kerry king’s amp fizz: joe murray on stuart chalmers, karl m v waugh, grey guides and cam

February 17, 2017 at 7:24 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Stuart Chalmers – In the Heart of Solitude (Constellation Tatsu)

Karl M V Waugh – Future Glows (Emblems of Cosmic Disorder)

Grey Guides – Beast Mask Supremacist (Crow versus Crow)

CAM – Mirror Confrontations (Skrat Records)

 stuart-chlamers

Stuart Chalmers – In the Heart of Solitude (Constellation Tatsu) cassette and Bandcamp download

Don’t know if it’s just me but this appears to be the perfect winter cassette of glum collisions.  Imagine bad thoughts reverberating inside your skull; the sounds bounce and amplify and leave a sooty fingerprint.  You shake your head but the dust remains however low and mellow the sun.

Regular readers will know Stuart manipulates tapes and tape loops with a sparse pedal set-up, mighty fists, secret knowledge and magical skill.  But this time it’s not just the loopology that takes the starring role, it’s the singular tape content that snaps like an arrowroot biscuit.

Here Stuart uses Indian Swarmandal tapes pretty much exclusively for his palette adding a layer of glittering resonance and magnetic space to each gentle track.

The dulcimer-like tones vibrate and twang, sour as brass but with an unmistakable air of mystery.  “Just what is behind those beaded curtains?”  They seem to whisper, while a be-jewelled finger beckons you through a hidden door into a room heavy with musk.

I’m transported (can’t you tell?) but you need facts eh reader?  The killer stand-out, the magnum opus has to be ‘reflection’.  It shimmers like a Bagpuss episode viewed through sepia-specs.  It builds slowly and metallically, fine interlocking coils spiralling ever tighter and tighter until sonic shrapnel bursts rudely from the shell.

There’s a slight panic, a speeding edge that propels each track into momentary discomfort.  And it’s that intersection between mystic enlightenment and dangerous toppling that makes me come back again and again to this wonderful little tape.

OH YEAH…While we’re talking I’ve got to give an honourable mention to Tlon a fruity collaboration between Stuart Chalmers (cassette/pedals) and Liam McConaghy (synths).  It’s now sold out in this realm but available for all you millennials on digital (e.g. not really there) editions.  It’s boss alright but gone, gone, gone.

karl-m-v-waugh

Karl M V Waugh – Future Glows (Emblems of Cosmic Disorder) Cassette and Bandcamp Download

Ultra atmospheric, lichen creeping from the South Coast’s very only K M V Waugh.

Lengthy opener ‘Fire snow (i), fire snow (ii), fresh grow’ stretches out as slow as bone growth.  It starts slow and ends slow yet visits several distinct intervals on the journey: Meredith Monk on the Woodbines, bummed Didgeridoo guffs and the Electric Spanking (of war babies?).

Things grow darker on the even lengthier ‘Future glow (ii), final gravity’ that matches John Carpenter’s percussive judders over Space Odyssey’s floating-backwards-through-the-monolith-with-rainbow-brite-whurrrring .  The disembodied voice offers no comfort.

Designed for the sort of snitchy mediation we can expect in today’s topsy-turvy world.

A statement? Perhaps.  A coping mechanism? Very much so.

Plug in and remain alert!

grey-guides

Grey Guides – Beast Mask Supremacist (Crow versus Crow) Tape and bandcamp download

Encased in a top-notch Andy Wild photo-collage-art-piece (slate grey of course) this tape just fucking drips quality.

The Grey Guides hail from Morley outta Leeds and concentrate that satellite town dislocation that those city slickers just can’t replicate.  The exquisite weirdness of the suburbs runs through this tape like mould in a stinky cheese.

The instrumentation is sparse.  A gentle roaring (sounding rather like The Cramp’s Poison Ivy practising over in the next parish) becomes a backdrop over which indistinct keys, fetid tape grot and soft Dictaphone squelches hover on opener ‘One Eye Lower Than the Other’

The next two tracks, ‘Millipede in a Doll’s House’ and ‘Mushroom Heads are Turning’ are surely designed to spook; they come across like a Yorkshire Dead C with their sound-on-sound fullness, their squished-sonic wrongness.  Black reverb ripples across backmasked guitar and throb in a fair approximation of a tape player actually throwing up; brown ribbons spiralling out, collecting in sticky ferric pools. It all ends in a grim repetition which baffles against broken ancient machinery.  A woven howl (now sounding like a 16th generation tape of Kerry King’s amp fizz) smears as Gerhard Richter, using only charcoal tones and coal dust, comes up with his next masterpiece.

‘Just Burned Down a Care Home’ starts with some s-w-e-e-t tape-juggling, thumb on the soft pause squealing out fractured speech while that dude out the Cocteau Twins wonders why all his pedals now sound like elephant seals huffing petrol fumes.

Massed tape séance-traps are forced open on ‘Van Hoogstraten’s Big Pay Back: Gorton Poltergeist Revisited’ leaking thick magnetic ectoplasm with a “whurrr, whhorrr, whurrrr” rattling like an unsteady wind.  It’s heady like good brandy.

Several ghostly interruptions later we happen upon the rarest of beasts, a No-Audience Underground cover version of a real-live tune (x2).  The Grey Guides join the dots, reversed of course, between The Can and The Fall from a barely perceptible start; the faintest of pulses through to a garage-rock-recorded-through-codeine-infused-marshmallow finale.

I finally collapse to the unruly jaxx of ‘The Unlovely Acolyte Anointed at Last’ – Sidney Bechet clarinet played on Satan’s mouthparts and wonder.  “Is this what passes for entertainment in Morley right now? “

Yeah it is?

Book me on the Mega bus boys…I’m coming down to jam!

cam

CAM – Mirror Confrontations (Skrat Records) Vinyl LP and digital album

These long-timers, Denmark’s enigmatic CAM, share six electronic improvisations with us on this classy vinyl offering.

