wired for sound part 25: three tapes by spoils & relics

April 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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  • Spoils & Relics – Dependent Arising (Mantile, #015, cassette, edition of 50, 2010)
  • Spoils & Relics – A.O.N. (Mantile, #016, cassette, edition of 50, 2010)
  • Spoils and Relics – Ammonium Bulb (Sick Head Tapes, #32, cassette, 2011) 

Back in the day, I was sat upstairs at what is now The Library pub here in Leeds listening to an improvising trio who were first on at a noise gig.  Three lads, guitar laid on the floor, shortwave radio, toy instruments etc.  Their set (in fact the whole night – I’ve no clue who headlined) was only memorable due to a very short exchange I had with the guy sat next to me as they finished.  He was obviously impressed, and I knew him to be affiliated with the band, so when he asked what I thought of their set I was polite: “not for me,” I ventured, “a bit too unstructured.”  “Well,” he said with obvious disdain, “it’s not for everyone I suppose” and he literally turned his back on me.  At the time I was amused by this attempt at a snub and let it ride.  However, thinking it over on the walk home (always a mistake) left me infuriated.  At the time I was neck-deep in fencing flatworm recordings and Termite Club and could well have replied as follows:

Now look here, my good man, I’m not having that.  Barely a week goes by without two or three CD-rs of this type of amusical improv/semi-improv landing on my doormat.  I have spent hundreds of hours over several years listening to it both recorded and performed live and have formed a finely-tuned and rigorous set of opinions as to what makes one piece better than another.  I have accidentally become an aficionado of such things and if I say your band is no good then I speak from a position of expertise etc. etc.

Oh well, probably best that I didn’t say anything like that on the night because I would have come across as a pompous oaf.  Still, it was all true and now, years later, I have an opportunity to present a perfect example of how it really should be done.  Ladies and gentlemen: Spoils & Relics.

This three piece (not, I hasten to add, the band mentioned in the story above) of Johnny Scarr, Gary Myles and Kieron Piercy produce improv collage constructed from found noise, field recordings, occasional voices, various sounds of a more or less musical nature and thoughtfully selected electronics.  Here’s how they tick my boxes.

Firstly, they maintain a compelling balance between tension and abandon.  Brooding atmospherics set the scene for bursts of craziness which in turn relieve the pressure.  These twists give the tracks a persuasive momentum.  Secondly, this momentum provides a sense of drama.  By ‘drama’ I don’t necessarily mean narrative, just a sense that the work is carrying me somewhere.  Like a great train journey can have drama without having to have a story.  This aspect makes me think a fair amount of planning and rehearsal, work in other words, has gone into the production.

Thirdly, it has coherence, identity.  The same informing ideas can be heard throughout as can the same wry, dark sense of humour.  Fourthly, finally and tying all the above together is its technical proficiency.  All has been recorded with an eye on the levels and, if you’ll forgive me getting all ‘What Hi-Fi?’ for a second, the sounds have clarity, depth and immediacy.

In summary then: this stuff is fucking great.

I realise that these three tapes are from 2010-11 but radiofreemidwich is not obsessed with novelty – only quality matters here.  Ammonium Bulb is apparently still available direct from Sick Head and comes in a nostalgia-inducing squishy case the like of which early computer game tapes were packaged in.  A.O.N. and Dependent Arising are both now sold out in a physical form.  However, all three releases can be had as downloads on a ‘pay what you like’ basis from the Spoils & Relics Bandcamp page.  Be generous and do check out the other stuff available from Mantile Records too.

A sheepish P.S.:  I now have reason to believe that the underwhelming set mentioned in the opening paragraph was an early performance by the subsequently lovely Lanterns.  This is amusingly apposite as A.O.N. is dedicated to Rhid Williams, a member of that very band.  What a small pond we swim about in, eh?  My apologies…

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