the sound. Somewhere between The Fall and The Wedding Present, they do ranty, political, etc. You get the idea. They’re bloody good at it, too. And the theme for the evening is pretty much set solid.

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The Wind-Up Birds

‘Fuck me,’ my spidery scribble says. ‘There are people here in WSGB T-shirts!’ And they’re not members of the band! This is likely to be the band’s last show for a while, given that D. Procter (Message) is heading off to Scandinavia for PhD-related pursuits for 8 months very soon, although with more related projects than even they can count, the other members won’t exactly be twiddling their thumbs in his absence. And as a final show before their hiatus, it’s a stormer: yes, they’re on fine form. ‘Freedom to Comply’ (which pursues the theme of totalitarian conformity under the auspices of free capitalism and as such stands as a complimentary counterpart to ‘Organised Freedom is Compulsory’ from the first EP) is hammered out over a single chord augmented with strains of sculpted feedback, and the low-down, sleaze-funk of ‘Sex Master’ is delivered with audacious panache. I struggle to contain my mirth, and I’m laughing with rather than at them: this is a band that gets the ironic juxtaposition of middle-aged men in red boiler-suits doing pseudo-slinky.

Yes, ‘Hector and Harangue’ always gives me cause to smirk a little, the title and lyric lifted from an early review of mine, and it provides a well-placed change of tempo and tone with its faster pace and shouty, hooky chorus. No, they’re not so big on choruses.

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The Wharf Street Galaxy Band

There may be something of a dearth of puffins in tonight’s set, but ‘Ritual something-or-other’ (I can’t decipher my own handwriting or trust my own ears – it turns out to have been ‘Transgalaxial Time Travel (Slight Puffin Return’) boasts thumping tribal beats and a scratchy guitar reminiscent of The Fall on ‘Muzorewi’s Daughter’, and Procter finally melts into hollering harassment against Ash’s (Throb) slow-drip bass groove. And they play their slinky cover of ‘Warm Leatherette’, too.

On the journey back to York, WSGB’s John (Visual Balance) gives me a proper introduction to early OMD, whose work I’d never explored based on my lack of enthusiasm for ‘Enola Gay’. I offer some pointers for 90s Depeche Mode albums and probably talk a lot of bllocks because I’ve had three 440ml cans of Heathen, but it’s all good and I’ve never been more pleased to have forced myself out of the house instead of wallowing in the winter blues. Winter motorik grooves is definitely the way to go.