Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Yol - Everyday Rituals
CDR. No Label.
Yol & Posset - A Watched Pot Never
CDR. No Label.
Yol & Half an Abortion - The Designated Driver
CDR. No Label.
I get the feeling that if you ever invited Yol around for tea he’d be out of his chair as soon as your back was turned clanging together the fire hearth brush and pan set or screaming up the chimney to check out the acoustics. I’m not saying he’s a lunatic or not fully house trained yet but I do get the feeling he’s on a constant mission to create noise at all times and is forever curious as to what does what and what makes what. If you see what I mean. If you’ve yet to come across Yol [and if you’ve been reading these pages over the last couple of years then you really have no excuse] he’s the man from Hull who’s a cross between an angry Phil Minton and The New Blockaders. Now read on.
The noises he makes with his mouth combine strangulated gurgles and Tourettes outbursts with wails of anguish and kitchen utensil abuse. He’s a man forever losing his temper with a stubborn jam jar lid, he’s pushing a mop bucket around a tiled floor, he’s dropping things, clanging things but most of the time he’s emptying his lungs in the most violent manner you could ever possibly imagine. If you thought Junko was extreme then you need to hear some Yol.
Even after all these years, well three, since what was Neck Vs Throat I’ve been held in awe at the sheer aliveness of Yol’s work. His live performances are short, abrupt things where you begin to wonder if he’s in need of some kind of psychiatric help. Its a rare thing to find someone who gives so much of themselves in the live situation, which goes some way to explain why his performances are over and done with within the space of ten minutes. If you’ve gone to the bar and then for a piss you’ve usually missed half of it at least.
I’ve seen him live a couple of times now, once solo and once most memorably, with the Filthy Turd who’s natural ability to cause both unease and hilarity amongst audiences fitted in well with a writhing, angular, intense Yol. Its natural that musicians and performers should choose to collaborate and it would appear that Yol has no shortage of willing accomplices. With both Posset [dictaphone, cassettes] and Half an Abortion [noise, what else] he’s found two who’d invite him around for tea any day.
‘A Watched Pot Never’ finds Yol gurgling/shouting in a now trademark almost stutter shout as Posset strains the capstans with a smear of squeals and flutter; that’s ‘Pigeon Film’, ‘Inappropriate Pause’ hits the feedback button and sees Yol go for the Jap noise vocal dollar as Possett weaves in all manner of cassette fuckery with short bursts of this and slowed down bits of that. ‘Sit Down and Shut Up’ feels almost cerebral in comparison until we’re back in the TNB shed with the scraping and rattling of things, mainly cymbal like, mainly noisy, never dull.
Two live tracks bookend ‘The Designated Driver’ with the first ‘Sicked Up’ finding Yol in the midst of some, at times, fierce blasts of distorted ice cream van toons shouting, ‘SICKED UP BURGER!’ before releasing a stomach deep scream that would be the envy of any death metal band. If anything the title track is even more visceral with Yol struggling with the words ‘Im the designated driver’ until eventually he spits out ‘YOU BASTARD!’ in what, it has to be said is a rare outing of profanity. Pete Cann [Half an Abortion] layers on plenty of muck until at its end there’s just Yol struggling with his last wretch. When all goes quiet you hear Cann in a surprised voice say ’where are you going?’ The two tracks sandwiched between finds Cann rummaging about in a box of knick knacks as Yol suffers a heart attack, bits of words stuttering out of his mouth, foam gathering at its edges, mouthing angry baby words, dying and being resurrected just in time to wretch it one more time. The longest track on here ‘Bang’ wanders into violin scrape Dada absurdist territory which for once is respite.
When sailing under his own steam Yol tends to introduce more verbal dexterity into the mix hence such gripping lines as ‘Its all fun and games until someone loses an eye’ [on ‘Fun and Games’] which was probably recorded at the Wharf Chambers and which it looks like I missed. What makes Yol stand out from the rest of the noise merchants and leads me to believe we have real talent here are tracks such as ‘Poundshop Gamelan’ which highlights Yol's febrile imagination and creates in two and half minutes a link between performance artist, austerity Britain and a grimy Hull meets exotic Java. A sentence I thought I’d never write. Last track ‘Bucket Ritual’ is as you’d expect Yol versus bucket in another live outing. As Yol rattles and smashes to the ground a galvanized mop bucket he screams, growls, yelps and stutters. Words are spat out; ‘the rain is expected to get HEAVIER AS THE DAY GOES ON’. Sometimes he struggles to get the words out, gasping for breath, a small string of bells tinkle, the bucket goes to the floor once again. ‘ITS JUST A BIT OF BANTER’ as a bastard file goes down the side of the bucket releasing painful, grating squeals. The cut short audience response at its end is genuinely enthusiastic. Go see him live should you get the chance or invite him round to scream up your chimney.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Beetroot Toilet Terror
Cassette. No label.
Having just made, for the first time in my life, some meat free Ukrainian Borscht it would seem appropriate to review Beetroot Toilet Terror. No matter that I received this just last week and that I have a cluttered backlog of review material that forever teeters Tower of Pisa like, for Beetroot Toilet Terror the time is now.
So who is this purveyor of Beetroots? This Toilet Terror who comes without any information whatsoever bar the words Beetroot Toilet Terror. That it came from Mirfield and had a note from that man Campbell we deduce that what we have here is Neil Campbell doing it Old Skool Stylee, dubbing cassettes at home whilst knocking out some printed labels that get glued to card sleeve daubed in red paint. Even the cassettes are red. Its the way to do it of course. Bypass the pressing plant, get some jiffy bags, cassettes, make some music and mail it out.
But here’s the word ‘collab’ as hurriedly scribbled on enclosed note. But with who? I know not. Whoever it is they’ve certainly put the brakes on the Campbell express slowing down the runaway beserker pub disco going through a ruptured tweeter sound to something far downbeat and spacey.
It could be ‘Toilet’ or Terror’ it doesn’t really matter but here’s a squidgy thing all bleeps and bloops and a lolloping backbeat that you’d need a big bifter to fully appreciate. And here’s something that's totally spaced out man, KLF on Mogadon with meteor showers for company. ‘Beetroot’ [one of them] opens with a familiar ASC 4/4 thud but quickly becomes another sludge trawl.
What makes these six tracks so damned repeatable is the way the two layers combine with ASC thudge/sludge acting as backbone to various synth motifs and other celestial happenings. There’s a tad of reverb too and in places a dubby atmosphere. All of it quite wonderful in a drug fueled way. I'm guessing.
Who this celestial collaboration maestro is we can only guess at for now, but whoever it is they’ve helped create a curio that made my post prandial borscht hour all the more pleasurable.
No download then. No digital manifestation. No CD to rip from. The best you can do is go and make some borscht, find Beetroot Toilet Terror and make your own beetroot toilet terror.
Borscht Lovers Unite.
Monday, December 07, 2015
Ali Robertson + Friends
Giant Tank. GTNK025. Cassette.
Ali Robertson + His Conversations.
Giant Tank. GTNK026. CDR. 50 Copies.
Fritz Welch - Nothing To Offer
Singing Knives Records. Cassette.
Papal Bull - Argot of Incomprehension
Singing Knives/Discombobulate BOB007/SK023. CD
Papal Bull - In Ceres a Pig With Human Hands and Feet Were Born.
Chocolate Monk. Choc 253. CDR
The world of Gurglecore is but a small one [we can thank Phil Todd for the term]. People who make sounds with their mouths and sometimes pots and pans and the odd drum and sometimes electronica and the squeak of chair or the drop of stick. Choke and Clanger merchants, gobollallia, logorrhea lunatics. Gurglecore.
A small group of people in a tiny venue in Manchester accessed by a narrow flight of stairs from street level, twenty people sat around Phil Minton and Tony Oxley one with gob the other with drums and its just jaw dropping. It happened to me. An epiphany. Even the brother-in-law liked it and he’d only come for the beer. I’ve been here before but not often. Its a small world.
