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

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

Jasmine Guffond / Plurals – Live Split (Beartown Records)

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Dematerialised Landowning (Swollen Beam)

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Early Protection (Swollen Beam)

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

 Plurals ATLANTIK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strongly recommended for all endurance bliss-listeners!

jasmine

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hellish document for future dreamers.

shapless landowning

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

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

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

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

Shapeless early protection

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

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

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

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

shapeless shapeless

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

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

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

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

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

Damn essential.

 

Silken Tofu

Beartown Records

Swollen Beam Discogs / Bandcamp

-ooOOoo-

the 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.

Vile PlumageBlack Tar Jenny (No Label) – Scum froth and gutter glitter.

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 three: further soundtracks for graded tasks

December 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – Four More Cosmic Jams from Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CRR001, edition of 50 or download)

Xazzaz – Kin (CD-r, Molotov, 23)
Xazzaz – Untitled (CD-r, Molotov, 20)

Crowhurst – Memory / Loss (self-released download)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – The Butterfly Farm (C30 tape, Beartown Records, edition of 31)

cosmic jams

We’re all huge Tour de France fans here, right?  Good.  Then you’ll share my excitement in watching the build up to a sprint finish at the end of a flat stage.  With about five kilometres to go the teams of the star sprinters pull into formation and chains of identically jerseyed links draw the peloton forward, protecting and positioning their man, reeling in any group of breakaway riders with a heartless, machine-like efficiency.  Under the flamme rouge (a red flag indicating one kilometre to go) and the tactical jockeying is largely complete.  Now it is a matter of timing and anticipation.  A train of the strongest, fastest riders sacrifice themselves one at a time to maintain a superhuman pace for their potential stage winner until, with the line in sight, the last peels away and the bullet is fired from his slipstream.  Bikes are thrown from side to side as pedals are mashed and a day-long, hundred kilometre race is boiled down to 100 metres of pure athleticism, competition in its most distilled form.  In terms of tactical teamwork, heroic sacrifice and sheer fucking muscle it is, in my humble but correct opinion, the most exhilarating spectacle in sport.  I’m embarrassed to admit how much it moves me.

Now imagine this glorious sight utterly perverted and ruined.  The frontrunners are clearly drugged, hunched, steroid-addled monsters, barely recognizable as human, slobbering and growling as they approach the finish line at speeds no earthly creature could match.  No one is watching but me, appalled, no one cares any more.  The lead out train of two riders protect their sprinter by kicking over competitors to cause pile-ups as they pass.  “Three months of viruses” finally peels out leaving “Utter self-hatred” as the trigger man who launches “Bottomless depression” to thrash for the finishing line.

When this analogy for my current mental predicament occurred to me it struck me as powerful and telling (if a bit overwrought perhaps).  It does feel like Team Depression have been preparing for the attack of their star performer, and that preparation has been ruthless and unstoppable.  Over the last couple of years I have been starting to understand my relationship to the illness in terms of a fight, a confrontation, a war of attrition, an ebb and flow of insurgency and counter-insurgency, a Spy vs. Spy cartoon etc.  Thus this cycling analogy, in which I just look on helplessly, is a disappointing throwback to a more passive time when I thought all I could do was batten down the hatches.  I daren’t even think about what ‘the finish line’ might symbolise.

Whoo boy.  Suffice to say: I am down in it this week.

Thus my abilities to both complete graded tasks and think to some purpose have been cruelly curtailed.  However, I’d still like to get some reviews down, for morale purposes if nothing else.  For what it is worth, the stuff you have all sent me has been of incredible help during what continues to be a very difficult time.

—ooOoo—

Firstly, then, I bring you glad tidings of great joy for, lo, a new Leeds-based microlabel is born!  Yes, Cherry Row Recordings has been created by a moonlighting Daniel Thomas as a home for releases too long to be comfortably housed on 3″ CD-r – the format of choice in his day-job at Sheepscar Light Industrial.  The inaugural release is… well, the title is self-explanatory but it may be worth spending a moment defining what Dan and Kev (of Petals and hairdryer excommunication renown) mean by ‘cosmic’ here.  We aren’t talking long hair and body paint, nor is this retro-futuro-utopio-dystopio Krautrockish cosmicheness.  Rather, this is ‘cosmic’ in the existential sense Lovecraft uses it – to refer to an unfathomable and indifferent universe.  This is like exploring some suspiciously intact Cyclopean ‘ruins’ armed with only a guttering flash-light, a clenched jaw and a profound sense of foreboding.  The angles are all wrong.  The birdsong that appears at the end of ‘three’ and reappears in ‘four’ is a cruel joke, a last gasp of fresh air before a gnarled claw draws you back into the throbbing occult machinery of the ritual.  This is, as Nietzsche might put it, some heavy shit, bro’: stare into this and it stares right back, unblinking.  Really terrific and a superb way to kick off the label.

