private ritual: luke vollar on fells, kevin sanders and skull mask

February 24, 2017 at 11:46 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Fells – Waking (Invisible City Records)

Kevin Sanders – Numb for Somethings (Hairdryer Excommunication)

Skull Mask – La Muerte Es Sabia (Invisible City Records)

No filthy typewriter, or flimsy keyboard for our Luke Vollar.  He presents his vision scrawled in ink, direct to page.  With the filters removed, the truth bleeds through…

fells-waking

Fells – Waking (Invisible City Records) C120 Cassette and Digital Album

fells-1

fells-2

sanders-numb

Kevin Sanders – Numb for Somethings (Hairdryer Excommunication) Digital Album

sanders-1

sanders-2

skull-mask

Skull Mask – La Muerte Es Sabia (Invisible City Records) C40 Cassette and Digital Album

 

skull-1

skull-2

 

Invisible City Records

Hairdryer Excommunication

-ooOOoo-

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memories reworked and remembered again.

culver-fru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wise man once said,

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

Nuff said.

 

Beartown Records

Know Your Enemy

-ooOOoo-

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.]

—ooOoo—

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

capsules

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. 

—ooOoo—

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.

for-marlo

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

—ooOoo—

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

junk-seance

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.

xx

—ooOoo—

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

furchick

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.

—ooOoo—

Joe Murray himself takes a bullet-pointed turn:

five-mile

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?

—ooOoo—

sofs-video

…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?

—ooOoo—

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.

vol-5

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.

—ooOoo—

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?]

jbnc

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.

hqef

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.

eotvb

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.

—ooOoo—

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.

—ooOoo—

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.

—ooOoo—

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

100_4233

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):

HOLY FUCKING CHRIST!! MIGUEL IS SAT RIGHT IN FUCKING FRONT OF ME PLAYING THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF THAT FUCKING GUITAR!!  FUCK!!!

—ooOoo—

wrapped for winter: luke vollar on nwyvre, watch repair

September 18, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Nwyvre – HARMONIC (self-released download)

Watch Repair – The Tidal Path (CD-r, Ono, Apophenia)

Watch Repair – Sea Shanty Township (3” CD-r, Ono, Aquatic)

harmonic

Nwyvre – HARMONIC

YES! Now there’s an enthusiastic start to a review, probably because when I retire to my quarters, put on my exquisite burgundy smoking jacket, pour my self a generous slug of plum brandy and don the headphones it is not THIS that I expect. This is some banging techno brut mate. A quick diversion if you’ll permit: I would suggest that most RFM readers may be familiar with the Editor in Chief’s modus operandi in his midwich guise. All of the sounds summoned from a fairly basic looking metal box, never a great deal of deviation from this set up and why would you when there are seemingly endless nooks and variables to hear, explore and obsess over. Well, Nwyvre sounds to me like midwich if he dusted off his aviator shades and plugged his groovebox synth into the fag lighter of his Ford Capri while hurtling at breakneck speed around estates and country back roads, high on caffeinated drinks and a strong outlaw vibe. Short, sweet and well oiled. Killer.

sea-shanty

Watch Repair – Sea Shanty Township / The Tidal Path

So Watch Repair is the post Nwyre come down back at the shack as your pulse slows and you can marvel at the strangeness of the early hours when most people are asleep. This is an odd creaking kind of half folk music where gestures and understated flourishes on what sounds like a wide variety of instrumentation are left to hover in the air before dispersing and disappearing like smoke. If I were to suggest that it sounds like Gastr del Sol warming up then it would be meant as a compliment. This is not directionless noodling, more a suggestion of a mournful sea shanty obscured by heavy mist. I see a group of friends on a beach in the south of England wrapped for winter. Their smiling faces have no clue of what lies ahead, they are in the moment – happy to be alive, to feel, hear and see the sea, to laugh as they awkwardly traverse the sand dunes, half drunk.

tidal-path

The Tidal Path suggests that I’m not too far off with the coastal analogies and even begins with what sounds like a field recording of a walk on the beach. Having said that, the high pitched caws extracted from a stringed instrument do resemble the sound of seagulls and the gentle woody clunking of said instrument could be your shoes nudging pebbles aside.