Several releases then that you could throw under a large-ish Emin embroidered vocal improv Dictaphone abuse noise Gurglecore blanket cover. Its not something I usually dig out on a Sunday evening but there’s no denying that certain factions within the vocal improv Dictaphone abuse noise Gurglecore world have a way of producing sounds that are of a nature that is like no other and is thus of a very satisfactory relaxing type sound, well some of it is. I think its the fact that you are listening to someone gurgle, or mash up their lips or scream or squawk or whisper, mumble, whistle, moan, groan, raspberry or just plain old talk that makes a refreshing change from the music or sounds that I usually reach for. Perhaps its the connection between speaker and listener, like listening to Stephen Fry reading from one of his books as you crawl through the M1 road works, a familiarity that brings comfort. Like listening to Collette Robertson’s Scottish brogue intoning the words ‘if only you could put a little bit of yourself into the work’ against the sound of traffic noise.
Its the simplest of instruments. If you’ve walked alone down a long corridor or under a motorway bridge full of echo and not whistled or barked like a dog or shouted out rude words then you are a very sad person indeed.
Ali Robertson likes to talk. As do his friends. After a walk with Collette by the side of a busy road ‘his conversations’ is just that with a recording device sat on the mantlepiece catching the talk which segues into someone spitting ‘P’s’ and straining to rid themselves of a stiff shit which is, if nothing else, light relief from the garbled mass of conversations over which someone sometimes makes wibble noises.
His ‘& Friends’ finds Barry Esson, Bryony McIntyre, Ash Reid and Murdock Robertson involved in some kind of parlor word game, the rules of which I couldn’t fathom, in which the participants recite a certain phrase joining in at the right moment until you get them all talking at once or not at all. The other side has the village idiot having a coughing fit at an Irish jig and some kind of no-fi Bohman-esque scrapings. It's all rather mesmerizing and I have no idea why.
Taking these sounds into the art space can and usually does result in the kind of performance where you find yourself checking your phone or gnawing your wrist off in a bid to distract yourself from the pain resulting from what your eyes and ears are telling you. I’ve seen enough American sound poets to last me a lifetime each one of them making me wish I had a fully loaded Taser on my belt. Fritz Welch isn’t an American sound poet but he is American and his name is one that jingles the memory bank and I’m not sure if its in a good way. One side of his ‘Nothing to Offer’ [the gods of irony look down upon me] was recorded in a synagogue in Italy and consists of Welch hitting lots of drums and percussion type instruments in a haphazard fashion all whilst making noises with his mouth. The flip was recorded in a sauna in Edinburgh and moves along similar lines but is much sparser and all the better for it with Welch managing to create a truly surreal atmosphere with his rubbing and moaning. I’m just glad I didn’t have to watch it.
On the more suitably titled “Argot of Incomprehension’ we have Jon Marshall and Joe Murray going at it hammer and tongs under the Papal Bull banner. Here its all Michael Bentine’s Potty Time meets Captain Beefheart chewing on a hot sausage. I’m assuming it’s Marshall Touretting with the vocals as Murray scatters his Dictaphone wanderings hither and thither but I could be wrong. The rather splendidly scribbled and smudged inner sleeve mentions such exotic instrumenti as tres cubano, a xaphook, escalator and sheng amongst the more ubiquitous junk percussion, harmonica and shruti box. All this makes for a splendid near on 40 minutes worth of utter madness with Marshall and Murray constructing actual songs with actual song titles; ‘Snout Leather is Softest’, ‘Wand Erection’, Sadly Not Teeth Trees or Demons Piled on a Step’ which leads me to believe we have some wonderfully inventive minds at work. The way they distort the shruti box, brings to mind Mick Flower’s destruction of his Japanese banjo and with it the same kind of intensity. Chuck in the kind of demonic possession sounds as last seen on the Exorcist and you have the last track ‘Spangled Rag of the Butchers Apron’. Marshall and Murray are the perfect match, the jam roly-poly and custard of the improv world. Definitely one of the highlights of the year.
An earlier work from 2012/13 appears courtesy of Chocolate Monk and with it a leaning to the noisier end of the scale albeit it with smidges of gob gabble interspersed within. ‘Bourgeois Blues’ is all distorted to buggery tape manipulations eventually giving way to vocal gurgles and an ice cream van playing the theme from Match of the Day v-e-r-y, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Then there's the eleven minute ‘Sniff Out Where the Boar is Hiding’ where the cycling grind in one ear is matched by the screeching grind in the other, the shorter ‘Esther Mung, the Tenderloin’ [I just can’t help myself typing out these song titles] is more all-in wrestling grunt and gurn and all the better for it while the last track ‘Only the Mouth and Nose, and this last a Substitute for a Phallus’ reverts back once more to feedback and churn and a climax of moaning groaning voices.
I feel tempted to chuck in some Yol reviews here and further extend the joy to be had from working with the gob but it’ll have to wait.
So we go from conversations in Scotland to drum scrape to Beefheartian noise work outs and its all sounding enthusiastic and lunatic and bloody marvelous. Gurgletastic in fact.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Merzbow - Ecobondage
Menstrual Recordings. DLP+CD. 250 copies.
I got a phone call from my uncle. It was the early 80’s, October and I was out of work and had been so for the last six months. I was as skint as a skint thing, borrowing money against my dole cheque so as I could go out drinking, something which I took great pleasure in those days, that's the drinking not the borrowing. My uncle told me that there was a job going for me if I wanted it at the local coal tar enamel plant and that if I went and asked for his bridge playing mate Ernest he’d promise me enough work to last until Christmas. The thought of having enough money to see me through a solid week of drinking at Christmas and new year without having to borrow or get in debt drove from my mind whatever disapproving thoughts I had of the job being totally shit and instead went to see Ernest.
So I did and one cold and dark Sunday night at the back end of October I arrived at 6.30pm and reported to the foreman and five of us sat in a rotted Portakabin drinking tea until it was time to start work. Work involved the re-sleeving of coal tar enamel kegs whose wrappers and had become sodden through years of outdoor storage. Someone made the new wrappers, someone brought in pallets of old wet, soggy wrapped kegs and we all replaced them with new ones before putting a bag over them, strapping them to a new, less soggy, less rotted pallet before storing them outside again for shipping to Iraq where they were going to cover their lovely new pipeline with it.
It was tedious work made worse by the rotten sleeves springing cold dank water on to you when you split them and the people I was working with, which barring one, were worn down middle aged married men no doubt wondering how they’d managed to end up in a freezing cold shed doing a shit boring job for 72 hours a week. I was about 18 years old and was happy to be bringing home a tax free £300 [having been out of work for so long I didn’t have to pay tax until I reached my earnings threshold] a princely sum and after two months of it I soon had more money than I knew what to do with. When it came around to Christmas I knew that even after a weeks drinking I would still have plenty of cash left for what I wanted more than anything, a decent Hi-Fi system.
So I went to a shop in Bradford called Amriks and paid about a weeks wages for a Pioneer separates system that came in its own black MDF, glass fronted cabinet which had space underneath it for about 50 LP’s.
As of 2015 I still have the speakers, the turntable and the amp. A testimony to Pioneer’s build quality seeing has how these units have been used almost daily ever since. The sad fact is though that my trusty Pioneer separates as bought in Amrik’s 30-odd years ago now sound about as high fidelity as two bean tins with a bit of string running through them. It’ll still push relatively quiet music through its system but get anywhere near the noisier end of the spectrum and it all starts to sound mushy and horrible. Which in this job is about as much use as an ashtray on a bike.
The only thing to be done of course is to invest in some new equipment. So I spent three weeks trawling the websites of various Hi-Fi retailers and equipment manufacturers and pretty soon I realised that the world of Hi-Fi had moved on somewhat since I’d last bought a CD player to augment my Pioneer-ing bits. I now know that there is such a thing as a phono amp, a dedicated amp for your turntable because, obviously, the signal from your cartridge is a very weak one and you need something to increase it before its gets to your amp proper. So I bought one of those and a Pro-Ject turntable and a Marantz amp and some oak racking on which to sit it all and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll replace the speakers too after some sound testing but for now I’m trying not to hyperventilate at the thought of all this coming together and filling my days forever more with the most wondrous sound reproduction.