It’s a noble three-piece set-up with Claus Poulsen, Anders Borup and Mads Bech Paluszewski-Hau on an encyclopaedic array of tapes, synth, processing, objects, things, toys, electronics and improbable occult practices.

Keen RFM-spotters will recognise the name Claus Poulsen from his work with Star Turbine (a duo with Sindre Bjerga – on tour in the UK late Feb/early March) but this is a very different animal to their ion-drive grit.  CAM specialise in fast-moving tripod dialogue, texture and split-tooth wrangles ya’ hear.

The spirit of Northern Europe Improv is strong with strains of cold-dark hiss, low-frequency gloop and singular vocal hummings woven together in pan of steaming mind-think.

The six tracks on this el-pee make these impressions on my Swiss-cheese mind.

  • Squiffy beats ba-da-bump like Saaaaalllllt n’ Peppppper over a humpin’ vox (heavy on a delay). Snatches of field-recorded atmosphere are tucked up nice with an analogue-warm wave; reverse-hissing seems to be become a new Olympic discipline as breath gets sucked out a puckered pair of lips.
  • More moaning: a creaky bridge caught up in high wind. The cables sing sorrow in a thousand different voices.  The damp thump of workboots crossing the swollen planks adds a steady beat.  But what’s that I hear?  The dreams of the factory workers hoping for sunnier Spring days.
  • Uncertain hymns via Robert Wyatt’s fractured, dust-dry larynx. There’s a real Rockbottom vibe with that watery keyboard (a gift from Julie Christie) lapping gently at your stubby toes.  The oyster grit comes in the form of treble-heavy child chatter and bubbling electronic slime.
  • Primary tones/chalk sliding over wet slate/Babbit-bobble/wrenched petroleum
  • Confrontations in the afternoon, seeping prose and dramatic static ripples – don’t go chasing waterfalls.
  • Mind-over-matter becomes a group practice. Three individual voices hum the theme from ‘The Bridge’ in different timezones, accents and languages so voice two arrives before voice one and voice three has an acidic hangover.  Deep as an oil well and twice as sticky.

OK Travellers…a reliable signpost might say Supersilent but I reckon these dudes are looser and, without doubt, DIY to the core.

 

Constellation Tatsu

Emblems of Cosmic Disorder

Crow Versus Crow Universe

SKRAT Records

-ooOOOoo-

can’t feel my toes: joe murray on faniel dord, shareholder, stuart chalmers, yol, jazzfinger

September 23, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Faniel Dord – The Curse Of The Dripping Jaw (CD-r or download, Dante’s Ashtray)

Shareholder – Five Mile Throwdowns (self-released tape or download)

Stuart Chalmers / Yol – Junk Seance (CD-r & collage in decorated envelope, Quagga Curious Sounds, QCS_090, edition of 30)

Jazzfinger – Beachy Head / Moroccan Car Park (D. Harwood Remix) (7″ vinyl in screenprinted cover, Distraction Records, DIST23, edition of 100)

curse

…and here’s another thing.  Cock-punks talk about ‘meaning it’ but the NA-U are well used to full-immersion in their practice.  No-one dials this shit in.  You’re either totally committed or you may as well settle back to watch Oranges Are Not The Only New Black.  Or something.

Here are four examples of total commitment.  Are you sitting uncomfortably?

Faniel Dord – The Curse Of The Dripping Jaw

Faniel Dord kills the song, deletes the long-form drone and brings back the radio play with his utterly bonkers, psychedelic horror noir – THE CURSE OF THE DRIPPING JAW.

It’s a story as old as storytelling itself; the mortal narrator lifts the veil between the two worlds, receives an ancient and evil wisdom and is then cruelly punished for his trouble.  The gods are such dicks yeah?

It’s totally base, crude and infantile, as Dord swoops through a cast of barely comprehensible characters each revealing a grim (and usually dripping) secret.

So far, so Spike Milligan, but what sets Dord firmly in the wonk-camp is his eccentric timing and ‘rude kid’ narrative. Voices speak over each other, interrupt, argue and go off onto muttered tangents.  They lose their script and adopt different accents mid-sentence.  These characters are not so much unreliable as actively confusing and devilishly impish.

And like all good radio plays the incidentals lend an extra layer of gosh.  This being a Faniel-joint, fings get rambunctious and frenzied quickly; the foley work stands proud but with deranged intention, like planting a fresh turd in a gravy boat.  The musical numbers have a twist of the Alan Bishop about them as the spaghetti-western-meets-his-Uncle-Jim vibe informs a couple of tunes or even the warbling of (deep breath) Wings!

If you’re looking for the perfect antidote to po-faced rumble and plinks dial ‘F’ for Faniel and get in touch with your inner-Rawlinson (NSFW).

five-mile

Shareholder – Five Mile Throwdowns

BRONTOSAURUS-MONOLITH- QUIT -MUSIC FROM THE VERY EXCELLENT SHAREHOLDER LURCHES OUTTA MY ‘PHONES TODAY.  TREACLE-THICK AND HOT-SWADDLED IN 50,000 TONNES OF FUZZ AND DISTORTION.  Q:SOUNDSLIKE?  A BLACK WREATH OF A VOICE OFFERS DARK CRITIQUE WITH A POET’S EYE.  SUPER-HEAVY, WITH SERIOUS DAMAGE INTENDED, TWIN GUITARS MAY MOAN, MAY ROAR, MAY MAJESTICALLY IMPLODE – AT ODDS WITH THE WORLD AND AS QUICK AS PLUCKING A DUCK. THE TRAP SET LAYS BURIED DEEP, DEEP, DEEP THEN HOPS FULL-FRONTAL CRASHING AS FLINT ON STEEL (WITH ALL THE IMAGINED SPARKS). MEAT TENDERISER BLUSTER MIXED WITH THE DRUNKS WITH GUNS DEDICATION TO PURE THUDDING REPETITION. SAY IT ONCE, SAY IT AGAIN, KEEP ON SAYING IT.  MOMENTS OF RESPITE ARE SLIM BUT OFFER SOME COLD COMFORT: HUGE CHUNKS OF IT IS MORNING ARE SPECTRAL AND SPIDER-LIKE, MORPHING INTO A GAMELAN CHIMING – A LEAKING BEAUTY.  AN UNEXPECTED MADNESS DELIVERS AN ACCUSATION,

