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Hello friends and welcome to the 2015 Zellaby Awards and Radio Free Midwich end-of-year round-up. I’m very glad to see you. My apologies in advance to those long term readers expecting the usual introduction full of whimsical nonsense. There will be some of that, of course, but this year needs to be taken seriously and I’m going to start dark. Don’t worry though – spoiler alert – there will be joy and life-affirming redemption by the end: this piece is my It’s a Wonderful Life.
Firstly, it is not the job of this blog to comment on the wider world but aside from the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, our glorious future prime minister, 2015 was largely without hope. I wish you all good luck in navigating the coming End Times.
Personally, away from music, my year can be split into three four month long segments. For the first of these I was ill with non-stop, run-of-the-mill viruses. Nowt serious on its own but the cumulative effect of so many strung together – a necklace of snot – left me in a parlous state. My depression played cards with its fidgety cousin anxiety, waited until I was defenceless and then kicked in the door. The second four months were spent off work attempting to shift these unwelcome guests whilst maintaining a functioning family life. I’ve written about this debilitating effort elsewhere, no need for further details here. The final four months of 2015 were the tale of my recuperation and slow recovery following a change in medication and a breakthrough in both the treatment of my illness and my attitude towards it. After much grief, I left 2015 exhausted and resentful but hopeful that new ways of muzzling the black dog will allow me a lengthy period of peace and sanity.
When I was down in it, days, weeks even, passed when music seemed more trouble than it was worth. The list of releases submitted to RFM for review, plus other stuff that caught my bloodshot eye, became an untended vine cracking the panes of its greenhouse and desiccating the soil in its giant terracotta pot. I’d try to ignore it, slumped in my deckchair, but would be tickled awake by a tendril and look up to see something like Audrey II grinning down at me:
Or maybe one my colleagues – Joe, Chrissie, Sof, Luke, marlo – would arrive with a ladder, new glass, plant food, exotic orchids or intricate alpines to distract me, gawd bless ‘em. Looking back, I’m surprised at how often I actually did pick up the trowel – if only to wave hello, or whack Luke on the nose with it when I found him digging in the flower beds – and I’m quietly proud of maintaining this garden despite the inclement mental weather. During 2015 radiofreemidwich received approximately 32,000 visits – a new record. 93 posts were published, including the blog’s 500th, by half a dozen different authors. The most popular of which were last year’s Zellaby Awards and my no-audience underground ‘state of the notion’ address – most gratifying as both are heartfelt celebrations of the scene. Not bad, eh?
Now, at this point in the introduction I was going to get catty about my usual scratching posts, hit a few sacred cow arses with a banjo etc. but, looking down at the silted pavement and up at the grey sky, it’s clear that what the world needs now is love, sweet love – not smart alec remarks and passive-aggressive score settling. So let’s get the party started instead.
Here’s the rules: to be eligible in one of the following five categories this music needs to have been heard by one of us for the first time in 2015. It does not need to have been released in 2015. As the purpose of these awards is to spread the good news about as many quality releases as possible, should an artist win in one category they will not be placed in any of the others. I do not vote for my own stuff as midwich, nor any releases that I had a hand in (thus no Aqua Dentata on fencing flatworm – sorry Eddie). The team will avoid touting each others’ projects too – not because we care about conflict of interest (there isn’t any down here) but we do like to maintain at least a veneer of decorum. Aside from marlo, who has been nostril deep in PhD crap all year and thus didn’t feel qualified to contribute, the whole team has chipped in and I will be pasting their responses below. This year I am at least nodding in the direction of democracy when compiling the lists but, as editor, I am reserving final say. Don’t worry though – my dictatorship is benevolent and progressive.
Right then, time to pop some fucking corks…
Radio Free Midwich presents the 2015 Zellaby Awards
5. The “I’d never heard of you 10 minutes ago but now desperately need your whole back catalogue” New-to-RFM Award
Chrissie expresses doubts about the whole process then nails a perfect nomination:
I’m not much of a one for end of year retrospectives, forward is my preferred direction. Also I find it hard to compare music and place it in any sort of order. One day a particular piece or artist will be exactly what I need, another day it will have me screaming for the STOP button. Add to which I haven’t actually reviewed very much this year. Even when I found a (rather large, rich) niche to occupy I still take longer to complete a review than I’d really like. Still, I hate to disappoint, and I never miss a deadline so…
Even while reviewing one album, I couldn’t help mentioning tracks on other albums!