And here it all sits bar the oak racking which is probably still on a joiners desk in Rutland or getting lost by Fed Ex or the Big Green Parcel Machine so instead I sit and play the CD that came with Ecobondage because it appears that you can’t buy an LP these days without it coming with a CD or a download link.
The thought of hearing vinyl through, what will be probably known for the next thirty years as ‘the new system’ gets me so giddy I find myself buying a Merzbow record, something I haven’t done for a very long time. Its a reissue of a late 80’s release through the charmingly named Menstrual Recordings label. Because all the best Merzbow material has already been made. If only he’d have packed in a round ’96/’97 chipping out with Pulse Demon and Venerology, Merzbow at his screaming, crunching best before lap tops and the ubiquity of the internet and the resultant queue of labels intent on seeing Masami deliver on his promise of a thousand releases.
The last Merzbow release I reviewed was Kamadhenu four years ago, a review in which I kind of said goodbye to Merzbow. But that was before everybody went reissue mad and I got a new Hi-Fi, still without a rack, probably on a Big Green Parcel Machine and found myself with money burning a hole in my pocket and me wanting to hear some late 80’s Merzbow again. It’s a good time to be listening to early Merzbow thanks to the reissue market and labels like Vinyl-on-Demand putting 10LP’s of Masami’s very earliest work into a silk screened wooden box that'll cost you a £150. Truth be told I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Merzbow of late, mainly as an aid to blocking out unwanted work conversations at break times. My favourite find has been the ten minute track Peaches Red Indian which originally appeared on the 1983 release Mechanization Takes Command and sounds a lot like Vice Versa only with the vocals replaced by a boinging machine.
But back to Ecobondage which on the accompanying CD is to be found in its original two sided C60 form. Two tracks that show just how inventive and wide ranging a sound Masami was capable of creating before he set about trying to bore us all to death. Here we have everything from TNB like junk scrape to needle abuse to balloon squeak noise to didgeridoo honk to mournful soundscapes containing hidden conversations to dustbin shuffle and just the merest nod towards all out noise. The last ten minutes proved so popular that Autechre sought to remix it for the their contribution to the Russell Haswell collated release Scumtron, although I prefer what we have here which sits in Aphex Twin/Einstürzende Neubauten territory, a muffled rhythm played out on felted pipework with a layer sound disappearing and appearing again by use of a volume control.
Ecobondage and the randomness of an iPod shuffle have resulted in something I thought might never happen, the reawakening of my interest in all things noisy. After a while out in the noiseless wastelands its good to be back. I’ll let you know what it sounds like on the ‘new system’.
Sunday, November 08, 2015
Troum - Mare Morphosis
Transgredient Records. TR-09. CD
Troum & Yen Pox - Mnemonic Induction
Transgredient Records. TR-11. CD
Once upon a time there was a cassette only label called Direction Music run by a man called Peter Harrison. Direction Music released music by the likes of Vidna Obmana and Morphogenesis, Nurse With Wound appeared on an early compilation tape and Colin Potter seemed to be heavily involved as producer, contributor and tape duplicator. I used to write to Peter and send him money and in return I’d receive some of his tapes and more often than not a long hand written letter detailing all the music he’d bought recently, usually expensive Miles Davies and John Coltrane box sets. The man was a true music fan and like all good label owners and music fans he only ever released music that he truly loved.
I bought Maeror Tri releases from Peter because I liked their ambience and used to carry their cassettes around with me in an Eno-esqu bid to create my own ambiences and then one day in 2000 Peter Harrison sadly died leaving behind a back catalogue of 28 releases and that was that.
Maeror Tri morphed in to Troum who I sort of kept tabs on for a while but eventually, as is my directionless way, I found myself wandering down different avenues of musical exploration. So it was with some sense of glee that I opened a package containing two Troum releases and wondered how they were getting on.
What happened next can only be described as a moment of earth shattering devastation. It was as if the foundations of my very being had been rent asunder. For some reason Troum had recorded something so utterly awful, so ear displeasingly bad that I had to remind myself that this was in fact Troum and not some Black Metal Symphonic Rock hybrid the result of a very drunken conversation between a Norwegian Death Metal band and someone who had a trumpet who one night, after far too many Jagerbombs decided to make a record together.
I am talking of Mare Morphosis [itself a clunky linking of the shortening of ‘nightmare’ and ‘Morphosis, unless this has something to do with horses and I’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick completely] an almost hour long battle between pounding drums, climaxing bass runs and heavy synth breathing. It has, in all honesty, to be one of the most disfiguring hours I’ve ever spent in my entire life, a thing so lumpy and ungainly and so horrible to listen to that I want to be not to be able to recall it ever again as long as I live.
What Troum have created with Mare Morphosis [the third and final installment in the Power Romantic series I’ve just discovered] is a kind of hideous New Age Ambient Symphonic Rock, as if ever such an ungodly thing could ever exist. A thirteen minute intro of those drums followed by some noodley atmospheric snyth and some deep breathing before the sodding drums come back to pound my senses into submission once more. My jaw doth drop open.
As you can imagine, inserting the Yen Pox collaboration into the player shortly afterwards was nothing less than traumatic but thankfully the results less than harmful.
Mnemonic Induction is of the throbbing bass rumble undertow school of ambient and the kind of droning ambience that benefits from having a decent hi-fi up so as to capture the power of low end drone. The kind of drone as heard in the cargo hold of propeller planes as you make your way across vast expanses of ocean, the kind of drone upon which you can layer all manner of atmospheres [some like to say ‘textures but I find that word difficult to use seeing as how it conjures up images of things you can touch not hear] that go towards creating the kind of ethereal rumble I so used to enjoy on La Bradford records, the way they used to give the bass guitar five minutes to play ten notes. Empty spaces filled with roaring drones. Not bad and after what had gone before, nothing short of a miracle.
What we have here is a reworking by Yen Pox of a fifteen year old Troum work. Perhaps we have Yen Pox to thank for this not being the self indulgent twaddle that Mare Morphosis is. Either way this had me digging around for those old Maeror Tri cassettes until I remembered that I sold them to a Russian collector a few years back. Life goes on.
Wednesday, November 04, 2015
Bridget Hayden - Just Ideas/The Night’s Veins
Singing Knives Records.
Did I tell you about the time I got blind drunk at one of Campbell’s parties? Apparently I was dancing around the living room to Sun Ra flapping my arms about like a loon before eventually staggering to a taxi rank and from there my mind is a blank. I do have vague memories of talking to Bridget Hayden, drunken, incoherent ramblings on my part. I’m a terrible blathering idiot drunk which is one of the reasons I tend stay clear of overindulgence these days but after way too many vodkas, or whatever it was I was shoveling down my neck that night, I was no doubt in full throng, extolling the virtues of The Incapacitants or the night flights to New Delhi on Virgins new Airbuses or some other nonsense. I have no clear recollection of the chosen topic of conversation but I do remember talking to her, or as is probably more accurate annoying her. So I’m now taking this opportunity to apologise to Bridget for any offense I caused on the occasion of one of Campbell’s parties many, many years ago. I'm a good boy now honest. Just ask Neil.
So here comes the glowing review of a cassette that features seven tracks of Hayden’s solo material as recorded between the years 2002 and 2007.
Work that veers from all out guitar noise to Yoko Ono type moaning as accompaniment to, not surprisingly, Vibracathedral Orchestra type improv work outs with drones created from out of breath harmoniums and fluttering flutes. The latter are from the ‘Just Ideas’ side, a title which gives you some indication of whats going on here. Its the best side with wheedling, squealing violin creating short overtone bursts that have an almost ethnic feel to them and then overdubbed slide guitar and moans and that almost Astral Social Club rapid beat feel as from a Casio keyboard drum machine preset set to max. ‘The Night’s Veins’ two tracks begins with some full on guitar racket with Hayden shredding strings amidst a cacophony of feedback. What follows are ethereal voices, radio transmissions, tapes in reverse, Chinese State Radio broadcasts at three a.m. Just ideas and pretty good ones at that.
