the 2017 zelleby awards

January 2, 2018 at 5:05 pm | Posted in musings, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Phew!  Another year over, a new one just begun.

It’s that time again eh?  Sharpen your pencils and look back to what it meant to be alive and listening in 2017?

Being non-competitive folk there’s no overall ‘winner’ here.  Each RFM writer has sifted through hours and hours of listening memories to come up with a list of releases (or in Sof’s case – a single tape) that have really meant something to us.  We’re all winners eh?

You’re welcome to clap us along, raise a glass of bubbly or disagree and comment – discussion is always good yeah.

So, while the haters diss the list we at RFM don flak jackets and stick our sensitive parts out there.

Comrades – I present to you the Radio Free Midwich Zellaby end-of-year-list (2017).

Rob Haylerrob hayler at tusk

First up, some thoughts from our esteemed founder – Rob Hayler.

2017 saw one of the mainstream’s periodic upticks in interest in the underground.  The coverage was, as ever, woeful.  The Guardian led the pack with a vampiric attempt to leech authentic lifeblood, presumably to lure back some of the hip readers, so beloved of advertisers, that it haemorrhaged during its shameful anti-Corbyn campaign.  Fuck that.  Most of The Guardian is now just a stream of hot piss being hosed into the face of its legacy.

The Quietus was as late to the party as ever.  Their ‘New Weird Britain’ shtick was weirdly embarrassing on several levels.  Evangelising in Vice (ugh) offshoot Noisey John Doran described a scene ‘impervious to all attempts at commodification’ – in an article containing seven advert breaks, a clickbait footer and a warning the site wanted to shit cookies onto my laptop.  I wish I was joking.

I could go on but why bother?  The best thing to do is turn your back and take a long walk in the thriving ecosystem operating entirely apart from this bollocks.

As if in response to the mainstream’s attempts to prove relevant, 2017 saw a spirit lifting surge in zine culture.  This year I caught up with some back issues of The Chapess, continued to enjoy the indefatigable grimness of Hiroshima Yeah!, marvelled at one-off art projects like Crow Versus Crow’s Ra Wept, photocopied detritus from Robert Ridley-Shackleton and knockout illustration by blog-fave Joined By Wire.  Notable new publications included Dukes of Scuba, a mini-zine fizzing with enthusiasm for the noise scene in Wales, and, of course, Andy Wood’s TQ.  Andy played a blinder here by creating a regular, substantial paper zine but promoting it via that fancy social media that everyone uses nowadays.  With only half-a-dozen issues published he already has a bunch of great contributors and a hundred subscribers.  More power to him.

The digital realm remains as inspiring as ever.  The quality and diversity of writing to be found on blogs, written largely for the love of it by people who are essentially hobbyists, still can’t be touched by ‘professional’ sources like those above.  #noisetwitter was a constant source of comradeship and good humour, despite the trying times, and CAMP radio deserves special mention for hosting shows by Sof Cooper, Crow Versus Crow, Neil Campbell, marlo de lara, Stuart Chalmers and other luminaries.  A terrific resource.

Away from the house the highlight was, without rival, this year’s TUSK festival in and around Sage in Gateshead.  Lee Etherington and the crew kindly hosted not only my final Midwich gig – a profoundly satisfying creative moment for me – but also Klein, who performed the best live set I saw all year.  She proved that even jaded, exhausted veterans such as myself could be left speechless with delight, hovering two inches above the floor, by something thrilling and new.

Away from the noise underground I found myself bewildered, charmed and excited by the woozy, euphoric, future R&B and hip hop introduced to me by 1Extra as I pottered aimlessly around the kitchen.  I returned to tracks like ‘Girlfriend’ by NAO (yes, I know it was released in 2016 – bite me) and ‘Yesterday’ by Noname (ditto) over and over again, following them down late-night YouTube rabbit holes.  One such journey ended with me dumbfounded alternating between ‘It’s OK To Cry’ and ‘Ponyboy’ by SOPHIE.  Holy shit.

The album from the ‘canon’ I Iistened to most in 2017 was Nightclubbing by Grace Jones and film of the year was Paddington 2.  Don’t come at me with Blade Runner or whatever, the bear won it fair and square.

OK, now the main event.  Those that correspond with me privately will know that 2017 was an extraordinarily difficult year for my family.  The jaunty persona I’ve maintained on Twitter, whilst never insincere, has been a prop to help me cope/escape during some very dark times.  Accordingly, the purpose music has served is analogous to those silver foil blankets given to crash victims waiting for an ambulance – comfort during a time of visceral shock.  This may explain why my choices are mainly by friends and familiar names and largely from two genres I’m always happy to immerse myself in: psych noise and drone.  Mea culpa.