xazzaz - kinxazzaz - 'untitled' molotov 20

With a lack of fanfare typical of his brethren in the North East scene, Mike Simpson of Molotov Records is quietly producing the finest in ego-shredding, guitar-led noise.  The two releases above by Xazzaz, his (mainly?) solo project are not so much attention-grabbing as everything-else-obliterating.  For example, I tried to listen to Kin again as I wrote the preamble to this piece but had to turn it off after a few minutes because 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.

crowhurst - memory-loss

Here’s another release I have been sleeping on unfairly.  Crowhurst (which I dearly hope is named for Donald Crowhurst, subject of my all-time favourite non-fiction book The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall) is American artist Jay Gambit.  Notably, this six track album downloadable from Bandcamp, has been stitched together by him using contributions from no less than 24 collaborators.  This approach – lone mad scientist assembles monster from numerous sources – is not unprecedented (indeed I was among 27 credited on the Birchville Cat Motel album With Maples Ablaze.  Beat that!) but is very unusual and deserves high praise for its ambition.

Presumably those invited to submit were given a remit because this does not feel like a collage.  A consistent mood is maintained throughout via a magnificent feat of editing.  Jay has realised a clear-headed and focussed vision: this reads as a six part meditation on the finality of death and the shadowy impermanence of everything else.  That the final track in this sequence is called ‘No Visitors’ could not be more perfect.

The noise here is mainly electronic, deep-set and, as you’d expect given the source material, multi-layered, but room is left in which to think.  Even in the roar the surprise augmentations – a slow piano line, the trilling of a robotic aviary simulation – tint the vibe like a beam from a lighthouse outlining treacherous rocks at the mouth of a bay.

I realise that I am making this sound bleak, which it is, but it is also compelling.  “I wonder if I like this?” I thought as I pressed play for the eighth or ninth time, my actions answering my own question…

r r-s - butterfly farm

…and finally, as has become the custom in these pieces, a selection from Robert Ridley-Shackleton.  This will be the last of his work that I mention this year because, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.  The Butterfly Farm (a C30 tape available from Beartown) is, I reckon, my favourite of the innumerable RR-S releases I’ve heard so far.  On first listen with notebook in hand I managed to write down two words: ‘motherfucked pop’ and many repeats later I’m not sure I can improve on that.

It sounds like nothing else: ultra lo-fi clatter-pop, largely indecipherable lyrics sung with the lip curl of a fourteen year old Elvis impersonator through Suicide’s echo pedal. ‘La, la, la’s gargled into whatever recording device is to hand then looped – that’s your backing track.  It’s like a mongrel pup produced by the unlikely union of two wildly different breeds of dog.  Fuck knows the mechanics of it but the odd shaped yappy offspring is cute as all hell…

artifacts of the no-audience underground: the rest of aqua dentata

October 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Aqua Dentata – Seventh Past The Umbrella (C35 cassette, Beartown Records, BTR029)

Aqua Dentata – Lesbian Semiotics at a Jewellery Table (CD-r, Echo Tango, etc01)

Well, hasn’t this lad made a good impression?  Since Eddie Nuttall came to my attention via a charming email and the gift of his remarkable album March Hare Kraken Mare I’ve seen write-ups in other journals of record, including RFM’s sister publication Idwal Fisher, I’ve marvelled at the marvellous A Staircase Missing on Sheepscar Light Industrial, and even had the pleasure of his company over dinner when he and Paul ‘BBBlood’ Watson trekked up from that London to administer two of the sharpest live sets I’ve seen this year.  Eddie’s performance was a masterclass in control; a lesson in fire-walking for those more delicate artists who struggle with the hubbub of a traditional gig venue.  Hypnotize the audience with something as good as this and they simply have no choice but to shut the fuck up.

Aqua Dentata’s body of recorded work is still small enough to cradle whilst cooing at its perfection.  Each release is ‘of a piece’ with the others as Eddie works through the implications and nuances of a disciplined, minimal aesthetic.  Anyone who has read my many worshipful posts regarding Culver will sense me nodding in approval at this approach.  Complaints that ‘it all sounds the same’ are for the barbarous and uncouth.  Four releases are listed on the Aqua Dentata website: the two aforementioned and the two I am about to discuss.

The recording of Seventh Past the Umbrella is dated to 2001 which makes it a fascinating developmental step towards Eddie’s current activity.  Why the decade long break in between this recording and the recent releases?  I’m intrigued.  Anyway, the aesthetic ‘vibe’ is already in place but, as you might expect from a first attempt, the sound is rawer, less cut.

