the 2016 zellaby awards

January 27, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Posted in blog info, musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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zellaby award envelope

Ugh, those canapés must be really stale by now…

…I murmur, lying spread-eagled on the floor of the ballroom in Midwich Mansions.  I look up at the tragically withered balloons, still held by the net hung from the chandeliers.  I idly pick at the broken glass within reach and wonder if dry-cleaning can remove blood stains.  The banging and rattling of the locked double doors has stopped, mercifully, as the neglected guests have given up and gone home (although I suspect a few recorded the racket and I’ll be invited to download versions from Bandcamp soon enough).  When my beautiful Turkish servant boy climbed in a window left ajar and tried to rouse me I ordered him to flog himself for his insolence – I was too full of ennui and despair to raise the rod myself.  A wave of nausea washes over me again as I think back to the utterly foolish reason for this gathering:

Who on Earth would want to celebrate 2016?

Last year was a time when everything from the largest of world situations (American Election, Syria, Brexit, Climate Change) to the tiniest, most personal events (a red spot on the tip of my nose became a cancer scare) seemed unrelentingly hostile.  People important to me died including my Nan, my last remaining grandparent, aged 94.  People important to all of us died.  An anonymous tweet drifted past:

We cry when famous people die not because we knew them but because they helped us know ourselves.

…which I dismissed as trite, then was forced to concede the truth of it when I found myself reduced to a heaving, tear-drenched wretch by a pop song on the radio.  There is more, a lot more – life has been tiring and complicated – but it’s stuff that even a hopelessly indiscreet blabbermouth like me recognises would be unwise to talk about in public.

What about music and this blog?  In many ways it was a gala, firecracking year for the ideas behind this endeavour.  Some examples: the notion of the ‘no-audience underground’ was the subject of a paper by Susan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Arnot (cultural heavyweights best known round these parts as Acrid Lactations) at a conference at Goldsmiths and was mentioned by conference organiser Stephen Graham in his book about underground music, my writing provided some context and inspiration for the Extraction Music all-dayer in Cardiff, organised by Ian Watson, which raised a grand for refugee charities, I was name-checked in the TUSK festival programme (more on that later) and interviewed at that event by Paul Margree for his We Need No Swords podcast.  I could go on.  All very flattering and inspiring, but much of my own writing from 2016 begins with an apology or contains a paragraph admitting I’ve been having trouble keeping up, maintaining enthusiasm.

I’ve been in denial about how burnt out I’ve been feeling and unrealistic about how much time I could commit due to work and, more importantly, family having to come first.  Things need to change, at least temporarily.  I’ll come back to this at the end of the post…

…because now, my reverie has been interrupted by a rustling noise!  I turn to see Joe ‘Posset’ Murray, chief staff writer here at RFM, crawling towards me.  I’m amazed that he still looks so sharp in his borrowed tuxedo despite his injuries.  He slumps nearby clutching a handful of papers.

End of year pieces from everyone, boss…

…he whispers and passes them over before collapsing.  Ah, excellent, I think – just the tonic!  Let’s see what my RFM comrades have to say about it.

[Editor’s note: due to the weirdness of 2016, and a desire to shake things up a bit, I’ve abandoned the usual categories of the Zellaby Awards and allowed my contributors free reign.  I’ve also cut down the number of links, tags and illustrations included to streamline matters – just keep your preferred search engine open in a nearby window.  There will still be an album of the year though, so don’t fret.]


Firstly, RFM’s new recruit Joe Henderson takes the opportunity to introduce herself:


Hi, I’m new here and quite discerning with music and also a bit stingy with writing about music. Nevertheless, I’m writing this sat next to a set of homing pigeons who have just given birth to a pair of tiny weirdo’s on New Year’s Eve. The father, Moriarty, has taken over parental duties now. This set of birds were ‘rescued’ from Birling Gap having failed their mission. Homing birds are supposed to fly somewhere. These birds ain’t going no-where and correct me if I’m wrong, but are we not also foreseeing the long-term preparations for the death of The Queen? It’s been a strange year…

In the blurred Hyperreality of 2017, where Halloween is celebrated three days before the fact – in this post-truth-information-environment, people have been watching David Attenborough’s final rainforest. Well, seems like here’s some of the creatures and microcosms that were found, discovered and captured…

The Balustrade Ensemble – Capsules (Ominous Recordings, 2007)

Jessy Lanza – Pull my hair back (Hyperdub, 2013)

Dangerous Visions radio series (BBC Radio4, 2016)

Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones Records, 2015)

Pimsleur’s audio language lessons (German, Polish & Norwegian)

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2016)

The Chris Morris Music Show (BBC Radio One, 1994)

6Music & Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service (NOW) 

Time just doesn’t count anymore. It doesn’t. I doubt any of this could be pigeonholed as ‘no audience underground’. But none of this matters anymore, and you all know it. You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted. It’s 2017, and it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s gonna be a long come down, like George Michael’s ‘Faster Love’ playing whilst more than a hundred divers scour the sea. Crews of immunity-freaks lumbering thru the Waste-Waters of Brighton. Across the ocean an assassin throws down his hand of cards as the world is watching. That Christmas trucker sounds like sleigh-bells. Or an Air-raid siren. Pulsing. It’s missing airman hums ‘The Missing Persons Boogie’ in a cul-de-sac. In the Upside-Down land. Miles away from Brian Eno’s caste system, attached to the moon. With a Selfie-stick. Low down and shifty. Only those with energy begin to reclaim The Playground. And cordon it off. And pave over it. Eno still stumbling flamboyantly thru the withered fronds of his iEgo. Framed by the Sistine Chapel recreated in an Old Woman’s second bathroom.

“In this post-truth-information-environment” – do you know what we look like? From a distance, it looks like we have lost control, and are swaying almost like dancing to it all…

Blimey, eh?  “You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted.”  Brilliant.  Quite some calling card.  I shall look forward to her future contributions with great interest. 


Next up, marlo de lara reminds us that the more personal it is, the more political it is:

as previously noted by my rfm family, 2016 was a doozy, a head spin, and a heartache.  so without further ado, my 2016 moments of note:

1. death of heroes

there has already been a ton of writing about this and a lot of needless controversy over the mourning of musicians.  to me, role models and inspiration are hard to come by and even harder to preserve as we watch these humans be human.  prince and pauline olivieros were both highly influential in my life.  prince’s ongoing, groundbreaking lived fusion of musical genres and his highly charged expression of androgyny and sexual desire was always intoxicating, all while self-identifying as a black musician.  totally inspiring for me as a marginalized musician growing up in racialized america.  pauline olivieros pushed me to reassess what I defined as sound, sound making, and intention.  my spirituality and the ability to breathe through the making of music is completely attributed to this amazing woman.  thank you for the inspiration.

2. ghost ship tragedy

despite living across an ocean from the noise family that helped me develop my sounds, i am constantly aware of the ongoing community struggles of those artists/musicians/promoters/supporters whose events and festivals create solidarity.  on december 2nd, the oakland diy live/art space ghost ship went ablaze, killing 36 people. well-loved individuals who made, created, and supported the scene.  as the noise community wept at the loss of our kin, america attacked warehouse/diy venues with a crackdown based on ‘safety’ whilst never addressing the underlying issue that those artists/musicians tolerate living spaces/venues like these because as a society we do not prioritize living wages and conditions for musicians to thrive.  so we endure, infiltrate society and emotionally thrive despite the lack of funds.

on a personal note I want to mention joey casio and jsun adrian mccarty, both of whom were deeply loved in my community for their music and their spirit.  joey casio was a mainstay of the pacific northwest electronic/weird music scene and i have always had a fondness for jsun’s art/music, particularly the live performance noise project styrofoam sanchez.  i wish i had gotten to know joey since he was so well spoken of and jsun’s kind smile at noise festivals is deeply missed.  love and respect always.


3. #pizzagate

the absurdity of politics reached an all-time high with the nonsense my dear friend arrington de dionyso (of malaikat dan singa and old time relijun) had to endure due to a mural he painted in a dc pizza parlour.  his aesthetic and artistic style were misconstrued while he and his family were targeted by clinton conspiracy theorists and trump supporting nobheads.  arrington survived by painting and creating sounds.  but let’s all have a think about the ramifications of art and the volatile, inflammatory, conservative hot mess that we could all be victim too.  arrington, you are a champion for dealing with it and blessings to you always.

stay awake. stay aware. make noise. xo, marlo


Luke Vollar now joins us via the open window to bellow about the stuff he likes:


Here is my end of year list, sticking only to what was released this year – mostly ‘no audience’ with a couple of ‘some audience’ releases thrown in and in no particular order.  The low lights of 2016 were fairly obvious: the rise of the idiots and global face palm moments reaching new levels of guuh?!  On a personal note I’ve been through some ghastly work related gubbins so I’m hoping 2017 picks up considerably.  Music, as always, has offered a soothing balm and kept me (nearly) sane so here we go peeps I’ve probably forgotten some glaringly obvious choices as I often do. Such is the life of the discaholik.

Wormrot – Voices

Dead In The Dirt – The Blind Hole

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Lovely Honkey – Completely Wastes Your Time

Dylan Nyoukis & Friends – Mind Yon Time?

Shurayuki-Hime – In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun

Pudern & Vomir – Split

Error Massage – Rooby

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave

Moon – Diseasing Rock Who

F. Ampism – The Resolution Phase

Posset – Cooperation Makes Us Wise

Posset – The Gratitude Vest

Stuart Chalmers and yol – Junk Seance

Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks vol. 5

Stuart Chalmers – In the Heart of the Wilderness

Usurper – The Big Five

Culver / Fordell Research Unit – Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U.

Clive Henry – Hymns

The Skull Mask – Walls of Convenience

Triple Heater – Aurochs

The Custodians – Moribund Mules and Musket Fire

Yume Hayashi – What The Summer Rain Knows

My highlight of the year was watching Ashtray Navigations support Dinosaur Jr.



Next, Chrissie Caulfield with the trademark thoughtful enthusiasm that always has me clicking through:


I’m quite glad that Rob decided to let us do a general review of the year rather than try and nominate several releases for awards. Looking back, I seem to have reviewed only three albums this year which would have made it merely a rehash of what I have already done. Sorry Rob. In my defence, I’ve had a busy year with gigs and filmmaking and several other things. Some of the gigs even had audiences, though they were usually the ones organised by other people, naturally. More on that later.

Of the three albums I reviewed it’s hard to pick a favourite because they were all quite different, and excellent in their own ways. But if pushed (and I was pushed, if only by myself, just now) I’d have to nominate Furchick’s “Trouble With a Capital T”. Its sheer joy and inventiveness, and joy of inventiveness is infectious and inspiring. If ever anyone wanted a masterclass on making music with found and/or mutilated objects, this was it.

My most memorable event of this year was a gig I played at, though that part is incidental, in Oxford. It was one of those authentic ‘no-audience underground’ gigs where the artists and their entourage outnumbered the paying audience by quite a large ratio. In fact the only paying audience was a relative of one of the artists and someone who rolled in off the streets half way through (He probably didn’t literally ‘roll in’ you understand, the street was cobbled, so that would be very uncomfortable). This lack of attendance was a huge shame because the gig itself featured two awesome acts – as well as ourselves, obviously. The great Lawrence Casserley was always expected to put on a fabulous show (in this instance with Martin Hackett) and certainly did so, but the act I got via the female:pressure mailing list exceeded expectations in a big way and I felt awful for not having delivered them an audience. TEARS|OV, led by Lori.E. Allen put on a great show of samples, synths and live played and sampled instruments that was just glorious, and I’m happy that at least I got to film it, even though I only had one decent camera and zero decent tripods with me. As almost nobody got to that gig I feel almost duty-bound to try and get as many people as possible to watch the video. You won’t regret it, it’s here.

Another special gig for me was also one I played at – and the fact that I did so was crucial to my understanding of what happened. This was “A Working Day of Drone”, put on by Dave Procter,  eight hours of overlapping drone performances. I’ve never regarded myself as much of a drone fan to be honest but this event was a real eye opener. I think a lot (though not all, of course) of the drone acts I had seen in the past were of the ‘I’ve got some gear and it makes some noise’ type which, as a musician with years of practice and training, I find uninspiring and lacking in effort. Put like that it was odd, I suppose, for me to accept an offer to play at a long drone gig … but I did because I like to try new things and to challenge my own preconceptions.