IT’S ALL BECAUSE OF YOU

MAKING STRANGE BEDFELLOWS WITH COLD HOURS, A GENUINE CREEPY FOOLER (GLAD I CAN’T UNDERSTAND A WORD). WHEN A ROUGE BASS NOTE NOSES IN, ALL PINK AND AQUIVER, I WONDER

CAN YOU BE BOTH MATTER-OF-FACT AND IMPASSIONED?

THE SURLY/CONFIDENT DREAMLIKE IS ANTHEMIC TO THE POINT OF FINDING OUT WHERE JIM KERR LIVES, RINGING THE BELL AND THEN KICKING HIM RIGHT IN THE NUTS.  SHAREHOLDER – ALWAYS FILLING ARENAS.

junk-seance

Stuart Chalmers / Yol – Junk Seance

An almost indescribably excellent collaboration from the King of the Loops and the Master of Kinetic Poetry.

The frantic pace and electricity of opener ‘World on Fire’ shakes my varmints like Kid 606 did back in the day when it was acceptable to wear Hi-Tops.  It’s a hyper-real explosion fizzing with extra-strength gristle taking Yol’s scorched-earth screams and Stuart’s Dictaphone frot into strange new territories.

A stunning symbiosis starts to take place.  I’ve always been fascinated by the politics of collaborations; who gives and who takes, where the total becomes more than the sum of its parts, how compromise can open up new avenues of grot.  And here you have two artists seriously leaning-in to each other; the methods start to bind in a ferric DNA with the hoarse throat and metallic tinkle meshing perfectly with the sophisticated Dictaphonics.  Check out the liquid tape-scree (sodium burning bright) and desperate industrial voodoo cures [Editor’s note: typo for ‘curses’?  Don’t care – I’m leaving it in.] of shattered lung on Rusty Rats.

Did you?  Recovered yet?

And those moments just keep coming and coming; ‘Pop Eats Itself’ and ‘Secret EVP Door’ [Editor’s note: my favourite track, astounding] crackle and fizz like blistering paint.  The sound bubbles up with malevolence, rippling and roaring with an evil turpentine stink.  Small moments catch my magpie eyes… is that Leonard Cohen, a castanet, a dropped coin?  Has Yol keeled over and fainted?  Why can’t I feel my toes?

Closer ‘Best Shot’ is like a peak into a fantasy dimension.  Puppet-master Stuart controls a rogue Yol and pits him against the real thing using the in-built slurring qualities of the Dictaphone to mimic and provoke.  It’s a pointed statement, with added whirr… the muscular text smudged into granular sound poetry.

beachy-head

Jazzfinger – Beachy Head / Moroccan Car Park (D. Harwood Remix)

Jazzfinger drill deep into the earth on ‘Beachy Head’.  Smudged groans overlap each other like large terracotta tiles.  The high-tension pings pepper things up.  A forever-murk of old tape gunk, air-to-air recording techniques and telepathic improvisation grease the wheels in ways only Jazzfinger can.

As ever, listening to a Jazzfinger jam, equal and conflicting forces tear at your brain; the urge to submit and go under, drown in the pregnant fullness or treat this with an archaeological bent and carefully sift through the multiple layers, up to the armpits in rubble and soft red dust.

As reviewer I had to flick between approaches to bring you back this missive and found myself spending hours, possibly days putting the needle on and off, on and off, never quite sure if it was night or day, making astral travel a distinct possibility.

The flipside,’Moroccan Car Park’, is an eccentric remix, bold in terms of scope that shimmers from barely-there gossamer tones to full-on horn blasts perfectly echoing the ‘whale talk’ vibe of side A.

With such rich material to work with D Harwood is wise to craft a self-standing structure, distinctly recognisable as Jazzfinger, yet strangely unfamiliar and distant.  This wonderful blend swirls like pungent spice or choking incense, filling the room with deep memory.

Packaging detail: This seven-incher comes in a deluxe package… an eccentric fold out sleeve that nestles the precious wax like a lotus flower.  The dark image is, essentially, blacker than black with a delicious tackiness [Editor’s note: presumably Joe means ‘to the touch’, not ‘cheesiness of design’] and sulphur whiff.  Includes download code too for the ultimate customer service experience.

—ooOoo—

Dante’s Ashtray

Shareholder

Quagga Curious Sounds

Distraction Records

a quivering lake of iron: joe murray in the invisible city: stuart chalmers, yes blythe, black thread

July 6, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks Vol. 5 (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR22, edition of 50 or download)

Yes Blythe – Arieto (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR21, edition of 50 or download)

Black Thread – Seeping Pitch (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR20, edition of 50 or download)

mucks

Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks Vol. 5

The King of the Loops is back with another instalment of his magical Imaginary Musicks collection.  Whilst recent Chalmers releases have been brimming with that space-age bachelor-pad sparkle this tape delves into a fascinating pop direction, making me think about folk like Talk Talk and The Associates for the first time in a decade.

What I liked at the time about those mid-80’s chin-strokers was they brought clever (but rarely clever-clever) themes and textures into a mighty pop tune; combining pre-millennial angst and longing with something the milkman could whistle.  No mean feat, eh?

And Mr S Chalmers is bringing this high-concept dance-ability back to my cheap-o stereo with little more than the contents of a reusable canvas shopping bag: 3 cassette tapes, pedals, synth and Tascam 4 track.

