grot all get mangled: joe murray on panelak, f. ampism, david birchall, rogier small, rotten tables, golden meat, ckdh

July 5, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Panelak – Heimat (CD-r or download, Angurosakuson, AS#007)

F. Ampism – Chew Valley Moor Wardens  (CD-r, Poot Records)

David Birchall/Rogier Small Duo – S/T (C20 tape, Poot Records)

Rotten Tables, Golden Meat – My Nose is Broken (C20 tape, Total Vermin)

CKDH – Yr Putrid Eyeballs (CD-r, Poot Records)

rfm panelak frontrfm f ampismrfm chkd 1rfm chkd 2

Panelak – Heimat

Starting with electronics swimming in electric bile over a bunch of Korean zither pings all antiseptic and clean an antique ZX81 crashes.  KkKKkkqqQKkqKQKkk.  In the Congo ghosts play Mbira via shortwave lightning with sudden peaks in volume and intensity.  Phew! The first two songs (‘How I wrote Panelak’ & ‘Underfelt Silk Leaves’) are over and I’m sweating already.

‘Prayer Milk’ does that tunnel-vision thing for your ears making them tune inward as granular chuff curls like a graphite wave.  Watch out casual surfers…don’t get caught in the undertow.

My gosh, this is the Crossfit of noise; all muscular beefing and sweaty reps.  But…Panelak’s Pascal Ansell isn’t getting all Rollins on your ass.  No sir.  This is still pretty enough to make me blush pinky-red.  Especially with the glitch water-jug/chess beats/preset keys of ‘Slugs Salloon’ which is the kinda junk turning up on PAN at the minute.  Dance music mutated out the disco, round the corner and into the all night Deli serving chrome toaster-noise to anxious couples climbing out a collective K-hole.  Selector?  Re-rewind!

The 14 minute palette-cleanser ‘Nix Cornd Beef/Timesheet’ reminds me of the time I was locked in King Cross train station trying to avoid the security guards as semi-automated cleaning carts trundle the platforms snagging metal rails and sparking green in the darkness.  Just so you know.

This prepares the listener for ‘BBBlues’ with a guitar that’s the sort of thing to give Albini nightmares such is the sound ripped, processed and fucked.  The ever present waterfall vibe that bootleg software wafts becomes an undercurrent laying a liquid foundation.

The closer, ‘Largesse Projects’ is more Stingray-undersea-kingdom shit; follow the pressure waves of psychic-torpedoes as they zero in on their own personal Bismarck!  At a mile deep the nitrogen/oxygen mixture makes mush of your brain.  Half forgotten memories of Rave culture, Noise basements and night bus paranoia all curdle into a paste of grey-matter.

Thoughts intertwine and Jacques Cousteau leers at my wasted face under his gnarly woollen cap. “Get a grip” he yells (in French).  But I’m too far gone on Panelak and burst out laughing at the salty puddle collecting round his brogues.

Shit man…this is strong stuff.

F. Ampism – Chew Valley Moor Wardens

Brighton-based beard F. Ampism has been riffing it for years.  His set at Colour Out Of Space 2013 was one of the highlights of the weekend and this cheeky snapshot of mung is a earhole warmer par excellence.

The shingle-tape warping and snatched speech samples comes across all Chaotica and sits comfortably at the table with all that LAFMS shit; ‘cept there’s a handmade quality to this like wave-polished scrimshaw.

Let me explain.  Wooden batteries get replaced with felt.  Off-kilter percussion from Nairobi is laid over kitchen clatter (‘Bandoneon’).  A baking tray buckles and reed flute plays comforting Azathoth (‘Indian Head’).  Free-jazz workshops are rendered in miniature like the band are starting to arrive and the drummer practices exotic chops (‘Water from a Wooden Bowl’).  Grotty tabla ‘slaps’ are slowed down into the futuristic plastic ‘Boing’ posing a problem for Mega City One judges (‘Norma Supral’) as mercury is sluiced down a drainpipe.  There’s a fidget’s delight as KLF goof-on like ‘Chill Out’ (‘Comfrey Wazzo Shed Suite’).  Repetitive faux-ethic glock plonks, bronze owls t-wit and t-woo during ‘Hanging Litterbugs’ as Martin Denny finds the sweet-spot on his analogue synth.

To sum up: loops of recorder grot all get mangled. You sit and raise a glass.  The wind blows through your grass skirt.

And if god is a DJ, Amps sits at his right hand mixing all the uncomfortable sounds dropped at the pearly gates.

Check this mother out!

David Birchall/Rogier Small Duo

An eye-watering tape cover, all pink vibrations and Mexican skulls houses this crispy duck.

Warble-guitar rubberises snazzy drums all over side one with the clitter-clatter meshing like oilbeads.  Dave’s dextrous volume pedal work gives the six string a human voice…an open-mouthed gasp that speaks in a dialect from the lost land of Atlantis.  When the silvery bubbles of air float up they get well and truly popped by Rogier’s mini-trident as floppy skins (drum kit) pound like a war cry.  Up Helly-Ah!

Texture is explored for sure but it’s got a furry quality, like mould-ridden cheese, that makes me salivate grey goo down my shirt front.

I saw these two live recently and was blown away by their Crimsons.  Diggerty velocity and ultra-hard riffin’ that stopped on a dime leading to Pinteresque silence and uncomfortable stares.  And it’s good to hear those dip-outs, troughs and fallows on this pinky tape.  Too many beards just jam it without no contrasts…saps.  The chaps got chops!

Side two starts off all mellow and that with a ribbed ripple, a cluster of notes that dart and dive around Smal’s dropped grenades.  But these explosions become milestones, stately markers on a voyage over rough terrain before they gradually morph into the start of the Pink Panther show (circa 1979).

About halfway though coffin-opening squeaks and moans start coming from somewhere as Private Jazz gets the brushes out ‘schhhh, schhhh, schhhh’…a minute later we’re in Company Week territory with heavy improv chokes and giggles from drum and guitar.  This jollies me up and I’m sad, genuinely sad, dear reader when the extended grimble solo ends this tape.