And those preconceptions were not just challenged. They had a calfskin leather glove slapped in their face and a large sword whisked terrifyingly close to their ear by Cyrano de Bergerac himself. Those preconceptions are now lying sliced, diced and blood-soaked over a, slightly grubby, drain in LS2, just down the road from Shawarma. What I experienced that day was, for the most part, a lot of very high quality artistry and discipline and, yes, musicianship. There were guitarists, multi-instrumentalists, vocalists and laptop players with expertise, patience and discipline. And discipline is the word I really took away from that gig which is why I have already used it three times in this paragraph and will say it again it now in an attempt to make sure that Rob doesn’t sub-edit it out [Editor’s note: Why would I?  Couldn’t agree more!]. Discipline, discipline, discipline. Playing for a whole hour while keeping the sense of a ‘drone’ requires intense concentration and a lot of improvisational forward planning that, to be honest, I felt inadequately prepared for when playing my set. For drone music as good as I heard that day, I am a convert.

And finally, my favourite thing of the year – which is something I invented though I take no credit for it – is Feminatronic Friday. On a Friday afternoon when I’m winding down from a busy week at work and want some new music to surprise, tickle and sometimes assault my ears, I point my browser at the feminatronic Soundcloud feed and just listen. Of course, not everything is to my taste, but there is a lot of high quality work being produced by talented women around the world that seems to be ignored by the most of the outlets for even alternative music. It’s also an excellent source of material that I should be reviewing and, as it’s Friday as I write this, that’s where I’m going now. Happy New Year.


Joe Murray himself takes a bullet-pointed turn:


Politically, economically and culturally 2016 has been a year of shocks, knocks and sickening lows.  It’s hard to look forward and see anything resembling a ray of hope.  Greater minds than mine will neatly package all this misery up into a bitter pill but me… I’m warming some delicate seeds in my palm.

Records and tapes of the year

  • Hardworking Families – BA/LS/BN (Beartown Records) Like tin-cans learned to talk: a sharp knife splices individual ‘instants’ to wrap new listenings head-ward.

  • Acrid Lactations & Gwilly Edmondez – You Have Not Learned To Play & Mock In The Psychic System (Chocolate Monk) Complex patterns and shifting sonic-sands from stalwarts and greats – a brave and ambitious concoction of Dixieland and pure munged goof. Instant calmer!

  • Oliver Di Placido & Fritz Welch – Untitled (Human Sacrifice) The most crash-bang-whalloping record of the year by far. Knockout energy like TroubleFunk playing in a ruined skip.

  • Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave (Chocolate Monk) Effortless creative juice drips all over these dirty, dirty ditties from the Cardboard Prince… his Black Album?

  • Lea Bertucci – Light Silence, Dark Speech (I Dischi Del Barone) Perfect like fresh frosty ferns, each sporangia a moment of potential beauty and enlightenment – one for all DJs.

  • Lieutenant Caramel – Uberschallknall (Spam) For me the Lieutenant was an unknown. Now? A well-thumbed friend.  Euro-collage/concrete that’s super classy and head-strainingly intense.

  • Faniel Dord –Valentino (Cardboard Club) Another dirty boy with song-y songs played with hearty gusto and a wide-eyed innocence not seen since McCartney II.

  • East of the Valley Blues – eotvb (Power Moves/No Label) Sun-bright double finger-picking that warmed up my cockles and fed miso soup to my rotten soul. Life affirming, beautiful and generous. No wonder it’s got a vinyl re-release for tomorrows people.

  • Acrid Lactations & Jointhee – Chest (Tutore Burlato) You ask me about the future of ‘the song’ and I point you to this little tape of huge invention and heart. Not afraid to mix yuks with the high-brow, dream-logic and academic rigour. Never been so charmed ‘ave I?

  • Tear Fet – Blabber (Chocolate Monk) Every single vocal-mung technique picked up and shaken like a snow-globe. One for all serious students of throat-guff.

  • Yol – This Item Has Little Or No Scrap Value (Beartown Records) The mighty Yol’s most swingingest record of the year (and they have been legion and they have been good) that almost broke my rib with its accurately focused violence. A symphony of cuts and bruises.

  • Shareholder – Five Mile Throwdowns (Know This) One of the few bands I get excited about. Blending the listless and freezing loch with espresso intensity; a pond-skipper balanced on the tricky meniscus – he’s not waving!

  • Tom White – Automated Evangelism (Vitrine) and Commemoratives (Tutore Burlato) Double-entry for Tom White’s peerless technique and wonderfully intelligent ears. This very physical tape manipulation is strong enough to move giant boulders yet freaky enough to warp space.  Without a doubt Tom wears the blue jersey in Star Trek.

  • Grey Guides – Beast Mask Supremacists (Crow Versus Crow Editions) Taking skuzzy guitar and skunk-potent tape to some place indistinct; this ghost-memory of a record made me dream of Wuthering Heights oddly. The AR Kane of the NAU?



…and penultimately Sophie Cooper.  Sof resigned her post on the RFM staff this year [Editor gnaws fist to hold back hot tears] but gamely agreed to contribute to the end of year jamboree anyway.  Much to my delight she has submitted a 14 minute video of her chatting over some gubbins she reckons is cool.  Watch it here.  I think it is well charming and, if you agree, please contact her to say so – I’d like to butter her up to the point where this kind of video piece becomes a semi-regular feature.  Hah!  There is no escaping RFM!  Gabba, gabba, we accept you! ONE OF US!

Oh, did I just type my evil plan out loud?


So that just leaves me.  I’m going to mention one prolificist, give a top three albums of the year, lay some news on you, then end on a high.  How’s that for showbiz?  I may even haul myself to my feet and brush off the marie rose sauce that seems to have dried on the side of my face.


In previous years one of the Zellaby Award categories has been 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.  I know I said I’d ditched these honours but this year there is such a clear winner that I cannot help but unlock the trophy cabinet.

The music of collagist, tape scaffolder and atmosphere technician Stuart Chalmers has been admired by everyone with a trustworthy opinion.  His recent catalogue – solo or in collaboration – is an avalanche of stylistically divergent, technically perfect, emotionally resonant work.  I highly recommend that you settle gently onto his Bandcamp site, like a probe landing on an exotic comet, and start drilling.  The dude recently moved to Leeds too, how cool is that?  He wins.


OK, now onto the main event: low numbers in reverse order.  This year, in a classy piece of statesmanship, I’m leaving the listing to my colleagues above and am going to focus on just my top three.

[Editor’s note: If I’m honest I love these three more or less equally but, y’know, drama innit?]


Bronze: Julian Bradley and Neil Campbell – FOR LILA O

Flat out glorious from beginning to end.  This album has the texture of pistachio flavoured Turkish delight.  It is sweet, gelatinous, opaque, yielding to the bite but containing a satisfying savoury grit.  If I were a betting man I’d wager Neil provided the caffeinated hyper-psych which was then slowed, burnished and blurred by Julian’s patented murkatronik obfuscator.  Best to keep it mysterious though, eh?  I’ve listened to this so frequently that I think now I’d have trouble remaining friends with anyone who didn’t groove on, say, the disco-for-writhing-foot-long-woodlice vibe of ‘giants in the electric nativity’.

Two non-musical reasons to be entertained too.  Firstly, the Bandcamp photo is a nod to the cover illustration for an LP they recorded for American Tapes exactly one million years ago.  The no-audience underground remembers.  Secondly, it was released on 20th December, thus too late to be included on any of the ‘best of year’ lists published before the end of the year.  Seeing as the premature way these lists are ejaculated has long annoyed me I was delighted to see JB & NC stitching ’em right up.


Silver: Helicopter Quartet – Electric Fence

Yeah, yeah, one half of Helicopter Quartet is RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield but, as I’ve said many times, there is no such thing as conflict of interest down here.  If we didn’t blow our own trumpets sometimes there would be no fanfare at all and, whoo boy, Mike and Chrissie deserve it.

Continuing a seemingly impossible run of each release topping the last, this album takes their austere, mournful aesthetic in an explicitly dystopian direction.  The bleakness described by previous releases has called to mind slate grey stone walls on ageless moor land but Electric Fence has a more Ballardian edge.

I listen to the thrilling, Tubeway Army-ish title track and imagine the strings of Chrissie’s violin animated by Ralph Steadman – whipping away from us to form the boundary fence of a desert Army base, or a mud-choked refugee camp, realities that we’d rather not contemplate.  Or maybe the fence is personal, invisible, internalised – a tragic defence mechanism that provides the illusion of safety at the cost of constant loneliness?

Powerful and important music, as ever.  That work of this quality is freely downloadable remains remarkable.


Gold: East of the Valley Blues – EOVTB

The Zellaby Award for best album of 2016, presented in conjunction with radiofreemidwich, goes to East of the Valley Blues for EOVTB.  Joe Murray wrote about this one back in April:

Wonderful!  Wonderful, wonderful!

This tape was playing when the first rays of Spring sunshine shot like misty timbers through my window and the jazzy daffodils belched out warm yellow hugs.  And no, I don’t think that’s any coincidence brothers & sisters.

This tape is a truly innocent joy.  Why?  Firstly, it’s the simplicity.  We’ve got two guys, two Power Moves brothers, sitting on that metaphorical back porch finger-picking like the late great Jack Rose, improvising with a sibling’s sensibility at that slightly ragged speed we all associate with the beating heart in love.

Secondly, we’ve got notes that shimmer in a cascade; I’m getting nylon waterfalls as things tumble and tremble, roil and buckle as ten calloused fingertips gentle rustle the strings.  This is all about the movement, the restlessness of a leaf caught in an eddy, the churn of water spilling from a red hand pump.

Finally there’s that slight sense of anticipation, a yearning that’s probably something technical to do with the key it’s all played in.  But for a goof like me it just tweaks my memory zone; this music looks backwards at endless summers and looks towards bouncing grandchildren on the knee.  This is music of time, its passage and its baggage; the highs and lows, the dusty wrinkles and the fumble in the sheets.

And am I noticing a slight change in the way time is behaving around me?  Not so much time stopping but stretching, those strict minutes becoming supple like a cat’s arching back.  Maybe reader maybe.

Lovers of this plaintive guitar-pick often yell out a challenge:

So… can I play this next to Ry Cooder & Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s sublime A Meeting by the River?  Does it hold its own beans compared to Phil Tyler’s exquisite banjo snaffle?

Me?  I’m lost in the buttery light right now, light-headed with Beat road dreams,

If you heard it you wouldn’t have to ask… click the god-damn link and get heavy in the valley.

…and he is right, of course.

The brothers Joe refers to are twins Kevin and Patrick Cahill (the former best known ’round here for running Power Moves Label/Library) and the album’s genesis is covered in an excellent interview with Tristan Bath for Bandcamp Daily which can be read here.

All I need to add is that given the divisive and miserable nature of the year just gone, an album so beautiful, so spacious, so forgiving, so grounded in love and family could not be less ‘2016’ and thus could not be a more worthy winner.  Congratulations, fellas.


A discographical note: this album has now been reissued by the excellent UK label Death Is Not The End and can be had as a download, tape or – get this – vinyl album via their Bandcamp site.  For those wanting to take a punt without risking any dough, free downloads of some live shows can also be had here.

The prize for winning remains the, *ahem*, ‘great honour’ of being the only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings in 2017, should the brothers be interested in taking me up on it.  Nowt fancy – CD-r plus download would usually suffice given the absence of any budget.  Negotiations can commence anytime.


Right, let me just drag Joe Murray up into a chair as he needs to wave and smile during this bit.  OK: some news.  As of whenever we can sort out the logistics, Joe is going to take over from me as editor/publisher of RFM whilst I take an indefinite sabbatical.  No need to worry – I am not ill again – I just need a break to attend to the real life stuff away from music I’ve been alluding to throughout the year.  I have to apologise to those people who have sent emails, invitations to download, physical objects and whatnot and are still waiting for substantial responses.  I’ll slowly catch up with personal stuff, forward all the blog stuff and my colleagues will soldier on in my absence.  I’ll still be wandering around twitter and attending shows (Leeds people – see you at the Fractal Meat showcase on Feb 3rd, eh?) just won’t be at the helm here.  Feels weird to be saying this after seven years but I’m sure this will prove a healthy decision and I’ll be back before ya know it.