By the second track it sounds like pure acoustic guitar played in a prepared fashion as objects are placed beneath the strings to give a metronomic bounce while the player gets busy on every other inch of the thing. Like Derek Bailey discovered incense and grew his hair out.

The final lengthy track starts with what sounds like an autoharp, the shrill pings firing soft petal bullets before the curious rustling and darker hued movement return as if the music is haunted. The soft crackling could be an open fire keeping out the wild weather and the dark night whilst the glow of the embers and the fine malt whiskey keep you in relative tranquility. At this moment you could want for nothing more.

—ooOoo—

Nwyvre

Watch Repair at Ono

Watch Repair on Bandcamp

new vistas of nada: luke vollar on jake meginsky, ben gwilliam, gold soundz all-stars

February 11, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Jake Meginsky – Kasper Struabe Stencil Cycles (tape, Mantile Records, #029, edition of 50)

Ben Gwilliam – Breakdownspedup (tape, Mantile Records, #030, edition of 50)

Various Artists – Magnetic Decay (recycled tape, Gold Soundz, GS#128, edition of 25)

kasperstruabestencilcycles

Jake Meginsky – Kasper Struabe Stencil Cycles

The excellent Mantile Records takes a side-step out of the noise ghetto for a hunk of sweetie pie that has one loafer on the dance floor and the other in the electro-acoustic treasury club. It’s the kind of furtive brain music that brings to mind the mighty Autechre; swoops of silvery bloop disappear down a rainbow precipice to emerge body popping in peacock finery, too dazzling to behold without shades. The strobing percussives towards the end are really something. No word of a lie – I am presently nodding my head and NOT stroking my chin.

breakdownspedup

Ben Gwilliam – Breakdownspedup

Various recordings made by placing Dictaphones inside freezers until the cassette slows and the mechanism seizes. Remember that bit in Shallow Grave when the bad guys finish off another guy by casually sticking him in a chest freezer and leave heavy sacks on the lid which make it impossible for him to escape? Brr, still gives me the heebie jeebies now. Thankfully this isn’t a recording of a human being stopped with low temperature (don’t even think about it transgressive readers) rather the impassive sound of a small machine slowed by inertia, a different type of nothing: from grainy speckles of frost-gripped audio to bassy and glacial hum. But, just as I’m preparing to stick this artifact into the ‘interesting experiments’ section, the recording morphs into a complex strata of textures as the freezer and the Dictaphone seem to sing to each other like whales in a vast ocean, mournful and melancholy. Flip it over and we’re in a chilly no mind zone witnessing the birth of a new micro genre: cold noise wall (CNW?)

magnetic decay

Various Artists – Magnetic Decay

More fertile goosh from the cold lands of Norway (good link eh?) and the mecca of all things no-audience: Gold Soundz.

No idea who Håkon Lie is, I’m presuming he’s not the Norwegian politician who passed away in 2009 [Editor’s note: Google journalism at its finest there]. Live tape manipulations are extrapolated into new vistas of nada while battery operated toys are triggered with buttocks. Recognizable chunks of popular music are fed into the belly of the beast and coughed out as garish and slightly frightening splats of wha?? An American instructional tape finishes the set by intoning:

we become what we think about

…followed by a smattering of applause.

Ian Watson next with some suitably oppressive grey drizzled doomscapes; sound art that sticks to your fingers like clay. It has the same inexplicable feel for lonely English landscapes as Xazzaz. My favourite track is the last one, ‘times wiped’, which sounds like a tape loop of wind chimes excavated after being buried in the wet earth for a long while.

F. Ampism is a Brighton based beard who has been knitting intoxicating ear brews for a number of years now. By being excellent and largely ignored he makes for the perfect dinner guest at RFMHQ. Whilst an electronic and tape concoction is present, so too is a bewildering arsenal of clunks, rattles and bubbles left to bob merrily amongst the purple blueberry foam. As huge goblets of the strange but delicious cocktail are handed out by pink elephants we make our way downstream through the dense jungle as the chatter of wildlife becomes a thrum of forward motion, centipedes as big as a horse, amphibians playing thumb pianos… you get the picture.

