Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bad Suburban Nightmare

Bad Suburban Nightmare - Highways I
Must Die Records. CD. MDR 018

Two days of blissful wandering along the Rhine in the autumnal Dusseldorf sunshine had to have its downside and it arrived on the flight home. Crammed into the back of a 737 with the boisterous remains of a hen and stag ‘do’ desperately trying to make a pissed up weekend spin out until last orders we jointly gritted teeth and gave thanks to the fact the flight lasted less than an hour. The half dozen beers I’d had earlier in the day did the trick and I somehow managed to doze off leaving Mrs. Fisher to suffer the knob jokes, the shrieking laughter and the sounds of cans of beer being popped all to her good self. Before I dozed off I heard one of the stag party say in a loud and authoritative voice ‘I’m rounding the weekend off in style lads … I’m having a Stella’. Stella Artois being that essential watery anesthetic so beloved of those wishing to attain drunken nirvana in six easy steps. This, coming from someone who’d just spent two nights in one of the best brew cities in the world. Its enough to make you weep.

I didn’t take any music with me this time. I usually do but for once I’d thought I’d clear my head of the stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of Soft Machine lately you see [and Kevin Ayers of course] and I needed to cleanse the palette, start afresh, give the old shell likes a rest. Which is what I did. And then today I thought I’d give Bad Suburban Nightmare a spin and my ears came back all shiny and new.

BSN is one man and his guitar, [barring a few loose drum hits and the odd plonk of piano] who creates a desolate sound that flits between Ry Cooder, Keiji Heino, Neil Young, Phil Todd, and late era John Fahey. Armed with an electric guitar and the odd pedal or two BSN watches the tumbleweed go by to an accompaniment of whammied strings, lonely notes and harmonic strum. The sparse use of notes and the laid back atmosphere of it all gives the release a supreme sense of desolation. The maudlin vocals on the first and last track which become nothing more than mumbled nothings by the time of the third add further dust to an already windswept release. The longest track on here is the one that gets the Ry Cooder comparisons, ‘Rollerskate Highway’ is pure sun bleached lizard territory and not far from Ry Cooder’s Paris Texas soundtrack only with more distortion and added eeriness. ‘Thee Angels + Th Dark’ is where the Heino comparisons come in, lots of wailing upper neck frot and chin back angst. Its to the bookends of this release where it really sinks its hooks though. In a voice that makes Bob Dylan sound like choir boy BSN sings/moans/wails about death and dead bodies and the fit is perfect.

I don’t normally go in for introspective guitar noodling but this works. I found myself being strangely hypnotized by it all. Maybe I listened to too much American guitar based music as a kid and this has dragged me back to a time when anything American sounding was to be lapped up. Whatever, no more Soft Machine for a while though.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Amniotic - Unlover/Let The Dogs Erode
Caul Imprint. 2XCDR

Amniotic - Unit 63
Caul Imprint. 3”CDR

Contact: http://caul-imprint.blogspot.com

Amniotic is the work of solo female artist Johannah Henderson who, if I’m not mistaken, was last seen working alongside Jase Williams in the chaotic noise/rock/improv outfit The Mothers of the Third Reich. Here she ditches the random drum bashing of MOTTTR for a far more personal project involving birth. The results of which, in parts at least, are quite a revelation.

Hendersons songs are ghostly affairs, most of them featuring murky bass guitar runs as backbones upon which she layers guitar frills, apocalyptic spoken word prose, piano motifs and field recordings. But its Hendersons haunting vocal delivery and the blurred recording technique which leave the most memorable and affecting memories. Singing lyrics that only rarely appear she buries her voice deep in the mix so that it emerges at times either like a lost soul or a bewitching lorelie. Match this to songs which are at times stripped bare to nothing but single instruments and you have a very effecting delivery.

Its not often I get to review material such as this so this has been a salve of some sorts. I have to admit to fearing for the worst upon opening Johannah’s jiffy bag, Anybody who’s reviewed as many noise releases as me will know only too well the feeling that arrives with the emergence of hand painted CDR’s. I like to be proven wrong now and again though, it keeps you on your toes.

But back to the music.