Hayden is perhaps better know for her involvement with Leeds droners Vibracathedral Orchestra and she also takes part in the rare collaboration, I’ve dug out the Delaney/Todd/Hayden release ‘Freeway Alabama’ so as to re-familiarise myself with its luxurious expanses. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her live on more than one occasion too, hunched over a guitar wreaking havoc from it but I may have been drunk and can only half remember. Those days have gone. Did I mention this before?
Sunday, November 01, 2015
Ice Yacht - Pole of Cold
Fragment Factory. FRAG34. C40
The recent resurgence in all things analogue synth has led to a small flood of Klaus Schultze wannabes. Which is good news to ears like mine brought up on Jean Michel Jarre and Tomita but not all of its good news. Because for every Emeralds there will be a Onehotrix Point Never and no matter how much audio mulch electronic labels churn out I'll still be far happier getting my hands dirty in the obscure back catalogs of DIY labels from the late 70’s early 80's.
Like Ice Yacht. Originally appearing in 1981 on the Storm Bugs own Snatch Tapes label it has since languished in obscurity only for it to be given a new lease via Fragment Factory and for that we can all be grateful.
This is the story; a release inspired by the 19th century Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen and that a copy of this very tape was discovered and brought back from the frozen north before being defrosted, baked and sprinkled with wuffle dust which thus restored it to its now playable status. Which is complete bollocks of course. Phillip Sanderson is the producer here and since he’s one half of Storm Bugs, that late 70’s early 80’s, since reformed in the 2000’s DIY experimental outfit of some renown, then I would hazard a guess that this is indeed the man himself. But this is mere sideshow.
My knowledge of Storm Bugs is hazy. I have a couple of releases here, reissues of their early stuff which was for the most part was lost in that stampede of creative late 70’s post punk experimentalism years. I once saw them play The Rammel club in Nottingham a couple of years back, synths and gadgets and things and all good and Ice Yacht isn’t too much of a departure from that vein. Not that I’m an expert or anything.
Its touted on the Fragment Factory website as an ‘austere piece of drum loop and drone music’ which isn’t far from the mark but I’d add that some tracks remind me of early Schultze and Froese with those forever driving pulsing overlapping synth rhythms that kept Tangerine Dream fans nodding away for hours on end ['Pole of Cold' and 'Racing in the Arctic Shadow'] except that with this being England [or the North Pole] in the early 80’s this has a far more urban feel to it. Not exactly Chris Carter but definitely more Deptford than Berlin, while ‘Summer With Snow and Bees’ moves in distinctly Aphex Twin ‘Selected Ambient’ territory. ‘Vostock Station Hallucinations’ is Martin Denny meets the shimmering, going in reverse piano plonk of Keith Jarrett and if you think that sounds weird thats because it is.
When I originally played this all those months ago [apologies to all involved] I found a couple of tracks veered into Industrial plod territory, something which I felt gave this release a lopsided feel. I can forgive this explorer these minor indiscretions tho, this was after all 1981 and whats good for synth lovers then is good for synth lovers now.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Reflections - Original Instrumental Hits
CBS. Various Artists LP
Imaginations - Further Reflections
CBS. Various Artists LP
The chazzas have been kind to me of late. At a time when most of the review pile lies in a moribund heap sighing at me like a bored teenager I take great comfort from the plunder to be had in Cleck’s chazzas. And Brighouse, whose Oxfam furnished me with two half decent Be Bop Deluxe albums ['Modern Music' and their last 'Drastic Plastic'] and Bill Nelson’s second solo album ‘Quit Dreaming …’ but it was the hometown chazzas that once again saw me returning home with a bulging organic cotton tote bag.
Someone must have been down to Kirky Hospice with their dads old LP’s and who am I to resist? For there on a crammed shelf [which I had to get down on my haunches to inspect of course] lay ‘The Fifth Chasidic Song Festival 1973' and beside it something called 'Geulah Songs' by the Jerusalem Orchestra and all in Hebrew with a sepia picture of some smiling cherubs by the Wailing Wall. There was ‘Turning the Tides’ by Moon a jazz rock outfit from the 70's who are simply awful and ‘Air Pocket’ by Roger Powell a 1980 schmock rock LP [featuring Todd Rundgren on e-bow vomit] which I struggled to play all the way through but those covers and the fact that I’d never heard of these people and for the sake of 50p I could have in my hands some kind of lost classic but no it was all rubbish but hey ho they takes your money. But I’ve not finished, there was the Stanley Clarke ‘Journey to Love’ LP from 1975 which was all grubby and gritty but after being carefully washed with hand soap under warm running water it came up a treat - I can thoroughly recommend this method of cleaning records and the pleasure to be had in feeling those minuscule bits of grit wash away under your fingertips and the triumphal return to the turntable of a once more gleaming record where, as if by magic, most of the crackle has disappeared.
Its these two LP’s of instrumental hits that have had the most plays over recent weeks. Released in the early 80’s by CBS they capitalised on the continuing public appetite for all things film and TV themed, here a moment in time buoyed by the success of the likes of breathy New Age folksters Clannad and Greek keyboard prodder Vangelis whose ability to churn out twee tunes made him a household name and far more money than playing prog with Aphrodite’s Child. He has three contributions over the two here here but for what I'm presuming are contractual reasons his Chariots of Fire theme is played by a totally unknown to mankind outfit going by the name of Hawk & Co.
There are two reasons why I like these kind of 'instrumental' comps, one is that they contain music that I find oddly emotional and the other is the bizarre juxtaposition of artists and composers, its only on compilations such as these that you will find Phillip Glass [with ‘Facades’ au natural] sharing the same billing as Acker Bilk, Riuchi Sakamoto with Richard Clayderman, The Shadows with an Orchestra conducted by Geoffrey Burgon.
Imaginations contains my favourite Elton John track, ‘Song For Guy’. Favourite because I liked it as a kid when I heard it on the radio and favourite because he hardly sings on it [and like Clannad he does sing, a dint in the ‘instrumental’ lie]. Reflections also has the only Abba track I’ll admit to liking which is ‘Arrival’, a pop droner if ever there was one. Sakamoto’s Theme From Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence is still one of the saddest things I’ll probably ever hear and is simplicity itself but not all of its good of course. Comps are never perfect but the good stuff far outweighs the dross. Dross being panpipe music, which once upon a time used to be the default chazza background music until they all went upmarket and started having their own radio stations with Diddy David Hamilton dishing out tips on how to stay warm in between spinning Cliff tunes. So we have to have Flight of the Condor because you can't have a [supposed] instrumental album without Flight of the Bloody Condor on it or Cavatina, or sodding Albatross. I’ll even let them have American jazz twiddler Lee Ritenour playing ‘Love Theme from an Officer and a Gentlemen’ because I’d rather have his instrumental version than the original which is of course far superior.
You have to have some ying to your yang and this is my way of offsetting the hours spent at the foot of the review pile. After an hours worth of light classical and a smattering of Andreas Vollenweider’s harp I feel like I could tackle a Merzbow box set. Maybe that's going too far but you know what I mean.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
André Salmon - Léon Léhautier, Anarchiste Pur.
Nurse With Wound - Close To You
Book + 3” CD
10 x 15 CM
ISBN : 979-10-94601-00-6
Many years ago my Nurse With Wound education was given a healthy boost by the purchase of two Nurse With Wound MP3 discs as bought from a record shop on Nevsky Prospekt in St Petersburg. The Russian disdain for copyright meant that Mr Stapelton got bugger all for his work whilst I got 22 albums spanning 1979 to 2000, and while the discography is incomplete it would be churlish of me to complain about the missing albums and the inevitable loss of sound quality.
I was already familiar with bits of the Nurse With Wound ouvre [as should anyone with any serious interest in the further reaches of sonic exploration] and consider A Sucked Orange and Rock ‘N Roll Station to be amongst my favourite albums but those two discs took me on a longer journey that at its end led me to believe that not everything Nurse With Wound released was covered in gold dust. Those early albums may have inspired a generation of noise makers but listening back now to Blank Capsules of Embroidered Cellophane I’m wondering if I can stick its full 28 minutes worth of studio fuck-about-ery and whether it was that good in the first place. Probably not. Merzbild Schwet is equally hard work and have you heard the collaboration with Hafler Trio on Staalplaat? Hard work doesn’t even cover it. But anyway.