Oh yeah…I know people like to know this kinda stuff:  Dave plays in Northern Loon-duo Chastity Potatoe, Desmadrados Soldados de Ventura, Stuckometer, Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra and Rogier does stuff with Jaap Blonk, Eugene Chadbourne, Sunburned Hand of The Man and one of Earth or something.  Both websites are chocked full of tapes, drawings and videos that make me wanna get up and do some shit!

Rotten Tables, Golden Meat – My Nose is Broken

My word: hunka-grunk-scrunt!  This is the kinda doof that gets me out of bed in the morning, lickerty-split!  Do not pass muesli.  Jive straight out the door and into the woods for loamy communion breathing in the ferns.

Rotten Tables, Golden Meat are a totally gonzo electronics/vocal mush duo jamming at the heart of the new Soviet weird and its long tradition of sound poetry and religious ecstasy.  Partly recorded on Jon Marshall’s travels in Russia with St Petersberg resident Anton Auster these two sides are sharp like pickles with a lasting tang.

Side one: A live excursion jammed in St Petersburg starts like an experiment with speech from an impossible archive, micro-sounds isolated, presented and turned inside out for a gaggle of tweed elbow-patches.  The lecture continues but moves into the chemistry lab; a pristine white coat mixing noxious chemicals all a’bubble and foamy.  Rhythm is important to RTGM and loops move in eccentric orbits around each other, meeting in points; farewells no doubt tearful as they forever pull themselves apart.  But it’s not all buttery beauty!  There’s enough ‘crunch’, ‘squark’ and ‘fonk’ for the gruffest gong-farmer. In fact about halfway through side one everything kinda disintegrates into a morass of electronic gunk, shortwave gabble and tape squeal.  A purgatory of choirs is summoned through the mire with a majestic sweep of the curtain, beckons in a new dawn of pained snivel.

Side two is mixed like a travelogue, switching from one place or mood to another but with a modesty and innocence.  Shy words and the crunch of boots on fresh electric-snow open the proceedings; a black-out rave for the diesel-clogged tugboats that thump across the frozen harbour.  This hums for a while then jack knives like This Heat’s Health & Efficiency with a propulsive yet lopsided whoozy sample driving a bright cavalcade of rips and shunts and liquid voice.  More snatches of Russian conversation tease, a mouse-organ and reed thin whistles…tin-plate clicks and damaged music box mechanisms crackle with hidden purpose.  Then to close the sampled speech, all lightly manipulated, turns into a charming thought piece and/or erotic lullaby ’ears, some gills mama cav-or’ that’s just as dishy as Steve Reich.

Sorry to get extra huggy-kissy but this is one god-damn essential experience.  Like a tin bath…you gotta get in to drop out!

CKDH – Yr Putrid Eyeballs

An exceptional Black Metal logo always draws me in and the singular art work in this oversized cardboard CD case makes this a hard disc to ignore.

Razor-sharp tones (a high C#?) open ‘Your Putrid Eyeballs’ sliding over each other like greased jade.  These thin green needles puncture the twilight (it’s getting dark as I type) and I notice that swinging my head from side-to-side makes them dance gently in the middle of the room.  A brown and granular wash (think coffee grounds) plays a twin-tone melodie as liquid hydrogen rushes down a spiral staircase leaving toxic steam in its wake.  The between-track silence is uncanny.

Beautiful austerity.

‘Fungal Air Creeping Adders’ jams on these strange radiophonic tones further, bunching them up to create a ripple, a rhythm and a steady bass-line crackle.  It all sounds strangely contemporary and the sort of thing I imagine is played in an inner-city night club shortly before kicking out time; the feeling of dread and alienation is real.  An occasional metallic scratching uncovers itself gradually, steadily becoming unnerving, unsettling…like something is about to shear off and screech out the stereo covered in nasty blisters.   And then…just before the end a beautiful thing happens and two sine-wave tones modulate in just the right way to create a third tone, a harmony that sings like an angel.  It only lasts a second but becomes the grit in the oyster, the seldom seen hint of violet in a rainbow.

All the more delicious for its rarity.

—ooOoo—

Angurosakuson WordPress (for physical objects)

Angurosakuson Bandcamp (for downloads)

Poot Records

Total Vermin

Editor’s note: don’t fret if you visit the Poot or Total Vermin sites and can find no mention of the releases reviewed.  Luke and Stuart both work within a jelly-like, highly-flexible notion of ‘time’ and should be contacted directly with enquiries as to availability.

hot blustering friends: rfm on plurals, jasmine guffond and shapeless coat of arms

May 21, 2017 at 8:20 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Plurals – Atlantikwall (Silken Tofu)

Jasmine Guffond / Plurals – Live Split (Beartown Records)

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Dematerialised Landowning (Swollen Beam)

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Early Protection (Swollen Beam)

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Shapeless Coat of Arms (Swollen Beam)

 Plurals ATLANTIK

Plurals  – Atlantikwall (Silken Tofu) Double CD and digital album

Two hours of peak Plurals culled from a four-hour Belgian ultra-performance.

There’s a head-crushing, world-splitting-open intensity to the grindings; think reinforced concrete cast in a Mobius loop and you’re getting close.

Listening to this in one sitting (as I did, many times, hurtling through the misty Yorkshire countryside) ramps up the magic that long-form music casts over the sleep-deprived mind.  What starts off as huge, bulky blocks of sound being dragged across the stereo field become hot blustering friends, loudly fizzing with an energy that you miss as soon as they are gone.

The very liveness is another wonderful component to this set.  Indistinct crowd chatter merges into the softer muttering loops; you can almost hear the decisions being made as one loop replaces another, a warm swell peaks or a guitar riff is wrenched in delicious slo-mo.  The ‘HUFFMMMMM’ background flutter an integral part to the overall construction – a patina of vibrant hiss as distinctive as the Guinness tang of copper pennies.

