all that is left: people-eaters, aetheric records and invisible city records

April 9, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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people-eaters – The Only Thing Left To Fear (A5 chapbook, 16pp, with 3” CD-r mixtape, aetheric records)

people-eaters – The Only Thing Left To Fear (tape, Invisible City Records, edition of 30 or download)

only thing left to fear tape

people-eaters - fear 2

It amuses me to imagine aetheric records and Invisible City Records sharing premises. I picture a cross between the drawing room in Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ and the well-appointed lounge where William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki gathers his friends to hear tales of ghost-hunting. The more decadent staff members drape themselves over the chaise longues and, deep in a fug of laudanum and absinthe, lose themselves in painfully thin volumes of German poetry. The more scientifically minded look on disapprovingly and return to their geographical analysis of Eastern European folklore, or a heated exchange as to the properties of ectoplasm.

The pull-back-and-reveal (or ‘then I got off the bus’ moment – cheers Pete) in this scene occurs as the camera follows one of these chaps out of the main door and into… an anonymous, strip-lit corridor in a modern, faceless office building. What gives!? Well, despite my whimsical first paragraph I’d suggest both labels are solidly grounded in the present day and fully understand the ritual and psychological significance of the trappings they have chosen. Alistair of aetheric knows full well that his beloved photographs of spirit activity at Victorian séances are preposterous hoaxes, Craig of Invisible City knows full well that H.P. Lovecraft was a writer of fiction not a documentarian. Both can agree, with a shared wistful sigh, that there is simply no such thing as ‘cat people’ from the ‘old country’…

That said, the certainty that there are no tentacles under the bed is cold comfort. If these things don’t exist then the stories we tell about them are really attempts to explain unpalatable truths about ourselves and our place in an indifferent universe. In the absence of spirits and monsters all that is left is us, an infinity of nothing and the implications thereof. That is the only thing left to fear.

Which brings us through the woods to the album that ties the two labels together: The Only Thing Left to Fear by people-eaters. Released in two versions, on aetheric this comes as an A5 chapbook containing five poems, five automatic drawings and a 16 minute ‘mixtape’ on 3″ CD-r and on Invisible City it exists as a limited edition tape or download. You don’t get the chapbook with the latter but, beefed up with remixes, the amount of music included is more than doubled. Both editions are still available at the time of writing.

The poetry, written by Alistair using the pseudonym ‘slowthaw’, is grisly and bleak – part Baudelaire fever-dream, part Burroughs cut-up, all disgusted with the corporeal. It’s an uncomfortable read.  Some of you will appreciate that.  Regarding the artwork, I’m always tempted to ‘reverse engineer’ automatic drawing, to trace the lines with a fingernail or the tip of a pen and see what, if any, feelings fall out as a result. This time, appropriately enough, I got panicked – as if a spirit was trying to communicate something and getting increasingly frantic as it realised this ‘Ouija board’ had no letters on it, nor did the fleshy mechanism it had appropriated even believe in its existence.

Before accounting for the music, I should mention that all the creative aspects of this project are apparently inspired by the following quote:

Spirit sounds are usually of a peculiar character; they have an intensity and a character of their own, and, notwithstanding their great variety, can hardly be mistaken, so that they are not easily confused with common noises, such as the creaking of wood, the crackling of fire, or the ticking of a clock; spirit raps are clear and sharp, sometimes soft and light… (from The Medium’s Book by Allan Kardec published in 1861)

…as its influence is easier heard than seen. The quote is classic spiritualism – apparently saying something concrete and testable but, on examination, containing enough wiggle room to accommodate a salsa class. people-eaters play it straight, though (well, after an opening that samples a mindfulness meditation tape and thus returned me to early 90s ‘chill out’ ambient nonsense) and present a series of creaks, crackles and ticks drawn out with biomechanical rhythms for our appraisal. Anchor chains are cut and bows scrape against each other in a moonlit bay. Brass cogged difference engines strip oxidised gears. Parasitic organisms are hatched and scrabble at the walls of their red prison, the host animal oblivious.

Ghosts? We are asked. Monsters? Each time we have to look down and shake our heads: no, just us – just you, me and the fuckers on the other side of that bolted door.

Nothing else.

—ooOoo—

aetheric records

Invisible City Records

invisible city records

April 21, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Death Register – Phonaesthesia (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR03, edition of 40 or download)

The Will of Nin Girima – Two Cycles of Incantation (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR04, edition of 30 or download)

Black Thread – Autumn Flowers (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR05, edition of 30 or download)

Culver – The Abductress (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR07, edition of 60)

Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR08, edition of 40 or download)

Roadside Picnic – Watership Drowned (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR09, edition of 24 or download)

Philipp Bückle – Drawings (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR10, edition of 50 or download)

death register

I may have asked this question before but, fuck it, it’s worth asking again: if given a choice between listening to a release new to you or to one that you are familiar with and know is good which do you choose?  Apart from when I’m repeat listening prior to writing a review, for me it is the former nearly 100% of the time.

I’ll go further: by ‘new’ in this context I don’t just mean ‘previously unheard’ but also mean ‘recently produced’.  I’ve been a music fan for over three decades now, including many years patrolling the fringes and an overlong stint as a variation on the type of insufferable asshole I am soon to describe.  Sure, there remain gaps in my knowledge – some vast – but I’m past caring.  I’ve heard enough of the classic, the important, the ephemeral, the popular, the unduly overlooked etc., etc. to justify an opinion, an opinion backed by thousands of hours of ‘study’.  I still spend every moment allowable listening to music but, y’know – for now at least, I think I’m done with the past.

Box sets and reissues nauseate me (apart from the two I’m personally involved with at the moment, of course, which are rad) as does collector/completist culture.  With a couple of noble exceptions – I recommend the transcendental journey documented by Phong Tran via the @boxwalla twitter account, for example – every ‘have you heard <old recording X>?’ conversation or twitter thread just reminds me of a certain curly-haired obsessive that became the bane of Termite Club nights around the turn of the century.  This nut – I’m not naming him, slowly incant the Nurse With Wound list and he shall appear – would limpet onto an unfortunate attendee and engage in the most tedious yes-but-have-you-heardism only stopping at 3am when him yelling ‘yes, but what do you think of Lemmingmania?’ through their letterbox was the final straw and the police were called.  I exaggerate for comic effect of course, but not by much – ask Michael Clough about it.

Whilst I’m being fussy, newness in the two senses above isn’t enough on its own.  For example, I recently purchased one of them proper CDs they have now by an actual band on the recommendation of a friend whose tastes do not map onto mine but whose judgement is trustworthy.  The album is brand new and by a respected metal act with an unimpeachable DIY ethos but, with each episode of crushing riffage telegraphed bars in advance, I found myself struggling to get through it twice.  It’s newness was more than offset by it being structurally boring.

That said, innovation on its own isn’t enough either.  Safe to say that I’ve never heard anything quite like current darling act <name redacted because I can’t be arsed arguing with disciples wounded by my blasphemy>, for example, but my opinion as to the worth of that work is, shall we say, in the minority.  Whilst I cherish moments when a gleeful smile cracks my grumpy visog and I wonder out loud ‘what the fuck is this?’ I have nothing in principle against tropes, conventional sound-palettes, standard instrumentation and so on.

So what do I want?  I want something previously unheard by me and recently produced, ideally in an uncompromised DIY manner.  Surprises and innovation are always welcome but not necessary, genre conventions can be absolutely fine as long as they don’t lead to a formal dullness that drags me away from the experience.  In short, I want something that transports me to a different place.  It does happen – surprisingly frequently – and over the last few months the place I’ve been taken to has often been the Invisible City.

Following the sad demise of Tyneside’s Basic FM last year, Craig Johnson – host of RFM-on-the-radio-type show Unknown Surroundings – started Invisible City Records partly as a way of plugging that hole.  The guy has an irresistible, and wholly laudable, urge to plug the music that he/we love and chose to continue doing so using the now almost standard ‘business model’ of limited edition tapes for the remaining object fetishists and pay-what-you-like downloads for the sane.  Yes, yes, I know I got the hump with this approach a few months ago but hypocrisy is the least of my crimes and, hey, quality content conquers all.

