blowholes flaring: happy harshcore from robin foster

June 23, 2015 at 11:11 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Robin Foster – Shitty Noise Moon (download, say cheese and die)

Robin Foster – ADHD NEOWZ SCHWAB (download, say cheese and die)


Regular readers of this blog will know of my troubles with depression and, more lately, anxiety.  I am suffering at the moment: what seemed at first to be a mild dose around Christmas took firm hold during four months of rolling physical illness and I am now proper fucked.  A coincidental run of poor luck has only exacerbated matters.  So what can I do?  Hmmm… I know!  I’ll count my blessings and cheer up.

Any fellow sufferer will shudder and/or crack a rueful smile at that last line.  Heartfelt sympathy from the well intentioned is often harder to deal with than simple, uncaring ignorance.  Any antediluvian HR idiot who tries that ‘well, we all get tired’ bullshit gets a curt and well-rehearsed critical beatdown from me and is banished from the room with a face like a well-slapped arse.  But what do you say to a friend or loved one who is genuinely, if ham-fistedly, trying to help:

You have so much to live for!  Your life is great!

…yeah, and yet I feel like this so why go on?

But what to you have to be depressed about?!

…you are mixing up two meanings of the word.  I’m not depressed about something, I’m ill.  Would you ask someone with diabetes what they have to be diabetic about?

…and so on.  I’ve had polite, firm-but-gentle versions of this conversation many times over the years and it is getting easier as understanding of the condition widens and deepens.  However, just recently I’ve been acting on a revelatory suggestion from my counsellor: maybe I should acknowledge what I have to live for.  Maybe I should count my blessings.  Maybe I could even pussyfoot around the idea of ‘cheering up’…

The idea goes something like this.  I can’t stop having these thoughts and feelings but I do have some control over how I react to them.  Consciously fighting them off is one tactic but can prove counter-productive.  The illness loves a pagga because even if I win it knows I’ll be in a weakened state for the return bout.  Depression doesn’t mind playing a long game.  Better perhaps to crowd it out, to fill the headspace available with more positive thoughts.  It’s akin to the much debated tactic of ‘no-platforming’ a political opponent – sure, I can’t ban you from expressing abhorrent opinions but you won’t be doing it at my rally – and each time the grimness is denied and the positive celebrated the latter is reinforced.  Conversations with my counsellor have followed this pattern:

So how have you been?

Well, mostly pretty bad, I’m afraid.

‘Mostly’, not all?

I guess there have been a few good things, amongst the bad thi…

Let me stop you there – tell me about those good things.

On my own I have, somewhat sheepishly I admit, been consciously, literally (even out loud sometimes) counting my blessings:

1. Anne and Thomas, 2. radiofreemidwich, 3. jam doughnuts…


It doesn’t work all the time but it feels like steps in the right direction – into the light, away from the dark….

*Phew*, anyway, forgive me, it helps to write it down.  The 500 words above was meant to be a brief introduction to a few reviews of what could be called ‘joyful noise’ and an explanation of why I might be receptive to a bit of cheering up at the moment.  Shall we crack on?

Robin Foster – Shitty Noise Moon ADHD NEOWZ SCHWAB

The charming Robin Foster got back in touch at the start of the year to steer me towards his new Bandcamp site (all aliases are his) and introduce his notion of ‘Happy Harshcore’ which he described in an email as:

…basically harsh noise without the dead babies and Nazi themes.

I was tickled by this as his label is perilously close to ‘happy sadcore’, one of the mythical sub-genres that Chris Morris used to befuddle witless interviewees when talking about the mythical drug ‘cake’ on Brass Eye (I think).  Heh, heh – every possibility in music will have its day.  I downloaded a bunch and… lost them down the back of the hard-drive for six months.  Mea culpa.  Anyway, their rediscovery was at an opportune moment.

Shitty Noise Moon is eleven genre-spanning short tracks from Robin’s fun-fur lined studio.  Kinda like one of my toddler’s energetic crayon drawings converted to electrostatic squigglecore.  Like the chatter of noise-punk dolphins disgusted at the new age appropriation of their culture and reclaiming the sea for break-fin, blowhole-flaring racket – that dreamy sunset poster mum and dad are on can fuck off.  Like groaning, out-of-phase EVP muttered by a spook bumping along the virtual fences of the Ghostbusters containment facility.  Plenty to make the listener smile here – not least the invitation to join a recording of a family enjoying what sounds like a backyard display of home-made fireworks.

Despite the title, the seven tracks of noise improv that comprise ADHD NEOWZ are longer and at least as coherent (make of that what you will) as those on …Moon.  Perhaps this album is its older brother, perhaps the Ritalin is starting to have some effect?  A couple of these tracks are addled and Usurperish, some feature a nostalgic gristly throb.  The best of it is paddling in electric foam burped onto the shoreline by a mysterious, glowing shipping container, crowbarred overboard by suspicious crewmen.  You open a soggy document wallet bobbing in the surf and read ‘Caring for your Shoggoth’ at the top of the waterlogged paper.  Urgh, what’s that fizzing into being in the jelly around your flip-flops?  Eyes?!  Teeth!!  RUN!!!

Heh, well I thought it was funny and I am very grateful to Robin for the distraction.  Plenty more where that came from, thankfully.


Robin Foster

say cheese and die

screaming party above invisible city: the swift by midwich reissued

May 13, 2015 at 9:34 am | Posted in midwich, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Midwich – The Swift (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR11, edition of 40 or download)

swift coverswift tape

RFM is delighted to announce that The Swift by Midwich has been reissued by the essential Invisible City Records and is available as a beautifully packaged tape or convenient download.

The album was originally released as one 65 minute track on CD-r, presented in another beautifully designed cover in a tiny edition of 15, by highly-regarded American noise label Altar of Waste.  Here is the very flattering blurb written by AoW head-honcho Cory Strand:

Gorgeous and tidal cascade of gentle droning sounds that become something akin to a crushing roar from the between the cracks in the sky and the broken limbs of trees, Midwich’s epic construction “The Swift” is a piece that flirts with both natural ambience and HNW severity without fulling giving over to either.  Created from field recordings of swarms of swifts procured by the artist, the sounds here recall both the bleak pastoral harmony of the English landscape and the encroaching rumbles of black clouds swarming the sky.  Similar in tone to the work of Richard Skelton with a goodly dose of Daniel Menche’s and Clive Henry’s approaches to manipulated field recordings, “The Swift” is an amazing composition that demonstrates both the awesome power of the natural world around us and the possibilities inherent within electronic manipulation.  An incredibly creative work that blurs whatever genre lines you’d care to draw.