I was lifted from my cups. I found myself humming certain bass riffs. I downloaded the 27 tracks onto the ipod for midweek consumption [all these tracks, as seems the norm these days, are available for download]. I pondered becoming some kind of Svengali figure taking Henderson from her south coast roots to transport her to worldwide stardom but I fear the reality is that a lot of people just wont get this music and entreuprenuriship doesn't sit easy with me either. These track work because the construction is experimental in approach with the results being entirely listenable in an across the board fashion. Give this to someone trying to wean themselves off indie pap and you have instant success. It works on many levels. The  blood red artwork, torn piece of birth certificate and snippets of paper all go towards making these three releases parts of one birthing whole.

On ‘The Number E’ [second track on UNIT 63] to a background of photocopier noise she bangs away like The Shaggs whilst moaning sweet, mumbled nothings. The track ebbs away on a sweet drooping bass guitar run. ‘The Valley of Wine’ is a simple song with a simple two chord strummed acoustic guitar run with a vocal sample that ends ‘come and see the blood on the streets’ the voice emerges from the murk with an eeriness that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The three instrumental triptychs on Let The Dogs Erode sound like a cross between Alan Bishop guitar twang and one of Tom Waits weirder interludes. The title track on ‘Unlover’ is built on a sample taken from some lolloping machine upon which she plays a dainty guitar refrain and sings, moans, whispers unintelligible sweet nothings. Its quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. All of it is recorded in a murk that makes you wonder if the masters have been dipped in some special ‘make it all sound like its been recorded in a strange space’ formula. And lets not forget the instrumental ‘Industrial’, a four minute slice of muted roar and stretched leather strapping that wouldn’t look out of place on a Column One release. ‘Kamikaze Citizen’ contains vocal work comparable with the Cocteau Twins Liz Fraser and just for good measure theres some seagull squawks and a beautifully melodic fiddle to drowse along to. Its mind boggling stuff.

But I try not to get too carried away with myself. On repeated listens I wondered if I’d tricked myself into thinking that this was better than it was and sure enough some of the tracks on ‘Unlover’ drop below the quality bar. Some tracks contain a certain naiveté that lightly scars the better work but this is small beer. There are times when Henderson’s vocal delivery seems to teeter on the edge of Japanese opera too especially on the track ‘Soliel’ but I can forgive her these slights because so much of whats on here is of such inventive quality.

Its not everyday I get to come across a talent at such an early stage of development. I feel as if I’m at the beginning with Johanna egging her on to produce more quality work but even if she never releases another thing she’ll have left us with these enigmatic jewels

[Let The Dogs Erode contains a video work but such is the nature of hand painted CDR’s that I fear placing them in a PC that I rely daily on - its not available on the download either. A vital missing part for which I can only apologise].

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sudden Infant - Noise In My Head

Sudden Infant - Noise In My Head [The Actionist Music and Art of Joke Lanz]

Published by Marhaug Forlag. Hard cover. 160 pages [16 colour].
300 copies
ISBN 978-82-998765-0-6



A quick plug for Lasse Marhaug’s new publication venture Marhaug Forlag. Noise In My Head is a collection of essays and an interview with Joke Lanz coupled to numerous photos of Sudden Infant actions, Lanz artwork, concert posters and flyers. Theres also a visual discography and pictures of fans wearing Sudden Infant t-shirts. What more do you want? With only 300 copies out there though I guess there’s going to be a lot of disappointed Sudden Infant fans. Get one while you can.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Mixed Band Philanthropist / Broken Penis Orchestra

Mixed Band Philanthropist - The Impossible Humane [25th Anniversary Edition]
Hypnagogia Cassette. PN01. 200 copies

The Broken Penis Orchestra - Plays With Itself
Hypnagogia Cassette. PN02. 200 copies

Back in the mid nineties I decided to dabble in the art of making sounds from samples. The idea of creating something new from the bits of something old appealed to me and not in a Stars on 45 way either. Influenced by the likes of Illusion of Safety, Nurse With Wound and Aphasia I armed  myself with a Fostex 4 track, various music formats and a bottle of whiskey. Over the course of a few nights I sat and spun and edited and eventually made something new but alas not something worth listening to more than once.  I soon realised that I had neither the patience, skill or wherewithal to create anything of any longstanding merit and gave the whole thing up as a bad job.

