dreams of fur and snow: ‘broadcast’ by daniel thomas

June 16, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Daniel Thomas – Broadcast (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CRR007, edition of 25 or download)

broadcast

[Editor’s note: a sudden and ferocious downpour of real-life has left me sodden recently and being dripping wet, stuck on the hall rug, makes it difficult to write. Now that I’ve finally managed to peel my socks off and drape ’em on the radiator, here’s a little something to keep you occupied whilst I squelch off to the bathroom and rub my baldy head with a towel. More from everyone soon.]

—ooOoo—

Noise/life juxtapositions are fun aren’t they? Earbuds snug, some ominous rumbling soundtracking your trot around the everyday. The purchase of a birthday card or a lunchtime mooch in the charity shops becomes otherworldly, post-apocalyptic. Sometimes it syncs just right and you feel like an underlying reality is being summoned to the surface, made visible.

For example, whilst listening to Daniel Thomas’s Broadcast for the umpteenth time an early morning walk to the dentist became a scene from They Live. I passed a crocodile of primary school children, all in charming fancy dress insect costumes, and felt sure that if I changed my usual specs for the sunglasses in my bag the purple skulls and ‘MARRY AND REPRODUCE‘ t-shirts of the cheerful adults accompanying them would be revealed. It’s that kind of recording.

However, despite being one of the more concrete/abstract of Dan’s releases, the buzz and crunch is surprisingly intimate and rewards careful appreciation with headphones. The composition has a lifting, enveloping, flowing quality – comforting or unnerving depending on the outside circumstances. Like drifting to sleep on crisp, freshly laundered cotton sheets only to wake later tangled and sweaty from dreams of fur and snow.

Hmmm… did I use the word ‘composition’? Fair enough, I suppose, knowing what I do about the meticulous care that goes into the construction of Dan’s music: the grain of each veneer matches perfectly, the joints are sanded, imperceptible. For those listeners not privy to the dank basement chambers of Castle Thomas, though, the working method must be a mystery. Leaving all talk of pot-twiddling and patch cables to one side, as I recommend we do, these tracks just seem to coalesce: like rain drops around dust motes.

Like galaxies.

—ooOoo—

Daniel Thomas

the 2014 zellaby awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lolz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

—ooOoo—

Radio Free Midwich presents The Zellaby Awards 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe votes for Yoni Silver:

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

Luke goes for Botanist:

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

taming power - twenty-one pieces - cover

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

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

…and when you return we can move on to…

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

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

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

Luke keeps it pithy:

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

Scott agrees:

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

daniel thomas - that which

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

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

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

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

…and now a favourite moment for the editor:

3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award

Scott goes for a far-flung ambassador:

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

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

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

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

Michael Clough - eye for detail cover

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

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

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

—ooOoo—

2. The Label of the Year Award

Joe goes for No Basement is Deep Enough:

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

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

Luke narrows it down to two:

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

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

Scott apologises:

Sorry, Matching Head again.

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

kevin sanders - ascension through apathy

The winner is hairdryer excommunication.

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

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

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

1. The Album of the Year Award

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

First to the lectern is Mighty Joe Murray:

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

faint people

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

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

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

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

3. Pascal – Nihilist Chakai House

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

4. Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget

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

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

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

Scott briefly interjects:

skullflower - draconis

Skullflower – Draconis

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

Now over to the office junior Luke:

Album of the year…

midwich - the swift cover

Midwich – The Swift

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

The rest:

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

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

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

female borstal nihl splitdear beloved henry

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

Seduced by darkness

beyond guttering arc-light –

like moths, like dead souls.