But don’t get the idea that this is in any way lightweight.  Check out the goat-herder playing solo Dicta-mung on ‘Brute’; the beasts chew contentedly, deconstructing an orchestra around a close-miked baritone sax.  Or that nagging, insistent lop-sided beat that’s half Wu Tang and half Lewis Taylor’s ‘Bittersweet’ named ‘Harbinger’.  Side one closes with ‘Warped’ (yeah… that title just had to happen) as a clutch of classical guitar notes get dragged back and forward across the tape head whipping up a quivering lake of iron.

Weepy piano tones shimmer all over ‘Nightscape’, whipping out a Kenny G for a couple of mordant moments that almost suggests Stuart is a fretless bass solo away from an ECM recording contract!

We dig deeper still on ‘Gothic’ (a padded envelope of volatile lady-squeal to be held in ginger paws) and ‘Psychosis’ (radio waves dotted with gritty human endeavour – a history of the world in realtime) to end on the heavy-tape heavyweight ‘Vista’ a masterclass of pregnant pause and elegant New Age smear.

The stoner pace and 3D sound mushrooms make side two as heady as an illicit joss-stick burning down to its thread core in my teenage bedroom.

OK you crossword fans.  Take the ‘U’ out of Stuart and you are left with a START!  Action is calling.  Put down that greasy pencil and dial up some Chalmers therapy.

arieto

Yes Blythe – Arieto

Listening to Yes Blythe; sight unseen, un-googled and without any background braindumps I’m inclined to place them in the Northern European tradition of Scandinavian analogue throb.

The pulsating synth/electronics are pensive antiques and wheeze with an ääkköset limp. It’s clean and pure as wood-panelled sauna-life followed by a snowy thrashing with birch branches.

But of course, I’m wrong, wrong, wrong.  Hailing from damp Manchester Callum Higgins seems to be Yes Blythe in its foggy entirety and here he presents two side-long pieces that play with space and time.

‘Tonal’ (side one) is pretty skunked-out, man; like the heaving of a giant’s shoulders as he chokes down a massive bong hit.  The vibrations extend out beyond the body and infect the detritus of the afternoon: the table a riot of glasses, cassettes leaping free from their cases, glossy magazines splayed on the sofa, half-read, paper legs akimbo.

Slight and delicate clicks keep a lazy time, stretching and contracting, across the occasional soft shudder from a groaning brass gong.  Smoke forms a flexible membrane that hangs across the room at chest height, the sun picks out one thousand motes, an everyday miracle revealed.

‘Tønal’ (side two) takes two notes snipped from the ghost of a Rhodes piano and plays them back into a busy restaurant.  Diners dine as cutlery clicks pepper the mix and conversation links the condiments. Oil and bread rattle, eyes meet and there is a pause… hearts interlock.

The night progresses and the twin notes slowly bounce off each other with no diners to observe. The sound plays for its own amusement as bodies twist in the sheets.

Minimal psychedelic?  Oh Yes Blythe!

pitch

Black Thread – Seeping Pitch

Just a thought…

For many N-AUndergrounders the release you hold in your hand and wrap your ears round is often the result of months of work and years of practice.  But despite the hours that go into that tape, CD-R or download it is rarely a final statement.

In fact one of the key signifiers of N-AU activity is the restless work-in-progress nature of what we do.  Those tapes just keep on coming.  And why?  Because there is more to uncover, more to explore…the individual idea seam may be heavily mined but the practice is part of the work; the work becomes the practice.

Black Thread, another new name on me, is unusual in that it feels fully realised and complete; a perfect string of polished beads.

Xangellix strides into the back room of a Working Man’s Club (Spennymoor circa 1987).

He throws his cape to one side and sits regally at the club synth. Plump fingers pump the keys releasing grainy wafts of melancholic ‘huhhgghh’.

Drinkers drain pints and slow light breaks through the grimy window.  Sound wraps like a shroud around the disassembled crowd.

It’s like layers of electronic silt being deposited on the sea bed

one drinker squawks guiltily as he nurses his half of Peculiar Brew.

Another lifts his cap and hisses through teethless gums,

Foddle! I’m picturing gases rolling and churning through a clay pipe. They fill each cavity with the sound of damp longing.  It’s fair set off my shrapnel ache here,

and he points a withered finger at his thigh.

 Whippets moan in their sleep. It sounds like they whisper

audio Soma

through their narrow jaws as Xangellix plays on.

Boards of Canada lurk outside with a Dicta lifting new sound-cobbles for their witchy releases. The cads!

The Meat Raffle sweats in the corner wrapped in bleeding cellophane. As the final powerful chords fade into the mould-scented mist Xangellix notices the red stain on the lino.

Schoof

he offers as a commentary and strides out, an engagement at The Top Hat beckons.

—ooOoo—

Invisible City Records

the 2015 zellaby awards

January 8, 2016 at 11:24 am | Posted in blog info, musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

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:

Fleshtone Aura

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…

sof's pina colada

—ooOoo—

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…

Sabrina Peña Young

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.

SPY0

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.

rook

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!

sonotanotanpenz - 3

Luke forward/slashes:

Ben Hallatt – Kay Hill, scke//, KIKS/GFR – the sinister/minimal man, eerie urban horror with muted synth/tape work.

tessellation

…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.

SPY1

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

Sof ponders:

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.]

delphine

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?

crowradio

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.

robbie7

…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.

embers

3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award

Sof and Chrissie have a playground tussle over who gets to be teacher’s pet:

SofIt’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

Yeah baby!!!

[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.

posscat

[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.

fort

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.

winebox

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.

cclub

…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.]

icrpower

1. The Album of the Year Award

Chrissie kicks us off:

1. R.A.N

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.