First, the ‘oh, just press repeat and that’s the day sorted’ section:

tuluum shimmering

Tuluum ShimmeringLinus and Lucy

A 75 minute psych groove on the riff from the Peanuts theme tune.  Turns any train journey into a summer flashback.

Daniel ThomasKeep The Red Kites Flying

An evolution in Dan’s light-touch-heavy-analogue style.  Possibly his best work, endlessly revisitable.

Caroline Mckenziethe drowning of ophelia

Four hours of dark ambient inspired by Shakespearian suicide, sounding like a cross between culver and SAWII era Aphex Twin?  Yeah, I can get with that.

Next, the ‘everything touched by these people’ section:

Earlier in the year I chose not to go and see Sunn O))) play at Leeds University and instead spent the ticket money I saved buying the entire digital back catalogue on MIKE VEST’s Bandcamp site.  Pretty certain I did the right thing there.  For weeks afterwards I walked around, earbuds welded in, feeling like some kind of space wizard.  My nostrils still ache from the near-constant flaring…

If you like your psych noise a little more sasquatch-spotting and less spaceships-slowly-crashing-into-moons then may I recommend that you investigate EIDERDOWN RECORDS?  There are no releases on this wonderful label that fall short of intensely satisfying.  It’s the home of a fried-pastoral aesthetic that laughs as it warns you how strong the stuff is only after you’ve taken a hit.

helicopter quartet

Two RFM colleagues next.  Firstly, CHRISSIE CAULFIELD has had a remarkable 2017, though she would be too modest to agree.  Foremost amongst a number of releases are the solo album From the Carboniferous and this year’s album from the duo Helicopter Quartet, The Birds Discover Fire.  The former is a beautiful meditation, more drone in style than her usual output, and the latter is an exquisite carving, strung with taut emotion – like a Brâncuși sculpture translated into music.  Seriously, I’ve been banging on about how amazing and important this band is for bloody years.  Go and download it now.

Secondly, SOPHIE COOPER has also lit up everything she’s lent her considerable talent to.  I’ve seen her perform solo in a tiny art gallery to a handful of people and as part of the Friday night headliners United Bible Studies at TUSK.  She’s released her own Faust Tapes in The Curfew Tower Recordings on Crow Versus Crow and offers an occasional Dial-a-Bone service that, well… the mind boggles.  However, it seems that The Slowest Lift, her duo with Julian Bradley, has really caught everyone’s imagination.  The The Blow Volume 3 tape on Front & Follow (billed as Sophie Cooper & Julian Bradley) and the eponymous album on VHF are at once the obvious children of the pair but at the same time utterly alien and fascinatingly other.  ‘What the hell is this?’ you ask yourself, every track, every time.  So, so good – and its December release date has shamed all those who lobbed out their ‘end’ of year list prematurely.

Finally then, the two albums I was most surprised to see are, non-coincidentally, my two favourite albums of the year.

itdreameddrone

Firstly, A.Y. by itdreamedtome was slipped out in an understated but handsome package by no-audience underground veteran Chris Gowers on his label Trome Records.  A new release from Chris is always cause for celebration but, as it turned out that itdreamedtome was none other than Johann Wlight breaking a decade long silence, I couldn’t log in to Paypal fast enough.

Chris tells the story of JW’s work, influence and disappearance eloquently in the notes on the album’s Bandcamp page so you can catch up there.  I’ll just say that these pieces have a rare poise, an intricate delicacy that overlays much sub-surface activity.  Like paddling in the waters of a moonlit bay and feeling something large and scaly brush against your ankles.  His touch is as deft as it ever was – what a joy to have him back.

tbbculver box – photo by rob

Lastly, with crushing inevitability, we have the body beneath by culver.  The logistics are cyclopean: 65 previously unreleased tracks, spanning the years 1996 to 2013, named only for the year recorded, spread over 10 CDs (not CD-rs) and housed in a screen printed wooden box.  The total running time tops 12 and a half hours.  Its gestation has been elephantine; the set has been literally years in the making – hence my rejoicing at its birth.

Each culver release is another page in the atlas mapping out the territory that Lee Stokoe has claimed as his own and, despite already owning around 80, I was counting the cash in my wallet the second I finally saw this in the flesh.  The precision and seriousness of Lee’s purpose and the (maybe surprising to some) variation he works into the roar that is his art kept me rapt throughout.  This is my favourite album of the year 2017.

Love and best wishes to all – can’t wait to hear what you have in mind for 2018.

