Metallic Shamanic: Joe Murray on a year with Usurper

February 2, 2017 at 8:13 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Usurper – Monthly Series: Jan – Dec 2016 (Giant Tank) 11 x CD-R and a card

Usurper – The Big Five (Singing Knives) C45 Tape

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You’d have to look, gosh, I don’t know where, to find a group more universally loved than Edinburgh’s Usurper.

Is it their high-concept but easily accessible approach; the media mix of what is strictly speaking, non-idiomatic improv, with goonish humour and fuzzy human warmth?  Could it be that their self-depreciation makes the razor-sharp, radical politics more comfortable to hug?

My theory?  It’s got something to do with their most excellent hair.

I know of no other N-AU group so popular with children and that, in itself, speaks volumes to me.

They label themselves as slackers but to my rheumy eyes they push harder than most, kicking across visual goofs and sonic adventures.  It is no surprise they started 2016 with a promise, to release a disc a month, and have delivered on this promise (fairly) reliably and with minimal drama.  That’s so Usurper!

So, into this swamp of ‘unreleased recordings, archival live jams and brand new bumf’; these twelve apostles of skronk, I dive into the dream…

January – Surprising noisy live jam breaks the fourth wall! Treated to a conversation about taping the damn show Usurper (with Grant ‘Muscle’ Smith) bollix an ironing board, drop tin cans and chuck a lapsteel into a free-form space.  It’s tingly sweet, it pops and clicks.  But there’s nae feart a NOISE with gutsy, rootsy string-wrangling whipping up an itchy hailstorm in an ice cream cone.

February – ALL GOB AND NAE TROUSERS it says and I get excited.  Not what you’re thinking man?  It’s a mouth jam alright.  This vocal jizz is all about maintained pressure so it keeps things tight and vibrating.  Fleshy lips and cheeks are pulled taut and greasy air passed through with force setting up unnatural hissing. Things ping, things pong.  One ‘surper is a red-necked rooster, the other a mollusc with stiff bristles; at the 8.30 mark the duck call sound and I collapse…completed

March – Classic bric-a-brac approach on vintage Usurper jam. 19 minutes captured (live) at The Chameleon unravel like a good detective novel.  Gentle shingle and rummaging, purposeful rattle and shake.  Some n.i.c.e. close-miked wriggles remove this from the no-input category but place neatly in the matchbox marked ‘interlocking sonics / gristle rubbers’.

April – The primary-coloured clown car implodes with loud brassy honks. Twin verbal routines decay as massive shoes stand on little necks. But the drivel drones on as a young lady twangs a buttered 12 inch ruler off the edge of a desk, secretly she makes goo-goo eyes at the sloppy Oppenheimer. Kapow!

May – Fantastic Voyage!  Ali & Malcy get shrunk to about 1cm tall and slide into a Euphonium’s sexy brass curves spraffing off their word-junk all the while.  Through the bright tubes and metallic hollows you get to follow a narrative of indistinct chunder.  A rare computer-glitch approach causes the kind of mille plateaux-shudder to make the beard-o’s sweat.  An exceptional month!

June – Like Radio 4 got took over by a case of mumps.  An inflammation of the glands live in London.  Sleeve notes say the boys were unsure, then sure, then unsure about this one.  I’m here to tell you it’s classic Usurper in the theatre-style.  Pure gibbering and insta-poems.  Pictures in sound and word become a menagerie (note: just noticed my copy gets to the 26th minute and then skips back to the 24th in a loop of dry clicks and sparse chair squeaks – it’s glorious!).