Individual moments are hard to pin down – so consistent are the coiling, roiling undulations.  However special mention must be made of the:

  • impotent roar that emerges like Swamp Thing, streaming and fetid among the twisted mangroves (Atlantikwall #3)
  • last transmission from the silver cosmonaut as he plunges into a solar flare (Atlantikwall #4)
  • collapsing code matrix re-programming itself with organic wasp synapse (Atlantikwall #6)
  • centaur singing a mournful lament as the temple horns bellow hot spice (Atlantikwall #7)

Strongly recommended for all endurance bliss-listeners!

jasmine

Jasmine Guffond/Plurals – Live Split (Beartown Records) CD

Another set of live/LIVE/live recordings from That Plurals Band and the Australian born, Berlin based Jasmine Guffond.

Jasmine’s untitled pieces mix queasy sonic manipulation with sinister vocal wordless voicings.

Queasy?  There is a distinct lurch to these electronic base layers. A kind of off-centre swooping that leaves your stomach behind your brain as they build in intensity. To pepper the confection faint pipes and those joke-shop chattering teeth are woven into mangled samples of furniture-moving leaving small indigo traces flickering around my fingertips. The occasional foggy beat or sweet guitar plucks add a note of stability, but only to tug it away unexpectedly adding to the infernal discombobulation.

Sinister? The mood is obscure and unsettled.  Like dusk falling on the barren moor.  It’s purple and beautiful for sure but you’re feeling very much alone and that map you so carefully packed (shunning a modern GPS) is proving itself to be out-dated, damp and useless.

On this disc Plurals offer a 25 minute cliff hanger.  Seemingly endless muscular peaks of boiling synth-noise are rising out of a calm sea, like Neptune, stripped to the waist, with that trident poised, looking for aggro.   Ever so slowly the waves rise higher, becoming sheer canyons of water, carrying all manner of shipwrecks and flotsam up, up, up to crest gracefully and then crash like liquid ordnance.

A hellish document for future dreamers.

shapless landowning

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Dematerialised Landowning (Swollen Beam) cassette and digital album

Seriously wigged-out recordings from the big kahuna of St Petersburg; The No Audience Underground’s one and only Mr Anton Auster.  Anton has threaded his obscure musical silk from Rostov-on-Don though UK’s gonk-sensei Jon Marshall in the much-missed Rotten Tables Golden Meat, to his Shapeless persona (active since 2014).

Here on this clutch of exceptional tapes he strikes out alone – full of revolutionary spirit and invention!

  • rubbery rubber rubbed by blubbery blubber hands. Indistinct machines belch exhaust smoke to better obscure their foul heft.  A brief and bitter field recording (empty snooker hall, empty swimming pool) gives way to squelchy electronics spitting and spluttering – pouring limp DC spasms into your hand.
  • …a malfunction to end all malfunctions. Wet and sloppy power in a way that Wolf Eyes could never quite manage.  This eleven minute electronic workout is way beyond mere fist pumps (it loosely blurts in rhythmic spurts) invoking a mental ‘hell yeah’ through my lank fringe and Friar Tuck beard.  The final few minutes allow for essential self-reflection as a flock of tense squeals and squeaks chatter like colourful parrots.

Shapeless early protection

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Early Protection (Swollen Beam) cassette and digital album

More essential free-electric-jizz from Anton Auster experimenting with his modular synth, tape loops and tiny, titchy micro-moments of pure rush…

This is a repeating cascade of sonic bladderwrack – all pop-able blisters and gummy textures.  Not content to let anything sit for too long other sounds are introduced to the barely-contained melee.  Shattered bowling machine mechanisms rattle and smash in a loop hacked out of HOW DO THEY DO THAT? or something.  I press eject and turn the thing over feeling wrung out and used – a welcome eleven minutes spent in a dervish-like ecstasy.  Then…

Everything went black // Bubbling sulphuric and twice as stinky // an undervoice mumbles threats or love potions // the sound of lightening captured in a bottle, sparking off the curved glass sides // My Mexican dinner – the colours bright red and green floating on a frozen sea – the seals start to sing in unison, “wahh-heeer-kohhhhh”.  Tripped-out to the max this tape is one heavy contender for donk of the year!

shapeless shapeless

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Shapeless Coat of Arms (Swollen Beam) cassette and digital album

Where it all began perhaps? The self-titled album is often a statement of intent.  You’ll totally dig this ultra-primitive noise guttering and vomit soundz as they baffle up against sophisticated studies in sonic fuzz – smooth as a mole.

Examples?  Whole new kingdoms reveal themselves in the grime on you palm in ‘Gates’ a chundering loop that smothers and warps.  The wonderfully named ‘Cop-Shredder’ is as grindcore as you’d imagine but played on pocket synth, dentist drill and copper flute.  Dense and brooding, ‘S.A.’ sounds like the National Grid slowly coming to life, sparks flying from pylons, crushing any human daft enough to get in the way.

The closer ‘Spores’ plunges new depths of shapeless ‘fuh’ with a sawn-off grunt (some pig, or boar or walrus) coupled with a deeply unpleasant throb that seems to wobble and ripple in perpetual agony.

All three will payback your morbid curiosity sevenfold.  Is it too early to name Shapeless discovery of the year?

Damn essential.

 

Silken Tofu

Beartown Records

Swollen Beam Discogs / Bandcamp

-ooOOoo-

the 2014 zellaby awards

January 4, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

The deliberations are over, the ballots are burning.  White smoke billows from the chimney here at Midwich Mansions.  Ignore the salty wave of ‘best of 2014’ lists you saw prematurely ejaculated over an appalled December – here is the real thing. ‘Never finalised prior to January 1st’ – that’s the Zellaby pledge.

And what a conclave it has been!  Scott turned up early and presented his nominations as a hyperlinked series of Discogs listings – he spoke using a vocoder throughout and would only answer our questions if we assigned them catalogue numbers.  Joe’s effervescent enthusiasm remained undimmed despite a trip to Accident and Emergency following a foolhardy attempt to gargle Christmas tree baubles.  New kid Luke seemed happy to fetch and carry despite our hazing pranks – oh, how we laughed sending him to Wilko’s for a tub of left handed CD-rs!  All I had to do was sit in my wing-backed leather chair, fingers steepled, and pass Solomon-style judgement.  My beautiful Turkish manservant took copious notes during procedures, of course, and whilst those are being transcribed I’m afraid I must begin with some sombre news: the underground is dead.