Finally then, my musical highlight of the year: Miguel Perez playing as Skull Mask at the TUSK festival.  Here’s an extract from my account of the weekend.  In particular, I want to finish with the word ‘fuck’ so I’ll say goodbye now – those who know me won’t be surprised to see me slope off before the end of the last set.

Best wishes for 2017, folks, keep yourselves and each other safe.

All is love, Rob H x


Next up it was Miguel Perez, playing as Skull Mask … This was what I was here to see and his set – just man and guitar – was astounding. Flamenco flourishes, desert folk, improv spikiness and metal hammering flowed, pressed and burst like a time-lapse film of jungle flowers opening, like lava flow, like clouds of starlings at dusk, like liquid mercury. Miguel is one of the most technically adept guitarists I have ever seen but all that virtuosity is in service of one thing: the truth. To say the music of Skull Mask is heartfelt or sincere is to understate the raw beauty of what it reveals: a soul. Miguel’s soul.

Stood at the front I found myself having an out of body experience. Part of me was enjoying it on an absolutely visceral level, unwaveringly engaged, but another part of me was floating above thinking about what the experience meant.

Watching the performance unfold, I started thinking about how beautiful life can be despite, sometimes because of, how hard it can be.  I thought about the miraculous combination of factors – hard work, friendship, sheer bloody luck – that led to us all being in this room at this time.  A strange, accepting calm enveloped me whilst at the same time the more present, grounded part of me was yelling (internally – I do have some control):



put the lid back on the jar: chrissie caulfield on sky high diamonds

October 11, 2016 at 7:25 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

Sky High Diamonds  – Helioglobe (download, digitalDIZZY, dD103)

Sky High Diamonds –  Ghosting The Edge (download, digitalDIZZY, dD94)


Well, this is embarrassing.

I was going to review an EP called Ghosting The Edge from Sky High Diamonds (Sarah Gatter). I’ve been listening to it on and off now since shortly after it was released in June. Now I finally get round to actually doing the writing and I find out that she’s released a full length album in the meantime!

This is actually a win-win situation. Both you and Sarah get a full length review of a whole album rather than a cursory overview of a three track EP, and I only have to write it up once.


Put the lid back on the jar

…isn’t the most obviously haunting sentence you’re ever likely to hear, but it’s been bugging me since I downloaded and listened to the EP. The track ‘Black Honey Jar’ has this line repeated over and over again until it becomes like a sinister chant – or possibly an order to a recalcitrant child. Every time I came back to the EP this was the line I had remembered, drilled into my brain by its rhythmic effect and sounds that accompanied it. ‘Black Honey Jar’ has been worked on since then and appears on the album as ‘Jar.Honey.Black’.  The repetition of the unlikely mantra has been reduced but, while I miss that strange refrain, the track is the better for it. And there are plenty more sinister repetitious chantings on the album to keep you in nightmares.

The two things that hit you most about this album are it’s sense of rhythm, and it’s sense of space. Even on the more (for want of a better word) ambient tracks there is a definite feel of a pulse and movement that seems central to the way the music progresses. Each track has it’s own space that it occupies too – informed by the rhythms that have been used to construct it and built upon with related textures and vocals. Take ‘Hunt Poet’ which happens over a background of sounds that are a bit like a film projector, giving the effect of a black & white cinema film happening behind the music or, at the other extreme end, we have ‘Sparking Limbs’ which sounds like it’s being performed in a war zone. The vocal styling at the end of that track make it sound like Kate Adie meets Björk. Yeah, NOW you want to hear it don’t you?

The title track ‘Helioglobe’ is one of the most beautiful examples of enhanced drone (a genre I just invented) as you’re likely to hear. The drone backing is a simple pulsating G that varies gently as the track progresses and the main vocal is a simple refrain fed through a delay with lots of feedback. Over this is layered more vocals each in their own time frame and the effect is a quite gorgeous counterpoint disturbed only by the house alarm going off 2 around minutes in – I always look round when I hear that! This is an example of the ‘space’ that exists in each piece and the way that those normally annoying ‘superfluous’ sounds you get when recording at home are here incorporated into the music. Rather than edit out that alarm, she’s left it in and integrated it into the texture such that it sounds like it was always intended to be there. The rhythmic element is mainly taken from the drone pulse, but the delay time takes over in the middle when it becomes the dominant texture for a while.

More obviously rhythmic is ‘Your Parasites’ with its industrial/mechanical beat that’s just slightly louder than the vocals such that it feels like she’s almost straining to be heard over the top. Here the rhythms get creepier and creepier as they gradually take over and grind to a halt at the end – has she been eaten by a giant cockroach? I’m too scared to look, and Kafka isn’t around to ask! Maybe that’s what the next track ‘Unseen Death Scene’ is about? ARGH! This has flies in it so maybe the insects really have taken over! I’ll wager that dark low drone is a giant wasp… Do wasps eat honey? Has anyone consulted the bees?

Speaking of bees (I don’t just throw this stuff together you know), the revised ‘Jar.Honey.Black’ is particular favourite of mine as I mentioned. The rhythms here seem derived from the vocal line that opens it, with incidental clinks from (I presume) a (I hope, honey) jar. There are a lot of seemingly incidental noises incorporated into this track and they really add to the feeling of it being recorded in an actual space – even if they weren’t necessarily recorded at the same time. There are breath sounds, and what sounds like the noise of something rubbing the microphone while recording. In my house that would almost certainly be a cat, but I’d be too much of a cleanist (another word I made up) to leave it in. Here again, the otherwise extraneous sounds are edited into the recording and made part of the rhythms of the piece. It’s all just wonderful to hear.

‘Sea Shanty Prayer’ is another drone-based track, with creaks and pops that give the feeling of being at sea on a rickey wooden ship. The large amount of reverb on the vocals means we’re either low down on deck in a large space, or we’ve been shrunk and we’re actually on top of a ship in a bottle… on the sea. I particularly love the idea of the latter so I’m sticking with it.

As for the final track ‘Sparkling Limbs’ – well. It’s hard to do justice to this in words really, you just have to hear it. Ideally 15 or more times, each louder than the last. I stand by the ‘Kate Adie meets Björk’ quip I made earlier and that’s maybe the best I can come up with. The only thing I have against this track is that it’s not half an hour longer.


I do recommend you also get the Ghosting The Edge EP to go with this album – it’s a free download, so hey, why not? Although ‘Jar.Honey.Black’ in its final form is a great track, hearing the earlier ‘Black Honey Jar’ is a different, if related, experience. Both affect each other. And it will make sure you always put the lid back on the jar.

My one concern about this album is it’s left-leaning propensities. No, that’s not a political point; a lot of the tracks sit very heavily on the left side of the stereo image. Listening on speakers, the effect isn’t too bad, it’s a little bit like she’s whispering to you in one ear. But on headphones it can get quite wearing and you can feel the palpable relief when you get to a track like ‘Ozio’ that has more conventional stereo panning. I’ve been told by Sarah that the album will be remastered and re-released next year, so I hope this small issue will be ironed out by then.

If you want to know how this album was really made (as opposed to my fevered ramblings) then Sarah has a blog post about it all on her website. I deliberately didn’t read it until I had written this review as I didn’t want it to influence what I was hearing. If you do read it then you can see just how different the production and the hearing (well, my hearing) of an album can be. That in itself is quite enlightening.

… and I still remember to put the lid back on the jar. Public service music at its best.



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the developing process: chrissie caulfield on chaines

September 20, 2016 at 9:56 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Chaines – OST (poster package plus download, Slip, [SLP017])


My last review, of Furchick’s Trouble with a Capital T, mentioned that I was drawn into that album by a compelling opening track. In contrast I have to admit that the opening track on this particular album did actually put me off it for a few moments. However, persistence is a virtue which is often rewarded.

I encountered Caroline Haines’ music via the Feminatronic group on Soundcloud (which I heartily recommend, by the way) and her excellent track ‘Eraserhead‘ . From this I went to her Bandcamp site to see if she had anything worth reviewing for this blog… she does, readers, she certainly does.

The title track(s) of OST are for a collaboration with a visual artist but I’ve been so engrossed in the music that I haven’t even bothered to see if there is a visual element to the work apart from the prints that come with a tape – I’m really all about the sound, as you might have guessed. ‘OST1’ is a ritornello of noise interrupted by acoustic and electric guitars and industrial samples with the voices of collaborator Mary Stark and others rendered almost indistinct. It is variously terrifying, intriguing and occasionally comic as you never quite get a handle on what is going on. I must have listened to this track ten times or so and it always sounds fresh and new. Hearing it on different speakers or headphones just brings out nuances that you’d missed earlier.

The first track ends with Mary’s voice coherent for the first time and segues into ‘OST2’ where she has much more to say… certainly more that’s comprehensible. Over a guitar and percussion ostinato with occasional backing from what I suspect are the noises of an old-fashioned film projector, Mary talks about her film making in an entertaining and engaging way, including her love for the obsolete film technology which adds so much to the sound of the piece. Between the more normal speech parts we have Mary reciting timing countdowns or ingredients lists from an old-style chemical film developing process. This reminds me so much of evenings spent in my father’s darkroom making black and white and (later) colour prints. I can almost smell those chemicals again, though I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing, they were horrible!

‘OST3’ opens with ambient washes of gentle, slightly clipped (in a good way) noise – like wind with bits of smoke in it. Mary then explains more about the haphazard way she produced her first prints in a badly-equipped darkroom, the equipment she uses for her works, and growing up in the North West. As the Bandcamp notes state, this is in some sense a love letter to analogue film – the descriptions and anecdotes presented here are compellingly presented and are integrated really well with the sounds. The way the different sentences are EQed and the reverb on the voice really serve to bring out the messages and turn the disparate parts into a wonderfully coherent whole.

And so back to that first track, ‘Here’, that nearly prevented me from getting further with this wonderful album. It starts with out-of-tune whistling – need I say more? About the only acceptable incidence of any sort of whistling in music, in my opinion, opens Supertramp’s ‘Easy Does It’and after forty years I’m still unsure about that. But once you get past this drunken obstacle the track opens out into something rather lovely and the whistling becomes half-drowned in synth pads and noise. It does work, and the noises at the end close it off well, but I still have trouble with the solo opening. Sorry!

The final track, ‘I Found This’ continues the industrial theme with some great off-kilter rhythms accompanied by indistinct vocals. It breathes in and out like a huge mechanical squeezebox building to gentle and not-so-gentle climaxes that consume you before dropping back to just the vocals and then starting again. This is more of a pure ‘music’ piece than the OST ones, the clanks and string sounds being the main driving force behind it, with the vocals adding a mysterious side-order. These are surely the sounds of human beings subsumed by the machines they are working.



quoll noses: chrissie caulfield on furchick

May 17, 2016 at 11:49 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Furchick – Trouble with a capital T (download, dog park records)


Sorry for not having written anything for a while, lately I’ve been generally under-enthused by the experimental scene for all sorts of reasons. I have been searching for new music of course, but what I found was either too ‘mainstream’ for this blog or I didn’t really enjoy enough to write about it.

Then the opening track of Furchick’s album Trouble with a Capital T leapt out at me almost instantly as something I could engage with and that I think will interest you, our dear readers.

That opening track, ‘March of the feathered friends’, is built on the rhythms of some piece of machinery I’m not even going to guess the identity of. It’s alternately insistent and broken up and surrounded by drones that waver in and out. There is clanking and rattling aplenty here and I want to believe that it’s not been cut up – that this is the actual sound that the machine makes, but it’s probably not the case. Either way it’s a lovely way into an album that takes field recordings of strange things and makes them even stranger. I like to think that the machines sampled on the album are strange antipodean devices made from wombat droppings and quoll noses, but I suspect that Australian technology is pretty similar to ours. Only upside down, of course.