Altar Of Waste is very pleased to release this latest missive from one of the UK’s finest practitioners of underground drone.  Succumb to the swarm and feel the tense beating of thousands of wings buzzing around you.  Breathe in the awe.

My colleagues here at RFM dug it too.  Joe said:

The Swift is a single hour long piece in three distinct movements.

Movement one: It starts like the soundtrack to ‘Evolution…The Movie’ as grey gloop is replaced by lazy cellular dividing and static, internal egg-memories. Things settle on Mothra’s mating ritual – long drawn-out breaths gradually moving out of synch as feathery lungs push huge volumes of air through Sperm Whale baleen.

Movement two: A rhythmic ticking and the clatter of ghostly forklift trucks start to creep in.  The Swifts chirrup, skittering in the air warmed by the horny Mothra.  Listeners note: this section accompanies the flock of stately wind turbines near Chesterfield spectacularly.

Movement three: The final five minutes heave like the tides, slowly encroaching on an abandoned city; washing through the deserted streets, clearing the human junk for a stronger, fitter civilisation floating slowly through the brine.

No question this is Rob’s most immersive and ambitious piece of Midwichery yet.  You gotta have it!

..and Luke made it his album of the year:

Utterly sublime floating tones, get your cranky toddler off to sleep in minutes, limited to 15 copies only?!  Madness.

Teacher’s pet, eh?  The lad will go far.  Positive comment written by those outside the RFM ‘office’ can also be found but, you may be surprised to learn, there are limits even to my vanity.  You get the picture: it was well received and I am proud of it.

Despite the eye-watering cost of shipping copies from the USA, the edition sold out sharpish.  I might have been happy to leave it there but I had one or two enquiries about reissuing it and, after falling in love with North East noise label Invisible City Records, I just couldn’t resist reaching out to label boss Craig Johnson and planting a seed.  Given the catalogue already amassed it seemed like the perfect home for The Swift and, to my delight and relief, Craig agreed.  The track has been carefully halved to accommodate the change in format and the new artwork captures the atmosphere of the piece exactly.  It is a high quality item and, in my entirely trustworthy, un-conflicted, un-self-interested opinion, an essential purchase.


Finally, a word to those trusting souls who swapped hard cash for a copy of the original edition.  If you are among that elite please forgive me for diluting the experience with a reissue and remind me of the fact when the Aqua Dentata CD-r on fencing flatworm drops later in the year.  I’ll sort you out proper.  If you are mad enough to buy both editions then as well as the Aqua Dentata CD-r I’ll see if I can secure you a freebie of the next midwich project which, in stark contrast, is likely to run 18 minutes and contain 12 tracks.  Punk rock, eh?  More news as it breaks, but for now…


Invisible City Records

shade-defying, mid-morning sun: the shouts from the sea, just playing music

May 9, 2015 at 7:56 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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THE SHOUTS FROM THE SEA – s/t (tape, Power Moves Label, PML 010, edition of 53 or download)


The UK General Election result is a disaster.  On a personal level, as a clerk employed in the public sector and suffering from a long-term, disabling medical condition, that’s me fucked.  A few ‘challenging’ years ahead, no doubt.  For society as a whole, well, there are many commentators far more astute, articulate and stronger-stomached than me picking apart the implications and the internet is awash with their analyses.  Suffice to say I follow the Zanntone line when it comes to the Conservatives and their supporters.  Ugh.  Shall we throw open the windows, change the subject and hope to find some small solace in the work of our friends?  Please.

Noise is a joyous, life-affirming, heart-bursting business.  At least it can be – I know there is a reactionary old guard who insist that true underground noise has to be ‘transgressive’ and ‘confrontational’ but fortunately they are dying out (auto-asphyxiation accidents whilst wanking over Japanese bondage porn, mainly).  Anyway, those cantankerous curmudgeons are, as ever, missing the point.  In these troubled, jaded, cynical times what could be more revolutionary than heartfelt and sincere enthusiasm?  Radical, eh?

Speaking of which, if friendliness and public displays of appreciation were crimes then Phong Tran would be trussed up like Hannibal Lecter on a day visit to the fava bean farm.  Here the Washington DC based musician, digi-crate digger and twittervangelist for transcendental sound is joined by fellow traveller Patrick Cain and between them they tear it up over nine tracks of relentless noise improv.

The tagline of Power Moves Label, the host of this party, is ‘true bedroom recordings’ – a spirit that is gloriously represented by this release.  Problem tooth?  Can’t get an appointment at your dentist?  Stick this on, lean your jaw against the speaker and the aching peg will be shaken out of your head before you flip to side B.  In a tradition within lo-fi music stretching back to at least the 80s/90s tape underground there is no bass to these recordings – just a scouring, cleansing wash of electrostatic treble.  I don’t know if this approach was a result of shonky recording equipment, choice of instrumentation (crackle box, prepared guitar, electronics etc.) or an artistic decision to simply not give a fuck.  It doesn’t matter.  Once recovered from the initial shock of the spanking, the listener’s cheeks begin to glow red with a warmth that is, *ahem*, strangely ‘stirring’.

Don’t expect a uniform chalk-white cliff-face though.  Flinty protuberances catch the light and texture the skronk.  The nine tracks are easily differentiated on repeat listens and there are gaps between them in order for you to clear your throat and straighten your tie before P&P crank it up again.  At a couple of points the chaps even (almost) settle into what I believe is called a ‘groove’.  Overall the album is like harsh, shade-defying, mid-morning Summer sunlight, come to boil away your hangover and leave you invigorated enough to consider restarting the session at lunchtime.

The last couple of seconds are noteworthy enough to merit their own paragraph.  The racket cuts to an amused/bemused voice asking:

What are you guys doing?!?