ICR specialises in long(ish) form drone/noise with a penchant for fuzzed out entropic decay and dystopian synth soundtracks.  Releases are not without moments of wry humour and the odd jump scare but all have an attention to detail and seriousness of intent that makes for an immersive and transporting experience.  It is a tough label to use as background music for chores and many’s the time I have found myself sprawled out, staring at nothing, task forgotten as one of these visions unfolds.  The catalogue already features several RFM regulars: Culver, of course, people-eaters, Miguel Perez (alongside J.C. Meraz as The Will of Nin Girima) and releases reference literary house favourites like Lovecraft, Ballard and (to my delight) the Strugatsky brothers.  Tailor made for me, eh?  It is even based in Gateshead.  Perfect.

OK, given the exemplary quality control already exhibited by Craig I could just say: ‘go buy the lot’, give the link and await your expressions of gratitude.  But that would be a dereliction of duty.  Instead here’s a summary of the ICR story so far:

curwen - shunned house

ICR01 Joseph Curwen – Shunned House was due to be reviewed by ex-staffer Scott McKeating but unfortunately he fell into a non-Euclidean angle between walls whilst exploring an Antarctic archaeological site.  Alas.

caisson - high rise

ICR02 Caisson – High Rise inspired me to put together a review-as-photo-essay featuring pictures of celebrated concrete brutalism taken on the campus where I work.

death register

ICR03 Death Register – Phonaesthesia comprises three tracks of drawn out ragged synth lines propelled by loops of machine hum.  The final track, ‘R’, is seventeen minutes of augmented dream state which calls to mind Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II and is more or less perfect.

The Will of Nin Girima - Two Cycles of Incantation - cover

ICR04 The Will of Nin Girima – Two Cycles of Incantation is a duo of Miguel Perez and J.C. Meraz and is quite possibly the finest recording that Miguel, my good friend and inspiration, has been involved with.  A series of six ‘dark ambient’ rituals, it has scope, ambition and imagination and its lengthy running time just flashes past.  Unlike most noise of this type it also contains passages that are genuinely unnerving too.  Terrific.

Black Thread - Autumn Flowers - cover

ICR05 Black Thread – Autumn Flowers is a short, beautiful album of loops eroded into noise.  Yes, I understand this process will be familiar to many readers but this is a fine instantiation, full of emotional content.  Like a time-lapse film of a cherished wind-up toy thrown into the ocean, destroyed by salt and the motion of the tide.

only thing left to fear tape

ICR06 people-eaters – The Only Thing Left To Fear got the treatment by me not long ago in a piece about the terrifying, nihilistic idea that there are no such things as monsters.  It can be found here.

culver - abductress

ICR07 Culver – The Abductress is another schooling from the master Lee Stokoe.  Following a pattern familiar from several recent releases, melancholy guitar is swamped by a gathering electrical storm of fuzz drone noise.  However, this descent is more distressed/distressing than usual.  This is less Ballard – ultimately accepting of the entropic drowned world, more Wyndham – a fight against the alien forces causing the rising waters.  ‘ruby ford’, the last of the three tracks is such an epic, all you can do is admire its teeth from a safe distance.

stratospheric

ICR08 Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower is a work of special power.  Via a series of sculptures crafted from brooding analogue electronics it conveys the gargantuan, unclouded patience of a planet-wide AI that just knows it has this fucking right.  If we could hear the ‘music of the spheres’ it would sound like this: implacably hostile, utterly indifferent to your existence.

roadside picnic

ICR09 Roadside Picnic – Watership Drowned provides a whole bunch of those ‘what the fuck is going on?’ moments.  Comprising two tracks totalling about an hour and a half, we have movements (too leisurely to be called ‘collage’ I think) incorporating, amongst other things: heavily filtered scrabbling, pastoral tropicalia and electronics that range from the soothing wail of a slowed down, pitched up alarm to the chirrup and whirr of robotic insects.  It would be a great soundtrack to an adaptation of that famous children’s story about rabbits.  You know the one where prehistoric rabbits find a monolith and fight each other, then find another one on the moon thousands of years later, then go on a space mission with a mad computer that deliberately gives the astro-rabbits myxomatosis.  Yeah, that one.

…and finally:

drawings

ICR10 Philipp Bückle – Drawings which was released today as I wrote this!  Haven’t heard it yet but you gotta admit the streak is hot.  Here’s your quote Craig: ‘This album is great!’ – Radio Free Midwich.  Fuck it, why not?

So that’s it.  Well, not quite.

Whilst not wanting to steal Craig’s thunder I think I might know what ICR11 will turn out to be.  Y’see early last year the American noise label Altar of Waste released ‘the swift’ by midwich in a criminally limited (and quite expensive due to shipping costs) edition of 15 with no digital version available.  It was well received, I was proud of it and I was very grateful to those trusting souls who swapped hard cash for a copy.  I might have been happy to leave it there but I had one or two enquiries about reissuing it and just couldn’t resist reaching out to Craig and planting a seed.  What a recommendation, eh?  This label is so good that I found a way to be on it.

More news as it breaks!

(…and if you are one of those kind purchasers of the original edition please forgive me.  Remind me of the fact when the Aqua Dentata CD-r on fencing flatworm drops later in the year – I’ll sort you out proper.)

—ooOoo—

Invisible City Records

the severed tongue, the haunted fog, the family crypt: new from aetheric records

August 5, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Troy Schafer – Rigid Oppression (business card CD-r with pin badge, aetheric records, edition of 23)

more black then god – 1964 ZEN IN THE DRONES (3” CD-r, aetheric records, edition of 20)

people-eaters – disincarnate (CD-r with stickers and pin badge, aetheric records, edition of 20)

 troy schafermore black then godpeople-eaters - disincarnate

My love of the post is obsessive, bordering on fetishistic. The fact that in exchange for a small(ish) amount of money you can make an object disappear from your presence and reappear elsewhere in the world sometime later is magical to me. Despite grumbling about the continuing ubiquity of ‘stuff’ in these sleek, downloadable times the novelty never seems to wear off.

As you can imagine, running a blog in celebration of a fringe art form created by a taskforce of the unco-opted invites odd correspondence. Many’s the time that the contents of a parcel have caused a raised eyebrow. Always notable, for example, are packages from Dr. Adolf Steg of Spon – the painting/collage encrusted with toenail clippings being especially alarming – but a couple of weeks ago he was momentarily outdone: Alistair of aetheric records sent me a severed tongue.

It wasn’t real, thankfully, just a squishy, sticky, joke-shop toy – the sort of thing a ghoulish pre-teen might throw at his classroom window to gross-out his contemporaries – but it made me jump, then made me laugh. It fit right in with the goth/horror aesthetic of the label too. Sadly, it had leaked a foul, petrol-smelling, oily substance over everything in the envelope but, hey, it’s the thought that counts. It also reminded me that I’d had a couple of his releases on the pile for months now and that I should really dig them out. Now, I don’t want the lesson you take away from this to be ‘send Rob body parts = jump the queue’ but I have to admit it was a diverting tactic…

I mentioned the goth/horror aesthetic. This isn’t the backwoods/back alley grindcore of, say, certain Matching Head/Oracle atmospheres, more a sort of Victorian gothic: dimly lit séances, air thick with incense, charlatans fooling the gullible with fake ectoplasm and stigmata only to be dragged under themselves by offended spirits. Occasionally it reaches a tentacle into the cosmic horror of Lovecraftian weird tales or, in moments of full-on noise, to the tongue-severing schlock of EC Comics. The packaging is artfully realised – sharing a Pennine-corridor affiliation with Crow Versus Crow – and the releases are, by and large, conveniently short.