It’s not all machinery though, ‘Trev dog sings for carrots’ is just what it says it is. Samples of a dog asking for food, all fed through sumptuous layers of delay and pitch shifting. I’m a cat person, and even I think this is wonderful. You can hear the creature being abetted (or possibly taunted, though I hope not) by sundry humans in the recording too. Do dogs eat carrots though? I thought that was horses. Dogs eat … err … dog food or something, I thought. Anyway if you think that nearly four minutes of delayed dog noises is not your thing (though I’d argue you’d be wrong) then ‘Swift does a quick shit’ is a brisk eight seconds. I have no idea who Swift is but I congratulate them on their speedy evacuation – eight seconds is really not even enough time to read the letters page in Private Eye. In actual fact this is just 8 seconds of a warble, but it’s quite a fun interlude before the next track.

Having recently been on the receiving end of quite a bit of dental work I was apprehensive about ‘Hang out with wires – Prod. Dental Drill Bit’, but luckily there is no familiar zizzing of modern dental drills to be heard here, just squeaking and clanking of what I hope is much larger equipment. If this really is a dental drill bit then I pray that it’s processed a hell of a lot or we could be into serious medical malpractice territory. Oral concerns aside this is a fabulous track of insistent squeaking, processed with delays, reverses and groaning – actually in retrospect the groaning is probably the patient saying


This track does still worry me, I think I’m going to pretend it was recorded in the middle ages.

Most of the tracks here are around or less than ‘song’ length and deal primarily with a single idea or sound so I was initially a little concerned that the last track ‘Hammering and sawing to drown out punk drunks’ was a shade over 19 minutes and might overstay its welcome. But worry not, it’s great! I actually went right back to hear it all again when it first finished. As with ‘Trev dog…’, what you get is what you are told you’re going to get, but the variety of of hammering and sawing noises and the reluctance of the punk drunks to be drowned out makes it a highly entertaining nearly twenty minutes. It’s also quite funky as the hammering is very rhythmic and keeps the whole thing moving. When the chanting comes in around a third of the way in along with boingy springy noises it feels a little like an Aussie version of African drum music and the whole thing reminds me of one of those shaggy dog stories where you follow every insignificant twist and turn of the plot with eager anticipation. Those of you with a more visual bent than me will, I’m sure, be seeing the scene in their mind’s eye for ages afterwards. It’s quite appropriate that it ends in applause, I wanted to stand up and applaud when it had finished myself.

As you can tell, the titles on this album are exquisite and, unlike a lot of Post Rock band albums, they do seem to have some relation to the actual sounds used in the making of the track – though I can’t be exactly sure how sometimes. ‘Bird machines #3’ could either be machinery noises made from bird samples (which are also in evidence on this track) or recordings of some infernal ‘Bird Machine’ whatever that might be. I have visions of a steampunk flying machine powered by chickens, which would be ridiculously inefficient but probably tremendously entertaining to watch. You get the feeling for this around 3 minutes into the track where the machine seems to grind to, well not quite a halt but certainly some serious damage is being done to the mechanism. Maybe one of the chickens fell into it.

In short, I have no idea what’s going on on most of Furchick’s latest album, and that’s half of the pleasure. It’s full of the half-familiar mangled into a wonderful world that is all her own, a surrealist painting in sound.



the 2015 zellaby awards

January 8, 2016 at 11:24 am | Posted in blog info, musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

Hello friends and welcome to the 2015 Zellaby Awards and Radio Free Midwich end-of-year round-up.  I’m very glad to see you.  My apologies in advance to those long term readers expecting the usual introduction full of whimsical nonsense.  There will be some of that, of course, but this year needs to be taken seriously and I’m going to start dark.  Don’t worry though – spoiler alert – there will be joy and life-affirming redemption by the end: this piece is my It’s a Wonderful Life.

Firstly, it is not the job of this blog to comment on the wider world but aside from the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, our glorious future prime minister, 2015 was largely without hope. I wish you all good luck in navigating the coming End Times.

Personally, away from music, my year can be split into three four month long segments.  For the first of these I was ill with non-stop, run-of-the-mill viruses.  Nowt serious on its own but the cumulative effect of so many strung together – a necklace of snot – left me in a parlous state.  My depression played cards with its fidgety cousin anxiety, waited until I was defenceless and then kicked in the door.  The second four months were spent off work attempting to shift these unwelcome guests whilst maintaining a functioning family life.  I’ve written about this debilitating effort elsewhere, no need for further details here.  The final four months of 2015 were the tale of my recuperation and slow recovery following a change in medication and a breakthrough in both the treatment of my illness and my attitude towards it.  After much grief, I left 2015 exhausted and resentful but hopeful that new ways of muzzling the black dog will allow me a lengthy period of peace and sanity.

When I was down in it, days, weeks even, passed when music seemed more trouble than it was worth.  The list of releases submitted to RFM for review, plus other stuff that caught my bloodshot eye, became an untended vine cracking the panes of its greenhouse and desiccating the soil in its giant terracotta pot. I’d try to ignore it, slumped in my deckchair, but would be tickled awake by a tendril and look up to see something like Audrey II grinning down at me:

Fleshtone Aura

Or maybe one my colleagues – Joe, Chrissie, Sof, Luke, marlo – would arrive with a ladder, new glass, plant food, exotic orchids or intricate alpines to distract me, gawd bless ‘em. Looking back, I’m surprised at how often I actually did pick up the trowel – if only to wave hello, or whack Luke on the nose with it when I found him digging in the flower beds – and I’m quietly proud of maintaining this garden despite the inclement mental weather. During 2015 radiofreemidwich received approximately 32,000 visits – a new record. 93 posts were published, including the blog’s 500th, by half a dozen different authors. The most popular of which were last year’s Zellaby Awards and my no-audience underground ‘state of the notion’ address – most gratifying as both are heartfelt celebrations of the scene. Not bad, eh?

Now, at this point in the introduction I was going to get catty about my usual scratching posts, hit a few sacred cow arses with a banjo etc. but, looking down at the silted pavement and up at the grey sky, it’s clear that what the world needs now is love, sweet love – not smart alec remarks and passive-aggressive score settling. So let’s get the party started instead.

Here’s 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 2015.  It does not need to have been released in 2015.  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 my own stuff as midwich, nor any releases that I had a hand in (thus no Aqua Dentata on fencing flatworm – sorry Eddie). The team will avoid touting each others’ projects too – not because we care about conflict of interest (there isn’t any down here) but we do like to maintain at least a veneer of decorum. Aside from marlo, who has been nostril deep in PhD crap all year and thus didn’t feel qualified to contribute, the whole team has chipped in and I will be pasting their responses below. This year I am at least nodding in the direction of democracy when compiling the lists but, as editor, I am reserving final say.  Don’t worry though – my dictatorship is benevolent and progressive.

Right then, time to pop some fucking corks…

sof's pina colada


Radio Free Midwich presents the 2015 Zellaby Awards

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

Chrissie expresses doubts about the whole process then nails a perfect nomination:

I’m not much of a one for end of year retrospectives, forward is my preferred direction. Also I find it hard to compare music and place it in any sort of order. One day a particular piece or artist will be exactly what I need, another day it will have me screaming for the STOP button.  Add to which I haven’t actually reviewed very much this year. Even when I found a (rather large, rich) niche to occupy I still take longer to complete a review than I’d really like.  Still, I hate to disappoint, and I never miss a deadline so…

Sabrina Peña Young

Even while reviewing one album, I couldn’t help mentioning tracks on other albums!

[Editor’s note: an extract from Chrissie’s review of Science Fiction & Horror Movie Soundtrack Collection: Strange Films of Sabrina Peña Young:]

‘Singularity’ is a whole Star Trek episode in miniature. It opens as an almost conventional, if nicely constructed piece of theme music, and gradually becomes something very much more. Going from the journey out, discovery of a possibly inhabited planet, then meeting an alien, trying to escape and the closing theme music again – a novella in seven minutes forty-three seconds! To be honest I’m pretty sure that that isn’t the actual narrative of ‘Singularity’ but I like to make things up as I’m listening and that idea seemed plausible at the time [Editor’s note: it’s the RFM way…]. What it’s really about is the rise of machine intelligence, of course; which is equally scary, possibly.


Joe speaks in italics:

Not for the first time, Serbia’s No Basement is Deep Enough label has pinned my lugs back and hotly tongued my ear.  But this time it slipped a note in my pocket that read ‘G.J de Rook’ (but no phone number I notice!). 

Gerrit’s considered gobble-de-gook on a and bla is the metallic-gravy I’m craving right now.  The calm and pleasant gibber hits that sweet-spot of babies gurgling, a hummingbird’s gaudy thrum and the plastic pop of wrenched bubble-wrap.  These are universal sounds; sounds enjoyed from the Mongolian deserts to the Seattle coffee-house scene. These are the sort of sounds we need to send into space – gaffer tape a CD-r to Voyager or something- for them bug-eyed overlords to ponder.    

Although Gerrit’s wider discography is relatively thin and achingly expensive don’t worry readers, I have a plan in place to slurp slowly in discreet ‘o,o,o,o,o,oa,oa,oa,oa,eh,eh,eh,o,ooo,o-like’ sips.  Think on.


Sof’s joy in discovery:

I heard and reviewed the album 3 by Sonotanotanpenz at the start of my Midwich employment and have since heard everything I can by them because, for me, they just tick all the right boxes. Cheers to Kirigirisu Records for pointing me in the right direction finding this stuff!

sonotanotanpenz - 3

Luke forward/slashes:

Ben Hallatt – Kay Hill, scke//, KIKS/GFR – the sinister/minimal man, eerie urban horror with muted synth/tape work.


…and I say:

…that I haven’t had the wherewithal for the obsessive curiosity that usually makes it so easy and obvious to decide the winner of this category.  I have a few interests bubbling under – that lovely, young Graham Dunning seems like an intriguing chap so maybe I’ll stalk him once I have the energy – but in the meantime I’m happy to to go along with Chrissie’s nomination of Sabrina Peña Young.


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

Sof ponders:

I don’t think I have an answer for this one, I can only think of Delphine Dora who released four albums this year which to me seems a huge amount! I’m not really into musicians who put out so much stuff that I can’t keep up. It puts me off if I’m honest, I like small and considered bodies of work. [Editor’s note: a very practical attitude – and Delphine should definitely be on everyone’s list anyway.]


Chrissie scratches her head too:

I’ve not really reviewed enough to come up with a suitable nomination for this. Similarly for the label award. I was tempted to nominate Steve Lawson for the Stokoe cup but he might be rather too ‘big’ for that to be sensible now and also I don’t believe he’s ever been reviewed here [Editor’s note: he is and he hasn’t but, hey, s’up to you – it’s an indication of where you are coming from too]. However he does release a considerable amount of material and it is of quite an amazingly high standard.

No doubts from Joe:

We’re all renaissance men and women now eh?  Fingers in various pies yeah?  You’re a composer/performer, a curator, a thinker, an archivist, a broadcaster, a hard-assed critic and goofy listener, a publisher and promoter?  Scratch the N-AU and we bleed like colourful skittles. 

This is all vital and impressive for sure.  But the real trick is to weave all those various roles together with a broader sense of ‘who you are’, a central-unifying-theme and aesthetic that’s as real as Westeros fantasy shizzle. So with the powers invested in me by the fabled ‘Stokoe Cup’ I hereby recommend Andy Wild, the Crow versus Crow guy guy, as an upstanding exemplar of unified vision, industry and purpose.

Not only is Andy releasing beautifully packaged CDs on the CvC label, he’s keeping us up-to-date with a set of paintings and photography.  He’s had a one-man exhibition, “You’re Gonna Need That Pure Religion, Halleloo” in his native Halifax.  He’s researched, presented and broadcast almost 100 radio shows and curated a bunch of special one-off sessions (like John Peel yeah).  And all this strikes me with a look and a feel that’s unmistakably CvC and unified.  Here’s an example: as Andy dug deeper into old blues records spindly hiss and burr appeared on the paintings (and in the exhibition title).  The smeared photos mirrored the abstract sound of worn vinyl.  The shows became looser, the voice deeper and the mood darker.  Do people still do mission statements?  If so, is ‘be beautiful’ taken?