…and Patrick or Phong replies:

Just playing music, heh, heh

…in the half-sheepish/half-defiant tone of an already stoned teenager who has been caught rolling a joint by his mum.  Aww… busted!  It is a beautifully self-deprecating celebration of bedroom recording and tickled me as hard as listening to Robert Ridley-Shackleton talk to himself as he struggles with his kit or, a favourite moment from back in the day, Rob Galpin audibly deciding to answer a ringing phone mid-track.

I chuckled as I repeatedly rewound this moment before flipping the tape.  What was that tingling sensation cutting through the fug of depression?  That sudden lightening of my spirit?  Could it be?  Yes, I think… Despite everything I just might be… Yes! It is!  I… am… having… FUN!


Power Moves Label

cscdng clttr: joe murray on david birchall, thf drenching & phillip marks

May 7, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 3 Comments
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David Birchall, THF Drenching & Phillip Marks – The Ludic Clamp (CD, Council of Drent Recordings, CoD007)

ludic clamp










internalising the experience: sophie cooper on recent releases from fort evil fruit

May 3, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Bridget Hayden & Claire Potter – Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF036, edition of 100)

The Restless Dead and Bird People …Meet the Dervishes of Khartoum in the Confluence-of-the-Nile (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF034, edition of 75)

Extnddntwrk – By (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF035, edition of 100 plus download only extra tracks, second edition of 100 in preparation)

Rastrejo – Fractura de Miramientos (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF033, edition of 75)

potter and hayden

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

Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child is a new collaboration between author Claire Potter and musician Bridget Hayden that gives a voice to text from Potter’s 2014 publication Mental Furniture. On this tape, extracts from the text are read by Potter, combined with sounds from Hayden and the results are fascinating. This deeply considered union works to produce a very whole sound and together they inform the narrative rather than it being a straight forward ‘words read over the top of music’ approach. On ‘Still Woman Cold’ Potter reads the text in hushed tones and creaking floorboards are heard in the background giving the impression that she is hiding from whoever is making those sounds happen. It’s a difficult and unsettling listen but uniquely compelling.

Potter and Hayden address trauma and deflection during Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child. It’s hard to discuss trauma, both your own experiences and those of others. It’s difficult because in some cases people are so quick to hide what they are actually feeling rather than address things that are not OK, choosing to internalise the experience and protect others from hearing it, which is an easy way to hide from judgement. The track, ‘Brendan Brady’ is named after a tragic character from the soap opera Hollyoaks. Brady is a murderer, a drug dealer, an abusive partner, a typical bad guy who the writers of the show later revealed was the victim of incestual abuse. The album takes this, and other examples from the show, as source material through which to deliver the topic of trauma and projection of unknown events. In addition to the words, static, aggressive guitar and incidental sound are included maybe to mask the story and stuff it down the back of the sofa.

Given the topic, it’s not an easy listen. Someone described this tape as “distasteful” on Rate Your Music (my most hated music website) and although I disagree I can understand why they might have written that because bringing up subjects like abuse are considered distasteful by some. This is an uncomfortable subject but this tape doesn’t worry about that. I congratulate Potter and Hayden for broaching this issue and for creating one of the most intriguing and thought provoking recordings I’ve ever heard.


The Restless Dead and Bird People …Meet the Dervishes of Khartoum in the Confluence-of-the-Nile

The concept behind the creation of this release is really interesting. The story is that UK folk musician, C. Joynes, during one of his many travels round the world spent some time in Sudan where he recorded a weekly Sufi Dervish conference. These recordings provided the basis for this release which were dubbed over by two groups – Side A by a curious sounding improvising collective that operates as part of a commune in East Anglia called The Restless Dead and Side B by ever evolving Austrian free folk and drone collective Bird People. Bird People, for those who don’t know, are ‘fronted’ (I’m sure he wouldn’t like that word but for want of a better phrase…) by founder of Feathered Coyote Records, Ulrich Rois. Feathered Coyote and Fort Evil Fruit share a lot of common interests in the artists they work with (and the managers even look alike!) so the partnership makes sense.

Side A is probably the more successful in achieving a seamless collaboration between the Sufi recordings and the UK artist’s contributions. Listening carefully you can pick out additional out of tune guitars (I suspect homemade versions), drums, repeatedly bowed strings and percussive elements jamming along to the original recordings. The recording is respected and the ebb and flow of the piece is considered well within these jams resulting in a great, but not ragged, clatter.

Side B sees Bird People take the recordings and make something quite different with them, which I’m into. We hear gorgeous Indian instruments produce drones that accompany the Sufi singers but also come into their own throughout the 23 minute piece. At one point the drones perfectly match the volume of the original recording rising and falling then eventually leading to a point of silence before coming back to the vocalists, this time with even more drones and an audible banjo solo. This is brilliant and thoughtful music.


Extnddntwrk – By

Extnddntwrk, aka Andrew Fearn, is now best known as the guy who makes the music for Sleaford Mods but he has been making music since well before he joined Jason Williamson.  I’m really pleased that he has started to release his own solo music again including this new one on FEF.

This huge collection of songs spans about an hour and a half (if you include the bonus tracks from the digital download) and a lot of ground is covered in that time. My first thought on hearing it was that it would make an excellent soundtrack to a futuristic horror film and in the way that some great horror soundtracks, like Marc Wilkinson’s Blood on Satan’s Claw for example, have an overarching theme running throughout so does By. This is seen not least in the track titles, which all have the word ‘by’ contained in them, but also in the grim, downbeat, and sometimes outwardly scary atmosphere these pieces conjure. I want to be the first to be told when the film to accompany this tape comes out.

On By Fearn employs a range of acoustic instrumentation and high quality production to evoke dark imagery. His computer generated beats are of a subtle brilliance that provide a base for a variety of other components including piano, harp, bells and worked-in field recordings to name just a few. Some of the tracks such as ‘By Myself’ sound like they could have been generated by lo-fi software. This track has a weird and unsettling melody line that wouldn’t be out of place if found in an early version of the video game Doom (wow, the memory of that game just made me shiver!). In another moody track, ‘Death by’, Fearn plays subtle guitar lines that complement light keys. I can’t get over how delicate this release is and what a stark contrast is it to the music Fearn makes in his other band! This is very intense work and shows Fearn to be an accomplished musician and producer.


