Posts Tagged ‘The Fall’

August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Every town and city has at least one. One of those bands who knock around for years, are solid, and actually pretty decent, but never moves beyond the local scene. Once of those bands who’ll never be massive, but have all the right credentials and enough decent songs to do well on the pub / small venue circuit, if only…. Well, it’s all the iffs. It’s often not even lack of ambition in many cases – although the 9-5 and family life and mere existence so often take precedence and gnaw away at both ambition and the time available to do the things that make achieving any ambition possible. In other cases, of course, it’s simply lethargy. But is that so wrong? If a band is content to remain local and enjoys doing what they do, and people turn up to shows and enjoy what they do… aren’t they fulfilling a purpose, culturally? Fun is important, and where’s the harm? There’s joy to be had in the simple process of writing, rehearsing and performing songs.

Close to home (for me me) Wakefield and Piskie Sits, who in a parallel universe enjoy a cult status somewhere between Pavement and Truman’s Water. Or something. They’re ace, but will likely never find their audience in their locale. The same is true of PERCY, and it’s not negative to place them in this bracket – after all I first caught them playing the back room of a pub in York in the late 90s (they formed 22 years ago in 1996). Since then, they’ve gone on to pursue a more punk-pop trajectory, been signed, gone back independent, undergone numerous drummer changes, and received airplay from John Peel and Steve Lamacq.

I moved away, returned, did other stuff, and, well here we are: they’re independent again and doing what they do, and so am I. And so it goes.

On this outing, their back-to-basics, Fall-influenced, workaday, hacked-off, angular post-punk pub rock really mines deep into that rough ‘n’ ready Sleepers Wake sees PERCY step out of their comfort zone and at the same time return to their roots to deliver something quite different, while at the same time perfectly familiar.

‘Why Are You Still Here’ kicks the album off in choppy, lo-fi, rough ‘n’ ready style that captures the spirit of The Fall circa 1979. The guitars are raw, the rhythm section is functional but far from pretty in its detail, and the vocals are sneering: it’s more about delivery than musicality. ‘HEP!’ is pure Grotesque (think the Rockabilly of ‘Container Drivers’), and it’s fair to say that Sleepers Wake is a no-fi ruckus.

If the majority of the material fits the form, and is as messy as, with the choppy as ‘It Is Time’ going a bit throatier and noisier but still sounding like a thick-throated Killing Joke cover of ‘How I Wrote Elastic Man’ and ‘Enlightened’ drawing on any shit floating around from Fray Bentos pies to Skegness in the rain; Sleepers Wake is both diverse and coherent.

‘Alice Stone’ – one of two tracks mixed by underground avant-electro / techno legend Tim Wright goes all dubby and builds to a tempestuous racket over the course of its sprawling six-and-a-half minutes.

But ultimately, Sleepers Wake is uncluttered and unpretentious and brings bags of driving energy. Polish? Nah. PERCY don’t piss about with any of that shit, just s they don’t fuss with production, blah, blah. No, this is as it is. And as it is ace, encapsulating the spirit of punk and the band’s blistering live energy.

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We’re not going to bother with preamble or pitch. A review wouldn’t do justice. Just listen to this. Because it’s ace. And if you don’t think so, you’re probably on the wrong site.

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Moderate - Love

Ex Records – 23rd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

‘We always start from zero when we make a new album,’ the band explain of their creative process. This could well be the essential factor in their enduring nature: in avoiding the trap of becoming predictable to either their audience or themselves, they’ve remained fresh and innovative, continually testing their creative limits. Almost forty years and twenty-odd albums since their formation as an anarcho-punk band, The Ex are noteworthy for their eternal evolution and their refusal to stands still or to retread old ground. Collaborations, side-projects, and shifting lineups have also proven integral to this ethos, and it’s been almost eight years since their last album together as a quartet.

27 Passports sees them return once again reinvigorated, refreshed and ready to reinvent rock once more. And they do, in the way only a band with three guitars (but no bass – Moore’s baritone guitar provides essential tonal range here) and infinite vision likely can.

As the title suggests, this is an album of movement. Or, moreover, perhaps an album that creates the illusion of movement. 27 Passports is accompanied by a 40-page booklet of photos shot by Andy Moor. They’re odd, devoid of context or narrative meaning. Simultaneously eye-catching and mundane, they’re snapshots of life, devoid of perspective or implication: a row of feet on a train; a rusting car; a swan with its head under water; a traffic jam. These images provide an appropriate visual accompaniment to the disjointed, semi-abstract and immensely oblique lyrics and the musical content.