The compilation is closed by label head-honcho Sindre Bjerga, a guy who seems to literally spend his entire life soaking up spilt beer with his trousers whilst horsing about with his collection of outdated and redundant stuff: tape players, tiny microphones and the like.  He makes something out of nothing and does it spontaneously brain-to-hand-to-gob-and-back-to-brain.

Whilst I can’t lie and say that I’m unconcerned about the impact his floor based activities will have on his joints in advancing years (‘noise knee’ can now be found listed as a genuine ailment in up to date medical journals) he should be commended for his ceaseless activities. ‘They’ say that to be truly great at anything (or at least to stand a chance) you have to do it a lot. So I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Sindre is the goddam Hendrix of the Dictaphone and this is another fine addition to his humongous back catalogue.

What a splendid compilation, procure yourself a copy at once.

—ooOoo—

Mantile Records

Gold Soundz [Editor’s note: good luck…]

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

—ooOoo—

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.

SPY0

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.

rook

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.

tessellation

…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.

SPY1

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.]

delphine

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?

crowradio

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.

robbie7

…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.

embers

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.

posscat

[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.

fort

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.

winebox

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.

cclub

…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.]

icrpower

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.

RAN_-_Her_Trembling_Ceased

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.

entertainted

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.]

lemon

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 download..er…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

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

aas

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”

ineluctable

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

lp1

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.

Yes

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

ashshimmer

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

mel

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

guttersnipe

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.

—ooOoo—

the tide’s return: luke vollar on alec cheer

November 19, 2015 at 1:39 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Alec Cheer – Low Summer Sunlight On Water (vinyl LP, Macrowhisker, *MW* 3, edition of 161 or download)

Cheer – Street Wondering Memory Recall (CD-r, apollolaan recordings, edition of 150 of download from Macrowhisker)

Cheer – Partick Car Lights (CD-r, Benbecula Records – Minerals Series, BEN545)

Cheer – Autumn (download, Macrowhisker, *MW* 8)

low summerstreet wonderingautumn

Alec Cheer is a Glasgow based gent who moves in circles of the drone/free/psych community, at one point slinging bass in the sadly defunct higher minded rockers Pyramidion. Alongside his solo work he produces beautiful photography, artwork and animation – just quietly getting on with it.

It was on a break to the South Ayrshire coast to celebrate a good friend’s imminent wedding that I asked Alec to part with some goods.  I’d been aware that he did these things but had only heard snippets (and a lot of praise). He graciously posted me some items post-stag-do which, to my slight embarrassment, I am finally sitting down with several months later.

Given the nature of Alec’s music it is unsurprising that I should find myself wistfully reflecting on an idyllic weekend with some fine company in the beautiful Scottish countryside celebrating the arc into adulthood of marriage, love, friendship. While I chuckled at the hi-jinx reflected in my own shoddy photos I found myself with a lump in my throat when, after the hangovers had subsided, Alec forwarded his pictures on: simple moments at the tail end of the summer captured in a disarmingly modest yet radiant hue. ‘What if life is little more than a collection of moments?’ I thought, ‘most forgettable, a few magical, all lost forever.’

Low Summer Sunlight On Water is mostly piano played in a spare, primitive fashion save for the odd recording of feet crunching along a beach. I may have mentioned before that I love the piano and this ticks all the right boxes.  Phrases and patterns are nagged obsessively, emerging from a dusty nostalgic yearning.  As some of it is recorded in a library in Glasgow (a big, old one) it is easy to imagine Alec at the keys, lost in his own world.

Street Wondering Memory Recall is composed using cyclical acoustic guitar patterns, slow drones and blurred field recordings.  The slowly rotating orbs of the final track, ‘Inertia Through Chaos’, soften steel strings into clouds of white feathers falling from above in infinite slow motion. It sounds like coming home.

Like a crazed dope fiend I immediately slap on the next disc: Partick Car Lights. With sounds this openly lush I might struggle to look Alec in the eye without blushing. His heart is big and he’s not afraid to tell you that it will all be OK in the end. At the wrong/right moment you could find yourself crying like a baby to this. I have all the time in the world for the chilly alien landscapes described in these pages however the abundance of warmth in this music could thaw the chillies right out of you.  In these over saturated and cynical times of sound in abundance it is easy to forget the raw power of music when positive emotions are invested effectively.

