hot blustering friends: rfm on plurals, jasmine guffond and shapeless coat of arms

May 21, 2017 at 8:20 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Plurals – Atlantikwall (Silken Tofu)

Jasmine Guffond / Plurals – Live Split (Beartown Records)

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Dematerialised Landowning (Swollen Beam)

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Early Protection (Swollen Beam)

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Shapeless Coat of Arms (Swollen Beam)

 Plurals ATLANTIK

Plurals  – Atlantikwall (Silken Tofu) Double CD and digital album

Two hours of peak Plurals culled from a four-hour Belgian ultra-performance.

There’s a head-crushing, world-splitting-open intensity to the grindings; think reinforced concrete cast in a Mobius loop and you’re getting close.

Listening to this in one sitting (as I did, many times, hurtling through the misty Yorkshire countryside) ramps up the magic that long-form music casts over the sleep-deprived mind.  What starts off as huge, bulky blocks of sound being dragged across the stereo field become hot blustering friends, loudly fizzing with an energy that you miss as soon as they are gone.

The very liveness is another wonderful component to this set.  Indistinct crowd chatter merges into the softer muttering loops; you can almost hear the decisions being made as one loop replaces another, a warm swell peaks or a guitar riff is wrenched in delicious slo-mo.  The ‘HUFFMMMMM’ background flutter an integral part to the overall construction – a patina of vibrant hiss as distinctive as the Guinness tang of copper pennies.

Individual moments are hard to pin down – so consistent are the coiling, roiling undulations.  However special mention must be made of the:

  • impotent roar that emerges like Swamp Thing, streaming and fetid among the twisted mangroves (Atlantikwall #3)
  • last transmission from the silver cosmonaut as he plunges into a solar flare (Atlantikwall #4)
  • collapsing code matrix re-programming itself with organic wasp synapse (Atlantikwall #6)
  • centaur singing a mournful lament as the temple horns bellow hot spice (Atlantikwall #7)

Strongly recommended for all endurance bliss-listeners!

jasmine

Jasmine Guffond/Plurals – Live Split (Beartown Records) CD

Another set of live/LIVE/live recordings from That Plurals Band and the Australian born, Berlin based Jasmine Guffond.

Jasmine’s untitled pieces mix queasy sonic manipulation with sinister vocal wordless voicings.

Queasy?  There is a distinct lurch to these electronic base layers. A kind of off-centre swooping that leaves your stomach behind your brain as they build in intensity. To pepper the confection faint pipes and those joke-shop chattering teeth are woven into mangled samples of furniture-moving leaving small indigo traces flickering around my fingertips. The occasional foggy beat or sweet guitar plucks add a note of stability, but only to tug it away unexpectedly adding to the infernal discombobulation.

Sinister? The mood is obscure and unsettled.  Like dusk falling on the barren moor.  It’s purple and beautiful for sure but you’re feeling very much alone and that map you so carefully packed (shunning a modern GPS) is proving itself to be out-dated, damp and useless.

On this disc Plurals offer a 25 minute cliff hanger.  Seemingly endless muscular peaks of boiling synth-noise are rising out of a calm sea, like Neptune, stripped to the waist, with that trident poised, looking for aggro.   Ever so slowly the waves rise higher, becoming sheer canyons of water, carrying all manner of shipwrecks and flotsam up, up, up to crest gracefully and then crash like liquid ordnance.

A hellish document for future dreamers.

shapless landowning

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Dematerialised Landowning (Swollen Beam) cassette and digital album

Seriously wigged-out recordings from the big kahuna of St Petersburg; The No Audience Underground’s one and only Mr Anton Auster.  Anton has threaded his obscure musical silk from Rostov-on-Don though UK’s gonk-sensei Jon Marshall in the much-missed Rotten Tables Golden Meat, to his Shapeless persona (active since 2014).

Here on this clutch of exceptional tapes he strikes out alone – full of revolutionary spirit and invention!