RAN_-_Her_Trembling_Ceased

2. FAKE Mistress – entertainted

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.

entertainted

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

Ali Robertson & His Conversations

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.]

lemon

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

steven ball - collected local songs

Joe selects:

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!

yol - er

…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

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

aas

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”

ineluctable

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

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:

Mag-lev trains.

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

lp1

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.

What?  Like…ever?

I hear you ask.

Yes

I answer with a calm, clear voice.

Like in the whole 100 year history of recorded music?

You probe,

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

ashshimmer

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

mel

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

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

guttersnipe

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

namke - 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.

In conclusion…

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.

—ooOoo—

employees of the month: joe murray on hardworking families, jon seagroatt and ian staples with bobbie watson, stuart chalmers, ramleh, robert ridley-shackleton

December 19, 2015 at 10:23 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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Hardworking Families – Worse than a Stranger (tape, don’t drone alone, edition of 50 or download)

jon seagroatt ian staples with bobbie watson – deathless (CD, Future Vinyl, CD1501 or download)

Stuart Chalmers – Loop Phantasy No.1 (CD-r, Must Die Records, edition of 50 or download)

Stuart Chalmers – Loop Phantasy No.2 (CD-r in fold-out sleeve, Ono, edition of 50 or download)

Stuart Chalmers – Loop Phantasy No. 3 (Preview) (self-released download)

Ramleh – Welcome/Pristine Womankind (7″ vinyl, Format Supremacy)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Self-Titled EP (7″ vinyl, Cardboard Club, edition of 100)

worse

Hardworking Families – Worse than a Stranger

My most favouritely-named artist in the No-Audience Underground offers us a tape woven like a friendship bracelet. This time the grubby threads are replaced with electric-pylon-hum and carbon-monoxide-alarm-shriek, backed with sparse bristling gristle.  It moves like folded towels; the texture flexes and changes under stress.

‘Bryantwood Road, Washington Street’ swells with double intensity in places then turns back on itself, revelling in its own knock-kneed skinniness. Serious knob-twiddling releases the kind of low bass throb that gives your tin-pot dictator a wet dream as they disperse an angry mob. But the icing on this beefy cake is the see-saw panning of a single sickly tone that wraps itself, like a possessive lover, round your brain stem in three dimensions.

Side two introduces us to the ‘Pasternoster’ an augmented field recording made in some brutalist concrete nightmare – it’s pretty darn cavernous!  Rubberised breadsticks get rattled in a quiver as assembled umpires discuss furniture polish (quietly).  The sweet swish of Air Max on a dusty floor makes dry circles in my ear buds while some joker miked up the fire escape.  And, to add a point of detail, these recordings are reconstructed without electronic condiments, they are never rushed or fudge-sticky.

The dull thud of capitalism is gradually tuned out… but not before Hardworking Families is decorated as employee of the month.

deathless

jon seagroatt ian staples with bobbie watson – deathless

We’ve got used to imaginary soundtracks for films; so what about a record of a book?  Jon Seagroatt, Ian Staples and Bobbie Watson  must have bloody loved Steven Sherill’s 2004 novel The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break because they’ve based their immaculate playing ’round its 313 leathery pages.

Jon and Ian play a particular flavour of experimental music that’s as charming as the soft ‘plonk’ of a well-lobbed shuttlecock.  It’s sparse and serene with a gritty undercurrent of processed drones/electronics over a keening flute (and probably other woodwind family members).

In parts it’s as English as teabags and disappointing caravan holidays, but there’s something that keeps me thinking of the Rune Grammofon back catalogue with its clear sound and chilly cadence.

The croaky swell of hot breath pushed through copper pipes nestles well with the shimmering slide guitar and post-production twiddling.  Bobbie’s minimal vocals (there’s only a couple of minutes worth on the whole disc) are kept back as a secret weapon and hauntingly warped like silvery raindrops.  It’s a very classy listen.

But what’s going to make you uncles and aunties sit up and click on the links is the connections this band are mixed up in.  Check this out: the dark-folk of Comus, spooky beards Current 93, power-improv legends Red Square and, strangest of all The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra?  These folk were no-audience before many of us were born.

Sit up straight, turn off that god damn phone and listen to this in flickering candlelight.

lp1lp2lp3

Stuart Chalmers – Loop Phantasy No. 1, Loop Phantasy No. 2, Loop Phantasy No. 3 (Preview)

Ya’ll know I steer clear of the dreaded hyperbole.  I’m not one of those ‘BEST BAND EVER’, ‘THIS SHIT CHANGED MY LIFE’, ‘I WAS BLIND AND NOW I CAN SEE’ kinda zine-writers (Ed – feel free to add sarcastic comment here) [Editor’s note: I’m saying nowt].

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.

What?  Like…ever?

I hear you ask.

Yes

I answer with a calm, clear voice.

Like in the whole 100 year history of recorded music?

You probe,

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.

From the Stone Age goof with lovely sounding rocks to James Brown’s well-drilled fonk to Larry Levan’s sweaty yoga-stretch to Prince Paul’s magpie fingers we all love a loop.  The act of repetition does something to that brain/body connection.  We smile, we twitch… we bust a fucking move.  And with that repetition comes the delicious recognition of the eventual slip, the change, the move out of the established pattern that leaves us all grinning at our cleverness – we spotted it first!  We picked up on that micro-change that slid away from the beat like a rubber Mungo Jerry.

You want examples? Hard data yeah?  Take ‘Loop Phase 4’ on Loop Phantasy No. 1.  A single xylophone reverberation and gated piano-hammer strike, plays with a gentle jarring.  It starts to overlap.  It returns on itself and sets up an internal rhythm and logic cell that mutates gently over four sweet minutes. A final few seconds of digital crunchiness brings us to a shuddering climax.

And while …No. 1 and …No. 2 are definitely more swoony and dreamy …No. 3 employs the kind of up-tight funk cut-up David Byrne dreams of in his SoHo loft space.  What’s that?  More evidence?  OK… slurp this up: ‘Pop Plunder 20‘ is equal parts Van Jackson/Dicta-frottage and wonky thumb.  Jeepers.