The first track, the six-and-a-half-minute ‘Soon All Cities’ is driven by a loping rhythm and crashing cymbals and builds a hypnotic groove slashed through with angular guitars which clang and scrape and layer up with volume and distortion. More than the choppy guitar work that often strays into the atonal and discordant, as do the vocals, it’s the percussion that really provides the focus of 27 Passports, pinning the loose and purposely obtuse guitar work in place and holding everything together.

If the claim that ‘there are some remnants of their African adventures’ (a reference to their collaborations with Getachew Mekuria) sits at odds with the spiky post-punk schematic, ‘The Sitting Chins’ subtly and strangely weaves ‘world’ music elements into the jolting barrage of chaos. If there was ever an antithesis of Paul Simon or Sting, this is it, and this fact alone makes 27 Passports an essential album.

For the most part, the compositions eschew linearity in favour of locking into a space and pushing away at a single motif for as long as seems reasonable, and sometimes beyond. This is very much a selling point. At to B is overrated: it’s about the journey. And it’s less about the distance than the motion itself. Take a walk: multiple laps of the block will not only achieve the same exercise effect as walking for miles toward a destination, but new details will reveal themselves with each circuit. No two circuits of the same short route will ever be the same. 27 Passports may be transcontinental in intent, but looking the wrong way down the binoculars is what it’s really about.

Barrelling bass scours the lower sonic realms on the robotic, motorik, ‘New Blank Document’; equal parts Gary Numan and early Swans, with heavy hints of The Fall’s ‘Spector vs Rector’ in its messy fabric. Such discord scratches away at the psyche, drills into the cerebellum, and unsettles the equilibrium.

In contrast, ‘Footfall’ deploys the same methodology and the same instrumentation, but against the relentlessly thumping beat, there’s a nagging aspect to the cyclical riff which has an intuitive emotional drag, a certain resonance. There’s something special about a certain descending three-chord sequence… and of course, they almost bury it beneath layers of jagged trebly noise. And that only renders it all the more beautiful and captivating.

There are some wonky pop moments present, too, with the Pavementy ‘The Heart Conductor’ bouncing along nicely, with a catchy vocal melody riding on top of the off-kilter guitars that are reminiscent of early Fall. Of course, when it comes to The Ex, comparisons are vaguely pointless beyond providing guidance for the uninitiated: with such an expansive career, it’s their work which has influenced many of the acts that stand as useful reference points. Of the surviving bands of the period – The Fall being no more and having arguably plateaued a good few years ago and Pere Ubu only offering occasional sparks – it seems like The Ex are the last ones standing who continue to really extend their reach and to challenge themselves and their listeners. 27 Passports is an absolute stormer, and an album which stands up against anything else going – period.

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The Ex - 27 Passports

Christopher Nosnibor

The fact the word ‘fan’ comes from ‘fanatic’ is perhaps worth bearing in mind. A band can probably be considered to have achieved a certain level of fan appreciation when they see the same faces in the crowd at venues around the country on a given tour. As one of those fans who’s attended multiple (although never more than a couple or three) dates on a tour for several bands, I’ve found it interesting to observe how audiences in different cities react, and also how those reactions feed into the performance. And, of course, there’s a certain curiosity about a band’s consistency. And in my capacity as a critic, the same is true – although it’s fair to say that as far as my second time of seeing Weekend Recovery in a month is concerned, I’m attending as both fan and critic. Having just unveiled their debut album, their touring schedule has amped up considerably, with almost three months of dates around the UK now to promote it, followed by a cluster of festival dates in the summer.

But here are now, this does mean I’m playing compare and contrast with Leeds on a Friday night where Weekend Recovery are the main support, and York on a Thursday, where the band, with their origins down south and now based in Leeds, are headlining. It’s hardly like-for-like. Much as I love York and its music scene, there is a conservatism which runs deep in the city’s gig-going community. Local bands will fair ok, but any act from out of town who isn’t well-known will, more often than not, find there’s a lot of space in the room. So it’s credit to Weekend Recovery that while the place is far from packed, there’s a respectable turnout, especially given that it’s the week before payday.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s my rage. Increasingly, I’ve come to respect and admire and enjoy bands comprising guys of or approaching middle age ranting about the mundane. They’re not all even a fraction as good as Pissed Jeans, but Paint Nothing, while endlessly ripping off The Fall up to 1983, occupy the same office-based miserabilist territory as Scumbag Philosopher. The singer’s wide-eyed intensity augments the spitting anger. The audience may be divided, but those who don’t dig these four shouty, balding midlifers ranting about stuff clearly haven’t lived.