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

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

9. Helicopter Quartet – Leading Edges

helicopter quartet - leading edges

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

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

8. Sophie Cooper – Our Aquarius

sophie cooper - our aquarius

 

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

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

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

7. Stuart Chalmers – imaginary musicks vol. 1

stuart chalmers - imaginary musiks vol 1

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

6. The Skull Mask – Nocturno Mar / Sunburn

skull mask - nocturno marskull mask - sunburn

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

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

5. Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg

yol - headless chicken

From the preamble to a review by Joe:

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

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

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

spoils and relics - sins of omissionembedandthenforget

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

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

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

From Joe’s review of the latter:

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

3. Ap Martlet – Analog Computer

ap martlet - analog computer

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

2. culver – plague hand

culver - plague hand tapes

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

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

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

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

1. Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus

aqua dentata - cygnet procambarus

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

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

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

Rob Hayler, January 2015.

 

tension, balance, possibility: the thomas family’s dub variations

November 11, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Thomas Family – Dub Variations (CD, Crow Versus Crow, CVC001, edition of 100 or download)

thomas family completethomas family under constructionthomas family insert

First, the specifications:

Three seamlessly segued tracks, all around quarter of an hour long (two over, one under), released on a properly pressed CD, in an edition of 100, by Andrew Wild’s Crow Versus Crow imprint. The packaging is impressive and will be accounted for below. The brothers responsible for the content are Daniel Thomas and Dave Thomas (no relation) better known ’round these parts for their duo Hagman, for their solo recordings and for their efforts with the labels Sheepscar Light Industrial, Cherry Row and Kirkstall Dark Matter. Eyes right for links.

Second, the music:

This piece is the tension between delicate epicycles of electronic noise and the ruinous discipline needed to control the technology that produces them. It is the bead of sweat on the brow of the tightrope walker. It is a time-lapse film of dew condensing onto a cobweb. Existing as it does at the point where the needle touches red, it is saved from straying into a squall of feedback by, seemingly, sheer willpower alone. The chaps are only human though and despite (because of?) this effort artefacts still bubble to the surface. For example, around the ten minute mark a silvered ping leapt out of the dark and made me jump, like a face at the window. It is repeated, quieter, and thus possibly becomes music…

Punctuating the rumble are squeaks and trills that I assume are field recordings of avian chatter, though the context suggests poorly lubricated machinery lifting cages full of nervous workers back up a seemingly endless mineshaft. Later these squeaks become the sound of sneakers on a basketball court as two multi-limbed robots square off under gigantic air conditioning units. Each seat of the stadium is occupied by a silent mannequin, head bowed – those on the right, dressed as Dave, those on the left dressed as Dan…

…and then, sometime into the final track, there is the beat. Now, being one of the core members of the ‘extraction music’ elite (the ‘distillate’?) I was privy to an interesting peek behind the curtain. Apparently the Thomas boys had a difference of opinion about this aspect of the album: Dave thought it was unnecessary, Dan was all for it. I shall account for it thus: imagine the mannequins slowly looking up towards the end of the match. Dan’s robot is winning! The Dannequins nod in unison to express their approval whilst the disconsolate Daves shake their heads mournfully from side to side: no, no, no. In doing so the ‘crowd’ adds a percussive pattern to the remainder of the album.

In summary: this is fucking great.

Third, the package:

Quoting Andy, these CDs are

…housed in hand-stamped recycled card ‘no glue’ sleeves, with full colour 24x12cm artwork by Crow Versus Crow…

…which is a humble description of a satisfyingly tactile, beautiful object. It looks like its own future deluxe reissue – fallen to us through a space/time wormhole from an alternate reality where Dan and Dave garner mainstream worship and Pink fucking Floyd have to shoplift CD-rs to put out their shit. The guy has clearly invested a great deal of time, effort and, presumably, money into this project but, admirably, has not let his own highly developed aesthetic sensibilities overwhelm the music. Thus medium and the message are balanced and mutually enhancing.

Fourth, the conclusion:

What we have here is a foundation document, an ur text, for this year’s most talked about sub-genre ‘extraction music‘. The album was recorded way before the term became common parlance on every street corner and was released way after. Hearing it is as mysterious and exciting as finding a previously missing explanatory introduction to the Voynich Manuscript.