Students of tape culture – your set-text has arrived.  Screw in those earbuds and get seriously twisted.

ramleh and rrs

Ramleh – Welcome/Pristine Womankind

This is real treasure!  A box of stash from 1994 has been recently opened up for the N-A U. Naughty noiseniks Ramleh are in full-on thug-rock mode here with a guitar, bass, drums and electronics line-up shattering the song format by being so astoundingly belligerent.

‘Welcome’ is a one-riff-then-lurch-into-electronic-breakdown sort of thing.  The twin guitars are bone-crushingly heavy and swing dangerously like a bowling ball rocking about in a wet cardboard box.  The cymbal crashes are worthy of a separate mention as they sizzle like Bonzo walloped them with his heavy oaks.  The overall sound is pretty bloody angry… pissed wasps taped into an empty jam jar.  It’s buzzing.

On the flip ‘Pristine Womanhood’ is even more exposed and unconstructed.  It starts and ends with a menacing closing-time choir howling something threatening.  In between this terrace chant the electronics shift up a gear to give Theremin-style whoops over duelling twin-guitars; less Judas Priest and more Deliverance decamped to damp, dirty Cumbria.

But how do you get a copy of this heavy, heavy slab?  Although the Format Supremacy label is now pretty much defunct, sending a reasonable £4 in the UK (inc postage) or £7 for anywhere else in the world (inc postage) via Paypal to hasan.gaylani@btinternet.com will secure a fresh copy of this oily sump-jam.

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Self Titled EP

The singular Mr Ridley-Shackleton takes his trademark scuff-jizz and lays it on some hot wax, man.  I’m totally delighted to say that the gritty Dictaphone feel is in full effect with no attempt made to clean up this shit for the fussy pants vinyl crowd.  Some people are forever cassette souls.

I’ve spoken before about the RR-S ‘pocket jazz’ sound and this is still evident in big fucking lumps.  But in his duffle coat he’s sneaked in a Hall & Oates that play fragging keyboards and warm-whumping beats.  The delivery, classic RR-S; part polite hip-hop MC/part loose-soul-maverick, makes me think of Guru Gwilly Edmondez and imagine what a dream duo these two would make.

It’s time to Kross up the Kriss, Kriss up the Kross

and

Oh baby! Hold me

leak out slowly like mercury from a fractured thermometer.

Over the five tracks the texture gradually moves from limp AM radio jam to stiff grogram shuffle.  By the time we get to ‘No Grey Area’, this seven-inch-closer, minute hairs are a riffled burr on the bright tape.  They bristle like magnets.

Your generous ears will no doubt latch onto the construction and form here. I know it’s going to sound like highfalutin crit-jizz but RR-S sculpts his music; building things, not so much in blocks but in the thin layers he uses in his postal art. This thin layer becomes a second skin, a grimy bandage on your wrist, spare ends flapping in the wind.

Where can you pick this hep-platter up?  Try the unstoppable Cardboard Club blog for £4 of direct action.

—ooOoo—

don’t drone alone

Jon Seagroatt

Stuart Chalmers

– on Must Die Records

– on Ono

Cardboard Club

restless language: luke vollar on stuart chalmers and anla courtis

July 16, 2015 at 2:40 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks 3/4 (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 30 or download)

Anla Courtis – B-Rain Folklore (CD, Yogoh Record, YGH004)

scim34

Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks 3/4

First off big apologies to Stuart for the delay in getting this review done: house move, kids, work – aghh – but enough of my lame excuses. It’s not that I haven’t listened to it, on the contrary it’s been an exemplary soundtrack to work a number of times and by God it’s made the trees greener and the sky a darker, more cosmic hue, as if the heavens are about to part to reveal the belly of a gargantuan space craft.

Previous instalments of Stuart’s music have left me slack jawed and this is no different.

So what, like, instruments does he use?

…you ask innocently enough…

The freaking world, man!!

I respond.  Like a fine gourmet chef, Stuart selects sound morsels (via mouse click, or from his collection of strange instruments and whatnot) and cooks up an exquisite gumbo. We have string pluck, ghost breath, buried voices of the dead, machinery learning its language, gamelan on silver bubbles, whale bone pipes, gongs from undersea temples and the recorded rituals of the aquatic humanoid beings who use them. What’s remarkable is how uncluttered the disc sounds considering the amount of ingredients thrown into the pot. Take ‘Moonlight through trees’ a meditation for piano and tape scree as eerie as it is gorgeous. In ‘Requiem’ we get to hear Deckard from Blade Runner listening to a banal English sports quiz while making his way across the skyline, the slooowed synth gloop highlighting the inherent sadness of existence once the earth is on its final orbit.

On the final track, ‘Memory’, there is a muted recording of what sounds like an intimate gathering with fireworks popping and lots of oohs and aahs . The muffled organ tones that accompany this make it almost unbearably affecting.

While I normally wince at the phrase ‘experimental music’ it strikes me that this may be the best description for Stuart’s work. There is a restless drive to cover new ground or to go deeper into sound, never dry or academic but lush, wide-eyed and full of joy, pathos and awe.  Just incredible.

B-rain Folklore-cover

Anla Courtis – B-Rain Folklore

A new disc by ultra-prolific, pint-sized Argentine Anla Courtis [Editor’s note: recorded 2005-2008, mixed 2009, mastered 2013, released 2014, brought to our attention 2015.  Blimey].  This guy has left a vast trail of work in his wake, his travels encompassing numerous solo and collaborative projects. Whether gonzo rock, conceptual wonk or many tentacled improv his only consistency is a restless urge for new sounds, approaches, instruments, people, places, ideas. The true experimental spirit is within him, as with Stuart Chalmers.