[Editor’s note: an extract from Chrissie’s review of Science Fiction & Horror Movie Soundtrack Collection: Strange Films of Sabrina Peña Young:]
‘Singularity’ is a whole Star Trek episode in miniature. It opens as an almost conventional, if nicely constructed piece of theme music, and gradually becomes something very much more. Going from the journey out, discovery of a possibly inhabited planet, then meeting an alien, trying to escape and the closing theme music again – a novella in seven minutes forty-three seconds! To be honest I’m pretty sure that that isn’t the actual narrative of ‘Singularity’ but I like to make things up as I’m listening and that idea seemed plausible at the time [Editor’s note: it’s the RFM way…]. What it’s really about is the rise of machine intelligence, of course; which is equally scary, possibly.
Joe speaks in italics:
Not for the first time, Serbia’s No Basement is Deep Enough label has pinned my lugs back and hotly tongued my ear. But this time it slipped a note in my pocket that read ‘G.J de Rook’ (but no phone number I notice!).
Gerrit’s considered gobble-de-gook on a and bla is the metallic-gravy I’m craving right now. The calm and pleasant gibber hits that sweet-spot of babies gurgling, a hummingbird’s gaudy thrum and the plastic pop of wrenched bubble-wrap. These are universal sounds; sounds enjoyed from the Mongolian deserts to the Seattle coffee-house scene. These are the sort of sounds we need to send into space – gaffer tape a CD-r to Voyager or something- for them bug-eyed overlords to ponder.
Although Gerrit’s wider discography is relatively thin and achingly expensive don’t worry readers, I have a plan in place to slurp slowly in discreet ‘o,o,o,o,o,oa,oa,oa,oa,eh,eh,eh,o,ooo,o-like’ sips. Think on.
Sof’s joy in discovery:
I heard and reviewed the album 3 by Sonotanotanpenz at the start of my Midwich employment and have since heard everything I can by them because, for me, they just tick all the right boxes. Cheers to Kirigirisu Records for pointing me in the right direction finding this stuff!
Ben Hallatt – Kay Hill, scke//, KIKS/GFR – the sinister/minimal man, eerie urban horror with muted synth/tape work.
…and I say:
…that I haven’t had the wherewithal for the obsessive curiosity that usually makes it so easy and obvious to decide the winner of this category. I have a few interests bubbling under – that lovely, young Graham Dunning seems like an intriguing chap so maybe I’ll stalk him once I have the energy – but in the meantime I’m happy to to go along with Chrissie’s nomination of Sabrina Peña Young.
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
I don’t think I have an answer for this one, I can only think of Delphine Dora who released four albums this year which to me seems a huge amount! I’m not really into musicians who put out so much stuff that I can’t keep up. It puts me off if I’m honest, I like small and considered bodies of work. [Editor’s note: a very practical attitude – and Delphine should definitely be on everyone’s list anyway.]
Chrissie scratches her head too:
I’ve not really reviewed enough to come up with a suitable nomination for this. Similarly for the label award. I was tempted to nominate Steve Lawson for the Stokoe cup but he might be rather too ‘big’ for that to be sensible now and also I don’t believe he’s ever been reviewed here [Editor’s note: he is and he hasn’t but, hey, s’up to you – it’s an indication of where you are coming from too]. However he does release a considerable amount of material and it is of quite an amazingly high standard.
No doubts from Joe:
We’re all renaissance men and women now eh? Fingers in various pies yeah? You’re a composer/performer, a curator, a thinker, an archivist, a broadcaster, a hard-assed critic and goofy listener, a publisher and promoter? Scratch the N-AU and we bleed like colourful skittles.
This is all vital and impressive for sure. But the real trick is to weave all those various roles together with a broader sense of ‘who you are’, a central-unifying-theme and aesthetic that’s as real as Westeros fantasy shizzle. So with the powers invested in me by the fabled ‘Stokoe Cup’ I hereby recommend Andy Wild, the Crow versus Crow guy guy, as an upstanding exemplar of unified vision, industry and purpose.
Not only is Andy releasing beautifully packaged CDs on the CvC label, he’s keeping us up-to-date with a set of paintings and photography. He’s had a one-man exhibition, “You’re Gonna Need That Pure Religion, Halleloo” in his native Halifax. He’s researched, presented and broadcast almost 100 radio shows and curated a bunch of special one-off sessions (like John Peel yeah). And all this strikes me with a look and a feel that’s unmistakably CvC and unified. Here’s an example: as Andy dug deeper into old blues records spindly hiss and burr appeared on the paintings (and in the exhibition title). The smeared photos mirrored the abstract sound of worn vinyl. The shows became looser, the voice deeper and the mood darker. Do people still do mission statements? If so, is ‘be beautiful’ taken?