A truly essential purchase.

—ooOoo—

Crow Versus Crow

distillations: extraction music haiku compiled

August 20, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – “I am a moment illuminating eternity… I am affirmation… I am ecstacy.” (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 25 or download)

TST – Tsim Sha Tsui (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.026, edition of 50 or download)

Kevin Sanders – A purification of space (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

Petals – upon receiving the ultraviolet light (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Hagman – Number Mask (CD-r, LF Records, LF037)

Petals – I’ve never been very good at retorting narrative tales as I always get lost along the way. So I lie (tape, Beartown Records, edition of 33)

TST – The Spoken Truth (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Daniel Thomas – Enemy Territory (CD-r, cherry row recordings, CRR005, edition of 25 or download)

Daniel Thomas – That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades (2 x CD-r in wooden flower press, edition of 9, 2 x CD-r, edition of 39, or download, Kirkstall Dark Matter)

thomas and sanders - i am a moment

That Twitter is alright, innit? After stalling for years I finally signed up a couple of weeks ago and can be found @radiomidwich should you be inclined to go looking. Knowing that I was entering a lengthy period of hectic work activity, and that my energy levels are low, I was looking for a way of staying current that was effortless to pick up and just as easy to put down. With apologies to my regular email correspondents, Twitter fits the bill real nice. I have the odd gripe with twittery behaviour already but by and large I’ve been enjoying the shouty-pub-with-six-jukeboxes-and-four-televisions-on atmosphere and the opportunity to crack wise and arse smart. It also gave me an idea of how to scythe through a crop of review items.

Some context: the leading exponents of the sub-genre I’ve defined as ‘extraction music‘ are very busy guys indeed – check out the heaving parentheses in the following sentence. Dave Thomas (solo as ap martlet, half of Hagman, one third of TST, label boss of Kirkstall Dark Matter), Daniel Thomas (solo under his own name, the other half of Hagman, a further third of TST, as a duo with Kevin and label boss of Sheepscar Light Industrial and Cherry Row Recordings) and Kevin Sanders (solo under his own name and as petals, as a duo with Dan, the final third of TST, label boss of hairdryer excommunication) are enjoying a hit rate unrivaled since the glory days of Stock, Aitken and Waterman – the 1980s production trio they have modeled their work ethic on.

What’s a conscientious reviewer to do? Given the exacting quality control, staggering over such a fast growing body of work, the music is deserving of serious contemplation. However, who has time to write the usual 1000+ words about items arriving on a near-weekly basis? Not me. Instead I will turn (again) to haiku, a traditional variety of Japanese poetry in which the idea expressed is distilled to 17 syllables arranged in a five-seven-five formation. Thus, mental energy expended is roughly equivalent to normal but writing time is cut to the bone. It is also an eminently tweetable format – something the spirits of long-deceased masters of this most delicate and disciplined art must be thrilled by – so Twitter is where they got their initial airing.

Below is a compilation of the first nine, properly formatted and illustrated. I’m pleased with these, especially the last two, which are, I hope, impressionistic but accurate – like a portrait by Frank Auerbach. Click on the band name/album title to be taken to appropriate blog post or Bandcamp page. Amazingly, all of this can be had dirt cheap or for free. I recommend the lot very highly – there are potential Zellaby Award winners here – and also recommend you explore the catalogues of these gentlemen on either side of this snapshot.

No. 1:

Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – “I am a moment illuminating eternity… I am affirmation… I am ecstacy.”

Terminal thought of

fatally injured robot:

“my blood is on fire”

tst - tsim sha tsui

No. 2:

TST – Tsim Sha Tsui

Ornithopter flaps

above the spice refinery.