Rastrejo – Fractura de Miramientos

Rastrejo is a new artist to me but a quick look at Jose Guerreo’s back catalogue reveals he has been involved in several projects in Valencia, Spain for a long time. Rastrejo serves as his experimental dance project and this release is really toe tapping. It’s a short but sweet affair, totalling only 19 minutes.

Guerreo uses stark drum machine patterns and sings in a dramatic way on ‘Malgastando’ before launching into a wild, droney, synth solo that all works really well. The fully-fledged songs that involve singing are definitely this album’s strongest point and these are sandwiched between other musical ideas. I kind of wish the release was a bit longer because the last track ‘Mercader de Sencillos + Ballesta sin Fisuras’, which seems be influenced heavily by Talking Heads particularly in the vocal delivery, is a real banger and it feels like the album really takes off at this point. Oh well. I’ll be checking out other music by Rastrejo for sure.


Fort Evil Fruit

blistered, glistening: releases by ian watson and kevin sanders

April 29, 2015 at 3:53 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Ian Watson – Caermaen (CD-r, Dust, Unsettled, DU09, edition of 50 or download)

Messrs. Sanders & Watson – Cumulative Undulations (2 x CD-r in gatefold sleeve, self-released, edition of 50 or download)

ian watson - caermaenwatson and sanders

Ian Watson – Caermaen

Dunno why I’ve slept so long on this one.  An intriguing album of heavy electrics by the second most charming guy in noise released by the most charming guy in noise – you’d think I’d be all over it, wouldn’t you?  My apologies for the inexplicable tardiness.  Allow me to make amends.

What we have here is a four track CD-r (long gone – sorry) or free download (still available – woo!) by Ian Watson – artist, polymath – released on Dust, Unsettled, the label run by definitive good egg Brian Lavelle.  It was composed using ‘cymbals and feedback’ manipulated through bosky layers of electrics and is apparently inspired by the writing of Welsh mystic and Lovecraft influence Arthur Machen.  So far, so perfect.

A satisfyingly viscous low end and a refreshingly untamed crackling at the top act as river banks containing the current’s flow.  Could that be a torrent of fluorescent ectoplasm combed clean by the bones of skeletal fish?  Sure, if you like.  I can certainly imagine Ian’s kit producing a cool, flickering, ghostly green light:

Brian: err… is that supposed to be happening?

Ian: mate, it isn’t even plugged in!  Perhaps we should leave the room…

Brian: press ‘record’ first though.

Ian: oh yeah, of course, NOW RUN!

…but what this called to mind for me were happy times I’d spent as a teenager staring at a lump of dirty metal.

One of my first jobs was operating a solder bath in a factory that manufactured printed circuit boards.  Boards were loaded onto a conveyor belt, subjected to a terrifying liquid that cleaned the copper (so corrosive that I dropped two pence coins into it to see the queen’s face dissolve), covered in slime to help the solder stick, hung on a hook by me, dunked into a bath of liquid metal about three feet deep, blasted with air blades on the way back up, then placed on another conveyor belt.  Repeat for eight or nine hours with frequent breaks to sit on chemical drums outside and smoke cigarettes.

On Fridays we would be paid in cash in little brown envelopes around 11am.  At lunchtime I’d race to the nearest pub, drink as much as possible, smoke a spliff on the way back and spend the afternoon cleaning this machine – heated to 250 degrees centigrade – in my shirtsleeves because, y’know, it was too fucking hot for overalls and a certain amount of scar tissue looks manly and suggests character doesn’t it?  The spray and overflow of hot solder dripped down into the guts of the machine and coagulated there into something magical.

This mass of waste solder – the size and shape of a child’s torso, almost too heavy to carry – was a mesmerising landscape of clustered globules, of organic micro-castles blistered with irregular crenellations, of needle sharp, filigree wire work.  All glistening a muddied silver, hopelessly polluted with the scorched scum that boiled from the boards as they were dunked.  These random accumulations of melted metal remain some of the most beautiful objects I have ever seen, even accounting for how stoned I was at the time.  Something about this album took me back to that sight and that made me very happy.

Messrs. Sanders & Watson – Cumulative Undulations

Also available from a neighbouring stable is this two hour long, two track, two CD-r set, by two collaborators: Mr. Ian Watson (as above) and Mr. Kevin Sanders (see below).

Imagine a large ruined house in a forest, swamped in ivy – each luscious leaf as deep green as cooked spinach, as shiny as patent leather.  Now imagine the root severed and the gradual death of the above ground plant, its draining vitality and increasing brittleness.  A high quality digital camera is making a time lapse film of this process.  Once complete the memory card is removed and Kev and Ian bath it in a a cool, flickering, ghostly green light.  This ‘develops the film’ with an occult power that reveals the usually invisible creatures of woodland folklore that live around the ruin: dryads, fairies, elves, horrifying, robotic horseshoe crabs, their scrabbling legs the stuff of nightmares, their carapaces as black as a dominatrix’s whip, and so on.  Now play the film in reverse and compose a soundtrack to it using just rust and magnets.

This: that.


Ian Watson

Dust, Unsettled

hairdryer excommunication

psychedelic domestic: joe murray on karl m v waugh, duncan harrison, lost wax

April 28, 2015 at 3:08 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Karl M V Waugh – unnamed murk (coagulated detritus may 2014 – january 2015) (download,

Karl M V Waugh – Varnish Crease EP (download,

Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God (tape or download, Reckno)

Lost Wax – The Poacher (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.304, edition of 60)

kmvw - murkkmvw - crease

Karl M V Waugh – unnamed murk (coagulated detritus may 2014 – january 2015) and Varnish Crease

A lazy, taking a line for a walk, kind of listen.  That’s no criticism readers.  I’m loving this particular ramble with Karl; round the town, out past the betting shop and onto the Downs, chatting and shooting the shit as we wander.

