artifacts of the no-audience underground: bells hill label review part one

June 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Almost everything I’ve been listening to of late has had some connection to the North East.  From the seething metropolis of Newcastle to the windswept beauty of the Heritage Coast, the kids are skronking and droning.  There must be something in the Craster Kippers – a breakfast foodstuff made compulsory for everyone North of Durham by medieval edict of the Percys.

As he shares the telepathic link which connects all members of the North-East no-audience underground, Scott McKeating, head honcho of Whitley Bay’s Bells Hill imprint, awoke one morning suddenly aware that radiofreemidwich was mining his scene.  He choked down his smoked fish and rushed me a parcel.

As with Infinite Exchange, a label with which Bells Hill shares some of its roster, I’ll be presenting six reviews over two posts.  The first will detail the qualities of three single artist releases, the second will be concerned with three various artist compilations.

culver – can you read my mind? (bells hill 06)

Double sided tape in photocopied sleeve pictured above.  I have mentioned Culver several times in recent posts.  This is because Lee Stokoe’s ever-present rumbling provides a kind of baseline for all the other noise I listen to.  Like the background radiation that has been humming since the Big Bang, Culver is ubiquitous yet mysterious and indicative of something ominously apocalyptic.

To say this release is similar to other Culver releases is true but misses the point.  To all but the hardcore fan Lee’s tapes may appear perplexingly alike.  However, this doesn’t really matter for two reasons.  Firstly, Lee is painstakingly, obsessively, documenting every possible nuance of his project, exploring each barely perceptible shift in a heavy atmosphere.  Secondly, he doesn’t give a shit what you think – if you can’t tell the difference between these various shades of dark then that is your problem, not his.

This particular tape starts with a simple, mournful acoustic guitar.  The final lament of a hapless trekker out of their depth in a hostile wildnerness.  This cuts to the sound of a light aircraft overhead, possibly searching for this very missing person, who is now too injured, dehydrated or starving to attract its attention.  On the second side this unlucky individual wakes from their delirium to find themselves hooded and with their hands and feet bound, straining to hear the muffled and echoing sounds of a blood rite happening somewhere nearby.  Apologies for the troubling image, dear reader, but given Lee’s comprehensive appreciation of horror, this may be exactly the picture he intends to paint.

Popular Radiation – ‘Saitana Sarkasa’ (Bells Hill BH 023)

Single track by that Hasan Gaylani of Jazzfinger on a 3″ CD-r featuring a collage cover by Kevin Anderson – the guy who did the great trilobite cover for Infinite Exchange’s otherwise sub-par Mechanical Children album.

This is a really enjoyable oddity.  What you get is about 12 minutes of epic, non-verbal choral music overlaid with almost unintelligible snippets of, apparently, everyday conversation and music radio.  Thus: the human voice at its most noble and impressive interrupted by the human voice at its most banal and functional.  The snippets are so poorly recorded as to be little more than distorted bursts of trebly static, though the odd word is occasionally decipherable.  ‘Blood’ someone might say at one point, ‘footstool’ (?!) at another.

It’s like settling down to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey on your massive telly with super-surround speakers only for interference from a mini-cab dispatcher’s radio to crash in whenever the soundtrack features a tasty bit of Ligeti.  I admit this might sound irritating but there is something strangely soothing about the whole package.  I’ve listened to it over and over again.

Eyeballs – The Quest (Bells Hill BH017)

As is customary I have saved the best until last.  Scott isn’t one for formulaic, er…, formats so this time we have a full size CD-r printed with a picture of a many-eyed, beaked, tentacle creature (Kraken?  Spawn of Cthulhu?) housed in a 12” cardboard sleeve.  The sleeve features the tremendous, if gruesome, illustration above.  Also included is a print, hand signed and numbered by artist Ant Macari, of a drawing of Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship whilst the Sirens attempt his seduction.  However, the bird-women of this famous scene have been re-imagined as the personification of Google and Facebook.  “Circe tagged you in a photo,” says one.  “For we know all that happens on the fruitful Earth…” says another, the line taking on an amusing (or perhaps ominous) spin in this contemporary context.  A cheeky cursor arrow-point hovers discretely in one corner…

The music is similarly intelligent, wryly humourous and unashamedly ambitious.  It could be read as the soundtrack to a fantasy adventure though don’t start rolling those D20s – this is not a Tolkienesque quest.  Instead we are in a surreal, colour-saturated place more akin to the Yellow Submarine than to Middle Earth.  Maybe a little darker than that – if you can imagine a world where Babs Santini is considered to be a dryly realistic painter of landscapes then you’ve got it.

The first track, ‘Invisible Horses Drink Giant Water’, sets the scene with church bells, some Nurse With Wound-ish groaning, running water, the whinnying of the invisible horses and a gentle motorik groove to get us underway.  ‘A Silver Pea in Every Nostril’ is an ignorable two minutes of bibbling then it is on to the two tracks which form the main event.  ‘The Secret Volcano/The Alien Village’ is 22 minutes of pulsating rhythm overlaid with a deliciously fuzzy drone which shatters into a shimmering, tumbling mass of splinters.  If this was one side of a tape by Astral Social Club I would not be at all surprised or disappointed.  Very high quality and, if the release finished there it would already be a triumph.  However the next track, ‘Galleon of Leaf’ might be even better.  A strangely hypnotic loop of wonkytronics is dissected; each of the component parts hums and squeals on its own, then the lot recombines to play us out with renewed vigour.  Simple, elegant.  The final track could be a noisy single-prop aircraft returning our adventurers home, it could be the static from their abandoned radios, batteries fading…

Eyeballs are fast becoming a RFM blog fave.  That everything about this release is so high-end, so considered and so much fun shows just what can be achieved with a budget of bugger-all down here in the no-audience underground.  A scene in rude health, eh?

To get hold of this stuff contact Scott at scottjamesbellshill@gmail.com or visit Bells Hill at Blogspot.

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