woke up with a frog on my tongue: rfm on aftawerks, sophie cooper, yol, ocean floor, anla courtis, robert ridley-shackleton, the slowest lift & f.ampism

November 23, 2017 at 7:15 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Aftawerks – Isle of Dogs (Acid Waxa)

Sophie Cooper – The Curfew Tower Recordings (Crow Versus Crow Editions)

Yol –On/Off (Soundholes)

Ocean Floor – Four Shadows (Aphelion)

Anla Courtis – Concept Bongo (Coherent States)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – A Thin Slice of Sexie Funk (Cardboard Club)

The Slowest Lift – The Slowest Lift (VHF)

F.Ampism – The Unstruck Sound Centre (Ikuisuus)

 acid waxa

Aftawerks – Isle of Dogs (Acid Waxa) Sold Out Cassette and digital album

Now I may not know my 808 from my 303 but what I can tell you is that this tape is what I’ve been reaching for when I need to get shit done.

Putting the bins out?  Check.

Going to argue with the teachers at the kids open day? Check.

Completing that application for planning permission?  Check.

For each domestic stretching task I’ve found Aftawerks’ no-nonsense squelch, jaunty computerised bass and pinprick precise beats the perfect mental and physical workout.

I’m in no way qualified to review this with any sense of where it fits into things historically.  Some of it sounds like incidental music on Miami Vice, some of it sounds like the tunes kids blast at the back of the bus with extremely complicated hi-hat and clave patterns.

But whatever it is I’m bouncing and moving.

So…am I cool now?

sophie cooper solo

Sophie Cooper – The Curfew Tower Recordings (Crow Versus Crow Editions) Sold Out Cassette and digital album

How low can you go?

On this tape Sophie Cooper goes Mariana Trench deep into the wild and weird world of the orchestra’s most misunderstood instrument – the trombone.

Sophie’s ‘bone is not played for yuks.  No sir.  Her Avant Garde drone credentials are writ large on a ‘Tribute to LaMonte Young and Marian Zazeela’s OCEANS’.  But at the same time the farting bluster that comes naturally from hot brass is not shied away from.  In fact it is welcomed in a series of breathy improvisations that notch up extra points for unknown textures and intense control.

At times the brass guffs are joined with real-life human breath totally getting that ‘soft and intense’ vibe Miles perfected on Kind of Blue.  On ‘What the fuck was he thinking?’ trumps turn to growls and growls turn to gasps and I’m transported into a world of leather lungs and wax paper aioli, gently expanding and contracting – the rasping hiss as rich in life in a succulent rock pool.

Delicate sound manipulation enters the frame occasionally with ‘Push the Button’s’ double-tracked horns locking together into some hefty warble tone.  A pot is twisted and it gets fuzzier and hissier until it reaches Michio Kurihara’s mythical bliss-out proportions.

As it stands, with its site specific jams and improvisations, this tape would be a winner.  But add to this the sweet narrative charm and you’ve got a keeper, a real put-on-the-top-of-the-pile-er.

The fabled dial-a-bone sessions link recordings together and are presented unedited and raw…the phone rings, Sophie answers, she asks what kind of jam the caller wants (loud/soft, short/long) and, BBBBUUURRRRRRRRRRMMMMM, she delivers.  Classic trombone action.

Who you gonna call?

yol on off

Yol –On/Off (Soundholes) Cassette



ocean floor

Ocean Floor – Four Shadows (Aphelion) CD, Cassette and digital album

These four sublimely beautiful modular synth pieces from one Mr Aonghus Reidy simply ooze out of the speakers like a ripple of ripe camembert.

Opener ‘Airglow’ reverberates round our domestic front room with a poise that turns our little lounge into some ebony-tiled basilica.  A devastating presence wearing the monk’s cowl of humility.  ‘Shadows’ follows with gentle runs of oscillation that wouldn’t be out of place in a schools and colleges broadcast from 1983.

Things wind down a little with ‘Night’ – shimmering like moonlight on a vast lake the melody moving so slowly it almost collapses.  And things are finally put to bed (Ed – groan!) on ‘Slumber’ a real-life lullaby; in equal parts sweetness and sinister.