An article making this claim by David Keenan was published in the December issue of The Wire magazine and caused adverse weather in the crockery.  Having finally read it I can confirm that it is, by and large, laughable.  The friend who sent me a copy included this note:

Here it is.  I will look forward to reading your response as it would be great to see his flimsy, self-obsessed nonsense getting torn apart.

Hmm, yeah, tempting as it is to to embark on a comprehensive rebuttal what does it really matter?  I hate to disappoint but engaging with the wilful fucknuttery to be found in publications like The Wire is like arguing about the properties of phlogiston – it might be of vague historical or semantic interest to those with too much time on their hands but is ultimately pointless.  My favourite response has been Tom Bench‘s (@TJDizzle) satirical summary of Keenan’s disdain, tweeted in reply to some genuine outrage from Duncan Harrison (@Young_Arms):

yr not tru underground because u have friends and sometimes talk to them about music

Lolz.

Some of the fallout has been quite interesting though.  Just before Christmas, RFM started getting hits from an Italian language music site that was, on investigation, carrying an interview with Keenan in which he is asked specifically about the idea of the ‘no-audience underground’ as popularised by this blog.  In his short response he manages to invent a barely recognizable straw man version of the notion, take a swing at it, miss, then step back as if he’d actually landed a punch.  Admittedly, Google Translate may have knocked some nuance out of his answer but, as I was able to read it, it was good for a hearty chuckle and fuck all else.

Phil Smith, currently researching the history of Termite Club for a book chapter, wrote a thoughtful piece largely agreeing with Keenan that contained the following tragicomic scene:

One of the saddest moments of the year for me (on a lovely day) was Neil Campbell & John Tree talking about whether there was ever in our lifetime likely to be a music revolution like (say) punk again (one which Keenan seems to want), & shaking their heads in total ‘of course not’ resignation, the required kidz soaked in computer games & all manner of other entertainment drips & (I suppose) music, whatever it signifies to people, only ever welling up in such a way as part of a business move anyway.

I laughed out loud reading this.  Not only have these rueful old geezers forgotten at least one revolution we’ve already had since punk (rave culture – musically game changing, actual laws passed to disrupt it) but the internet enabled golden age is orders of magnitude more significant than punk.  Here’s a piece from yonks ago which begins to explain why and, for good measure, here’s another from double-yonks ago about why The Wire is hopeless too.

Neil Campbell, emboldened by Keenan’s piece and nostalgic memories of poorly received gigs unearthed in response to Phil’s Termite research, ramped up his usual silliness.  On Twitter he lamented the lack of confrontation nowadays and took the piss with his #realnoaudienceunderground hashtag.  I was interested to find out if there was any substance behind his bravado so devised an experiment.  After waiting for Twitter to move on, I called Neil out on some random nonsense in a deliberately antagonistic manner.  As expected, fight came there none.  Indeed, after explaining what I was up to both publicly and via direct message (the latter, I admit, did contain the phrases ‘full of shit’ and ‘you ol’ fraud!’) I found myself unfollowed.  Ah well, so much for confrontation.

(Aside: Neil has form for practice/preach discrepancy.  After hearing him proclaim several times that he’d rather read a bad review than a good one I took him at his word and minced three Astral Social Club releases including the album Electric Yep.  I did this with heavy heart and even ran it past Neil before posting.  He replied with a jaunty ‘hey you know me, go ahead’ but after I did he deleted the RFM link from the list of friends on his Astral Social Club blog and has not submitted anything at all since.  I was amused to find myself excommunicated for heresy.  Ah well, so much for bad reviews.)

I get the impression that Neil might be a bit uneasy with his current status as universally loved sacred cow.  Or maybe he digs it and is frustrated not to be a Wire mag cover star?  Who knows?  I love the guy, have done for about fifteen years, and hate to jeopardise a friendship with a shameless ad hominem attack over something so inconsequential but… dude has clearly forgotten how to take a kick to the udders.

So, in summary: those that say they want confrontation don’t, or rather only want it on their own terms or at a safe distance, those that lament the lack of revolution need only to open their eyes to what is happening around them and those that proclaim the underground dead are talking pish.

Before moving on a word about terms of engagement.  Whilst I’ve enjoyed a few physical fights in the past (yeah, I may be short and out of shape but I’m fucking mental), I find this kind of swaggering jaw-jaw to be boring, childish and unproductive.  Comment if you like but unless what is posted is novel, substantial and engaging I am unlikely to respond.  I won’t be tweeting about it under any circumstances.  I have washed my hands and will need an irresistible reason to get ’em dirty again.

—ooOoo—

BOY!  WHERE ARE THOSE NOTES?  Oh, thank you.  Have a shortbread biscuit.  Right then, shall we crack on with the fun bit?

—ooOoo—

Radio Free Midwich presents The Zellaby Awards 2014

Thank you for bearing with us.  Firstly, an apology: due to, y’know, austerity n’ that, this year’s ceremony will be taking place on the swings in the playground at the muddy end of the estate.  Nominations will be scratched into the paint of the railings and refreshments will be whatever cider Luke can prise from the grip of local vagrants.

Secondly, the rules: to be eligible in one of the following five categories this music needs to have been heard by one of us for the first time in 2014.  It does not need to have been released in 2014.  As the purpose of these awards is to spread the good news about as many quality releases as possible, should an artist win in one category they will not be placed in any of the others.  I do not vote for any of my own releases, nor any releases that I had a hand in, er…, releasing (with one notable exception this year).  My three comrades are free to ignore these rules and write about what they like.  The price paid for this freedom is that I, as editor, have final say.  Thus the awards are the product of the idiosyncratic taste of yours truly with input from my co-writers along the way.

