only the squad survives: wnns joins rfm, then squints at laurie tompkins, giant claw and dikeman / serries / aquarius

August 20, 2017 at 6:59 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Laurie Tompkins – 45thGeneration Roman & European Bob (Sacred Tapes)

Giant Claw – Soft Channel (Orange Milk Records)

John Dikeman / Dirk Serries / René Aquarius – Day Realms (Tombed Visions)


Hey. Nice to see you. Come in. Draw up a cushion. Relax. Have a drink.

We may not have formally met before. I spent some time writing a blog called We Need No Swords. You know it? No? Ah well. It happened, for a while. And then it didn’t. Have a look at it, if you have time. You might like it.

But I’m here at RFM now, sort of, for a little while. You’ll probably see me popping up every few weeks or so. It takes a while, y’see. To get the words out the murk and onto the screen.

So, well, if you’re settled, let’s begin. Are we rolling? Ok.

laurie tompkins

Laurie Tompkins – 45thGeneration Roman & European Bob (Sacred Tapes) cassette and digital album

It seems only fair and logical to start this new adventure in a spirit of continuity rather than rupture. Regular readers of RFM will have enjoyed Marlo Eggplant’s fantastic exploration of the recent output of the Slip label, in particular co-founder Laurie Tompkins’ Heat, War, Sweat, Law, which Ms. Eggplant described as ‘pure play, touching objects, feeling surfaces, and hollering at friends.’

45thGeneration Roman & European Bob is a companion piece to Heat, War, Sweat, Law, sharing the latter’s anarchic spirit, non-existent musicianship and gestural physicality to create ungainly lumps of intuitive, defamiliarized sound-making.

In reality that means showers of yelps and grunts accompanied by wandering organ lines and the clacking splutter of someone banging a flowerpot. The overriding impression is of Tompkins and collaborators Sam Andreae, Suze Whaites and Owen Roberts stumbling across a ruined landscape, picking at the shattered remnants of musical forms, their attempts to remake them hindered by the fog of some post-traumatic amnesia. The yowls, patters and parps are a kind of post-catastrophe music making in a territory for which the maps are long gone.

However, if that’s true, why does it sound so much bleedin’ fun? Heat, War, Sweat, Law, although similar in approach, was immersed in an ambience of frustration, Tompkins wrenching fragments of Heaven 17’s The Height Of The Fighting into a series of despairing modernist anthems. The reference point this time around is The Streets’ ‘Turn The Page’.

“Turn the page on the day/Walk away/Cause they’re sensing what I say/ I’m 45th generation Roman/But I don’t know ‘em.”

Not that you’d recognize any of Mike Skinner’s geezer melancholy in the lines of these cracked mosaics.

Yet although the aesthetic is similar the vibe is completely different, Tompkins and his mob enacting a bizarrely celebratory set of rituals, a prelude to a primitivistic bacchanal. The overlapping hoots and hollers of ‘Fifth’ are a bewildering rush, drama-school posturing mixed with Dionysian abandonment in a proper WTF mash-up. ‘ER’ goes even more dissonant, with faux-clumsy keyboard spurts and bashed flowerpots chiming a stop-start backdrop for Tompkins’ vocal fulminations.

Time to embrace the bonkers, flower children.


Giant Claw – Soft Channel (Orange Milk Records) vinyl and digital album

Giant Claw is the sound of your old Windows XP machine being sliced to ribbons by malware, opening up a backdoor for digital housebreakers to riffle through your iTunes library and Amazon wishlist in a vain search for anything valuable – or at least, ahem, compromising – before giving up in disgust and sauntering off leaving a pile of soiled wreckage in its wake. That all this digital carnage is strangely comforting when served up as safely packaged entertainment for lovers of electro-jolt everywhere is testament to Giant Claw mover and shaker Keith Rankin’s cunning ability to create joy from sonic catastrophe, shredding wholesome nuggets of technological capitalism into itchy blankets of enervated jitterbug soup.

This kind of byte-scrabbled mess won’t be unfamiliar to anyone versed in the Oneohtrix Point Never school of production, which recasts the artist as a kind of hyperspace flâneur  kicking through virtual junkyards until they’ve gathered enough glitchy detritus to hack together lumbering automatons of cyber-rusted manure. But Señor Claw is a bit of maestro at this sort of thing, his two previous albums of hiccupping abrasion – 2014’s Dark Web along with Deep Thoughts from a year later – wearing their compositional nous lightly, the fused nodes of their distorted bloops, vocaloid shards and attention-addled jumpcuts only gradually revealing themselves as the delicately woven threads jig insouciantly past.

And so it goes with Soft Channel, Rankin’s latest missive from his empire of blown soundcards. Released on Rankin’s own Orange Milk label, its frenetic asymmetry may well prompt much gnashing of teeth from those not down with the Giant Claw ethos. After all, if one wanted to hear one’s laptop melting down, one wouldn’t have renewed one’s antivirus subscription, eh? But stick with it and you’ll be rewarded. Those chunks of circuit board gloop transition gradually into gleaming, impossible shapes, like sculptures altering their dimensions each time you see (hear) them. Ineffable snatches of alien choirs nudge up against scrolling vistas of spontaneous composition, their fraggy soundscapes smeared with streams of machine lingo fresh from the droid-brain.