Rob x

Next we hear from the essential Sophie Cooper.

sam and the plants

Hello all! Hope you managed to get through Christmas and indeed, the entire year, ok. I’m alright. Started 2017 with a new year’s resolution to work hard and I think I’ve achieved this. Records and residencies, and y’know a job I love that actually pays. The other half opened a beer shop in our beloved Golden Lion pub (#TorBeers #VisitTodmorden) and that’s been an interesting addition to this strange life I’m living. The dog is doing well, thanks for asking.

Music wise I’ve listened to a hell of a lot of new stuff but not written about any of it for Radio Free Midwich (see above for excuses) so was surprised that dear Joe and Rob are allowing me to say my piece in the spectacular “best of…” list produced right here. I’ve only got one album to discuss today because it’s the only thing I’ve given my entire attention to and I have listened to it countless times over and over in the car while driving round West Yorkshire. It’s Flaming Liar by Sam and the Plants.

This album was originally released in May on cassette by Preston based label ‘Them There Records’ in an edition of just 35. The release came very nicely packaged in printed card and had an extensive insert containing song lyrics and notes that explain what’s what in each song. These sold out more or less instantly and in their own way these tapes caused a bizarre cultural phenomenon amongst those I knew who had heard it. Small talk turned into big talk down the pub, “have you heard that tape Sam did?” became a question asked over and over again usually answered with “yeah, it’s amazing” followed by an in-depth conversation about it. The reason I say this is bizarre is because this type of en masse interest in a record to me is a fairly rare thing. Readers of this will undoubtedly have some connection to the “no audience underground” and we all know that records come and go. In my opinion not that many of them produced on a scale like this tend to linger around for that long. Flaming Liar has become an actual part of a lot of people’s lives and in my eyes its not too hard to see why.

Sam has a wild way with words and I think at the core of this record’s success is the deeply satisfying song craft that makes each chord change and interplay between melody and lyrics sing beautifully. This artist clearly knows how to put a tune together and in a sense the song structures of the record come across as quite traditional however there is this overarching oddness tying it all together that really appeals to me. Despite being an hours worth of separate ‘songs’ they are presented as two continuous sides of music producing their own other worldly entity as one tune becomes unable to exist without the others. I’m talking from the point of view of someone who has listened to this umpteenth times, as each song essentially ends in your head you’re already hearing the next one and I think that’s the addictive quality of this album that has so many people hooked. Lyrically Flaming Liar really works the listener with things like incorrect grammar and by putting words together that shouldn’t make sense but in conduction with the melodies and genius rhyming couplets it just all fits and after a while you find yourself singing along to every word coming up with fake harmonies and imagery in your head as you’re doing so.

The album is tastefully unpretentious. The songs seem to be written from a personal place and I found myself wondering what could have inspired each one. The liner notes hold some hints at answers e.g. “an anti-hymn of sorts, written in a moment of cold clarity” but at the same time they keep you guessing. On one hand the writer seems incredibly open, most of the words written from a first person point of view with lyrics inviting you to dig deep into your emotions as Sam lays his out for everyone to see: “I light, I trip, I fall. I soil before you all”. There are mentions of deep love and tinges of sadness, there are several references to crying littered throughout the album. Yet on the other hand the messages are obscure and kind of harsh: “you’ve been down, I’ve been down. How are you supposed to sound?” It’s like the artist is messing with the listener in a way, perhaps you aren’t suppose to figure it out, making us come back for more.

sam and the plants 2

I heard about people writing to the label to say thanks for putting this out so I wasn’t surprised when Flaming Liar got another short run re-release this time 50 copies of a CDR. Them There Records did a really nice thing of honouring the tape format by releasing this version as a double CD containing one side of the tape on each so you didn’t lose that glued together effect. Similar attention was paid to the artwork, all hand typed and pretty.

This album was mostly recorded on tape with very few overdubs made later creating this warm and cosy vibe. Tape is celebrated as a contributing instrument throughout Flaming Liar, layered up between songs and over the top. You hear tape being played at different speeds and in different directions throughout sewing pieces of songs together. My copy of the tape had a weird feature during a song soon at the start of side B called “the net was never cast”. Somehow the volume of the song gets louder during a great banjo solo halfway through and initially it was a weird addition but after all those plays it just became part of the fabric. Eventually the label put the album on Bandcamp and I heard it digitally through studio monitors showing me this little “effect” didn’t actually exist. A perfectly placed mistake. I later found out this also happened on another friend’s copy, she loved it as well. I appreciate that this record was made to be heard on tape and it’s made me consider mastering approaches for different formats a lot so thanks for that Sam.

A good song lends itself nicely to this type of lo-fi treatment though and you can’t get away from them here. Clearly the songs have been loved and crafted to the point where they can be recorded in a one take, press play and record at the same time, to the point where they sound effortless. Sam is a skilled instrumentalist moving between notes on harmonium, piano, guitar and banjo like a path travelled many times before. His voice has a story telling quality guiding us through various ways of looking at the world and outsider observations. Musically he throws in notes that take you in unexpected directions and these moments really make the song sparkle making everything come together in a truly magical way.