The notes accompanying B-rain Folklore list a dizzying array of instruments that were used to create it, many of which I’ve never heard of, which adds to the usual uncertainty as to what to expect from a Courtis record.  Happily, this one sees Anla constructing organic tapestries of percussion, string horns and more that seem to rise from the forest floor, offering a herbaceous paw and beckoning you to follow them into the verdant realm. Kinda reminds me of the excellent Finnish group Pavinsade as it has the same earthy smell about it.

Towards the end ‘Isla de Qomo’ sees the deep thrum of an acoustic guitar pattern offset by vibrant smears of light trying to land on its mossy body. Further onto ‘Wuqueltehue’ and we’ve licked the belly of the bright orange frog and are watching the canopy of the forest swirling in concentric loops. The final track is a lovely guitar and violin lullaby played over the humming bustle of a field recording from Anla’s time in Japan. It is a fitting end to an album that seems to rest on your skin like a morning dew and wash all the grime away.

—ooOoo—

hairdryer excommunication [Editor’s note: sold out at source but Stuart still has copies himself here.]

Yogoh Record [Editor’s note: Discogs listing because yogoh.com isn’t working at time of writing]

bouncing off the tuning pegs: joe murray on david somló, panelak and gold soundz all-stars

June 30, 2015 at 9:40 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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stuart chalmers/henry collins/sindre bjerga/claus poulsen – split (tape, gold soundz, gs#127, edition of 25)

David Somló – Movement (CD mounted on plate with hanger and booklet or download with pdf, self-released)

Panelak – The Om Tragichord (CD-r, LF Records, LF046)

gold soundz split

Stuart Chalmers/Henry Collins/Sindre Bjerga/Claus Poulsen

Side one of this groovy wrapped-up tape hosts tape goons and sonic adventurers Stuart Chalmers and Henry Collins.  This fine duo give excellent value for money by combining the riotous pop and snap of speed-of-thought tape manipulation with more considered glassy processing.  The seven poke-in-the-eye interjections are short (all under 3 mins except the slightly longer ‘tskimdo’) and as fresh and wriggly as a landed rainbow trout.

Things work as a wonderful whole, individual elements constantly forming and deconstructing, but with an overall purpose and flavour.  There’s a damp frittering to some of these sounds as they rush like a fleshy thumb over a plastic comb… frrriiiiiiipppppppp!  The energetic glitching is fancy like boiling mud; all thick clay-like plops and flubbers.  Stuart handles his Dictaphone with aplomb; FFW skipping some guitar improv, the Bailey-esque lurches in volume diving dramatically down a brown worm-hole.  A drum loosely appears between the squark and squelch.  This reminds me to mail David Sylvian with a pithy comment about his Manafon.  The whirling capstans get almost too much to bear until a singular tone calms the magnetic beast.  Friends of more relaxed pastimes will tune in to the especially jaxxed ending to this side – clockwork chimes and distorted reverberations making it all nice and irie.  Praise Jah!

Side two starts off with a live Sindre joint ‘choking on splinters’ and is a right messed-up tape culture statement.  Various soft rock/power ballad tunes are mangled with generous amounts of ironic sauce.  The sound then gradually coalesces (like sonic grease pudding) for a road-menders drone section, soon to be replaced by wet slapping and vocal jaxx, stiff hessian ripping, number station melodies and dry-twig crackle.

And things start to get serious.  The last few minutes of this set are dramatically violent with poor old tapes getting seriously duffed-up, warped, stretched and fondled so the base-sound becomes thickened and rubbery.  Blimey – with no applause to contextualise the sound this naked aggression sounds directed to me personally.  Eek!

Claus Poulsen ends the tape with a short Sindremix.  With thousands of hours of prime material to choose from Claus must have had quite a job settling down to this.  To my mind he’s chosen wisely, concentrating on Sindre’s drone works to come up with a curiously melancholic three minutes of tear-stained swoons and rusty croaks.   Beautiful like bruised fruit.

somlo

David Somló – Movement

Hungarian guitarist David Somló’s incredible debut album.  Strong in concept – it comes with a plate you can hang on the wall and strong in execution – David is a fucking KILLER guitarist, movement is a dusty 27 minute recording that’s positively crackling with tense, nervous energy.

Recorded in the open air things start off with the sloppy-slops of lazy footsteps on leaf litter then launches into an outrageous guitar solo.  Very much experimental but encased in desperate, haunting harmonies this takes on board the clear spaciousness of Jon Collins, the rusty twang of Bill Orcutt and the pitted grime of Manuel Mota.  Yeah I know comparisons are bullshit but painting an accurate picture of this flapping into my lugs is a tricky one. It’s all over the place.  Styles are spun on a penny.  My scrawled notes say,

soars and swoops like a swallow skimming over a pond/pensive like Tom Verlaine, edging towards an unknown something/smooth but brittle texture – Hapsburgian in its decay and posture/clouds of notes knot like bees or Loren Connors.

And this pattern is repeated:

·         Excellent, beautiful, twisted and shaken guitar solo

·         Sudden pause (a shift in the way David is sitting perhaps?) or the crackle of a bonfire, or the twitter of Hungarian birds

·         Another excellent, beautiful, twisted and shaken guitar solo.

These solos erupt out of the shimmer of nature only to fall back once all the trills and runs have been had… and they seem so natural and right.  Not precise and worked until all the blood is leached but as improvised as a stolen kiss, the late afternoon light bouncing off the tuning pegs as another slick idea is fingered out on the rosewood frets.

Finally – if you are thinking this sounds just a little too guitar hero remember the field recording feel, the cloudy ripple of background voices and feet crunching on gravel that make this feel even more homespun and relaxed.  I urge you readers to toast the official guitarist of the Psychedelic Domestic!  Hail Somló!