The trebly pixel bursts of ‘Soft Channel 02’ make for particularly refreshing listening, their irregular blurts morphing into a prickly ooze of anime moans and hard-panned stutters. Things get double-caffeinated later, with ‘Soft Channel 006’s’ cello plucks tessellating into modem babble like some Benny Hill hack into the traffic-light mainframe.

You’re only supposed to blow the bloody ports off.

Day Realms

John Dikeman / Dirk Serries / René Aquarius – Day Realms (Tombed Visions) cassette and digital album

David McLean’s Tombed Visions label continues to mine a rewarding seam of mutant sounds that combines fire music’s euphoric blowing with the protean spontaneity of free improvisation. Here he hooks up stateside exploratory reedsman John Dikeman with Belgian guitarist-cum-sound artist Dirk Serries and Dutch powerhouse drummer René Aquarius, for a transatlantic jam that sets a determined course for the far reaches of the universe, the trio losing themselves in gorgeously tangled chains of silvery honk and glassy deep-space glister.

Dikeman, Serries and Aquarius are part of a resurgent wave of free jazz that gathers up players from Europe, the US and UK in a cross–cultural throng. Tombed Visions released the first outing from this trio, Night Realms, in 2016 (it’s also provided on the flipside of this tape for any heads who may have missed it) – and players with a similar worldview, such as Andrew Cheetham, Otto Wilberg, David Birchall, Colin Webster and Sam Andreae, have also been represented, in various combinations, by McLean over the years. Of this lot, the ABC Trio’s two releases come particularly recommended, the threesome of Andreae (tenor sax), Birchall (guitar) and Cheetham (drums) locking together in an astringent yet weirdly groovy manner that’s sure to get anyone that’s interested in non-dogmatic free improvisation foaming at the gums.

Night Realms walks a jazzier line than the spittle ‘n’ leather of the ABC squad, its blissful candour creating a beatific cocoon of sound whose radiance doesn’t let up for the 40-odd minutes of its runtime. René Aquarius, whose muscular, arrhythmic chops for Dead Neanderthals are a major contribution to the duo’s seismic force, lets loose with flurries of cymbal and percussive snare and kick-drum jolts, driving forward his partners’ explorations in tidal surges. Serries is on good form too, with circling mantras whose textural sheen are evocative of In A Silent Way-era McLaughlin.

Together, Serries and Aquarius form a taut mesh through which Dikeman slithers with riverine guile. His playing is fluid and melodic, but tough too, his curling riffs building up into a brassy lung-busting cacophony that transforms Day Realms’ opening quarter of an hour into a joyful overture. It proceeds through a series of peaks and troughs after that, although the rhythm rarely feels contrived. At around 20 minutes, Serries drops out and Aquarius moves to toms, freeing up the higher register for Dikeman to blast out in a reedy, squealing tantrum. Serries edging back in with an extended single-note drone adds another layer of hypnotism, yet the tension is allowed to dissipate, oozing out in a series of desultory splashes and plunks, before the trip gird their loins for cathartic final-minute splatterfest.

Bring the cloths, you’re gonna need to clean up around here.

Sacred Tapes

Orange Milk Records

Tombed Visions


human knotty complexity : joe murray on katz mulk, daniel carter/george lyle/fritz welch, downer canada and brb>voicecoil

March 27, 2017 at 6:04 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Katz Mulk – Katzenungen (Sacred Tapes)

Daniel Carter, George Lyle, Fritz Welch – So Long Farewell Repair live at The Glad Cafe (Iorram Records)

Downer Canada – Snarl like a Poem (Power Moves Library)

brb>voicecoil – Cloth White Skin (Muza Muza)


katz mulk

Katz Mulk – Katzenungen (Sacred Tapes) C30 Cassette


A new project from N-AU stalwarts Ben Knight, Ben Morris and Andrea Kearney* should make the most cynical of listeners burp – but I can report back from my comfortable trench that Pepto Bismol is not, repeat not needed.  This Mulk slips down easy as sherry trifle.



Knight continues his imagineer work for a darker-Disney building a domestic palace of half-song and chant.  He adds delicate plonks with increasing grace and moves the air with a palm, then a knee.  And Morris knits these materials into a thread-bare tapestry that celebrates the tiny, the small and the microscopic. Kearney provides the graphic score…

katz mulk 2


Side one: truth bandits, engaging rumble of an outboard motor, the squished goose honk of decaying electronics and wet hiss of traffic.  A voice says ‘squeal, squeal’, a bell rings and tinfoil gets crushed underfoot, a plate spins. Alligator goodbyes!

Side two: roar of a space heater, hectic metallic scrape, a voice battles sense against ripped rubber electronics, taped blister pack wrench overlaid by gentle footsteps. The plumber’s mate fouls up the pipes leading to complex knocking (at the7 min 30 second mark) that is both wet and dry, hard and soft, immediate yet attached to memory.

The end is heralded with the kind of repetition pin-ball/gong-strike/marble rolling I could listen to forever.