I love this album! Flaming Liar by Sam and the Plants is number one for me. Sorry I don’t have a top 176 album list for you but I’ve been working. Listen to this album in 2018, physical copies have all gone but the label have kindly put it up on Bandcamp. You can also hear an interview I did with Sam on my radio show Tor FM where I ask a lot of questions about his writing methods. Love be with you in 2018 x

wizards of oiwizards of oi – what it is not

A puff of smoke, a flash of light and genie-like he appears – Luke Vollar

And so marks the end of a pretty terrible year…

A time of anxiety and uncertainty about my future and what grim tribulations lay ahead (buy me a pint and I’ll share the whole sorry story with you). More time on my hands should have given me the impetus to dive into the review pile but alas I was constantly at war with grey and weary enui. I found the effort to provide sparkling insight into underground sounds just wasn’t there.

I still took a great deal of solace in music, be it the sombre post-metal of Neurosis or the self-loathing hip hop of Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt. The furious tornado of rage from the Power Violence/Grindcore underground offered me an outlet for the rage and injustice I felt.

As the request for end of year thoughts was put out I found myself musing over the year as I walked to the pub to meet a mate whilst listening to Fata Morgana by Stuart Chalmers. It dawned on me that my end of year list would include two artists who have been at the top of my end of year list for the past two years- Stuart Chalmers and Robert Ridley Shackleton. This in turn led me to mull over the ‘problem’ of the review pile and the sheer glut of (often fantastic) artists who want people to hear their work. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with Rob Hayler’s views raised on the punkness of bandcamp and the increased accessibility to peoples music that can bypass all the horseshit there is an undeniable risk of over-saturation.

On a purely personal level and as someone who has always been fairly (ok very) obsessive about music a certain amount of investment is required in order the reap the rewards from their work. Hence I have now spent a couple of years getting my head round a couple of artists who have been on an upwards trajectory with their work.

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Robert Ridley Shackleton’s – The Opera – on Chocolate Monk is a culmination of all of the disparate elements of his art brought together into a sprawling masterpiece. Part absurd/awkward/ moving audio diary part cardboard noise work out part purple bedroom funk.

Stuart Chalmers has maintained his output of dazzling brain-music unshackled by earthly requirements and free to orbit the space ways. His disc on Chocolate Monk plus his collaboration with Neil Campbell and his self released Fata Morgana are all essential.

Towards the end of a grim year came an unexpected shaft of sunlight as my duo The Teatowels were asked to perform our debut at the Tusk Festival in Newcastle. Several sleepless nights were spent prior to the event asking myself was I really going to ‘sing’ in front of an audience? On the night all nerves were forgotten and the show itself seemed to be over in minutes, we had a blast.

The joyful experience of catching up with old pals and meeting new people all with a passion and intrigue for weird sounds was a wonderful thing, as was mooching about the toon with two of my best pals. I left with my soul enriched but my liver threatening to leave me. Highlights include Rob Hayler’s thought provoking panel discussion followed by a Midwich set as the perfect hangover cure and the dismantling of the trusty groovebox – absurd, funny and moving. The Brainbombs set was a ferocious nihilistic groove machine and I damn near dislocated my head from banging it.
so before a ramble some more here’s a list of things that I enjoyed this year in no particular order:

stuart chalmers loop phantasystuart chalmers loop fantasy 4

Drunk in Hell – s/t
Infernal Body Demo
Filthxcollins Demo
Of habit- Extended technique
Stuart Chalmers- Loop fantasy 4 , Fata Morgana, In the vicinity of the reversing pool (with Neil Campbell) , Mazes and Labyrinths (2007-2017)
T Mikawa- Rising Sunset
Blood Lewiis-The Toadstool Millionaires
Feghoots -Dwindling Correspondence
Fordell Research Unit- Octuary
Wizards of Oi- Wot it is not
Psanck- Psanck
Richard Youngs- Fibe Optic Ballads
Robert Ridley Shackleton- The Opera
Street Beers-Seriously Hot
Karen Constance- Gudgeon Snout
Karen Constance and Elkka Nyoukis- Bicker Sweet
Lust rollers- Grim reflections from the poetic spleen
BBblood/Posset/Stuart Chalmers- Delirium Cutlet Impaste
Fells-Waking
Kevin Sanders- Numb for Somethings
Skull Mask- La muerte es sabia
Culver- Prisoner of FRU
75 Dollar Bill- Wood/Metal/Plastic
Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society- Simultonality
Yeah You- Krutch

And in conclusion 2018 is already looking a lot brighter. Stuart Arnot’s prediction for The Teatowels blasting out a set from a boat on the Tyne for the next Tusk Festival might just happen. Anything is possible right?