Inhale: the future!

kev sanders - a purification of space

No. 3:

Kevin Sanders – A purification of space

Yellowed grass, cut paper

– consolations of order –

cut grass, yellowed paper.

petals - upon receiving

No. 4:

Petals – upon receiving the ultraviolet light

Absenceispresent

griefcollapseswavefunction

bookmarkshakenloose

hagman - number mask

No. 5:

Hagman – Number Mask

Vignettes illustrate

fierce entropic beauty,

pebble becomes sand

petals - so i lie

No. 6:

Petals – I’ve never been very good at retorting narrative tales as I always get lost along the way. So I lie

Fine machinery

in an era of magic:

cogs versus witchcraft

tst - the spoken truth

No. 7:

TST – The Spoken Truth

Arterial pulse,

self lost to alien flow,

hive mind emerges

daniel thomas - enemy territory

No. 8:

Daniel Thomas – Enemy Territory

Adjust tracking for

artefacts of video:

hot snow, concrete blur…

daniel thomas - that which

No. 9:

Daniel Thomas – That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades

Sharp, bristled morning

through circadian filters

to uterine fug

—ooOoo—

from ibiza to samalayuca: new by midwich/the skull mask/midwich

June 11, 2014 at 11:09 am | Posted in midwich, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Midwich – Inertia Crocodile (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CRR003, edition of 50 or download)

The skull mask and Midwich – Six angles (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 25 or download)

Midwich & The Skull Mask – Six Angles (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CRR004, edition of 25 or download)

midwich - inertia crocodilesix angles - kevsix angles - dan

Returning from a refreshing break I am delighted to find the garden in full bloom.  New reviews from Joe kick a ball about whilst awaiting my editorial attention, intriguing parcels and emails squabble about whose turn it is to go to the off license and, most excitingly, two new midwich releases bask in the sunshine.

I will account for these shortly but first a brief word of thanks regarding the brunt. I self-released this half hour long, single track midwich album about a month ago via Bandcamp charging a minimum of £1 for the download.  The idea was to raise a few quid to help cover the minimal costs of this stupid hobby and, as ever, I have been touched by your generosity.  Cheers comrades.  Much to my great satisfaction, I also heard that its vibrations helped loosen a stubborn bout of writer’s block over at Idwal Fisher.  OK, on with the new stuff…

inertia crocodile was recorded at the request of Andrew Perry, noise-tigger and label boss of We’re gonna get fucking drunk tonight boys.  I was aware that Andrew has a pretty fluid notion of ‘time’, thus delay would be inevitable, but I couldn’t resist the lure of having a CD-r out on a label with that name.  Well, not at first.

There then followed a year during which I would occasionally send passive/aggressive, elbow-nudging emails trying to chivvy the dude along.  Response came there none.  I worried for his health but having been assured by a mutual friend that he was OK my uptightness got the better of me.  An ultimatum was issued.  On the due date RFM’s ninja squadron broke into Andrew’s central London penthouse, liberated the master tapes, passed them to a waiting courier and melted into the night.

Daniel Thomas of Sheepscar Light Industrial was aware of these shenanigans and had expressed an interest in releasing the album on Cherry Row Recordings, his SLI offshoot label for releases longer than 22 minutes.  Thus within what seemed like half an hour of the courier unzipping her black leather catsuit inertia crocodile was a Bandcamp sensation.

The album is unlike my more recent stuff.  It is not extraction music – not overly dronish, no field recording and the only sound source is my Roland MC-303.  I guess these three tracks comprise a sort of love letter to that increasingly worn and temperamental machine.

The title track is clattering, clockwork rave – neon stabs trip and pile up over a central throb in an atmosphere choked with dry ice.  It is a badly smeared fax of a photocopy of a fax of the type of music the 303 was designed to produce.  ‘Piped’ is one of those short, mood-puncturing bibbles that I used to insist on peppering midwich releases with.  An analog squelch is allowed to run its course through the filters and that is about it.  As satisfying as the viscous ripples formed when pouring honey onto porridge.  The main event is ‘The Sure’: fifteen minutes of juicy pulses sliding over each other in a perversely fleshy, amply lubricated manner.  It has a swaggering bounce that I hope will have you nodding your head.  Dan coined the term ‘abstract Balearic’ to describe this which is amusingly apt.  To borrow a phrase that Neil Campbell used to use to describe everything he released: ‘this is my disco album’.