Presented on a dinky business card CD-r and clocking in at a mere five minutes, Rigid Oppression by Troy Schafer delivers a right kicking. This is the visceral clattering of actual physical objects being violently rearranged. I often find this kind of noise comical at first – like a floppy-fringed teenager ordered to sort the recycling and making as much racket as possible because it’s just not fair – but repeat listens reveal the chaos is contained within a bowed rise and fall. I imagine the breathing of a junkyard Smaug, his heaving chest – lungs ragged from years of smoking – dislodging detritus from the mountain of crap he is splayed across.

more black then god [sic], nom de plume of Sean Derrick Cooper Marquardt, stretches his three tracks to a relatively epic total of 20 minutes. This is the stuff of seafaring nightmare – sodden souls gripping the slippery rail of their ghost ship as it glides into harbour. There is a formal, shot-in-black-and-white, austerity to it too though, as if the haunted fog is rolling in over the manicured lawns of L’Année dernière à Marienbad. Bourgeois hotel guests shift uneasily as they play the matchstick game and order another cocktail. There is a tapping at the window…

disincarnate is the latest from aetheric house band people-eaters and is the longest of the trio at just under half an hour. On the album’s Bandcamp page it is noted that…

This album contains eight threnodies for my late father (1942-2013).

…which I found rather numbed my critical response. There is a passage in Martin Amis’s autobiography in which, to paraphrase, he describes reaching a point in middle age when the only things that have any real importance are births and deaths. I am (un)comfortably within that zone myself now and, as such, my reaction to a dedication like that is to listen to the music in a solemn and contemplative mood. It isn’t conducive to flights of descriptive fancy but I see that, as ever, I am late to the party and reviews rich in the figurative can already be read at heathenharvest, riverrockreviews, forestpunk and musicuratum – all written by talents less psychologically squeamish than me.

What I can say is that I was impressed that the band’s usual atmosphere of dread has not been dialled back in the slightest. This is a wake as desolate as could be described by Poe and, shockingly, the sixth track, ‘me mokutu vakamatea’, contains a poem written by fellow aetheric label mate slowthaw reminiscent of Poe’s translator Baudelaire or maybe something from a ritual hallucinated in a Lovecraftian fever-dream. Given the declared context it is bold stuff. I listened to this album whilst sat in a sun trap created by the concrete geometries of the campus where I work and was transported to a windswept, hillside graveyard where a group of horrified mourners wonder what the hell could have torn the doors from the family crypt…

—ooOoo—

aetheric records

occult technologies: microdeform, ian watson, mother spit

January 29, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Microdeform – APHELION (C65 tape, zamzamrec, 024, edition of 33 or download)

Ian Watson – Terrestrials gone Tropic With Some Pretty Fancy Animals (CD-r, LF Records, LF032, plus two freely downloadable extra tracks)

mother spit – carve (3” CD-r, aetheric records, edition of 25 or download)

microdeform - aphelionian watson - terrestrials gone tropicmother spit - carve

Older readers will recall that it was once possible to own a tape deck which could sense the gaps between songs when fast-forwarding a cassette.  The stereo I had would find the next track, rewind a second back into the silence then start playing from there.  This took the tedious to-ing and fro-ing out of looking for an elusive moment on, say, a homemade compilation of Peel sessions but was clearly an occult technology indistinguishable from black magic.  Thus, sadly, the machine had to be burnt as a witch, the melted remains rubbed with garlic and the whole sorry lot buried on hallowed ground.  Shame.

Anyway, all true music fans of my era know that any given tape can only contain two tracks: ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’.  Even single-sided tapes have that long, quiet track on the reverse of the noisy side.  Feel free to include a tracklisting if you like but, especially if your music is at all abstract, I’m unlikely to pay it any heed.

This format-invoked, nostalgic whimsy occurred to me as I ‘researched’ the excellent tape Aphelion by Microdeform, that is Liam McConaghy, released in a tiny edition by zamzamrec and also available for download.  Buy it from the artist’s Bandcamp site (where you can find the few remaining physical copies too) and you get an eleven track album, download from the label’s Bandcamp site and you get two half-hour chunks titled ‘side 1’ and ‘side 2’.  I chuckled approvingly, plumping for the latter option.

A persuasive sense of purpose pulls the listener through both sides as various sub-genres of dark electronics run together into a united current.  There are Tangerine, Vangelisian synth-wobs riding over the fuzzed out murk – part science fiction dystopia, part mass for the drowned in a submerged cathedral.  There is thumping industro-grind as machine rhythms emerge from the loops and echoes.  A growing crescendo of tension across ‘side 2’ suggests it isn’t going to end well for the protagonist of this supernatural cyber-thriller.  I picture her looking over weapons she knows to be inadequate with a wry resignation then, coincidentally at the exact moment the Earth is at the furthest distance its orbit takes us from the Sun, the door is kicked in…

Terrestrials gone Tropic With Some Pretty Fancy Animals is the second of Ian Watson’s projects to come my way (see my review of the SWEFN album on hairdryer excommunication here) and is my favourite of the latest batch of releases from the ever-impressive LF Records.  It is a one hour long CD-r comprising twelve untitled tracks and, should that not be enough for you, LF have kindly made two further tracks freely available via Bandcamp to boost it to feature length.  Ian is an illustrator as well as a musician and the cover shows off his considerable chops – take a good, hard look at the chicken thing above, though I’d wait until after lunch if I were you.

The music is mainly electrical, yet there is something squishily organic about it too.  It’s as if Ian were recording impulses in the newly formed nervous system of a giant lump of sentient tofu (its mood = forlorn, as you might expect).  Hmmm… too flip – the situation portrayed is more grave.  Some of this sounds like the trilling and bobbling background noises to be heard on the bridge of the USS Enterprise but smeared-out, slowed down.  Perhaps what we are getting are the tragic attempts of a red-shirted crew member to recombine himself following a devastating transporter accident.  Doomed to haunt the corridors and quarters of the spacecraft, he is not corporeal enough to make an impression on the physical world yet is still ‘real’ enough to avoid dissipating completely.  These tracks are how he hears what we hear.

I found this album to be distractingly compelling.  An attempt to use it as background soundtrack to an afternoon of pottering ended with me sprawled on the bed in the spare room, chores forgotten, staring at the ceiling, as I followed its twists and pulses

carve by mother spit is a single, eighteen minute track housed on a 3” CD-r with the striking cover photograph above, released in a tiny edition by aetheric records (home of RFM faves people-eaters) and also available for download.  Interestingly, the band hails from Sofia in Bulgaria.  Now, I am perfectly aware that this is the modern capital city of a modern European country but, to an unseasoned non-traveller like me, it is the sort of location that will always feel like ‘the old country’, as alluded to in fables and 1940s horror films like Jacques Tourneur’s sublime Cat People (yes, I know the main character was from Serbia, not Bulgaria, but you see what I’m getting at I hope.).

Using a carefully selected palette of eerie, droning electronics the track quite deliberately, and very successfully, creates a cosmically chilling Lovecraftian vibe.  There are three scenes depicted: the warm winds whistling through the deserted, subterranean corridors of the nameless city, the aftermath of a woodland ritual in deepest New England – the celebrants have departed but the ground is littered with still warm torches and a sticky, rust-coloured liquid is drying on the large, smooth rock used as an alter and, finally, the dark, grey interior of a Mi-Go spacecraft on a journey home to Yuggoth (yes, I know they were supposed to fly through the aether using their membranous wings but, having attended the dissection of a captured specimen, I now consider that theory to be unlikely.).  These scenes overlap one another and drift in and out of focus, as if in the crazed mind of an unfortunate soul who witnessed all three.  I can’t stop playing it.

Microdeform’s own Bandcamp site.

Microdeform on zamzamrec’s Bandcamp site.

Ian Watson on LF Records.

Ian Watson’s own site.

mother spit on aetheric record’s Bandcamp site.

the 2013 zellaby awards

January 4, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

Ladies and gentlemen, dear readers all, welcome to the hotly anticipated Zellaby Awards for 2013.  The show, in its third annual outing, is presented in association with Radio Free Midwich and hosted by the editor from his comfortably-appointed padded cell in the basement of Midwich Mansions.