Feet on the ground, head in the sky – it’s Paul Margree’s blurred memories

In 2017, I listened to and wrote about music, then stopped writing about and listening to music, and then started listening to and writing about music again. I spent the first third of the year swamped in dark ambient symphonies, drone shudders, computer music chatters and freely improvised squalls in a state of caffeinated befuddlement before throwing the whole lot in the (proverbial) bin post-Easter in an attempt to figure out what I actually liked listening to, if anything. And, while I still don’t have the answer to this, the investigations required have continued to prove rather fruitful.

Here are some good albums that I should have reviewed but didn’t in 2017:

maya and tom

Maya Dunietz & Tom White: Summer Crash (Singing Knives)

Nicole Mitchell: Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE)

Duncan Harrison: Preamble to Nihil (self-released)

Kostis Kilymis: A Void (Organized Music From Thessaloniki)

Yan Jun and Ben Owen Swimming Salt 游泳的盐(Organized Music From Thessaloniki)

Jlin: Black Origami (Planet Mu)

Sloth Racket: See The Looks On The Faces (Tombed Visions)

Cristián Alvear / Seijiro Murayama: Karoujite (Potlach)

Organ For The Senses (Marginal Frequency)

Daniel M. Karlsson: Expanding and Overwriting (Conditional Recs)

YOL: Hand of Glory (self-released)

Kill Alters: No Self-Helps (Hausu Mountain)

It wasn’t all bad, however. In those jittery months, I got to speak to a set of talented, passionate experimental musicians about their craft, a process that was both a privilege and an eye-opener. Speaking to these artists added perspective and nuance to my own understanding of their recorded output and helped to free something in my own creative process, an unfolding which is still ongoing. Thank you Marlo, Colin, Duncan, Phil, Elizabeth, Gabriele, Petridisch, Andie, Sam, Dale and Cristián – and apologies to everyone I never quite got around to.

Here are some good albums that I did manage to review – or at least talk about – in 2017:

daniel bennett roil

Seth Cooke: Triangular Trade (Suppedaneum)

Me, Claudius: Reason For Balloons (Dinzu Artefacts)

Phil Julian: Clastics (Conditional Recs)

Maria W. Horn: Excitation – Frustration – Excitation (Conditional Recs)

Dale Cornish: Aqal (Entr’acte)

Bredbeddle: Stackes (Fractal Meat Cuts)

Sophie Cooper: The Curfew Tower Tapes (Crow Versus Crow)

Irreversible Entanglements: s/t (International Anthem)

Mark So … And Suddenly From All This There Came Some Horrid Music (Caduc)

Trupa Trupa: Jolly New Songs (Blue Tapes/X-Ray Records/Ici d’aileurs)

Elizabeth Veldon: Laika & Other Works (Third Kind Records)

Guiseppe Ielasi: 3Pauses (Senufo Editions)

Mami Wata: s/t (Wild Silence)

Missing Organs: Old Speakers (Umor Rex)

Daniel Bennett: Roil (Organized Music From Thessaloniki)

Diurnal Burdens: Inaction/Extinction (Invisible City Records)

A lot of labels had a good year, too. You’ll all have your favourites, but, for me, the dedication of Tombed Visions, Linear Obsessional, Sacred Tapes, Potlach, Wild Silence, Crow Versus Crow, Entr’acte, Singing Knives, Organized Music From Thessaloniki, Chocolate Monk, Invisible City, Beartown Records, Baba Vanga and Structured Disasters was crucial in achieving a kind of mass immersion in weirdo sonics that has helped rewire my brain. Don’t go changing, y’all.

Threaded through all of this, of course, is the warp and weft of everyday life. Getting up, going to work, coming home, cooking, cleaning, washing, giving people lifts, getting stuck in traffic, filling in forms, going on holiday. You know the drill. During these bursts of activity, I’ve listened to Stormzy, Sza, Princess Nokia, St. Vincent, The National, Neil Young, Drake and Halse . I’ve heard ‘Despacito’ more times than I thought I would ever hear a song (and that includes Wet Wet Wet’s version of ‘Love Is All Around’ and all those Christmas songs that never, ever go away). Sometimes music is a consolation in all of this, sometimes it’s a distraction. Sometimes it’s both.

However, I can recommend a period of abstinence from music. This may seem like an odd thing to say on a website devoted to uncovering organized, disorganized or just plain unorganized sounds, but this absence really did make the heart (and ears) grow fonder. My hiatus came to an end when I was welcomed into the Radio Free Midwich fold, a move that helped me chart a path back to thinking about music again. So, Joe, Rob and all the RFM squad, thank you.

