happy new year humans: it’s the rfm zellaby list for two thousand and eighteen

January 1, 2019 at 2:06 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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That 2018 was a hard year for many eh?

The impact of recent seismic political and cultural change has reached its grubby hands into our lovely underground and started poking and prodding.  In 2018 I witnessed an underground scene fractured, where tempers were frayed and short.  Reasonable people and reasonable debate had given way to, barely disguised jealously, name-calling and shaming.  Social media, that onetime ally of the powerless, became a toxic swamp of subtweeting, humble bragging, opinion presented as fact and relentless negativity.

It’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  And yet…

There’s something so powerful about the ideas that accompany NAU/DIY music.  With little commercial expectation it still remains truthful and pure.  With no piper to pay we are free to pursue our own directions, explore strange cul-de-sacs and settle into comfortable dead ends.  Our music is often, literally, a gift.  Either between two real-life people connecting in any manner of means or, if using the ‘pay what you like’ option, a gift for the many we are yet to meet.

While it may be true that a DIY lifestyle rarely offers solutions, I feel it offers something approaching equal value.  It offers hope.  Hope that we can prevail in a toxic world, hope that invention, kindness and humility are still highly valued by some. Hope that we can create a safe space in a world that seems to be careering into a period of sustained traumatic shock.

For these reasons I feel, this year, it’s all the more important to celebrate this hope.

As you will know RFM spent most of 2018 hibernating and not all the RFM writers have had time to contribute so you are stuck with Rob, Luke and myself.

In a spirit of what Kathleen Hannah calls “non-competition and praise” we humbly present you the Zelleby lists 2018.

Rob Hayler

Happy New Year folks!  I wish you a peaceful 2019 and hope that 2018 left you smiling.  I realise that might be a vain hope given that the world is hurtling towards Armageddon but, hey, let’s leave the existential terror to one side for a few minutes and distract ourselves with talk of music.  It’s fine.  This is fine.  I SAID IT’S FINE.

*Ahem*

RFM being on hiatus for the majority of the year has been refreshing.  It hasn’t stopped me writing – add up my account of TUSK (below), my pieces for TQ Zine, various unfinished articles and a frankly embarrassing number of tweets and it totals around 15 thousand words – but the absence of pressure has invigorated my listening habits and left me untethered from critical consensus.  I’ve also found time for see monsd, my post-midwich recording project, and two albums of gurgling tweakage and heavy loopism have been followed by more high concept shenanigans with Posset and yol.  A collaboration with Stuart Chalmers will follow in due course.  I’m proud of how this has worked out and must give thanks again to Chrissie and Ross for donating the kit I am now hunched over.  Angels both.

Right then: lists, sort of.  I’ll mention a ‘proper label’, a ‘not really a label’ and then gesture towards recordings made by 27 acts that had me hovering two inches above the floor during 2018.

OFOCL

My ‘proper’ label of the year is Other Forms of Consecrated Life.  I’m currently halfway through an account of its many qualities which I hope to publish in the New Year so, for now, here are the bare facts of the matter.  Based in Scotland, OFOCL has released four albums since its inauguration in January of 2016.  It appears to have no online presence other than its Bandcamp page and these releases are only available digitally.  There are bare bones Discogslistings and a Twitter account, also set up in January 2016, which has sent a mere handful of tweets.  Each release is accompanied by a black and white photograph of an historical artefact, a museum piece, presented unreferenced and closely cropped on a plain background, thus shorn of context.  The aesthetic is both neatly coherent and pleasingly enigmatic.  Great logo too.  The tag-line on both Bandcamp and in the Twitter bio is as follows:

“Auditory excavations.  Eremetic Music.  Pareidolia.”

I will say more in due course.  I insist you check it out.

The ‘not really a label’ is ‘self-released on Bandcamp’.  My routine is well established: during the day I follow recommendations, mainly garnered from twitter, dutifully keeping a browser tab open for each.  On retiring to bed those that are ‘name your price’ are dozily downloaded to my ‘phone, either paying nowt or an amount depending on proximity to payday or whether my paypal account contains anything I can pass on.  Those that require a specific fee are placed on my wish list, triaged and either discarded or purchased according to taste and resources.  Releases acquired this way are listened to mainly via (surprisingly good) wireless headphones as I nod off, walk to and from work or busy myself around the house.  The huge majority of my life in music is now comprised of this process and I find it magical.  The efficiency, the frugality with which I can navigate an unimaginable catalogue, dizzying myself with novelty, whilst offering direct support to artists (who are sometimes also friends) is borderline miraculous.  I guess I can almost still understand preferring the physical exercise of crate digging – the rush of discovery, the thwap of sleeve on sleeve, the smell, the crackle of a run-in groove – but I’ve no time for anyone who scoffs at my alternative.  There are problems of course – some big – but that doesn’t stop Bandcamp being the most interesting thing to happen to music distribution since the mainstreaming of digital piracy in the 90s.