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Paint Nothing

Brooders are probably young enough to have been parented by Paint Nothing, and probably were busy being born when grunge was all the rage. But having built themselves up as a live act with some impressive support slots and single release ‘Lie’ on Leeds label Come Play With Me imminent, the trio bring a finely-honed fusion of abrasive noise and not-so-abrasive melody. When they hit optimal heavy, they’re in the territory of Therapy? in collision with Fudge Tunnel, and the clean guitar sound, that’s awash with chorus and flange is lifted wholesale from Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’. At times they get pretty and it’s more indie than grunge, and with a psychey / shoegaze twist. There’s never a dull moment in their varied but relentlessly riffcentric set.

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Brooders

Last time I saw Brooders, it was supporting Hands Off Gretel at the same venue, so it’s perhaps fitting that Weekend Recovery’s front woman Lorin’s sporting a short dress, holed tights and knee-length white socks, passing a note to the now-classic 90s kindergarten whore look.

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Weekend Recovery

Their set isn’t radically different from the one in Leeds last month, and kicks off with a driving rendition of ‘Turn It Up’ which encapsulates the up-front grunge-orientated sound of the album, which marks a distinct evolution from their previous work. ‘Oh Jenny’ sees the titular character introduced as a ‘colossal slag’ after I’d chatted with Lorin before the show about the merits of ‘colossal’ and ‘massive’ as adjectives (we have a colleague who’s a colossal pussy; my boss is a massive cunt) and the set closes with ‘Why Don’t You Love Me?’ as is now standard, and it’s delivered full-tilt and brimming with a balance of desperation and sarcasm.

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Weekend Recovery

In between…. Lorin may not pogo as much or appear as bouncy in general as the last time I caught them, but bassist Josh (wearing the same outlandish shirt as at the Leeds gig – not that I can comment on outlandish shirts) and guitarist Owen throw lunging, leg-splaying poses all over. But this isn’t mere posturing: they’re really giving it all the energy. And the crowd appreciate it. Did they get what they came for? Of course.

Everyday Life Recordings – 8th December 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

They’re described as ‘motorik-punk outsiders’. Something about those three words grabbed me. Individually, they’re words I read several times a day in reference to bands being thrust in y direction for a critical appraisal. The world of music PR and criticism – not that many critics seem to be especially critical these days – is awash with cliché. And cliché begets cliché: no-one’s interested in inventing the next big thing: it’s far safer all round to recreate the last big thing in an infinite loop of regression. Punk never died, it just got diluted and turned into guitar-pop for teens too sappy to handle anything heavy. But when did the Krautrock revival begin? When The Fall emerged with their Can-influenced repetitious racket in the second half of the 70s, acts like PiL and Joy Division may have cited leading exponents Can and Kraftwerk as a touchstone, but few really embraced the now-ubiquitous ‘Apache beat’ innovated by Neu! And it is ubiquitous, and has been for some years now.

Still, few punk bands of any strain incorporate relentless, repetitive 4/4 rhythms in an overtly Krautrock way. Moderate Rebels, however, have really made this their signature (if you’ll pardon the pun). Not that they’re ‘punk’ in the sense it’s commonly perceived, nor in any of its contemporary revisions: Moderate Rebels have very much taken the spirit of The Fall as their template, and having set the template, they work the absolute fuck out of it over the course of the thirteen tracks on this, their debut album.

There’s certainly something Fall circa Bend Sinister or Frenz Experiment about the chugging ‘Extraordinary’ with its drawling, monotone an almost off-key multiple vocals, repetitious lyrics and endlessly looping chord sequence and beat. It should be as tedious as hell, but the longer it stretches out, the more it drags you in, and it’s a killer earworm. The only criticism is that it simply isn’t long enough. It’s a trick they repeat on a number of occasions, with guitars that jangle and scrape at skewed angles over strolling basslines and pulsing synths. And all the while, the rhythms hold steady, mid-tempo, stomping along with minimal fills. These aren’t songs that follow verse / chorus structures, evolve, build, or ‘go’ anywhere. The effect is simply cumulative. And that’s only amplified over the album’s duration: dipping in’s fine, but it’s best played as a whole, and better still, on repeat for a full afternoon, to achieve optimal enjoyment and appreciation.

Moderate Rebels are by no means one-trick ponies, though, and there is more to The Sound of Security than calculated monotony and the ploughing of sonic furrows that dig into the psyche by virtue of sheer tenacity.