Luke starts on a theme:

A tough one this year with the above mentioned Ben Hallatt and the incredible Stuart Chalmers.  My vote, however, has to go to Robert Ridley-Shackleton: the Oxfam prince, the cardboard king.  He keeps on peaking, inhabiting his own corner. In a just universe he would be on the X Factor panel: he IS pop.


…and I say:

Well, Joe makes a compelling case for Andy Crow there and since being born from an egg on a mountaintop the nature of Shackleton is irrepressible, but I’m handing the trophy to a familiar name and previous Zellaby award winner: Kev Sanders.

Whilst not quite reaching the Stakhanovite release rate displayed in 2014, his productivity remains alarming high, as does the quality of his work. I’ve not reviewed a great deal of it, nor much else released on his label hairdryer excommunication (this collection of haiku from September being my main engagement) but it has been an ever-present background radiation.

If you picture the year as an autobahn, one which I have been stalled beside, hood up, engine steaming, then Kev’s music is a series of electricity pylons running alongside carrying cables buzzing with an intensity that is somehow both bleak and comforting. I wish him well with his coming move to that London and look forward to a chance to catch up whilst he is otherwise engaged. Now, like a casino bouncer chucking out a professional gambler, I’m banning him from winning anything else for a while. House rules.


3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award

Sof and Chrissie have a playground tussle over who gets to be teacher’s pet:

SofIt’s no secret that Rob Hayler has had a rough year with his depression but his drive and passion for underground music has meant he’s kept up with this blog which I’m sure a lot of folks wouldn’t do under the same circumstances – fair play and respect to you!

Chrissie: At the risk of sounding like a spoilt kid sucking up to the boss, I’d like to nominate Rob for this award. In what has been a difficult year for him he’s hired three new writers, no small risk in itself, trusting our ability to actually deliver readable prose (well, in my case anyway) in usable quantities, not to mention editing it onto the blog in good shape and good time. He’s also put up with my erratic writing schedule and lack of enthusiasm to take anything off the review pile – preferring to go off on my own in a crusade to bring more female artists to the notice of our good and loyal readers.

[Editor’s note: it might appear shameless to include the above, and I admit it kinda is, but, as I’ve pointed out, it has been a tough year and I was touched.  Let me have a little sugar, yeah?]

Luke picks an outlier:

Sorry gonna have to be Robert Ridley-Shackleton again [sings: “Return of the Shack!  Here it is…!”].  A little quote from Robbie following a chat about tedious porn/bondage themes in noise:

To me noise is a positive thing, it fills my brain full of the joys. I don’t understand all the negative themes presented, to me it’s life affirming

Yeah baby!!!

[Editor’s note: R-Shack’s physical contribution to RFM is indeed notable as he sent copies of all his releases plus extra examples of his womble-on-ketamine junk art not just to RFMHQ but also personally to Joe and Luke too – a Knight of the Post.]

Joe rallies the troops:

As ever, I reckon this one belongs to everybody.  Anyone that sent in a tape, clicked on a link, wrote a review, listened with intent, left a comment or gave a god-damn fuck.  This one’s for you.  It’s all of us that make this: writers, readers, editors…even you cynics (coz debate is good, yeah?).  We’re all part of the oneness.  No one hears a tree fall in an empty forest right?

…and I say:

Tempting as it is to fall into step and punch the air, nostrils flaring, there is an objectively true answer to the question and that is: Anne, my wife.  Without her love, care and truly unbelievable strength this blog would not have continued to exist.

However, if we limit the word ‘contribution’ to meaning actual hands-on graft accounting for the endeavours of the no-audience underground then only one name can be engraved on this medal: Joe Murray.

Of the 93 posts published this year a huge proportion were by Joe and each of those usually contained reviews of numerous items sourced from far-flung corners of the outer reaches.  Despite his hep prose poetry being the best music writing currently available – Richard Youngs himself described Joe’s review of his epic No Fans seven CD box set as ‘the definitive account’ – he is completely selfless in his unpretentious enthusiasm.  He embodies the ethos of this blog.


[Editor’s note: hmmm… getting a bit lovey and self-congratulatory this isn’t it?  Maybe I’ll rethink this category for next year <takes deep breath, dabs corner of eye> OK, on with the big gongs!]

2. The Label of the Year Award

Sof sticks to the point:

I’ve really enjoyed every release I’ve heard from Fort Evil Fruit this year, and most years, I think we must have the same taste in music.


Luke whittles on the porch:

Another tough one with old favourites like Chocolate Monk continuing to deliver the goods.  However at a push it’d be Winebox Press, a fairly laid back work rate but always something to look forward to, can’t think of another label as aesthetically as well as sonically pleasing to me at least. Objects of cosmic power that’ll warm you from the inside out.


Joe’s takes a turn:

Let’s hear it for Cardboard Club.  Why?  For the dogged determination and other worldly logic of course.  I have no idea what is going on in the disco/noise shire of Robert Ridley-Shackleton.  All I know is that I like it, I like it a lot. 

Robert’s singular vision is not so much outsider as out-rigger; a ghost on the pillion.  The label spreads itself across media so the scrabbly zines, tape artwork and ‘pocket-jazz’ sound can only contain the RR-S, nothing else.  But what made me giggle, what made me really smile was the recent move to vinyl.  Some lame-o’s see the hallowed seven inch as a step up; a career move if you please!  With that kind of attitude the battle is already lost and all ideals get mushed in ‘rock school’ production.  None of this for our Cardboard Club… it sounds exactly the same!  A hero for our troubled times.


…and I say:

Yep, all excellent selections deserving of your attention but, with hairdryer excommunication out of the way, I’m going to use editor’s privilege to share this year’s prize between two exemplary catalogues: Invisible City Records and Power Moves Label.  Both are tape-plus-download labels based on Bandcamp, both have strong individual identities – in ethos and aesthetic – despite presenting diverse, intriguing rosters and both share impeccable no-audience underground credentials (PML’s slogan: ‘true bedroom recordings with delusions of grandeur’).  It don’t hurt that the gents running each – Craig and Kev respectively – are polite, efficient and enthusiastic in their correspondence too.  Anyone looking for a model as to how it should be done could do worse than sit at the front of their class and take careful notes.

[Editor’s note on the Editor’s note: yes, yes, I know that ICR re-released my epic masterpiece The Swift, thus making it the label of the year by default but I felt duty bound to mention it anyway.  Shame on Tabs Out Podcast, by the way, for filling the first 135 places of their 2015 Top 200 with hype and industry payola.  Glad to see sanity and integrity restored with #136.]


1. The Album of the Year Award

Chrissie kicks us off:

1. R.A.N

My first female:pressure review and the one I still listen to the most.

…not only are the individual tracks on this album good, but the ordering of them is exquisite. They follow on from each other in a wonderful, spooky narrative that runs smoothly and expertly from start to finish – the gaps between them allowing you to pause for breath before being dragged into the next hellmouth.


2. FAKE Mistress – entertainted

The opening track, ‘Appreciate the moment’s security’, will pull you in with its drama, heavy noise-based beats, spooky voicing and very punkish shouting but you’ll stay for the gentler opening of ‘You better trust’, intrigued by where it’s going. There’s harsh noise in the middle of this track and in lots of places on this album, but it’s never over-used. It’s here as a structural device to take you by surprise and drag you out of your complacency.


Luke casts his net wide:

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Self-Titled EP

Charlotte Braun – Happy Being Sad

Absurde, Chier – Absurde VS Chier

Skatgobs – Pointless

Blood Stereo – The Lure of Gurp

Alec Cheer – Autumn

Ali Robertson & His Conversations

Guttersnipe – Demo

xazzaz – descent / the crusher

VA AA LR – Ping Cone

Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks 3/4

Anla Courtis – B-Rain Folklore

S C K E / Kay Hill – Disclosure, TESSELLATION A/B, IN-GRAIN, Cold Title

Jon Collin – Wrong Moves / Dream Recall

Whole Voyald Infinite Light – Uncollected Recordings

Ashtray Navigations – Lemon Blossom Gently Pixelating In The Breeze

Melanie O’Dubhshlaine – Deformed Vowels

yol / posset – a watched pot never (no link – ask yol or Joe, they’ll sort you out)

half an abortion / yol – the designated driver

Shareholder – Jimmy Shan

[Editor’s note: blimey, eh?  Luke also provided a ‘year in metal’ list too!  Available on request.]


Sof’s impeccable taste displayed:

I’m going with Steven Ball’s Collected Local Songs which I reviewed earlier this year because it’s the one I’ve gone back to over and over, each listen revealing more to me. It’s such an original piece of work.

Originality is the theme of my list –

Saboteuse – Death, Of Course (this maaaaaaay, have come out last year!)

Bridget Hayden and Claire Potter – Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child

Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God

Guttersnipe – Demo

Rosemary Krust – Rosemary Krust

Sam McLoughlin & David Chatton Barker – Show Your Sketches

Delphine Dora – L’au-delà

steven ball - collected local songs

Joe selects:

I fucking guarantee your serious music critics will moan and denounce 2015 as a fallow year for sounds.  Fools!  If you look around there’s an embarrassment of riches spilling out of the tape drawer, CD-r pile and…folder? 

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable hurling my opinion of ‘what’s best’ around so, in the spirit of “non-competition and praise”, here’s what I’d play you right now if you were to pop round for sherry.

  • yol – everyday rituals. When a record makes you run giddy for the Spanish/English dictionary you know something extraordinary is at work.  You’re familiar with yol yeah? You’re not?  Get a-fucking cracking pal.  This is a truly explosive & genuine performance that makes your insipid rebellion look safe as milk.
  • Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God. A super-subtle voice and tape work.  What I love is the ‘too studio-fucked to be field recordings and too much punk-ass rush for fluxus’ approach.  Natural and wonderfully blunted domestic, ‘Others…’ inhabits its own space – like a boil in the bag something served piping hot.
  • Midnight Doctors – Through a Screen and Into a Hole. The merciless despot with a harmonium!  Phil Begg’s steady hand guides a cavalcade of rough North East gonks through their paces to produce a timeless noir classic.  It is equal parts soundtrack, accurate cop-show homage and mysterious new direction for tight-meshed ensemble.  C’mon Hollywood… make that damn call.
  • Shareholder – Jimmy Shan. Rock und Roll songs collapse in sharp slaggy heaps. Dirty explosions replace instruments (the guitar x 2 and drums) leaving us dazed in a no-man’s-land of stunning, blinding light and electricity.  Ferocious and don’t-give-a-fuck all at once.
  • Tom White – Reconstruction is tied, even-stevens, with Sindre Bjerga’s – Attractive Amplification. The world of violent tape abuse is one I follow avidly. But there’s nothing to separate these two outstanding tapes (of tapes, of tapes, of tapes).  Both Tom and Sindre have the muscle memory and total mastery of their mediums (reel to reel and compact cassette) to wrench brown, sticky moans from the vintage equipment.  It sounds belligerent, punch drunk and rum-sloppy to my ears.  A perfect night out chaps!

yol - er

…and finally, your humble editor:

Bubbling under: here are the releases that made my long list but not the countdown. Every one a cracker, presented here in alphabetical order to avoid squabbles breaking out in the car park:

Culver – Saps 76

David Somló – Movement

Delphine Dora and Sophie Cooper – Distance, Future

Dominic Coppola – Vogue Meditations

Hagman – Inundation

Hardworking Families – Happy Days

Ian Watson – Caermaen

joined by wire – universe allstars

Luminous Monsters – The Sun Tree

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Self-Titled EP

Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower

Shredderghost – Golden Cell

yol – everyday rituals

[Editor’s note: I also have to make special mention of Askild Haugland and his peerless recordings as Taming Power. I’ve received two (I think, possibly three) parcels from him this year containing his work, all the way from Norway, and these recordings always have a profound and meditative effect. Some of it, for instance the 7” single Fragments of the Name of God, could quite possibly be perfect.]