No need to take my word for it though.  Another opinion can be found here, as friend of RFM Forestpunk put together a terrifically flattering account of my music (and further musings about my writing and the underground in general) within a day of the album’s release.  Much obliged to you, man.

Six Angles is a thoroughly collaborative affair involving myself and Miguel Perez (doing the music) and Daniel Thomas and Kevin Sanders (doing the releasing).  I’m very proud to be part of it.  As might be expected with a transatlantic effort like this, the process has already been documented in email correspondence, blog posts and Bandcamp blurbs so I’m going to tell the story with a bunch of quotes.  Shameless, yeah, but efficient.  To start, here’s me from an email on recording and editing the two tracks:

‘five angles’ – This is made up of five components: two guitar pieces and an organ drone by Miguel, two synth drones by me. Originally I wanted to layer these all together but it didn’t work so I have stretched them out end to end, one after the other, so now they can be examined in turn and tell a little story.

‘written in sand’ – This is the sixth angle and is made up of four components – guitar and organ drone from Miguel and two more synth drones from me. The guitar and organ are in alternate layers with a crescendo of synth running for twenty minutes underneath, everything comes together a few minutes from the end then gradually drops out. I wanted it to be an overwhelming, psychedelic alarm. It works.

Here’s Miguel expressing his satisfaction on the Oracle Netlabel blog:

This is totally special :
a) Is my first collaborative effort with my good friend Rob Hayler (Midwich) a total supporter and kick to get the name around UK
b) Is my first release to be out not in one, but TWO labels at the same time!
c) These labels are no other than Dan Thomas’ own Cherry Row Recordings that is starting to get fire with some AMAZING drones and is dedicated to more long form releases aside from his totally successful Sheepscar Light Industrial
d) The other label is Hairdryer Excommunication, providing some of the best drones of the world via Kev Sanders and his own Petals project and lately under his own name.
e) This is the return of The Skull Mask after a somewhat unwanted hiatus.
Featuring Midwich on electronics and The Skull Mask on organ and guitar work, this took LONG to be finished. It was like an idea on the air. There was a planned release with Smut (that hopefully will see the light one day) and the tracks remain unused. Some emails back and forth and the proposition was made to work with Rob Hayler. After our successful split (that you can find HERE) this is the first time we collaborate together.

He sent me the work finished and just can say that this is nothing short but AMAZING…please taste the sand and let yourself fly out there!!!!

…and now Kev on the unusual decision to release it on two labels at once, from the hairdryer excommunication blog:

This is the sort of thing that happens in the no audience underground. Rob and Miguel will offer you some material to release which is amazing. So amazing, in fact, you want to more people to share in the fun of being involved in the release and getting more people to hear it.

This being the case, who could have been more perfect than Dan over at Sheepscar Light Industrial/Cherry Row Recordings? We’ve all pretty much worked together in some way in this game o’ sound and community… it was just too good of an opportunity to miss.

Dan’s put 25 copies out through his Cherry Row Recordings imprint and hairdryer excommunication have done the same thing, with us both hosting it electronically: No modes of exclusivity here.

Yeah, there’s a charge for the physical version, but we’re doing our best to refute capital, exclusivity and all that shit. Low cost, handmade releases (£3 plus p&p) and free electronic access: You , dear participatory listeners, can’t go too far wrong  with our collective ways of organising this sort of thing, right?

In homage to the People’s Republic of DIY, the hXe physical version is adorned with a rather miserable looking Yorkshire Terrier with a crown on.