My favourite Nurse With Wound sounds are the ones that somewhere along the line involve Colin Potter, David Tibet and Andrew Liles. ‘Close To You’ features Tibet and Liles in a fifteen minute mini epic that begins with solemnly played low end piano keys and ends with a Blackpool Tower organ version of the eponymous Burt Bacharach classic [there’s also a snatch about midway of the intro to Andy Williams' take on Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You - I guess they must have been listening to lots of Burt]. All this had me diving into the Nurse With Wound back catalogue so I played Man With the Woman Face and Chance Meeting and A Sucked Orange and Spiral Insana but not Sylvie and Babs because I don’t like the cut up stuff. But yes, Close To You, classic Nurse material with trademark Nurse sounds such as whispered foreign languages, salamanders sucking up worms and crisp packets being crinkled at loud volumes. A mysterious fifteen minutes worth with each sound being replaced in turn making for a seamless and endlessly curious journey. It goes without saying that the production and engineering standards are of the usual ear boggling quality.
There’s the book too, another one of those little Lenka Lente books and a story [In French] of an obscure anarchist who in 1893 killed the Serbian minister for France for wearing a decoration in his jacket. But I dare say that most of you reading this couldn’t give a toss about that little fact. Which is a shame because I’m sure there’s some kind of connection to be made here which due to my lousy French I’m missing [I have Frans de Waard’s review to thank for the Serbian minister info]. I can’t chide Lenka Lente for not publishing English language editions of their work but like Frans I feel that us monoglots are only getting half the picture. Our loss is the French speaking worlds gain I suppose.
[As an aside, I think I may actually be warming to 'Blank Capsules ...'. Its taken me a long time but perhaps I'm finally ready for it now.]
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Guttersnipe - Demo
Like Spike Milligan said ‘If you keep your ear close to the ground you get to listen to lots of dogshit’. And while this job [job?] leads to plenty of good listening I still get my fair share of dogshit. I have so many dog turds now that the review bin overflows with them. I daren’t even go near them for fear they’ll leap out and attack me, their little plastic cases trying to sever my jugular as I frantically flap in any direction screaming for help and mercy and forgiveness all in one panicked blurted out sentence.
But good things do arrive and when they do they’re a pleasant surprise. This Guttersnipe demo was picked up from the merch stall on the Saturday of the Tor Ist Das! fest where Guttersnipe were easily the best thing I saw all day. Not bad for an early evening slot in a church where acoustics don’t normally lend themselves to such howlings. Perhaps it was my stage front slightly to the left pew that did it? Or the good sound as generated by the sound man. I have no idea how these things work. All I know is that that guitar sound was real mean, a deliciously degraded sound akin to a seething wasps nest being stripped to its core with a circular saw set at 10,000 revs. There’s a drummer too, a cross between a daddy long legs and Thurston Moore, all lithe limbs and tousled hair. They’re from Leeds of course, assembled from the wreckage of a short lived group who had a Japanese sounding name who I saw play a few times down the Wharf where their short songs made from scratchy urgent guitar and rapid drumming always went down well with me - even if it wasn’t the kind of thing I’d chuck on the turntable at home.
There’s electronics too which gives their sound a noisier edge but its the way they combine guitar, drums and electronics into songs as a whole that really got my [and most everyone else’s in Todmorden’s that day] attention. Their delivery is all sneer and growl delivered with guts and emotion and genuine feeling. Its not something you come across too often.
The delicately printed fold out sleeve tells me the band consists of Xyloxopa Violaxia Bdallophytum on guitar, vocals and electronics and Oxylepis on drums, backing vocals and ‘troniks. I pass this on as mere information. By far the best of the six tracks and thirty minutes of this demo is the nine minute epic ‘Tutti Frutti Chernobyl’, which begins in Bolt Thrower territory and ends up in in the bottom of a tarry pit from which emerge the gaseous plops of various Japanese noise bands. Xyloxopa sings like a demented siren stuck down a well having diseased rats dropped on her head, a voice thats makes Diamanda Galas sound about as menacing as Mary Poppins. Oxylepis drums like an octopus. ‘The Last Vestiges of Sodomy on the Racecourse’ which gets my vote for the best track title of the year, contains the kind of guitar wringing that makes you want to like guitars all over again. At a time in my life where guitar bands mean less with each passing year I find myself in the unfamiliar position of championing a band with one at its very heart. The Last Vestiges of Sodomy on the Racecourse’ descends into the kind of howling noisestorm as created by many a noise artist but behind it all lies that voice and those rattling drums and a constant barrage of bass note detonations. Exhilarating stuff. Last track ‘Long Pincers Pips In The Tin’ is the shortest at a minute and a half and finds a helium filled cat singing to a background of electronic squiggles. Its all utterly joyful and full of life and proves that Leeds is still capable of producing bands that are at the very edge of whatever the zeitgeist is. Cant wait to see them down the Wharf Chambers, if they sounded good in a church the WC is going to feel like CBGB’s.
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
I never really got the collector thing. The usual stamp collection as a kid and then in my teens a rather odd phase, that lasted a couple of years, whereupon I took it upon myself to collect cigarette packets. No, I have no idea why either. One day I chucked them all in the bin and thats been that as far as collecting goes. Even when I got into music I didn’t feel the need to collect everything by an artist I admired or a genre or a label or a certain period of time. I’m more of your gadfly picking up bits here and there before moving on, always in search of something new, being delighted by some unexpected sound or release thats just amazingly dropped through the letterbox thats the best thing I’ve ever heard since the last thing. Even now where I’m lucky enough to be in a position to be able to afford pretty much what I want music wise, I feel no need to own original Pharoah Sanders LP’s or some of his more obscure early singles. If the house were to burn down tomorrow a part of me would probably think someone had done me a favour. But this isn’t everybody of course.
Some people are collectors. There are websites and magazines dedicated to their pursuit, collectors fairs where they get to dig around for bits that have escaped them and meet other collectorists, online forums where the tiniest details can be gone over in even greater detail by even greater collectorists. The Record Collector is one such magazine and I buy the odd copy if something on the cover catches my eye. This months issue features Steve Underwood in their ‘Collector of the Month’ column [or whatever its called]. And Steve, as any fule kno is head cheese at Harbinger Sound, the label thats gone from reissuing Japanese noise cassettes to top ten in the album charts courtesy of Sleaford Mods.
Its no secret that I’ve known Steve for quite some years now and have actually seen, in the flesh, his record collection, or parts of it at leasts since the place he was staying in when I visited wasn’t actually big enough to contain his thousands of singles and LP’s. A few of us spent an evening at his flat playing ‘Have you got?’ and invariably Steve had. An original copy of The New Blockaders first LP was casually tossed across the carpet, singles that people had heard of but never seen were dug out for us to ogle and admire. Jaws were dropped and homage was paid. We are not worthy etc.
I knew Steve liked his noise and his punk and his Bukowski, he used to send me tapes of Urinals singles and Smegma LP’s all of which were gratefully received all of which acted as portals to new worlds but it wasn’t until much later that I discovered that what really made Steve’s pulse race a little faster were singles released between 1978 and 1984.
These were the years when punks DIY ethos ran riot resulting in an explosion of creativity where anything was possible and the only limits of your creativity was the time it took for a needle to get from one edge of a seven inch single to the run off groove. Exciting times that are unlikely ever to be repeated but are remembered fondly by those who were there.
Steve took some of these singles down to Torquay to play on Steve Cammack’s Muhmur Radio Show. Its a three hour show [split into two for ease of access] which I’ve now listened to in its entirety and what its shown me is that there is a reason why people collect things; Steve collects singles from this period because if you want to hear them then you have to buy them in order to do so - they just don’t exist anywhere else, there are no handy double CD comps for you to listen to whilst you do the crossword, there may be the odd music blog with online archives but where’s the fun in that? If you want to listen to what Steve listens to you have to get out of your chair every three minutes and get your wallet thrashed in to the bargain. Its part of what being a record collector is all about.