Which is why I admire those that can do it. They make it seem so effortless when in reality some poor sod has had to spend the best part of a summer painstakingly splicing together and mixing an unending series of three second samples into something coherent and listenable, all without going mad.

In 1986 Mixed Band Philanthropist did what I could could never dream of doing and released ‘The Impossible Humane’. Thirty odd minutes of splatter collage created via samples originating from the likes of Merzbow, Smegma,Vortex Campaign, Organum, H.N.A.S, Etant Donnes, Andrew Chalk, Asmus Tietchens, Nurse With Wound, The New Blockaders and about twenty odd other artists working on the fringes of experimental music. Its car crash tape collage still stands today as one of the best examples of the genre. Its perpetual barrage of split second samples are a dizzying mess of sixties pop songs, scrapes, industrial whirr, uncategorizeable racket, ghostly voices, electronic beebles and burrs, sped up records, tape whizz, machine rumble, snatches of reggae, bucket damage, kazoo farts, disco spots and about three thousand or more [I’m guessing] other samples that really shouldn’t work but by some slight of hand or genius, actually do. Which is the thing that draws me to such work in the first place. On paper snatches of steel bands shouldn’t be found on the same side of tape as Geordie MC’s, Michael Jackson, pneumatic drills, early Merzbow muck and 50’s doo wop but on the Impossible Humane they do and again, it works. Totally. Then comes the added bonus of being able to listen to this to the point of ad nauseum, mainly due to the fact that there are so few reference points that every listen brings something new. And this is 1986 remember, none of that taken for granted home computer and digital editing fancy Dan stuff. You can put this down to the talents of Richard Rupenus, K. Jameson, and D. Lucas who, no doubt influenced by those twenty odd artists, put this thing of beauty together.

This release also gathers in the 2003 MBP single ‘The Man Who Mistook A Real Woman For His Muse And Acted Accordingly’ plus a reworking of this single by The Broken Penis Orchestra. ‘The Man Who’ … uses the same template as The Impossible Humane but this is more of a nudge nudge Friday night lads out affair with lots of knob jokes coupled to comedy sound effects - it wouldn’t have looked out of place stuck to the cover of Viz magazine or on the b side of a Stars on 45 Pints single, what with all the North East Geordie DJ gorm thrown into it. Rupenus R must have been busy with his pause/record button during many a late night Metro Radio session to have gathered together all the source material used here. Still, it works, thats the main thing and despite all the oo-er vicaryness of it all you still cant help but admire the damned thing.

Then we have The Broken Penis Orchestra. ‘Plays With Itself’ has seen the light of day twice now [both on CDR], once with PyschoChrist in an issue of 33 and once with Hypnagogia in an edition of a 100. Its worth releasing again though. BPO is Stan Reed of Blue Sabbath Black Cheer fame, or as he’s credited here Srad Tene and again its a kaleidoscopic array of sample mania. This time the samples sit a little longer allowing for the formation and reinforcement of ideas.  Samples drop out of the mix only to reappear moments later and despite the obvious Nurse With Wound influence I did detect bits of Negativland and Smegma. ‘Plays With Itself’ is almost as fevered as The Impossible Humane but with completely different samples of course [it was originally released in 2000]. Here you can expect, Melt Banana thrash, spoken word, Nintendo missiles, lonely sax solos, noise drone, flutter, jazz skronk bands, gospel choirs, rock drumming, heavy piano chords, R&B bass runs, twanging guitar, religious radio bollocks, struck tubular steel as modern gamelan all of it threaded together with reverb, echo and lots of industrial string. There’s also room for ‘Could Someone Please Turn This Off’ a track that appeared on the ‘Bone Tickling Nightmare Pig’ comp.  

What impresses me about both these releases is the inventiveness and patience thats needed to put such material together. The fact that even after 25 years The Impossible Humane hasn’t dated one tiny bit is further testament to its originality. Both are towering releases and ones that you really need to own. For those seeking further enlightenment I suggest digging around in the BPO back catalogue. ‘Testicle Difficulties’ still gets played around these parts on a regular basis.

I’ve reviewed some of this material before in a previous guise but its been nothing less than a sheer delight to hear it all once again.