This is an international release of manipulated acoustics, synth and electronics. It is one of my favourite listens of the year and has come together in no time. Perfect stuff.

…and finally Dan explains, in an email to me, the joss paper that features in his packaging of the piece (Tatum is his Cantonese teacher):

…it’s an offering paper; something that you would burn to send good wishes etc to family, friends, ancestors etc … As expected, the text works very well: Tatum just sent me this;

“The overview of the text is “after life” (reincarnation) money; these texts were repeated several times with the five elements: Gold, wood, water, fire, earth and others such as Heaven and moon etc.”

Fits very well with the vibe and atmosphere of the pieces.

Don’t it just? In summary: Miguel sent me two lengthy improv pieces, an organ drone and a desert guitar shimmer, I edited and augmented these to create the album’s two tracks and Dan and Kev decided, in an act of mischievous, exuberant novelty, to each release half the run with two sets of entirely different packaging containing identical music. Contemplating the wonderful absurdity of all this is giving me goosebumps. As Kev says: this is the sort of thing that happens in the no audience underground. Cool, eh?

—ooOoo—

Inertia Crocodile on Cherry Row Recordings

Six angles on hairdryer excommunication

Six Angles on Cherry Row Recordings

extraction music: dave thomas, daniel thomas, kevin sanders

March 30, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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Ap-Martlet – Analog Computer (CD-r, Kirkstall Dark Matter, edition of 16)

Daniel Thomas – Codeine (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.023, edition of 50 or download)

Daniel Thomas – Revolution#21 (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CR002, or download)

Kevin Sanders – Clusters, clutter and other ephemera (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 8 or download)

Kevin Sanders – Ascension through apathy (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 9 or download)

petals – magnates agus drochthoradh (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

petals – scamaill le focail (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

ap martlet - analog computerdaniel thomas - revolution#21daniel thomas - codeinekevin sanders - clusterskevin sanders - ascension through apathypetals - magnate

There’s this type of music that I like. In fact, I think I might attempt to invent a new sub-genre to account for it.  Cool, eh?  What music obsessive doesn’t love that game? I’m going to call it extraction and here are some notes towards a definition.

Extraction music contains a large measure of drone spiced with a helping of throbbing, psychedelic noise and other ingredients I am about to list. It can be heavy, urgent and demanding but it is not, as a rule, harsh or aggressive. Instead the sound is enveloping, fluctuating – fully engaged. I’m sure the discerning listener could list influences from dub techno to austere modern composition to The Radiophonic Workshop but I’m painting with a broad brush for now and will leave the detail for future musicological arguments.

This music is created using mainly analogue electronics. The kit typically comprises vintage synths, their modern clones and homemade counterparts, other self assembled objects and daisy chains of effects pedals patched and looped through long suffering mixers. At any one time it is unlikely that all of it will be working properly.

The buzz and pulse is often accented with a mixture of ‘field’ and ‘domestic’ recordings. Birdsong adds flutter to the high end, rain a percussive patter, traffic a satisfying rumble and so on. The hum of big ticket appliances like fridges proves irresistible as does the fuzz and clatter of mechanical fixtures such as air conditioning units. Smaller one off noises, agreeable and/or attention grabbing, like the ‘tik-fwup’ of the central heating coming on, or a snatch of conversation, or the battering of a battered cymbal can be dropped in for emphasis or light relief.

It is largely built from ideas figured out during lengthy sessions of experimentation. Editorial tinkering appears minimal, keeping a ‘live’ feel to the recording, but I suspect a lot of hard work is hidden within those transitions. The build up of detail suggests much disciplined hovering over the pots and sliders of some brute electronics, tweaked to within a hair’s breadth of their tipping points. The method of construction and ‘in the room’ recording gives this music a sense of place, a geography, that much free-floating diginoise lacks. It feels grounded, located in a new but oddly familiar place that you visit and cohabit whilst listening. That maps have been used in its packaging and place names in album, label and track titles strikes me as non-coincidental.

