new from empire ashnav: knurr & spell

April 3, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Knurr & Spell. being psychedelic sounds from Yorkshire.

(CD in card packaging, Smokers Gifts #14/Memoirs of an Aesthete moa CD 14/Noise Below, edition of 250)

knurr and spell

I hear that the process leading to the release of this compilation was as troubled and arcane as the Hellenic economic situation (which apparently caused part of the delay).  I needn’t go into too much detail – suffice to say that shit happened on an Augean scale and rivers had to be diverted to clear the path.  We should all be grateful for the Herculean effort and Stoic patience shown by its co-producers: Mel O’Dubhslaine’s Smokers Gifts, Phil Todd’s Memoirs of an Aesthete and noise, a few decks below – promoters of experimental music in Greece (formerly behind the great label Absurd).  Those waiting on this elephantine gestation have been richly rewarded: the album is superb.

The packaging is noteworthy (and getting it right was another cause for delay).  A round, card, three-petalled sleeve unfolds to reveal a CD adorned with a full colour cut up of some kind of rhubarb recipe.  But the Yorkshireness doesn’t end with these delicious stalks.  Also included is an account of the forgotten game Knurr and Spell which originated on the Yorkshire Moors and involves a small wooden ball, the knurr, being sprung into the air by a little mechanism, the spell, and then clobbered by a bloke wielding what looks like a snooker cue with a block at the business end, the pommel.  Thus: golf meets clay pigeon shooting.  Today you are only likely to see it played by the ghosts you encounter if you venture up onto Ilkley Moor without a hat, and having ingested a heavy dose of magic mushrooms.

So onto the psychedelic sounds.  Four tracks, each about twenty minutes long, by four different solo artists.  First is veteran Leeds scenester Shem Sharples, recording as his robotic alter ego Shemboid, who kicks things off with ‘myths of the prehistoric future’ – a Ballardian pun well suited to this blistering, splintering track.  Shem is an aficionado of the garage psych sound and his skyscraping fuzz/wah guitar illuminates the rubble like harsh Californian sunshine.  Whilst enduring some awful hipster nonsense in Wharf Chambers a few weeks ago I mused on the fact that I have been listening to bands tackling the garage punk/psychedelia/krautrock axis for 25 years – from Loop and Spacemen 3 in the late 80s to acts like Moon Duo nowadays – and almost no-one groks the vibe as comprehensively as Shem.

Next is ‘bontempi bastet’ by Ocelocelot, Mel O’Dubhslaine’s noise/drone endeavour.  The track is remarkable: an ectoplasmic gumbo, a thick electronic soup spiced and seasoned to make the corners of your eyes twitch.  Or is it an evocation of heaven?  Not the serene, tree lined avenues in the clouds that we imagine nowadays but instead the impossible floating crush pictured on an epic scale by Tintoretto in his painting of Paradise for the Doge’s palace in Venice.  Mel is a serious artist quietly and brilliantly re-purposing music to serve her own mysterious ends.  She does this with good humour and modesty and I think she might be my hero.

Third is ‘no forks’ by Moral Holiday, Phil Todd’s affectionate homage to first wave industrial music and its red-faced, politically embarrassing offspring power electronics.  It begins menacingly enough, all underground car parks and Sheffield in the late 1970s, and there is a little treated shouting to box the ears.  However it soon settles down into an intriguing mixture of deference to its sources and tripped out Toddiana.  The backing is brittle, unforgiving, stark.  The solos (both synth and guitar I think, though I’ve guessed wrong before) have a trebly, crystalline beauty.  Phil has taken the bucolic feel of the most utopian electronic Krautrock, frogmarched it to a grimly urban setting and then recorded it amongst the glass and concrete, mutating to fit its new surroundings.  It is a completely convincing Ballardian (that guy again) hybrid, greater than the sum of its parts.

Finally, we have ‘taser delerium’ (sic) from Paul Walsh’s foldhead.  This is a 20 minute extract from the dawn chorus in the Metalzoic era: a disorientating onslaught of trilling, squawking, grinding and fuzzing.  Perhaps you could imagine spiking the punch at a convention of shortwave radio enthusiasts then getting the fried participants to improvise a jam using nothing but the guttering warbles of atmospheric interference.  Life affirming stuff – joyful noise wall.  Like an intruder appearing at the foot of your bed, paralysing you with a swift injection to the sole of your foot, then draping his cock across your forehead as you lie prone and immobile, it is a perversely calming experience.

…and that’s your lot.  In summary: this album is damn near perfect.  Buy here.

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