a fortnight with lee stokoe, miguel perez (and friends)

April 15, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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 La Mancha Del Pecado & Culver – Collaboration One (tape, Matching Head, MH191)

Witchblood – Eponine (tape, Matching Head, MH193)

Indian Lady – Help Wanted Female/The Creeper (tape, Matching Head, MH194)

Culver + La Mancha Del Pecado – Collaboration II (CD-r, molotov 18)

La Mancha Del Pecado/Xazzaz – La Fetichista (CD-r/tape, molotov 17/agoraphobia 20)

The Skull Mask – Delbene (tape, agoraphobia 21)

La Mancha Del Pecado – Cadaveres Exhumados (CDr, Ruido Horrible, rh54)

Enoc Dissonance/Pordiozero/ La Mancha Del Pecado – 3 Way Split (CD-r, agoraphobia 22/El Canzancio Records 01)

Wehrmacht Lombardo/Black Leather Cop – Stars Extinguished, Black Sky (download, Grindcore Karaoke)

Xazzaz/La Mancha Del Pecado – La Esquina Roja (download , Oracle, ORE90)

La Mancha and Culver - Collab One  Witchblood Indian LadyCulver and La Mancha - Collab IILa Mancha and Xazzaz - La FetichistaLa Mancha Xazzaz Skull Maskla Mancha - Cadaveres ExhumadosEnoc Pordiozero La Mancha - 3 Way SplitXAZZAZ_&_LA_MANCHA_DEL_PECADO_-_LA_ESQUINA_ROJA

As I sit here listening to Thomas the Baby enter a particularly blood-curdling, screamy phase of the vocal improv set he is currently honing (provisional title: “The Aptamil Variations”), I find myself pondering the question ‘what is it to be a conscientious reviewer?’

Some context.  The submissions pile at RFM never gets totally out of hand.  It is currently about 20 items (the oldest received two-and-a-bit months ago) and that is as big as it gets.  I am not complaining, of course, as being given artefacts, or pointed at downloads, is an inexhaustible pleasure for me.  Having learnt a few lessons from the Termite Club/Fencing Flatworm days, I also have provisos in place to stop me getting swamped and/or frazzled.  See the submission guidelines on the ‘about me and this blog’ page – basically, I am allowed to take my time and say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ if I like.

That said, the pile can still induce a kind of overloaded, guilty numbness occasionally.  One of the meanings of ‘no-audience’ in my tongue-in-cheek phrase ‘the no-audience underground’ is that there are few passive consumers round these parts, everyone is involved in the scene in some way.  So I ask myself: what do I owe in return for this generosity?  How much work counts as ‘doing my bit’?  The question feels sharper than usual at the moment because new-to-fatherhood-tiredness has sorely eroded my powers of concentration.

What, for example, should I do with the several hours of roar recently bestowed upon me by the gentleman Lee Stokoe and his Mexican cousin Miguel Perez?  An intriguing body of work for aficionados of the darker, metal-infused side of drone music, no doubt, but there is a fuck of a lot of it.  The answer came to me as I lulled Thomas the Baby to sleep with Cherry Vampire by Culver the other day, or rather I was reminded of a tack I have taken before.  When there isn’t time to put life on hold for musical appreciation, what you can do is just use the music to soundtrack life and live inside it for a while.  Thus, for a couple of weeks I have been listening to the releases above on my commute, on lunchtime strolls, when changing nappies in the middle of the night and so on.

This approach seems especially fitting for these two artists.  Both are exploring the nuances of a haunting and enveloping aesthetic.  As such, releases are like a series of landscape photographs that build up into an atlas of a bleak, windswept country, beautiful in its desolation.  Thus they can be enjoyed en masse, at length, repeatedly and in pretty much any order.  The more you breath in their atmosphere the more acclimatised you get and the more sense it all makes.  Details emerge as your eyes get used to the dusk, collaborations offer new angles on the scenery.