Cheer nudges niggling pressure points with radiant heat before gently guiding you to an armchair by an open fire.  Pressing a generous slug of single malt whiskey into your hand, he suggests an early night and a bracing stroll at daybreak. The album slows way down towards the end: humming loops that dance like the setting sun over the tide’s inevitable return.

Alec also has a digital only album available on his Bandcamp site – Macrowhisker – called Autumn. Apparently inspired by his large collection of reverb and delay units, it has his acoustic guitar central to it with the effects expanding the sound to the aphotic zones of porpoise love rituals. A kind of Arthur Russell feel of day dream contentment is added to Alec’s big, open and joyful guitar styling.  It’s somewhat appropriate that I should enjoy this whilst gazing out of the window at the autumnal North Yorkshire landscape.

—ooOoo—

Alec Cheer

Macrowhisker

apollolaan recordings

Benbecula Records (Editor’s note: label shut down in 2009 so you’ll have to be resourceful…)

vowel tax, headtangle: luke vollar on ali robertson and dylan nyoukis

September 4, 2015 at 9:12 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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Ali Robertson – Ali Robertson & His Conversations (self-released CD-r in card booklet, edition of 100)

Dylan Nyoukis & Ali Roberston – Every Man Deserves A Juice (CD-r, Giant Tank/Chocolate Monk, choc.312, edition of 50)

ali

Can you help me out of bed? I need a pee…

…is how we get started on this disc. Robertson is addressing his wife Collette who willingly obliges, we even get to hear the sound of domestic bliss: a morning kiss.  Aww.  After this though it just gets stranger…

Ali Robertson is one half of long serving Edinburgh odd balls Usurper.  I’ve been listening to Usurper for about three of my son’s life spans now and I remain as confused, amused and baffled as when I first encountered them.  Imagine a wobbly screen moment as I take you back to the heady days of 2006, a time of floor-core-loop-pedalling-eye-rolling-sun-worshipping-ecstatoprovisation and… Usurper.  Two scruffy Herberts rolling marbles, bowing polystyrene and making a very quiet, pointillistic improvisation with gaping mawz of silence.  Brave, absurd, funny and frequently beautiful they seemed to defy categorization.  The good news is that they’re still going strong and haven’t gone shit.

Solo adventures from Ali Robertson have been a rewarding side step from Usurper with Ali delighting in the sound of his own voice, simple overdubbing and the hidden sound of junk brought to life.

Ali Robertson & His Conversations is awesomely packaged in a kinda booklet thing with a poem inside that hints at the dissatisfaction and turmoil under the surface, or even on the surface for much of it.  A post Tory election win meditation on austerity Britain or a ‘What’s Going On’ for the no-audience underground. The first track sees Ali and Collette repeating mantra like hymns to working life and the cyclical nature of it all, there is the soft patter of feet walking to work and occasional noises: slurping, crunching.

On to track two and we have Sacha Kahir joining Ali for conversations about Karl Marx, employment, the media, the economy, the class system and more.  There’s also swearing.  The discussion fades out and Ali is making like an overworked auctioneer who’s had his vowels removed as he couldn’t pay his vowel tax.  As we return to the discussion the recording quality has deteriorated and the speech is taking on a harsh buzz.  We are sitting in a room with two Scottish men, talking.

Track three features more Sacha and more lippy furbles from Robertson.  Allowing speech to clash, overlap and intermingle.  It’s a headtangle for sure as the discussions are pretty interesting with a fine streak of misanthropy running through them, but by this point it becomes nearly impossible to follow the threads.  Odd words, sounds, chortles poke out from the wordage creating a lulling effect that, while not exactly soothing, is pretty hypnotic.

ali and dylan

Every Man Deserves A Juice is Ali Robertson in collaboration with long term buddy Dylan Nyoukis and was put together for a short European tour.  Text recital, object tinkering, tape scuttle and the like have been recorded and edited separately then somehow stitched together. Shit, I don’t know how but it’s certainly less ‘weighty’ than …Conversations and more of a family knees up for the weirdies with a game of trivial pursuits included amongst the flotsam, a tape recorder left to document lovely moments or maybe a submerged aside on all no-audience endeavours (‘trivial pursuits’?).