In previous years the awards have formed part one of a two part round-up of cultural highlights.  However this year I can easily roll what would usually be part two into this preamble.  Why?  Three words: Thomas James Hayler.  The birth of our son in March was an epoch-defining, paradigm-shattering, life-forever-altering event for all of us – I’m sure you’ll remember the moon turning a fire red that evening – but looking after the kid (y’know: issuing orders to the nannies, sorting through the mountains of flowers, cards and teddy-bears left at the gate of the estate, that kind of thing) has rather cut into the time and energy afforded to culture in general.

It was interesting to experience how looking after a baby pares life down to the essentials.  I now do my bit to help with Thomas, I look after my wife Anne as best I can too, I keep up with my friends and family (more or less), I go to work (when healthy) and I think about music.  That’s all I have but, crucially, it is all I want.  Sure, we could do with more money and better health – who couldn’t? – but establishing this balance has been refreshing and revelatory.  I can sincerely state, all joking and archness to one side, that Thomas joining us has made 2013 the best year of my life so far.  By some distance.

Thomas at Xmas 2013

<stares wistfully into middle distance, wipes tear from stubbled cheek, returns to business at hand>

I did get to read a handful of books, of which HHhH by Laurent Binet, about a 1942 mission to assassinate Richard Heydrich, chief of the Gestapo, was the most compelling, original and intriguing.  I even stole a line from it to use in a review.  I think I read the entire of Museum Without Walls, a collection of essays and television scripts by polemicist, architecture critic and commentator Jonathan Meades.  I say ‘I think’ because it was mainly done in sleepy five page chunks in the middle of the night.  Otherwise I kept my membership of the bourgeoisie fresh by reading the London Review of Books and took my news mainly from Private Eye which, despite its many faults, holds power to account at least some of the time thus making it unique in the mainstream.  I pretty much gave up on film and television aside from using the boy as an excuse to watch Regular Show and Adventure Time on Cartoon Network.  Oh, and Game of Thrones series 3 was fun too if you like that sort of thing.

Down here in the no-audience underground I devoured, as ever, anything posted by Uncle Mark over at the essential Idwal Fisher blog and cover-to-covered the no-less essential Hiroshima Yeah! the moment it arrived in the mail.  Congratulations to the latter on reaching its 100th issue this year, no mean feat with one of its two editors in prison…  Also in the realm of the self-published, a pamphlet of poetry by my good friend and comrade Nick Allen has been on my bedside table since he surprised me with it at work one morning and has been well-thumbed and repeatedly enjoyed.

It has been another golden year for music, both live and recorded.  A couple of my all-time favourite gigs occurred in the last 12 months and my ‘long list’ for best album contained 34 contenders!  Never mind those bullshit ‘end of year’ polls you see in print magazines that you know were proofread over ice-creams in August, never mind those ‘best albums of the last fifteen minutes’ you see on internet based blogzine snore-fests.  This is the real deal: compiled whilst the New Year is still bellowing after being slapped into life.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we need to trot through a few methodological points, then the ceremony can commence.

Firstly, the music mentioned below may not have been released in 2013, although most of it was.  To qualify it had to be heard by RFM for the first time in the calendar year 2013.  Secondly, releases featuring the staff of RFM (me, Scott McKeating, Joe Murray) are excluded.  Modesty is not a virtue I can be accused of but awarding ourselves prizes is a bit much even for me.  Thirdly there are the same five award categories as last time (although one has had to be renamed…).  Should an artist win big in one of them they may appear overlooked in others.  This is deliberately done in the interests of plugging as much excellence as possible and thus no-one should get the hump.  Finally, I did invite the aforementioned Scott and Joe to contribute nominations but the final decisions are mine.  Think of me as a benign dictator listening carefully to his advisers before passing judgement.

OK, shush now – the house lights are dimming…  Time for the first category!

—ooOoo—

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

Lucy Johnson

smut - piano one

(with honourable mentions for Joe’s choice: WANDA GROUP, “the absolute master of steamy hiss and non-linear edit”)

Here’s a extract from the lengthy overview of Lucy’s back catalogue that I posted back in July:

One of the refreshing things about what I playfully refer to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is that it is not full of self-aggrandising blabbermouths.  There are a few – me, for example – and an acceptable level of self-absorption is common, but many artists quietly get on with producing excellent work mainly, it seems, for their own gratification and the pleasure of their circle.

This situation allows for the gradual discovery of that most mysterious of creatures: the unsung hero.  Names are pencilled in – an aside from the omniscient Scott McKeating, a credit on a Matching Head insert, say – then repeated until they become underlined in bold and further investigation becomes inevitable.  Such has been the case with Lucy Johnson.

I had, of course, already praised Space Victim, her duo with Mike Vest, to the hilt (they featured in RFM’s best of 2012 list) and more recently did the same for the Witchblood tape, her duo with Lee Stokoe, on Matching Head.  A comment from Miguel Perez led to me picking up her tapes as Smut and hearing those led to me finally paying some proper attention. Over the last few weeks I have been putting two and two together via Discogs, the Turgid Animal site and various other rune-casting activities and have been gathering up examples of her work.  She records solo as Smut and Esk, is half of the aforementioned duos, is the vocalist for black metal band Rife, and is also in the bands Obey and Dark Bargain (as reviewed by Scott below).  Her artwork adorns covers and T-shirts and has recently been made available to buy as prints.  Most of this stuff is available from the label and distributor Turgid Animal which (according to that same review by Scott) she co-runs.  Blimey, eh?

Can’t wait to hear what comes next.  There is at least one more Smut tape to pick up and the Obey album to look forward to as well…

Next is…

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 goes to…

Robert Ridley-Shackleton

r r-s - butterfly farm

(with honourable mentions for Kevin Sanders whose consistency proves awe-inspiring, Bjerga/Iversen’s album-per-month Bandcamp project, Joe’s choice Hapsburg Braganza and, of course, Lee Stokoe, who was also Scott’s choice)

Given that I went from not knowing who he is to hearing/seeing around 50 objects produced by him during the course of a few months Robbie was odds-on favourite in this category.  That said, I realise that it is a controversial choice as ‘quality control’ may not be an entirely appropriate concept to apply to this gushing, unstoppable flow.  I suppose one man’s drivel fountain is another man’s exuberant exploration of an outsider vision.  As I wrote in my first overview piece about his stuff:

Call it an ‘aesthetic’, a ‘vision’ if you like, but it becomes clear during the perusal of these artefacts that this is Robert’s world – a dimensionless jiffy bag containing a wonky, distorted universe – and that the rest of us are tourists within it.

For what it is worth, The Butterfly Farm, the tape pictured above released by Beartown Records, is as good a place to start as any.

On to…

3.  The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award goes to…

Joe Murray and Scott McKeating

posset - my hungry holesscott

(with honourable mentions for Dan Thomas and Miguel Perez who both understand what friendship is really about.  Cheers fellas.)

Obviously.  In May Scott offered to help out, I bit his hand off.  This gave me the idea of asking Joe, who bit my hand off.  Once these appendages had been sewn back on we shook them vigorously and got down to the typing.  I like to think that the house style at RFM sits somewhere between the jazzed exuberance of Joe and the more meticulous, journalistic work of Scott.  Thus between us we offer a comprehensive ‘three bears’ account of this remarkable scene.  Being able to lean on these guys has kept the porridge at a perfect temperature during some pretty distracted times, especially baby- and illness-related, and I am beyond grateful for their contributions.

Now we have…

2.  The Label of the Year Award which goes to…

Memoirs of an Aesthete

Half an Abortion - Drowsy Seepage

(with honourable mentions for, well, see below…)

This was a very, very hotly disputed category.  I was tempted to be perverse and, in the style of Time magazine’s mirror cover, proclaim label of the year to be ‘self-released’.  Certainly, in this Bandcamp enabled age the idea has to be considered seriously.  But that ain’t much fun is it?  Let’s have an argument instead!  Joe stepped up for Winebox Press:

Jon Collin’s labour of love has presented some amazing music this year (Vampire Blues, Lost Wax, and his own gorgeous schizzle)  all nailed to hand-sanded wooden chunks.  This extra detail might make things difficult to file but the soft hand-feel makes me return again and again to these loose spools of joy.

Scott proclaimed Matching Head, natch:

Same as every other year. Lee Stokoe keeps it prolific, adding new regulars to a strong cast of returning cassette-friendly noise/drone/wtf artists.