There are pieces which work spacious atmospherics, with sputtering vintage drum machines bursting through elongated e-bow drones and rippling piano. Elsewhere, the laid-back and loose ‘Waiting for the Water to Clear’, and the slacker country of ‘I’m Feeling the Deep State’ showcase a more indie, Pavement-y vibe.

But mostly, it’s about plugging away, chugging and thumping. The reverb. The repetition. And the repetition. And not to forget the repetition. There is no such thing as too much of a good thing.

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Moderate Rebels – The Sound of Security

Christopher Nosnibor

Any longstanding fan of The Fall accepts that inconsistency is not only par for the course, but part of the band’s enduring charm. The appeal of Mark E Smith, and, by default, The Fall, has always been a perverse one: revered by fans, loathed by pretty much everyone else, The Fall are the epitome of singularity. Recent years have seen them hit an uncharacteristic groove: the core of the current lineup has been in place for the best part of a decade now, and while it’s yielded some fine moments, there’s not been anything to touch the quality of Fall Heads Roll in 2005. I’d been reluctant to take a £25 punt on them delivering a decent show but when a friend who was unable to attend offered me his ticket, I joyfully accepted. Because it’s The Fall after all.

Tonight’s lineup makes perfect sense: local support and Aural Aggro faves Soma Crew are all about the motoric beats and plugging away at repetitive riffs, and having been gaining momentum of late, this is a big night for them. They certainly rise to the occasion: given the opportunity to play a full-length set to a substantial and receptive crowd, they meld together as a unit and crank out a set of psychedelic krautrock grandeur. One of the band’s more recent recruits, bassist Andy Wiles, brings movement and dynamism to the stage act, and they rock out hard amidst a tumult of FX-laden guitars and thumping mechanoid drums. No fills, nothing fancy, just a relentless groove.

Soma Crew

Soma Crew

The Fall – when they finally appear on stage some time around quarter past ten – hit a fairly solid, if uninspired – groove, too. Smith looks unsteady as he navigates the path onto the stage and tries out a couple of different mics. Against the LED backdrop, which I watched countless men well into their 40s and 50 be photographed before the show, they crank out a set which promisingly features a snarling rendition of ‘Wolf Kidult Man’ early on, but from thereon focuses exclusively on recent – and seemingly unreleased – material. In itself, it’s standard Fall.

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The Fall

But while fans reach out and grab his leather blazer-style jacket in adulation and the substantial mosh-pit goes nuts, it strikes me that all is not well with MES. To criticise him for being unintelligible, for pissing about with mics, the guitar settings, well, it’s redundant. It’s what he does. The first time I saw The Fall in ’94 at the cavernous York Barbican, touring Cerebral Caustic with the classic twin-drummer lineup: neither drum kit had any mics before the set was out and it sounded awful to begin with. But it’s small wonder bassist Dave Spurr stands so close to his amp, as it guarding it from marauders: Smith repeatedly silences Pete Greenway’s guitar, and drum mics – and well as cymbals – are tossed over and about the stage at will, and of course Smith spends much of the show dicking about with mics. One mic, two mics, radio mic, wired mic, backing vocal mic, spare mic.

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The Fall

If it were any other band, the venue would have emptied after three songs. People would be concerned for the singer. But it’s MES. He’s a legend! But as he wavers and slurs, hollering unintelligibly, by turns gurning toothlessly, lolling his thick tongue and sucking his gums, it all feels far from legendary. Smith’s performing, throwing poses, tinkering absently with atonal keys, doing all the things he does, but he doesn’t seem entirely present, and oftentimes, he looks quite lost. Like an ageing grandparent with slowly advancing Alzheimer’s, there’s something sad about his performance.

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The Fall

Standing on a stage awash with beer, Smith removes his leather coat. He then passes his mic into the audience (who sound better than he does); he then collects the coat he’s just removed and leaves the stage unsteadily. He returns, wearing the coat again, and, looking lost, begins hollering through his hands until someone in the front row picks up the mic that was returned to the stage in his absence. He looks grateful, and begins to holler and drawl into the mic instead.

With the recent material being very much one tempo and one dimension, the music, while well-played, fails to really grip the attention, a problem exacerbated by Smith’s non-stop sonic sabotage. Without any real standout tracks (‘Reformation’? ‘Sir William Wray’? Forget it), everything blurs into one stodgy sequence of stocky but forgettable riffs.

Fall Set

The Fall’s Setlist

The first encore fails to offer any back-catalogue excitement, but they finally end the set with a second encore in the form of a solid but unremarkable (and rather hurried-sounding) stomp through ‘Mr Pharmacist’.

