meditative anarchy: releases from tor pressJanuary 26, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 7 Comments
Tags: bram devens, chloe wallace, drone, glen steenkiste, hellvete, ignatz, jake blanchard, karl mv waugh, new music, no audience underground, noise, plurals, sophie cooper, tapes, the zero map, tor press, visual art
The Zero Map – Cerebrum Paté (CD-r, Tor Press, TORCD04, edition of 60, lino print cover)
Plurals – Debasement (CD-r, Tor Press, TORCD03, edition of 100 with three lino prints)
Ignatz / Sophie Cooper – Split (tape, Tor Press, TORCAS005, edition of 75)
Hellvete / Jake Blanchard – Split (tape, Tor Press, TORCAS006, edition of 75)
Blimey, you lot have woken from your winter hibernation pretty sharpish, eh? After throwing off the bear skins and shaking out the grass matting the first thought in the groggy collective mind of the no-audience underground seems to have been ‘must… send… parcel… to… Rob…’ or ‘nnnghhhh – download code for RFM!!’ Thus a review pile that had been diligently reduced to single figures during a hyperactive December has, by the end of January, been re-swollen to over forty items. I ain’t complaining, comrades – far from it. A skim through the new stuff reveals a level of quality and invention that is noggin-baking. My only concern is how to do it all justice. What a glorious bind to be in, eh readers? What a privilege to be a creative partner in this collective endeavour! Anyway, enuff swooning – I better get to work: a few posts to put 2013 to rest, the spring greens of 2014 to follow shortly after.
Today we’ll be looking at four releases on Tor Press, the Todmorden-based record label, zine publisher and gig promoter, run by illustrator Jake Blanchard. The first of these is Cerebrum Paté (cover above) a thirty-two minute, two track CD-r by The Zero Map, the Brighton based duo of Chloe Wallace and Karl M V Waugh.
I consider this band to be underrated – meaning that Uncle Mark of Idwal Fisher doesn’t like ’em as much as I’d like ‘im to like ’em – but not, of course, here at RFM HQ where they are firm favourites. On several enjoyable occasions I have pretzelled myself attempting to classify the meditative anarchy of their vibe. On the surface there is nothing gonzo or discordant apparent. An augmented drone, or electronic collage, carries you along like a pooh stick on a slow moving stream, flowing over and around some interesting obstacles. However, the closer you look the more peculiar it gets. One of those obstructions might be, say, the arm of a shop window mannequin sticking up out of the current, or perhaps some unknown hand has rearranged the pebbles of the stream bed into a mosaic depicting the face of Philip K. Dick, or maybe some biological agent in the water has turned the orchids in that tree stump blue (aside: Upstream Colour – best film of 2013) and so on…
Suffice to say that the first track, ‘Neutrino Detector’, begins with some nicely intestinal bass and that the second track, ‘A Python’, ends with a visceral crescendo that makes me want to drink blood from the skulls of my vanquished enemies. In-between times you’ll find plenty of whatthefuckery to flavour your reverie. Recommended.
Next is Debasement, a CD-r by the three (or four?) member ‘scattered collective’ Plurals. The disc is accompanied by three beautiful lino prints, one each by Ben Jones, Tom J Newell and Jake Blanchard, each an interpretation of one of the three tracks that make up the album. I consider this band to one of the frontrunners in this sport. Their sound has, for me, a subtle narrative quality that is compelling, exciting and rewarding of repeat listens. It draws stories out of me. Like this one:
The first track, ‘Modal Nodes’ is a glorious drone piece, a model of adulterated perfection. Picture a conical, many-limbed alien creature, nestled comfortably in an indentation on a sandy beach. Scattered around it are a number of terracotta coloured objects, each of which is picked up and, with a whip of a tentacle, set spinning. Some of these tops contain whistles, others beads and carved stones, all of which hum or rattle as they rotate. Luxuriating in the buzz it has created the creature uses half its mouths to join in with ululations and the other half to grin with.
‘Ape Skull Photography’ begins with more insistence – the urgent throb of a distress signal triggered by the captain of an exploration vessel sent to map this new world. The cause of his alarm is the frightening speed at which his crew have ‘gone native’ since arriving. The majority can be found scooping out their own hollows and joining in with the alien groove, only to be dragged away by the few left unaffected. This gathering siren sound begins to blot out the sound of the siren. Cut to the bridge of a rescue ship sent to investigate. The crew shift in their seats, uneasily listening.