Both excellent choices, of course, but what of the Sheepscar Light Industrial, last year’s runner up, or Kirkstall Dark Matter – a blood feud between Leeds postcodes?  Or is the glorious return of Sanity Muffin gong-worthy?  Speaking of returns, was any more welcome or surprising than that of Union Pole which made a long-gone 76 item back catalogue available to download for the total of one dollar?  Or what about Hissing Frames or hairdryer excommunication, the content-pumps of Robbie and Kev respectively?

The choice seemed impossible so I left the scribbled lists and did a couple of those things that you only see people do in the movies: splashed my face with water then stared into the bathroom mirror, took a cold can out of the fridge and held it against my cheek etc.  Soon clarity was restored.  For not putting a foot wrong, for never having even a single hair our of place, it had to be Memoirs of an Aesthete.  Phil Todd’s label has released one belter after another this year and has probably clocked up more minutes playing time in Midwich Mansions than any rival.  If it has Phil’s seal of approval on it then you should buy it.  Simple really.

…and finally…

1.  The Album of the Year Award

Risking accusations of hyperbole, I have claimed once or twice over the course of 2013 that we were living in a golden age.  Revisiting the releases I heard during the year I feel absolutely vindicated.  Add my long list to the short lists provided by Scott and Joe and you have a total of over 40 titles without even counting much not-really-released-as-such-but-still-magnificent work such as the soundcloud presence of, say, ap martlet.  Scott mentioned…

Black Sun Roof4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow (Handmade Birds) – Davies and Bower make noise ritual a rhythm thing.

Skullflower / MasterySplit (Cold Spring) – Black metal soundtracks.

Joe added:

Duff/Nyoukis/Robertson/ShawAcetate Robots (Giant Tank) – Soft Scottish mumble, sweet as tablet.

Poor MouthS/T (Total Vermin) – Stream of consciousness wonk-out in proud Estuary English.

Lost Wax – My Sore Daad Heap’d (Winebox Press) – Environmental sounds lashed into a bivouac as the sun rises.

ID M Theft AbleBabb’s Bridge (Veglia, King Fondue, Zeikzak, Taped Sounds) – Like Manson’s internal monologue as knives get knotty.

Blue Yodel & Lovely HonkeyPoppies & Cocks (Chocolate Monk) – Mooooggg, hummm…voosh. Boo-fffff.

Both lists pleasantly indicative of the interests of my comrades, I think.  Take note.  Right then, as I did last year I have whittled my choices down to twenty with the first half presented in no particular order, linked to the original RFM reviews.  Here we go:

Witchbloodspoils and relics - angelsplurals sli 018Ceramic Hobs - Spirit World Circle Jerkaqua dentata - ten thousand wooden faceshalf an abortion - quandarystarlite coffins - medicine eagleGalena - Buried Finchpeople-eaters - imprecate

Every one a winner.  Click on the above for further thoughts and for contact/purchasing info.  Now on with the top ten, in reverse order…

10. Xazzaz – Untitled (Molotov 20)

xazzaz - 'untitled' molotov 20

This was reviewed twice on RFM this year.  Firstly Joe said:

…a melodic pitch-shifting that recalls those tremolo-heavy vibes from MBV…except this time the jazz electricity comes via belt sanders, floor polishers and hammer-action drills rather than sappy guitars.  The crashing continues, churning up plankton and hurling it on the zinc-coated rocks until, at around the 11 minute mark a large rusty anchor is thrown overboard and is dragged nosily (sic – it was more fun to keep the typo than correct it – RH) across a rocky sea bed.  Grrrgrgggrgggrgghhhhhh!   After a while your ear hairs can bristle no more and I had to settle back to accept this Black Metal take on Frippertronics as an astringent lullaby…

…then I pitched in with:

Mike’s music causes my edges to crumble, then crevaces to open, then huge thoughtbergs to calve from my mental glaciers.  He isn’t averse to roar, of course, and can stamp on pedals if need be, but it is the subtleties and nuance that make it so compelling.  He listens patiently, he understands what is going on.  He knows what to do.

Check out the Molotov catalogue now distributed by Turgid Animal.

9. Shareholder – The Backwards Glance volumes 1, 2 and 3

shareholder 1

Joe turned me on to this one.  He wrote:

The Backwards Glance is ten god-damn years of recordings all wrapped up in beguiling drawings, elastic bands and creepy collage work.  Sandy has taken the Faust approach and jams are cut-up hard against each other so you lurch between approaches, styles, themes and moods … My advice is to block out a few hours in your schedule, settle yourself in your preferred listening area and drink this special brew in deep.  As in the dog-eat-dog world of high finance the Shareholder is always looking for a unique selling point.  This USP for these clever little tapes is their god-damn addictiveness!

8. Culver/Somália ‎– Split

culver-somalia

Joe also beat me to this one too and came up with the best simile of the year, damn him:

Culver is a master of the dark art of static movement.  In the same way smoke will fill a room to the corners, too thick to see thorough but fragile enough to part with the wave of a hand, Culver plays that hard/soft, full/empty, maximal/minimal dichotomy like Erich Von Daniken’s  ancient astronauts. Always working on the edge of being there and not being there this piece, this relatively brief drone called ‘seven human hairs’ is like watching ink boil … Somália is some mysterious Portuguese music maker who, on ‘das cordas’ takes a melancholic Satie riff (Gnossienne No. 1 I think) and loops it over and over again with a grimy patina of tape murk.  That’s it.  No speeding up or slowing down. No descent into beats or basslines.  Just a gradual fade into the muck collected round the capstans.  Super simple and super effective.  It works at times (and I have to point out here I have played this tape a lot!) like dark canvas, swallowing the light but freeing up the subconscious.  This is dreaming music.

7. Seth Cooke – Run For Cover

seth cooke - run for cover

The spec is simple enough, a single track of about fifteen minutes in length, but its ingredients are tricky to separate out.  I suspect the noise that sounds like a swarm of angry wasps flying into a juddering extractor fan may be a vibrating implement set upon a drum skin.  The buzz is malevolent – like tapping the glass of a giant tank full of insects only to have them all turn in unison, give you a hard stare and then start working together to get the tank’s lid off…  Some abrasive electronics are then set loose in order to scour and gouge the source noise whilst a bucket of low end catches the swarf.  The concluding crescendo is visceral, tough and as sparkling as your peripheral vision after a sharp smack to the back of the head.  Yeah: awesome.

6. Yol – Four Live Pieces

yol - four live pieces

Joe is a true believer:

I think it was the mighty Stan Lee/Jack Kirby axis that came up with the Incredible Hulk to explore the untamed, brutish side to mankind.  The trick Yol has turned is to take this Yahoo Hulk and transplant it into the damp and bland world of Northern Britain – 2013.  This is no Marvel Universe magic realism but the dark perverted land of a bent cop, conflicted priest or overworked teacher.  It’s a post-Saville world where celebrity corrupts and no one can really trust each other.  Yol gives a voice to the bitter and bleak, the misplaced righteousness and revenge that most of us keep buttoned up tight.  The inner struggle is played out in vivid crimson, choked out, spat into the gutter and stamped on with spite.

5. Shoganai –  ショウガナイ

shoganai

The fella behind this project, remaining semi-anonymous for his own reasons, has produced a piece of work so ambitious and accomplished that the fact that it is available to download on a pay-what-you-like basis from that Bandcamp left me stupefied … Some details: your download will contain nine tracks spanning 41 minutes.  These episodes are clearly the product of a single aesthetic but vary in construction.  There is computerborne surrealism, the programme code distorted by a horseshoe magnet ordered from the Acme catalogue, there is deep-fried tropical psychedelia the like of which wouldn’t be out of place on a Space Victim or AshNav album, and there is the cooing and squawking of an alien menagerie, recorded rooting and strutting about the forest floor on a distant, poisonous world.