It’s pretty.  It’s lovely.  What’s your problem punk?

anla courtis

Anla Courtis – Concept Bongo (Coherent States) Cassette and download

Clipped and ribbed thribblings.

Yes it’s the bongo drum – beloved of the beatnik and unwelcome midnight-jammer.  But here Alan/Anla Courtis takes the hippie staple and drowns it in several pints of ‘chunng-fhhfhhung’ stretching each dull thud into a warm tropical front.  Elastic thumps collect in wildly unstable clouds; popping and clicking like plastic thunder.

Waxy rolls and smears. 

Two fifteen minute pieces focus on different approaches.  ‘Concept Bongo I’ concentrates on the short-lived resonance that exists in the negative space these drums are designed to hold.  Vibration is carefully controlled and limited to strict, neat parameters.  The tables are turned on ‘Concept Bongo II” a freer, looser jam, sloshed with reverb sounding exactly halfway between an afternoon with Steve Reich and Faust’s most blunted tapes experiments.

The sound of a million blunt fingertips gently striking pigskin. 

The palette of sounds is, understandably, quite limited to these thrilling pops and clicks but this familiarity make me smile nostalgically, like uncovering a well-earned scar when it’s warm enough to wear shorts.

Can I say Bongo Fury?  Guess I just did.

Robert Ridley

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – A Thin Slice of Sexie Funk (Cardboard Club) 3”CD-r

The Cardboard Prince is pretty much unstoppable on this brief funk workout.  I’m guessing there’s some new kit involved here as RRS sounds deep, heavier and more, well…sexie on this release.

Enough of the preamble – where’s the beef?

  • ‘Eye Just Want 2’ – Chart-ready Brit-funk with indistinct vocals (such a shame I can’t make them out) and an irrepressible squid-beat spurting electric ink.
  • ‘Dancing Under the Table’ – A classic RRS instant composition with a riff on jam sandwiches and death(e), the coiling bass line gradually tweaked till it cries Uncle.
  • ‘Cheater’ –This one is the cream of a particular creamy crop. Lyrics sound like Cheap Trick!  Lyrics sound totally RRS!!  The squelching bass line needs to be wrung out it’s so darn wet.  Many pots are twisted and drum-fills are added with wild abandon as RRS opens his heart to curse all the cheaters out there.

 slowest lift lp

The Slowest Lift – The Slowest Lift (VHF) Vinyl LP

This knock-out tag team: Sophie Cooper and Julian Bradley (AKA The Slowest Lift) find their spiritual home on veteran freek-retreat VHS for their debut long-player.

Let’s recap.  The Slowest Lift excels in duality.  Their coupling of (on one side) shocking distortion, tape noise and blistering huff with (on the other) soft slow voices and gentle unhurried compositions make the act of listening like dreaming through an electrical storm.

The prospect their heaving and groaning fuzz will descend into splintered chaos is always hinted at but generally inches back from the brink guided by a warm sonic-sirocco rebalancing the actors like perfectly carved chess pieces.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this is classy but still a psychic bruiser yeah?

Opener ‘Crystal Fracture’ re-imagines something like TOTO’s Africa decamped to the Devil’s Causeway and played by colourful walkers on sharp sticks.

I’m always intrigued by that songs-named-after-the-band/album-titles-named-after-the-band type of thing. Am I to assume that this song ‘The Slowest Lift’ is a mission statement?  A brief track to distil the essence of Cooper/Bradley? If so I can report back T.S.L. are a devastating cocktail of the fizzy and the smeared – think carbonated grease!

Strung-out lines of gruffly-tempered fluff skittering in a beam of yellow sunlight next…it’s ‘Bank Holiday Tuesday’ – a slow boil.  The birth of casserole-core if you will.  ‘Preset’ has the swagger of some undiscovered Ulver back-catalogue gem; cascades of VU-guitar strummage while Transylvanian horns duck and parry.

A lazy hiss of a harmonium fidgets with those darn tachyons shimmering in and out of phase on ‘Hi from the Skyline Swim’. The voice, relatively en clair is delivering a warning of sorts.  Watch out for the grandfather paradox perhaps?

Taking a breather I think what I like most is the unpolished air to this remarkable record.  The ever-so-slightly discernable patina of tape hiss when another instrument adds to the mix, it’s the sound of unfinished business.  ‘EV Plus’ is a great case in point – like two found recordings laid over each other.  T.S.L. make like archaeologists digging for treasure that their painstaking research assures them is just beneath their feet.