  • rubbery rubber rubbed by blubbery blubber hands. Indistinct machines belch exhaust smoke to better obscure their foul heft.  A brief and bitter field recording (empty snooker hall, empty swimming pool) gives way to squelchy electronics spitting and spluttering – pouring limp DC spasms into your hand.
  • …a malfunction to end all malfunctions. Wet and sloppy power in a way that Wolf Eyes could never quite manage.  This eleven minute electronic workout is way beyond mere fist pumps (it loosely blurts in rhythmic spurts) invoking a mental ‘hell yeah’ through my lank fringe and Friar Tuck beard.  The final few minutes allow for essential self-reflection as a flock of tense squeals and squeaks chatter like colourful parrots.

Shapeless early protection

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Early Protection (Swollen Beam) cassette and digital album

More essential free-electric-jizz from Anton Auster experimenting with his modular synth, tape loops and tiny, titchy micro-moments of pure rush…

This is a repeating cascade of sonic bladderwrack – all pop-able blisters and gummy textures.  Not content to let anything sit for too long other sounds are introduced to the barely-contained melee.  Shattered bowling machine mechanisms rattle and smash in a loop hacked out of HOW DO THEY DO THAT? or something.  I press eject and turn the thing over feeling wrung out and used – a welcome eleven minutes spent in a dervish-like ecstasy.  Then…

Everything went black // Bubbling sulphuric and twice as stinky // an undervoice mumbles threats or love potions // the sound of lightening captured in a bottle, sparking off the curved glass sides // My Mexican dinner – the colours bright red and green floating on a frozen sea – the seals start to sing in unison, “wahh-heeer-kohhhhh”.  Tripped-out to the max this tape is one heavy contender for donk of the year!

shapeless shapeless

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Shapeless Coat of Arms (Swollen Beam) cassette and digital album

Where it all began perhaps? The self-titled album is often a statement of intent.  You’ll totally dig this ultra-primitive noise guttering and vomit soundz as they baffle up against sophisticated studies in sonic fuzz – smooth as a mole.

Examples?  Whole new kingdoms reveal themselves in the grime on you palm in ‘Gates’ a chundering loop that smothers and warps.  The wonderfully named ‘Cop-Shredder’ is as grindcore as you’d imagine but played on pocket synth, dentist drill and copper flute.  Dense and brooding, ‘S.A.’ sounds like the National Grid slowly coming to life, sparks flying from pylons, crushing any human daft enough to get in the way.

The closer ‘Spores’ plunges new depths of shapeless ‘fuh’ with a sawn-off grunt (some pig, or boar or walrus) coupled with a deeply unpleasant throb that seems to wobble and ripple in perpetual agony.

All three will payback your morbid curiosity sevenfold.  Is it too early to name Shapeless discovery of the year?

Damn essential.

 

Silken Tofu

Beartown Records

Swollen Beam Discogs / Bandcamp

-ooOOoo-

meditative anarchy: releases from tor press

January 26, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 7 Comments
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The Zero Map – Cerebrum Paté (CD-r, Tor Press, TORCD04, edition of 60, lino print cover)

Plurals – Debasement (CD-r, Tor Press, TORCD03, edition of 100 with three lino prints)

Ignatz / Sophie Cooper – Split (tape, Tor Press, TORCAS005, edition of 75)

Hellvete / Jake Blanchard – Split (tape, Tor Press, TORCAS006, edition of 75)

The Zero Map - Cerebrum Pate

Blimey, you lot have woken from your winter hibernation pretty sharpish, eh?  After throwing off the bear skins and shaking out the grass matting the first thought in the groggy collective mind of the no-audience underground seems to have been ‘must… send… parcel… to… Rob…’ or ‘nnnghhhh – download code for RFM!!’  Thus a review pile that had been diligently reduced to single figures during a hyperactive December has, by the end of January, been re-swollen to over forty items.  I ain’t complaining, comrades – far from it.  A skim through the new stuff reveals a level of quality and invention that is noggin-baking.  My only concern is how to do it all justice.  What  a glorious bind to be in, eh readers?  What a privilege to be a creative partner in this collective endeavour!  Anyway, enuff swooning – I better get to work: a few posts to put 2013 to rest, the spring greens of 2014 to follow shortly after.

