speechless: on not writing about taming power and ashtray navigations

June 21, 2016 at 11:55 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Taming Power – Selected Works 1996-97 (7” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 7” – 001, edition of 100)

Taming Power – Three Pieces (10” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10” – 015, edition of 111)

Taming Power – Six Pieces (10” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10” – 016, edition of 110)

Taming Power – Twelve Pieces (10” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10” – 017, edition of 525)

Ashtray Navigations – A Shimmering Replica (12” vinyl LP plus CD, VHF, vhf#138)

Ashtray Navigations – Ashtray Navigations presents The Mechanical Abrasions Of (volume one) (CD-r, Memoirs of an Aesthete, moa1-2016, edition of 100)

Ashtray Navigations – Ashtray Navigations presents The Mechanical Abrasions Of (volume two) (CD-r, Memoirs of an Aesthete, moa2-2016, edition of 100)

Ashtray Navigations – Lemon Blossom Gently Pixelating In The Breeze (CD-r, Memoirs of an Aesthete, edition of 100)

a shimmering replicathree

Regular readers will know of the respect I have for the work of Askild Haugland.  Click on the ‘taming power’ tag above and you will find a guest post by Neil Campbell introducing him to me and thus, inadvertently, to radiofreemidwich, a catalogue annotated by Askild himself (with ordering details – Taming Power and his label Early Morning Records have virtually no online presence) and a bunch of reviews in which my usual tools of swagger and whimsy fail to express just how special this music is. The world described is unique, the methods used are simple but unfathomable, the results achieved are various angles on perfection.

Regular readers will also know of the swooning love I have for the music of Ashtray Navigations. Click on the ‘ashtray navigations’ tag above and you will find thousands of words telling stories of the deep blue interstellar Buddha, of edible sound, of military machinations, of 1960s gangsters yachting off the Amalfi coast – my usual tools of swagger and whimsy singing like a wind chime made of knives. The reason I write is, to a large extent, to describe the kind of life-affirming, psychedelic synaesthesia evoked by Phil Todd and Mel O’Dubhshlaine. No one does it better.

So why have these releases been languishing undescribed, many months after being received here at Midwich Mansions? Partly for the same reason a tweet is easier to write than an email, which in turn is easier to write than a letter, which in turn is easier to write than a proclamation painted in foot high letters with hand-ground pigment on a chalk-white cliff-face. When something feels important and it is clear I don’t have the time or energy to do it justice, it is easy to put it to one side and wait for the ‘perfect time’ which, of course, never comes.

My silence on the matter is partly fear of failure too. I realise that writing about music is, ultimately, a futile business (‘dancing about architecture’ and all that) which is why I’ve never done it. What I do is write about the response I have when listening to music – that ‘once removed’ step acknowledging the subjectivity of the exercise and freeing me from the obligation of ‘judgement’. Ugh, nothing more tiresome than some bollock awarding marks out of ten on Pitchfork is there? Still, I appreciate this ‘have cake/eat it’ stance has its limitations and the artifice tends to collapse entirely when confronted with music that I love so sincerely, that I engage with so wholeheartedly. I have to patch my burst ego and re-inflate it with a foot-pump before my wittering seems anything other than utterly unnecessary. In short: faced with the releases listed above what the hell am I going to say?

Thus this time I’ve decided against wittering and I’ve put swagger and whimsy to one side. Instead you’re getting an illustrative anecdote at second hand. The other day I was listening to the episode of Adam Buxton’s podcast in which he interviews Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. They chat and stroll around Lyon the afternoon before the band play a show in the Roman amphitheatre there…

(an aside on Radiohead: I was dismayed to see the outburst of snarkery on social media that accompanied the release of their recent album. I’m not a huge fan but recognise they are an important band and have created some very fine music indeed. Plenty of their output is strange and interesting but is also engaging enough to have acted as a ‘gateway drug’, ushering thousands of kids into more esoteric galleries. I also admire the ‘have cake/eat it’ relationship they have with corporate music: being part of it but largely, it seems, on their own terms. To those who feel the urge to take the piss I say: fuck off. There must be some Velvet Underground box set you could wank over instead. Go peel your banana.)

…and at one point their conversation is interrupted by a fan. The guy is a perhaps a little earnest, but not at all creepy, and wishes to express how important the music of Jonny’s band is to him. He says the same thing several times, phrased slightly differently each time, like we do when excited and tongue tied and Jonny thanks him. Adam takes a picture of the two of them together after the inevitable struggle to make the camera work. I was touched by Jonny’s graciousness but found the slight catch, the slight warble in the fan’s voice instantly recognizable and, to my surprise, profoundly moving. I found myself welling up. Yes, I thought, yes – that is what it is like. To be so taken with something, for something to mean so much to you, that its presence makes rational expression almost impossible. So, with respect to that Radiohead fan in France, here is my complete review of four releases by Taming Power and another four by Ashtray Navigations:

This music is so, so important to me.

I’m not being flippant. What I’m saying – arms outspread, nervous (but huge) grin on my face – is that if you have any interest at all in the stuff covered by this blog then you must investigate Taming Power and Ashtray Navigations. It’s wonderful.  This music, and the reaction it provokes, is the reason this blog exists. Seriously, how can you not be intrigued by something that leaves a notorious blabbermouth like me speechless?

—ooOoo—

RFM post containing Early Morning Records catalogue with ordering details – please email Askild before sending money.

Ashtray Navigations

(Taming Power picture nicked from Uncle Mark’s proper review over at the ever-wonderful Idwal Fisher blog.)

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—

blood washed from the map: new from ashtray navigations

April 13, 2015 at 11:03 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Ashtray Navigations – Fluctuants (CD-r, Memoirs of an Aesthete, MOA 2014-1, edition of 75 or download)

Ashtray Navigations – Live on Planet Carpet (CD-r, Zanntone)

ashnav - fluctuantsashnav - planet carpet

[Editor’s note: see my review of Aero Infinite for part one of this story.  Sort of.]

This punch has been spiked,

thought the General.  She looked over at the band – hard rocking some deep psych – and allowed herself a moment of wry amusement.  She decided it must have been them, remembering similar pranks she’d played herself during a reckless youth.  It didn’t matter – she had military grade nanotech scrubbing her blood clean at all times but she’d dialled back her biosecurity a notch – it was a party after all – and some of the more interesting side effects were making themselves felt.  It was the second time today that she had been reminded of her childhood…

The invitation to negotiate had been a surprise.  Everyone had welcomed the truce that calmed their warring nations but all could see it was fragile.  Only the most optimistic strategists had thought it might be formalised.  Yet here they were: safe passage had been guaranteed, an opulent setting secured.  The week had gone well – teams on both sides were expertly prepared, aware of all the snagging points and ready with innovative compromises.  Blood had been washed from the map.

Throughout proceedings the General, her presence important but largely symbolic, had been observing the actual play of power amongst the attendees.  In particular she watched one man, modestly dressed in black, flit in and out of the shadows.  This man was always present when a decision was made, always at the ear of his superiors.  He knew what should be said, when and by whom and quietly ensured that it was.  Not wanting to show her hand by asking his name the General referred to him privately as ‘the Clerk’.

How do I get him to work for me?

She wondered.

On this, the final day of the talks, the General rose early, as was her habit, and on a whim walked down to the banqueting hall which was already being decorated in preparation for the evening’s festivities.  Her eye was caught by a large, deftly arranged wreath of flowers, stalks woven into a ring.  It was maybe ten feet across and was lying flat on the floor awaiting servants with ladders to fix it to the wall.  Her usual expression of unreadable authority – an accurate representation of her mirrorshaded soul – trembled for an instant.  The corners of her mouth twitched.

EVERYONE OUT!

She shouted and the servants scattered faster than if warning shots had been fired over their heads.