What you get are two side long fuzz/drone pieces multi-layered from tooth-loosening top-end to slack-flapping rumble.  These elements slide over each other with the firm grace of a Turkish masseuse kneading a sumo wrestler’s back.  This is fleshy, satisfying fare: quivering in its own jelly, glistening with delicious juices.  Or if the metaphors are getting too meaty for you (and I am being deliberately naughty here ‘cos I know Eddie is vegan) how about this?  It is the sound of the thoughts of a super-organism, expressed by the beating wings and chittering mandibles of the millions of pseudo-individuals that make up the colony.

Lesbian Semiotics at a Jewellery Table (some kind of gender politics set-to at a craft fair?  I daren’t even ask), recorded last year and released on Eddie’s own Echo Tango imprint, is fashioned from the same material as March Hare Kraken Mare and A Staircase Missing.  That is: another recording documenting the sounds emanating from the central chamber of some occult power station.  In this vast room energy is produced by giant metal discs sliding over each other lubricated solely by their own sheen, or occasionally with a dab of fragrant, grainy, wax-like grease.  It is multistable: both calming and unnerving at the same time.  Quietly magnificent.

Remarkably, at the time of writing it appears that all four items in the Aqua Dentata catalogue are still available for sale – though budding completists should note: not in great quantities.  You’ll need to scamper over to the releases page of the Aqua Dentata website where you can buy Lesbian Semiotics… direct from Eddie and follow the links there to Beartown Records and Sheepscar Light Industrial for the rest.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: petals and hairdryer excommunication

February 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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  • petals – (Aversion to) The Tempest (hairdryer excommunication)
  • petals – blacker curtains (hairdryer excommunication)
  • petals – My waste (hairdryer excommunication)
  • petals – The reading of contracts (hairdryer excommunication)
  • PETALS/KODIAK GOLD/SLUMP – TUFT ANG POST-MEREDITH (hairdryer excommunication/beartown)

I may have mentioned that I played a gig recently.  And that it snowed.  And thus the names of those attending were inked forever more into the book of the righteous.  Amongst those hallowed souls is the charming Kevin Sanders, known to me via his recordings as petals (or ‘PETALS’ or ‘Petals’, depending on lexicographical bent) and for the main outlet of those recordings: hairdryer excommunication.  On the evening in question, he took the trouble to introduce himself and gave me the releases pictured above.  S’all about the gift economy down here in the no-audience underground and he had a bulging sack of goodies to bestow.

Inspired by his generosity, I visited his blog.  This is relatively serious stuff – the chap has obviously given some thought to his endeavour.  Check this out:

With information becoming an increasingly politicised engagement, and with the abuse, misuse and ‘relational’ use of it as both a noun and as a form of political currency, hairdryer excommunication endeavours to interact, collaborate and share knowledge, art and opinion with a collectivist methodology to provide a forum for information to flow and for the production of a nascent dialogue.

Blimey, eh?  Now, I wouldn’t/couldn’t dare to accuse anyone of pretentiousness (moi?) but I have to admit that, as a former philosophy student and current philosophy apostate, anything that smacks of ‘theory’ brings me out in a lumpy, purple rash.  Still, there is plenty of humour, self-deprecation and obviously heartfelt enthusiasm there too so I’m tempted to disrespectfully scrape off the academic veneer with my fingernail and just enjoy the mess underneath.

The tapes are noise of the more balls-out variety.  Not ‘harsh’, by any means (although my definition of the word is hardening a bit), but certainly not coolly meditative either.  I’ll let Kev describe The reading of contracts (C36), again from the blog:

Two side-length tracks of rattling metals, cassette loops, scorched reed organ, oral glut and analogue electronics, all bleaching the tape at full volume.

…and I’m not sure I can better the write-up on the Beartown Records site for the Petals/Kodiak Gold/Slump collaboration (C24, edition of 40):

TUFT ANG POST-MEREDITH is a mail collaboration from three label stalwarts. The harsh hysteria of PETALS, the inquisitive improvisational bass-guitar chatter of KODIAK GOLD, and the gentle hum and hiss of SLUMP’s cracked consumer electronics, all converge in 24 minutes of blind panic, directionless non-music, and rumbling spazz-clatter.

Heh, heh – ‘directionless non-music’ is a great phrase, made even better because in context this is supposed to be a good thing (which it is, of course). 

The three 3″ CD-rs are more my bag.  In fact, I have been quietly fascinated by these and have found myself returning to them over and over again.  All are, in essence, drone pieces but each is augmented with colour taken from a wide ranging but sparingly used sound palette.  Field recordings, ghostly instrumentation, what may be speech in slo-mo, various clatterings, feedback and pure-tone bass all conspire successfully to net your attention and, when you are rapt, whisper a brief but compelling description of another world.  They have the pace and feel of the meticulous collage that Andy Robinson of Striate Cortex likes to release.  Regular readers should know that is high praise from me.  I urge you, most vigorously, to check this stuff out.

For downloads and/or physical objects visit hairdryer excommunication here.

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