These unnamed murk pieces are poor orphans (coagulated detritus indeed) with no home to go to.  And for me that makes things all the more interesting.  Are you telling me these pieces don’t fit into your soundworld Karl?  Man…I gotta check out these oddballs – they are going to be the nuts.

The modus operandi remains classic K M V Waugh – an object or technique is picked up and fiddled with for a while and each possible combination of rubbing, striking, bowing and blowing rained down until all options are exhausted.

‘Bread Failure’ dances with some close mic rustle, jazz-gob, fake sine wave feedback loops and acoustic guitar fumble as crispy as an early 2000’s Usurper jam.  ‘Close Net’ starts with a slo-mo rave synth trapped in a bathysphere; the two Navy SEALS having it large while contact with the surface is registered in day-glo Morse and trippy emoticons.  Outside the Angler Fish get anxious with stress-harps.  Blimey, Jacques Cousteau couldn’t get this low.  ‘Nada Test’, the most lovely one of the lot, is an untutored, unconscious guitar/balalaika/mandolin (?) improvisation heavy on the Korean and Rembetika influences.  There’s pure innocence in this playing, a passionate exploration and experimentation that’s scrabbling but at all times searching for a melody to grasp out of the clear blue sky.  The last 2 minutes of this 21 minute piece add a slight distortion giving you a soft landing destination.

This mini-album, the wonderfully titled Varnish Crease, is an 18 minute smeared collage, a bold painting in Bovril hues.

Industrial grot (a malfunctioning PEZ dispenser perhaps?) and novelty dice dropped into a chunky whiskey tumbler form the base coat to KMVW’s meta-poetry. Like several porridge-slugged mouths reading their dreams simultaneously this has a head-fudge quality.  Ever been lost in a crowd?  This mimics that slight panic and claustrophobic feel exactly.

Wonk-hop snatches of sound are introduced like RZA’s all blunted on Funeral Dance Party; a South Coast One Wobbly Egg.  In fact this whole crease has a real Cidershed feel with that slight tint of threat added to the vulnerability.

Essential listening for any young dream-voyager.

duncan - delete

Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God

Pearls dipped in butter swirling round the palm of a brown giant.  The slick tones fill the smooth handful; fingers wiggle to spread the flutter.

This is a disarmingly charming and hypnotically beautiful opener from his holiness Duncan Harrison.

Gurble-gobs, slop and slobber the lazy consonants and sighs that very skitter with finger-manipulated tape skank.  It soon turns into pigs grunting quick enough (oink oink oink) and a sonic Richard Scarry cartoon of crash-bang-wallop.

A water butt slowly fills with rancid treacle as tiny black imps dance around the bloated barrel, slapping their bulbous bellies and blowing crimson smoke rings.  A watchful Duncan scoops up the imps and ingests them all a-wriggle, recording their hapless plummet down his gullet.

But please don’t take my sub-Stan Lee dribbling as evidence of sonic goofiness, cynically used to leap-frog to the desired ends (freedom, bliss, ecstasy etc).  Repeated listens to this humble tape reveal this to be a mature work, a self-assured work, a personally resonant work floating slowly into my consciousness.  There’s no reliance on underground clichés here.  The psychedelic-domestic of bus number recital, buffeting wind noise, slow chip-pan ‘pop’ and throaty Gatwick roar have filled my heart with honey and my head with sleepy nutmeg.

Side one ends with another real-life vignette, this time trad-jazz busker (think bowler hat and pinstripe waistcoat) overlaid flinty guitar pluckage (think sloppy Arran jumper and orthopaedic shoes) bringing two worlds together – the beach front and the bedsit – into a tangy-sharp fragment.

Side two opens with a wanking mumble, a half remembered dream of the time John Noakes applied Chopin’s poesie sonore methods in the Blue Peter garden (don’t bother to ‘YouTube’ it.  This nugget was never televised and then destroyed on direct instructions from Biddy Baxter.) as the tape edits flutter around his West Riding glottal stops.

Valhalla opens its gates to welcome another fallen hero.  For a time the drunken revelry quietens and the bard’s horn plays mournfully through the mist.  Shields become bronze gongs beaten with a soft as the captured skald drones on.

Back in the studio Duncan dons his silk gown and adopts the Crane stance blowing on flesh bassoon until a feeder tape of allotment gristle joins the sound mix like it was the most natural thing in the world.  Birds aimlessly chirrurp and flapper and cast iron tools are tinkled like collectible glass bells.  I can feel the late afternoon sun in this recording baking my neck and making me sleepy.  This. Is. Delicious.

A game-changing tape from D Harrison.  It looks innocent enough for sure; but this tape’s got a confident swagger that’s unmatched right about now.

lost wax - poacher

Lost Wax – The Poacher

Super-classy Musique Concrete from Ben Morris that takes full advantage of the far-flung places he’s laid his loveable mop-top over the last couple of years (China, Vietnam and even Derbyshire).

The Poacher is split into three parts, each third revealing a different side to Lost Wax, that unlock and fold out on hidden brass hinges.  Let’s look inside…

The first third, ‘The Sun is a Hammer’, takes clear recordings of tin parakeets, smoke-train rumble and happy-clapping ritual and slices them up nice with a razor like some heavy radiophonicia dripping secretly out of 1970s Bulgaria.

The pace is stately, like a nurse on a bike, as Ben adds layers of hiss and schloop weaving them into a tapestry fit for a medium-sized town hall.  But before we can even jiggle a heavy chain of office beautiful voices creak out of the floorboards.  They soar and float like rainbows.  Flutes trill.  I swoon.

Next we visit the watch menders convention for ‘Time Travel Corrodes the Mind’.  A hired drummer fiddles with his high-hat (fairly obsessively tiss-tiss-tiss) as the cummerbunded MC beckons in a phalanx of beach balls full of gaseous hippy crack.  The massed horologicalists look up from their chaotically ticking handfuls but relax as Ben, safely at the controls, squeezes out a rhythmic pulse for the cast-iron disco crowd.  Tapes of paranoid mumbling (source: CIA bugs, Cuban Missile Crisis?) bookend the track as several men bend aluminium picture frames in your left ear.