A drop into a discussion between our heroes about power stations, holidays (?!) is cut off by a gumbone solo (I’m guessing Robertson – I can  hear the cut of his jib you dig?)

They didn’t get it cause they’re Americans and they’re fucking stupid

…in a slowed voice amongst a plethora of objects rattling, untuned strings and other ephemera dragged into a corner by Dylan and Ali to be mauled and slathered in noxious yellow goo, quite a potent aroma as you can imagine.  Ain’t no sense in trying to make sense of these recordings.  I picture Ali and Dylan grinning like demented educators as they pour the wine of confusion from a great height just to see what patterns will emerge. You can be damn sure that I will continue to lap up that sweet berry juice cause it tastes so fine.

—ooOoo—

Ali Robertson

Chocolate Monk

fub stumps: joe murray and luke vollar on fritz welch

August 17, 2015 at 11:13 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Fritz Welch – Nothing to offer (tape, Singing Knives, SK024)

Fritz Welch tape for RFM

[Editor’s note: both Joe and Luke got hold of pre-release copies of this tape and decided, independently of each other, that this glorious racket needed documenting.  As each account is brief and rigorous (fast and bulbous?) I decided to publish the pair.  Any investigative journalists suspicious that this positivity may be enhanced by Joe and Jon Marshall of Singing Knives being in cahoots can cool it. ‘Conflict of interest’ means fuck all ‘down’ here in the no-audience underground.  If we don’t blow our own trumpets, who will?]

Joe:

In our end of Newcastle there’s a special dance we do to welcome a drummer’s solo album up the hill, past the motorcycle shops and down Westgate Road; sort of a step-slide-shuffle (with a Richard III lurch) to pay homage to one of our favourite sub-genres.

Fritz Welch, noted drummer, vocal jaxx-man, pen-artist and collaborator beds down in an Italian Synagogue to deliver a super-tight drum performance par excellence.  While many a stick man takes the blank canvas as a licence to bada-boom-bada-bing all over the shop (and there’s nothing wrong with that) Fritz is playing a longer game by introducing metallic scrape, sarcastic hooting, chain rattle and bomb-like membranous explosions to the un-named affair.  Taken as a whole 20 minute piece this percussive interference has as much in common with the movie soundtrack than non-idiomatic improv.

Tension builds as the creature rattles the rusty shackles pinning him to the dungeon wall.  Overpowering the guard with a single blow to his unguarded temple he unhitches the ornate key and ancient locks squeal open.  Slowly, menacingly he lopes up the stairs, each heavy foot plodding with violent purpose on the worn stone steps.  Finding the master aslumber he wraps stubby fingers round the exposed pale throat and grins through a ruined mouth as the life hisses out of his pampered tormentor.

The soft-lob of the drum warms my cockles and melts my shoulder-knots like cheap butter in the sun.  Black Yoga?

Side two is recorded in a cleansing sauna and as sharp as a hit of authentic kimchi.  Fritz is a huffing and puffing (even pulling off a Rat Pack croon) as slaps are administered to assembled red arse-cheeks.

The soft mechanics (neurons firing, brain fizzing like sherbet) that take place between manicured fingers and groomed gob-hole make the percussive clatter fit oh-so neatly into spluttering mouth-jaxx splatter.

We take it for granted that kidneys, liver and spleen go about their business unnoticed, just efficiently chugging away 24/7.  But here the improvisation gland has been tweaked with spice until it fucking glows; spurting out hot routines, classic scrape n’ pop and the close-ear hiss that make this a gloriously inclusive listen.

Scratchy, scratchiness,

Fritz speaks deeply.

Indeed,

we all cry doing the Richard, dragging our legs so feet twist into miniature snow shovels.  Damn!