So why ‘extraction’? Well, partly it is a tongue in cheek joke referencing the perceived source material – an untreated recording of the extractor fan in the left-hand toilet cubicle at my place of work would make a pretty solid extraction album – but it is more to do with the feeling that this music is pulled out of the kit, that it is mined from the available resources and then refined: like minerals extracted from ore or a life-saving pharmaceutical compound extracted from a rare Amazonian orchid. If this was a film it would be Upstream Color, a deliberately under-determined story of the biological, psychological and criminal processes used to extract a mysterious drug from the multi-stepped, symbiotic life-cycle of the organisms involved in its production. That this remarkable film also features sequences in which some very extractionist sound is recorded (albeit by a shady villain) and played back at enormous volume could not be more perfect.

Finally then, before we get onto some examples, I suppose you are wondering what it smells like. I’m glad you asked: hot solder, grass wet with dew, ozone and chana dall.

The leading proponents of this hot new sound that all the kids are now furiously hyping are Dave Thomas (solo as ap martlet, half of Hagman, label boss of Kirkstall Dark Matter), Daniel Thomas (solo under his own name, the other half of Hagman, as a duo with Kevin and label boss of Sheepscar Light Industrial and Cherry Row Recordings) and Kevin Sanders (solo under his own name and as petals, as a duo with Dan, label boss of hairdryer excommunication). The Thomas boys are not blood relations but there is a musketeer level of all-for-oneness in their interconnected projects. I suppose the three of them can argue as to who gets to be, err…, Dogtanian(?!).

My praise for their previous work is strewn across this blog, much of which can be used as retroactive confirmation of this sub-genre definition. Click on the tags above to investigate (go on – just to amuse me – no one ever clicks on tags). Today we are going to focus on some recent(ish) releases, all of which are freely downloadable from that Bandcamp.

Firstly, Analog Computer by Ap-Martlet. Dave handmade a tiny initial run of this which was given away to interested parties. For a while he refrained from granting it a digital afterlife but I’m delighted to announce it is now up on Bandcamp (alongside a second printing of the CD-r).  The title is perfect – it calls to mind a room-sized, valve-run difference engine humming with contented menace.  These three tracks seem less compositions than iterations of an algorithm set in motion by a wonky punchcard being slotted into the machine upside-down.  ‘Comdyna’ and ‘Thurlby’ are both rhythmic in an abstract sense – the latter being a low impact step aerobics class for retired ABC Warriors, the former an exercise in patience and discipline as a series of low-slung tones are held until they start to feedback, then released, then repeated.  The final track, ‘Heathkit’, is a coruscating, brain-scouring, fuzz-drone.  It is the kind of sound that in a workshop you would wear ear protectors to dampen but here it is presented for our contemplation and admiration.  It’s like being walked down a production line by a proud factory designer.  There is a little false ending too – a stuttering flourish following a conveyor belt jam – which made me laff.  I recommend also checking out the wonders he has hidden on Soundcloud.

There is a fun little guessing game to be played when listening to work by Daniel Thomas.  Is this a) the sound of the kit playing itself, everything plugged into everything else, as Dan sits back and enjoys a chilli buzz from his takeaway curry or b) the sound of the kit being micromanaged through a carefully orchestrated composition as Dan obsesses over every tiny transition and barely perceptible variation in nuance?  There are several terrific examples of the former on his Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages (check out this exercise in super-distilled minimalism) but the two items up for review here are firmly in the latter camp.

Codeine is stepped using a similar mechanical arpeggio to Dave’s ‘Thurlby’.  The impression is of a wind powered kinetic sculpture abandoned by its maker years ago and now almost rusted to a standstill.  There is a tragic beauty to this process, a merciful release, and, as such, the fade out – which seems preposterously long on first listen – feels more appropriate with each repeat.  Oddly moving too.