Luke starts on a theme:
A tough one this year with the above mentioned Ben Hallatt and the incredible Stuart Chalmers. My vote, however, has to go to Robert Ridley-Shackleton: the Oxfam prince, the cardboard king. He keeps on peaking, inhabiting his own corner. In a just universe he would be on the X Factor panel: he IS pop.
…and I say:
Well, Joe makes a compelling case for Andy Crow there and since being born from an egg on a mountaintop the nature of Shackleton is irrepressible, but I’m handing the trophy to a familiar name and previous Zellaby award winner: Kev Sanders.
Whilst not quite reaching the Stakhanovite release rate displayed in 2014, his productivity remains alarming high, as does the quality of his work. I’ve not reviewed a great deal of it, nor much else released on his label hairdryer excommunication (this collection of haiku from September being my main engagement) but it has been an ever-present background radiation.
If you picture the year as an autobahn, one which I have been stalled beside, hood up, engine steaming, then Kev’s music is a series of electricity pylons running alongside carrying cables buzzing with an intensity that is somehow both bleak and comforting. I wish him well with his coming move to that London and look forward to a chance to catch up whilst he is otherwise engaged. Now, like a casino bouncer chucking out a professional gambler, I’m banning him from winning anything else for a while. House rules.
3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award
Sof and Chrissie have a playground tussle over who gets to be teacher’s pet:
Sof: It’s no secret that Rob Hayler has had a rough year with his depression but his drive and passion for underground music has meant he’s kept up with this blog which I’m sure a lot of folks wouldn’t do under the same circumstances – fair play and respect to you!
Chrissie: At the risk of sounding like a spoilt kid sucking up to the boss, I’d like to nominate Rob for this award. In what has been a difficult year for him he’s hired three new writers, no small risk in itself, trusting our ability to actually deliver readable prose (well, in my case anyway) in usable quantities, not to mention editing it onto the blog in good shape and good time. He’s also put up with my erratic writing schedule and lack of enthusiasm to take anything off the review pile – preferring to go off on my own in a crusade to bring more female artists to the notice of our good and loyal readers.
[Editor’s note: it might appear shameless to include the above, and I admit it kinda is, but, as I’ve pointed out, it has been a tough year and I was touched. Let me have a little sugar, yeah?]
Luke picks an outlier:
Sorry gonna have to be Robert Ridley-Shackleton again [sings: “Return of the Shack! Here it is…!”]. A little quote from Robbie following a chat about tedious porn/bondage themes in noise:
To me noise is a positive thing, it fills my brain full of the joys. I don’t understand all the negative themes presented, to me it’s life affirming
[Editor’s note: R-Shack’s physical contribution to RFM is indeed notable as he sent copies of all his releases plus extra examples of his womble-on-ketamine junk art not just to RFMHQ but also personally to Joe and Luke too – a Knight of the Post.]
Joe rallies the troops:
As ever, I reckon this one belongs to everybody. Anyone that sent in a tape, clicked on a link, wrote a review, listened with intent, left a comment or gave a god-damn fuck. This one’s for you. It’s all of us that make this: writers, readers, editors…even you cynics (coz debate is good, yeah?). We’re all part of the oneness. No one hears a tree fall in an empty forest right?
…and I say:
Tempting as it is to fall into step and punch the air, nostrils flaring, there is an objectively true answer to the question and that is: Anne, my wife. Without her love, care and truly unbelievable strength this blog would not have continued to exist.
However, if we limit the word ‘contribution’ to meaning actual hands-on graft accounting for the endeavours of the no-audience underground then only one name can be engraved on this medal: Joe Murray.
Of the 93 posts published this year a huge proportion were by Joe and each of those usually contained reviews of numerous items sourced from far-flung corners of the outer reaches. Despite his hep prose poetry being the best music writing currently available – Richard Youngs himself described Joe’s review of his epic No Fans seven CD box set as ‘the definitive account’ – he is completely selfless in his unpretentious enthusiasm. He embodies the ethos of this blog.
[Editor’s note: hmmm… getting a bit lovey and self-congratulatory this isn’t it? Maybe I’ll rethink this category for next year <takes deep breath, dabs corner of eye> OK, on with the big gongs!]
2. The Label of the Year Award
Sof sticks to the point:
I’ve really enjoyed every release I’ve heard from Fort Evil Fruit this year, and most years, I think we must have the same taste in music.
Luke whittles on the porch:
Another tough one with old favourites like Chocolate Monk continuing to deliver the goods. However at a push it’d be Winebox Press, a fairly laid back work rate but always something to look forward to, can’t think of another label as aesthetically as well as sonically pleasing to me at least. Objects of cosmic power that’ll warm you from the inside out.
Joe’s takes a turn:
Let’s hear it for Cardboard Club. Why? For the dogged determination and other worldly logic of course. I have no idea what is going on in the disco/noise shire of Robert Ridley-Shackleton. All I know is that I like it, I like it a lot.