Luke:

Percussion side: Our man does some brain boom bap interface of the more subtle and measured variety, using the space to illuminate his initially hesitant probing of the kit.  A sudden ‘kaboom!!’ jumps out of the silence and has me worrying about giving the kids nightmares.  No need for sweat bands or constipated gurning – let’s see which bit does what, yes? There are brief flurries of rapitty rap which soon get discarded for epiglottal pivotal fumbles in the back seat.  Brave for a first date?  Undoubtedly.

Vocal side: Close up recording with none of the cavernous reverb from the previous side. There is percussion of some sort, pretty hep dragging and cranking noises that Fritz drools over with slobbering fub stumps, creaking a rainbow in the damn sediment. Soft murmers like a love sick vessel calling for me (swims out to sea in moonlight).

—ooOoo—

Singing Knives

detritus maestros: luke vollar on va aa lr, guttersnipe, xazzaz

August 6, 2015 at 3:52 pm | Posted in no audience underground, not bloody music | 1 Comment
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VA AA LR – Ping Cone (tape, Mantile Records, #028, edition of 50)

Guttersnipe – Demo (CD-r or download, self-released)

xazzaz – descent / the crusher (tape, matching head, matching head 209)

VAAALR_PINGCONE

VA AA LR – Ping Cone

VA AA LR are a trio of London based improvisers who make a confounding and ludicrous noise on all manner of non-musical items.  The most obvious comparison would be with that other trio of detritus maestros Spoils & Relics, as they also have a weird grasp of group dynamics and a fearless trust in the communal brain.  No coincidence that the tape is released on Mantile Records – (the smallest Spoils member) Johnny Scarr’s label.

Abrupt cuts and volume drops entice the curious into the rusty thicket, it’s just you’re more likely to get a spoke in your ass than a sloppy kiss.  What starts as hesitant and probing gradually becomes the lopsided half jam of a cola slurping rusted robot making its way down a filthy, ruined corridor – a strobe occasionally lighting the dismal scene.

Yes, we could talk about the lineage of AMM and the principles of improvisation and experimentation being ingested and regurgitated by a new generation but something tells me that these boys would be more interested in yanking your pants down in public and laughing at your bare ass than discussing Eddie Prevost’s latest musings.

guttersnipe

Guttersnipe – Demo

Now this li’l disc arrived with me via a man who quite possibly has the most perfect name for a punk drummer ever: Rob Glew, a.k.a. ‘The Ginger Tornado; a.k.a. ‘Spaghetti Limbs’ a.k.a. ‘Bobby Sticks’.  Ex- of sadly defunct righteous punk squawkers etai keshiki, a band who shared a tape with my groop Castrato Attack Group (*ahem*, still available for gigs).  An unlikely comradery developed betwixt both bands: the skinny shit kickers and the receding, beer bellied sludgemonauts – a cosmic alignment if you will.  Hell, Bobby even guested on sticks for one Castrato show.  But enough of  Ol’ Vollars reminiscing, etai keshiki have ceased to be but all members have to my knowledge continued to pursue musical activities.  For instance…

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.

xazzaz - descent crusher

xazzaz – descent / the crusher

Another missive from the North East primitives on the none-more-black Matching Head: tape only, no internet presence, all regular readers know the drill.  Xazzaz has elegantly stroked my lobes in the past with fine, nourished noise loopholes. This one coughed up in a plastic rectangle from the Northumberland swamps is a sidestep that shows another feather in his headdress.

The fidelity is gloriously wrong, as if a ball of fluff the size of a tennis ball was hanging off the needle of your record player. A hypnotic loop comes in and out of focus like the black oily cogs lowering you beneath the surface.  Frenzied string abuse compelling forward (or downward) motion also blurs and sharpens.  A similar theme is maintained over both sides with a strong atmosphere of anxiety, as if our man is descending into unknown and inky depths with only his battered guitar and amp on the plinth, trying to wring as much from the rusty strings as his cold damp fingers will allow. There is a darkly compelling isolationist bent to this tape that is as inviting as the warm glow of a stranger’s window on a pitch black night.  A bit of research tells me that Xazzaz has his first proper CD now available from Turgid Animal.  Just try and stop me.

—ooOoo—

Mantile Records

Guttersnipe

Matching Head

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