Thursday, July 30, 2015

Twilit Grotto - Holiday Snaps

Twilit Grotto - Holiday Snaps
Beartown Records. Cassette.
30 Copies.

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

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.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Expose Your Eyes - Micronnitus

Expose Your Eyes - Micronnitus
No Label. CDR. Comes in VHS box.
20 Copies.

Without Expose Your Eyes there would be no Idwal Fisher. Of that there is no doubt. It was all a long time ago now but in the days when flyers fell out of jiffy bags like confetti, an Expose Your Eyes flyer stood out due to a contact address that said Featherstone. This once proud mining town, about a twenty minute drive down the motorway from here, is the kind of place I’m always happy to leave. With pound shops, Booze Busters, numerous Class A pick up shops masquerading as take-aways and a newsagent that likes to remind everyone passing that they once sold a winning lottery ticket, its high street is a vivid reminder of how desperate a town can become. Having been there on numerous occasions to watch Batley get battered by Featherstone Rovers I wondered how this one horse town could ever be the home to someone peddling noise. So I wrote. What happened next was a twenty year musical odyssey that still continues to this day.

I soon became the recipient of what seemed like an endless stream of Expose Your Eyes cassettes. I guess Featherstone can do that to a man. I also became a regular correspondent with Paul Harrison, the man behind Expose Your Eyes. But it wasn’t long before the inevitable happened and Harrison left Featherstone for Sowerby Bridge. A move that resulted in an inevitable collision with Smell & Quim and then, after a few more years of sonic exploration, a virtual silence. And then a move to Hebden Bridge where Paul let Expose Your Eyes die a natural death. After what seemed like years of stasis I was alerted to Expose Your Eyes videos appearing on Youtube, said videos looked like visual versions of Expose Your Eyes, all in and out zooms of cows in fields to a background of spacey weirdness. Mr. Harrison was back.

And then someone suggested an afternoon drink in Halifax. So a few of us meet up once or twice a year and drink and talk rubbish and after about the fourth or fifth meeting here comes Micronnitus.

Being handed a paint splattered video box containing a noise CDR immediately brought on one of those Proustian madeleine moments and the talk soon turned to the days when the sight of such things was a common sight on any noise buyers doormat. Me being almost allergic to home made noise CDR’s these days, my immediate thought was ‘how long does the thing run for?’ Rather unkindly of course, but having long since put to bed the noise release as evening entertainment the thought of sitting through 80 minutes worth of insane screwed lunacy [that I know Harrison is perfectly capable of] appealed to me about as much as drilling my own teeth. This isn’t 1993 anymore. I am no longer an eager thirty something looking for ‘out there’ audio kicks anymore. I know how noise works. I know that there is a noise fan for every noise artist. I also know that trying to shift a noise release is as easy as getting rid of Ebola. I also know that Discogs is the rest home for every kind of noise detritus known to mankind since the year dot. But this was from Paul H. The man without whom.

And then I found myself with a Saturday all to myself so I dug out the review pile and sat through all manner of crud and not so crud and discovered that when the alcohol to blood ratio is at just the right level I find myself still curiously drawn to such things. Especially those given to me by someone who I used to correspond with on a regular basis and whose noise cassettes I used to devour with a mixture of awe and incomprehensibility.  So I played the damned thing and cranked up the volume and yes. It. Was. Noise. Far noisier than I was expecting to be honest like Harrison had managed to get his hands on some old Pain Jerk equipment.

And now you want me to expand on that very simple comparison don’t you? You want me to tell you how it held me rapt for its entire running length [I cant remember its running time, I was a bit pissed], or how I was held in my recumbent position like an astronaut on take off, held firm by the howling gale emerging from my speakers, the highs, the lows, the spectrum it works in, the way it made the woofers go all wobbly. But all of that doesn’t really matter to me at this present moment in time. I’ve reviewed more noise releases than you can shake a Merzbow fan at and its like dancing about archeology anyway. Its pointless.  All that does matter is that Paul Harrison made some noise, put it on a CDR and stuck it inside a purple paint splattered VHS cassette box that was dished out to his mates in Dirty Dicks one Saturday afternoon in June.

These are the facts. Forget the mechanics. Its not important. I played it once. It didn’t last that long. Its over. Its finished. And now I’ll put it on a shelf, or in a box, where it will linger for a very long time. All I’m left with is the memory of it and the knowledge that the man without whom is once again making horrible noises.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

No Thumbs, Shepherds of Cats, Panelak.

No Thumbs - Slug Birth
Tutore Burlato 01. Cassette. 50 copies.

Shepherds of Cats & Panelak - Muscle Atrophy in a Squirrels Left Leg.
Fanfare CD04. Free DL.
100 copies.