OK, right – ooo! exciting! – here’s the top ten, presented in traditional reverse order:

10. E.Y.E – MD2015


…and what a joy it has been to have Paul Harrison back in the fray!  Yes, after over a decade new material from Paul’s Expose Your Eyes project was finally made available via his new Bandcamp label Eye Fiend – a repository for much missed Fiend Recordings back catalogue (Mrs Cakehead has to be heard to be believed) and digital versions of the new stuff which is otherwise only available in tiny hand-splattered physical editions.

MD2015 is a four CD-r, four hour and twenty minute set comprising discordant synth clatters, decontextualized chanting (familiar to anyone into first wave industrial music), beats: pitter, patter – galloping hooves – factory presses, intoxicating loops, delirium (remember that footage of animals drunk on fermented fruit?  This is the OST to a bootleg version of The Lion King that features those orgiastic scenes), repetition beyond human endurance / irresistible motoric groove, ‘proper’ noise – all primary sexual characteristics out and flapping in the breeze, and sorbet-refreshing shortwave-radio-ish pulse.  It is a lot of fun.

9. AAS – Balancing Ritual


Y’know when your favourite stoner rock band lay down a super heavy, half-hour long, ego-obliterating, tethered crescendo but it isn’t quite enough so you and a hardy group of the suspicious break into one of the spaceships of a seemingly benevolent alien race currently visiting Earth and discover this playing inside?  Yeah?  A version of the above but clinical, steely, a step up from our humble efforts.  It’s like that and I, for one, welcome our new drone overlords…

Graham Dunning offered to send me a tape of this, I visited Bandcamp for a sneaky preview and ended up so impressed that I’d bought the download and fallen in love before my exhausted postie even delivered the jiffy bag.  I can count on the fingers of no fingers the other times that has happened recently.

8. Duncan Harrison, BBBlood, Aqua Dentata – “Ineluctable modality of the visible”


What an excellent three-fer.  Not only occupying a wholly justified place in the chart but giving me the opportunity to praise Paul Watson (BBBlood), Duncan Harrison (who’s Others Delete God tape, so highly praised earlier, shamefully passed me by.  Did I ever own it?  Did I send it to Joe in a moment of madness?  Ah, who knows?) and Eddie Nuttall (who, as Aqua Dentata, is producing amongst the finest work on my radar).  Here’s some extracts from marlo’s review:

…But, damn you, Duncan Harrison! The first track immediately gets me back in my academic head! ‘(Je suis) La Loi’ makes me think of psychoanalytical linguist theorist Julia Kristeva and deconstructionist scholar Jacques Derrida. The use of breath and physiological sounds makes the listening an embodied experience. The listener feels present. It is hard not to notice if one’s lips are dry or if you possibly had too many coffees…

…In ‘Nexistence of Vividence’, BBBlood returns to more of the crunchy reeling and wheeling and dealing. It is a typhoon that builds and waits. Never fully collapsing, the sounds peters out like attempting to catch water running through fingers. Yet there is an ethereal resolution to the struggle and the listeners are laid to rest, an aural wiping of the brow. Time to rest after the long haul…

…Eddie Nuttall, a.k.a Aqua Dentata, is not from this planet. I honestly don’t think he is. His music feels like extraterrestrial communication from outside our universe. Like binaural beats and subconscious interfering hypnosis, his untitled track sounds like it is made of laser beams. As a listener, you feel like you merge with the frequency and question your ability to make cognitive sense. It isn’t because of a reliance in bombarding one with several sounds but rather a direct cerebral invasion…

7. The Piss Superstition – Garage Squall

garage squall

Joe reviewed this one in the shape of a UFO. No, I don’t know why either but it is absolutely bang on:

Mag-lev trains.

The very best form of bluster.

As gentle as breath on a mirror,

Predator’s Answerphone message

The Velvet Underground trapped in a matchbox.

A map! Hectares of featureless crystalline crackle – zoom into mountains,

A corduroy vibe; not geography teacher clichés but that ribbed softness – a tickle on the fingernail.

Ride the world’s slowest roller-coaster taking 1000 years, cranking the incline.

Forbidden Planet strained with nourishing iron-rich greens,

A dream-tractor changing gear on the endless road.

Immense power restrained by gravity

A hit of strong, clean anaesthetic,

I’m counting backwards.

10, 9, 8…

6. Stuart Chalmers – Loop Phantasy No. 1, No. 2, No. 3


Joe again, not sparing the superlatives:

…But this time I throw my regular Northern caution and cynicism out the window and claim these three recordings THE MOST IMPORTANT SALVAGED TAPE LOOP RECORDINGS EVER YEAH.

What?  Like…ever?

I hear you ask.


I answer with a calm, clear voice.

Like in the whole 100 year history of recorded music?

You probe,

even including the oft- mentioned high- water mark of looping Tom Recchion’s Chaotica?

You add.  I merely smile and press play on the device of your choice.

You must listen, you must listen to truly understand

I chant with glassy eyes.

Anyway… fuck yeah!  That’s what I’m saying.  If you want to know where looping is right now in 2015/2016: PLAY THESE RECORDS.  If you are looking for an instructional map of what’s possible with simple tape loops, a couple of pedals and some hot ears: PLAY THESE RECORDS.  If you want to open up that valve in your stomach that helps you release gaseous tension: PLAY THESE RECORDS…

…Students of tape culture – your set-text has arrived.  Screw in those earbuds and get seriously twisted.

5. Ashtray Navigations – A Shimmering Replica


A beautiful album in every respect and an entirely life-affirming experience.  Terrific to see Phil and Mel get such a high-profile, flagship release in what was a high-profile, flagship year for the band.  I will have more to say on this in a long-planned article which will be published around the eventual release date of the long-planned best of Ashtray Navigations 4CD box set.  Coming soon!  In the meantime: buy this.

4. Melanie O’Dubhshlaine – Deformed Vowels


Likewise, Mel’s remarkable solo venture deserves a much more detailed account than it is going to get here.  Via a kind of meta-semi-improv (or something?) she continues on her utterly compelling, largely unheralded project to reinvent music on her own terms.

I imagine a Dr. Moreau style musical laboratory in which Mel cares for her cross bred instruments, incunabula parping their first notes, joyfully interacting with the sentient automata Mel has created to entertain them with.  She dangles a microphone over the giant aquarium tank in which they all live and conducts this unique performance.

Unlike anything else I’ve heard this year, or maybe ever.

3. Helicopter Quartet – Ghost Machine

ghost machine

A peerless work, even within the band’s own faultless back catalogue.  From my review:

It is difficult to write about Helicopter Quartet, the duo of RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield (violin, synths) and Michael Capstick (guitars), because their music is so enveloping, so attention seizing, that when I’m listening the part of my brain I use to put words in a row is too awestruck to function.  However, following many hours with it, I am certain this is their best album yet.  That a work of such mature beauty, sculpted over months, is freely downloadable is surely further evidence that we are living in a golden age for self released music.  It has the austere and magisterial presence of a glacier edge, the drama of that glacier calving into the sea.

If you ever act on anything I say then act on this: go get it.

2. Guttersnipe – Demo


Wow, this kicked the fucking doors in.  With this CD-r and a series of explosive live performances Guttersnipe owned 2015 – they were either your new favourite band or you just hadn’t heard of them yet.  Luke got to review this one, here’s an extract:

Guttersnipe whip up a frightening noise on drums, guitars, electronics and howled vocals that will have you reaching for the light switch. The cassette fidelity smudges the freejazzmetalhaze into a fog of terror from which emerges the fangs of a gaping gob ready to bite you. I’ve been listening to a lot of black metal recently and these vocals could have the corpse painted hordes crying for their mama.  However, they are not the guttural grunts of the alpha male but more a feminine screech of desperation and disgust which the other two respond to by conjuring a blackened and unsettled miasma.  Calling this disc demo leads me to believe that Guttersnipe are selling themselves short.  This is impressively original material that comes over like a Xasthur/Skullflower hybrid with a hefty slug of secret ingredient.  Marvellous job.

Amusingly, and presumably because he hadn’t seen them live at the time, he seems to imply this duo is a trio – a testament to their ferocity (and my skills as an editor…).

1. namke communications – 365/2015

namke - 365-2015

Finally then, the winner of the Zellaby Award for album of the year presented by Radio Free Midwich is, in an unusually literal sense, the album of the year: 365/2015 by namke communications.  Here’s some context from a piece I wrote in March:

…old-friend-of-RFM John Tuffen, in a project which recalls the conceptual bloodymindedness of Bill Drummond (who has raised ‘seeing it through’ to the level of art form), is recording a track every day throughout the whole of 2015 and adding them to the album [on Bandcamp] as the calendar marches on … each track is freshly produced on the day in question and, as might be expected, vary enormously in style, execution and instrumentation – there is guitar improv, electronica in various hues and field recording amongst other genres welcome ’round here…

Indeed, added to various forms of (usually light and expansive) improv and field and domestic recordings of life’s ebb and flow were many forays into sub-genres of electronica, techno as she is written, actual *ahem* songs, drones of many textures, experimental sketches with software and new toys, callbacks, the odd joke (all tracks in February had the duration 4’33” following a twitter exchange with me) and so on and so, unbelievably, on.  I can’t claim to have heard all of it – of course I haven’t – and there are misfires – of course there are – but the level of quality maintained is gobsmacking given the scope of the exercise.

Each track was accompanied by notes, most with a picture and then a tweet announced its presence too.  John was no slacker on the admin – I approve.  In March I suggested:

This one I have no qualms about dipping into, in fact I would recommend constructing your own dipping strategies. As the year progresses you could build an album from the birthdays of your family, or never forget an anniversary again with a self-constructed namke communications love-bundle. Won a tenner on the lottery? Create your own three track EP with the numbers and paypal John a couple of quid. Or perhaps a five CD boxset called ‘Thursday Afternoon’, in homage to Brian Eno, containing everything released on that day of the week? Or condense the occult magic with a set comprising every 23rd track? Ah, the fun to be had. Or you could just listen to it on a daily basis until it becomes a welcome part of your routine…

I was at least half-joking at the time but engaging with 365/2015 has proved a unique way of experiencing an album.  During the worst of my illness, as I spent nights trawling Twitter unable to sleep, it did become a valuable part of my daily routine.  Literally a light in the darkness – Bandcamp page shining on the tablet as I lay in bed – John’s project, existing due to nothing but his crazy drive to create (the whole thing, 40+ hours, available as a ‘name your price’ download!), truly helped me through.  A clear and worthy winner.

In conclusion…

So, that is that for another year.  John’s prize, should he wish to take me up on it, is for namke communications to have the one and only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings some time in 2016.  A surprise baby sister, perhaps, for his lovely available from namke communications released by me back in the day and now (I think) a teenager itself.

Many thanks to my fellow writers and to all who support us – for your time, patience and enthusiasm – it is much appreciated.  Heartfelt best wishes for the New Year, comrades.

All is love.

Rob Hayler, January 2016.


dreams of the future: chrissie caulfield on the worlds of sabrina peña young

December 17, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Sabrina Peña Young – Science Fiction & Horror Movie Soundtrack Collection: Strange Films of Sabrina Peña Young (self-released download)


Of my list of female:pressure review submissions this is one I have been simultaneously looking forward to the most and dreading the most. Looking forward to because, as I hope I will prove, Sabrina is an extremely talented woman who works very hard at what she does – just an initial quick listen excited me with the quality and inventiveness. Dreading because… there’s an enormous amount of it to look through, and the depth as well as breadth of material is hugely intimidating.

There are operas, piano pieces,‘classical’ music, electronics. Hell, she’s even written a book! Faced with such a talent, ‘overwhelmed’ is the only feeling I could initially manage. However, she helped me out by sending a “tasting menu” in the shape of her A Futurist Music Anthology… album. Weighing in at 31 tracks and lasting over two hours, it’s a good cross-section of her electronic works.


To make this more manageable I took the tracks that the taster album contained that were also in her latest electronic release, Science Fiction & Horror Movie Soundtrack Collection: Strange Films of Sabrina Peña Young, and that is what I’m going to write about – mostly. It saves me time and that means that you’ll get this review before Christmas and Rob won’t think I’ve been permanently buried under a pile of virtual CDs.