A couple of omissions explained.  Long term readers may be shocked to find no mention of previous winners Ashtray Navigations or the piss superstition.  Phil and Mel have been preoccupied this year with moving house, full time unenjoyment and various celebrations of the AshNav 20th anniversary and have not been as prolific as nutcase fans such as myself would like.  There has been one cassette of new material, Aero Infinite, which, to my shame, I only became aware of recently and do not yet own.  Believe me, the pain is fierce.  Bookies have already stopped taking bets on their planned four-disc retrospective winning everything next time out.

Julian and Paul have shared a split live tape with Broken Arm and had a CD-r, The Dialled Number, The Bone-Breaker, The Heavenly Sword, out on Sheepscar Light Industrial but, in my humble opinion, their defining release of 2014 was getting nothing to appear on the developed film, a mighty album which is sadly ineligible for this year’s awards because it was released by me on fencing flatworm recordings as their ‘prize’ for winning album of the year last time.  See, complicated isn’t it?

There are also many releases on the guilt-inducing review pile that I suspect could have been contenders had I found time to digest them properly: apologies to Ian Watson, Prolonged Version, Troy Schafer, Seth Cooke etc. and thanks for your continued patience.  For the first time, two entries in this year’s poptastic final chart are previously unreviewed on RFM.  Mysterious, eh?

OK, enuff with the preamble.  The first category is…

5. The “I’d never heard of you 10 minutes ago but now desperately need your whole back catalogue” New-to-RFM Award

Joe votes for Yoni Silver:

I heard Yoni Silver play a solo bass clarinet set on November 1st this year. Over the course of 20 minutes I blinked repeatedly and snapped my fingers; my mouth hung open like a codfish and eventually my eyes filled with hot tears. I’d emerged from a jazz-hole that ranged from barely-there, reductionist ‘hummmm’, to wet-chop dribble/spittle outta the brassy pipes, to full-bore Ayler-esque gospel skronk. It was so good I didn’t just clap and holla…I vowed to start a record label to immediately box this shit up. Yoni’s discs are thin on the ground but live shows with proper jazz cats and beards like PWHMOBS are gathering pace. Watch out!

Luke goes for Botanist:

Ever fantasized about a forest dwelling black metal troll singing songs about plant life on drums and hammered dulcimer only?  Me too.  Well, fantasize no longer: he exists. Just when your jaded ears smugly tell you they’ve heard it all along comes the Botanist.

taming power - twenty-one pieces - cover

…but anyone paying attention will have already guessed that the winner this year is Taming Power.

I might have indulged in some ill advised Campbell-baiting above but I am profoundly grateful to Neil for taking the time to introduce me to the world of Askild Haugland.  This quiet Norwegian has amassed a sizeable back catalogue of tape and vinyl releases on his own Early Morning Records, most of which were recorded, edited and annotated around the turn of the century and have remained largely unheralded since.  His work – created using tape recorders, cassette players, shortwave radios, electric guitars and the like – is perfection viewed from shifting angles, filtered through prisms.  His patience and dedication to uncovering every nuance of his processes are truly inspiring.  It has been an enormous pleasure to promote his music to a (slightly) wider audience – exactly what this blog is all about.  The chap himself seems lovely too.  Read more: Neil’s accidental guest post, reviews, more reviews, Early Morning Records catalogue.

…and when you return we can move on to…

4. The “Stokoe Cup”, given for maintaining quality control over a huge body of work making it impossible to pick individual releases in an end of year round up

Joe makes a compelling case for the Peak Signal 2 Noise broadcasts:

If Cathy Soreny and her Sheffield-based gladiators had released ten 25 minute compilation tapes in a year featuring the creamy froth of the N-AU we’d stand to attention and sing a rousing song. To create ‘visual cassettes’ for your telly and computer screen and navigate the machinations of the community TV industry and come up with such a thoroughly curated, imaginatively shot and god-damn funny series is just the bee’s knees. PS2N has opened another glossy window into the N-AU.

Luke keeps it pithy:

The Stokoe Cup should clearly go to Lee Stokoe.  ‘The underground is dead ‘ announces David Keenan in The Wire this month ‘shut up you prat’ is the reply from Radio Free Midwich.

Scott agrees:

Predictable enough, I HAVE to say Lee Stokoe. Browsing my discogs list for 2014 acquisitions it’s virtually all Matching Head tapes – either the new ones or tapes from the 90s that I didn’t already have. Its consistent to the point of sheer ridiculousness.

daniel thomas - that which

However, the editor has other ideas.  This year’s winner is Daniel Thomas.

Dan’s output in 2014 has been prodigious.  He even wins in two categories that don’t exist: ‘1016’ the opener on Enemy Territory is my track of the year (go on, play it whilst reading the rest of this article) and the ‘flower press’ edition of That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades put together by Dave Thomas (no relation) for its release on Kirkstall Dark Matter wins packaging of the year too.  The latter album is perhaps the definitive expression of ‘extraction music‘ – the sub-genre I defined as a way of herding the work of Dan, Dave, Kev Sanders and other fellow travellers into a manageable fold of headspace – and one of at least three projects involving Dan that could have been album of the year.  For the record, the other two are Hagman’s Number Mask on LF Records and the remarkable Dub Variations by The Thomas Family in another beautiful package hand crafted by Crow Versus Crow:

It is the bead of sweat on the brow of the tightrope walker. It is a time-lapse film of dew condensing onto a cobweb.

Dan shows no signs of slowing, nor of relinquishing his choke-tight quality control.  I cannot wait to hear what he has for us in 2015.

…and now a favourite moment for the editor:

3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award

Scott goes for a far-flung ambassador:

It has to be Miguel Pérez.  For making RFM a global concern, and being full of passion, he’s the man.