Panelak - The Om Tragicord
LF Records. LF046. CDR

I was about halfway through listening to Slug Birth when the thought struck me that I could actually be listening to Taming Power, whose review I started to write many months ago and which has since slipped from my memory. These things happen. My mind wanders. I’m easily distracted. I also know from previous experience that whatever it is that Pascal Ansell puts his hands to results in a hideous noise. The kind of hideous noise that I’ve been shying away from for many months now.

But for whatever reason I found myself with a long Saturday in front of me and the urge to join the throngs at the Cleckheaton Folk Fest didn’t appeal so I thought, well, why not. I’ll have my own Anti-Folk Fest right here and for once I’ll play myself some hideous noise.

So I did and guess what? It was hideous. But me being in a stalwart mood I persevered right on through the first track of Slug Birth even if it did sound like the worst piece of enthusiasm over talent racket I’d ever heard right up until my headache started which was about the same time that mixing with the hordes at the Cleckheaton Folk Festival began to sound appealing. The sun was out. I was thirsty. What was I doing? So I turned it off for a while and went back to it later when my disposition became a little more amenable to such travails and guess what? It got better. Much to my amazement what was once a hideous racket had somehow transformed itself into an Amon Dull jam where someone repeatedly hits simultaneous notes on a cheap keyboard as a thousand scribbles of an electronic nature form the kind of background swirl as seen on the more delirious sections of Astral Social Club releases. Side two continued in much the same vein until it returned to the regular enthusiasm over talent, heavy drone, noisier K2 in the background, chopped edits, rumbles, destroyed speaker fart feel territory that I have now become accustomed to.

‘No Thumbs’ is Ansell and Jon Marshall [of whom I have to say I know nought] but its Ansell who for me is the fly in the ointment here. As I type these words he’s in Leeds promoting a Termite Club gig which I should really be supporting but due to the nature of my very being I find difficult to attend. Playing tonight are an Anglo/Polish improv trio  going by the name of ‘Shepherds of Cats’ who I shall forgive the jokey name and the jokey title of their release just for the fact that they’ve made it all the way to Leeds to play in front of what, all things being as they usually are, will be a crowd of around 20 people [this is Tuesday, an improv gig on a Tuesday night in Leeds, when its warm outside]. I’m also instantly attracted to the Polish label Fanfare due to the fact that the front page of their website shows scrolling footage of ghostly fell runners on what has to be that lonely stretch of tarmac ribbon that weaves along the misty moors above Huddersfield. I’m now thinking I should maybe ditch my hesitation, get the car out, drive to Leeds, park on the double yellow lines outside The Fenton and declare my undying love for an Anglo/Polish collective and a nutter from Leeds who likes to perform naked whilst pouring beer over his head. But I digress.

Ansell’s project Panelak adds ‘electronics and field recordings’ to the 53 minute single track that is Shepherds of Cats ‘Muscle Atrophy …’. He also adds his own voice which was no doubt unintentional but in true improv style stays within the recording. Having played this a while back and returning to it now I recall my original thoughts being that the piece flowed wonderfully without ever stretching my patience or aural stamina. Not being the biggest fan of improv in the world this is all I ask of it. It has space, it has ‘small blowable things’ it also has scraped strings, plucked bridge strings which is what I kind of expect from improv but it also has rather to its credit, tender passages where Ansell’s electronica appears as complimentary background hiss to back of the throat ghost moans. A violin seems to be an angry wasp and rattle of drum rims plays host to fridge hum and spastic electronic noodles. Singing of sorts, a drunk at a bus stop singing his own thoughts. I could go on but its what you’re left with at the discs end that matters to me most and the fact that I’ve now played this several times and would like to return to it again is more than I can say for any of the Derek Bailey solo recordings I’ve heard [not that this is an exact comparison of course but just the way I feel]. 

After my temporal shepherding duties I approached the return to Panelak and The Om Tragichord with about the same enthusiasm I reserve for going to the dentist. But after a predictable early bout of ADHD noise edits the man actually settles down and records something that I might actually want to listen to more than once. Perhaps there is something here. And so it proves. Its track two ‘Sarcomere’ a Japanese like off kilter plod of odd keyboard prods that has classical violin samples and ear tickling tape squelch at its end that lifts me from my ennui. From there we head off into the kind of fun territory that you’re more likely to find on an early Faust albums or those Jim O’Rourke solo outings where a robust guitar chord wraps itself around the same sad bass note over and over again. Last track Bactograil reminds me of those deranged albums that Joincey used to spew out using only a Casio and a condenser mic only here with the vocals replaced by a cheap harmonium which is probably a fridge. Again.

Say hello to The Fenton from me and thank you for listening.