architects of the no-audience underground: andy robinson and more from the striate cortex back catalogue

November 6, 2011 at 11:33 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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  • Plurals – Six Eyes (Striate Cortex, S.C.20), CD-r, 100 copies
  • Pink Desert – Recorded By Friends At Three Speeds (Striate Cortex, S.C.16), CD-r, 100 copies

Down at this end of things, where 20 people is an excellent mid-week turn out, especially on a miserable rainy evening, a gig can be as much about the social as it is about the music.  Especially for a blabbermouth such as your correspondent.  Don’t worry, I’m not one of those fools who talks during the performances (though I am foolish enough to shout a bit during the applause if overexcited) but I will gadfly about in-between turns, ingratiating myself and blagging ‘merch’.

At the gig at the Fox and Newt on October 12th (mentioned already in relation to The Piss Superstition) I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Sindre Bjerga – Norwegian polymath and all-round force-for-the-good, Andrew Perry – tousle-haired noise-tigger (of whom more anon) and Andy Robinson – heroic mastermind of blog-fave CD-r label Striate Cortex.  In the flesh Andy was thoughtfully enthusiastic, quiet without being at all reticent.  I was impressed.  We did all that ‘thank you’, ‘no, thank you‘ business then I asked the obvious questions: “do you make all that lovely packaging yourself?  Don’t you have a squad of elves to help?” and as he answered “yes, no,” I stood there marvelling, once more, at his dedication to the cause.

(Aside: in a later email exchange I insisted on sending him a freebie Truant CD-r after he expressed some daft desire to pay for it.  He said “but I’d like to contribute something.”  “Dude,” I reminded him, “you do nothing but contribute.”)

As is customary on such occasions many CD-rs were swapped (Andrew Perry made a comment along the lines of this trade being ‘our way of shaking hands’ which is almost movingly exact) and I was delighted when Andy fished out a scrumpled up Poundland carrier bag and produced from it… treasure.  This booty took the form of a batch of CD-rs from the Striate Cortex back catalogue, two of which I am now going to talk about and one of which may feature in a future article.

First up, Recorded By Friends At Three Speeds by Pink Desert.  Clocking that I dug their track on the recent Concentric Spaces Vol.2 compilation Andy kindly passed on this full length album.  Commenting on the comp track I praised its ‘subtle force’ and ‘elegant coherence’ and declared it to be ‘a lesson in discipline and structure’ for those working with long form drones.  I’m happy to report that these qualities remain present in abundance and undiluted at a running time of 45 minutes.

Well, I say ‘drones’ but that isn’t entirely accurate.  There is very little fuzz; no comforting harmonic blanket to suck your thumb under.  There is also little in the way of groove.  Aside from one elongated cymbal crash and a few echoing snaps percussive noise is entirely absent.  Leaving these easy ways of engaging our attention to one side, Pink Desert present us with some serious, focussed electronics constructed with the sense-sharpening clarity of a frosty morning in the Dales.

This precision is not academic, however, nor is it politely ‘new age’.  These tracks shimmer with a low-key but efficiently realised emotional resonance and Pink Desert are happy to let it drift into the red if appropriate, as on stand out track ‘For Dorothy’.  Looking for something to put on after having listened to this I have, more than once, shrugged my shoulders and just pressed ‘play’ again – it is an album that both demands and repays your attention.

As you’ve come to expect from Striate Cortex, the packaging is noteworthy.  The pink desert, and the cloudless sky above, is represented by a flap of handmade paper embedded with pink thread and splashed with silver which folds out to reveal a spray paint starscape.  The reverse of the sleeve is wrapped in a shimmering copper brown cloth.  It all fits the music just so.

The packaging is equally impressive for Six Eyes by Plurals (which is such a smart name for a band that I wish I’d thought of it myself – great logo on the insert too).  A CD-r speckled with spray paint and a hand-painted insert are housed in a cardboard sleeve decorated with segments of dried leaves.  The album comprises two tracks, ‘Replica Universe’ and ‘You Are Horses’ – both around the 20 minute mark, and is one of the most striking things I’ve heard this year.

The ‘build’ that is constructed in the first ten minutes of ‘Replica Universe’ is terrific: a mournful wind instrument (clarinet?  I dunno, could be way off) heralds a gathering swarm of drones.  Underneath, a slow marching riff (which I might be partly imagining) drives things forward towards some grisly inevitability and above are curious percussive knocks and some spacey, gruff electronic trilling and squiggling.  The wind instrument returns to honk the riff over a nodding-out-Todd guitar doing the same at half speed, the drones empty out and a swaying groove takes us up out of the clouds into a pink-orange dawn sky.  Magnificent.