Today we’ll be looking at four releases on Tor Press, the Todmorden-based record label, zine publisher and gig promoter, run by illustrator Jake Blanchard.  The first of these is Cerebrum Paté (cover above) a thirty-two minute, two track CD-r by The Zero Map, the Brighton based duo of Chloe Wallace and Karl M V Waugh.

I consider this band to be underrated – meaning that Uncle Mark of Idwal Fisher doesn’t like ’em as much as I’d like ‘im to like ’em – but not, of course, here at RFM HQ where they are firm favourites.  On several enjoyable occasions I have pretzelled myself attempting to classify the meditative anarchy of their vibe.  On the surface there is nothing gonzo or discordant apparent.  An augmented drone, or electronic collage, carries you along like a pooh stick on a slow moving stream, flowing over and around some interesting obstacles.  However, the closer you look the more peculiar it gets.  One of those obstructions might be, say, the arm of a shop window mannequin sticking up out of the current, or perhaps some  unknown hand has rearranged the pebbles of the stream bed into a mosaic depicting the face of Philip K. Dick, or maybe some biological agent in the water has turned the orchids in that tree stump blue (aside: Upstream Colour – best film of 2013) and so on…

Suffice to say that the first track, ‘Neutrino Detector’, begins with some nicely intestinal bass and that the second track, ‘A Python’, ends with a visceral crescendo that makes me want to drink blood from the skulls of my vanquished enemies.  In-between times you’ll find plenty of whatthefuckery to flavour your reverie.  Recommended.

Plurals - Debasement

Next is Debasement, a CD-r by the three (or four?) member ‘scattered collective’ Plurals.  The disc is accompanied by three beautiful lino prints, one each by Ben Jones, Tom J Newell and Jake Blanchard, each an interpretation of one of the three tracks that make up the album.  I consider this band to one of the frontrunners in this sport.  Their sound has, for me, a subtle narrative quality that is compelling, exciting and rewarding of repeat listens.  It draws stories out of me.  Like this one:

The first track, ‘Modal Nodes’ is a glorious drone piece, a model of adulterated perfection.  Picture a conical, many-limbed alien creature, nestled comfortably in an indentation on a sandy beach.  Scattered around it are a number of terracotta coloured objects, each of which is picked up and, with a whip of a tentacle, set spinning.  Some of these tops contain whistles, others beads and carved stones, all of which hum or rattle as they rotate.  Luxuriating in the buzz it has created the creature uses half its mouths to join in with ululations and the other half to grin with.

‘Ape Skull Photography’ begins with more insistence – the urgent throb of a distress signal triggered by the captain of an exploration vessel sent to map this new world.  The cause of his alarm is the frightening speed at which his crew have ‘gone native’ since arriving.  The majority can be found scooping out their own hollows and joining in with the alien groove, only to be dragged away by the few left unaffected.  This gathering siren sound begins to blot out the sound of the siren.  Cut to the bridge of a rescue ship sent to investigate.  The crew shift in their seats, uneasily listening.

‘Glowing Generic Diety’ is the final sublimation.  Primed by the smeared-out distress signal the rescuers didn’t stand a chance and succumbed immediately.  The captain can now be found on a nearby riverside, covered in red muck, fashioning his own spinning pots from the clay.  Dozens are drying on the bank behind him.  The rest of the crew are entwined in tentacles, consciousness liquefied in a grotesquely beautiful parody of nirvana.

Heh, heh – how’s that?  Tremendous stuff.

ignatz sophie cooper split

Hellvete Jake Blanchard split

..and finally the two split tapes.  Sadly, they are already sold out and do not appear to have a digital afterlife.  However, I am compelled to mention ’em at least because they are marvellous.