This tasty trio is completed by ‘Home, Exhuming a Shed.  Imagine F.M. Einheit getting ready for a date (checklist – red rose, lump hammer, rusty chain, trumpet, gas canister) dressing in his best dungarees with bear-grease controlling his wanton quiff.

Gnarled hands rip up steel casings and pummel a brass boiler with oranges.  The bright zest fills the air and this sudden change in atmosphere calms our man…his fingers caress the splintered keyboard moving from black to white.  Digit-shapes transfer from 3D geometry into calm sound-pools that sit gently rippling in the citrus breeze.



Chocolate Monk

steel gaze: joe murray on recent releases by kevin sanders

April 26, 2015 at 8:52 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Kevin Sanders – Aladdin, al-Bireh (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

kevin sanders – a study in pink (3” CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

kevin sanders – live in berlin, 2015 (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 9 or download)

ks - aladdin

Kevin Sanders – Aladdin, al-Bireh

High-in-the-mix scraping, like I’m scooping the last remaining smears of thick yogurt from an earthenware bowl, beckon me into Kevin Sanders’ felt yurt.  I remove my shoes and adopt a cross-legged pose to match my host whose steely gaze has not left mine.

His intensity is replayed in the heavy fugging drone that sweeps gently over the initial scrape.  Two notes are lazily fingered, ‘AHHHhhhhhhhhhhh OHHHhhhhhhhhhhh’ – a cosmic call and response to a distant god.

All the while a ball of tangled steel wool is unravelled at a snail’s pace.  Watching the slim pale hands move with purpose, but without fussy haste, manipulating the thin wire, unwinding, untwisting and smoothing it out is…making me….s…l…..e…….e………p………….y.

Dreams, so often a blessedly heavy velvet vacuum, are now full of distant howls of creatures yet-imagined.  The fear of the fear jams my mouth open and eyes wide.  Roaring voices pour from my throat as I am the vessel of the lost souls.  Each life left in limbo protests limply at being held like a fly in amber.  But the numbers!  The countless number of them leave my throat sore as the last snivelling heckle dribbles down my damp chin.

But all things must pass and I awaken beneath the poplar trees, glittering with marvellous frost.

ks - pink

kevin sanders – a study in pink

This is no-nonsense stuff.  Some electro cardiogram briefly splutters and we’re catapulted into a see-sawing sinewave swoon.  It’s dogtooth check rough up close but smooth as alabaster from a distance.

And that’s the stand-out thing about this 3 incher.  There really is so much going on in here you can, in the right state of mind, project yourself into the landscape, stand among the slowly peaking waves of static or ride the rolling ocean of thundering grumble like a tiny Norrin Rad.

The space analogy gets stronger as about half way through this 19 minute piece planets and stars begin to hurl themselves about, bending gravity and swooping perilously close to each other.  The solar whoosh of the near miss is felt as gentle pressure on the balls of the feet.  The last two minutes slowly unfold like some docking sequence; two rusty old Soyuz modules that got pimped-out by Grateful Dead fans to better honk the Dark Star-brand kif pipe, kiss silently with a sigh of compressed air.  Two become one.

ks - berlin

Kevin Sanders – live in berlin, 2015

OK readers.  So far we’ve had two different approaches, two different moods showing two different sides to Mr Kevin Sanders.

But this micro-diskette, recorded in a flat on Sonnenallee is my personal pick of the bunch. The notes say:

A broken organ in the flat was used to create two tape loops which were processed.

This all seems simple enough eh?  But the super-exciting thing about this 21 minute set is that the process is left clear and unadorned.  The tape loops are cut with confidence and make an extremely satisfying gristly crunch each time they turn back on themselves.  This becomes both rhythm and off-kilter melody as the singing-bowl-ring builds in intensity in the background.

Overtones become undertones become slumber-tones.  Each successive loop, as bright as copper, slides down a shapely neck to rest on lightly furred shoulders.  They collect in metallic piles on top of each other, shifting with faint tinkles.

By the 14 minute mark everything gains a superheavyweight quality.  What once was sunny and bright becomes black like lead with a similarly dark purpose.  What seems like the dawning of a dark inevitability eventually plateaus out into a shimmering crystal desert.  Geysers spew their hot dust, the polished sand flickers with heat haze.  The organ spits its last dirty electric cough and sadly clicks off.


hairdryer excommunication

sideways to places: chrissie caulfield on wanda group and field recording

April 24, 2015 at 9:52 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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I do love a good field recording. I’ve heard people say that smells take you back to places better than photographs, but I don’t subscribe to that. It’s sounds that do it for me. I can still hear in my mind’s ear the noises of my first bike and, most poignantly and possibly revealingly, the sound of my baby sister saying

Do your radio go?

into a cheap microphone when I first recorded her on a portable cassette/radio in days when my own age can’t have been in double figures for very long.

And sounds can not only take you back to places in your past but sideways to places you’ve never been before. The thing that really sealed this for me was when a friend played some binaural recordings of him just walking through New York, a place I have never visited. It was captivating. Familiar and very foreign at the same time, there are noises you recognise but sound vaguely different to what you’re used to or in different contexts than you might expect. Of course those sort of recordings don’t actually take you to New York, they illustrate a place you’ve never been in light pastels and enable you to create the missing parts for yourself. Reading a book has a similar effect – we all have our own interpretations of the action and characters and none, or perhaps all of them, are ‘right’.

These sorts of recording also make you listen to the world around you more closely. Who but the field-recordist listens intently to the sound of the traffic as they head into work of a morning? We all know these sounds of our daily life but taken out of the context of the actual activity itself they can become special, enlightening or surprising. Putting on a CD of a field recording takes it out of its context and into your living room, it asks to be listened to and experienced.

HER MOUTH WAS OPEN AND THEN HE OPENED HIS by WANDA GROUP is a two-part set of field recordings done in Vietnam and Cambodia and locally in the artiste’s home town of Rainham. On first listen my thought was that the opening is as perfect as you’re likely to get in a composed piece of music: absolute silence, followed by someone running towards you while a prop aircraft flies over. And then as you listen on you realise that this is a composed piece of music. While the source material is the field recordings, they have been expertly mixed into a narrative whole … and I do love a sound narrative.