There was plenty of live stuff this year, although individual gigs do tend to slip away from my lobes like custard down a plughole unless I make specific notes. Some things have stuck, however –TUSK remained one of most welcoming and sonically adventurous festivals around, closely followed by Glasgow’s Counterflows, whose city-spanning locus matches the diversity of its bill. The London Contemporary Music Festival felt a little highbrow in contrast although sets by Joan La Barbara, Moor Mother, Yeah You and the Elaine Mitchener Ensemble were definite highlights.

Here in the big smoke, Café Oto continues to be a beacon for weirdo sound junk of all stripes, with newer locations such as Sonic Imperfections and Rye Wax in Peckham, Iklectic in Lambeth and New River Studios in Manor House offering up tasty morsels themselves. Even better, scenes around the UK are asserting themselves –Dylan Nyoukis and the squad in Brighton springs immediately to mind, but there are fruitful nodes of improv, electronics and noise in Gateshead, Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Cheltenham and loads of other places. This cannot be anything but good news.

Here are some gigs that have rocked my 2017:

Ian Watson, Marlo Eggplant, dtub; New River Studios (February)

Aaron DIlloway; Hope & Ruin (February)

Posset; Café Oto Project Space (March)

Les Filles de Illighadad; Counterflows (April)

Farmer’s Manual; Counterflows (April)

Phil Maguire;Sonic Imperfections (July)

Dead Neanderthals/Sly & The Family Drone; Café Oto (September)

Beachers / R Elizabeth / Dan Hayhurst/ Missing Organs; New River Studios (September)

Duncan Harrison;TUSK (October)

Klein;TUSK(October)

The Seen; Hundred Years Gallery (November)

New Intimacy III; London Contemporary Music Festival (December)

Sharon Gal and Paul Watson; Café Oto (December)

philphil maguire at sonic imperfections (photographer unknown)

What does all this mean? It is possible to synthesize all this sizzle and noise into something meaningful? Should we even bother? After all, isn’t all this list making and ranking just another way to instil FOMO and get you to part with your hard earned?

Well, maybe. I reckon most of these artists deserve your coin as they battle on through financial hardship and general indifference. So, let’s raise a mug of peppermint tea to all those cultural workers whose idiosyncratic, dissonant lurches up various one-way streets brings a little bit of joy to our lives.

Here’s to you, one and all.

We would not be complete without a word from Marlo Eggplant.

It has felt like a super long year. Constant turmoil in the world left me completely disinterested in making music and listening in isolation. And for me, to appreciate and create music and art without social context has been particularly difficult. So, in light of folx calling out the misogynistic white washed, I propose to you some music that I have been enjoying. I am absolutely certain I missed some great music released in 2017. But these releases are more than enough for me to feel like other folks were feeling similarly.

C. Lavender – “Vanishing Light” (Hot Releases)

Where does one go when they are feeling overwhelmed by life? Do we choose to be studied through a two-way mirror in hopes those behind it have our best interests in mind or do we choose to live as outsiders and let our internal conflicts unfold without help?

Freaking good. I love an album that you feel compelled to listen to from beginning to end. The recording quality is nostalgic and analogue-ish. While the tracks are ordered, the sounds are not confined. Her orchestration is unpredictable but melodic and zeroes in on the irritation and desire to feel something. Hudson, New York based C. Lavender has been killing it for years but perhaps this album’s juxtaposition with the fascist irritants of the times is particularly medicinal and accurate.

stackes2

Stackes – “Bredbeaddle” (Fractal Meat Cuts)

Nottingham’s Rebecca Lee’s work is charged with playful intent. It feels good on the ears with a late-night radio channel surfing quality. Rolling the dial between the fuzz of a well-loved vinyl collection, the tenor of instruments, and the more mathematical computer sounds, Lee distracts us from the dis-ease of current events.

dead machine

緊那羅:Desi La (Kinnara : Desi La) –  “Dead Machine”  (Afrovisionary : Dark Matter)

The always excellent Afrovisionary: Dark Matter label promoting the black avantgarde brings a treat with a full-length album by the label’s admin LA BRUHA DESI LA. I was tuned into this particular release with the Tokyo based artist’s current geometric video art accompanying the tracks. The album is electronic harpsichords and sci-fi visions. I have been sent a homing signal back to my home planet and escape from this sur(reality) contemporary society.

edit history

Sterile Garden – “Edit/History/Erase” (Self released)

Portland, Maine artist Jacob DeRaadt describes this release as music concrete explorations of the human condition. Accurate. Seeing the masses as grouped individual experience, this long form cassette is aesthetically pleasing and epic. Experiencing both nothing and momentous. With each side, atmospheric discomfort DeRaadt articulates the ephemeral.