Ignatz, a guitarist from Belgium called Bram Devens, contributes five tracks of outsider blues with an archaeological crust to the recording that suggests Daniel Johnston transported back to the Mississippi Delta of the 1920s.  His playing is raw and immediate but contains passages of disarming subtlety.  His voice is fragile but his delivery has plenty of personality and push.  I have been charmed by these haunting, humorous pieces and invigorated by the lifeforce they exhibit.  One track, ‘Liquorice’, is named for my favourite confectionery too!

Sophie Cooper’s songs here concern absence and displacement and are half submerged in fuzz, echo and lapping ripples of liquid noise.  The atmosphere is maintained beautifully, the medium conveying the message.  ‘Dreamlike’ is an adjective easy to reach for when faced with anything at all diaphanous but, despite an explicit rejection of the notion by Sophie: track four is titled ‘I Never Associate Dreams With Anything’, I think the description fits.  The tidal to and fro between here and distant, me and you, inside and outside has the sort of discombobulating internal logic you might struggle with on waking at 3am.  I recently had the pleasure of seeing her perform live.  Her voice and guitar were accompanied by a filtered flow of taped audio detritus which gave the impression her songs were emerging from a kind of shared, consensual hallucination.  Also, by filling the gaps between songs and thus not providing the usual silence for applause her set was placed firmly in the context of the noise performances that preceded it.  Very smart and very engaging.

The tape shared by Jake Blanchard himself and Hellvete, a guy called Glen Steenkiste, is a meeting of mighty, magical dronezillas.  However, instead of tearing chunks out of each other whilst stamping on the unsuspecting burghers of Todmorden, Jake invites Glen to a campfire party at a beauty spot up on the Pennine tops.  After roasting a few cattle the monsters take turns casting spells to entertain each other.  This isn’t lazy, elbow-on-the-keyboard drone but a glowing, crackling, rolling presence built from ‘real’, sometimes handmade, instruments.  It is beautifully layered and textured and animated by a sparkling and complex soul.  Vibracathedral Orchestra comes to mind, of course, as does Jazzfinger, but replace the incense with the sinus clearing tang of pine resin.  It ain’t all epic, though.  The Hellvete side ends with a charming, tiny, banjo-plucking coda called ‘Op Linkeroever’ (Dutch for ‘On the Left Bank’).  This return to a human scale serves the same take-a-deep-breath purpose as, say, ‘Cripple Creek Ferry’ at the end of Neil Young’s death-of-the-hippy-dream masterpiece After the Goldrush.  If I hadn’t taken so long to get around to this release it would have surely figured in the 2013 Zellaby Awards, so sincere apologies for that.

To conclude: Tor Press is boss.  The attitude exhibited by this outfit is impeccable.  Every aspect of the operation exudes an understated but unmistakeable class.  The content and choice of acts, whilst not always to my exact taste, show an adventurous but coherent vision for the label.  Attention to detail is rigorous and quality control strictly enforced whilst retaining a loose, friendly and collaborative vibe.  The packaging is exceptional – covers and inserts are hand-printed where feasible and beautifully designed with an eye for the aesthetically satisfying.  Jake is, and I do not bandy this term about lightly, an artist.

Should you know anyone unconvinced as to the achievements possible here in the no-audience underground, any fool who uses the term ‘hobbyism’ as an insult, or insists on clutching tatty security blankets like The Wire to their bosom, then point them at labels like this and tell them to shut the fuck up.  Tough love, yeah, but they’ll thank you for it eventually.

Tor Press.