I really like that this is not the sort of field recording piece where the recordist has simply pointed a microphone at something and then published the outcome. As expert field-recordist Jez Riley-French says, there is little art in that, we should ask more of field recording and recordists. And more is definitely what we get in this release. So here we have the juxtaposition of someone in a bath with traffic noises close by, cuts in and out of a train journey and chatter in mysterious (to me, anyway) languages. There are natural drones from trains, household machinery and insects intersected with electric cracking so close I went to check my own wiring; there are cupboards opening and closing and children playing. There are also snatches of actual music, though these are always kept in the background so as not to intrude, they are just part of the overall landscape. As if to echo my “Do your radio go?” memory referred to above, there is also some chatter about the recording process itself in the middle of ‘DECOR 2′:

It’s all being picked up from there
Can you hear me chewing?

Very meta!

I would be lying if I said this recording transported me to Vietnam or Cambodia, or even Rainham. Of course it didn’t. What it did give me was an extended sonic experience that is different from either going to those places, reading about them in a catalogue, or listening to their music. The way the recordings are arranged and mixed present a narrative journey, mainly by train in ‘GA 6’, to various places in the area, and visiting various people, some of whom also seem to be tourists.

There’s a sensitivity to the extraordinariness of ordinary sounds here that you get in all good field recorded pieces. Where there is an especially good door creak, metallic clang or rain on a tin roof, the mix is pulled back to let you properly hear the nuances of the sound with little distraction, maybe just a small amount of ambient sound to keep the sense of place. The mix never gets truly busy, you can always hear the individual sounds even when one is more obviously in focus, there’s a good sense of foreground and background nearly all of the time.

As I’m the sort of person that gets bored easily I’m not too fond of extended drones [Editor’s note: you’re fired!] and these are nicely avoided here. Even at the end of ‘GA 6’ where there is some mechanical whirring going on for nearly five minutes, there’s a little clanking of human activity going on too, though you’re left with the drone by itself for the last two minutes of the piece – just the right amount of time to hear its subtleties unspoiled without tiring of it.

I don’t know if it is deliberate or not, but at the end of side 2 ‘DECOR 2’ cuts abruptly at 21 minutes. That’s not the end of the downloaded file though – there is a further three and a half minutes of sound that is very, very quiet. I had to turn the volume up to full to be able to discern it which is a shame as, in an echo of ‘GA 6’, it ends with three minutes of a buzzing drone overlaid with footsteps and makes a rather nice closing section.

When I first idly scanned through these pieces on the Bandcamp page I thought they were just another long-form field recording which would be quite nice because of being made in a land foreign to me. Further listening revealed the compositional ideas present in them that makes them so much more engaging, and … well ‘art’ I suppose.



[Editor’s note: this album is free to download but donations are invited and will be sent to charities in Vietnam and Cambodia.  £200 has already been raised and anything further you can spare will be much appreciated.  There is talk of taking this piece off Bandcamp soon so we would recommend not sleeping on it.  Your future self will thank your current self for a solid decision.]

invisible city records

April 21, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Death Register – Phonaesthesia (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR03, edition of 40 or download)

The Will of Nin Girima – Two Cycles of Incantation (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR04, edition of 30 or download)

Black Thread – Autumn Flowers (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR05, edition of 30 or download)

Culver – The Abductress (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR07, edition of 60)

Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR08, edition of 40 or download)

Roadside Picnic – Watership Drowned (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR09, edition of 24 or download)

Philipp Bückle – Drawings (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR10, edition of 50 or download)

death register

I may have asked this question before but, fuck it, it’s worth asking again: if given a choice between listening to a release new to you or to one that you are familiar with and know is good which do you choose?  Apart from when I’m repeat listening prior to writing a review, for me it is the former nearly 100% of the time.

I’ll go further: by ‘new’ in this context I don’t just mean ‘previously unheard’ but also mean ‘recently produced’.  I’ve been a music fan for over three decades now, including many years patrolling the fringes and an overlong stint as a variation on the type of insufferable asshole I am soon to describe.  Sure, there remain gaps in my knowledge – some vast – but I’m past caring.  I’ve heard enough of the classic, the important, the ephemeral, the popular, the unduly overlooked etc., etc. to justify an opinion, an opinion backed by thousands of hours of ‘study’.  I still spend every moment allowable listening to music but, y’know – for now at least, I think I’m done with the past.

Box sets and reissues nauseate me (apart from the two I’m personally involved with at the moment, of course, which are rad) as does collector/completist culture.  With a couple of noble exceptions – I recommend the transcendental journey documented by Phong Tran via the @boxwalla twitter account, for example – every ‘have you heard <old recording X>?’ conversation or twitter thread just reminds me of a certain curly-haired obsessive that became the bane of Termite Club nights around the turn of the century.  This nut – I’m not naming him, slowly incant the Nurse With Wound list and he shall appear – would limpet onto an unfortunate attendee and engage in the most tedious yes-but-have-you-heardism only stopping at 3am when him yelling ‘yes, but what do you think of Lemmingmania?’ through their letterbox was the final straw and the police were called.  I exaggerate for comic effect of course, but not by much – ask Michael Clough about it.

Whilst I’m being fussy, newness in the two senses above isn’t enough on its own.  For example, I recently purchased one of them proper CDs they have now by an actual band on the recommendation of a friend whose tastes do not map onto mine but whose judgement is trustworthy.  The album is brand new and by a respected metal act with an unimpeachable DIY ethos but, with each episode of crushing riffage telegraphed bars in advance, I found myself struggling to get through it twice.  It’s newness was more than offset by it being structurally boring.

That said, innovation on its own isn’t enough either.  Safe to say that I’ve never heard anything quite like current darling act <name redacted because I can’t be arsed arguing with disciples wounded by my blasphemy>, for example, but my opinion as to the worth of that work is, shall we say, in the minority.  Whilst I cherish moments when a gleeful smile cracks my grumpy visog and I wonder out loud ‘what the fuck is this?’ I have nothing in principle against tropes, conventional sound-palettes, standard instrumentation and so on.