Joe, as ever, finds this a tough one to pin down.  He suggests…

…we should say a thank you to all the readers and contributors … to everyone who has waited patiently for a review/carried on reading without sending us hate mail…

…which is a sentiment I share, of course, but this year I think one particular set of contributors has to be recognized in this category.  God knows how 27 different acts are going to share the gong though because the winners are…

Michael Clough - eye for detail cover

The artists who submitted tracks to eye for detail – the midwich remixes album:

Andy Jarvis (Vile Plumage, NIHL), ap martlet, Aqua Dentata, Breather, Brian Lavelle, Chrissie Caulfield (of RFM faves Helicopter Quartet), Clive Henry, Dale Cornish, Daniel Thomas, devotionalhallucinatic, DR:WR (Karl of The Zero Map), dsic, foldhead (Paul Walsh – who accidentally started it all), Hardworking Families (Tom Bench), In Fog (Scott McKeating of this parish), John Tuffen (of Orlando Ferguson), Michael Clough (who also provided cover art), Michael Gillham, Neil Campbell (Astral Social Club), Panelak, Paul Watson (BBBlood), posset (Joe Murray also of RFM), Simon Aulman (pyongyang plastics), the piss superstition, Van Appears, Yol, and ZN.

This year I finally joined Twitter which, as a wise-cracking, smart-arse, mentally unstable narcissist with self-esteem issues, turned out to be a perfect platform for me (though for those exact same reasons I think I’ll have to exercise a bit more caution with it in future).  One of the first things that happened was a throwaway comment about a midwich remix project ballooning into an actual album that had to be retroactively called into existence.  The final release six weeks later contained 27 re-workings of tracks from my back catalogue and lasted a total of 3 hours 40 minutes.  The process was humbling, exhilarating, joyful and unprecedented in my personal experience.

The album remains available here (along with more detail as to its construction).  If you don’t already have it, I recommend you treat yourself with that Christmas money from Gran.  I’m charging a fiver for the download and all dough raised is being given to The Red Cross.  The total donated so far, after PayPal and Bandcamp fees, is something like £180.  When I reached a ton I had a giant-cheque-handing-over-ceremony, again following whims blurted out on Twitter.

Many, many thanks to all involved – you are elite members of the pantheon of the righteous.

—ooOoo—

BOY!!  DIM THE LIGHTS.  What?  Oh yes, we’re outside aren’t we.  Fetch me a shortbread biscuit then.  What do you mean there are none left?  Well, just give me the one you are holding.  Gah!  The impertinence!  Anyway, finally we come to the two main categories…

—ooOoo—

2. The Label of the Year Award

Joe goes for No Basement is Deep Enough:

You could easily mistake No Basement is Deep Enough’s tape goof for a zany Zappa-esque prank. But peel away the layers; brush the fringe to one side, open that single plush tit and you are rewarded with some amazing music. Almost like a wonky Finders Keepers NBIDE have unveiled some new ghouls and re-released some remarkable old gizzards (Alvaro – The Chilean with the Singing Nose, Ludo Mich and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson) in frankly outrageous packaging. Old or new, experimental classicists or gutter-dwelling hobo these gonks are pure trippin’ for ears.

Yeah, I’ve been involved as a one of these gonks this year but I think that means I can give you an extra bit of insight into how curator Ignace De Bruyn and designer Milja Radovanović are such wonderful human beings. I told them about getting some mentions in The Wire (Ed – you’ll love this) and they didn’t give a shit. “Ha, we always get mentioned in The Wire without any clue how, what, where, when” said Ignace, “and let’s keep it like that” he chortled into his waffle.

Luke narrows it down to two:

Beartown Records.  A consistent champion of no audience sounds and nice and cheap, they sent me a parcel addressed to Luke ‘ the sick’ Vollar which contained a postcard with ‘sorry just sorry’ written on it.  For this reason they are my label of the year.

Also a mention for Altar of Waste.  I find it comforting to know that somewhere in North America there is a guy called Cory Strand transforming his favourite films / TV programmes / music into insanely limited and lovingly presented sets. Twenty disc drone interpretation of Harry Potter limited to five copies!? He also releases loads of drone/HNW discs that are lovely items to look at and listen to including my album of the year [SPOILER REMOVED – Ed]

Scott apologises:

Sorry, Matching Head again.

Luminous worthies, for sure, but I reckon my choice has been phosphorescent:

kevin sanders - ascension through apathy

The winner is hairdryer excommunication.

The solo venture of Kevin Sanders has released, I believe, 26 items in the calendar year 2014.  Unbelievably, during the same time, he has also had his creations released by other labels, has played live, has moved house and job along a lengthy diagonal line from North to South and has let fly with a gazillion opaque tweets.  This guy’s heart must beat like a fucking sparrow’s.

But never mind the girth, feel the quality.  Kev’s hairdryer excommunication sits alongside Lee Stokoe’s Matching Head as an absolute exemplar of the no-audience underground micro-label as expression of personal vision.  Each release is a new page in the atlas mapping the world he is presenting to us; each trembling drone, each nihilistic/ecstatic scything fuzz is a contour line.  Like all great labels, hXe is greater than the sum of its parts and only gets more compelling as those parts collect and combine.  I appreciate that this might appear daunting for the newbie so here’s five to be starting with – you’ll thank me for it.

Now you see why I have to strictly enforce my ‘win allowable in only one category’ rule.  I could have created a top 40 (!) that just contained releases by, or involving, Askild, Dan and Kev.  Astonishing.  So, leaving those guys sat chatting under the climbing frame, we finally come to the blue riband, best in show, gold medal event:

1. The Album of the Year Award

Woo!  Lists!  Click on the album title and you will be taken to the original RFM review (if such a thing exists) or another applicable page (if not) where you will find details of the release (label, whatnot) and, most importantly, how to go about hearing/purchasing these marvels.

First to the lectern is Mighty Joe Murray:

It’s taken a real effort to whittle this down but here’s my top 5 in order:

faint people

1. The New Band of the Faint People – The Man Who Looked at the Moon

Keep yr Wounded Nurse. These micro-pieces are stitched together with a domestic hand juggling fly agaric.

2. Rotten Tables, Golden Meat – My Nose is Broken

This cheeky release opened a new stomach pouch and gassed itself in…yeasty and fruity. Biggest smiles of the year.