Song title of the month, ‘Extreme Cops’ is a sculpted meringue, chemically complex but light as air, ‘The Chauffer’ similarly buoyant   Compare and contrast to closer ‘Punched’.  A concrete overcoat, worn as you sink beneath the dock of the bay.

The Slowest Lift dog-ear a new chapter in ye olde booke of English free-mind collectives.



F.Ampism – The Unstruck Sound Centre (Ikuisuus) Vinyl LP

A lovingly prepared Petri dish of ripe exotic beans sprouting quivering tendrils that wrap round my pink toes.

A slushy bubbling and melting ripple permeate each of these nine itchy pieces.  Each song a study in Technicolor; detail hanging heavy with Nag Champa and waxy banana leaves.

‘The Loosest Caduceus’ shudders like muscle spasms while ‘Sand/Blood/Glass’ makes me shave my head and begin a Bic-pen trepanation.  An over-reaction from an excited listener you think?  I challenge you not to seep between these vinyl grooves in search of forbidden knowledge. Me?  I napped and woke up with a frog on my tongue.  There’s no escape from the cramps!

But lovers of gritty drama and kitchen sink realism will not be disappointed by ‘Absolute Beyond Ill’ as fucking real as ‘tripping’ down the steps of the police station.

Get merry and totally bronzed with AMPISM!   Essential.

STOP PRESS: Dwellers of Sheffield ! You can watch f.ampism and a whole host of other RFM faves LIVE on Saturday 2nd December at  Regather  57-59 Club Garden Road, Sheffield, S11 8BUThis all-dayer contains Dylan Nyoukis & Kieron Piercey, Historically Fucked, Katz Mulk, Sippy Cup, Giblet Gusset, Acrid Lactations & Joincey, Luke Poot & Duncan Harrison and some joker named Posset.  Doors open at 3.30pm and the howling starts at 4pm.  Kids welcome.  More info here.

Acid Waxa

Crow versus Crow Bandcamp


Aphelion Editions

Coherent States

Cardboard Club / Hissing Frames

VHF Records



slip away into the great digital night: the midwich review pile and nine clumsy haiku offerings

April 23, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Fells – Menhir (Self Release)

Traven – ЯTLLCTЯNCS (Aetheric Records)

Sad_Rave – Add Red (Don’t Drone Alone)

Algobabez- Burning Circuits (Fractal Meat Cuts)

Ewa Justka – Acid Smut (Fractal Meat Cuts)

Epipohra – Love Songs (Self Released)

Mattin “Songbook #6 (Munster Records/Crudités Tapes/SDZ/Insulin Addicted)

David Greenberger, Glenn Jones, Chris Corsano – An Idea in Everything (Okraïna)

Alan Courtis – Los Galpones (Fabrica Records)


Life!  It’s all a bit of a balancing act eh?

On one hand I’ve been bemoaning poor attendance at live shows.  Is a crowd of 6 people at a gig still worthy of the title ‘crowd’?   But, on the other hand the amount of downloads, tapes and CD-Rs that we in the N-AU put out seems to be increasing exponentially.

I get it.  Sometimes getting out the house can take military planning and a frugal counting of pennies.  For many of us life is a careful juggling act with work, family, artistic practice, economics, study and health just a few of the balls in the air at any one time.

Or, leaving the house could even be a very reasonable reaction to world affairs.  Things are so fucking fucked pulling the covers back over my head in the morning sometimes seems to be the only sane thing to do.

For many of us staying in results in getting more done.  There’s more time to plan/plot and record. Using free software to create, edit and distribute your work means a project can move from brain-spark to universally available download in an afternoon.  And while the N-AU has always had a prolific work-rate, releasing something every couple of months is becoming the new norm.

Hoorah and good gravy eh?

But herein lies the rub.  For the last 3 or 4 months we at RFM have been staggering under an increasingly huge listening pile – close to 150 releases.  Try as we might; the regular chipping away from us old hands and even taking on a clutch of talented and exciting new writers is not making a huge difference because each passing day adds another multi-album download or set of (generally wonderful looking) links to the pile.  And of course we’re human too and all juggle work, family, artistic practice, economics, study and health along with this extra listening and writing.