4. Helicopter Quartet – Where have all the aliens gone?

helicopter quartet - where have all the aliens gone

Their sound (‘drone rock’? ‘dark ambient’? I don’t know) is dense and rich, each element absorbing in its own right, all contributing to a mysterious but coherent whole.  It is like finding an ornately inlaid wooden casket containing a collection of exquisitely handcrafted objects: what might be a bear, carved from obsidian, a female form cast in an unplaceable grey/green metal, an abstract pattern, possibly even unreadable script, scrimshawed onto yellowing bone.  All irresistibly tactile, all fascinating, all revealing aspects of the character of the unknown and long dead collector who gathered them together.

It is cliché to describe simplicity as ‘deceptive’ and efficiency as ‘ruthless’ but both phrases are perfectly apt in this case.  There is no waste, no let up, the emotional demands of this music are unmistakeable.  Despite the jokes about torturing aliens on its Bandcamp page, this is a deeply serious music but it is epic on a human scale.

3. Various – Knurr & Spell

knurr and spell

Four tracks, each about twenty minutes long, by four different solo artists.  First is veteran Leeds scenester Shem Sharples, recording as his robotic alter ego Shemboid, who kicks things off with ‘myths of the prehistoric future’ – a Ballardian pun well suited to this blistering, splintering track.  Shem is an aficionado of the garage psych sound and his skyscraping fuzz/wah guitar illuminates the rubble like harsh Californian sunshine.

Next is ‘bontempi bastet’ by Ocelocelot, Mel O’Dubhslaine’s noise/drone endeavour.  The track is remarkable: an ectoplasmic gumbo, a thick electronic soup spiced and seasoned to make the corners of your eyes twitch.  Or is it an evocation of heaven?  Mel is a serious artist quietly and brilliantly re-purposing music to serve her own mysterious ends.  She does this with good humour and modesty and I think she might be my hero.

Third is ‘no forks’ by Moral Holiday, Phil Todd’s affectionate homage to first wave industrial music. The backing is brittle, unforgiving, stark.  Phil has taken the bucolic feel of the most utopian electronic Krautrock, frogmarched it to a grimly urban setting and then recorded it amongst the glass and concrete, mutating to fit its new surroundings.

Finally, we have ‘taser delerium’ (sic) from Paul Walsh’s foldhead.  Perhaps you could imagine spiking the punch at a convention of shortwave radio enthusiasts then getting the fried participants to improvise a jam using nothing but the guttering warbles of atmospheric interference.  Life affirming stuff – joyful noise wall.  Like an intruder appearing at the foot of your bed, paralysing you with a swift injection to the sole of your foot, then draping his cock across your forehead as you lie prone and immobile, it is a perversely calming experience.

In summary: this album is damn near perfect.

2. Ashtray Navigations – Cloud Come Cadaver

cloud come cadaver

Previous winners come oh-so-close once more.  I wrote a lengthy psychedelic ramble accounting for each track in turn which you can read by clicking on the title above.  For now I need only quote the final remarks:

It’s like a ‘Comfortably Numb’ for the psych/noise underground but defiant, without a trace of self pity.  It could accompany the ‘ages of man’ sequence at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Did I mention that Ashtray Navigations are my favourite band?  This is why.

Absolutely magnificent.

…and finally, the RFM Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2013 goes to…

1. The Piss Superstition – Vocal Learning

vocal learning front

Back in May I had a moment of prophetic clarity:

The music suggests systems gone wrong, like some guy pushed in a punch card upside down and then went to lunch leaving everything running.  Yet heavy, juddering electrics describe arcane symbols as they spiral through the iterations of this garbled instruction set.  Something truly wierd is being revealed.  The serrated buzzing suggests saw mill equipment escaping its moorings and consuming itself as one bladed machine vibrates into the path of another.  But again, there is nothing random about this movement.  All is being conducted by an unfamiliar intelligence for some unknowable purpose.  In the end though, all metaphors, similes, superlatives and whimsy just slide off this band or, at best, get caught in the gears and mashed – such is the beauty, mystery and power of their output.  They do not sound like anyone else and yet, somehow, it turns out that this sound is exactly what I wanted to hear.  Its value can only be calculated by fumbling with an alien currency, glinting strangely in my palm.

Thus: Vocal Learning is the best album of the year so far.  Why?  Because it is – I said so.

…and there we have it.  The End.  Well, not quite.  There is a prize should the winners wish to claim it: a release on the fabled fencing flatworm recordings.  Yes, in a tradition stretching all the way back to one year ago I decided to reanimate my legendary label to issue one release a year which could only be by the winner of the Best Album Zellaby Award.  So, JB & Paul, how about it?  Drop me a line if the idea tickles you both and we’ll talk turkey.

RFM’s ongoing account of the no-audience underground’s creative endeavour will continue shortly.  We wish you all a very happy New Year!

sorting the lego part two: more soundtracks for graded tasks

December 4, 2013 at 10:43 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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people-eaters – imprecate (3” CD-r, aetheric records, edition of 20 or download)

ap martlet – A Dream Of The Arrow (self-released download)

SWEFN – Varieties of Anomalous Experience (CD-r and download, hairdryer excommunication)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Changing A Prayer A Little (CD-r, Unverified Records, UN041, edition of 50)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Ovencleaner (3” CD-r, LF Records, LF033)

people-eaters - imprecate

Each time depression rolls around I appear to be allocated one key task that helps occupy my time above all others.  In part one of this series I explained what a ‘graded task’ is and gave a few examples.  What I didn’t mention is that, for some reason I do not understand, any of these ‘jobs’ can become my main depression-fighting occupation during an episode but that the same job will not have the same effect more than once.  Each escape route is backfilled by the disease once it discovers that it has been tricked.  It is perpetually furious and profoundly spiteful.  Thus digging over an allotment helped defeat it one year but when I returned the next I was left sitting on the ground, crying, as I realised that I couldn’t put the blade of my beautiful spade, once my most treasured possession, in the earth even once.  It was denied me.  Likewise this time I can’t see myself stepping on and off the wii-fit board – something I did for endless hours staving off a previous attack – so what now?

I set myself the task(s) of cleaning the house, augmented with some exercise mainly in the form of walking around the neighbourhood (it is an attractive area with parks and woods within easy distance).  To make sure my brain’s capacity was fully engaged I would also listen to, and think about, music from the enormous review pile whilst doing so.  The plan was to write up these musings when and if I had the energy thus linking all these disease-bashing activities – useful work, exercise, creative endeavour, thought to some purpose – into a kind of ‘virtuous circle’.  It hasn’t always worked – I needn’t trouble our sensitive readers with the coolly insane deliberations that left me utterly hollowed out yesterday – but I feel that in general it is a good plan.

Interestingly, what I thought would be the key tasks have flipped roles with the supplementary.  Thus, the listening to, thinking about and commenting on music has become the central tactic and I appear to be using the chores, walking and whatnot in its service.  I’m delighted at this development, as you can probably imagine.  Very convenient for the blog, at least.  So here we go with part two…

—ooOoo—

Until very recently all midwich tracks were produced by being figured out, rehearsed then recorded ‘as live’.  If anything went wrong during the take I had to start all over again.  I was once laughed at in the pub for moaning that completing one nine minute track composed entirely of a single pure tone (hey – it warbled slightly, OK?) took twelve attempts.  “But nothing happens!” my incredulous companions exclaimed.  “That’s the point,” I countered, “things kept happening.”  I suspect that people-eaters understand this urge to perfection exactly.