So what do I want?  I want something previously unheard by me and recently produced, ideally in an uncompromised DIY manner.  Surprises and innovation are always welcome but not necessary, genre conventions can be absolutely fine as long as they don’t lead to a formal dullness that drags me away from the experience.  In short, I want something that transports me to a different place.  It does happen – surprisingly frequently – and over the last few months the place I’ve been taken to has often been the Invisible City.

Following the sad demise of Tyneside’s Basic FM last year, Craig Johnson – host of RFM-on-the-radio-type show Unknown Surroundings – started Invisible City Records partly as a way of plugging that hole.  The guy has an irresistible, and wholly laudable, urge to plug the music that he/we love and chose to continue doing so using the now almost standard ‘business model’ of limited edition tapes for the remaining object fetishists and pay-what-you-like downloads for the sane.  Yes, yes, I know I got the hump with this approach a few months ago but hypocrisy is the least of my crimes and, hey, quality content conquers all.

ICR specialises in long(ish) form drone/noise with a penchant for fuzzed out entropic decay and dystopian synth soundtracks.  Releases are not without moments of wry humour and the odd jump scare but all have an attention to detail and seriousness of intent that makes for an immersive and transporting experience.  It is a tough label to use as background music for chores and many’s the time I have found myself sprawled out, staring at nothing, task forgotten as one of these visions unfolds.  The catalogue already features several RFM regulars: Culver, of course, people-eaters, Miguel Perez (alongside J.C. Meraz as The Will of Nin Girima) and releases reference literary house favourites like Lovecraft, Ballard and (to my delight) the Strugatsky brothers.  Tailor made for me, eh?  It is even based in Gateshead.  Perfect.

OK, given the exemplary quality control already exhibited by Craig I could just say: ‘go buy the lot’, give the link and await your expressions of gratitude.  But that would be a dereliction of duty.  Instead here’s a summary of the ICR story so far:

curwen - shunned house

ICR01 Joseph Curwen – Shunned House was due to be reviewed by ex-staffer Scott McKeating but unfortunately he fell into a non-Euclidean angle between walls whilst exploring an Antarctic archaeological site.  Alas.

caisson - high rise

ICR02 Caisson – High Rise inspired me to put together a review-as-photo-essay featuring pictures of celebrated concrete brutalism taken on the campus where I work.

death register

ICR03 Death Register – Phonaesthesia comprises three tracks of drawn out ragged synth lines propelled by loops of machine hum.  The final track, ‘R’, is seventeen minutes of augmented dream state which calls to mind Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II and is more or less perfect.

The Will of Nin Girima - Two Cycles of Incantation - cover

ICR04 The Will of Nin Girima – Two Cycles of Incantation is a duo of Miguel Perez and J.C. Meraz and is quite possibly the finest recording that Miguel, my good friend and inspiration, has been involved with.  A series of six ‘dark ambient’ rituals, it has scope, ambition and imagination and its lengthy running time just flashes past.  Unlike most noise of this type it also contains passages that are genuinely unnerving too.  Terrific.

Black Thread - Autumn Flowers - cover

ICR05 Black Thread – Autumn Flowers is a short, beautiful album of loops eroded into noise.  Yes, I understand this process will be familiar to many readers but this is a fine instantiation, full of emotional content.  Like a time-lapse film of a cherished wind-up toy thrown into the ocean, destroyed by salt and the motion of the tide.

only thing left to fear tape

ICR06 people-eaters – The Only Thing Left To Fear got the treatment by me not long ago in a piece about the terrifying, nihilistic idea that there are no such things as monsters.  It can be found here.

culver - abductress

ICR07 Culver – The Abductress is another schooling from the master Lee Stokoe.  Following a pattern familiar from several recent releases, melancholy guitar is swamped by a gathering electrical storm of fuzz drone noise.  However, this descent is more distressed/distressing than usual.  This is less Ballard – ultimately accepting of the entropic drowned world, more Wyndham – a fight against the alien forces causing the rising waters.  ‘ruby ford’, the last of the three tracks is such an epic, all you can do is admire its teeth from a safe distance.


ICR08 Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower is a work of special power.  Via a series of sculptures crafted from brooding analogue electronics it conveys the gargantuan, unclouded patience of a planet-wide AI that just knows it has this fucking right.  If we could hear the ‘music of the spheres’ it would sound like this: implacably hostile, utterly indifferent to your existence.

roadside picnic

ICR09 Roadside Picnic – Watership Drowned provides a whole bunch of those ‘what the fuck is going on?’ moments.  Comprising two tracks totalling about an hour and a half, we have movements (too leisurely to be called ‘collage’ I think) incorporating, amongst other things: heavily filtered scrabbling, pastoral tropicalia and electronics that range from the soothing wail of a slowed down, pitched up alarm to the chirrup and whirr of robotic insects.  It would be a great soundtrack to an adaptation of that famous children’s story about rabbits.  You know the one where prehistoric rabbits find a monolith and fight each other, then find another one on the moon thousands of years later, then go on a space mission with a mad computer that deliberately gives the astro-rabbits myxomatosis.  Yeah, that one.

…and finally:


ICR10 Philipp Bückle – Drawings which was released today as I wrote this!  Haven’t heard it yet but you gotta admit the streak is hot.  Here’s your quote Craig: ‘This album is great!’ – Radio Free Midwich.  Fuck it, why not?

So that’s it.  Well, not quite.

Whilst not wanting to steal Craig’s thunder I think I might know what ICR11 will turn out to be.  Y’see early last year the American noise label Altar of Waste released ‘the swift’ by midwich in a criminally limited (and quite expensive due to shipping costs) edition of 15 with no digital version available.  It was well received, I was proud of it and I was very grateful to those trusting souls who swapped hard cash for a copy.  I might have been happy to leave it there but I had one or two enquiries about reissuing it and just couldn’t resist reaching out to Craig and planting a seed.  What a recommendation, eh?  This label is so good that I found a way to be on it.

More news as it breaks!

(…and if you are one of those kind purchasers of the original edition please forgive me.  Remind me of the fact when the Aqua Dentata CD-r on fencing flatworm drops later in the year – I’ll sort you out proper.)


Invisible City Records

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