A word about the covers.  Apart from the noteworthy exception of those designed by Mike Xazzaz for his label molotov, they pretty much all feature pictures of women in states of undress and/or duress.  I can’t help feeling this is a bit teenage and distracts from the impact of the music, but I am also aware that I’m unlikely to convince anyone of this.  Lee has wryly raised an eyebrow at my prudishness before (I insisted there be no tits on the cover of faraday cage).  He just shrugs and points over my shoulder at the totally sexualised depravity of popular culture nowadays.  At least he and Miguel are aficionados of schlock images and use them in a way which acknowledges the history and context.  I suspect I’ll just have to continue grumbling in my quaintly 1980s-style feminist way.  Anyway, the quality of the music makes it possible to ignore the dubious packaging illustration…

There is indeed much to engage and satiate.  Collaboration One is a single track documenting a primordial scene: distant landslides bury forest, volcanoes steam menacingly, giant lizards hiss in desperation as they sink into a tar pit.  It smells of animals rooting in hot soil.  Collaboration II is a good place for a newcomer to start.  ‘Graveyard Kiss’ features a trademarked Culveresque melancholy loop rotting into mulch and coloured with Miguel’s metallic, echoing chang.  ‘Funeral in Black Stockings’ (see what I mean about schlock?) is a gloriously elongated crescendo of low end rumble and crackling heat haze.  It is a natural, fluid partnership of artists clearly in sync with each other.

Witchblood is a duo of Lee and Lucy Johnson (of Smut etc.) and Eponine is made up of several tracks presented on a one sided tape.  There is an elusive shimmer to this, rising through the murky recording like silver carp just below the surface of a muddy pond.  Delicate piano lines are partially submerged in clockwork loops, burbling water and overamped hiss.  It’s like the accompaniment for practice at a ballet school for ghosts.  Indian Lady is, y’know, a ‘proper’ band featuring Lee on bass.  This tape contains two lengthy jams presented apparently unedited.  Rumble is to the front and centre with a satisfyingly fried psych/metal guitar grooving its own way behind.  I imagine teenage, stoner dragons listening to this whilst picking their teeth and relaxing after a huge meal of peri-peri hobbit.

The split album La Fetichsita finds Miguel and Mike (of Xazzaz and molotov records) on a war footing.  Miguel shows us billowing clouds of metallic noise and the machine growl of giant tanks advancing whilst foot soldiers (presumably, given the title, in rubber skin suits with high heels and ‘sexy’ gas masks) finish off the wounded.  Mike gives us Sabbath as played by an ill disciplined battalion of mechanical trilobites then later joins Miguel on the choking battlefield to supervise the collection of the corpses.  Yes, this is pretty dark.

La Esquina Rosa is the return leg: one twenty minute track each from the same two acts, this time made freely available to download via Oracle Netlabel.  Miguel’s track is a satisfying, viscous drone.  Imagine filling an indoor swimming pool half with syrup and half with ball bearings then chugging backwards and forwards in a little dinghy on the surface using the outboard motor to churn the mixture up.  Of you could just bounce your Casio through some filters if that proved too messy…  Features a two minute long surprise towards the end unique to Miguel’s drone work.

Mike’s track begins with the sound of the listener being locked into a shipping container and the situation remains heavy thereafter.  Scything, arcing, guttering electrics – as lithe and unnerving as mating snakes – and some punishing guitar feedback makes me concerned for his health and safety.  Exhilarating.  Mike’s stuff is so good I feel a little embarrassed subsuming it within a review headlined by others.  My apologies Mike – next time you’ll get the prominence deserved.

Enoc Dissonance, a duo with Oracle netlabel collaborator Pablo Mejia, and the solo Wehrmacht Lombardo are the most balls-out-total-noise of Miguel’s various projects.  Stars Extinguished, Black Sky is a split featuring the latter and Black Leather Cop, a collaboration between Scott McKeating (of Bells Hill) and RFM’s North East Correspondent Joe Murray (of Posset).  The Wehrmacht Lombardo track is a very convincing, satisfyingly panic-inducing tale of a gathering hailstorm.  It eases off around the twenty minute mark briefly so we can hear Miguel torture his guitar as he kills time hiding from the weather in his cave.  Otherwise: you wouldn’t want to be out in it.  Black Leather Cop present an almost indescribable gumbo of doomy noise/metal and discombobulating, scrabbling, dictaphonic collage.  It might be awesome – I can’t tell – which means it probably is.  I suspect it of being unholy at the very least, if not downright satanic.  Freely downloadable from the wonderfully named and breathtakingly prolific Bandcamp label Grindcore Karaoke.