OK, my 27 recording artists of 2018 are below.  One or two of those mentioned might stretch the usual remit of this blog but, y’kno, fuck it.  Where a particular release has stood out, the link will take you directly to it but many of the artists featured have been prolific and are included in recognition of all the new pages in their own strange atlases. Given the ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland’ method by which I amassed most of this year’s highlights (“Gee Willikers! ‘Yesterday Rob’ has purchased a most fanciful download for ‘Today Rob’ to enjoy!”) the idea of a monolithic, numbered list seemed even more illegitimate than usual.  As such, may I present a new way of arranging my year’s favourites?  Everything that falls within the circles is bloody marvellous and absolutely worthy of your careful attention.  The closer it comes to the centre the more it chimed with me.  The alphabetical list of links is also a key to the graphic.  I think the solid red outermost circle might signify ‘the North East noise scene’ or ‘pastoral psych drone’.  Or maybe Kate Bush…

A             Adrian Shenton

B             Bridget Hayden

C             caroline mckenzie

D             chlorine

E              Chrissie

F              Clemency

G             Dale Cornish

H             Daniel John Williams

I               Delphine Dora and Sophie Cooper

J              Depletion

K             Guttersnipe

L              Hawthonn

M            Helicopter Quartet

N             Ivonne Van Cleef

O             Kieran Mahon

P             Marlo Eggplant

Q             Naido

R             Penance Stare

S              Robert Ridley Shackleton

T              Saboteuse

U             Sectioned

V             SLEEPMASSK

W            SOPHIE

X             Spelk

Y              Stuart Chalmers

Z              Wizards Tell Lies

ZZ           Xqui

Concentric Circles

Some notes:

SOPHIE

UN-INSIDES

Firstly, the release that falls furthest from the usual ‘no-audience’ remit of this blog: OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES by SOPHIE.  In some nearby but alternate universe this has been the best selling album of the year by orders of magnitude.  It has a quality, in spades, that I value above almost any other when it comes to ‘pop’ music: it sounds like it has been beamed back to us from the future.  From the glorious permission of ‘It’s OK to Cry’ – a velvet crowbar opening your rib cage – to the industrial strength, mentholated joy of ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’ this is a triumph.  I didn’t pay much attention to the ‘end’ of year lists prematurely spunked over an appalled November and December but I assume this topped most of them.  How could it not, right?

MOST PLAYED

Let’s return to a scuzzy, black-painted upstairs room.  Possibly my most played single track of the year is a recording of a gig by Clemency at The Fenton pub in Leeds and which was made available afterwards to interested attendees (such as myself) via Dropbox.  How’s that for no-audience underground, fuckers!?  I don’t know if this piece – a cross-genre skittering collage of unplaceable emotions, clattering beats and sliding bass – is emblematic of her work in general but a resolution for 2019 is to check out her Soundcloud archive and her ongoing radio show.

Saboteuse

ONE OFFS

How about the indefinable masterwork X by Saboteuse on Crow Versus Crow, eh?  A tape that evoked a kind of eye-bugging wild-take, like the listener was a Warner Brothers toon that had wandered into a David Attenborough documentary edited by Herschell Gordon Lewis.  Or the all-conquering Red Goddess (of this men shall know nothing) by Hawthonn?  A profoundly magical album that floats from the fecundity of the valley floor to the ageless moorland tops.  It’s been great to see Phil and Layla playing out – each version of ‘Lady of the Flood’ I see further securing its status as track of the year.  Scrying by Penance Stare was a revelation too – a model of deliberation in the face of rage and confusion, a head-clearing walk through a frozen dusk.