Helictitie in the Studiophoto of typical nau live equipment

What do I think about the last 12 months?  Here’s Joe Posset’s list plus a riff about live music.

A gradual change in live performance seems to have reached a peak in 2017.   While the NAU is pretty much built on the idea that performer and audience are one and the same, when we get down to it, in the live arena, the old invisible contract between active, single-discipline performer and passive single-discipline audience holds sway.   You know the sort of thing I’m talking about: the ‘artist plugs in a box and plays, the audience shuts up and listens’ scenario.

For years Usurper have been redrafting this contract, busting out of a single-discipline improv mode by adding elements of humour, visual art, dada-winks, audience participation, drama, repetitive movement and sharp political comment to their increasingly abstract(ed) work.  And for me some of the most electric performances of the year have brought a similar polymorphic structure to the NAU.

To be clear…I’m not just on about Bob Dylan painting his own record covers here – another key element of the NAU is the multi-skilled nature of its proponents.  What I’m talking about is bringing those multiple energies and disciplines straight into performance where what we thought was one thing becomes the other.

renerene mcbrearty (photographer unknown)

The penny dropped for me while watching Rene McBrearty perform Hesitation, Deviation, Repetition.  This prompted my listening companion to say – ‘kinda reminds me of Malcy Duff’ which of course was a spot on comparison.

Rene’s vocal rollercoaster had all the hallmarks of a vocal jaxx / sound-text piece. Repetitive sounds, sense and meaning were explored and performed with a wonderfully straight face.  But if some beard walked in halfway through they would have struggled to place the setting and root of this marvellous piece.  It stood in a new patch of grass; not chin-stroking sound art, or visual art + .  It was a slippery performance delighting in sliding between exciting places.

Granted…a few acts branching out does not a movement make.   But this year, when I think back, I’m seeing more and more of this polymorphism.

Rob Hayler’s well documented final Midwich performance was both an artistic farewell, a greatest hits medley and a safety-conscious Metzger action.

Headless Pootluke poot in gateshead

In their solo guises, and in an occasional duo, Duncan Harrison and Luke Poot have left audiences with their jaws loose and flapping.  Physical comedy, tape interruptions, fourth-wall collisions and a deep, deep investigation into the nature of the uncomfortable have made their performances bristle with meaning way beyond the purely sonic.  They react in the moment to the moment.  It seems you don’t need shock tactics to blow open the doors of perception – just a well placed joke, a clever mind and carefully choreographed movements.

Sophie Coopersophie cooper in thornton

More and more examples are released from my memory banks; Sophie Cooper’s trombone performances have merged highfalutin’ reductionism with laff-out-loud honks, electronic loops and heartfelt covers.  Yeah You, Acrid Lactations and Sippy Cup are pushing at the long and illustrious history of ‘tabletop improv’ by balancing primitive electronics, domestic non-instruments with dangerous, unhinged drama – gloves are off, rules are broken and anything can happen.

All-in-all 2017 has been an outstanding year for live music and I’m confident 2018 will continue to stretch genres and rubberise boundaries.

ESSENTIAL MUSICS WHAT I’VE LOVED TO LISTEN TO THIS YEAR, IN NO ORDER BUT MARK MY WORDS. ALL WILL MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE.  THANK YOU ALL…

Witch Blood – Xenie (Invisible City Records)

“There’s an aching to the sound that’s more than the sum of any hiss or lo-fi tape wobble. It’s the marbled end-papers in a leather-bound book; it’s the smell of cigar smoke on a blue velvet jacket.”

Katz Mulk – Husks (Singing Knives)

“Below the chanting it squats waiting for the echoing ‘clack’ balancing the freezer burn amp-huffing on Andrea Kearney’s perfectly timed Cuban finger clicks.  High on rum I feel gloriously wasted.”

KWC – Fruit Rosary Sacred Hour Service (Power Moves Library)

“Hail Marys and ritualistic bingo / self-help becomes text-sound gumbo / Fylkingen with lap steel blunts”

Various Artists – L’Incoronazione (Hyster Tapes)

“…tracks that seem to bridge the gap between Gastr Del Sol’s sweetly-composed minimal whimsy and the raw burst of anger unleashed when you realise your car’s been nicked.”

Spoils & Relics – Threadbare Adult Life (Second Sleep)

“A constant churn of soft and gentle, an avalanche of chinchilla fur envelopes an unsuspecting listener warming the cockles like a fine brandy.”