3 Way Split is comprised of tracks by Enoc Dissonance, Colombian electro-noise act Pordiozero and La Mancha Del Pecado and is co-released by Miguel’s agoraphobia tapes and Pordiozero’s El Canzancio Records.  The Enoc Dissonance tracks are full-frontal racket.  Fans more knowledgeable than me get the hump when I use the term ‘harsh noise wall’ because I often do so inappropriately, but surely this is pretty close.  It’s like getting into a very, very hot bath or a very, very cold shower – bordering on painful at first but then strangely invigorating.  I admit I don’t listen to this end of the noise spectrum often but a blast every now and again is a welcome brain-rinse.

Pordiozero provide two central tracks of agitated, restless electronics.  Sub-genres of hard dance, industrial and synth based noise are smeared over one another, squeezed flat, then discarded and replaced.  Vocal snippets, crunching rhythms and increasing distortion create a atmosphere of disaffected alienation.

I’d had a copy of the La Mancha track ‘She is Misery’ on my hard drive for a while prior to this being released and it is good to see it finally available.  It has a dystopian, science-fictional feel to it that could well make it an appropriate soundtrack to the shenanigans pictured on the cover.  Ah yes, the cover: this album is notable for its very professional looking packaging and insane artwork.  A pro-copied CD-r is housed in a properly printed digipak featuring photos of some kind of post-apocalyptic alleyway in which gas-masked, pseudo-military, fetish-zombies threaten each other with guns.  The mind boggles.

Anyway, here is your chance to do your duty for the international noise underground by buying one of these.  It isn’t the best release in this round up but I know it cost a fair bit to produce and it would really help out our Latin American cousins if you got busy with Paypal.  I know times are hard but, if it helps, you could consider it payment for all the stuff you can download for free.

Finally, we have two key releases by Miguel’s major solo guises: La Mancha Del Pecado, as already encountered several times above, and my favourite of his incarnations: The Skull Mask.

Cadaveres Exhumados by the former is a full length, five track CD-r presented in a grey digipak by Ruido Horrible (stick that label name into Google translate for an example of truth in advertising).  It is an ambitious and accomplished noise album that almost scuppered this ‘fortnight with…’ idea by hogging the time available for repeat listens.  There are quiet, elegiac passages of bells, pipes and slow picked guitar that balance the roaring crescendos, lend an air of mournful seriousness and indicate the level of care and sophistication taken in its construction.  The noise itself is forceful and thick as bitumen in places (the final track, ‘Renuncia al silencio’, is HNW until it breaks at the end) but thoughtfully layered and throughout most of it there is space to think and appreciate what you are hearing.  Its scope is impressive.  Fans of the kind of metal-infused, heavy psychedelics typified in this country by the North East noise scene (from Culver to Jazzfinger to the various Mike Vest projects) should really track this down because they would dig it.  High praise from me.

A word about the ‘chur-chur-chur’ sound that can be heard high in the right channel on many La Mancha Del Pecado tracks.  I suppose it is an artefact of one of the filters he uses, or perhaps a result of knackered recording equipment.  It would distract me occasionally at first but now it seems like a signature – like the bubbling electric jug noise that is all over those 13th Floor Elevators records.

The Skull Mask has an intensely personal vibe.  It is Miguel’s shamanistic response to his experience of the Mexican wilderness.  He draws on folk traditions from around the world to construct dizzying ragas and desert improv using almost nothing but acoustic guitar.  Whilst the influences are sometimes clear, it has a core identity that is Miguel’s invention alone.

The tape Delbene is perhaps more varied in style than previous Skull Mask releases.  Side B is definitely more hard-picked than the seasoned Miguel-watcher would expect.  It shares the spiky, Bailey-esque, rawness of the pieces he records under his own name.  Side A, though, is pure Skull Mask: a swirling incantation, calling up dust devils to whip the desert sand into the air.  As well as his usual loose fingered virtuosity on the guitar there is some mysterious instrumentation (trumpet?!) adding to the impression that a rite is taking place.  Great, as ever.

OK, I think my ‘bit’ might be done for now.  Links below, folks.

Matching Head

Oracle netlabel/agorafobia

Molotov

Ruido Horrible

Grindcore Karaoke

El Canzancio Records

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