caroline mckenzie

PROLIFICISM

As already mentioned, several of the artists listed have taken advantage of the ease offered by Bandcamp and have been busy filling chests with treasure.  Chief amongst these is caroline mckenzie whose thoughtful, beautiful, longform albums are, on the surface, as welcome and restoring as warm sand underfoot but always have an emotional complexity revealed by close listening.  Kieron Mahon has had it good too.  My favourite of several equally excellent releases is Big Wheel – a kosmische journey with a utopian groove that reminds me at times of Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights’, which is the highest praise of course.  chlorine also filled a swimming pool with fluid, odd tasting, eye-stinging (sorry, that’s enough chlorine jokes) albums.  I had Grassi pegged as a (very talented) drone artist having just heard Silk Trees and Solace but listened with increasing interest as later releases started to more resemble the aesthetic of his terrific photographic collages.  Special mention must also be made of Matt Dalby who has been tirelessly cataloguing his life and artistic endeavours with YouTube and other social media.  A small band of followers, myself included, have enjoyed his vocal improvisations, his accounts of lengthy walks, his comics about autism and his videos about eating insects as snack food.  A hefty body of work is gathering, documenting a unique worldview.  Finally for this section I’m going to shamelessly lump together A WHOLE COUNTRY, like a giant fistful of multi-coloured playdoh in the hands of a naughty toddler, and proclaim this ‘The Year of the Dragon’.  2018 revealed to me a bunch of Welsh underground music pulled together by Ash Cooke (a.k.a. Chow Mwng) and the Dukes of Scuba zine.  Possibly my favourite of these artists was Xqui who worked tirelessly to get approximately nine million tracks up on Bandcamp and, amazingly, kept the quality control needle wavering around ‘superb’ for the whole year.

Adrian Shenton

DRONE/NOISE

Now a paragraph on the genres I am perhaps most closely associated with.  Should you wish your noise to be as bleak, desolate and hostile as a nuclear winter then brace yourself for Final Exit by the extraordinary Depletion.  If your nihilism is of a more cosmic strain – At the Mountains of Madness rather than The Road, say – then I recommend The Transmission by Naido which is a deep dive into turbid waters with an entertaining Lovecraftian back-story.  The soul music continues with the self-titled SLEEPMASSK, which provides an unnerving subcutaneous vibration which somehow feels corrective.  head/rush(ed) by Marlo Eggplant is a collection of curios, miniatures, sketches and exploratory procedures given coherence by a formidable aesthetic, irresistible charisma and dry humour.  Adrian Shenton’s The House That Jack Built is constructed from the cawing of jackdaws, my favourite of the mighty corvids, and thus wins this year’s ‘fuck, I wish I’d thought of that myself’ prize.  Spelk has the great fortune to sound exactly like an inspired collaboration between Neil Campbell and Daniel Thomas.  Possibly because it is.

Wizards Tell Lies

UNACCOUNTABLES

Over the holiday period some of us may have spent time with rarely seen relatives and been in an awkward spot when they’ve said something politically unsavoury or made daft claims like ‘nobody ever discovered anything via a shared Spotify playlist’.  I mean, what can you say?  Probably best just to help them to a chair, put 6Music on for them and slowly back out of the room smiling.  Serendipity remains, of course, rife.  For example, one of my favourite albums of the year came to my attention indirectly when Daniel John Williams joined in with a twitter conversation I was having about a mild fetish I confessed to (peeling the protective film from a gloss surface).  I checked out his work and the spacious, carefully constructed collages of Meet me on the corner became an instant staple.  I literally have no idea how I got to Ivonne Van Cleef as I sleep-downloaded the work, but I was intrigued immediately by the lack of information (“Ivonne Van Cleef is a one person band from San Jose, California.”), the numbered releases, the unifying aesthetic of the photography and, of course, the music itself which is a subtle mixture of desert guitar and technological elements which make it almost unplaceable [STOP PRESS: via IVC I’ve just stumbled over Caleb R.K. Williams and Selected Works is playing as I type – bloody hell, it’s great!].  The fantastic Bad Nature by Wizards Tell Lies landed via that most glorious of promotional tactics – a tweet full of download codes and an invitation to help yourself.  Mate, my scrabble to take advantage is always unseemly.  This album fucking rocks.  I described it at the time as ‘steely industro-punk two thirds sunk into tar-pit metal’ and ain’t going to better that today.

Guttersnipe

Chrissie

FINALLY

Despite being known nowadays mainly as a middle-aged, dronetronika beardy I’ve kept tabs on punk and metal since I was a thrash-teen in the grindcore/grunge boom of the late 80s.  2018 has seen one of my periodic upticks in interest, possibly due to the political shitstorm forcing slurry into every cranny of our existence, and you’ll be glad to know that I still like both kinds: fast and slow.  Of the stuff new to me this year the album I return to, like a tongue wobbling a tooth loosened whilst ‘resisting arrest’, is Annihilated by Sectioned.  I don’t know how to breakdown the genres and microgenres it belongs to, just that it is incredibly fast and brutal but played with such fluidity and space that the experience of listening is all consuming.  It’s hardcore.