King Kungo – Da Ist Der Rhein (Spam)

“The shouts and hollas let us gnarly-old adults revisit that pure innocent joy of shouting into the wind; you can hear his excitement as these sounds reflect back his practiced squeals and effectively rolled ‘r’s and trills.”

yol wanting less

Yol – Always Leave Them Wanting Less (Self Release)

“The carefully controlled mayhem, the steel toe-capped attack and shuddering decay sprints though the ten minute set.  But as the balti bowls are hurled about for one last time, and in the instant before the cheers begin, one set of booted feet swiftly exit stage left.  Their work cleanly and precisely done.”

Dale Cornish – Aqal (Entr’acte)

“Ear-cuppingly intimate, a conversation between bass-crustacean, measured in bright bubbles and underwater static (If such a thing is possible).”

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Early Protection (Self Release)

“This is a repeating cascade of sonic bladderwrack – all pop-able blisters and gummy textures.”

Blood Stereo – Where There’s Raw Grace in Garbage (Chocolate Monk)

“Dry, echoing ‘clonks’ and ‘squarks’ are placed carefully into the mix – but not with a dictator’s swagger stick.  Rather the gardener’s crisp carrot!  These, sounds are encouraged to grow, swell and bloom.”

Maya Dunietz & Tom White – Summer Crash (Singing Knives)

“Outstanding Quatermass freakery from these two living dovetail joints…leapt like a flea from the back of a 2016 tour with Maya Dunietz (voice/piano/harp) melting butter all over Tom White’s (reel-to-reel tape) witchcraft.”

Duncan Harrison

Duncan Harrison – Prelude to Nihl (Self Release)

“It’s like staring into a fly’s eye; multifaceted and crazily reflective.  The movements come thick and fast collapsing into each other like drunken Henry Moore nudes.   It is god damn ripe my dearest reader.”

Feghoots – Dwindling Correspondence (Chocolate Monk)

“The flickering and flighty splutters mimic a barista’s recurring dreams of hot steamed milk.  At one point I swear a double bass makes an entrance and I realise I’m getting randy for Feghoots and John Edwards to collaborate.”

Stef Ketteringham  – More Guitar Arrangements (Crow versus Crow)

“…all arthritic knuckles and sunburned hands, shiny as polished chestnuts with its ham-fisted flamenco flourishes bruising the strings.  This is most certainly hardcore!”

artem spar

Artem Spar – Kassettenwerk 13-15  (Falt)

“The end result is part solo-tape slosh, a wonderful brain-scramble of pinched wheels and FFW scree, part free-jam in a No-Neck style; untutored, informal and confident.”

Tea Towels – We are the Deadness (Beartown Records & Tapes)

“The rehearsal room ambience is thick with amp fug and ideas blooming in the moment. It’s a secret shared in hot breathy gasps.  The shamanic use of repetition and lowest of all known ‘fi’s’ becomes a grey carnation shuddering in an autumn storm.”

Ezio Piermattei – Tre Madri Ludopastiche (Discombobulate)

“…things are kept purposefully beautiful and wobbling: voice crackle in fake-stereo, tape jizz squirts it’s hot mayo, TV gossip chatters to no one except the caged songbirds.”

The Slowest Lift – The Slowest Lift (VHS)

“Their coupling of (on one side) shocking distortion, tape noise and blistering huff with (on the other) soft slow voices and gentle unhurried compositions make the act of listening like dreaming through an electrical storm.”

Ali Robertson & Guests – S/T (Giant Tank)

“Without any of the oddball yuks this is a beautiful tape/performance piece of gentle clicks and solitary word play.  The whirr of the tape engines adds one hundred tog warmth to the creaks, recorded footsteps and groans.”

power moves

Various Artists – You/In/Be/Arc (Power Moves Library)

“Like that gold record they sent up into space on Voyager; a recorded message of humanity’s desperate need to make sound, to communicate in the most natural way possible – to make music.”

Aqua Dentata – One Day, You Will Be a Painter (Echo Tango)

“…my ears register the electronics tones as haw frost shimmering on silver birch or endless exhalations roaring from bronze lips.”

OK my dearest reader.  Blimey!  Are you still there?  We’ve almost reached the end of this massive, massive memory gong.

As this marks my last post as editor I’m going to grant myself permission to be a bit soppy so a HUGE heartfelt thanks to everyone who has sent us music, read our scribblings and gone on to check out exciting and daring new sounds.

A big and particularly sloppy kiss to the whole RFM team – the absolute best of humans.  Your support and energy has been o-o-o-ou-ouu-outstaaaaaanding.

And please remember RFM will continue to champion the new, the bold and the plain weird – just at a slightly more sedate pace in 2018.

You’re wonderful ya’hear!

-oOOo-

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