There were only two types of bloom in this arrangement, though huge quantities of each.  The first was the national flower of the host nation, common enough but only the most perfect specimens had been used.  The other flower was native to the General’s homeland and almost nowhere else.  It was difficult to cultivate and had become a signifier of power and beauty in that country.  Indeed, the plant featured in the General’s family’s coat of arms and the sigil of her army.  It’s scent was profound, delicious.  Once sure the room was empty she fell to her knees and buried her face in the petals.  She hadn’t smelt that smell in months, she hadn’t smelt that smell in such pure abundance since playing in her Grandmother’s palace gardens when she was a girl.  When she sat up after what seemed like hours – but must have only been a few minutes – her face was wet with happy tears.  Her self-monitoring bio-alert system scrabbled to process the unprecedented strangeness of this reaction.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a black figure silently exit the room through a door hidden behind a tapestry.

Back at the party, the General’s mild buzz was gently agitated by a polite cough at her shoulder.  It was the Clerk.

I trust you are enjoying the music?

He whispered, somehow perfectly audible over the cacophony.

They’ve been transported from 21st Century Earth just for this occasion.  My all time favourite band.

The General was amused at his informality, she gave a slight nod.

I understand you appreciated our floral tribute too,

he said, and this time the General glanced in his direction.

Well, well, a flaw! He is rather too pleased with himself for pulling off that stunt.  A useful weakness,

she thought, instructing her software to make a note of that point in the evening’s AV feed.

Perhaps we could have a word in private?  I have the only key to a fully cloaked ante-chamber behind the stage,

he said and held out his hand.  The General slid back her chair, rose to her feet and smoothed the lap of her dress.  She looked over again at Phil and Mel, both lost in the storm they were conducting.  Leaning into the Clerk she offered her opinion:

By the beautiful blue arse of the Interstellar Buddha, this band are fucking great.

—ooOoo—

Ashtray Navigations on Bandcamp

Zanntone [Editor’s note: at the time of publication this site is, as we used to say, ‘under construction’ and details of the release remain elusive.  The resourceful will find a way to contact Paul Walsh – for it is he – and I’ll update the link here when it is done.]

unique gleaming surface: fumio kosakai and spoils & relics on vinyl

February 19, 2014 at 8:49 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Fumio Kosakai – Earth Calling (vinyl LP, Memoirs of a Crater Lake, MCL LP 1, edition of 250)

Spoils & Relics – Sins of Omission (vinyl LP, Harbinger Sound, HARBINGER113)

fumio kosakaispoils and relics - sins of omission

I have moved house too many times to be sentimental about vinyl.  Anyone who has lugged boxes of records (inevitably labelled ‘HEAVY!!’ in jaunty marker pen) on and off a van will see the appeal of download culture.  That said, it is hard not to appreciate the mystique of the format when presented with releases like the two above.  One has white on black packaging with extensive annotations regarding its provenance, one has black on white packaging providing us with the bare minimum.  Intriguing.  Time to make an appointment with my sorely neglected turntable, slip the discs out, admire the unique gleam that grooved vinyl produces when held at an angle to the light, blow the miniature grey sheep from the needle, then let it drop…

Firstly, we have Earth Calling by Fumio Kosakai.  I know it’s lazy of me to quote blurb but, for the sake of efficiency, I hope you’ll forgive me doing so in this instance.  From the album’s Bandcamp page:

Fumio Kosakai is best known as one half of Japanese Noise legends INCAPACITANTS and latterly HIJOKAIDAN. However, he has a long history in the Japanese psychedelic/electronic underground and we must also evoke lesser known projects such as TANGERINE DREAM SYNDICATE, GU-N, C.C.C.C., CLUB SKULL, BUSTMONSTERS etc etc.

And then there’s his elusive solo work. In 1987 and 1993, he self-released two very limited cassettes of sublime solo electronic minimalism, inspired by Terry Riley, Hawkwind and Taj Mahal Travellers. There were no more than 30 copies of each cassette sent out into the world.

MEMOIRS OF AN AESTHETE have teamed up with CRATER LAKE RECORDS to reissue these cassettes as limited edition LPs. Here’s the first one, from 1987, entitled “Earth Calling”, straight from Mr. Kosakai’s original masters and sounding far better than the mp3 version which was doing the rounds a few years ago. A limited edition of 250 copies in a beautiful screenprint approximation of the original cover art expertly printed by Sir Michael Flower.

And theres an official digital download version available for the turntaburly-deprived.

Very helpful.  On the same page you will also find some enlightening notes in which Fumio Kosakai explains the context of the recordings himself.

I’m happy to say that the three tracks presented fully justify this lavish reissue treatment. ‘Absent Water’ and ‘Drive To Universe’ (side one) are beautiful, melancholy, airy constructions made from strung-out electronics, held together lightly by a web of echo.  Imagine a pod of immense Zeppelin-shaped creatures swimming/flying through the soupy mid-level atmosphere of a gas giant planet.  Even the papery youngsters are skyscraper sized leviathans, the leathery elders are life on an unimaginable scale.  As they travel they sing a lament, passing the calls and responses amongst them.  This song is picked up and relayed to us by satellite, compressed and distorted by the electro-magnetic field of the world below.

‘Look To The Light’ (side two) is a minimal synth pulse allowed, with great patience and discipline, to figure itself out over the course of a whole side of the record.  It sounds like a room full of audio-seismographs documenting the vibrations caused by an enormous tunnel drilling machine operating far beneath the surface of the Earth.  The pulse eases briefly half way through to reveal that the sound of the machine idling is surprisingly melodic then, as it revs up again, we are caught once more in an unlikely lullaby that could, in my humble, opinion be twice as long and just as good.  A wonderful record.

Next we have Sins of Omission (great title) by Spoils & Relics released by Steve Underwood’s borderline uncontactable Harbinger Sound label.  Steve’s disinterest in promoting his releases is admirably, hilariously perverse (‘be resourceful’ was the advice given to hopefuls wishing to buy the last Spoils & Relics 7″ single) and, of course, by holding the prize just out of reach he only makes it more desirable.  Thus, and with the greatest respect to the other labels carrying their work, I consider Harbinger Sound to be the perfect home for this band.

The album comprises two untitled side long tracks of semi-improvised sound collage.  Which is A and which is B can be determined by examining the scratchings in the run out grooves of the vinyl but it doesn’t really matter.  Their music denies narrative.  Allow me a slightly academic moment to explain what I mean.  This is not post-modern pop art – there is nothing glib or kitsch about it, nor does it ‘refer out’ for easy laffs or nods of recognition.  The palette used is a largely abstract selection of found, domestic and field recordings as well as sound produced by the various electronic implements that make up their ‘kit’.  The source of any given element is usually (and presumably deliberately) unclear.  They are examining the innards of everything, poking around where noise happens and taking notes.  It is more akin to the meta-musical experiments of AMM and their progeny.

Don’t be scared off by this – you may by now be imagining the sort of woeful, earnest, Arts Council funded, improv key-rattlers we used to see at Termite Club but not a bit of it.  This music is not dry and scratchy, it is layered with humour (ranging from the wry raised eyebrow to banana skin slapstick), tension and a whip-smart self-awareness that speaks of the telepathic relationship between the band members when performing.  A piece by Spoils & Relics is about sound in the same way a piece by Jackson Pollock is about paint.  In summary: mightily impressive.

Buy Earth Calling.

Buy Sins of Omission.

the 2013 zellaby awards

January 4, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

Ladies and gentlemen, dear readers all, welcome to the hotly anticipated Zellaby Awards for 2013.  The show, in its third annual outing, is presented in association with Radio Free Midwich and hosted by the editor from his comfortably-appointed padded cell in the basement of Midwich Mansions.

In previous years the awards have formed part one of a two part round-up of cultural highlights.  However this year I can easily roll what would usually be part two into this preamble.  Why?  Three words: Thomas James Hayler.  The birth of our son in March was an epoch-defining, paradigm-shattering, life-forever-altering event for all of us – I’m sure you’ll remember the moon turning a fire red that evening – but looking after the kid (y’know: issuing orders to the nannies, sorting through the mountains of flowers, cards and teddy-bears left at the gate of the estate, that kind of thing) has rather cut into the time and energy afforded to culture in general.

It was interesting to experience how looking after a baby pares life down to the essentials.  I now do my bit to help with Thomas, I look after my wife Anne as best I can too, I keep up with my friends and family (more or less), I go to work (when healthy) and I think about music.  That’s all I have but, crucially, it is all I want.  Sure, we could do with more money and better health – who couldn’t? – but establishing this balance has been refreshing and revelatory.  I can sincerely state, all joking and archness to one side, that Thomas joining us has made 2013 the best year of my life so far.  By some distance.