My most hotly anticipated release of 2018 was My Mother The Vent by Guttersnipe and I know that feeling was widely shared.  Some also expressed an uneasiness as to whether the record would capture the screaming ferocity of the band’s incomparable live assault, but I would (I think) have been disappointed if they’d just ‘bootlegged’ themselves.  I wanted to see what the duo, both whip-fucking-smart of course, would do with a new medium and, much to my great delight, it is as accomplished as I expected it to be.  The noise is barely describable – an ecstatic rage, a seriousness of intent that teeters on the edge of hilarity, an amazing musicianship in the service of chaos – however the best, most eye opening track is the least similar to the tsunami of the live show.  The closer, ‘God’s Will To Gain Access’, begins as snipey as you like but, over its nearly 11 minute run dubs out into a magic carpet ride over a Hieronymous Bosch hellscape.  Neil Campbell described this as the album ‘grinding to a halt’, which made me laugh and is as good a take as any, but I read into it an almost entirely opposite meaning.  I saw this as a statement of intent – a way of using recording to escape what has already become their expected ‘sound’ and a way of linking it to the other projects – like Blood Claat Orange, say – that Gretchen and/or Rob are involved with.  The options this approach frees up are boggling.  They’ve practised with Hawthonn, for example – think on that without fidgeting with anticipation!  I imagine this album was second on everyone’s list after SOPHIE.  Well, it’s second on mine too.

The very last artist I wish to mention is Chrissie Caulfield.  As one half of Helicopter Quartet (the other being Michael Capstick) she has produced two albums of exceptional quality this year: Last Death of the Phoenix and Revisited (the latter being reconfigurations of eight highlights from the HQ back catalogue) but it is a solo release under her own name that I wish to discuss.  It’s not a Game is a four track EP totalling 20 minutes and in that short run time Chrissie pulls off something near-miraculous.  Via a bank of synths, her piano and violins she conveys something true and meaningful about what it is to be us.  The cover photo looks like a mountain rescue team trudging across a moor on their way to rescue some hapless, ill-prepared accident victim (an amusing counterpoint to the windswept, magick romanticism of the Hawthonn cover).  It complements the title and the vibe of the music perfectly – the exasperation, the frustration bordering on rage, but also the solemn knowledge that someone needs to take responsibility for salvaging the situation.  It’s grown up, serious music but at its core it has kindness, not ‘ruffle-your-hair, don’t-spend-it-all-at-once’ kindness but the foundational type borne of love and respect.  It’s humbling and beautiful.  If I had to pick a favourite release of 2018 I think it would be this.

So, with apologies to those not mentioned (especially many lovely RFM regulars usurped by all these newcomers) that is your lot.  Here’s looking forward.  Take care, people, and be kind.  All is love.

Rob x

Luke Vollar

“In 41 years I’ve drunk 50,000 beers, and they just wash against me like the sea into a pier.”

Not my words sadly, but the words of David Berman, slightly modified to make a point, although I’m not sure what my point is?

Perhaps it’s the years getting more blurred with advancing years. To confidently announce that Sheffield punks Rat Cage wrote the anthem for 2018 with their phlegm-saturated masterpiece ‘Pressure Pot’ from the superb seven inch Caged like Rats only to realise that it was actually released in 2017!  No matter as the equally awesome Blood on your Boots was released this year.

blood on your boots

The raw surge of excitement that is harsh noise, courtesy of Limbs Bin, does that insect-warfare-through-a-primitive-rig thing.  LB’s Josh Landes is a one-man noise grinder from the USA happy to occasionally chuck in a Steely Dan cover for the heck of it.  His One Happy World record is a brief but thrilling ride.
Werewolf Jerusalem released a ‘proper’ CD of dark brooding electronic minimalism called The Nightmares and old faves Usurper (along with Jelle Crama) released ‘Booby Prize’ – a fine release who’s handsome packaging matches the wondrous sounds within. Still beguiling in 2018!

usurper booby

And a late contender for album of the year is the self-titled debut from Notts based, UK metal duo Shrykull (released on CD in a run of 100).  This tasty disc displays a fine vintage of motorcycle huffing excellence. Dig it!

Joe Posset

This has been the year when I’ve listened to more ‘mainsteam’ stuff than ever before.  So, 2018 has seen me cue up new and old sounds from: Big Brave, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Kamasi Washington, Joni Mitchell, Gore, Toshi Ichiyangi, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Autechre, Alice Coltrane, Earth, Old Dirty Brubeck, Julia Holter, Tal National, Soft Machine & The Shrubs.  Thanks to all of you who knocked the rough edges off a rough year.