Robert’s singular vision is not so much outsider as out-rigger; a ghost on the pillion. The label spreads itself across media so the scrabbly zines, tape artwork and ‘pocket-jazz’ sound can only contain the RR-S, nothing else. But what made me giggle, what made me really smile was the recent move to vinyl. Some lame-o’s see the hallowed seven inch as a step up; a career move if you please! With that kind of attitude the battle is already lost and all ideals get mushed in ‘rock school’ production. None of this for our Cardboard Club… it sounds exactly the same! A hero for our troubled times.
…and I say:
Yep, all excellent selections deserving of your attention but, with hairdryer excommunication out of the way, I’m going to use editor’s privilege to share this year’s prize between two exemplary catalogues: Invisible City Records and Power Moves Label. Both are tape-plus-download labels based on Bandcamp, both have strong individual identities – in ethos and aesthetic – despite presenting diverse, intriguing rosters and both share impeccable no-audience underground credentials (PML’s slogan: ‘true bedroom recordings with delusions of grandeur’). It don’t hurt that the gents running each – Craig and Kev respectively – are polite, efficient and enthusiastic in their correspondence too. Anyone looking for a model as to how it should be done could do worse than sit at the front of their class and take careful notes.
[Editor’s note on the Editor’s note: yes, yes, I know that ICR re-released my epic masterpiece The Swift, thus making it the label of the year by default but I felt duty bound to mention it anyway. Shame on Tabs Out Podcast, by the way, for filling the first 135 places of their 2015 Top 200 with hype and industry payola. Glad to see sanity and integrity restored with #136.]
1. The Album of the Year Award
Chrissie kicks us off:
My first female:pressure review and the one I still listen to the most.
…not only are the individual tracks on this album good, but the ordering of them is exquisite. They follow on from each other in a wonderful, spooky narrative that runs smoothly and expertly from start to finish – the gaps between them allowing you to pause for breath before being dragged into the next hellmouth.
The opening track, ‘Appreciate the moment’s security’, will pull you in with its drama, heavy noise-based beats, spooky voicing and very punkish shouting but you’ll stay for the gentler opening of ‘You better trust’, intrigued by where it’s going. There’s harsh noise in the middle of this track and in lots of places on this album, but it’s never over-used. It’s here as a structural device to take you by surprise and drag you out of your complacency.
Luke casts his net wide:
Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Self-Titled EP
Charlotte Braun – Happy Being Sad
Absurde, Chier – Absurde VS Chier
Skatgobs – Pointless
Blood Stereo – The Lure of Gurp
Alec Cheer – Autumn
Guttersnipe – Demo
xazzaz – descent / the crusher
VA AA LR – Ping Cone
Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks 3/4
Anla Courtis – B-Rain Folklore
S C K E / Kay Hill – Disclosure, TESSELLATION A/B, IN-GRAIN, Cold Title
Jon Collin – Wrong Moves / Dream Recall
Whole Voyald Infinite Light – Uncollected Recordings
Ashtray Navigations – Lemon Blossom Gently Pixelating In The Breeze
Melanie O’Dubhshlaine – Deformed Vowels
yol / posset – a watched pot never (no link – ask yol or Joe, they’ll sort you out)
half an abortion / yol – the designated driver
Shareholder – Jimmy Shan
[Editor’s note: blimey, eh? Luke also provided a ‘year in metal’ list too! Available on request.]
Sof’s impeccable taste displayed:
I’m going with Steven Ball’s Collected Local Songs which I reviewed earlier this year because it’s the one I’ve gone back to over and over, each listen revealing more to me. It’s such an original piece of work.
Originality is the theme of my list –
Saboteuse – Death, Of Course (this maaaaaaay, have come out last year!)
Bridget Hayden and Claire Potter – Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child
Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God
Guttersnipe – Demo
Rosemary Krust – Rosemary Krust
Sam McLoughlin & David Chatton Barker – Show Your Sketches
Delphine Dora – L’au-delà
I fucking guarantee your serious music critics will moan and denounce 2015 as a fallow year for sounds. Fools! If you look around there’s an embarrassment of riches spilling out of the tape drawer, CD-r pile and download..er…folder?
I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable hurling my opinion of ‘what’s best’ around so, in the spirit of “non-competition and praise”, here’s what I’d play you right now if you were to pop round for sherry.
- yol – everyday rituals. When a record makes you run giddy for the Spanish/English dictionary you know something extraordinary is at work. You’re familiar with yol yeah? You’re not? Get a-fucking cracking pal. This is a truly explosive & genuine performance that makes your insipid rebellion look safe as milk.
- Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God. A super-subtle voice and tape work. What I love is the ‘too studio-fucked to be field recordings and too much punk-ass rush for fluxus’ approach. Natural and wonderfully blunted domestic, ‘Others…’ inhabits its own space – like a boil in the bag something served piping hot.
- Midnight Doctors – Through a Screen and Into a Hole. The merciless despot with a harmonium! Phil Begg’s steady hand guides a cavalcade of rough North East gonks through their paces to produce a timeless noir classic. It is equal parts soundtrack, accurate cop-show homage and mysterious new direction for tight-meshed ensemble. C’mon Hollywood… make that damn call.
- Shareholder – Jimmy Shan. Rock und Roll songs collapse in sharp slaggy heaps. Dirty explosions replace instruments (the guitar x 2 and drums) leaving us dazed in a no-man’s-land of stunning, blinding light and electricity. Ferocious and don’t-give-a-fuck all at once.
- Tom White – Reconstruction is tied, even-stevens, with Sindre Bjerga’s – Attractive Amplification. The world of violent tape abuse is one I follow avidly. But there’s nothing to separate these two outstanding tapes (of tapes, of tapes, of tapes). Both Tom and Sindre have the muscle memory and total mastery of their mediums (reel to reel and compact cassette) to wrench brown, sticky moans from the vintage equipment. It sounds belligerent, punch drunk and rum-sloppy to my ears. A perfect night out chaps!
…and finally, your humble editor:
Bubbling under: here are the releases that made my long list but not the countdown. Every one a cracker, presented here in alphabetical order to avoid squabbles breaking out in the car park:
Culver – Saps 76
David Somló – Movement
Delphine Dora and Sophie Cooper – Distance, Future
Dominic Coppola – Vogue Meditations
Hagman – Inundation
Hardworking Families – Happy Days
Ian Watson – Caermaen
joined by wire – universe allstars
Luminous Monsters – The Sun Tree
Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Self-Titled EP
Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower
Shredderghost – Golden Cell
yol – everyday rituals
[Editor’s note: I also have to make special mention of Askild Haugland and his peerless recordings as Taming Power. I’ve received two (I think, possibly three) parcels from him this year containing his work, all the way from Norway, and these recordings always have a profound and meditative effect. Some of it, for instance the 7” single Fragments of the Name of God, could quite possibly be perfect.]
OK, right – ooo! exciting! – here’s the top ten, presented in traditional reverse order:
10. E.Y.E – MD2015
…and what a joy it has been to have Paul Harrison back in the fray! Yes, after over a decade new material from Paul’s Expose Your Eyes project was finally made available via his new Bandcamp label Eye Fiend – a repository for much missed Fiend Recordings back catalogue (Mrs Cakehead has to be heard to be believed) and digital versions of the new stuff which is otherwise only available in tiny hand-splattered physical editions.
MD2015 is a four CD-r, four hour and twenty minute set comprising discordant synth clatters, decontextualized chanting (familiar to anyone into first wave industrial music), beats: pitter, patter – galloping hooves – factory presses, intoxicating loops, delirium (remember that footage of animals drunk on fermented fruit? This is the OST to a bootleg version of The Lion King that features those orgiastic scenes), repetition beyond human endurance / irresistible motoric groove, ‘proper’ noise – all primary sexual characteristics out and flapping in the breeze, and sorbet-refreshing shortwave-radio-ish pulse. It is a lot of fun.
9. AAS – Balancing Ritual
Y’know when your favourite stoner rock band lay down a super heavy, half-hour long, ego-obliterating, tethered crescendo but it isn’t quite enough so you and a hardy group of the suspicious break into one of the spaceships of a seemingly benevolent alien race currently visiting Earth and discover this playing inside? Yeah? A version of the above but clinical, steely, a step up from our humble efforts. It’s like that and I, for one, welcome our new drone overlords…
Graham Dunning offered to send me a tape of this, I visited Bandcamp for a sneaky preview and ended up so impressed that I’d bought the download and fallen in love before my exhausted postie even delivered the jiffy bag. I can count on the fingers of no fingers the other times that has happened recently.