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!

as tweeted by nasa: tuluum shimmering, daniel thomas, kevin sanders and plurals on sheepscar light industrial

June 1, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Tuluum Shimmering – Inside the Mountain (3″ CD-r, edition of 50, or download, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.016)

Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – Transit Timing Variations (3″ CD-r, edition of 50, or download, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.017)

Plurals – Gland Extraction (3″ CD-r, edition of 50, or download, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.018)

tuluum shimmering sli 016dan and kev sli 017plurals sli 018soundsfromdistantworlds

The more science-literate amongst you will be familiar both with the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler (if not, may I recommend The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler, an enthralling history of cosmology) and are likely to be aware that NASA are currently using a spacecraft named for him to search for planets orbiting other stars.  It is fascinating, mind-blowing work and I recommend you check out the mission team’s website for news of their discoveries.  Just recently there was heart-in-mouth excitement as the mechanism that keeps it pointing in the right direction broke and had to be fixed from the ground using other systems aboard the craft – an amazing achievement.

Last year Daniel Thomas (of Hagman and Sheepscar Light Industrial) and Kevin Sanders (of Petals and hairdryer excommunication) titled their collaborative album Transit timing observations from Kepler, partly in homage to this scientific marvel and partly as a nod to their history as near-neighbours in the ‘Keplers’, a series of terraced streets to be found in salubrious, downtown Sheepscar.  A short, glowing review of this cardamom-scented loveliness can be found here.

Around the time the Kepler team were planning the rescue of their stricken equipment Dan released another twenty minutes of his work with Kev as one of the three new SLI discs pictured above.  He took to twitter to congratulate them on their success, mentioning Transit Timing Variations in passing, and to his amused delight found himself retweeted by NASA!  Nerdgasm!  See screenshot!  This is possibly the coolest claim to fame I have heard since my old mate Graham declared that his great-aunt invented Soreen malt loaf.

So what of the track?  The first half of ‘Architectures of Multiple Planet Systems (Parts One & Two)’ feels like the grinding gears of a monstrous, gymnasium-sized orrery, illustrating the motions of an alien solar system, powered by the sweaty exertions of three creatures strapped into more-or-less human-sized hamster wheels.  Amidst the whirling bodies a robed professor directs his students’ attention to a terracotta globe.  For the second half we cut to the real surface of the planet represented and follow a probe as it funnels dust with its proboscis.  Alighting on a rocky outcrop, the snout is replaced with a diamond tipped drill and the low throb and swarming buzz of the tool blots out the ambient soundscape.  Soon it reaches a conclusion satisfactory to its programme and in a spacecraft orbiting above sleeping miners are roused from suspended animation…

Inside the Mountain by Tuluum Shimmering is a far more bucolic affair.  Picture the village the day after the Sultan’s visit.  It would usually be far too small a place to warrant royal patronage but the Sultan has warm memories of childhood vacations nearby and surprised his entourage by insisting it be placed on the schedule.  Anyway, the visit was a great success.  All were charmed by the generosity of the villagers and informality of the setting.  The performance given by the local gamelan orchestra had been faultless, the extra musicians roped in from around the area were just as accomplished and the wayang kulit theatre was exquisite.  Now the dalang dozes under a tree as children play irreverently with his shadow puppets.  The musicians gather to congratulate each other and laugh at the memory of hitting on high borne women at the fringes of the party.  Someone sits at an instrument and starts up a gentle rhythm, others join in with whatever kit is to hand.  Soon a sunny, slightly hung-over groove settles in and the villagers smile and nod their heads to it as they tidy up and return to normality.  Lovely.

Finally, we come to Gland Extraction by Plurals.  I consider securing this release to be something of a coup for SLI because, in my mind at least, these guys (a quartet I think) are superstars.  Their work – an evolving, mutating, (semi-)improvised, multi-sourced noise – is impressively difficult to write whimsical stories about because it already contains a very strong narrative drive.  It is like being told a tale in a foreign language and trying to figure it out from the tone of voice and body language of the storyteller.  Fascinating, inscrutable.  Oh, what the hell, I’ll give it a go.  How about this: a team of scientists are developing a new weapon designed to terrorize the battlefield: sentient barbed wire.  Scary thought, eh?  The first part of the track documents the gradual awakening of this biomechanical creature.  Finding itself in a sealed, thick walled concrete room, it maps out its environment with sinuous, whipping lengths of razorwire, sliding hooked feelers into the corners.  With mounting claustrophobia it works itself into a frenzy, a billowing cloud of angry sharps.  At this point (around the 13 minute mark) the scientists open a previously hidden hatch and the thing squeezes itself through like an octopus.  Now outside its AI circuits are flooded with information and the scientists monitoring its response soon realise their mistake – they’ve given it too much.  This giant silver tumbleweed races through consciousness and its implications and, over a five minute crescendo which is possibly the most invigorating passage of music I’ve heard all year, pushes out the other side into nirvana.  Genius.