So let me now guide you gently around (some of) the Strange Films of Sabrina Peña Young:

We enter the sound stage on the set for ‘Virelaan’ – a spooky ticking clock the develops into the almost traditional horror motif of the pipe organ. There’s a motif here’s that reminds me of Steve Hackett’s ‘Shadow Of The Hierophant’, but this is no precursor to Post Rock, it soon dissolves and leaves us in languishing in the dungeons. Once we regain consciousness there’s that motif again – but not on the organ any more, it’s some sort of diabolical music box emerging from a dark pond. Mocking, mocking, mocking. I have no idea how we’re going to get out of this.

After that spooky opening, ‘Symphony of Shadows’ feels rather conventional. More what you might expect a movie soundtrack to be, all swooping strings and close-miked piano. With a similar-veined start, ‘Pillar Of The Underground’ is more engaging, it simultaneously reminds me of both Shostakovich (probably due to the snare rhythm) and the theme from Gladiator (probably the singing). This is recognisably ‘film music’ again, but the sweeping string synths are just glorious. Taking something I would normally hate (string synth sounds!) and using them imaginatively to create music that is dramatic, involving and occasionally surprising is exactly how they should be used. Actually the way she does this is very reminiscent of ‘Sleep Together’ by Porcupine Tree. That’s three references I never thought I’d use when writing about the same track!

We’re back onto the horror trail with ‘Us vs Them’, which is all modulated sine waves and vampire voices – this is Buffy The Vampire Slayer territory, you can almost feel yourself descending into the catacombs and then being chased by a cute blond guy with a slightly unconvincing English accent pretending he needs a wheelchair (spoiler alert). There’s a fair amount of these barely distinguishable voices on these tracks and they’re always done very effectively. Most especially at the start of ‘Metamorph’ which takes us more firmly into SF territory: Blade Runner rather than Red Dwarf, though not in a Vangelis sense. A dystopian future where gentle synths try to keep you calm while there is strange disturbing, alien, chattering going on around you. The landscape eventually settles into a watery rhythm, keeping you on your toes: are you sure you’re not being followed?

It stopped!


There it is again!

In some ways this feels a little like Blade Runner as done by Paul Auster.

‘Lullaby 1’ is NOT the track to play before going to sleep, you have been warned. Yes, there’s a gentle, almost soothing piano melody but it’s too distorted and fuzzy to allow you to stay calm, and what’s going on behind it will make your skin crawl and your brain play tricks on you all night. ‘Looking Glass’ is that track you wake up to after the five minutes sleep you got following lullaby. In your half-awake state there’s quite a nice harmony going on, but it takes a little while for the Amenità-style vocals to cohere in your head. Even so, there’s something still not quite right, it fades in and out and you’re never quite sure if you’re fully conscious at all.

When you recover full consciousness you find yourself in ‘World Order #5’ where you’ve been dumped on the bridge of some spaceship escaping from a post-apocalyptic Earth – synthetic voices announcing the populations of countries (spoiler alert again: zero). The computer voices here go on a little bit too long for my attention span. Once those settle down though we end up wandering in deep space in what feels like a rather malfunctioning spacecraft and it gets more interesting again. There are clanks and clicks and you have no idea what’s wrong or whether anyone is going to survive. Is this the end of the human race entirely? From now on, it’s just the robots.


I’m not sure of the exact relationship of ‘World Order #5’ to an excellent Kraftwerk-style track which is, sadly not on this compilation, called ‘World Order #1’ (on the Origins album). Maybe I should have done my research properly and gone hunting for World Orders 2,3 & 4. Anyway, if you’re making your own collection from Sabrina’s releases I heartily recommend getting this one too.

The scariest piece in this collection has to be the wonderful ‘Dollmare’. The title only partly prepares you for the noises that unfold. This is The Twilight Zone in under three minutes, a small, but self-contained masterpiece of piano bashing and synth washes that will stop you from sleeping for the whole of the rest of the week if you’re not careful. If ‘Lullaby 1’ didn’t finish shred your nerves into nanotubes, this will.

‘Singularity’ is a whole Star Trek episode in miniature. It opens as an almost conventional, if nicely constructed piece of theme music, and gradually becomes something very much more. Going from the journey out, discovery of a possibly inhabited planet, then meeting an alien, trying to escape and the closing theme music again – a novella in seven minutes forty-three seconds! To be honest I’m pretty sure that that isn’t the actual narrative of ‘Singularity’ but I like to make things up as I’m listening and that idea seemed plausible at the time [Editor’s note: it’s the RFM way…]. What it’s really about is the rise of machine intelligence, of course; which is equally scary, possibly.

In fact constructing a whole narrative in a short-ish track seems to be something that Young excels at. Another track that is sadly omitted from this album is ‘Danse Amoebe’ (again, it’s on Origins) which is a ritornello of FM drones and squicking sounds that seem to be telling a story – but one that’s too strange even for my twisted brain to work out. Young is expertly doing this on several other pieces and it’s something that I also attempt quite often, so I have some idea of how hard it is to get right. Building a coherent, pleasing and meaningful narrative using music in under eight minutes is a lot harder than it might sound, especially without making the transitions jarring. The classical ritornello structure is an inspired use for this purpose that I will almost certainly steal. Actually, the ‘Danse’ in the name implies that it might not be telling a story in this case but, dammit, this music is so evocative it’s hard not to read extraneous things into it, as I proved earlier.


This is just a taste of the pieces on this release, and I think the number of references I’ve had to resort to in this review gives you some idea of the breadth of scope of Young’s music. There are more conventional soundtracks and even some pieces that might be classified as “drone” on here to enjoy. Though even her drones have actual harmonic structure and are not a sine wave left to mingle with others of its own ilk for half an hour.

If I have a criticism of this album, it’s in the track ordering. Granted it’s a compilation of pieces from different places and projects and the variety is huge, but some of the transitions feel a little jarring to me. The structure of the individual pieces is pretty much impossible to fault but the album as a whole is crying out for, dare I say it, a “playlist” of favourite tracks to be built and filtered by the listener.

For those of you who are also fans of SF literature it might be worth investigating her book too; if it’s of the same quality as her music, I’m sure you will not be disappointed.

Oh, there’s also a ‘Virtual Opera’ about it.

Can I lie down now please?


Sabrina Peña Young

cast adrift in an open dream: chrissie caulfield on amenità

November 17, 2015 at 12:12 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Amenità – Rêverie (CD-r, Phantasma Disques, PD-128, edition of 75 or download)


Just to be sure of myself with this review, I looked up the word ‘reverie’ in the dictionary. gave me

4. Music. an instrumental composition of a vague and dreamy character,

while my facsimile copy of Samuel Johnson’s 1755 opus (which opened at the correct page first time, rather spookily) has

Loose music, irregular thought, revery is when ideas float in our mind, without reflection or regard of the understanding.

Amenità’s album of that name certainly has the dreamlike character but I suspect she has great regard for the music’s understanding – and it’s certainly not vague or loose in any way. Yes, the textures often feel washy and dreamy but I get the impression that everything is here for a purpose. Even the order in which you listen to these tracks can have a profound effect on how the whole is perceived. I am the last person to recommend that anyone listens to an album on ‘shuffle’ but I did have to leave off listening to it once and started again in the middle by mistake and thought I’d got the wrong playlist.

If you start where you should, with ‘Partita Lacrimosa’, it will drop you gently into the underworld of Amenità’s slightly nightmarish dreams. Eastern strings combined with panting sounds and weeping, slightly rough, synth tones set the scene as the panned, echo-heavy vocal whisperings come in. Now you’re ready to be totally subsumed into her dreamworld. If you start on ‘Hauntingly Beautiful’ as I did once, then you have less chance to acclimatise. Oh it starts with the dreamy, breathy vocals that are a feature of the album, but the disturbing guitar riffs will disorient you and put you in an altogether much more unsettled mood such that ‘Distorted Memory’ will probably make you scream out loud. So be careful out there, these nightmares can wake you up with a nasty bump.

For me that piece, ‘Distorted Memory’, is the crowning glory of this release. It has a fragmented, broken music box playing Brahms’ Lullaby in such a way that will probably stop you falling asleep to the original ever again. Its notes are the basis of the rest of the music even as it gets stuck in a smaller tighter loops and underpins the whirring synths and distorted vocalisations that become the main feature. When the track finally finishes, you’re left with just the music box playing two runs repeatedly over the crashing of waves.

If you start at the wrong place in the album then ‘Lover’s Grief’ will be in the wrong place too. This track contains a precursor to ‘Distorted Memory’ with the music box pinging gently under the windy noises and vocals that gently engulf it. ‘Lover’s Grief’ is essentially a drone piece with a low C underpinning it until three minutes in, when it slowly wobbles and fades out leaving you cut loose, alone with the washy synths and vocals. Cast adrift in an open dream.

Sitting between these tracks is ‘Invoking Kali’, which unfolds almost as a quasi-religious ceremony. Kali, being the Hindu goddess of empowerment, is an appropriate deity for my series of reviews of material from female:pressure I think. The opening gongs (or whatever they are, excuse my ignorance of ritual percussion) are a powerful introduction and quite a departure from the mostly washy texture of the album. However we’re soon back into waves of vocal chanting that make up most of the rest of the track. If anything this one goes on a little too long for my taste. It’s the longest on the album at over six minutes, the rest are mostly around four, and I tend to get impatient around five minutes in. Though I never was a fan of ritual chanting. Her other six minute track,  the opener ‘Partita Lacrimosa’, gets through the four minute barrier with a cunning gear shift around 4:30 that keeps the interest up.

This album definitely has ‘a sound’, and you need to be in tune with that sound to get on with it. If washy synths and slightly incoherent vocals aren’t your thing then you might tire of it before the end of the first track. If you’re prepared to give into the textures and let it wash over you for 40 minutes then it will reward you. It’s slightly unforgiving of laptop speakers though, all that processed white noise can get quite wearing on the ears when listening on cheap trebly equipment – I strongly recommend that you break out the good headphones or studio monitors, then you’ll be fine.

A special mention here for ‘The Quiet Death’ which has some lovely mechanical-ish clanking going on. As I may have established by now, I love an industrial beat – although this one gets subsumed by the washes, synth drones and vocals half way in, the legacy it leaves on the track never quite deserts you.

There’s a remix of the title track on this album, and I’m normally wary of remixes as they generally say far more about the remixer than the remixee. This is still true of Levana Sorrow’s remix of ‘Rêverie’ but it’s very sensitive to the style of the original while adding some extra ideas that I rather like. I think this is down to her music being of a similar style to Amenità’s, judging by her soundcloud page. Apparently she has an album due out soon on the same label, so I’m looking forward to that.


Phantasma Disques Bandcamp

Phantasma Disques Bigcartel


twenty first century punk: chrissie caulfield on fake mistress

October 16, 2015 at 3:18 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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FAKE Mistress – entertainted (self-released download)


What have I done?

I thought as I looked down the huge list of emails I got from the female:pressure mailing list responding to my request for review material.  There was a moment when I seriously wondered what I had got myself into. A lot of the women there are doing DJ and/or dance music that is neither much to my taste nor really suitable for an ‘alternative’ journal such as our beloved RFM. The thing I, nearly, regretted was the phrase “I will listen to everything” – a rash addendum if ever there was one.

In retrospect that sentence is the thing I am most pleased I wrote. While not everything I got was suitable for review most of it was and there were frequent surprises at things I now like that initial impressions told me otherwise. This happened a few times, I would listen to the opening of a new download or stream and go ‘umm, maybe not my thing, but I promised I would listen to it all’, and by the end I was onto ‘this is really good’ and adding it to my increasingly terrifying list of things to write about.

One such is this album: entertainted by FAKE Mistress. It took me a while to get ‘into’ this release but something kept dragging me back to it, and by the time Bandcamp gave me the nudge that says ‘You’ve been listening to this a lot, perhaps you should buy it’ I realised I was hooked. It was also around this time that it dawned on me what it reminded me of:

Punk. This is a proper 21st century punk album.

