Tuesday, August 01, 2017
Vampyres - Century Scars
Invisible City Records. ICR 34. Cassette/DL. 50 copies.
Death in Scarsdale - Ruminations
Invisible City Records. ICR 33. Cassette/DL. 43 copies.
Three Eyed Makara - Moonmilk Roof
Crow Versus Crow. CVC06. Cassette/DL. 100 copies.
Colony - Alocasia gardens
Crow Versus Crow. CVC05. Cassette/DL. 50 copies.
Stef Ketteringham - More Guitar Arrangements
Crow Versus Crow. Cassette/DL. 50 copies
I’ve just returned from the doctors having being told that I’m partially deaf in both ears. Which goes a long way to explaining why everything’s been sounding shit for the last month or so. The deafness is temporary. An accumulation of hardened earwax, a thin veneer of catnip accumulated after being given some bad advice r.e. ear wax and aural canal hygiene. Don’t put anything bigger than your thumb in your ear I got told. Ears are self cleaning. The wax is there to protect your ear drum. And then I woke up one morning and couldn’t hear anything at all out of my left lug. A disorientating feeling. Like someones banjoed you round the head and your face has gone all numb. Two years ago I got an abscess in my left ear. I’m ear cursed. For someone who likes listening to music I fear that my dotage will be filled with ear trumpets and large print books. The eyesights going too. Television with subtitles. All my music on eBay to help fund a bath chair. Don’t get old. Don’t get ill.
Some would say that having a thin veneer of hardened wax snug to your eardrum would be of benefit when listening to noise. Especially on cassettes. And it is. A medium not known for its fidelity [though the digitally copied mass produced cassettes that appeared just as cassettes were dying out are an exception] is one of the best for listening to noise. So long as that noise had no fidelity to start with. Immersing yourself in a C90 of bad noise can have its benefits but that noise still has to have something about it. Something that passes for no-fi hippy noise trippy head mong psych noise. Something that you can travel with. Smell the Stench released lots of noise cassettes in this manner and though I hated most of them at the time [cheap covers, poorly dubbed, dozens arriving all at once, all total dumb noise overkill] you cant help but think that this approach has its merits. A certain punk-ness that a lot of todays noise orientated labels lack. Now its all 200gsm screen printed J-card inserts using four colour natural vegetable dyes and an instant link to the labels Discogs page. Mind you, all those shitty old Smell the Stench cassettes have long since gone the way of all flesh [except the Emil Beaulieau one] and the cassettes I get now have a certain uniform appeal. You can line them up on your shelf and in some instance you can even read the bands/project name on the spine. There’s something to be said for the clean lines of a bog standard two piece cassette box.
Vampyres are all lo-fi noise. Either that or the medical grade olive oil running around inside my head is ruining things. I doubt that Vampyres would benefit from higher fidelity. This works just fine. Old Skool Noise with a bit of drone thrown in for good measure. Four tracks, some of which are of the polar storm variety, some of which are of the screeching gadget box variety. I have no idea who Vampyres are but I’d stand in front of their table at one of their gigs with my thumbs in my belt loops and nod my head vigorously with no thought for my hearing at all.
Death in Scarsdale is the perfect moniker for a band/project making no-fi murk where nothing much happens in two times twenty minute bites. I imagine Scarsdale to be like it sounds; taps dripping, people talking in a barely audible mutter over murky crumbling drones that, on one side at least, appear as if they’re continually on the brink of collapsing into a mess of magnetic cassette crumbs. Birds are heard on side two, or a budgie in a cage, the domestic living room rendered dying room. Everything dead, breaking twigs, the crackle of a bonfire, damp leaf mulch underfoot. I swear I felt an involuntary shudder across my shoulders once each side. Perfect for that soggy October evening when the thought occurs to you that the weathers going to be shit for the next six months at least.
Those two releases were from Invisible City Records which is based in Newcastle and has given us the likes of Culver and Stuart Chalmers and Anla Courtis. All cassettes too if I’m not mistaken. Crow Versus Crow are based in Sowerby Bridge which isn’t too far from where I type this, its also the same place where Smell & Quim used to live and record. Must be something in the air round these parts. Crow Versus Crow is also a radio show and a podcast and a design studio and a place where you go to buy a dog on a string. Or maybe not. Some of their releases take time to put together are not of the Smell the Stench xeroxed bit of paper with rubber band around them variety. Its the reason I don’t see any of them. I cant blame them. Instead I listen to the download which as you know, is not my preferred mode of listening pleasure but with these ears will it make any difference? A lo-fi cassette tape, a download through dodgy ears? Whats the difference?
So we have Alocasia Gardens which is leaning towards electronic compositions with one track full of portentous keyboard swirl and dramatic noise bursts like the end credits of an Italian horror film. Best track is also the last and one like nothing thats gone before, ‘Last Light’ is something out of the Froese songbook, a two chord ebbing and flowing synth movement. Suitably drift like and all too short.
Deaf ears are good for improv too. Three Eyed Makara come on down. With your scraping and frotting and fiddling you make scratchy sounds and take an age to get going but when you do its not too bad at all in a lets hit everything at once kind of way. I have to admit that I don’t know that many people who get anything out of this kind of music. They must have beards though, long beards and they probably live in holes and wear odd hand knitted jumpers and mismatched shoes, they must eat nothing but mushrooms and live in houses with grass on the roof. Its my least favourite kind of music when its in this mode. I’m not improv averse per se but there’s nothing happening here to make me want to listen to it again. I don’t want my ears to get better. I like it like this. Track one eventually picks itself up off the floor but I’d already gone looking for the olive oil by then.
Stef Ketteringham’s ‘More Guitar Arrangements’ is nine tracks of improv guitar with an odd track of guitar noise stuck on its end. Its not all Derek Bailey grumpy Yorkshireman fingers stuck in f holes crap either. Ketteringham moves in sweeter arcs especially on tracks like ‘Killing Flaw’ which have more in common with Jim O’Rourke’s guitar work than Baileys. There’s more melody than Keith Rowe too but not its still not quite straightforward enough to ring like Leo Kottke. His improvisations around melody are where he works best and not having listened to any guitar improv for quite a while I found myself coming back to this. There’s something within these ten shortish tracks [30 minutes running time] that lifts them from the ordinary. Kreffting uses a battered Stratocaster, bits dropping off it, bridge built up high, busted strings, his guitars aren’t objects to be polished or worshipped, they’re there to be played and knocked about and even with these mutton ears it sounds like something rather special.
Invisible City Records
Crow Versus Crow