At the time of writing, the physical object versions of these releases are more or less sold out but downloads can be had on a pay-what-you-like basis from the Sheepscar Light Industrial Bandcamp site.

pete cann’s noise+punk alldayer, wharf chambers, leeds, 24-03-2012

March 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Posted in live music, new music, no audience underground | 5 Comments
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In belated celebration of his 20th birthday, Leeds noisester Pete Cann organized a day long carnival of punk and racket which took place last Saturday.  What vigour these young ‘uns have, eh?  I thought it would be convivial to wheel myself down there and suck up some of their lifeforce.  And so it proved.

It was originally booked to happen in The Fenton, a notorious shithole, but they got cold feet (apparently those guys are only interested in ‘proper’ music nowadays – don’t they realise what heavy drinkers the noise scene are?) and cancelled.  Pete was undeterred and, much to everyone’s relief, the gig was moved to the lovely Wharf Chambers which is run by hep-cats as a co-op and is therefore much more open minded.

I took a camera with me so instead of my usual arch wordiness there now follows some briefly annotated photo-journalism.  Apologies for the hard-lit pictures – my camera is only a little snappy one and it insisted on the harshest flash possible.  You’ll have to imagine the cool lighting and flashing LEDS.  I didn’t correct the red-eyes though because everyone really did have red eyes…

I arrived at about 3.15pm and the first act, Aimmar Cair, was already playing.  Alas, I heard nowt of his set as I was too busy chatting with Paul Walsh (foldhead), Mark Wharton (Idwal Fisher) and Andy Jarvis (Asymptotem) who was there to be part of Dogliveroil.  Andy is organising the next midwich gig (glamorous Stoke-on-Trent, June 9th – watch this space) and it was a treat to see him face-to-face for the first time in years.  Kieron Piercy (Spoils & Relics) was also an early arrival and handed me a few tapes to slip into my hand-tooled, Italian leather man-bag.  Our conversation was briefly interrupted by a lad puking in the doorway between bar-room and venue-room.  We couldn’t decide whether this showed a pitiful lack of pacing skills or an admirable dedication to making a day of it.  Probably both.  Anyway, the vom was cleared up and I took a look at the running order:

I was sceptical, but this was adhered to, pretty much.  Foldhead swapped with Etai due to the latter arriving late and Heroin Diet swapped with Dogliveroil at 9pm but otherwise all was as planned.  When I left 7 hours later the whole thing was only running 15 minutes late.  But I get ahead of myself.  Paul was on first:

With his strobe-activated squiggling and weevil-bashing crunchiness he was thought to have raised the bar pretty high, pretty early.  Check out these guys vibing on his technique and taking mental notes:

Etai Keshiki arrived during Paul’s set and followed with a bunch of high-octane marvellous.   I heart them so much.  Andy Jarvis and his charming friend Mike were similarly wowed and we dissected their greatness in the bar whilst waiting for Ocelocelot.

During Etai, Mel had been out buying baking soda so we were agog at what was going to occur.  Unfortunately, that part of her ‘kit’ – a bottle containing pop and baking soda contact-miked (‘miced’?) to amplify the fizz – didn’t work so well but the rest of her stuff – balloons, wind-up toys etc. – made a joyous din and playfully subverted the tabletop-electronics of the other acts.