The list of singles that follows this piece will give you some indication as to where Steve’s tastes lie. These bands were working on the edges of the edges. On labels so obscure that some of their releases have only ever been seen and heard by the very few. We are in deep DIY country, a country populated by those for whom punk was a soon to be forgotten corpse fit for nothing but those hitching a ride to stardom and appearances on Top of the Pops.
I have to admit to being blown away by these three hours. Listened to as a whole they span everything from adolescent prankery to groove damaged loop to damaged DIY punk to pre LAFMS craziness and are in all probability unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Since 1984 at any rate.
01: The Agitators : "Alien Sketch" (Redball Records) 1979.
02: The Agitators : "Johny W." (Redball Records) 1979.
03: The Agitators : "Fat Boy lager" (Redball Records) 1979.
04: The Agitators : "The Very Reverend 'Slow Talking' Jack Ruby" (Redball Records) 1979.
05: The Agitators : "RASCLAAT" (Redball Records) 1979.
(All tracks taken from the "Bound & Gagged With A Length Of Rubber Tubing" EP).
06: Pre Fix : "Underneathica" (Subterranean Records) 1981.
07: Der Spielverderber : "Spielverderber" (Zick Zack Records) 1980.
08: Pulp Music : "Low Flying Aircraft" (Pulp) 1982.
09: Dix Denny/John Denny : "Adulthood" (Numbskull) 1979.
10: Zyklon : "Part Time" (Grim) 1981.
11: NG : "Ambivalence" (Unbalance Recordings) 1980.
12: Residenz : "Albert Hilsberg" (Rondo Records) 1980.
13: Anemic Session : "Anemic Session" (Output Records) 1981.
14: Eazy Teeth : "Car Noise" (Dental Records) 1980.
15: Orchid Spangiafora : "Dime Operation" (Orchid Spangiafora) 1978.
16: Enstruction : "Keep Out Of My Body Bag" (Deux Ex Machina) 1982.
17: Die Lemminge : "Im Himmel" (Pure Freunde) 1981.
18: Flesh : "My Boy Lollipop" (Flesh) 1979.
19: Michael Atavar : "Cabral Dynamic" (Chance Records) 1980.
20: Sex : "Correlation Coefficient" (Index Records) 1979.
21: Annie Anxiety : "Hello Horror" (Crass Records) 1981.
22: Anonymous : "Snake Attack" (Flat Records) 1980.
23: The Barons : "Boiled Dinner" (Doublethink) 1981.
24: 8 Voices : "8 Voices" (Plurex) 1980.
25: Rectifier : "Perversion Of A Refined Nation" (Local Anaesthetic Records) 1982.
26: Nun : "Riv Skf" (If Product) 1984.
27: Another : "Paris Tribe" (Backstreet Backlash Records) 1982.
28: The Magits : "Fragmented" (Outer Himalyan Records) 1979.
29: Survivors : "We Died …" (Peoples Records) 1979.
30: Collective Horizontal : "Beach Coma" (Dolmen Records) 1981.
31: Phil Bedel : "Voice Of Concrete" (Happy Squid Records) 1980.
32: Daisuck & Prostitute : "Ai O Itamu Uta" (Altamira) 1980.
33: Omming For Woks : "Cut Of Knives" (Jabberwok Records) 1984.
34: In The Pink : "Running In The Family" (Grey & Anxious Records) 1982.
35: Idol Death : "New Lesson" (Dispy) 1980.
36: Radio Free Europe : "Eno's Funeral" (MiG Records) 1979.
37: Monty Cantsin : "Paper Bag Syphon" (Syphon) 1978.
38: Men/Eject : "Draw" (Not On Label) 1980.
39: Neu Electrikk : "Converse Of Tapes (Synesthesia) 1980.
40: Neu Electrikk : "Hand" (Synesthesia) 1980.
41: Hovlakin : "Unknown Title" (Unbalance Recordings).
42: The Poems : "Achieving Unity" (Polka) 1981.
43: Culturcide : "Consider Museums As Concentration Camps" (Information Records) 1980.
44: Debt Of Nature : "Gospel Light" (New Alliance) 1982.
45: What Is Oil? : "Scrosh!" (Oof Potato Enterprises) 1982.
46: Precision Bearings : "Don't Fall Down" (Fowl Records) 1982.
47: Mu : "Turn Off The Radio" (Backstreet Backlash Records) 1981.
(Taken from the "Motion In Tune" LP).
48: Grønvirke : "Grønvirke" (Gry) 1982.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Taming Power - 16 Movements For Electric Guitar
Early Morning Records. EMR LP - 008.
Taming Power - Selected Works 1992-98
Early Morning Records. EMR 10” - 005.
Taming Power - Selected Works 1997
Early Morning Records. EMR 10” - 006.
Taming Power - Fragments of the Name of God
Early Morning Records. EMR 7” - 013.
My short ten minute car journey to work takes me past two important reminders. The first is whats known locally as the ‘Chartists Fields’. The Chartists were the first working class political movement in England to petition for a voice in politics, which until then had been denied the ordinary working man. In 1839 what is thought to be a crowd of 250,000 Chartist supporters gathered to hear people talk in field that I now drive past every morning; 20,000 people marched the twenty odd miles from Todmorden with a brass band leading them the way all to hear incendiary speeches from people like Feargus O’ Connor who told them that change must come. This place reminds me of my working class roots and the fact that I live in what was once a hotbed of radical political thought and deed.
On the far edge of one of these fields I can see the back boundary wall of Liversedge Cemetery. Built in Victorian times it contains many an imposing headstone some of which I can just about make out as I tootle along with John Humphries reading me the early morning news. This reminds me that one day I will be dead so I better get my sodding finger out and write some reviews.
Which brings me to Taming Power and the third batch of records that have arrived from this most mysterious of Norwegian projects. Mysterious because Askild Haugland, the man behind Taming Power, decries all manner of promotion, mysterious because all his records have fairly mundane photos glued to them, mysterious because all his track titles are the dates he recorded them, mysterious because his work sounds so damn … mysterious.
Using sound sources such as an electric guitar, a pair of 70’s Tandberg reel to reels, radios, Tibetan bowls and the odd ethnic horn he wrings from them works that wallow in vast oceans of crenelated feedback, works that are primitive in their construct but somehow create the power to grip like little else I know. Some of his work pushes the boundaries of what you can physically endure, not because they’re poorly constructed compositions or painfully uncomfortable but because they’re so damned haunting, so uncomfortably sad and distressing, so … mysterious.
Selected Works 1997 is a case in point. Two side long tracks of two reel to reel tape recorders continually feeding back in a torrent of squealing lo-fi discomfort, a release that had it appeared on an early Broken Flag release would be seen as a classic of its kind. A seemingly never ending cascade of whistles and screaming contacts constantly jarring each other into submission.
And then there’s the deeply austere and melancholic ‘16 Movements For Electric Guitar’ which is easily the pick of this Taming Power delivery. Here Haugland plays electric guitar like he’s sat in the rain besides his best friends grave wringing out the saddest most deeply unsettling compositions - all of it swathed in rusty Taming Power analogue murk. Four tracks of spatial intertwining guitar notes, each one left to ring into an empty black hole where the sounds disappear forever. What makes this an even more unsettling listen is the minutes silence that breaks each side leaving this listener feeling like he’d attended a religious service where a minutes silence was deemed compulsory so as to let the enormity of what you’d just been told sink in. After listening to this LP for months now I doubt I could ever tire of it. If you thought Nick Drake was your favourite fireside autumnal listen then more fool you. On ‘16 Movements For Electric Guitar’ Haugland makes Nick Drake sound like Ken Dodd. This is the power of Taming Power. Arguably his best release and the one to start with should you feel like expanding your horizons.
‘Selected Works 1992-98’ sees Haugland augment his twin Tandbergs with amongst other things a Casiotone, a radio and a circular saw. As you’d expect with early recordings the results are patchy but never less than curiously listenable with Clanger like whistles and industrial sparks flying, especially with the aid of the circular saw. Throbbing Gristle throb comes courtesy of the Tandbergs feeding back, an out of tune electric guitar plucks a sad melody to a shortwave radio backing. What you cant help admire here is Haugland’s desire to document what he did and eventually feel confident enough to release these works on to vinyl.