NAU Records and tapes

caught in the wake forever

  • Sheer beauty love-bite swoon from Caught in the Wake Forever & glacis on Version & Delineation (Crow Versus Crow)
  • Sophisticated coffee-table head noodle from Rodrigo Tavares on Congo (Hive Mind)
  • Fever-dream night-sweat funk from Robert Ridley-Shackleton on Stone Cold Crazy (Crow Versus Crow)
  • Un-translatable earth songs from the strongest spirit imaginable by Jean-Marie Massou on Sodorome Vol 1 (Vert Pituite La Belle)

ROMAN-NOSE-LP-front

  • Blood-red kif-smoke & mind rickets from Roman Nose on Roman Nose (Singing Knives/Humane Pyramid)
  • Inward spiralling fingerprint jass from Blood Stereo on Tape Loop Meditations (Chocolate Monk)
  • Regional top-of-the class weirdos. All the Various Artists on The Harrowing of the North (End of The Alphabet Records)
  • Workbench experiments to gnarly fingers plucking ripe air from Chow Mwng on Stuttering Hand (Self Release)
  • Slick brain-fold of Lear-esque proportions from Gwilly Edmondez on Trouble Number (Slip Imprint)
  • Quick-blubber-vocal-blabber from Fritz Welch on A Desire to Push Forward Without Gaining Access to Anything (Radical Documents)
  • Painful jaw-twang and cavity vibrations from Chik White on Their Faces Closed (Chocolate Monk)

tom and stuart

  • And the THF Drenching prize for exceptional tapewerk goes to Stuart Chalmers and Tom White for Awkward Objects (Fractal Meat)

Live shows

shunyata

Records and tapes are great and all but no scene would survive without real-life interaction.  Gigs are a vital part of the NAU so I say a huge ‘yeah man’ for the regular lunchtime shows at Gateshead’s Shipley Art Gallery featuring celebrated dark artists: Culver , Xazzaz and the super spaced-out Shunyata Improvisation Group among others.

There was more lunchtime fun at The Newcastle University’s Kings Hall, this time with the exceptional Joe McPhee/John Pope/Paul Hession first-time trio as part of Newcastle’s Jazz & Improvised Music festival.  Two hundred swinging OAPs can’t be wrong!

Bradford’s FUSE was one of my favourite places to play this year (in a trio with the mighty Yol and Toby Lloyd) combining supremely relaxed venue folk (Hi Chris) with great, reasonably priced, locally-sourced drinks all presented at travel-friendly times.  After the show pretty much everyone who didn’t have a bus or train to catch decamped to a nearby pub to keep the conversation going.  Splendid stuff.

Miya_Masaoka_-_photo_by_Heike_Liss-517x355

2018 marks the year I saw my first ever ‘proper’ full-on orchestra with the super-beautiful, super-minimal piece The Movement of Things composed by Miya Masaoka and conducted by Ilan Volkov at Tectonics Glasgow.  The whole thing floored me with as much impact as Black Flag did when I was a spotty teen.

The Old Police House in Gateshead hosted many, many exceptional nights; the standout for me being Ali Robertson & Joyce Whitchurch’s drama/improv/morality tale that held me in a zonked trance throughout its brilliant duration.

20181015_105923

And in a TUSK festival crammed full of highs (Hameed Bros, Dale Cornish, Saboteuse, Pinnel, our very own Marlo Eggplant, Limpe Fuchs, Adam Bohman & Lee Patterson were all beautiful) the wonderful ink-haired Robert Ridley-Shackleton won the hearts of my whole damn family with his utterly charming, whip-smart funky and brain-boggling performance.  The Cardboard Prince reigns supreme.

And talking of reigning…although the ice-hockey venue was rubbish and they were a bit tired and sloppy, I finally got a chance to see another teen favourite – bloody SLAYER with my teenage kids.  And things don’t get any more metal than that.

\m/  \m/

The increasing importance of MP3 Blogs and Internet Radio cannot be denied; creating another platform for DIY artists to inhabit, I give a New Year Blog Cheer to the super classy Slow Goes the Goose, outrageously niche Bulletproof Socks, DIE or D.I.Y and Bleak Bliss (again).

As for Internet Radio I’ve goofed on the clever selections and dulcet tones of: Free Form Freakout, Ramshackle Sunrise, Sindre Bjerga & Claus Poulsen’s history of Danish & Norwegian Experimental Music, Tor FM, Fae Ma Bit Tae Ur Bit, QT and the much missed Crow Versus Crow.

And finally.  Here is my special shout out to everyone who made me a mixtape, sent me a link or a CD-r.  These kindnesses are always appreciated and cherished.  For every zine written, lent or sent; to every gig bootlegger, interviewer, blogger and promoter.  Thank you.  Jx

-ooOOoo-

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