In between Ocelocelot and Petals, Paul and I nipped out for chips.  You could tell it was a good chippy because the lass behind the counter called us ‘love’ and ‘darling’ about ten times whilst taking our order.  We were back in time to see none of Kev’s set-up work properly.  We didn’t know that until after his set, of course.  At the time it sounded great and we all enjoyed the bit at the end when he leapt up, took his knackered cymbal and length of bent metal and strode defiantly around the venue bashing the former with the latter.

I was flagging a bit during Hobo Sonn – post-chips lethargy, I think – so I sat back and let it wash over me.  This was well timed as it was one of the least abrasive of the table-top noise performances, almost electronica in places, and soulfully resonant.  I stared at the back of Ian’s head, wondered if the back of my own head looked like that, then got stuck in a very pleasant feedback loop until the applause at the end of his set brought me back.

Target Shoppers were fucking ace.  First gig in over a decade, and easily as much fun as this looks:

…then they were joined by Mel (also in bald wig/mask/condom thing) for a completely balls-out finale that was actually the loudest noise of the day so far.  Great guitar face from Phil there!

Duncan Harrison, known to me as a member of RFM-faves Plurals, performed a very entertaining solo set of cassette racket and gurglecore. He’s a charismatic guy with great comic timing and had the crowd grinning and laughing and grooving on a deceptively lo-fi din.  A standard lamp appeared at the side of his table too which gave it a magic show/séance feel.  I praised his showmanship when talking to him later and, interestingly, he admitted it was something he was tempted to hide behind because he lacked the confidence in his sound to just sit there and let the noise do it all.  I think it would be a shame if he did.

Next up was due to be Seth Cooke but he was rinsed out after a twelve hour performance in an art gallery in Bradford the previous day.  It was one of those high concept, ultra-long things that Bang the Bore likes to cook up.  See here for details – it’s about car parks, apparently.  So instead we had Pascal Ansell (Panelak) and event organiser Pete Cann (Half an Abortion) taking up the slack.  Confidence was not an issue here as, for reasons known only to themselves, the boys stripped to their boxer shorts for a bit of man-to-man weevil-bashing.  I only took one photo – partly because the flash was very unforgiving of partial nudity, partly because I feared being put on some kind of register.  Paul described it – unforgettably – as twinktronics.

Us oldsters were taken back to the good ol’ days of noise when you couldn’t go to an all-dayer of this sort without some cocks-out action…

I apologise to Heroin Diet, who were on next, as I spent their entire set outside recovering from the hot-flush provoked by boy flesh.  I chatted to Kieron about the health of the scene and hating The Wire magazine – a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with.  I spoke to Ian (Murphy, Hobo Sonn) and Duncan at some length about Brighton, physicality in noise (versus laptops) and growing up down South.  Duncan was very gracious when I mistakenly attributed an album to him that he had nothing to do with (I later remembered it was by Eyeballs – It had been a long afternoon/evening).  I should also mention that I spent a lot of the day talking with Kev Sanders (Petals) – a charming and witty guy who is disarmingly enthusiastic and wears his obvious erudition and seriousness very lightly.  A gentleman.

And here we come to the way my evening finishes: Dogliveroil.  The joke during the day was that you were presumed to be in Dogliveroil unless you had opted out, but in the end it was a mere seven people that made up the band, arranged to surround the audience on three sides.  Amusingly, it was Joincey’s role to sit on the stage in the middle of this maelstrom and look as bored as possible.  He picked at a cuticle, he stared at his foot.  It was riveting.  The whole business was topped off by a guest appearance from Simon Morris (Ceramic Hobs) who’d come over for the day and was happy to add a little high-security-wing karaoke (a reel on the theme of Stupid Hoe by Nicki Minaj).

Apologies to Sump and Cementimental who were still to play but that was enough for me.  I left on a high and trotted out to my bus back to the leafy suburbs.  I hope everything ended well – I’ve heard no stories of police raids since – and thanks again to Pete for organizing such a consistently fun event.  Happy Birthday, man.

P.S.  If I haven’t linked your name and you’d like me to then send me a URL.  If I have but you’d prefer I use a different URL then just let me know and I’ll update matters.

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.

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