Which leaves the single ‘Fragments of the Name of God’ and four short tracks as recorded in 2003. Here a glockenspiel augments the ever present Tandbergs creating ice cream van music on LSD. One track gives us the soundtrack to a floating in space 1950’s science fiction B movie. Unusually for Haugland he names one track ‘Rain’ [and then the date] which is but a sliver of what appears to be a pure field recording. Even this sounds ... mysterious.
I’ve been the fortunate recipient of three packages from Askild Haugland now and with each one my admiration for what he’s achieved increases a hundredfold. This is a man who has worked in utter obscurity for decades releasing his work to total silence, to the applause of no one but still he’s continued composing and releasing. Long may he do so.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Stuart Chalmers - Imaginary Musicks Vol 2
BDM005 CD. DL
Stuart Chalmers - Imaginary Musicks Vol 3 & 4
Hairdryer Excommunication. CDR/DL
I was in London at the weekend. Me and Mrs Fisher lounging around in the Princess Louise on a Sunday afternoon making the most of a quiet room and letting Sam Smiths wheat beer work its magic whilst admiring the enamel tiles and the etched glass thinking ‘wouldn’t it be great if all pubs were like this’? An afternoon eddy, a rare chance to leave feeling slightly fresh before sloping off down Kingsway for a curry in the India Club.
Its the same kind of feeling I get when listening to Stuart Chalmers work. It was his releases I immediately went to after ditching the dirty underwear and washing the Smokes grime from my pits. With the lights down low and headphones in place I return to Imaginary Musicks 2, 3 & 4 and pretend I'm half cut.
Chalmers has created what I like to think of as a Museum of Sound in which he displays all manner of aural oddities that he chooses to transform and alter via tape abuse and the addition of field recordings and acoustic sounds into a music that can veer from the achingly tender to the all out industrial. His earlier work was more visceral with the pull of capstans and the click clack of fast forward buttons to be found among the melancholic bowl rings and relaxation records while his later work, as found here, appears to have a purer fluid running through it.
When I saw him at the Wharf Chambers at this years Crater Lake Fest he played a zither, various bits of wood, an array of cassette players and pedals all while knelt on the floor with a waist length wig shielding just about everything and it was nothing less than captivating. Mixing everything from chant to drone to bird song to office chatter to speeded up Terry Riley records [maybe?] to slowed down jazz to old time music hall to you just about name it he creates these spaces, these areas where sounds congeal and coalesce and morph into something that is much better than the sum of their parts.
The artist I’ve most compared him to is William Basinski and there are moments in his work where a decayed tape loop brings to mind Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. It appears here also with the track ‘Requiem’ on 3 & 4 but instead of letting us all drown in a pit of misery Chalmers cleverly corrupts the thing by layering over it the audio taken from an 80’s BBC sports quiz, the results being similar to having your frame set afloat on a sea of morphine while discovering who finished second in the County Cricket Championship in 1981 [Sussex in case you were wondering]. The track that follows it is Henri Pousseur meets Tricky, the one after that contains some harshly plucked oriental strings, mutterings and the swooshing sound you make when you rub finger cymbals over a stone tiled floor. The track after that is pure tape abuse with a swirl of what was once a smooth jazz tune obliterated into a quick fire squish of wobbly saxophones and eerie space sounds. And then there’s the rapid edits that recall the kind of madcap lunacy of Nurse With Wound's Sylvie & Babs. Such is my admiration for what Chalmers creates I found myself not only listening to these two releases but going back to his previous works and luxuriating away entire evenings filling myself with feelings of warmth and melancholy and delight.
I can only imagine that Chalmers has an ear for sound and that he is capable of seeing the potential transformation inherent in say the field recording of a firework display which is what he utilises on the last track of 3 &4. A simple field recording of rapid bangs and the delighted oohs and ahhs of the crowd is held up against a background drone of such deep beauty it left me feeling emotionally drained. And it isn’t often that happens.
To show off his breadth of tastes Imaginary Musicks Vol 2 kicks off with some serious Industrial barrage this being the stuttering bombast of pummeling drums, computer chatter and spacey noises. Before he then goes on to create the kind of mouth chewing effects more normally associated with Phil Minton expect that this is definitely not of mouth origin and has a church organ for backing. He’s creating whole new worlds here.
What I find continually mystifying is that Chalmers work remains in relative obscurity. He’s been championed in a few corners but deserves a wider audience. His time will surely come.
Monday, August 03, 2015
The PowerString Game
Henk Van Mierlo Kreative Kommunikatie BV. LP
Have you noticed how the charity shop record bins are changing? Admittedly you wont have to dig far before you come across a Jim Reeves record or something by Bert Kaempfert but all those records that were bought in the 60’s by people who were dying in the 90’s are slowly drying up to be replaced by people ditching their bland 80’s and 90’s pop 12 inchers. Now I’m starting to see a smattering of battered pop tunes and Donna Summer LP’s. Not that bad in itself and perhaps worth a ten bob punt should you be in the mood but those Jim Reeves records wont be around forever and while Sid Vicious may have been a fan I can’t see myself ever buying one.
I used to buy lots of chazza vinyl and some of it I bought just because I liked the gaudy cover or reckoned that what lay within would be much better than the sleeve showing three beardy blokes stood in a field with banjoes and fiddles. I cut right back when I realised I had nowhere to put them and took about a hundred of them back to where they came from vowing to be more stringent in my chazza choices in future.
And to a larger extent I have been a good boy and left behind what I would have normally taken but that's not to say I’ve stopped looking. How could I? The lure of a charity shop record bin is as strong as ever. The thought that behind that Shirley Bassey album may lie something by Asmus Tietchens [something that did once happen to me in the Red Cross in Heckmondiwke] and its not as if I’m just digging around for rare Hamster Record releases. My love of the absurd and weird is something that goes hand in hand with charity shop record bins. You could trawl eBay and Discogs but the real buzz is to be had in finding something like The PowerString Game, which is essentially a promotional tool for the PS Hy-O-Sheep oil filled tennis racket string with added cheesy music.
Rescued from Mind in Brighouse on Saturday morning [along with three Greek Rebetika records and a lap steel LP by Rod King, perhaps of which more later] The PowerString Game contains one 14 minute track of promotional guff for the strings and 11 tracks of music to inspire the tennis player. These being, amongst others, easy listening versions of The Old Fashioned Way, Mack The Knife, You Are The Sunshine of My Life, Magic Fly [?] and two lounge-core instrumentals; one called ‘PowerString’ the other ‘Another Ace’ both of which were written by someone called P. Elsterre who nobody has heard of but some sad completeist on Discogs where six entries are to be found against his name.
So far so odd but its the 14 minute PowerString opener that features the Brass Band of the Royal Guards, Chris Evert Lloyd, Jimmy Connors, a Wimbledon speaker, an umpire and a commentator that separates this one from the rest. Part of that 14 minute track contains a set of tennis being played with no commentary, the announcement of the scores by the umpire and applause being your only guide. Another section goes into the technical detail of the PS Hy-O-Sheep oil filled tennis racket string, repeating the words PS Hy-O-Sheep oil filled tennis racket string every ten seconds like they were trying to brain wash you into buying the PS Hy-O-Sheep oil filled tennis racket string in a not so subtle way before reminding you that point of sale material will be place in every sports shop in the land while the tennis match between Evert and Connors continues in the background. And now on to those inspirational instrumentals.
Even the back cover is weird. A tennis player holding a racket like he’s got the left side of a marching banner in his hand, hands far apart, racket in front of face, grimaced as if it was nuclear device he was trying to fend off and not a fluffy tennis ball.
Sadly my order form is missing from the record. I know it should be there because the man who’s doing his best to sell me PS Hy-O-Sheep oil filled tennis racket strings tells me so. My life is incomplete. There’s one for sale on Discogs for 67p but it doesn't state whether the insert is there. Perhaps I could get in touch. Perhaps I could get a life.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Twilit Grotto - Holiday Snaps
Beartown Records. Cassette.