July – 11 minutes of fresh air.  This ultra-minimal instalment mixes feedback peals with slow steel rubbing and rickety clicking. You could almost mistake this for one of those Improvised Music From Japan affairs such is the pure and innocent clunking.  A checkers game of improvised sound structures?  GO with added electricity; a puttering moped farts into dramatic fade…

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August – Gadzooks!  This isn’t a record at all!  It’s a damn anniversary card.  Previously known as the month of Sextilis, golden August marks the melancholic end of summer…but for our bonny boys it’s all positive memory vibes, this card marking the start of their twenty (yes twenty) years together.  Bonding over the closing seconds of Twin Infinitives the like-minds hatch a plan: to throw over the traces of Britpop and Yankrock with sweet Scotjams.  Perfectly non-input, non-linear and non-sensical.  (Art by is by one M Duff ya Mr Saatchi)

September – These autumn leaves take The Ex’s ‘Scrabbling at the Lock’ to its ultimate conclusion with a symphony of jittering and creaking.  All things bow to the metallic shamanic.  So, at the 9 minute mark, it all clicks together like a Transformer reverting to its natural Gamelan status, stroking the bronze gong yet moaning like a Wookie.  (featuring Grant Smith on Turkish Bong)

October – (Track 1) An altogether more darker rumbling taking us to Henri Chopin territory. Not so much in the gob-tronics but revealing a hidden world; pencil sharpeners phase in and out of reality, one set of keys tolls like a death clock.  At one point an egg whisk shreds as hard as Slayer (\m/ \m/).  Usurper’s South of Heaven?  (Track 2) A general heaviness dissolves into rubber, faint electronics and a floppy Alice Coltrane. (featuring Grant Smith on ostrich feather)

November – A Usurper thought-piece in two rigid parts.  Firstly: gloves off, cocks out! Honk & palaver.  Duck calls trump free jizz all over the shop comparing notes like Dixie (80’s TV moustache – Magnum). Secondly: Adris Hoyos jams with an old school bell via the Tuvan Steppes.  A mellow, yellow, fellow spins plastic pipes and drinking straws making an otherworldly ‘khhhaaaaa’ scrape.  Usurper…never a jug band, more a fug brand from a chug land.

December – The true meaning of Christmas eh? Runny shite due to unusual food/zoned out on tinsel/greedy children/jingle bells ad nauseum/clattering crockery/overloaded sentiment/real cash poverty/anxiousness inflated by cabin fever/trapped wind/disappointment in general/creepy uncles/your favourite quiet pub is now full/kids gnashing, full of fudge.  But when else would you contemplate eating a whole chocolate orange?

AND while we’re at it…another Usurper release parts the veil of mist between strict discipline and Steiner-school freedom.  Room for one more readers?

Usurper – The Big Five (Singing Knives Records) C45 Cassette

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Believe this – the Usurper deal only in bravery and truth.

While other dingbat-bands try looking cool with their loud and unpleasant noises and dark glasses these two wee brothers rummage the depths of a Scottish collective-consciousness to bring you a crucial entertainment.

These wrinkled sonic-pages make no mention of the modern distractions (internet memes, flat white coffee) that foul up too many young brains.  And that’s important yeah as Usurper keep their focus exact on what makes us human-beans. It’s a real exploration of language; its meaning and our ability to understand.

So that pesky language eh?  That mixture of invisible air and sore lips is dropped by Ali & Malcy like a Lancaster Bomber crammed with ‘meaning grenades’.  Jerry-rigged for sure and improvised (of course) they explode slowly, freeing colourful shrapnel with the spark and fizz of a regular logophile.   No bones are broken, no arteries severed.  The aftermath smells of vague lavender and leaves a glowing smile on babe and parent alike.

You a toucher sir?  A stroker madam?  If you’re into the feel of things it all get fairly knotty with the soft buttermilk voices wrapping four cheeks around single syllables; twisting cadence and meaning without no interfering electronics.  It’s just wonderful flesh and gas (and the occasional traffic shwish).   A greasy mink has never been so slick.

Then Robertson and Duff employ outrageous simile-tennis that degenerates, quickly, into a game of (insert current culturally accepted good guys) versus (insert current culturally accepted bad guys).  And even though I class myself as an athletic listener my neck needs a good old rub down with liniment after this routine.

Hear that rattle and pop of unamplified junk?  It’s a classic Usurper tactic making a listener strap on an extra ounce of grey matter, all the better to get inside, move around this truthful music that rejects all the fripperies and fancy.

This essential tape comes pure from the inside of a twin soul.  Usurper – insider art!

Duff and Robertson / Giant Tank

Singing Knives

 

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