Posts Tagged ‘Weird Shit’

Front & Follow – 22nd February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Front & Follow continue their ever-fascinating The Blow series of split / collaborative releases with an album by Dunning and Underwood, aka Graham Dunning and Sam Underwood, who’ve used this release to showcase their Mammoth Beat Organ project.

I’m mature enough to refrain from making any puerile quips about mammoth organs and instead get down to the business of reviewing an album which showcases the sound of a machine they describe as ‘a modular, mechanical music contraption, designed as a two-player, semi-autonomous musical instrument’ which ‘plays unusual, sometimes erratic compositions drawing on drone music, minimalist repetition and fairground organ techniques’.

None of this prepares me for the reality – which is, arguably, one of the strongest, and also the most far-out – releases of the series yet. I’ll focus here on the music rather than the machine – which has some kind of quirky steampunk look to its construction – because while in a live context, it’s no doubt quite a spectacle, in the medium of recorded sound, the sound is all you have to engage with. And the sound is rich in strange, unsettling atmospherics, a work that nether light nor dark but hovers uncertainly in the shadows of its own casting.

The first piece, ‘Song or Chimney Sweeps’ transitions from elongated, atonal drone to trilling fairground organ, although the notes waver and wheeze, and assonance and order are rapidly replaced by dissonance and disorder and the different notes play in different times, and what begins as something playful and lighthearted pretty soon becomes a horrible headfuck. This, of course, is a good thing. The headfuckier the better as far as I’m concerned. Clearly, this is an album that calls for more vodka. Lots more.

The peeping, parping, tooting, quavering atonality of ‘Blown Coda’ is constructed around droning not-quite chords which droop like deflating bagpipes. There’s an almost child-like naivete to the mismatched conflicts of key. The way young children have no concept of key and will simply play notes to hear a sound and will play randomly – and for protracted, torturous periods – comes to mind here. Only, these are long, slow nots that trickle and weep over erratic arrhythmia. Contrastingly, ‘Acorn Factory’ is largely percussive – or at least sounds that way. Tinny, irregular beats – the sound of something hitting the bottom of a metal bucket or something – peculiar, difficult to place in a musical context.

‘Demon’, one of the pieces that’s more overtly ‘structured’ or ‘composed’ sounds like some kind of primitive drum ‘n’ bass, with clattering, ramshackle rhythms proving the backdrop to honking horn and woozy drone, all muffled by a blanket or raw, barely-there-production.

Then there’s what anyone – even the most passionate avant-garde aficionado – would likely describe as ‘weird shit’, starting with the woozy atonal discordant mess of ‘Odd Duty’ placing the emphasis on ‘odd’ and ‘Padlocks on a Bridge’ bringing together wheezing bellows notes with off-kilter percussion.

All the vodka isn’t quite enough to make sense of this sonic derangement. It isn’t abstract, it’s just warped and wilfully perverse. And it’s little short of genius.

AA

Blow 5

30th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

On the strength of the cover, with its sombre-looking black and white image of a fledgling gull (I think – I’m not David Attenborough) perched atop a post with the sea behind it, all the way to the horizon where it meets a brooding sky, you would expect The Earth Swan Sings Again to mark a turn towards serious, introspective and altogether less hectic approach to music-making. And in some respects, it is.

While still incorporating the wildly disparate elements of his recent previous albums – of which there are many, and then some (he’s put out a full dozen in the last decade) – The Earth Swan Sings Again feels less manic, more refined, but no less magpie-like in its amalgamation of a broad range of genres. And on this outing, Reaks has gone even further out on the jazz trip he embarked upon with Track Marks last year. This may seem strange for an artist who doesn’t really like jazz, but Reaks is an artist who doesn’t allow genre prejudice to contaminate his creative process. This is postmodern art at its intertextual best: everything is equal, and it’s all material. What counts is how that material is used, recycled, adapted. Etc.