Should you judge a book by its cover? Should you judge a crap noise cassette by its cover? I do? And for my prejudice I pay the price. Thus the twisted gargoyle on the front of Twilit Grotto’s Holiday Snaps release has remained unplayed for many months just because I took an instance dislike to their twisted gargoyle cover and, it has to be said, the rather daft name [which also appears to be the name of an archive of esoteric writings - perhaps there is some connection, perhaps I care, perhaps I don’t]. If I’d been a proper music journalist [ … ] it would have gone on to a prepared list whereupon it would have received clinical attention six months ago and then, and then you would have been able to buy a copy. Because buy a copy you will want to do after I tell you all about it.
Forget the gargoyle [to be found on the walls of an insane asylum in Ghent and the very mask of one its former patients] and instead think analogue synths and rather bizarrely a mixture of folk and synth drone and some kind of twisted power electronics, finger in ear folk drone, Keith Emerson Daggers and the synth stabs of early Soft Machine albums drone folk sing thing. Whatever this is I don’t have a name for it and that I rather like.
Twilit Grotto is the project of the ludicrously named Mr. M Shit who describes what he does as Heavy Electronic Evacuations. Which is certainly true of ‘Old City Walls’ which begins with some seriously delightful synth squeals before Mr Shit begins singing in a voice more often to be heard in folky pubs intoning the virtues of old boats and the value of the fiddle drill. Folk Electronics anyone? The way this track escalates into a wall of screaming frequencies while being anchored to a twin bass bomb drop made me wonder if this was a first for the melding of two very opposite genres?
The side long ‘Bats in the Cave’ has Mr Shit phasing that same vocal folk drone over Wasp like synth throbs that pan through each ear before spiraling out of control with ever more frantic and delirious energy. Like an electronic firework display soundtracked by Steelye Span and a Moog Orchestra.
First track ‘Digging The Sunken Palace’ is probably the weakest of the three seeing as how it sounds for the most part like the end of ‘Bats in the Cave’ but who am I to complain? I just found myself a whole new genre.
But now the sad news. Due to my dislike of gargoyles on covers the measly 30 copies of this have long since gone. The good news is that you can still get this as a download. Hello Mr Shit.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Sleaford Mods - Key Markets
Harbinger Sound CD/LP/DL
I now find myself in the curious position of reviewing a release that has already found itself the recipient of glowing reviews in the The Guardian, The Times and of all things The Daily Telegraph. How did that happen? Witness then the curious rise of Sleaford Mods and Harbinger Sound, from never made a penny noise label putting out 100 run LP’s by the likes of Pain Jerk and Contagious Orgasm to home of arguably the most important band the UK. And all this without the aid of fat brown envelopes, glitzy websites or an ever churning Twitter account.
Ever since an Austerity Dogs test press turned up one Saturday morning and I spent the rest of the day listening to the thing on repeat, rapt and rapidly trying to write down the lyrics for a lame review, I soon began asking myself ‘how far can they take this thing’? I mean its that simple its laughable. Two blokes and a laptop? Is that it? A Suicide for austerity Britain? Kraftwerk after half of them have been laid off? How far can you take such a simple set up before it all rolls back on itself and the punters move on to the next big thing? One album? Two? A small tour and a support slot and back to the Rammel Club until thirty years down the line you’re on the bill at the Barbican with Terry Riley and some African thumb piano merchants.
And then Divide and Exit came along and with it some of their strongest material to date. Tweet, Tweet, Tweet hit a zeitgeist bullseye not seen since The Specials Ghost Town and while it may not have shot up the charts and embedded itself into a nations psyche [yet - these are dark days for the charts] it at least further propelled them into the welcoming arms of jaded music journos tired of reviewing the new Bjork and interviewing floppy hatted singer songwriters with a million Twitter followers.
It wasn’t until they got a mention in the Daily Mail that I knew they’d truly made it. These foul mouthed Wreckers of Civilization who dare to knock Boris off his bike and don’t forget Saturdays paper and its free 16 track CD soundtrack to the summer featuring Katrina and the Waves and Men Without Hats singing The Safety Dance. You can dance if you want to.
And so it came to pass that their third album for Harbinger Sound appeared and with it bigger venues, Glasto slots and DM’s from The Prodigy and Leftfield, [not fogetting th book of lyrics, art shows on late night BBC2 and endorsements from Stewart Lee and Iggy Pop] Personally I’d like to see them in the charts, get an airway ban followed by a full page spread in the Mail with Fearn and Williamson spoiling middle England’s breakfast. We live and dream.
I needn’t have worried about Key Markets being a duffer. It was what I feared the most, having to choose my words carefully and point to the floor fillers while skipping over the also rans. If anything its their more complete work. Williamson’s vocal delivery has become, and I mean this most sincerely folks, more refined. As have his targets. Compare the guttural, spit flecked wage slave rants of ‘Fizzy’ to the more laconic delivery of ‘Rupert Trousers’ and its withering observations of Boris and his brick and the cheese making Blur-ites. Compare the slinky grooving bass of Tarantula Deadly Cargo with the rattling bass of Routine Dean.
Key Markets is perhaps the most confident Sleaford Mods album so far, the one that sees them move further out into an orbit of their own, creating a world where the stream of consciousness lyrics live cheek by jowl with pin sharp jabs at Tory jokers and those who choose to wear £200 wellies. Its the album I feel they’d be happiest with. Its the one where Williamson’s urgent studio written lyrics are the accompaniment to a killer beat as formulated by Fearn.
Witness ‘Silly Me’;
And then the crap kicks in makes everything go thin, lost out square grout, weather bangs on my door, experts come out, the dud work, chirping on about ya music moves, you run a crap club in brum you loose, I won, I won.
Any idea what thats about? Me neither.
Witness ‘The Blob’;
Ready! In Service fuck me its a pity party ebola people in masks airport motorola hey motto tripping over the toblerones near victoria’s not very good secret they’re knickers mate ice box challenge and all the aeros I like mine in a packet mint flavour no zeros, have it culture! Organic farting in the pool what a waste I like a bit of smell I like a bit of taste stroll around the grounds the garden every house used to have one in 1965 now look at us oh what a fucking life!!
Witness ‘In Quite Streets’:
Weaning it on my angle you fucking satanist its not a pentangle, arthur! No druids out of date barrel fluids I go large for a pound and regret it greasy, a sharp contrast from the newly adopted organic nice mate easy variety is the lie of life no lonely hearts club just a collection of moose faced bastards.
Witness ‘Cunt Make It Up’
Its the wannabe show and you always wanna be the same, posy shit and leather jacket, motorbikes from the 50’s you live in carlton you twat you’re not snake fucking plissken!
And while the press home in on the Tory bashing elements hence:
Boris on a bike, quick knock the cunt over. [Face to Faces]
Most forget the humour:
Gary Coopers on the glue cos he stuck to his guns [Bronx in a Six]
Key Markets has its punk moments; No Ones Bothered, the crowd chanting intro to first track to ‘Live Tonight’. In Quiet Streets rattles along for four minutes until you realise it has an outro chorus thats one of the best things they’ve done. These things creep up on you. The lounge piano that opens Tarantula Deadly Cargo is the precursor to some languid bass and was the song they finished their set with the last time I saw them in Leeds on a night where Williamson nearly lost his voice and everyone still went home brimming with verve and happiness. They’re having the times of their lives. Finish your set off with a slow one about people fleeing persecution. ‘Just one Cornetto mate’.
Rupert Trousers is all louche with Williamson sat watching the Tory Party conference where Tory joker in Wolfs clothing Boris Johnson brought out a house brick to make a point on housing during his ‘oh isn’t he soooo funny speech’ to the faithful [I was actually in Birmingham during the Tory Party Conference and outside the media tent, a tent wrapped in the Tory motto ‘Securing A Better Future’ lay a homeless man in a sleeping bag who security deemed to be of such low risk they left him there for me to take pictures of]. But I digress.
They’ll change of course. They have to. They jagged their jobs in so they could tour and record unhindered by alarm clocks and managers and supervisors and targets. But if Key Markets is a product of this new found freedom then its a win win situation. Not for them the coke filled difficult third album [I’m deliberately forgetting the pre Fearn releases here] instead an album that further cements their reputation as the best band in Britain.
I could go on but y'know.
Key Markets is out on Friday.