Thomas at Xmas 2013

<stares wistfully into middle distance, wipes tear from stubbled cheek, returns to business at hand>

I did get to read a handful of books, of which HHhH by Laurent Binet, about a 1942 mission to assassinate Richard Heydrich, chief of the Gestapo, was the most compelling, original and intriguing.  I even stole a line from it to use in a review.  I think I read the entire of Museum Without Walls, a collection of essays and television scripts by polemicist, architecture critic and commentator Jonathan Meades.  I say ‘I think’ because it was mainly done in sleepy five page chunks in the middle of the night.  Otherwise I kept my membership of the bourgeoisie fresh by reading the London Review of Books and took my news mainly from Private Eye which, despite its many faults, holds power to account at least some of the time thus making it unique in the mainstream.  I pretty much gave up on film and television aside from using the boy as an excuse to watch Regular Show and Adventure Time on Cartoon Network.  Oh, and Game of Thrones series 3 was fun too if you like that sort of thing.

Down here in the no-audience underground I devoured, as ever, anything posted by Uncle Mark over at the essential Idwal Fisher blog and cover-to-covered the no-less essential Hiroshima Yeah! the moment it arrived in the mail.  Congratulations to the latter on reaching its 100th issue this year, no mean feat with one of its two editors in prison…  Also in the realm of the self-published, a pamphlet of poetry by my good friend and comrade Nick Allen has been on my bedside table since he surprised me with it at work one morning and has been well-thumbed and repeatedly enjoyed.

It has been another golden year for music, both live and recorded.  A couple of my all-time favourite gigs occurred in the last 12 months and my ‘long list’ for best album contained 34 contenders!  Never mind those bullshit ‘end of year’ polls you see in print magazines that you know were proofread over ice-creams in August, never mind those ‘best albums of the last fifteen minutes’ you see on internet based blogzine snore-fests.  This is the real deal: compiled whilst the New Year is still bellowing after being slapped into life.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we need to trot through a few methodological points, then the ceremony can commence.

Firstly, the music mentioned below may not have been released in 2013, although most of it was.  To qualify it had to be heard by RFM for the first time in the calendar year 2013.  Secondly, releases featuring the staff of RFM (me, Scott McKeating, Joe Murray) are excluded.  Modesty is not a virtue I can be accused of but awarding ourselves prizes is a bit much even for me.  Thirdly there are the same five award categories as last time (although one has had to be renamed…).  Should an artist win big in one of them they may appear overlooked in others.  This is deliberately done in the interests of plugging as much excellence as possible and thus no-one should get the hump.  Finally, I did invite the aforementioned Scott and Joe to contribute nominations but the final decisions are mine.  Think of me as a benign dictator listening carefully to his advisers before passing judgement.

OK, shush now – the house lights are dimming…  Time for the first category!

—ooOoo—

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

Lucy Johnson

smut - piano one

(with honourable mentions for Joe’s choice: WANDA GROUP, “the absolute master of steamy hiss and non-linear edit”)

Here’s a extract from the lengthy overview of Lucy’s back catalogue that I posted back in July:

One of the refreshing things about what I playfully refer to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is that it is not full of self-aggrandising blabbermouths.  There are a few – me, for example – and an acceptable level of self-absorption is common, but many artists quietly get on with producing excellent work mainly, it seems, for their own gratification and the pleasure of their circle.

This situation allows for the gradual discovery of that most mysterious of creatures: the unsung hero.  Names are pencilled in – an aside from the omniscient Scott McKeating, a credit on a Matching Head insert, say – then repeated until they become underlined in bold and further investigation becomes inevitable.  Such has been the case with Lucy Johnson.

I had, of course, already praised Space Victim, her duo with Mike Vest, to the hilt (they featured in RFM’s best of 2012 list) and more recently did the same for the Witchblood tape, her duo with Lee Stokoe, on Matching Head.  A comment from Miguel Perez led to me picking up her tapes as Smut and hearing those led to me finally paying some proper attention. Over the last few weeks I have been putting two and two together via Discogs, the Turgid Animal site and various other rune-casting activities and have been gathering up examples of her work.  She records solo as Smut and Esk, is half of the aforementioned duos, is the vocalist for black metal band Rife, and is also in the bands Obey and Dark Bargain (as reviewed by Scott below).  Her artwork adorns covers and T-shirts and has recently been made available to buy as prints.  Most of this stuff is available from the label and distributor Turgid Animal which (according to that same review by Scott) she co-runs.  Blimey, eh?

Can’t wait to hear what comes next.  There is at least one more Smut tape to pick up and the Obey album to look forward to as well…

Next is…

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

Robert Ridley-Shackleton

r r-s - butterfly farm

(with honourable mentions for Kevin Sanders whose consistency proves awe-inspiring, Bjerga/Iversen’s album-per-month Bandcamp project, Joe’s choice Hapsburg Braganza and, of course, Lee Stokoe, who was also Scott’s choice)

Given that I went from not knowing who he is to hearing/seeing around 50 objects produced by him during the course of a few months Robbie was odds-on favourite in this category.  That said, I realise that it is a controversial choice as ‘quality control’ may not be an entirely appropriate concept to apply to this gushing, unstoppable flow.  I suppose one man’s drivel fountain is another man’s exuberant exploration of an outsider vision.  As I wrote in my first overview piece about his stuff:

Call it an ‘aesthetic’, a ‘vision’ if you like, but it becomes clear during the perusal of these artefacts that this is Robert’s world – a dimensionless jiffy bag containing a wonky, distorted universe – and that the rest of us are tourists within it.

For what it is worth, The Butterfly Farm, the tape pictured above released by Beartown Records, is as good a place to start as any.

On to…

3.  The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award goes to…

Joe Murray and Scott McKeating

posset - my hungry holesscott

(with honourable mentions for Dan Thomas and Miguel Perez who both understand what friendship is really about.  Cheers fellas.)

Obviously.  In May Scott offered to help out, I bit his hand off.  This gave me the idea of asking Joe, who bit my hand off.  Once these appendages had been sewn back on we shook them vigorously and got down to the typing.  I like to think that the house style at RFM sits somewhere between the jazzed exuberance of Joe and the more meticulous, journalistic work of Scott.  Thus between us we offer a comprehensive ‘three bears’ account of this remarkable scene.  Being able to lean on these guys has kept the porridge at a perfect temperature during some pretty distracted times, especially baby- and illness-related, and I am beyond grateful for their contributions.

Now we have…

2.  The Label of the Year Award which goes to…

Memoirs of an Aesthete

Half an Abortion - Drowsy Seepage

(with honourable mentions for, well, see below…)

This was a very, very hotly disputed category.  I was tempted to be perverse and, in the style of Time magazine’s mirror cover, proclaim label of the year to be ‘self-released’.  Certainly, in this Bandcamp enabled age the idea has to be considered seriously.  But that ain’t much fun is it?  Let’s have an argument instead!  Joe stepped up for Winebox Press:

Jon Collin’s labour of love has presented some amazing music this year (Vampire Blues, Lost Wax, and his own gorgeous schizzle)  all nailed to hand-sanded wooden chunks.  This extra detail might make things difficult to file but the soft hand-feel makes me return again and again to these loose spools of joy.

Scott proclaimed Matching Head, natch:

Same as every other year. Lee Stokoe keeps it prolific, adding new regulars to a strong cast of returning cassette-friendly noise/drone/wtf artists.

Both excellent choices, of course, but what of the Sheepscar Light Industrial, last year’s runner up, or Kirkstall Dark Matter – a blood feud between Leeds postcodes?  Or is the glorious return of Sanity Muffin gong-worthy?  Speaking of returns, was any more welcome or surprising than that of Union Pole which made a long-gone 76 item back catalogue available to download for the total of one dollar?  Or what about Hissing Frames or hairdryer excommunication, the content-pumps of Robbie and Kev respectively?