Sure, there are no inexpertly strummed guitars, no simple drum beats and no, as far as I am aware from this distance, vomiting. Sid Snot this isn’t. But instead of blaring guitars, we have bursts of noise, instead of drum beats we have industrial sounds (possibly synthesized, possibly recorded – who cares?) and bleepy-bloopy synth tones sticking out where you least expect them. We certainly have the punk wailing here and the vocal stylings are often reminiscent of Holly from The Lovely Eggs, (although the lyrics, where there are such, are less comedic) and there is social commentary too, if I’m hearing the lyrics correctly, which is not guaranteed. See later for disclaimer.

The album is mostly short ‘songs’ of less than four minutes, maybe a bit long for punk. This is where the analogy breaks down perhaps – with one track, ‘Where the wild pussies go’, clocking in at nearly seven minutes. This track is the least punky, and possibly my favourite, though not for that reason. There’s a lovely consistency of material here that’s more than just a drone. The opening drum beat is simple but effective, and the multi-tracked vocals interleave beautifully. There are no lyrics here that I can discern, though a lot of the vocal is reversed and could easily be also in a language I don’t understand, ie. not English. In my notes for this track (probably made around the third or fourth listen) I wrote “slightly, but only slightly, overstays its welcome”, but after a couple more hearings I no longer agree with that. This is a track that repays repeat plays.

Not that the rest of the album is facile in any way. The opening track, ‘Appreciate the moment’s security’, will pull you in with its drama, heavy noise-based beats, spooky voicing and very punkish shouting but you’ll stay for the gentler opening of ‘You better trust’, intrigued by where it’s going. There’s harsh noise in the middle of this track and in lots of places on this album, but it’s never over-used. It’s here as a structural device to take you by surprise and drag you out of your complacency. In ‘You better trust’ it’s there at the apex of the song, the bridge between the mournful opening and the, slightly, more upbeat second half. On ‘Gold’ the noises are a punctuation – explosions that take over the music as it goes on.

‘Gold’ is the one track I find slightly distracting because there’s a synth riff that reminds me far too much of the hotline ringtone from the 60’s spy spoof Our Man Flint. This riff re-appears briefly in ‘Where the wild pussies go’, but seems less intrusive there somehow. I think I’m just showing my age. Or, more likely, my father’s taste in films when I was young. I’m sorry I mentioned it now, I’ve probably spoiled this track for everyone.

I’m not one for reviewing lyrics. There are lyrics on this album and some are even in English and understandable but I won’t even attempt to interpret them – there are albums I’ve been listening to since the 1970s whose lyrics are opaque to me, instruments and textures are my ‘thing’ by far. But where they do poke out of the texture the words here can be very effective. The closing seconds of the album (spoiler alert) are bursts of machine gun fire and the words

Are you ready or not for the twenty first century?

This track, ‘My body is a weapon’, is short, powerful and to the point. Contrast that with the seven minutes of the one that is two before it and you can see that she understands how long material should be.

There’s a lot going on in this album and you need to listen to it several times to really get ‘into’ it, at least I did. But it’s only 24 minutes long and I’m convinced it will keep you entertained (see what I did there?) for a long time.


FAKE mistress


sat at the end of a long room: chrissie caulfield on r.a.n

September 1, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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R.A.N – Her Trembling Ceased (CD, download or stream, Partapart Records)


I am very conscious of the fact that Sof and marlo and I were taken on to redress the male dominance of Radio Free Midwich, and that since that day I, at least, have only reviewed releases by men. I am not impressed with myself. This is one reason I’ve been too quiet here, I felt uninspired to write even about male releases I particularly liked until I had at least started to fix the imbalance. I know there are women making good music that’s out of the mainstream, though the ones I know personally tend to be making videos or installations rather than CD or download releases that would be reviewed in these pages.

Through the newly formed Yorkshire Sound Women Network I heard of the female:pressure website and mailing list, which I joined as performer/composer. I then sent a short email to the list asking for people to send me their work. As you might imagine this elicited a huge response which will take me some time to work through … a very happy result indeed. I’m hoping the sheer quantity, as well as the very high quality, of releases I have been sent will get me going again, so be prepared for a lot of writing from this source. [Editor’s note: *huge grin, fist pump!*]

One of the very first emails I was sent contained this gem from Hüma Utku from Istanbul now living in Berlin and performing as R.A.N (Roads At Night). The moment I put it on I could tell I was going to like it.  It opens with powerful, widely panned synth noises that sound a little like an old Dr Who effect from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, this then dissolves into dramatic chords and ultimately an all-embracing pulsing that, if you put it on loud enough – and you should – will consume your very being.

Described on her website as…

a journey of transformation from chaos to order

…the album is primarily recorded on synthesizers with occasional appearances from guitars and piano. The reverby piano is a particularly favourite feature of mine as I’ve heard it deployed on synth-heavy albums before but rarely with this amount of panache and compositional clarity. Just listen to ‘Secrethings’: it start with rain noises and a pulsing bass ostinato and you think you know what’s coming, then the piano comes in you’re sat at the end of a long room with a ghostly pianist at the other end – rain beating heavily outside. Those dark chords become absolutely bloody terrifying – scarier than any horror soundtrack I’ve ever been accused of making. And when the bass disappears and the piano runs into heavy vibrato my fight or flight instinct goes into total overdrive and I want to find an ottoman (do they still exist?) and hide in it.

The track that follows this has the climax that you might have been expecting from its predecessor and takes us running away from the ghosts (don’t ask me how I got out of the ottoman, I’m too scared to remember). This track, ‘Driven By Demons’, is Kraftwerk meets hip-hop with a touch of an 80s synthpop breakdown in the middle – how can you not like that? So you see, not only are the individual tracks on this album good, but the ordering of them is exquisite. They follow on from each other in a wonderful, spooky narrative that runs smoothly and expertly from start to finish – the gaps between them allowing you to pause for breath before being dragged into the next hellmouth.

‘I’m fine, go away’ sees the return of the reverby piano. Solo this time, heavily compressed and with a very audible noise gate opening and closing adding a lovely pulsating hiss to it. Definitely the sort of music that I used to play on my violin when I would say

I’m fine, go away

to anyone who came near me. Of course, I wasn’t.

This album manages to do something I find inexplicable, it’s made me really like some music with a 4/4 beat. The skill here is, I believe, texture management – something very close to my heart. Rarely are the beats here especially complex but they are aways… right. The textures on the synths and guitars are so beautifully marshalled that you forget to go 1-2-3-4 (as I always do when listening to lesser beat-driven music) and just go …. yyeeeaaaahhhh!

As the album calms down, from its earlier, alternately frentic and terrifying opening tracks, I can physically feel my body relaxing. By ‘Dig Two Graves’ even the piano feels borderline welcoming though with just that subtle undertone of menace to keep you wary.

The album closes with its title track, here we’re supposedly at order from the brain-scrambling chaos of the early stages and into what might even be called ‘ambient’ if that moniker hasn’t been totally ruined by too many “New Age” artists with Tibetan bowls. This is gentle synthage, still with a dark undertone washing around. Just when you start to feel it’s all going to be nice again, alien voices punctuate the calm and have you scrambling around, reaching for the light switch. Oh and there’s a twist at the end, which I won’t spoil.

My only complaints about this release are technical and not musical. Firstly there’s a slightly annoying fizz at the top end a lot of the time, I suspect this is down to either under EQ’d softsynths or over-hot inputs when recording. Also my Bête Noir: some synth strings opening the otherwise wonderful ‘Subtractions’. The effect here is of a swarm of wasps coming towards you, but they are not (for my, violinist’s, money) processed enough to remove the stain of a less than stellar sample.

I’m insanely grateful to all the wonderful women at female:pressure who replied to my email. I’m not mad enough to think they will all be to this standard (though quickly listening to some other tracks I’ve been sent, the quality is very high) or precisely to my taste. But I’m going to have a lot of fun listening to all this new music and I fully expect more preconceptions and expectations to be challenged. Yes, there are women making good experimental/weird/noise music and it’s stunningly good. It’s now my mission to bring it to you.



Yorkshire Sound Women Network



the grey sky is close here: ‘ghost machine’ by helicopter quartet

June 28, 2015 at 2:32 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Helicopter Quartet – Ghost Machine (self-released download)

ghost machine

[Editor’s note: written mainly on Tuesday 16th June, 2015.  All sections in italics are true observations from that day.]

I find myself on a long and unexpected train journey, not wanting to dwell on my reasons for travel.  As I stare distractedly out of the window my hands, of their own accord, busy themselves with a hastily packed rucksack.  I am pulled from my fugue by the sound of a retractable ball point pen being clicked.  Arranged neatly on the little fold down table in front of me I see my mp3 player, headphones and notebook.  Whilst my not-so-rational mind was free-floating in storm clouds of panic, my unconscious knew what to do.

Write, it suggests gently: write it down.

Write about music.

Track one of five: ‘Voice of Reason’

There is a lot hinted at but unsaid.  The implication is of a massive responsibility borne with immense dignity but increasing difficulty.  A transparent membrane holds everything in place, existing only because we believe it does.  Helicopter Quartet push against it until it threatens to split.

I touch my temple to the window to feel the train’s pulse.  I imagine I’m in some European indie film about, y’know, ‘life’.  I practice self-hypnosis by watching the overhead cables bounce from pole to pole.

Track two of five: ‘Off World’

Clear-eyed determination, lacewing delicacy.  Like a decision that has to be made despite, perhaps in full knowledge of, the uncomfortable consequences.  This is the musical equivalent of what in counselling is known as a ‘door knob moment’ – a sudden, serious revelation made at the end of a session:

So, yeah, I’ll see you next week and, er… there was that one time I came home early from school and found my Grandmother dying on the floor of her bedroom.  OK, bye!

It is the end of the beginning.

A lady guards a giant, octagonal, zebra striped hat box.  It takes up almost an entire end-of-carriage luggage rack.  The gun-metal grey of King’s Cross looks glorious in the punishing sunshine.

Track three of five: ‘Romanze’

A lament for an unknowable past, an unvisited country.  An example of Helicopter Quartet’s patented ‘uneasy pastoral’ mode.  It’s a moorland hike through the purple heather to a site famed for neolithic carvings.  We brush our fingers over the lichen covered stones.  The grey sky is close up here.

There are adverts for the Samaritans on the end of every platform.

Track four of five: ‘Cortege’

Domestic aside: I have a dinky, portable speaker made by Betron that I can plug my mp3 player into so I can listen to podcasts when in the shower, doing chores and whatnot.  Chrissie will be unimpressed to find out that I have listened to their work through a mono speaker the size and weight of a satsuma but, well, y’know…

Anyway, this track was playing as I held it in my hand whilst climbing the stairs.  Something about the music and the way it vibrated my palm was suddenly and shockingly poignant.  For a moment it was like holding an injured, shivering animal – a bird rescued from a cat, say – and I just stood, halfway up the flight, staring at it until the track finished and the spell was broken.

Sadly, I am too early for the track-side buddleja to be in bloom.  I imagine being a child again and gulping in the scented air through the small sliding windows that used to suffice for ventilation.

Track five of five: ‘Ghost Machine’

The title track, the closer.  What is a ghost machine?  Is it us?  Crude matter for Yoda to poke dismissively, existing for the purpose of producing a spectral reminder of itself?  Or can the objects of technology have souls that live on as code, in blueprints, in smears of oil or crackles of ozone?  Cemeteries of landfill – who knows?  Whatever it means, the emotional Fibonacci sequence that has been accruing throughout the album approaches a dramatic, urgent catharsis and then…

As I remove my headphones and wind the cable around my fingers:

Mother: “What is it? Did you hurt your ear again?”

Toddler, maybe three years old, crying: “No, I just want Daddy to feel better!”

Mother: “…yes, I’m missing Daddy too.”

A full carriage contemplates this exchange in complete silence.


It is difficult to write about Helicopter Quartet, the duo of RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield (violin, synths) and Michael Capstick (guitars), because their music is so enveloping, so attention seizing, that when I’m listening the part of my brain I use to put words in a row is too awestruck to function.  However, following many hours with it, I am certain this is their best album yet.  That a work of such mature beauty, sculpted over months, is freely downloadable is surely further evidence that we are living in a golden age for self released music.  It has the austere and magisterial presence of a glacier edge, the drama of that glacier calving into the sea.

If you ever act on anything I say then act on this: go get it.


Helicopter Quartet

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