8. Duncan Harrison, BBBlood, Aqua Dentata – “Ineluctable modality of the visible”
What an excellent three-fer. Not only occupying a wholly justified place in the chart but giving me the opportunity to praise Paul Watson (BBBlood), Duncan Harrison (who’s Others Delete God tape, so highly praised earlier, shamefully passed me by. Did I ever own it? Did I send it to Joe in a moment of madness? Ah, who knows?) and Eddie Nuttall (who, as Aqua Dentata, is producing amongst the finest work on my radar). Here’s some extracts from marlo’s review:
…But, damn you, Duncan Harrison! The first track immediately gets me back in my academic head! ‘(Je suis) La Loi’ makes me think of psychoanalytical linguist theorist Julia Kristeva and deconstructionist scholar Jacques Derrida. The use of breath and physiological sounds makes the listening an embodied experience. The listener feels present. It is hard not to notice if one’s lips are dry or if you possibly had too many coffees…
…In ‘Nexistence of Vividence’, BBBlood returns to more of the crunchy reeling and wheeling and dealing. It is a typhoon that builds and waits. Never fully collapsing, the sounds peters out like attempting to catch water running through fingers. Yet there is an ethereal resolution to the struggle and the listeners are laid to rest, an aural wiping of the brow. Time to rest after the long haul…
…Eddie Nuttall, a.k.a Aqua Dentata, is not from this planet. I honestly don’t think he is. His music feels like extraterrestrial communication from outside our universe. Like binaural beats and subconscious interfering hypnosis, his untitled track sounds like it is made of laser beams. As a listener, you feel like you merge with the frequency and question your ability to make cognitive sense. It isn’t because of a reliance in bombarding one with several sounds but rather a direct cerebral invasion…
7. The Piss Superstition – Garage Squall
Joe reviewed this one in the shape of a UFO. No, I don’t know why either but it is absolutely bang on:
The very best form of bluster.
As gentle as breath on a mirror,
Predator’s Answerphone message
The Velvet Underground trapped in a matchbox.
A map! Hectares of featureless crystalline crackle – zoom into mountains,
A corduroy vibe; not geography teacher clichés but that ribbed softness – a tickle on the fingernail.
Ride the world’s slowest roller-coaster taking 1000 years, cranking the incline.
Forbidden Planet strained with nourishing iron-rich greens,
A dream-tractor changing gear on the endless road.
Immense power restrained by gravity
A hit of strong, clean anaesthetic,
I’m counting backwards.
10, 9, 8…
6. Stuart Chalmers – Loop Phantasy No. 1, No. 2, No. 3
Joe again, not sparing the superlatives:
…But this time I throw my regular Northern caution and cynicism out the window and claim these three recordings THE MOST IMPORTANT SALVAGED TAPE LOOP RECORDINGS EVER YEAH.
I hear you ask.
I answer with a calm, clear voice.
Like in the whole 100 year history of recorded music?
even including the oft- mentioned high- water mark of looping Tom Recchion’s Chaotica?
You add. I merely smile and press play on the device of your choice.
You must listen, you must listen to truly understand
I chant with glassy eyes.
Anyway… fuck yeah! That’s what I’m saying. If you want to know where looping is right now in 2015/2016: PLAY THESE RECORDS. If you are looking for an instructional map of what’s possible with simple tape loops, a couple of pedals and some hot ears: PLAY THESE RECORDS. If you want to open up that valve in your stomach that helps you release gaseous tension: PLAY THESE RECORDS…
…Students of tape culture – your set-text has arrived. Screw in those earbuds and get seriously twisted.
5. Ashtray Navigations – A Shimmering Replica
A beautiful album in every respect and an entirely life-affirming experience. Terrific to see Phil and Mel get such a high-profile, flagship release in what was a high-profile, flagship year for the band. I will have more to say on this in a long-planned article which will be published around the eventual release date of the long-planned best of Ashtray Navigations 4CD box set. Coming soon! In the meantime: buy this.
4. Melanie O’Dubhshlaine – Deformed Vowels
Likewise, Mel’s remarkable solo venture deserves a much more detailed account than it is going to get here. Via a kind of meta-semi-improv (or something?) she continues on her utterly compelling, largely unheralded project to reinvent music on her own terms.
I imagine a Dr. Moreau style musical laboratory in which Mel cares for her cross bred instruments, incunabula parping their first notes, joyfully interacting with the sentient automata Mel has created to entertain them with. She dangles a microphone over the giant aquarium tank in which they all live and conducts this unique performance.
Unlike anything else I’ve heard this year, or maybe ever.
3. Helicopter Quartet – Ghost Machine
A peerless work, even within the band’s own faultless back catalogue. From my review:
It is difficult to write about Helicopter Quartet, the duo of RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield (violin, synths) and Michael Capstick (guitars), because their music is so enveloping, so attention seizing, that when I’m listening the part of my brain I use to put words in a row is too awestruck to function. However, following many hours with it, I am certain this is their best album yet. That a work of such mature beauty, sculpted over months, is freely downloadable is surely further evidence that we are living in a golden age for self released music. It has the austere and magisterial presence of a glacier edge, the drama of that glacier calving into the sea.