(iv)Outcome & Impact

The rare art of listening is engaged in this most rewarding of tapes.  I’m guessing this is a patchwork of ‘live’ and ‘studio’ jamz with the idea of sparse pushed through a nozzle, so the language bacteria grows in a dish; the rattles of accompaniment become as real as altitude ear-pop.

One to catch in a butterfly net no matter what!

*a most fortuitous bumping into Andrea enlightens me that her presence on this tape is purely graphic score construction rather than future-ghost player.  But FFW to the planned Katz Mulk disc on Singing Knives coz itsa trio of all-three-players-playing!

carter lyle welch

Daniel Carter, George Lyle, Fritz Welch – So Long Farewell Repair live at The Glad Cafe (Iorram Records) CD

Real-proper JAZZ chips from this sax/piano, double bass, percussion trio and sadly the last ever recording from Glasgow bass-face George Lyle.

The dials are set for human knotty complexity rather than eviscerating fire and that is all super-smashing-great for me.

It’s like this.  My simple mind is pulled in several directions at once.  George saws an undercurrent of resin-soaked wood so it glows like a fire biding its time.  Fritz supplies the sizzle of gentle rain on the griddle – a liquid bada-bing!  Sax sings for the brassy siren then Daniel moves to a dusty piano playing all the in-notes outwards.

But each piece tightens the jewels further, like when you find the bite on an old socket set and each bolt and nut clicks an extra few revolutions.  This is true open-jaw music that plays the lush valleys between the craggy peaks.

Even the most casual listen reveals ear-gems and brain worms: the guilt marimba, felt ravioli all come seeping out a blowhole and begin rolling around my feet.

But weirdest of all, the closing minutes of ‘News Loom’ seem to suck god-save-the-queen backwards over all the rippled sonic scree.  That can’t be right eh?

Shit! What more do you want me to say?  This threesome are impressive enough as lone gadgies but the sum is most definitely more when all those ears and fingers (and feet) get warm and busy.

Bop it!

downer canada full

Downer Canada – Snarl like a Poem (Power Moves Library) CD-r in classy envelope and free digital download

This slim CD-r is packaged between two pieces of thick card and makes me think that the music is being coddled in some way – like it’s a delicate thing that needs protection from my fat, greasy fingers.

But when played ‘Snarl like a Poem’ is surprisingly robust – a full frequency exploration of brushed steel flux and hissing radiators.  It knocks like the ancient plumbing attached to your old head (a gaseous ghost in the pipes, hurtling through copper joints , whipping right and left) until you are not quite sure what’s going on.

And then…a feedback suite; a feeble keening smooth as marble.  Limp Morse that rolls as a cylinder would over a deep ice puddle yet fuzzy at the edges like someone just smeared my glasses with Vaseline – most agreeable!

Tones on the edge of collapse send oily ripples through my ear canal, a lo-tech Eliane Radigue, until things blister, bubble and pop.

Dry mouth sounds… ‘kah’ and ‘schah’ and ‘khow’ reveal dusty language roots.  Is this the lost speech of the sand-encrusted pharaohs?  Or perhaps a sound poet’s secret  library hiss?

What was once ultra-minimal collects the grit of a classic Dictaphone approach with each surface filled and smoothed-over with fizzing huss.

It fills my head with sweet drizzle!


brb>voicecoil – Cloth White Skin (Muza Muza) C25 Cassette and digital download

The perfectly dank sound that joins the dots between classic long-form drone, field recording and musique concrete.

Kev Wilkinson’s bands Drill, Big Road Breaker and the more recent brb>voicecoil, have been stalwarts of the Newcastle noise/drone scene for as long as I can remember. After years of steady, underground activity his brb>voicecoil delighted a whole new generation in a triumphant performance at last year’s TUSK festival.

This cool-looking tape is the next instalment in an epic story.

Using source material recorded over an 8 year period the side-long title track ‘Cloth White Skin’ weaves an arcane industrial process (cast-iron rollers flattening bone fragments / blast furnace being stoked with terrible energy / huge tumbling spikes) with the spluttering of cold liquid metal and the distant thunder of Xipe Totec .

But it’s not all spitting-bluster.  The final short movement is an introspective shudder, a ‘someone’s-just-walked-over-my-grave’ uneasiness of rusty tin slowly coming to rest.

The itchy rhythm of ‘Crack Vessel’ mimics exactly the enamel rattling of a child’s tooth in a jam jar.   The accompanying offset, slopped-shunts of sound remind me of dancers limping after brutal rehearsals, all sore toes, ripped calves and swollen ankles.

The closer, an aptly named ‘Vent 2’ treats us to a Heath-Robinson industrial scene.  Grey gas escapes under enormous pressure from cracked terracotta pipes.  The hullabaloo flips a series of leather coated buttons to perform an organic, irregular beat.  The surrounding soundscape is crisp with busy electric crackles and fades into one lone drummer drumming.

A taste of the grim future?  Automation gone loco?

Regard the prophetic warnings of brb>voicecoil!

Sacred Tapes

Iorram Records

Power Moves Library

Muza Muza


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