The choice seemed impossible so I left the scribbled lists and did a couple of those things that you only see people do in the movies: splashed my face with water then stared into the bathroom mirror, took a cold can out of the fridge and held it against my cheek etc.  Soon clarity was restored.  For not putting a foot wrong, for never having even a single hair our of place, it had to be Memoirs of an Aesthete.  Phil Todd’s label has released one belter after another this year and has probably clocked up more minutes playing time in Midwich Mansions than any rival.  If it has Phil’s seal of approval on it then you should buy it.  Simple really.

…and finally…

1.  The Album of the Year Award

Risking accusations of hyperbole, I have claimed once or twice over the course of 2013 that we were living in a golden age.  Revisiting the releases I heard during the year I feel absolutely vindicated.  Add my long list to the short lists provided by Scott and Joe and you have a total of over 40 titles without even counting much not-really-released-as-such-but-still-magnificent work such as the soundcloud presence of, say, ap martlet.  Scott mentioned…

Black Sun Roof4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow (Handmade Birds) – Davies and Bower make noise ritual a rhythm thing.

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

Skullflower / MasterySplit (Cold Spring) – Black metal soundtracks.

Joe added:

Duff/Nyoukis/Robertson/ShawAcetate Robots (Giant Tank) – Soft Scottish mumble, sweet as tablet.

Poor MouthS/T (Total Vermin) – Stream of consciousness wonk-out in proud Estuary English.

Lost Wax – My Sore Daad Heap’d (Winebox Press) – Environmental sounds lashed into a bivouac as the sun rises.

ID M Theft AbleBabb’s Bridge (Veglia, King Fondue, Zeikzak, Taped Sounds) – Like Manson’s internal monologue as knives get knotty.

Blue Yodel & Lovely HonkeyPoppies & Cocks (Chocolate Monk) – Mooooggg, hummm…voosh. Boo-fffff.

Both lists pleasantly indicative of the interests of my comrades, I think.  Take note.  Right then, as I did last year I have whittled my choices down to twenty with the first half presented in no particular order, linked to the original RFM reviews.  Here we go:

Witchbloodspoils and relics - angelsplurals sli 018Ceramic Hobs - Spirit World Circle Jerkaqua dentata - ten thousand wooden faceshalf an abortion - quandarystarlite coffins - medicine eagleGalena - Buried Finchpeople-eaters - imprecate

Every one a winner.  Click on the above for further thoughts and for contact/purchasing info.  Now on with the top ten, in reverse order…

10. Xazzaz – Untitled (Molotov 20)

xazzaz - 'untitled' molotov 20

This was reviewed twice on RFM this year.  Firstly Joe said:

…a melodic pitch-shifting that recalls those tremolo-heavy vibes from MBV…except this time the jazz electricity comes via belt sanders, floor polishers and hammer-action drills rather than sappy guitars.  The crashing continues, churning up plankton and hurling it on the zinc-coated rocks until, at around the 11 minute mark a large rusty anchor is thrown overboard and is dragged nosily (sic – it was more fun to keep the typo than correct it – RH) across a rocky sea bed.  Grrrgrgggrgggrgghhhhhh!   After a while your ear hairs can bristle no more and I had to settle back to accept this Black Metal take on Frippertronics as an astringent lullaby…

…then I pitched in with:

Mike’s music causes my edges to crumble, then crevaces to open, then huge thoughtbergs to calve from my mental glaciers.  He isn’t averse to roar, of course, and can stamp on pedals if need be, but it is the subtleties and nuance that make it so compelling.  He listens patiently, he understands what is going on.  He knows what to do.

Check out the Molotov catalogue now distributed by Turgid Animal.

9. Shareholder – The Backwards Glance volumes 1, 2 and 3

shareholder 1

Joe turned me on to this one.  He wrote:

The Backwards Glance is ten god-damn years of recordings all wrapped up in beguiling drawings, elastic bands and creepy collage work.  Sandy has taken the Faust approach and jams are cut-up hard against each other so you lurch between approaches, styles, themes and moods … My advice is to block out a few hours in your schedule, settle yourself in your preferred listening area and drink this special brew in deep.  As in the dog-eat-dog world of high finance the Shareholder is always looking for a unique selling point.  This USP for these clever little tapes is their god-damn addictiveness!

8. Culver/Somália ‎– Split

culver-somalia

Joe also beat me to this one too and came up with the best simile of the year, damn him:

Culver is a master of the dark art of static movement.  In the same way smoke will fill a room to the corners, too thick to see thorough but fragile enough to part with the wave of a hand, Culver plays that hard/soft, full/empty, maximal/minimal dichotomy like Erich Von Daniken’s  ancient astronauts. Always working on the edge of being there and not being there this piece, this relatively brief drone called ‘seven human hairs’ is like watching ink boil … Somália is some mysterious Portuguese music maker who, on ‘das cordas’ takes a melancholic Satie riff (Gnossienne No. 1 I think) and loops it over and over again with a grimy patina of tape murk.  That’s it.  No speeding up or slowing down. No descent into beats or basslines.  Just a gradual fade into the muck collected round the capstans.  Super simple and super effective.  It works at times (and I have to point out here I have played this tape a lot!) like dark canvas, swallowing the light but freeing up the subconscious.  This is dreaming music.

7. Seth Cooke – Run For Cover

seth cooke - run for cover

The spec is simple enough, a single track of about fifteen minutes in length, but its ingredients are tricky to separate out.  I suspect the noise that sounds like a swarm of angry wasps flying into a juddering extractor fan may be a vibrating implement set upon a drum skin.  The buzz is malevolent – like tapping the glass of a giant tank full of insects only to have them all turn in unison, give you a hard stare and then start working together to get the tank’s lid off…  Some abrasive electronics are then set loose in order to scour and gouge the source noise whilst a bucket of low end catches the swarf.  The concluding crescendo is visceral, tough and as sparkling as your peripheral vision after a sharp smack to the back of the head.  Yeah: awesome.

6. Yol – Four Live Pieces

yol - four live pieces

Joe is a true believer:

I think it was the mighty Stan Lee/Jack Kirby axis that came up with the Incredible Hulk to explore the untamed, brutish side to mankind.  The trick Yol has turned is to take this Yahoo Hulk and transplant it into the damp and bland world of Northern Britain – 2013.  This is no Marvel Universe magic realism but the dark perverted land of a bent cop, conflicted priest or overworked teacher.  It’s a post-Saville world where celebrity corrupts and no one can really trust each other.  Yol gives a voice to the bitter and bleak, the misplaced righteousness and revenge that most of us keep buttoned up tight.  The inner struggle is played out in vivid crimson, choked out, spat into the gutter and stamped on with spite.

5. Shoganai –  ショウガナイ

shoganai

The fella behind this project, remaining semi-anonymous for his own reasons, has produced a piece of work so ambitious and accomplished that the fact that it is available to download on a pay-what-you-like basis from that Bandcamp left me stupefied … Some details: your download will contain nine tracks spanning 41 minutes.  These episodes are clearly the product of a single aesthetic but vary in construction.  There is computerborne surrealism, the programme code distorted by a horseshoe magnet ordered from the Acme catalogue, there is deep-fried tropical psychedelia the like of which wouldn’t be out of place on a Space Victim or AshNav album, and there is the cooing and squawking of an alien menagerie, recorded rooting and strutting about the forest floor on a distant, poisonous world.

4. Helicopter Quartet – Where have all the aliens gone?

helicopter quartet - where have all the aliens gone

Their sound (‘drone rock’? ‘dark ambient’? I don’t know) is dense and rich, each element absorbing in its own right, all contributing to a mysterious but coherent whole.  It is like finding an ornately inlaid wooden casket containing a collection of exquisitely handcrafted objects: what might be a bear, carved from obsidian, a female form cast in an unplaceable grey/green metal, an abstract pattern, possibly even unreadable script, scrimshawed onto yellowing bone.  All irresistibly tactile, all fascinating, all revealing aspects of the character of the unknown and long dead collector who gathered them together.

It is cliché to describe simplicity as ‘deceptive’ and efficiency as ‘ruthless’ but both phrases are perfectly apt in this case.  There is no waste, no let up, the emotional demands of this music are unmistakeable.  Despite the jokes about torturing aliens on its Bandcamp page, this is a deeply serious music but it is epic on a human scale.