Well, I say ‘perfection’ but they also understand that the trick is to cut it with a pinch of exotic impurity thereby creating the friction necessary to grip the listener’s attention.  Thus during the two tracks that make up imprecate nothing happens for seven and a half minutes then nothing happens again for nine and a half minutes.  However, this nothing happens in a way which is eerie, involving and wholly satisfying.  Rumbles are augmented with some mildly abrasive ringing filter hiss, presumably as the curse is intoned inaudibly beneath, and that is it.  Like a giant ball bearing forged then left to sing and crackle as it cools, like coins dropped into a speaker cone dancing against one another to a super-low frequency.

ap martlet - a dream of the arrow

I am somewhat in awe of the tracks constructed by David Thomas as ap martlet.  These humble masterworks of electrical engineering often have an enveloping, sensurround vibe and ‘A Dream Of The Arrow’ is especially womb-like.  Listening to it feels like being attended to by the robots in Chris Cunnigham’s video for Björk’s ‘All is Full of Love’.  Or perhaps like I’ve been placed into a medically induced fugue state and lowered into a vat of gelatinous slime that will heal whatever ails me.  Or maybe the goo will tweak my DNA a little so that I can grow the tail I have always wanted (Editor’s note: I have always wanted a tail.  Tails are cool.).  Whatever – another marvel of creatively sullied perfection from our Dave.

swefn

Ian Watson, recording as SWEFN for Kevin Sanders’s peerless hairdryer excommunication, takes us a few steps further.  Imagine you are standing in front of a perfect man-made object – a Renaissance altar piece, say, or an antique Persian carpet or an unwrapped but still pristine ream of A4 paper.  You take a photo, compress it and email it to me.  I print out a faded copy on a printer containing an already twice shaken toner cartridge and fax the result back to you.  You take this, fold it in half and leave it tucked under a wiper blade on the windscreen of Ian’s car.  It rains.  He discovers it the following morning, leaves it to dry on a radiator and feeds the crinkly remainder into his machines of musical generation which treat it as a score.  Varieties of anomalous experience is the result.  The album gets angrier, noisier as it progresses.  Perhaps the perfect object is a stolen painting, wrapped in newspapers and inexpertly hidden in a dank cellar.  The bucolic scene it depicts is gradually ruined by smeared, inky images of war and disaster as newsprint is transferred to its surface by the damp.  In case you are in any doubt: I liked this very much.  The packaging is of Kev’s usual high standard: an alien greetings card wishing you an inexplicable emotion on a day from an unknown calendar or the best of luck with an incomprehensible task.  Download from hairdryer excommunication, a few physical copies still available from Ian.

RFM would also like to take this opportunity to wish Kev well with his recent move to the South West (to live in Bristol, work in Bath – la-di-da, eh?).  We were delighted to be namechecked in his ‘farewell to the North’ blog post as one of the institutions thanked for making his time in these parts such a pleasure.  Best of luck with your future endeavours, comrade – I’m sure the cidertronic and Georgian improv scenes down there will benefit enormously from your mercurial presence.

r r-s - changing a prayer a littler r-s - ovencleaner

Finally for today, another couple of selections from the Robert Ridley-Shackleton songbook.  Changing a Prayer a Little, to be released on Unverified Records, sees some syrupy, romantic film music brutally dissolved in an acidic hailstorm of electro noise fuckery.  Most entertaining.  Ovencleaner, a 3” CD-r on LF Records, comprises two tracks the first of which (the title track) is made up of whistling, groaning, stretching noises with stylophone parps.  Like a determined but confused homunculus struggling to rip through a series of taught rubber membranes and negotiate a series of sticky tunnels in order to get itself born.  The second track (‘Transformers’) is just as perplexing.  Imagine the situation described by a nonsensical objection to the theory of evolution – that, given the time span, evolution is as likely as a hurricane hitting a junkyard and constructing a working jumbo jet from the detritus – actually coming to pass.  This track is the sound of the tentative, uncomprehending switch-flicking of the junkyard owner as he explores the cockpit of his newly ‘evolved’ possession and accidentally turns on the electrics…

Robbie’s world sure be odd.

rob takes huge bite, eyes water, grins, attempts to swallow: rfm rounds ’em up

June 28, 2013 at 11:56 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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people-eaters – hinterland (3” CD-r, edition of 20, or download, Aetheric Records)

people-eaters – vore EP (download, Aetheric Records)

peopling – BULBOUT (download, self-released)

Etai Keshiki – Shit Off (download, self released)

nacht und nebel – downloads culled from five various releases

Colectivo “N” – La Ultima Tocada 06-02-2013 (download, Oracle Netlabel, ORE95)

Brian Lavelle – The Night Ocean (download, Dust, Unsettled)

The Subs(Cribers) – Spilling Gravy In The Castle Of unfathomable Terrors (tape, edition of 40, Crater Lake, CL#003)

people-eaters - hinterland

Dear reader, as a fellow music fan, I wonder if you ever feel that you have bitten off more than you can chew?  Do you stare forlornly at a pile of unheard tapes and CD-rs?  Do you scroll guiltily through the overfull menus on your mp3 player?  Do you look at your monthly credit card bill, panic that you have been the victim of some kind of fraud, then realise that all those little Paypal payments are for various microlabel whims?

Heh, heh…

It’s brilliant isn’t it?  What a privilege to have access to so much terrific art and the wonderful people that make it!  I wouldn’t have it any other way: long may I choke.  A case in point: last month through a mixture of hard work, delegation and judicious use of the words ‘no thanks’ I managed to get the review pile here at Midwich Mansions down to zero items.  Did I take the opportunity to sit on the porch and admire the rhododendron flowers?  Did I bollocks.  I touted for freebies, I drifted around Bandcamp, I even paid for a few physical objects with actual money.  Last week the right speaker of my ear buds broke and I had an infection in my left ear that made it painful to listen to music.  Time to take a break?  Not a bit of it.  I ended up ramming the still working left bud into the wrong ear so I could continue getting my groove on, albeit in discombobulating mono – *sighs, grins sheepishly* – I just can’t help myself.  The upshot of all this silliness is that the review pile is now teetering again and a round-up is in order.  I shall point you at some great stuff that can be had cheaply or for nowt and explain with brisk efficiency why you should check it out.  Links at the end.  First up…

people-eaters - hinterland

hinterland by people-eaters comprises two tracks totalling about 19 minutes and is available as a criminally limited 3″ CD-r with lovely cover by Crow versus Crow (a sort of ethereal version of the Black Flag logo), or as a download from that Bandcamp.  The main components of the music are a swell of delicately balanced feedback, some breathy electronics and a low, hissing crackle (monotron?) which sprinkles a pinch of iron filings over the mix.  It has a cool, enveloping feel – as if the frozen wastes are close, but that you are protected from them by a layer of parental skin and hair.  Thus it documents the antenatal experience of a gestating polar bear cub (now there is a pull quote for a press release if ever I saw one: “makes you feel like an ursine foetus” – radiofreemidwich).  It is also beautifully recorded and this attention to detail shows an admirable faith in their own vision.  If you are going to take the trouble to return your listener to the womb then you shouldn’t allow anything to poke the amniotic sac.

people-eaters - vore ep

The vore EP (five tracks, 21 minutes, Bandcamp download) shows a similar level of light but unswerving control.  Minimal elements – an ominous rumble, a voodoo rattle, the splintered reflections from a broken mirror – are slowly rotated to give the listener a chance to appreciate each facet, then dismissed.  There is, dare I say it, a midwichian simplicity to this release: the methods of construction are discretely hidden, the sounds trusted to engage (or not) on their own terms.  I wholeheartedly approve of this discipline and like the results very much.

peopling - bulbout

Coming at things from a different but equally satisfying direction is New York based noisester Ronnie Gonzalez who records as peopling.  His skill is in taking the tropes of power noise – gargling electronics, sulphuric vocal distortion – and by combining them judiciously with more accessible ‘musical’ elements creating something fun and life-affirming.  His latest, BULBOUT, a three track EP totalling seven minutes, has the funk – not a notion much called upon here at RFM.  Older readers may recall the mutant pop of early 90s electro-industro-punkers like Babyland (yeah, if you want ‘played once on John Peel 20 years ago’ references this blog is for you!).  Peopling is the teenage son of that sound: beaming, busting with mischievous energy and clearly spitting out his medication the second the nurse leaves the room.