Revolution#21 is a quintessential example of extraction music and possibly my favourite of Dan’s releases, despite a back catalogue already studded with jewels.  As for what it sounds like you need only re-read my opening paragraphs adding a layer of throb to account for a young man in receipt of some new goodies from Korg.  Imagine a battalion of semi-sentient, clockwork samurai buried as grave goods in the immense tomb of a world-conquering general.  There, in the pitch black, they use their remaining energy keeping each other wound up in a final, unwinnable battle against entropy.  The nobility of it is in equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking.

Next are four pieces by Kevin Sanders but first a word about his exhausting release schedule.  He tells me that he intends to birth two new products a month for the whole of 2014.  Indeed, whilst writing this review I have heard from another label with new warez by petals for sale and had an email from Kev asking if I fancy a sneaky preview of the next batch.  The chap is unstoppable.  In order to keep up I’ve decided to treat the flow of his work as if it were a paper publication that I have subscribed to (“The Psychogeographical Journal of Musicological Interpretive Cartography- a fortnightly digest” perhaps).  I’ll devour each issue, cover to cover, as it arrives then shelve or discard it when the next number flops onto the digi-doormat.  Thus I won’t be writing thousands of words on individual releases.  As with Culver, each piece is a section of an atlas, beautiful on its own terms but part of a larger whole.  Some summaries:

The two discs by petals are dark, angry, claustrophobic affairs.  scamaill le focail (Irish for ‘clouds with words’) and magnates agus drochthoradh (‘magnates and responsibilities’) both feature scything fuzz drone akin to that found in ‘Heathkit’ but in both cases it is considerably less self-assured.  It’s as if the proud factory designer is now having second thoughts about selling his production line to those guys in the sharp leather uniforms.  Y’know – the guy in glasses with the expensive suit and the IMF logo clipboard seemed very reassuring but…  Ah, too late now!  An unsettling, dystopian vibe permeates both tracks.  There is no let up (well, there is a brief break halfway through magnates… for the ominous rumbling of distant explosions), no release – just a gradual paring away.  Moments of despair, fury are allowed to bubble to the surface only to be fished out like impurities from an otherwise pure distillate.  The heaviness is serious and brilliantly sustained.

Clusters, clutter and other ephemera by Kev under his own name is a remarkable twenty minutes leaning, as it appears to, on the human voice as its major sound source.  It starts all garage punk Ligeti – like the professorial neighbour of a rockabilly band attempting to school ’em in modernism by by playing the tough bits from the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack through the band’s own slashed practice amps.  The groans and clatters eventually take a more haunting turn suggesting the limbo inhabited by Marley’s ghost before his yuletide turn clanking chains to shit up his former business partner.  Uniquely odd.

Ascension through apathy, also as Kev, is perhaps the pick of this bunch and a beautiful example of the more organic, psychedelic side of extraction music.  The opening movement of this half hour long travelogue is bleak: starting at the rim of a still smugly smoking volcano we walk down the cooled, charcoal grey lava flows.  Nothing grows here yet, the undulations speak of unimaginable force and heat.  Yet as we approach the fertile valleys that begin in the lower slopes the music pushes its shoulders back and becomes uplifting, quietly joyous.  The latter two thirds are a serene walk through the dappled sunlight reaching the forest floor as we return to the cove where our yacht is moored.  No one in our party feels the need to speak, all are at one with each other and the surroundings.  An understanding passes amongst us: life has changed.  This caught me in a funny mood the other day and effortlessly moved me to tears.

—ooOoo—

…and that is a fine place to end for now.  Comments most welcome as are suggestions as to other recordings or artists that might fit within this ragged template.  My own The Swift is one, I think – it was certainly influenced by these fellas.  Anything else that I might dig?

Sheepscar Light Industrial

Cherry Row Recordings

hairdryer excommunication

Kirkstall Dark Matter

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…

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