We’ve reached a point where something has to give.

So apologies to anyone who has been waiting 6 months plus for a review – it’s probably not going to happen – but I suppose you guessed that already.  We are going to keep the 50 or so recordings we have personally agreed to, but the rest of the pile will respectfully slip away into the great digital night.

Nothing happens at Midwich Towers without debate and this is not a decision that we arrived at lightly.  But it does mean we can get back to doing what we set out to do: share passionate and energetic writing about the music that matters to us as it happens.

In the meantime here’s some snatches from the notebook hoofed into a clumsy haiku format…

fells menhir

Fells – Menhir (Self Release) tape and digital album

Wonderful breathing:

Granite sighs with great effort.

A bright moon looks on


Traven – ЯTLLCTЯNCS (Aetheric Records) 3” CD-r and digital album

Spanish moss hangs low –

hissing tape, werewolf’s foul breath

no silver bullets…

sad rave

Sad_Rave – Add Red (Don’t Drone Alone) CD-r and digital album

Flickering notes from

a faithful Pisaro score.

Chat.  Sine-wave edits.


Algobabez- Burning Circuits (Fractal Meat Cuts) tape and digital album

Real-time coding act.

Beats liquefy into goo,

Brain-melt soon follows.

acid smut

Ewa Justka – Acid Smut (Fractal Meat Cuts) tape and digital album

Sid James – “Haw, Haw, Haw”

dripped with a caustic liquid.

Dancing feet scrubbed up.

epiphora 2

Epipohra – Love Songs (Self Released) non-physical release

Mashed through dark velvet.

Maybe a jealous lover

bent up your best shades?


Mattin “Songbook #6 (Munster Records/Crudités Tapes/SDZ/Insulin Addicted) 12” vinyl and digital album

Severe warp and fuxx

Genre-free rock played like jizz

Don’t resist – give in!


David Greenberger, Glenn Jones, Chris Corsano – An Idea in Everything (Okraïna) double 10” vinyl and digital album

More Duplex stories

Banjo and drum improvise

Lost wisdom and joy.

alan courtis

Alan Courtis – Los Galpones (Fabrica Records) limited edition vinyl LP and digital album

Overlook Hotel.

Evil lives in the walls here.

Guitars drive them out!

Fells Bandcamp

Aetheric Records

Don’t Drone Alone

Fractal Meat Cuts

Epiphora Soundcloud

SDZ Records

Okraina Records

Fabrica Records



Memories reworked and remembered again: Sophie Cooper on Anla Courtis and Vollar/Murray Tag Team on Culver versus Fordell Research Unit

February 6, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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anla_courtis__antofagasta_cdAnla Courtis – Antofagasta (Beartown Records) CD

I’ve wanted to listen to the music of Anla Courtis for ages after reading that big article about him in The Wire, so I was thrilled to see this new CD by him on the Midwich review pile released by Beartown Records.

And a bloody good job of it they’ve done too!

I know Beartown for their distinctively packaged tapes mostly; high contrast photography, photocopied in black and white sleeves and this packaging carries on this artistic precedent but takes it to a very pro looking level. The artwork features Courtis’ own blurry shots of scenic views, which I assume, are of the area of Argentina that the music is concerned with.

The CD comes with a sweet ‘cut out and keep’ style individual photograph and a nice reworking of one of Courtis’ images treated with the Beartown technique. Really great work, I’m surprised they only printed 50 of these but anyway…

The music contained within this lovely packaging has been created using Courtis’ cassette-made field recordings dating back to 1998. According to the sleevenotes these were then sat on for almost 10 years, made into something else, and then were left for almost another 10 years until Beartown released them.  Lucky for us that they did.

Recorded in an area of Argentina called Antofagasta these 4 long tracks depict intricate and meditative recollections of place. I was thinking it must be really interesting to come back to recordings made of a place so long after the event and then try to rework them into something totally different.  For me, sound evokes memory.  If anything is going to transport you back it’ll be a sound (or a smell, I’ve experienced this once or twice) and I wondered how much of the original trip Courtis would have actually remembered aside from what he heard on these tapes.