3. Various – Knurr & Spell

knurr and spell

Four tracks, each about twenty minutes long, by four different solo artists.  First is veteran Leeds scenester Shem Sharples, recording as his robotic alter ego Shemboid, who kicks things off with ‘myths of the prehistoric future’ – a Ballardian pun well suited to this blistering, splintering track.  Shem is an aficionado of the garage psych sound and his skyscraping fuzz/wah guitar illuminates the rubble like harsh Californian sunshine.

Next is ‘bontempi bastet’ by Ocelocelot, Mel O’Dubhslaine’s noise/drone endeavour.  The track is remarkable: an ectoplasmic gumbo, a thick electronic soup spiced and seasoned to make the corners of your eyes twitch.  Or is it an evocation of heaven?  Mel is a serious artist quietly and brilliantly re-purposing music to serve her own mysterious ends.  She does this with good humour and modesty and I think she might be my hero.

Third is ‘no forks’ by Moral Holiday, Phil Todd’s affectionate homage to first wave industrial music. The backing is brittle, unforgiving, stark.  Phil has taken the bucolic feel of the most utopian electronic Krautrock, frogmarched it to a grimly urban setting and then recorded it amongst the glass and concrete, mutating to fit its new surroundings.

Finally, we have ‘taser delerium’ (sic) from Paul Walsh’s foldhead.  Perhaps you could imagine spiking the punch at a convention of shortwave radio enthusiasts then getting the fried participants to improvise a jam using nothing but the guttering warbles of atmospheric interference.  Life affirming stuff – joyful noise wall.  Like an intruder appearing at the foot of your bed, paralysing you with a swift injection to the sole of your foot, then draping his cock across your forehead as you lie prone and immobile, it is a perversely calming experience.

In summary: this album is damn near perfect.

2. Ashtray Navigations – Cloud Come Cadaver

cloud come cadaver

Previous winners come oh-so-close once more.  I wrote a lengthy psychedelic ramble accounting for each track in turn which you can read by clicking on the title above.  For now I need only quote the final remarks:

It’s like a ‘Comfortably Numb’ for the psych/noise underground but defiant, without a trace of self pity.  It could accompany the ‘ages of man’ sequence at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Did I mention that Ashtray Navigations are my favourite band?  This is why.

Absolutely magnificent.

…and finally, the RFM Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2013 goes to…

1. The Piss Superstition – Vocal Learning

vocal learning front

Back in May I had a moment of prophetic clarity:

The music suggests systems gone wrong, like some guy pushed in a punch card upside down and then went to lunch leaving everything running.  Yet heavy, juddering electrics describe arcane symbols as they spiral through the iterations of this garbled instruction set.  Something truly wierd is being revealed.  The serrated buzzing suggests saw mill equipment escaping its moorings and consuming itself as one bladed machine vibrates into the path of another.  But again, there is nothing random about this movement.  All is being conducted by an unfamiliar intelligence for some unknowable purpose.  In the end though, all metaphors, similes, superlatives and whimsy just slide off this band or, at best, get caught in the gears and mashed – such is the beauty, mystery and power of their output.  They do not sound like anyone else and yet, somehow, it turns out that this sound is exactly what I wanted to hear.  Its value can only be calculated by fumbling with an alien currency, glinting strangely in my palm.

Thus: Vocal Learning is the best album of the year so far.  Why?  Because it is – I said so.

…and there we have it.  The End.  Well, not quite.  There is a prize should the winners wish to claim it: a release on the fabled fencing flatworm recordings.  Yes, in a tradition stretching all the way back to one year ago I decided to reanimate my legendary label to issue one release a year which could only be by the winner of the Best Album Zellaby Award.  So, JB & Paul, how about it?  Drop me a line if the idea tickles you both and we’ll talk turkey.

RFM’s ongoing account of the no-audience underground’s creative endeavour will continue shortly.  We wish you all a very happy New Year!

sorting the lego part four: soundtracks for decorating the tree

December 19, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Ceramic Hobs – Spirit World Circle Jerk (vinyl LP in silk-screened sleeve, Must Die Records, MDR 032, edition of 250)

CASTRATO ATTACK GROUP – blood porridge from the islets of langerhans (CD-r, Memoirs of an Aesthete, MOA 666-13, edition of 100 or download)

La Mancha del Pecado & Culver – collaboration six (tape, Matching Head/Agorafobia, mh 199/27)

Ceramic Hobs - Spirit World Circle Jerkcastrato attack group - blood porridge backcastrato attack group - blood porridge front

I think I’ve written enuff about depression for now, don’t you?  See the preambles to parts one, two and three of this series for an account of the development of my current illness and what I am doing to combat it.  Suffice to say the struggle continues but I am very well supported and am looking forward to the break in routine that Christmas will provide.  I’m trying hard not to make a ‘mulled whine’ pun.  Damn, just did it…

Thanks again for the music and messages of encouragement – it all means a great deal to me.

These will be my last reviews of 2013 – if you have stuff on the review pile then it will be dealt with in the New Year.  Continued apologies for any delay but we have caught up considerably during December.  Articles by Joe and Scott on Colectivo N, Smut and Caroline Mackenzie are in the works and will probably appear sometime during the holiday period to tide us over until the Zellaby Awards are announced in January.  Exciting!

Have a lovely Christmas, dear readers, and I wish you peace, health and love from all at RFM HQ and Midwich Mansions.

—ooOoo—

It isn’t often that I agree to review something without having heard it first.  I’m not concerned about accusations of insider trading, or conflict of interest, nor are there brown envelopes stuffed with payola for me to collect in motorway service station car parks.  It’s more to do with not wanting to feel obliged, nor wanting to accept freebies under false pretences – I know resources are scarce so I don’t want to trouble someone for their warez only to say ‘no thanks’ once it is too late.  However, I thought I was on safe ground when Simon Morris of Ceramic Hobs pulled out a copy of their latest album and handed it to me at that Skullflower show with the words: “You MUST review it!”  I agreed, of course.

Here’s the spec: The Spirit World Circle Jerk is a vinyl LP in an edition of 250 from the ever-impressive Must Die Records, the covers were created and screen-printed by Dr. Adolf Steg of Spon fame and a handy lyric sheet and download code are included for maximum convenience and enjoyment.  One side features six of the seven tracks, the other side contains just the epic ‘Voodoo Party’.

Initally, it seems a bit more straightforward than the psychonautical adventure that was the last ‘proper’ Hobs LP I heard – Oz Oz Alice – but flip it over and over during the course of several afternoons and its depth, complexity and sense of humour are revealed.  Ideas, characters, lines of lyrics, references to popular culture, mass murder etc. that are largely lost on me (a great track-by-track description of the album on the Must Die Records site helps decipher all this) are repeated from song to song which gives the album coherence.  Don’t worry – this isn’t a tedious ‘concept’ piece, more a series of linked short stories (‘Simon Morris as the Robert Altman of the psychiatric underground’?  Discuss).

Simon’s voice remains remarkable: utterly different from his speaking voice, it ranges from bassy growl, as if gargling with multi-coloured gravel and slimey algae from the bottom of a tropical fish tank, to overdriven power electronic screech, like William Bennett flicking through the Ikea catalogue in bed and getting a paper cut on his bell-end.  The band are totally up to it too and the music works an accompanying range, from oi punk and pub rock to psychedelic collage.  There are plenty of laughs.  For example, the opening line of ‘Glasgow Housewife’: “I… BELONG… TO… GLASGOOOOOOOOOOWWWWW” cracks me up every time I hear it.  It’s as funny as Wile E. Coyote stamping on the trap that Road Runner just failed to activate.  There is head-down boogie – try and resist singing along to the ‘Hong Kong Goolagong’ with your thumbs in your belt-loops.  And then there is ‘Voodoo Party’…

The side-long seventh track is a companion piece to the 35 minute long title track of Oz Oz Alice.  It’s a category-defying collage, a psychedelic ritual, or maybe a cut-up screed by the author of a conspiracy website where everything is grist to the mill and the more you deny it the more sure he is that you are hiding something.  For example, the ‘true’ story of Rhonda’s journey through a stargate, lifted from an American talk radio programme complete with dumbfounded hosts, is totally fascinating in itself and calls to mind ’22 going on 23′ from the masterpiece Locust Abortion Technician by Butthole Surfers.  Surely, there can surely be no higher praise and yet this is just one of the many elements to be found sliding over each other, slotting into an order of things dictated by the track’s own gurning and fluid internal logic.