3. Pascal – Nihilist Chakai House

It goes, “tk tk tk tk tk …. po/po/po – ping.” Blistering like hot metal pipes; fragile like seaweed.

4. Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget

Stream-of-consciousness becomes conscious itself…a living, breathing music as fresh as green parsley.

5. CKDH – Yr Putrid Eyeballs/Fungal Air Creeping Adders

The most violently restrained listen of the year by a long shot. Needle sharp. Music to break radios.

Scott briefly interjects:

skullflower - draconis

Skullflower – Draconis

As sylph-like a heavyweight as you’re ever likely to hear.

Now over to the office junior Luke:

Album of the year…

midwich - the swift cover

Midwich – The Swift

Utterly sublime floating tones, get your cranky toddler off to sleep in minutes, limited to 15 copies only?!  Madness. [Editor’s note: ha! What is more shameful? Luke sucking up to his editor or me for publishing it?  Yes, I know its me – shut up.]

The rest:

Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget
culver & posset – black gash
Skullflower – Draconis
Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus
Robert Ridley Shackleton / Werewolf Jerusalem / She Walks Crooked – April Fools
Ashtray Navigations  – Aero Infinite
Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg
Dylan Nyoukis – Yellow Belly
Ezio Piermattei – Turismodentale

..and last of all, to your faithful editor.  I have chosen twenty items (well, twenty three including cheats).  The first half are presented in no particular order, the second set in the traditional ‘top ten run down’ ending with the actual, objectively verified best album of the year.  In my opinion.

10. NIHL / Female Borstal / Dear Beloved Henry / Albert Materia

female borstal nihl splitdear beloved henry

The perils of the split tape, eh?  I dug the Female Borstal side of the former, sadly didn’t get on with Albert Materia on the latter.  However the sides by NIHL and Dear Beloved Henry were bloody marvellous and, if they’d appeared on the same object would have rocketed up these rankings.  So I’m imagining an ideal world in which they did.  NIHL got a haiku:

Seduced by darkness

beyond guttering arc-light –

like moths, like dead souls.

Praise for Dear Beloved Henry – equally heartfelt, less formatting:

…deceptively simple in execution: a flowing electronic drone groove with a vaguely East Asian feel – like 1970s Krautrock that has been listening to a bunch of gamelan LPs – works through the variations.  However, every so often a magnetic pull distorts it off course and adds an intriguing, complicating layer of discordance.  It’s like it was mastered to VHS and someone is now messing with the tracking.  Is this an artefact of duping it to an old recycled tape or is this woosiness wholly intended?  The result is magical either way.

9. Helicopter Quartet – Leading Edges

helicopter quartet - leading edges

 …the album expresses a profound vision with an austere but soulful beauty.  Imagine a slate-blue version of Ashtray Navigations psychedelics or a restrained take on the intensity of, say, Swans without the self-loathing bombast. The band may jokingly self-describe as ‘semi-melodic mournfulness’ but this is a deeply serious music with, I think, plenty to say about the difficult, forlorn, wonderful, awe-inspiring condition we find ourselves in.

…Helicopter Quartet are, to my tired ears, a near-perfect example of how musicianship can be harnessed in a noise context.  Chrissie and Mike balance their considerable skills with an understanding of how to use noise to pluck the soul of the listener and have it vibrate with a slightly discordant, emotionally complicated, seriously intended, profoundly satisfying resonance.

8. Sophie Cooper – Our Aquarius

sophie cooper - our aquarius

 

When I wrote in the RFM Christmas message to the nation…

To be transported by a work of art – to be lifted from yourself, your surroundings and placed elsewhere for the duration – is a profound experience and, as someone who has trouble with self-sabotaging mental illness, one that I greatly appreciate. Catch me right and the bus to work is swapped for a magic carpet skimming the treetops. Find me in a susceptible mood and waiting at a pedestrian crossing becomes standing at the bedside of an elderly relative, brimful with a mixture of love and trepidation. Listening to music pans the muddy water sloshing inside my head, nuggets of gold and squirming, glistening creatures are uncovered. It – thus: you – is a constant source of revelation, of insight and of inspiration.

…it was no coincidence that I had been listening to this album a lot.  My apologies to Sof for not getting around to reviewing it but, hey, Uncle Mark did over at Idwal Fishers.  The cad suggests that it is ‘by no means a flawless release’ but if he dare repeat that in my vicinity I shall strike his cheek with my glove.

7. Stuart Chalmers – imaginary musicks vol. 1

stuart chalmers - imaginary musiks vol 1

The world his music describes is fully formed and the listener’s experience of it is immersive and ego-dissolving but carefully placed ticks – a filter echo, a moment of dictaphonic skwee – bring you back to the surface by foregrounding its artificiality. It’s like a South Sea Islands version of Philip K. Dick’s Time out of Joint. Imagine walking on the golden beach, admiring the dancing palms, looking out over the glassy ocean to the setting sun only for it all to suddenly disappear and be replaced with a featureless white room and a scrap of paper at your feet with the words ‘tropical paradise’ typed on it. As with all the very best stuff: the more I listen to it, the more I want to listen to it.

6. The Skull Mask – Nocturno Mar / Sunburn

skull mask - nocturno marskull mask - sunburn

Another terrific year for the prolific Miguel Pérez, RFM’s Mexican cousin.  From the bloody-minded free noise of his improv duo ZN to the incense-and-bitumen ritual drone of The Will of Nin Girima (released on new label-to-watch Invisible City Records), I doubt a week has passed without me spending some time in his company.

My favourite of his projects is The Skull Mask and these two recordings were released either side of Miguel’s return to acoustic guitar.  The former is made of enveloping, tidal drones containing half-submerged reversed vocals.  It can prove oppressively menacing or hypnotically soothing depending on your mood as you encounter it.  Just like the night sea it is named for.  The latter is ravaged, desert psychedelia improvised with raw acoustic guitar.  There is no shade under which Miguel, or the listener, can hide – this is completely exposed music and is riveting.

5. Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg

yol - headless chicken

From the preamble to a review by Joe:

For the uninitiated Yol has carefully and modestly created his own footnote in the frantic world of kinetic poetry.  Imagine tiny fragile words battered with broken bottles.  Innocent syllables and posh sibilance swashes getting clotted and clumped together.  Those classy phonics all chopped up and smashed; ground out like spent fags and stuttered wetly in a barely controlled rage…

Musical accompaniment is of the most primitive and brutal kind.  Forget the chest-beating Harsh Noise dullards, this is frighteningly naked and exposed.  Short blasts of destruction come from broken machinery, sheared plastic shards, bits of old hoover and burnt cutlery.  A more dicky commentator would say recordings are made in carefully selected site specific locations.  The truth?  Yol’s breaking into empty factory units and shouting his rusty head off.

4. Spoils & Relics – Sins of OmissionEmbed and then Forget

spoils and relics - sins of omissionembedandthenforget

The closest the RFM staff come to ‘critical consensus’.  I can’t decide which of these releases I prefer so you are getting ’em both.  From my review of the former:

Their music denies narrative … The palette used is a largely abstract selection of found, domestic and field recordings as well as sound produced by the various electronic implements that make up their ‘kit’.  The source of any given element is usually (and presumably deliberately) unclear.  They are examining the innards of everything, poking around where noise happens and taking notes.  It is more akin to the meta-musical experiments of AMM and their progeny.

Don’t be scared off – this music is not dry and scratchy, it is layered with humour (ranging from the wry raised eyebrow to banana skin slapstick), tension and a whip-smart self-awareness that speaks of the telepathic relationship between the band members when performing.  A piece by Spoils & Relics is about sound in the same way a piece by Jackson Pollock is about paint.

From Joe’s review of the latter:

There is a constant flow of ideas all itchy with life; reminding me of a similar feeling – running your finger over a gravestone, nails gouging the names.  I’m caught up in a multi-sensory melting of meaning into a constant ‘now’ … Listeners who favour that hi-fidelity will be delighted.  Beards who dwell in the no-fi world of clanking tape jizz are going to be entranced.  Skronk fans will be be-calmed.  Zen droners will wake up refreshed and sharp.

3. Ap Martlet – Analog Computer

ap martlet - analog computer

The title is perfect – it calls to mind a room-sized, valve-run difference engine humming with contented menace.  These three tracks seem less compositions than iterations of an algorithm set in motion by a wonky punchcard being slotted into the machine upside-down.  ‘Comdyna’ and ‘Thurlby’ are both rhythmic in an abstract sense – the latter being a low impact step aerobics class for retired ABC Warriors, the former an exercise in patience and discipline as a series of low-slung tones are held until they start to feedback, then released, then repeated.  The final track, ‘Heathkit’, is a coruscating, brain-scouring, fuzz-drone.  It is the kind of sound that in a workshop you would wear ear protectors to dampen but here it is presented for our contemplation and admiration.

2. culver – plague hand

culver - plague hand tapes

[Editor’s note: a sudden attack of prudishness has stopped me from reproducing the covers of this release.  Scans can be found accompanying the original review.]

I need to account for Matching Head catalogue number 200: plague hand by culver, a twin tape set containing four side-long tracks totalling, you guessed it, 200 minutes.  Each of these four untitled pieces (the sides are labelled a,b,c, and d and that’s all you get) is a sombre Culvanian documentary: a long, wordless panoramic camera sweep taking in the scenery with an unblinking 360 degree turn.  Each is different from the last, all are wholly involving and will have the attentive listener crowing ‘aww… man, I was digging that!’ and reaching to flip or rewind as soon as the track ends.  I say ‘attentive listener’ but really there is no other kind because you have no choice in the matter.  This isn’t background music – allow yourself to get caught and your ego will be dissolved like a fly in a pitcher plant.  It is a masterwork and a fitting celebration of the numerically notable point it represents.

[Editor’s second note: Lee later told me that this is in fact all one track with various movements.  Just so as you know.]

…and the winner of the Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2014 is:

1. Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus

aqua dentata - cygnet procambarus

My review took the form of a science fiction (very) short story.  Eddie’s music does that kind of thing to your head.  Here it is:

In some future hospital you are recovering from a horrible accident. Within a giant glass vitrine, you are suspended in a thick, healing gel – an amniotic fluid rich in bioengineered enzymes and nanotech bots all busy patching you up. From the waist down you are enmeshed in metal, a scaffold of stainless steel pins keeping your shape whilst the work continues. The first twenty minutes of Eddie’s half hour describes your semi-conscious state of prelapsarian bliss, played out over dark undertones of bitter irony: every moment spent healing is, of course, a moment closer to confronting the terrible event that put you there.

During the final ten minutes the tank empties, bizarrely, from the bottom up. Pins are pushed from healing wounds and tinkle and clatter as they collect below you. Attending staff shuffle nervously but maintain a respectful distance and near silence. As the gel clears your head, your eyes slowly peel open, the corners of your mouth twitch. You look out through the glass at the fishbowled figures in the room. You weakly test the restraints you suddenly feel holding you in place, and with a sickening flash it all comes back and you rememb———

No-one in what this blog lovingly refers to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is producing work as consistently brilliant as Eddie Nuttall. The back catalogue of his project Aqua Dentata – growing with the alien beauty and frustrating slowness of a coral reef – contains not a wasted moment. His work – quiet, long-form dronetronics with metallic punctuation – is executed with the patience and discipline of a zen monk watching a spider construct a cobweb.  Best dressed man to feature on this blog too.

—ooOoo—

So, that is that.  Eddie’s prize, should he wish to take me up on it, is for Aqua Dentata to have the one and only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings some time in 2015.  I’ll keep you posted on negotiations.

Oh, and should any of you be interested in how this blog does – y’know, number of hits and all that – I’ve made the annual report provided by WordPress public and you can see it here.

Heartfelt best wishes for the New Year, comrades.  All is love.

Rob Hayler, January 2015.

 

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