Ronnie refers to BULBOUT as a ‘digital 7″ single’ which makes perfect sense to me.  One of the strengths of the Bandcamp model is that, within the prescribed site format (ugly but functional enough to be transparent), you are free to present your release how you like.  If your work is complete, coherent and self-contained then why can’t it be an ‘album’, even if it is only two minutes long?  Which brings me to…

etai keshiki - shit off

Shit Off by Etai Keshiki is a one track album totalling an epic 113 seconds and apparently named for an incidental detail in the short film My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117 by Chris Morris (click on thumbnail to enlarge).  It is hardcore fast, rhythmically elastic and very, very angry.  Imagine the camera focussed on someone drowning in a lake, screaming for help as they surface, limbs flailing in the churning froth.  Then the camera pulls back to reveal there are actually four people making exactly the same moves in unison.  This is synchronised, precision flailing.  Freely downloadable but chuck these kids some money if you can as they are always proper anarcho-punk skint.

nacht und nebel - split tape with crimewavenacht und nebel - split tape with lea cummingsnacht und nebel - hronirwasps - nacht und nebel - splitnacht und nebel - 466 days

New to me is the charming Henry Davies who took my left elbow in one hand and with the other gestured to his Bandcamp site where the lazy can find all his recordings as nacht und nebel collected in one convenient location.  I downloaded the newest five – split tape w/Crimwewave, split tape w/Lea Cummings, hrönir, split 7″ with W>A>S>P>S and 466 Days originating on various labels – which takes us from the present day back to October of last year.  Selecting ‘play all’ on my mp3 device accidentally compiled them into an impressively cohesive 11 track, 61 minute ‘album’ of short and shortish noise tracks.

Henry’s sole sound source is, apparently, a cello though there is little that sounds like a Bach concerto here.  Like Chrissie Caulfield’s violin, I suspect his instrument is filtered and processed by a daisy-chain of effects before it reaches our ears.  Most of this is fairly heavy duty electronic noise but it is far from being mere HNW.  Henry has an ear for the rhythmically mechanical and is adept at handling a rolling crescendo – a quality sorely lacking in much overly-static ‘harsh’ noise.  Thus the tracks have dynamism, momentum and are edited for impact.  The rhythmic elements clear some headspace which allows the listener to fully appreciate the atmosphere.  Thus despite being a demanding listen, the work is never wilfully bombastic or alienating.  Very much worth your while.

A word about Henry’s band name, as I was troubled by it.  Nacht and nebel (‘night and fog’) was the Nazi policy of providing no information as to the fate of those taken prisoner by the regime.  It facilitated mass murder, unimaginable horror shrouded behind mute bureaucracy.  Is there anything more nightmarish?  It is also the German title of Nuit et brouillard a profoundly harrowing short documentary film about the Holocaust released in 1955, directed by Alain Resnais.  In short: why the fuck would anyone choose this as their band name?  I put this to him and he replied:

First off, it’s emphatically not a pro-nazi thing at all.

When I started doing this (about 7 years ago, I think?) I had the idea that whatever name I chose for it should in some way reflect the fact that it isn’t obvious that all the sounds originally come from the same source (a ‘cello) – a kind of audio obscurantism, if you like. Around the same time, I happened to be reading Philip K Dick’s The Simulacra, which mentions nacht und nebel in passing, and that it translates to night and fog (but little else, as i recall), which struck me as exactly the sort of thing I had in mind. Some investigation at the library later and the awful nature of it was quite striking.

My intention with nacht und nebel musically has always been to evoke an atmosphere of dread more than anything, with suggestions of unsettling and nightmarish things going on that are being hidden from view so you can never quite make them out (seen through a glass, darkly, as it were) and that you have no control over. (Which no doubt betrays my interest in certain kinds of horror) – judging my success or otherwise at attaining such arguably highfalutin goals is no doubt best left as an exercise for the listener. But that all played into the choice of name as well in one way or another – as you say, troubling.

So yes, it’s entirely abhorrent, both for what it obscured and that it enabled ‘across-the-board, silent defiance of international treaties and conventions: one cannot apply the limits and terms of humane treatment in war if one cannot locate a victim or discern that victim’s fate.’ That said, I do find it interesting that ‘band’ names are almost always taken to be a positive thing (a kind of seal of approval) when there’s no real reason for the opposite not to be the case (i.e. the band ebola, for instance, come to mind as an example.)

I was satisfied with this (and, as an aside, that last point is an interesting one).  I suppose my worry about his use of that concept for a band name comes from growing up with industrial noise and power electronics in the 1980s and 1990s.  That scene was overflowing with idiots vying to be the most ‘shocking’ or ‘challenging’ or ‘transgressive’ and I suppose when I found out what ‘nacht and nebel’ referred to I was taken back to those tedious times.  Now I see that is not Henry’s intention at all and, whilst I am still squeamish about the use of such concepts/imagery in this context, I’m happy to acknowledge that he has at least thought this through.

OK, let’s lighten the mood.

colectivo n

Colectivo N is the improv duo of RFM regular Miguel Perez (La Mancha Del Pecado, The Skull Mask) and his compañero Picho.  La Ultima Tocada (June 2, 2013) is the document of their last gig together before Picho moved way over west to that other crazy border town Tijuana.  What we have here is a very entertaining quarter hour of Miguel jaggling the strings (yes I know jaggling isn’t a proper word but you know exactly what I mean, don’t you?) of his guitar whilst Picho wails comically and/or mournfully through a strangulated trumpet.  There are vocals: sardonic interludes and some exaggerated, grunting pastiche of lounge jazz – a bit in the first few minutes reminded me of the scat solo in the immortal ‘mnah mnah’ Muppet Show sketch.  Worth noting that this performance did not take place in the Juarez equivalent of the Fox & Newt in front of a knowing, improv-savvy audience but in a regular bar in front of bemused punters who had little idea what was occurring.  These boys have some big brass balls.  Miguel tells me that the recording cuts out before the applause because… there was no applause.  Which is both hilarious and awesome.

brian lavelle - the night ocean

After all this noisy racket my poor infected ears needed a little balm so, on a whim, I made a visit to the website of long-term friend of this blog Brian Lavelle.  Brian’s work, that is: his own recordings and those made by friends and associates released by him on his Bandcamp label Dust, Unsettled, is uniformly excellent.  To my shame, a quick search of this blog reveals that he has not been mentioned recently.  My apologies – I suspect this is because I rather take him and the quality of his offerings for granted.  Erik Satie once described selections of his own work as ‘furniture music’, meaning them to be used as background ambience, and I have to admit to treating Brian’s back catalogue as a kind of wing-backed leather armchair.  Around Midwich Mansions his music is ‘used’ – as a lullaby, a massage, an exotic holiday, a diverting puzzle – rather than ‘listened to’ as such.  Sounds like a back-handed compliment, I know, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.

Take, for example, The Night Ocean a 40 minute, single track album inspired by an atmospheric short story by H.P. Lovecraft and R.H. Barlow (a pdf version of which is thoughtfully included with the download).  It ripples in the cool offshore breeze, it shimmers with reflected moonlight (‘Yet for me there is a haunting and inscrutable glamour in all the ocean’s moods. It is in the melancholy silver foam beneath the moon’s waxen corpse…’), it fizzes as each stroke disturbs the plankton and triggers a phosphorescent display.  And that is it: no driving forward momentum, no complicated narrative, just a barely perceptible ebb and flow.  By using ‘stop’ or ‘repeat’ this track can be made to last exactly as long as you need it to.  An excellent example of the underrated sub-genre LNW (lovely noise wall).

And finally…

subs - spilling gravy j card

If the concept of ‘goodwill’ could be transformed into a band then the result would be The Subs, such is the regard with which they are held.  The doe-eyed adoration is justly deserved, however, as the duo of Markylooloo (Stoke scene veteran, paragon of virtue) and Mika (the girl who radiates sunshine) produce electro-pop perfection.  The band’s small but exquisite catalogue of songs, crafted in fits of sporadic creativity spanning two decades, is almost overwhelmingly charming.  Cute without being twee, sweet without being saccharine, daft without being stupid – it’s as groovily, refreshingly life-affirming as eating ice-lollies in the park on a warm Sunday afternoon.  Lovely.

—ooOoo—

Right then, here’s where to get all this great stuff:

people-eaters

peopling

Etai Keshiki

nacht und nebel

Colectivo “N”

Brian Lavelle

The Subs(Cribers) – Discogs listing, more info here, no word on the Crater Lake site as yet so email Pete – pete_cann@hotmail.co.uk – for ordering details.

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