I’m happy to conclude that this album is perfect music to accompany tucking into a lovely Christmas dinner of roast turkey and all the trimmings – well, you might have to reheat it after making sure that the family whose house you have just broken into are securely tied up in the basement first…

blood porridge from the islets of langerhans is perfect music to accompany chestnuts roasting on an open fire – that is if the fire was caused by a gas explosion and is roaring in the rubble of what used to be your house.  The album comprises two twenty minute plus tracks of crackling free rock.  Despite the band’s name, this is clearly the result of the nine balls belonging to the four band members (which member has three is a closely guarded secret) swinging back and forth like a hairy Newton’s cradle.  Nothing clever-clever here.  ‘triceratops badmouth’ starts in a paint-huffing, head-banging mood and remains that way throughout – a tethered crescendo of thrashing and bucking.  ‘temple of glue’ is even less structured, if that is possible.  At first it’s like a squadron of dragonflies attempting to free themselves after having accidentally landed in a puddle of beery piss then, rescued at last by a beat at around the nine minute mark, they spend the rest of the track shaking themselves dry and drunkenly vowing revenge on the fool who dared urinate under their flightpath.  Terrific.

collaboration six is perfect music to accompany dashing through the snow – that is if you have been thrown from a helicopter onto the tundra because your colleagues think you may have been infected by an alien shape shifter and now night is falling.  The latest in a series of all-star team-ups featuring friends-of-RFM Lee Stokoe and Miguel Perez, this won’t hold any surprises for those already familiar with their work but it is perhaps a little more delicate than you might expect.  The album comprises a single track on a single sided tape in a black and white cover not reproducible on a family blog like this due to, well, tits.  In the spirit of seasonal goodwill I won’t make my usual prudish complaint about this ‘aesthetic’.  The music, a deceptively simple, multi-layered drone is magnificent, a high water mark in the recent catalogues of both artists.  How you take it could go in two opposite directions depending on your mood: is it evocative of a warm, enveloping, womb-like environment in which you shift about, satisfyingly comfortable, in a cocoon of amniotic jelly or is it a windswept mountainside, treacherous with snow-covered ice and bottomless crevasses below?  Essential either way.

Buy the Ceramic Hobs LP direct from Must Die Records, where you’ll also find the track-by-track description I mention above.  Buy the Castrato Attack Group CD-r (or download) via the Memoirs of an Aesthete Bandcamp site.  The La Mancha del Pecado & Culver tape can be had from Matching Head, contact details on the Matching Head Discogs page.

eat local part two: rfm tucks in to ashtray navigations, half an abortion and helicopter quartet

September 18, 2013 at 7:42 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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Ashtray Navigations – spray (CD-r, memoirs of an aesthete, moa cd 1-800-55555, edition of 100)

Half and Abortion – Small Scale Demystification Quandary (tape, Angurosakuson, AS#008)

Helicopter Quartet – Refuge (self-released download)

ashtray navigations - sprayhalf an abortion - quandaryhelicopter quartet - refuge

The cover of the latest CD-r from blog faves Ashtray Navigations (this time being Phil Todd solo) sports a noteworthy boast: aside from ‘false starts with the percussion’ everything else therein is a first take.  It is an interesting prospect.  Despite being an accomplished improviser, Phil’s recorded output tends to be the result of much deliberation, overdubbing and editing.  The guy puts the hours in and the result is a consistency unique amongst those similarly prolific.  The slapdash should take note: no that won’t do, be more like Phil instead.

Anyway, in keeping with the vibe of the project I decided to review it in one take too.  During a lunch break I found an unused basement teaching room in the university where I work, spread my kit across a table – food, pencil, three sheets of A4 paper, mp3 player – pushed the buds deep into my long-suffering ear canals, pressed play and wrote the following.  Aside from some false starts on the punctuation, and some reconstruction following the disintegration of my sandwich and resultant beetroot stains, this is also a first take.

‘bubba o’meiser’: chimes, bells, calling the fairies to a gathering?  A wedding?  Getting heavier, maybe a mushroom vision of the forest, maybe the soundtrack to a 1970s documentary about jellyfish.  Hang on – here come the space bongos (obviously this release does contain overdubs – presumably Phil means each element was recorded in one take.  Some assembly was required)!  Now there is an epic swishing hiss – reptiles in sunglasses are eating the wedding party! ‘the awful backlash’: ah, the guitar.  A super-cool rhythmic shimmer underscores a sky-scraping psyche-rock wig-out.  Phil’s ornithopter flaps lazily over the dunes (at this point I stared at the wall for a minute, lost in the solo.  Nearby building work was making the floor vibrate nicely).  This is Phil at his most free and, ironically, perhaps at his most accessible.  I can imagine anyone whose tastes are guitar-led being won over by this to the shining path of AshNav,  Fun ending as one of the hip lizards from earlier croaks along to the dying seconds. ‘spray’: Business!  Initial bobbling sounds like an interlude in a modernist composition symbolising the rush of urban existence.  Picture ballet dancers artfully avoiding each other as they hail cabs, meet their dates, go about a stylised version of city life.  I’m expecting this to resolve, to clarify but the layers continue to slide over each other, breathless.  OK, now percussion is stapling it together and a low end is packing it away.  Second movement, change of scene.  Now the electrobibble seems like the chittering of nocturnal creatures, the wob-wob of the synth giving the impression of a tropical night that just won’t cool.  Act three sees the return our reptile friends.  As the engine of their super-yacht idles in the background, ready to depart, they enjoy a quayside performance of Miles Davis style vibraphonic space jazz then, ha!, that is it.  Blimey, for a 20 minute track that sure passed quickly.

Great stuff.

Next we have the first appearance on RFM for another Leeds based label, Pascal Ansell’s Angurosakuson.  Click through to find effervescent collage nonsense from the man himself and a couple of noteworthy releases by the (relatively speaking) ‘bankable’ names he wisely chose to kick off proceedings with (reviewed elsewhere).

My favourite item from the roster so far is Small Scale Demystification Quandary by Pete Cann’s solo project Half an Abortion.  Yes, I know the choice of band name is contemptibly gonzo but, as with all ‘extreme’ music, familiarity has made me weary/wary of complaint.  Anyway, I know he’s keeping it mainly because it annoys Pascal which amuses me as much as it does Pete.  The content is noise of the tabletop electronics variety but it is no mere exercise in meathead excess.  Pete’s work is artfully constructed, even when he is clearly making it up as he goes along, and contains levels of nuance and humour that reward repeat listens.

It sounds like this.  Imagine arriving on the space station orbiting Solaris.  Any attempt at communicating with home is scuppered by the roar of magnetic interference emitted by the planet below.  Following a racket down a corridor you find yourself outside Dr. Pete’s laboratory.  You need to pound on the door to get an answer and when Pete does come out – sweaty, preoccupied – he holds the door shut behind him.  His planet-created id creatures (track two is called Iddy and Jutt, so I’m presuming there are two) continue to crash about the lab.  Cut to inside.  They aren’t, apparently, just trashing the place but appear to be conducting their own clumsy experiments.  By the final track their project – to invent music from scratch – has been revealed.  A scribbly, uncertain refrain is dragged from their home-made stringed instrument, accompanied by the clatter of retort stands being kicked about.  The whole thing, then, could be heard as ‘tuning up’ for the one and only truly musical moment: one note, blown for a couple of seconds on (what sounds like) a melodica.  And then that is that – it’s the final noise of the album and an hilarious conclusion.  I like this very much.

Finally, a brief mention of ‘Refuge’ by Helicopter Quartet.  Regular readers will remember my unstinting praise for the two albums currently available by this fine band (for the uninitiated see here and here).  The track, a lately completed off cut from the Where Have All The Aliens Gone? sessions, is seven and one half minutes of melancholic beauty.  Nothing drippy or indulgent about this lament though.  It is coloured with the yellow-grey tones of weather-worn Yorkshire sandstone and has the soul-calming grace of a slate grey sky over Swaledale.  Highly recommended.