This all makes for a more accessible set of material, but of course it’s all relative, and songs with titles like ‘I Stroked Her Like a Leper’, ‘Her Body Convulsed’ and ‘Today Hurts More than Mercy’ are never going to have the commercial appeal of the mediocre shit of Ed Sheeran or Bastille or whatever cal R1 is spinning on an endless brainwashing loop these days, and that’s before you even get to the music itself. ‘She stretches open like a parasite’s echo,’ Reaks sings by way of a refrain on ‘She Stretches Open (Like a Parasite’s Echo)’. It’s vaguely disturbing, and entirely surreal, but in keeping with his abstract / cut-up approach to the creation of art.

Bringing a more low-key vibe that’s dominated by a post-punk atmosphere, The Earth Swan Sings Again is darker and challenges in different ways from preceding efforts. The basslines are still dubby but less rampantly wild, and more about driving by stealth. The guitars are still choppy, but veering toward the picked and understated – apart from the immense and brain-meltingly OTT jazz/prog wigouts that splurge all over the place unexpectedly and incongruously – they’re altogether more subtle. Well, the guitars, maybe: the OTT jazz/prog wigouts are maybe less so, but they work, and there’s a sense that Reaks knows all of this. As one of the most singular artist practising at this moment in time, Reaks knows what he’s doing, and also knows that one chooses art of commercial success. And this is art.

The Earth Swan Sings Again is dark and stark, low-key yet eclectic, and at times inexplicable. Of course it is: it’s an Ashley Reaks album, and when it comes to walking the line between genius and madness, Reaks has forged a career by joyously straddling it and raising two fingers to convention of any kind. Outré creative talents like Reaks are few and far between, and while the mainstream grows ever safer, ever more diluted, ever more background and by-numbers, the need to artists who rub hard against the grain grows ever greater.

AA

Ashley Reaks – The Earth Swan Sings Again

Bearsuit Records – 1st December 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The album’s acknowledgements indicate that the little Edinburgh label has some high-profile and well-respected champions, including Stuart Maconie, Tom Ravenscroft, Gideon Coe, Mark Riley, David Stubbs… and some guy called Nosnibor. I’m deeply flattered to find myself in such prestigious company. It’s no secret that as a music writer, I’m a fan first and foremost, and Bearsuit stand out for their unswerving commitment to the weird and the wonderful – and, indeed, the wonderfully weird.

From minimal, brooding electro-pop to experimental avant-folk via haunting, spectral gothtronica, and space-prog in waltz-time, it’s all here on this latest compilation. Psychedelic dreampop, scratchy, glitchy trip-hop, stark post-industrial noise, and a jumble of all other elements which should never meet cozy up side but side and on top one another. Quirky isn’t in it.

Luscious, sweeping strings glide over a softly pulsating throb, and it’s all very cinematic, very John Williams on ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’, Alexander Storadiau’s contribution to this collection. No two ways about it, it’s a grand opening worthy of JG Thirlwell. But then PoProPo bring a busy mess of high-friction jazz-funk-punk, which just wouldn’t be complete without the wibbly Theremin wails. The weirdy, sultry cabaret of Martian Subculture’s ‘Chewing Gum’ contrasts again.

The reason I love Bearsuit isn’t because I love every tune they release, but because every tune they release opens my ears to something new, and because they’re fearless in pushing the most far-out stuff from the deepest underground. Tthere are some truly ‘what the fuck?’ moments on here. ‘Tous Les Rochers’ by Yponomeutaneko leads the way. Swaggering brass and monotone spoken word breaks into discord and a load of crazed shouting. I haven’t a fucking clue what they’re shouting about, or why, or why the track even got recorded, but the fact it did, and that it’s on here is utterly brilliant. The sing-song vaudeville oompah of ‘World Travel of the Piano Tuner’ by Shinnosuke Sugata is music completely out of time, complete with muffled wax cylinder production.

The Moth Poets offer up some glacial post-punk disco hybrid collision with operatic bombast. Swords Reversed bring a palace of oddball melody and thumping beats, while Petridisch – one of three acts with two tracks featured – cultivate an air of otherness. No two acts featured are alike, and yet they compliment one another perfectly. Sequencing matters as much as selection on a compilation album, and The Invisible & Divided Sea flows nicely.

It’s a gloopy, tangential, often disorientating concoction of disparate sounds that somehow stands as the perfect representation of both the artists involved and the label itself.

AAA

Bearsuit Comp Cover