After such a long time does memory have anything to do with it anymore?   Can the sound just be treated as what it is, a sound, or would the memories come rushing back and be important enough again to inform the piece? The track titles are named after the area, 1, 2, 3 and 4 .  Are we to imagine Antofagasta based on this music?

Don’t get me wrong though, these are not postcards, nor are they straight-up field recordings. Interesting elements of the recordings have been weeded out, changed and manipulated into retellings of events. On the 4th track Courtis has utilised every field recordist’s nightmare, wind, and transformed it into a whirling sound tornado, a windy nightmare!

It’s not all nightmarish however, scraps and pulls of objects layered up and played back repeatedly form lush sonic dreams, track 3, in particular, is beautiful.  From an outsider’s perspective, the 1st track is the one most likely recognised as an original event. You can make out man made noises: vehicle sounds, revs of engines and distant voices.

As the CD progresses it feels as through you slowly lose a sense of reality as those first recordings become more fragmented and obscure.

Memories reworked and remembered again.


Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U (Know Your Enemy) Limited edition cassette and Bandcamp Download

My Word!  This collaboration tape from Edinburgh’s Fordell Research Unit messing freely with and augmenting Gateshead’s Culver was always going to be a heavy example of neat sarcophagus music – but I wasn’t expecting 4AD-levels of such beautiful fullness.

It is not the first time that Culver and Fordell Research Unit have joined forces; indeed Fraser Burnett (FRU) has made no secret of his admiration of the deep influence that Culver has played in his own music. As someone who has followed both acts for some time now I would propose that this is (if it ever was) not an unequal balance, Lee is no longer sensei to Frasers clumsy roundhouses, more of an equal partner who can stand back, solemnly running his fingers through his beard as Fraser executes an impeccable routine of high kicks, deadly punches and overall karate Zen whilst illuminated in the copper glow of a setting sun.

Fraser is joined on this project by sometime member Grant Smith, another Edinburgh gonk serving times in Muscletusk (Yeah!) and Shareholder (Hell Yeah!). It has been told that the two pored over the encrypted texts from the North East whilst enshrouded in intoxicating vapours, being sure to keep their chalices full at all times.

And so as the mission was passed onto Fraser so must it now be passed onto Grant if he is ever to grasp the weight of this devotional music. Whether in collaboration with Fraser or by himself; what we hear is Fraser standing back in admiration as the young Jedi levitates a series of metal bowls and discs in a room of deep red velvet amidst shrouds of sandalwood incense.

Sowatchyahearin’  ‘Torch Needles’ is a ripe fig glistening with fragrant, sticky juice // OR // It’s the silvery snakes in Donny Darko plunging through an eggy Turner painting.  With a slow rudeness they show off their blubbery muscles.  What we left with?  A very flexible riot!

‘Weak Will’ and ‘What Does She Watch?’ are touched by a delicate vapour trail petrified then doused in dark glitter. Light is reflected back for sure but at eccentric, unnatural angles illuminating the dusty corners and forgotten stairwells of a cross channel ferry: a periphery of sound construction as dangerous and inviting as the below deck engineering.

The grim maritime theme continues in ‘Telepathic Torture’.  A creaking nameless ship cuts through a freezing fog, as vile oily water laps mockingly at the crumbled veneer of the battered vessel. What remains of the crew stare with haunted and stricken eyes. They are little more than walking carcasses starved and half mad from many sea-bound days of cold misery. As the yellow acrid fog starts to part they see land in the distance, strange and unfamiliar but land none the less, perhaps it is here that the crew will find salvation though they know not where they are and how they came to be there…

Yikes!  My first ever drone raga is revealed in the backwards-metallic-skullfuck of ‘Shark’.  Those bass-clouds are looming, heavy and pregnant and once again the epithet ‘devotional’ stands out clearly.  A submission to the one true god of drone!

But the enveloping hiss of ‘Head Serpent’ is a gentle closer.  Soft tape micro-scribbles pepper and voosh about the place; presently an aching tone is gingerly inserted like a steel cannula until, in the dying seconds, it’s rudely wrenched out and the claret starts to drip, drip, drip.

A wise man once said,

“To understand the sounds that nourish the mind is to study the true path, to know truly what it is that you need, and what you don’t need, and to shed off the layers that weigh you down.”

Nuff said.


Beartown Records

Know Your Enemy


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