Ashtray Navigations

Half an Abortion

Helicopter Quartet

new from empire ashnav: recent ashtray navigations

April 21, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Ashtray Navigations / Pelktopia – split (vinyl album, YŌGOH RECORD, YGH001)

Ashtray Navigations – Cloud Come Cadaver (CD-r, Memoirs of an Aesthete, MOA 2013-2)

cloud come cadaverashtray pelktopia split

Comrades!  Sound the alarums and light the beacons!  Blow those long thin trumpet things with banners hanging off them!  Kill something and roast it!  For here we have emanations from the very throne room of Empire AshNav itself!  In summary: two new releases by Ashtray Navigations, at length: see below.

The split album with Pelktopia is presented on the heritage medium of 12″ vinyl as the first release from fledgling Japanese label YŌGOH RECORD.  It is packaged in a white-on-black illustrated sleeve that will infuriate collectors as it is impossible to keep free of finger marks, even if your hand washing routine is insane.  That quibble aside: lovely object.  Phil was paid for his contribution, apparently, as well as being sent plentiful freebies and has acknowledged this largesse by providing work of the highest quality in return.

The opener, ‘Soft Sculpture Mountain Machine’, is a brief, optimistic scene-setter.  Excited but laid-back, it acknowledges that cool things are afoot by pulling its sunglasses down its nose slightly and winking at our hero, the Faun.  Faun turns to the window and sees the bay, jewelled with sparkling sunshine, as the plane comes in to land at Naples International Airport.  The centrepiece, ‘Afternoon of a Yorkshire Faun’,  is part Debussy homage, part music concrete, part psych-ambient-mini-epic.  The Faun finds herself sunbathing on the deck of a yacht (the good ship ‘Marginalia’ presumably – heh, heh – a reference for the long-term fans there) as it sails purposefully along the Amalfi coast.  Phil is at the wheel, cap at a jaunty angle.  The lapping of the Mediterranean against the hull sounds suspiciously like the traffic on Kirkstall Road recorded on a microphone dangled out of a bathroom window.  But that can’t be right, eh?  Faun drifts in and out of sleep listening to the sounds of the boat, the sea, the blood in her ears.  The third and final track, ‘The Car Ears’, joins Faun in a Capri nightclub later, a 1960s-style psychedelic ‘happening’ in full swing.  Todd’s tropical guitar is frying the chemically augmented crowd.  Guys lean at louche angles, girls – including Faun – dance, ignoring their sunburn, abandoned in the ego dissolving rhythmic crackle.

The Pelktopia side is really good too.  Minimal, haunted, ambient guitar-scapes that could well be the dehydrated dreams of Faun as she sleeps off the night and rubs mascara onto her pillow.

Terrific stuff, highly recommended.  Details of how to get hold of it on the Ashtray Navigations blog (though ask before sending money – it may be sold out).

Cloud Come Cadaver is a four track album, self-released on Phil’s own Memoirs of an Aesthete label, available on the space-age medium of CD-r and/or download from that Bandcamp.  It is packaged in an attractively bling silver cover adorned with Phil’s unmistakeable cartoon artwork (of which I am a big fan).  The vibe is less sun-baked than the above.  The fuzz, whilst remaining thoroughly psychedelic, is more insistent, has more bite to it.  The blue here is not the luxurious azure of the warm Mediterranean but rather the grey-tinged shade of the morning sky.

The opener, ‘Mushfinger Cadaver’, starts loud, unignorable, like an alarm clock, but soon settles as we throw back the covers and adjourn to the balcony for breakfast.  The gathering pulse documents the waking of the alien city spread out below our vantage point.  Gulls eating yesterday’s scraps in the market square are chased away and fly over the walls towards the port.

‘Granite Phalli’ is driven and irresistible but has the lightness of touch you’d find in some of my favourite Krautrock.  It shares the retro-futurist vibe of that genre too: a sort of nostalgia for the idea of a technological idyll that we are now too old and wise (or cynical) to believe will ever come to pass.  Its groove suggests a journey towards this unreachable destination and we end up agreeing with Kraftwerk (‘fun, fun, fun on the autobahn’) that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.  The third track is the joker in the pack: ‘Like 12 Xmas Dinners Stacked On Top of Each Other’ could be the soundtrack  to a five-minute long claymation remake of Blade Runner.

Lastly, we have the appropriately named ‘The Final Hit’.  This track takes us back to the nightclub in Capri where Faun was dancing.  This time, though, we are in the head of one the guys propped in a corner.  The psychedelic guitar is still raging but it barely penetrates the pharmacological cocoon that this well dressed burn-out has spun around himself.  He looks like an extra from a Fellini film.  Halfway through the track the scene changes to an indeterminate but luxurious new venue.  Is this the hotel?  The hospital?  The after party?  The afterlife?  Who can tell?  It’s like a ‘Comfortably Numb’ for the psych/noise underground but defiant, without a trace of self pity.  It could accompany the ‘ages of man’ sequence at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Did I mention that Ashtray Navigations are my favourite band?  This is why.

To acquire your copy, and to check out the swelling back catalogue now available via the same means, visit the Ashtray Navigations Bandcamp site.

new from empire ashnav: knurr & spell

April 3, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Knurr & Spell. being psychedelic sounds from Yorkshire.

(CD in card packaging, Smokers Gifts #14/Memoirs of an Aesthete moa CD 14/Noise Below, edition of 250)

knurr and spell

I hear that the process leading to the release of this compilation was as troubled and arcane as the Hellenic economic situation (which apparently caused part of the delay).  I needn’t go into too much detail – suffice to say that shit happened on an Augean scale and rivers had to be diverted to clear the path.  We should all be grateful for the Herculean effort and Stoic patience shown by its co-producers: Mel O’Dubhslaine’s Smokers Gifts, Phil Todd’s Memoirs of an Aesthete and noise, a few decks below – promoters of experimental music in Greece (formerly behind the great label Absurd).  Those waiting on this elephantine gestation have been richly rewarded: the album is superb.

The packaging is noteworthy (and getting it right was another cause for delay).  A round, card, three-petalled sleeve unfolds to reveal a CD adorned with a full colour cut up of some kind of rhubarb recipe.  But the Yorkshireness doesn’t end with these delicious stalks.  Also included is an account of the forgotten game Knurr and Spell which originated on the Yorkshire Moors and involves a small wooden ball, the knurr, being sprung into the air by a little mechanism, the spell, and then clobbered by a bloke wielding what looks like a snooker cue with a block at the business end, the pommel.  Thus: golf meets clay pigeon shooting.  Today you are only likely to see it played by the ghosts you encounter if you venture up onto Ilkley Moor without a hat, and having ingested a heavy dose of magic mushrooms.

So onto the psychedelic sounds.  Four tracks, each about twenty minutes long, by four different solo artists.  First is veteran Leeds scenester Shem Sharples, recording as his robotic alter ego Shemboid, who kicks things off with ‘myths of the prehistoric future’ – a Ballardian pun well suited to this blistering, splintering track.  Shem is an aficionado of the garage psych sound and his skyscraping fuzz/wah guitar illuminates the rubble like harsh Californian sunshine.  Whilst enduring some awful hipster nonsense in Wharf Chambers a few weeks ago I mused on the fact that I have been listening to bands tackling the garage punk/psychedelia/krautrock axis for 25 years – from Loop and Spacemen 3 in the late 80s to acts like Moon Duo nowadays – and almost no-one groks the vibe as comprehensively as Shem.

Next is ‘bontempi bastet’ by Ocelocelot, Mel O’Dubhslaine’s noise/drone endeavour.  The track is remarkable: an ectoplasmic gumbo, a thick electronic soup spiced and seasoned to make the corners of your eyes twitch.  Or is it an evocation of heaven?  Not the serene, tree lined avenues in the clouds that we imagine nowadays but instead the impossible floating crush pictured on an epic scale by Tintoretto in his painting of Paradise for the Doge’s palace in Venice.  Mel is a serious artist quietly and brilliantly re-purposing music to serve her own mysterious ends.  She does this with good humour and modesty and I think she might be my hero.