If you ever act on anything I say then act on this: go get it.
2. Guttersnipe – Demo
Wow, this kicked the fucking doors in. With this CD-r and a series of explosive live performances Guttersnipe owned 2015 – they were either your new favourite band or you just hadn’t heard of them yet. Luke got to review this one, here’s an extract:
Guttersnipe whip up a frightening noise on drums, guitars, electronics and howled vocals that will have you reaching for the light switch. The cassette fidelity smudges the freejazzmetalhaze into a fog of terror from which emerges the fangs of a gaping gob ready to bite you. I’ve been listening to a lot of black metal recently and these vocals could have the corpse painted hordes crying for their mama. However, they are not the guttural grunts of the alpha male but more a feminine screech of desperation and disgust which the other two respond to by conjuring a blackened and unsettled miasma. Calling this disc demo leads me to believe that Guttersnipe are selling themselves short. This is impressively original material that comes over like a Xasthur/Skullflower hybrid with a hefty slug of secret ingredient. Marvellous job.
Amusingly, and presumably because he hadn’t seen them live at the time, he seems to imply this duo is a trio – a testament to their ferocity (and my skills as an editor…).
1. namke communications – 365/2015
Finally then, the winner of the Zellaby Award for album of the year presented by Radio Free Midwich is, in an unusually literal sense, the album of the year: 365/2015 by namke communications. Here’s some context from a piece I wrote in March:
…old-friend-of-RFM John Tuffen, in a project which recalls the conceptual bloodymindedness of Bill Drummond (who has raised ‘seeing it through’ to the level of art form), is recording a track every day throughout the whole of 2015 and adding them to the album [on Bandcamp] as the calendar marches on … each track is freshly produced on the day in question and, as might be expected, vary enormously in style, execution and instrumentation – there is guitar improv, electronica in various hues and field recording amongst other genres welcome ’round here…
Indeed, added to various forms of (usually light and expansive) improv and field and domestic recordings of life’s ebb and flow were many forays into sub-genres of electronica, techno as she is written, actual *ahem* songs, drones of many textures, experimental sketches with software and new toys, callbacks, the odd joke (all tracks in February had the duration 4’33” following a twitter exchange with me) and so on and so, unbelievably, on. I can’t claim to have heard all of it – of course I haven’t – and there are misfires – of course there are – but the level of quality maintained is gobsmacking given the scope of the exercise.
Each track was accompanied by notes, most with a picture and then a tweet announced its presence too. John was no slacker on the admin – I approve. In March I suggested:
This one I have no qualms about dipping into, in fact I would recommend constructing your own dipping strategies. As the year progresses you could build an album from the birthdays of your family, or never forget an anniversary again with a self-constructed namke communications love-bundle. Won a tenner on the lottery? Create your own three track EP with the numbers and paypal John a couple of quid. Or perhaps a five CD boxset called ‘Thursday Afternoon’, in homage to Brian Eno, containing everything released on that day of the week? Or condense the occult magic with a set comprising every 23rd track? Ah, the fun to be had. Or you could just listen to it on a daily basis until it becomes a welcome part of your routine…
I was at least half-joking at the time but engaging with 365/2015 has proved a unique way of experiencing an album. During the worst of my illness, as I spent nights trawling Twitter unable to sleep, it did become a valuable part of my daily routine. Literally a light in the darkness – Bandcamp page shining on the tablet as I lay in bed – John’s project, existing due to nothing but his crazy drive to create (the whole thing, 40+ hours, available as a ‘name your price’ download!), truly helped me through. A clear and worthy winner.
So, that is that for another year. John’s prize, should he wish to take me up on it, is for namke communications to have the one and only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings some time in 2016. A surprise baby sister, perhaps, for his lovely available from namke communications released by me back in the day and now (I think) a teenager itself.
Many thanks to my fellow writers and to all who support us – for your time, patience and enthusiasm – it is much appreciated. Heartfelt best wishes for the New Year, comrades.
All is love.
Rob Hayler, January 2016.
Tags: 777 was 666, aaron dilloway, altar of flies, chocolate monk, dylan nyoukis, hair stylistics, joe murray, john wiese, karen constance, luke poot, marc hurtado, phil minton, rick potts, skatgobs, smegma, spoils & relics, t mikawa, the custodians of the realm, the new blockaders, yeast culture, yellowhouse
Skatgobs – Pointless (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.314, edition of 40)
Various Artists – Found Secret (CD, 777 was 666, 777-022, edition of 300)
Skatgobs – Pointless
The cockney fug of Café Oto gives way to a relaxed domestic burr and the sharp acoustic slap-back you get between Victorian terraces.