‘You Are Horses’ is perhaps a little more straightforward but no less impressive.  The sound palette is similar, the pace is magisterial, the mood mysterious, the atmosphere allowed to coalesce in its own time.  Here you are sitting outside a bar in the souk, again it is very early – or very late depending on how you look at it – and you are drinking sweet, syrupy coffee in an attempt to stave off the worst effects of insomniac exhaustion.  Will the ‘contact’ arrive at the designated time?  Have the code words been changed since your source smuggled out the last set?  The bar owner is on the ‘phone and keeps looking nervously in your direction.  What would they say at Sarratt, eh?

These two albums are both neat illustrations of Andy’s near-impeccable discernment.  That both are of a high quality is obvious from the first encounter but their ambition and depth are only properly revealed by repeat listens.  As they are back catalogue items I’m not sure if they are available, or how much they will cost you, so I recommend that you contact Andy via Striate Cortex and make urgent enquiries.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: concentric spaces vol 2

October 11, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Concentric Spaces Vol 2 (Striate Cortex S.C. 42)

Another beautiful package from Andy Robinson’s infallible label Striate Cortex.  This time you get a digipak decorated with spray paint and sealed with a hand-painted sash (pictured above – there is a delicious ‘turpsy’ smell when you open the protective plastic sheath).  Inside is the CD-r printed with a psychedelic (third eye?) iris design, a fold-out card containing the track listing and a separate A4 sheet of luxurious yellow paper containing a short statement and/or contact details for each of the artists involved.

It’s a labour of love, obviously, as are all of Andy’s releases.  His dedication is evident from the effort he puts into creating these objects and I have nothing but respect for his conviction.  I’m hoping that if I apologise in advance – I am truly, very sorry – then you will forgive me for this pun: his heart is on his sleeves.

*Ahem*, OK – moving swiftly on…

This is a compilation of ten pieces, most around the five minute mark, each by a different act.  The majority are from the fuzzed-out end of ambient or the meditative end of noise.  This is a stair on which I like to sit.  As a whole the compilation is nicely illustrative of the Striate Cortex aesthetic and its sound.  It is pretty much all highlight but, for brevity’s sake, I am going to focus on a trio of cleverly sequenced tracks that I keep coming back to.  Numbers 7, 8 and 9 are, respectively ‘Gone Way Up’ by Pink Desert, ‘And They Crawed Up Inside Her’ (sic) by Spaces Between and ‘The Silence Woke Me’ by Seabuckthorn.

Pink Desert are new to me, I’m ashamed to say, but I may well investigate further after hearing this.  Over a cool seven minutes the crackling roar of distant conflagration, or maybe a giant furnace in the basement, is extinguished by a gathering crescendo of layered tones.  And that is more or less it.  Don’t let the simplicity of the tale fool you, however, as it is told with subtle force and elegant coherence.  This track is a lesson in discipline and structure for those artists, myself included, who are tempted to overstretch a drone.

Spaces Between have been praised on RFM before.  The name is perfectly apt as their sound is evocative of the cosmic gulfs between stars, or between two strangers sitting tight against each other on the train.  This time the fuzz and pulse is created largely by two flavours of guitar: an unhurried, pedal-drenched picking – like a geologically slow Durutti Column – and a heart-breaking, sky-scraping sheen.  Music for watching glaciers crumble.

Andy tipped me to Seabuckthorn earlier in the year and the terrific album ‘A Mantra Pulled Apart’ has not left my walkman since (and I do cull stuff – I’m an impatient scroller so keep my files to a minimum).  It combines the high-altitude fragility and emotional rawness of the emptiest Ry Cooder film scores with the rolling intensity of Swans.  It’s a neat trick.  I feel bad for not writing about this before, and at length in its own article, but I’ve been rather struck dumb by its brilliance.  This guy should be some kind of giant star, I think.  That ‘A Mantra…’ is available to download for £4 is almost comical.  Go and get it won’t you?  I’m glad this review has given me the opportunity to mention it at last.  Anyway, ‘The Silence Woke Me’ (great title) is four minutes of a twanging ‘one two, one two’ riff played on steel-stringed acoustic guitar and stress tested with various implements that were to hand.  This could have been a dry exercise in improv but the sureness of touch makes it hypnotizing, moving even.

So this terrific little sequence goes: fuzz – fuzz/guitar – guitar.  Clever, eh?  Yet more evidence of the thought that goes into Striate Cortex releases.  I needn’t say any more.  Limited to 150 copies and available to buy here for an astonishingly reasonable fiver.

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