Third is ‘no forks’ by Moral Holiday, Phil Todd’s affectionate homage to first wave industrial music and its red-faced, politically embarrassing offspring power electronics.  It begins menacingly enough, all underground car parks and Sheffield in the late 1970s, and there is a little treated shouting to box the ears.  However it soon settles down into an intriguing mixture of deference to its sources and tripped out Toddiana.  The backing is brittle, unforgiving, stark.  The solos (both synth and guitar I think, though I’ve guessed wrong before) have a trebly, crystalline beauty.  Phil has taken the bucolic feel of the most utopian electronic Krautrock, frogmarched it to a grimly urban setting and then recorded it amongst the glass and concrete, mutating to fit its new surroundings.  It is a completely convincing Ballardian (that guy again) hybrid, greater than the sum of its parts.

Finally, we have ‘taser delerium’ (sic) from Paul Walsh’s foldhead.  This is a 20 minute extract from the dawn chorus in the Metalzoic era: a disorientating onslaught of trilling, squawking, grinding and fuzzing.  Perhaps you could imagine spiking the punch at a convention of shortwave radio enthusiasts then getting the fried participants to improvise a jam using nothing but the guttering warbles of atmospheric interference.  Life affirming stuff – joyful noise wall.  Like an intruder appearing at the foot of your bed, paralysing you with a swift injection to the sole of your foot, then draping his cock across your forehead as you lie prone and immobile, it is a perversely calming experience.

…and that’s your lot.  In summary: this album is damn near perfect.  Buy here.

are after the rain the best band in britain?

February 13, 2013 at 8:40 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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After the Rain – The Night Must Fall

(CD, joint release by ATfield, Memoirs of an Aesthete & Bang the Bore)

after the rain - the night must fall

…Phil Todd certainly thinks so and I suspect Seth Cooke agrees with him too.  Bold claims need striking evidence, eh?  Well, before I present my own findings you will have to endure a lengthy preamble.  Get that finger off the scroll button – I know the anticipation is killing but, as you can’t actually buy this yet, there is plenty of time for musing…

Sometimes it is embarrassing to think how little I know about music.  It has been a driving force in my life for 30 years and I have been recording, performing and promoting music for over a decade (well, on and off).  I can pontificate for hours about subjects within my area of ‘expertise’ – this blog tops 100,000 words in total – but if you were to say to me ‘yeah, and what key is that in?’ then all I could do would be to stare at you blankly and guess.  The black keys?  I dunno.  Despite years of experience developing a finely honed aesthetic I still know almost nothing about the technicalities of how this art form works.

My knowledge of musical history and the traditions outside of my field are similarly patchy.  Whilst I don’t agree with Noel Fielding’s Vince in The Mighty Boosh when he describes all music prior to Human League as ‘tuning up’ I certainly understand the joke and have a good, self-deprecating laugh at my own limitations.  With regards to ‘world music’ – if it wasn’t sampled by Cabaret Voltaire or encountered during the breathless couple of months I spent as a teenager trawling the libraries of West Sussex for gamelan CDs and listening to Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares then it is lost on me.

I’m not proud of this, I’m just being honest about the situation as it has a bearing on the review to come.  I readily admit that a grasp of historical context, of critical theory and a proficiency in the technical and formal aspects of composition and performance can add a layer of nuance, detail and sophistication to musical appreciation.  Just as a grasp of allegory and technique are invaluable in deciphering masterworks of art history separated from our current cultural idiom by time and/or distance.  Those prepared to learn are rewarded for their effort.

But is this always necessary?  Can’t I just like what I like?  Just get my groove on?  There’s a story about how a collaboration between Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix came to naught because the latter didn’t read music and thus could do nothing with the compositions the former sent over.  ‘Aww, man, tragedy!’ I thought when I first heard about it, then, later: ‘what a ridiculous waste.’  To nix a possibility as mouth-watering as this because Hendrix had no formal musical education is criminally dumb.  What does it matter?  Get in the studio and improvise – play jazz for fuck’s sake.

Away from music one of my other interests, as alluded to above, is art history.  I have been lucky enough to stand in front of some of the most striking products of human creativity – say, for example, Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, the most perfect man-made object I have ever encountered – and have found myself transported by an unmediated, awestruck reverie in which all ‘learning’ just falls away, irrelevant.  Can you imagine Titian providing the now ubiquitous ‘artist statement’ by way of explanation?  The idea is grotesque.

Thus with ground prepared – rock of theory on one side, hard place of intuition on the other – we come to The Night Must Fall by After the Rain. I want to convince you that it is wonderful but how to go about it? Well, first an infodump:

After The Rain was formed in 2009 in Southampton, UK, by instrumentalists/composers Hossein Hadisi (Iran), Ignacio Agrimbau (Argentina) and Joe Kelly (UK). They met at the University of Southampton, where they studied composition under Michael Finnissy. Originally emerging as the last mutation of The Hola, an eclectic ensemble founded by Agrimbau in 2005, After The Rain’s sound combines elements from electroacoustics, ‘free’ improvisation, and DIY aesthetics. More importantly, the group uses performance practices and creative methods derived from Persian classical music, which is at the centre of Hadisi and Agrimbau’s research projects.

This blurb accompanied the inclusion of the track ‘Distance III’ on one of those dreary compilation CDs that come with pointless snore-fest The Wire magazine – more on this track later. The description is as dry and cold as hotel toast but it will do to get the chronology and spellings correct. It also hints at the difficulties that lie ahead for an ignoramus such as me: “the group uses performance practices and creative methods derived from Persian classical music, which is at the centre of Hadisi and Agrimbau’s research projects.” Whoo boy – rumbled!

How much does this last point matter? Well, I don’t need to know (presumably) Farsi as the lyrics are helpfully translated into English in the booklet. Do I need to know anything about Persian Classical music or the band members’ research projects? Hmmm… it might help. I can get with the electroacoustic buzzing. That clatter-scratch is perfectly within my usual remit, but the ringing metal percussion, breathy, snorted flute (or flute-ish wind instrument) and guttural vocals – mellifluous or hacking in turn – are tricky. How much is rehearsed, how much improvised? I have no way of knowing. There is some exquisite violin playing on this but I find myself reaching for clichés such as ‘mournful’ to describe its beautiful, emotionally electrifying harmonics. I find myself humbled, discombobulated and wanting to learn.

But enuff of brains, what about guts? What does it feel like? Well, it feels great, thanks for asking. Whilst on the level of theory my ignorance is a hindrance, down here it is a positive boon. Never mind the subtle nuances and clever allusions of the musicologists, the alien nature of this racket is glorious and eye-opening. There is plenty of meditative content but nothing that can be slipped into like a warm bath, I’m kept on my guard, even when lulled. As well as the delight of being surprised I’m totally grooving on trying to figure this stuff out and then, when I can’t, just letting it carry me along. Like a wave washing me up on a shore full of unfathomable sea-worn objects and strangely knotted driftwood. Is it cheating to relish the rewards of not knowing what the fuck is going on? I hope not, because that is what I am doing.

So finally we come to the beginning.  The first track on this album is called ‘Distance III’ and is an indescribable marvel that works perfectly on both the levels I have been talking about.  It’s smart as a magic trick: a mysterious delight, a thrilling intellectual puzzle and it’s as visceral as a giant octopus attack.  It isn’t representative of the album as a whole (which, in general, involves a lot more percussive racket) but that is OK because it isn’t representative of anything, or at least anything that I currently understand.  Three minutes of genius.  No wonder that the band picked it for the Wire magazine CD, no wonder Seth Cooke used it to kick off Missing Nothing – his gargantuan, 6 CD-r, fund raising compilation for Bang the Bore.  On that website, which Seth co-curates, you can watch a video of the band performing this track live at a gig in Leeds that I was lucky enough to attend.  They split the audience – which you know is a good sign.

Sadly, this album is not yet commonly available.  Despite being completed last year it has been stuck in ‘development hell’ ever since.  If you’d like to find out more, perhaps help provide the finance so sorely needed to get it distributed, then email via Bang the Bore – bangthebore@gmail.com – and the caretakers there will happily put you in touch with the band.

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