grins, nods, shrugs shoulders and points: small things on sundays, ap martlet, helicopter quartet

February 3, 2013 at 10:53 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Small Things on Sundays – Searching For (vinyl album, Skrat Records, skr-011)

ap martlet – a tabletop mountain (self-released download)

Helicopter Quartet – Helicopter Quartet (self-released CD-r or download)

small things on sunday - searching forap martlet - a tabletop mountainhelicopter quartet

Regular readers will know I am sometimes prone to flights of whimsy.  Daniel Thomas – friend, comrade, astute cultural commentator – went as far as to coin the neologism ‘haylerise’ (ha! I just clicked on ‘add to dictionary’ when the spellchecker underlined it!) which he defines as:

Verb: the spontaneous creation and attribution of a narrative as a response (usually involuntary) to an audio recording.

I was so touched and flattered by this amusement that I promised myself that I’d never be so vain as to mention it on this blog.  Ah.  Oops-a-daisy.

Anyway, whilst Dan’s joke does describe my reaction sometimes (indeed my response to certain artists is a kind of ‘narrative synaesthesia’), it isn’t always the case.  Occasionally something is so engaging, so entertaining, such a good fit to my taste that the only option when it is over is to immediately press play again.  Never mind making up stories – expending mental effort in that direction is wasting energy that could be better spent just enjoying what I am hearing.

When I finally escape this reverie I find myself in an evangelical mood: wow, I think, people gotta hear this!  But paradoxically these releases are often the most difficult to write about.  All I want to do is grin, maybe throw some horns during the heavy bits and make that tip-of-thumb-touching-tip-of-forefinger-whilst-nodding gesture that means ‘yeah, OK!!’ during the beautiful bits.  I want to play it to someone else and watch as their eyes open comically wide and they start grinning and nodding too.  It’s a bit visual for a wordy blog like this.  I suppose what I can do here is implore you thus: folks, if you take anything I say seriously then perhaps you should check at least one or two of these items out.  Look: I’ve got my earnest, sincere face on and everything.

First up is Searching For, the new vinyl album by Small Things on Sundays.  These guys and their label – Skrat Records – are impressively organised: this was sent to me a month before its official release date (19th January) with a helpful full page press release that I’ll be trying not to crib from too much.  Those with eagle-eyes and elephant-memories will have noticed the format is ‘vinyl’ and will remember the last time I was sent something on this heritage medium (LPs from Molotov/Fuckin’ Amateurs) I had to guess at the contents due to my turntable not working.  Well, since then it has had a stern talking to, has been threatened with the business end of a screwdriver and has grudgingly agreed to cooperate.  Thus I’ve given this platter multiple spins, even with my beloved wife in the room.

Yes, you read that right: officially sanctioned by the whole Hayler household and I reckon the baby will dig it too.  The duo of Henrik Bagner and Claus Poulsen have garnered favourable reviews here before (Small Things: here, Claus solo: here, Claus as part of Star Turbine: here) but this is probably the lightest and most accessible of their recordings that I have heard.  Is it noise?  Yes, of an ambient, airy, spacious nature.  Does this mean it is insubstantial?  Absolutely not.  It has been constructed with charm and love and the interplay of the various elements (press release sez: “The basic sounds on the LP are derived from live improvisations, using turntables, bowed guitar, toy keyboard, viola and laptops.”) is subtle and sophisticated.  Technically it is detailed, balanced and yet unselfconscious and transparent.  It can burble happily as background drift or, should the volume be tweaked upwards, immerse you in its slow-moving fluidity.  Very lovely.

Next is a tabletop mountain, the latest chewy treat freely downloadable from ap martlet, the solo project of Dave Thomas (otherwise to be found sparring with Daniel Thomas in Hagman).  This one is an entire Summer’s day spent fried on acid – getting sunburnt, eating ice cream, laughing at bees – squashed down to a delirious ten minute summary.  Or perhaps the orgiastic climax of a drunken party held by a buzzing gang of animate hairclippers, come alive Toy-Story-style after the barber has gone home for the night.

I remain amazed that Dave just sneaks these modest masterworks of electrical wrenching and tweaking onto Soundcloud.  If I ever came up with stuff as good as this then I would organise a parade with elephants in feathered headdresses.  My dream would be to find someone with the vision (and money) to release, say, four of Dave’s best 10-15 minute Soundcloud tracks as a 12″ double pack – mastered in muscular fashion on vinyl as thick as manhole-covers – then batter the world over the head with it until it topped the best-of-the-year lists in every publication from radiofreemidwich to Total Carp Magazine.  C’mon, patrons!

Finally, there is the self-titled debut by Helicopter Quartet, the duo of Chrissie Caulfield (violin, synth) and Michael Capstick (guitar, bass) augmented by their gigantic collection of effects pedals. This is available as a donations welcome/free download from that Bandcamp or a snazzy CD-r made up to look like a dinky vinyl LP (pictured above) from the band in person. It has four tracks, lasts about 33 minutes and is awesome.

I was lucky enough to be on the bill with Chrissie at the Hogwash gig where I played my final pre-fatherhood midwich set (coming soon: more about forgets who also played that night).  I was mesmerised by her command of her kit: violin and a bewildering array of effects pedals (about 20 by my reckoning).  The shifts in tone from high-modernist drone-screech to grime-caked sludge metal to wistful, ambient folk were so assured they suggested rigorous rehearsal yet so fluid as to seem entirely improvised.  Fuck, I thought, gobsmacked: follow that.

(Aside: Chrissie’s recorded solo stuff is as good.  I wholeheartedly recommend, for example, Outside which is freely downloadable from her own Bandcamp page.  It is a collection of augmented field recordings made around Leeds and is an engaging, accomplished, delight.)

Chasing things up after the show led to me downloading the Helicopter Quartet album from Bandcamp and falling in love with it in the heady, two-week, whirlwind romance that followed.  There are passages as austere and fragile as the most accomplished 90s post-rock, there are moments of abrasive heaviness deep enough to take down anything Swans are up to nowadays, but most importantly it is thick with beauty.  Not anodyne prettiness, not superficial attractiveness but beauty as awe-inspiring force of nature.

By the time Friday 25th January rolled around, the date of the next HQ gig, I was a fan.  As I excitedly waited for the bus into town the weather was inclement but not distractingly so.  By the time I got to Wharf Chambers, however, it had deteriorated to white-out blizzard.  Sadly, this occurring during the crucial deciding-whether-or-not-to-leave-the-house hours led to the gig being poorly attended.  This was disappointing, of course – I imagine money was lost – but even if the room had been packed out (as it should have been you lazy good-for-nothings!  What’s a little snow compared to ART, eh?) I think my experience of their set would have been just as latched-on and unmediated.  They were terrific.

Despite also enjoying the ethereal folk of headline act Lost Harbours, I decided to leave a few minutes early on the off chance of getting a bus.  The weather remained awful but, amazingly, they were still running.  God bless public transport.  The ride – surrounded by giddy drunk people, mostly on the wrong side of the road, at speeds of around five miles per hour – was a pleasant blur and I did something that I haven’t done in years: listened to the band I’d just been to see on my walkman as I journeyed home.  My righteous determination to attend has been rewarded handsomely.

Here’s the Bandcamp link again.  A copy of the CD-r can be borrowed from the UML.

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