Please welcome Skatgobs
…says some showbiz dude and the performance starts with Luke Poot in your left ear, Dylan Nyoukis in your right and Phil Minton all over your face. These three have been pulling gunk outta their necks for about 1000 years or so but tonight they are concentrating on collective mouth-music and similar damp jaxx.
For those expecting duck-like explosions, brace yourself. The sound here is mainly gentle; hissed swoops and whispered threats are the vocabulary. Each individual – Poot, Nyoukis or Minton creates fresh cockles and whelks from that tonsil and mind conglomerate but it’s the collective that makes this one a speciality bean. Ideas may launch individually but work in tandem then triplicate. Things lock pleasingly together for a while then peel away… reflective soap bubbles.
The ‘hssss-furrr-chow, chow, chow’ is lightning fast with pico-routines and micro-dramas played out and passed from cake hole to shell-like to shrimp joke like a juggler’s hot nut. The collected minds carefully splice each presented ‘bluurr’ or ‘tssshhhh-ch’ with an infinite number of other potential ‘blaaaahs’ to become a 50’s Radiophonic but without the sellotape and white coats.
The pace is brisk enough to satisfy any Minor Threat fan but the deepness of this game means we’re looking at things along the vertical rather than horizontal. I’m not saying this is a hippy-band meditative piece (this is way more large-colon than third-eye) but a certain gravity and space is required to sup properly .
It’s been asked before but I’ll ask it again. Does this work without the red-faced gurn and fat-cheeked pop; the sweaty visual to eyeball wide and contextualise? Well of course it does, listening to this in your own dungeon, it becomes an abstract electronic, they (P/N/M) become the human synths with a Mentat’s purple lips.
So dearest librarians… do you file this under Sound Poetry, free-release throat metal or tooth-jazz?
Categories become problematic and stifling with juice this fresh so park that thought buddy and slip these randomly between Editions Mego and Naxos joints, let the punters sort it out.
Essential? You betchya.
Various Artists – Found Secret
The N-AU loves a compilation: short odd-ends and snippets, bedfellows a-strange and lumpy. This compilation finds loving arms for all its wonk-eyed children.
But what’s the general feel? Is it a ready reckoner, a ‘now’ check against your wish list or a wide open window to glistening new green fields? That all depends on you, my dearest of all possible readers.
Does this tickle you?
- Rick Potts – Calliope collapse/loop-ography. Ninja Tune scratched and scratched but never got this blunted.
- Spoils & Relics – Gandalf’s pocket fluff rubbed on a shiny pate. Squeals become veals. Never an accident ignored.
- Yeast Culture – Dot Matrix Disco! Micro-events drench you like drizzle to awake refreshed but inky.
- Dylan Nyoukis – Close-miked MB Games (Frustration? Perfection?? ) summons up a slobbering beast muttering oaths to pond-scum reverb. Munch the kelp!
- Smegma – Travel expenses claim recorded in the medium of squeaks and gingerly sliding tones. “How much for an egg sandwich?”
- Aaron Dilloway – Congolese Ping-Pong. The heat effects the balls so they become heavy as sand. To be inhaled violently, with paddles proudly flapping.
- Hair Stylistics – Reptiles let loose in the studio. You’ve heard of Lounge Lizards right? Go-Go revolution with £15,000 worth of percussion.
- T Mikawa – a cleansing pixelated conundrum. The sphinx rendered in exclamation marks. Singular as a Morse Code fist.
- New Blockaders – Mystery men rattle a waterfall. A ghost of Lisa ‘Lefteye’ Lopez does backing vocals in the style of a ticking car bonnet. Malfunction never tasted better.
- Yellowhouse – From the brain canal of every blues guitarist ever. When half-formed is overdone we all win!
- The Custodians of the Realm – The urban jungle beautified with sheets of sound (Coltrane on tapes). Tiny Indian head massage works my skull as beds vibrate in the emptiness within.
- Altar of Flies – Any Moomin re-boot needs to leak this into the mix. Other worlds but with a distinct Northern flavour – like Dill sauce I guess.
- Karen Constance – 25 years of Eurovision distilled into a pipette and dripped slowly into the corner of your eye. A slight sting then blissful, herb-scented numbness.
- John Wiese – Bristles like my chin. See-sawing horns rasp like they are ribbed with foul rubber. The unease suggests significant REDRUM music.
- Marc Hurtado – Motley Crue’s Mick Mars gave off this vibe in black waves, up to, but not including 1985’s Theater of Pain. The residual mung is collected in jars and left to ferment.
Take a chance sir? Feel like a flutter madam? Catch this one while it’s piping hot.
[Editor’s note: Found Secret cover pic nicked from the Mantile Records site, where this CD is also available.]