But it’s not the lack of back-catalogue material that’s the issue here. The Fall, who for all time have been lauded and adored as the most essential band by virtue of their unwillingness to conform or to bend in the face of trends, feel depressingly lacking in relevance (in contrast to peers Killing Joke, who played the same venue only a couple of weeks ago). The blame must sit squarely with Smith: lacking in focus and, seemingly, a real sense of where he’s at, the show felt awkward, confused, uncoordinated and generally underwhelming, and Soma Crew were definitely the better act on the night.

Christopher Nosnibor

Six years ago, I saw Eagulls, alongside Cold Ones, supporting Cerebral Ballzy at A Nation of Shopkeepers in Leeds. Cold Ones were pretty awful but Eagulls were, to be blunt, utterly fucking gash, and I vowed never to see of hear them again if I could possibly help it. It’s a vow I’ve kept until now: there was no way I was going to pass up on Protomartyr playing practically on my doorstep as part of a co-headlining tour.

We’d been advised to get don early doors (7:30) as York (and now Leeds) perennials Fawn Spots were scheduled to play at 7:45 ahead of a 10:30 finish. In the event, I arrived at 7:35 to find a guy with a guitar, miniature keyboard and massive rack of pedals set up in front of the stage in the process of building a layered, loop-based sound that straddled post-rock, post-punk and shoegaze, with some tendencies toward whappy time signatures and general fiddling. It’s really rather good, and on the strength of this brief outing, 99 Watts from Darlington warrants further exploration.

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99 Watts

Fawn Spots are a band I’ve spent a long time exploring, and they’ve evolved so much over the course of their career. Having stated out as a snotty two-piece reliant more on attitude than ability, their debut album, released on Fire Records was testament to their blossoming into a thrashy post-punk powerhouse. Now free of the label and into their next phase, tonight’s set showcases material from in-progress album number two. It’s a new sound again, amalgamating elements of mid-80s Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and Julian Cope. Early in the set, Oliver’s guitar playing sounds like Marty McFly at the prom, but fortunately, it’s just one broken and one out of turn string rather than a disappearing hand to blame. A switch of guitar later, he’s back to form, and while the songs are yet to bed in fully, it’s clear the next album will be a blinder.

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Fawn Spots

All of Protomartyr’s albums to date have been belters, and the reception they get shows just what an ardent fan base they’ve built with them. The kids – and they are kids – down the front are flopping and flapping uncoordinately, fringes drooping. And they know every single bloody word. It must be gratifying to see, though you’d never gauge it from the faces on the stage: three IT guys in jeans and t-shirts, fronted by their frustrated manager, a guy in his mid-to-late 30s and still in the beaten suit he wore to the office, churn out the tunes with passive expressions. If Mark E. Smith had been into US blues rock and discordant post-punk, The Fall would have sounded like this. While the deceptively detailed guitar parts are big on texture, the powerhouse drumming really drives the energy levels up, in contrast with Joe Casey’s downtrodden baritone grumblings. Repetition and dissonance are integral aspects of their angular sound, and it’s the fact they’re overtly uncool which makes them ultimately and ineffably cool.

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Protomartyr

Eagulls are bloody loud and crank out a dense wall of sound from behind a thick smog, silhouetted by stark lighting. Gone is the shambolic amateurism and apparent lack of identity of six years ago: the bands on stage are slick, confident, and it’s a straight fact that they sound fucking incredible. Immediately, The Cure and A Flock of (S)eagulls come to mind my way of reference points, and everything in their performance is immaculate. I feel like I’m experiencing first hand, at last, the spirit of gigging in 1985 (being born in 1975, I was simply too late to witness bands like The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy in their heyday.

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Eagulls

So why am I not absolutely feeling this, one hundred per cent, to my very marrow? Because it’s not 1985, it’s 2016. While everything about Eagulls is exactly right, it’s only a replica, a reproduction, out of time. It’s convincing, but it’s a carefully-studied fake. I’m not actually questioning their sincerity or integrity here, but their authenticity. Three songs in, and the rush of seeing such an accomplished performance has full hold: by seven songs, it’s becoming apparent that for all the style – and Eagulls have all the style when it comes to presentation – the content isn’t quite on the same level. It’s the same issue as I have with Department M: it’s meticulously observed, perfectly executed but lacking in soul and conviction.

Still, they do put on a show, and are deservedly well-received. But Protomartyr were always going to be the band of the night, and without doubt, they were.