‘Glowing Generic Diety’ is the final sublimation. Primed by the smeared-out distress signal the rescuers didn’t stand a chance and succumbed immediately. The captain can now be found on a nearby riverside, covered in red muck, fashioning his own spinning pots from the clay. Dozens are drying on the bank behind him. The rest of the crew are entwined in tentacles, consciousness liquefied in a grotesquely beautiful parody of nirvana.
Heh, heh – how’s that? Tremendous stuff.
..and finally the two split tapes. Sadly, they are already sold out and do not appear to have a digital afterlife. However, I am compelled to mention ’em at least because they are marvellous.
Ignatz, a guitarist from Belgium called Bram Devens, contributes five tracks of outsider blues with an archaeological crust to the recording that suggests Daniel Johnston transported back to the Mississippi Delta of the 1920s. His playing is raw and immediate but contains passages of disarming subtlety. His voice is fragile but his delivery has plenty of personality and push. I have been charmed by these haunting, humorous pieces and invigorated by the lifeforce they exhibit. One track, ‘Liquorice’, is named for my favourite confectionery too!
Sophie Cooper’s songs here concern absence and displacement and are half submerged in fuzz, echo and lapping ripples of liquid noise. The atmosphere is maintained beautifully, the medium conveying the message. ‘Dreamlike’ is an adjective easy to reach for when faced with anything at all diaphanous but, despite an explicit rejection of the notion by Sophie: track four is titled ‘I Never Associate Dreams With Anything’, I think the description fits. The tidal to and fro between here and distant, me and you, inside and outside has the sort of discombobulating internal logic you might struggle with on waking at 3am. I recently had the pleasure of seeing her perform live. Her voice and guitar were accompanied by a filtered flow of taped audio detritus which gave the impression her songs were emerging from a kind of shared, consensual hallucination. Also, by filling the gaps between songs and thus not providing the usual silence for applause her set was placed firmly in the context of the noise performances that preceded it. Very smart and very engaging.
The tape shared by Jake Blanchard himself and Hellvete, a guy called Glen Steenkiste, is a meeting of mighty, magical dronezillas. However, instead of tearing chunks out of each other whilst stamping on the unsuspecting burghers of Todmorden, Jake invites Glen to a campfire party at a beauty spot up on the Pennine tops. After roasting a few cattle the monsters take turns casting spells to entertain each other. This isn’t lazy, elbow-on-the-keyboard drone but a glowing, crackling, rolling presence built from ‘real’, sometimes handmade, instruments. It is beautifully layered and textured and animated by a sparkling and complex soul. Vibracathedral Orchestra comes to mind, of course, as does Jazzfinger, but replace the incense with the sinus clearing tang of pine resin. It ain’t all epic, though. The Hellvete side ends with a charming, tiny, banjo-plucking coda called ‘Op Linkeroever’ (Dutch for ‘On the Left Bank’). This return to a human scale serves the same take-a-deep-breath purpose as, say, ‘Cripple Creek Ferry’ at the end of Neil Young’s death-of-the-hippy-dream masterpiece After the Goldrush. If I hadn’t taken so long to get around to this release it would have surely figured in the 2013 Zellaby Awards, so sincere apologies for that.
To conclude: Tor Press is boss. The attitude exhibited by this outfit is impeccable. Every aspect of the operation exudes an understated but unmistakeable class. The content and choice of acts, whilst not always to my exact taste, show an adventurous but coherent vision for the label. Attention to detail is rigorous and quality control strictly enforced whilst retaining a loose, friendly and collaborative vibe. The packaging is exceptional – covers and inserts are hand-printed where feasible and beautifully designed with an eye for the aesthetically satisfying. Jake is, and I do not bandy this term about lightly, an artist.
Should you know anyone unconvinced as to the achievements possible here in the no-audience underground, any fool who uses the term ‘hobbyism’ as an insult, or insists on clutching tatty security blankets like The Wire to their bosom, then point them at labels like this and tell them to shut the fuck up. Tough love, yeah, but they’ll thank you for it eventually.