A ‘must have’ for all Hank Marvins.

omtragi frontcover final

Panelak – The Om Tragichord

ROAAOOOOORRRR!  This is a blisteringly intense record from Pascal Ansell’s Panelak.  Back in the old days they called this kind of rich, crunchy noise Computer Music.  And while I have no doubt Pascal is using a computer at some point in the process of making his music it would be doing this a disservice to label something so vibrant; so effusive and physical with a non-human tag.

‘Hikikomori’ grinds like Tony Hawk or something; all gritty granular shredding until a daytime TV voice adds a sobering touch.  ‘Sarcomere’ is a more thoughtful cousin, standing at the sidelines of the bowl watching the boys show off.  She’s thinking up minimal melodies beamed into the ether that charm their way into your skull.  Was that a brief snatch of strings there?  I’m not sure as the relentless alien squawk has started to recalibrate my hairy ear ‘oles.

The tooth-loosening ‘Quisqualate’ shimmers as separate lines of electric drone, fizzing glitch,  squashed cowbell and high-tension guitar string plait themselves together only to unwind slowly leaving you with no handhold or ledge.

It seems unusual to have a title track these days.  Are they supposed to be a potted-meat representation of the whole? I dunno man.  But, as it happens, ‘The Om Tragichord’ does sum up the approach and aesthetic let loose tonight.  Imagine some late 70’s video game (Tennis, Tank Commander, Pong etc) re-routed through a daisy chain of spluttering effects pedals.  A giant foot stomps down repeatedly and sets things off in an eccentric order, closing off and opening up signals in a juddering and aggressive manner.  Then mirror plate this and listen backwards.  You get the picture eh?

Closer ‘BactoGrail’ takes some of that sweet guitar and jams it through my speakers in varying degrees of fuckedness.  A Hammond does it shimmy, voices chatter like a mystery radio gone feral.  After a time of simple twittering the acoustic keeps things steady while an electric calliope blusters like a wound-up drunk preparing for a fight.

Like the old Queen says:

Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening!

That’s for sure…plugging Panelak into your ears is like waiting for the dark cloud to hurl a killer stroke.  Guaranteed to blow your mind – anytime!

—ooOoo—

Gold Soundz

David Somló

LF Records

crater lake festival 2015

March 18, 2015 at 12:24 pm | Posted in live music, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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crater lake poster

Whoo, boy – where to start with Crater Lake? Maybe with the simple and declarative: Crater Lake Festival is a day-long celebration of experimental music held annually in March at Wharf Chambers in Leeds and is organised by Pete Cann. Them’s the facts. However, over the four years of its existence it has grown into something over and above a display of the curator’s unimpeachable taste and ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ approach to time keeping: it has become a gathering of the clan. As well as being an unrivalled opportunity to see the risen cream of ‘noise’ (some in combos suggested by Pete himself) perform to a large and appreciative crowd, you also get the equally important social side. Names are put to smiling faces, hand are shaken, warez exchanged, plots hatched – all taking place in a general air of slightly delirious enthusiasm fuelled by the constant flow of decent, fairly-priced alcohol.

This blog is known for a phrase coined as shorthand description of the scene it documents but I am steering clear of that for now.  I don’t want to co-opt something that is clearly greater than the sum of its parts and can’t be pigeonholed. I will say this though: when I noticed that Pete had hooked some relatively big fish for the bill, and saw the Arts Council logo had snuck onto the corner of his poster, I asked him how he’d managed to successfully tap ’em for funding. He replied, to my delight, that he’d used my write up of last year’s festival as the blurb for his application and they couldn’t wait to shower him with cash. Despite knowing that the Arts Council has recently taken an almighty bollocking for being Londoncentric and that any application from Winterfell was going to be seriously considered, it was still a very proud moment. There you go, people: this stuff matters. Hang on a second, I seem to have something in my eye…

<sniffs, turns to window, regains composure, harumphs manfully>

OK, a word about the below. Due to family commitments – a visit from my parents to celebrate the second birthday of my son Thomas – I could only attend for the three hours from 8pm to 11pm. To be honest, given the stinking cold I had, that is probably all I could manage anyway. So, having spent the afternoon chasing the kid around Home Farm at Temple Newsam (and marveling at turkeys that looked like monsters from Doctor Who, or an illustration by Ian Watson) I arrived flustered and discombobulated into an already pretty drunken milieu. Suspecting this would be the case I had already tasked the other four RFM staffers attending (alas, Chrissie had to be elsewhere recording an orchestra) with documenting the day so all I had to organize was a group photo.

In the piece that follows the author of the paragraph is indicated in bold like this – Luke: – and interjections about non-musical aspects of the day are (bracketed and in italics). Photographs of the workshop were taken by Sof (using the ‘nice’ camera) and the awesome pictures of the performers were taken by Agata Urbaniak and kindly donated to RFM for use in this piece. I am hugely grateful to her – and to marlo for having the presence of mind to ask – and recommend that you all visit her flickr site too.

Right then, let’s go!

—ooOoo—

(Joe: Too early! We – one half of the Newcastle delegation – arrive too early at Wharf Chambers. We spot an Evil Moisture prepare for his evil workshop through the crack in the door but take the old army maxim on board – eat when you can – and scoff a scrumptious Persian meal at the place round the corner. A brief sojourn to Leeds market is broken by a call from YOL. We can sound check so I make my way back to base camp. Pete’s relaxed event management skills pay dividends. Everyone knows/does their job. Things tick like Swiss time. The super-patient sound guy balances our 10 second sound check, we nod satisfied with the racket and slope off to meet ace faces Ben Hallatt & Dale Cornish cackling in the Wharf Chambers sun trap.)

workshop 1 workshop 2 workshop 3 workshop 4 workshop 5

The workshop

Sof: I fought my way through Saturday afternoon Leeds crowds to make it to Wharf Chambers just in time for the Evil Moisture / Andy Bolus Ghost Hunting Detector workshop. We had been instructed to bring along a non-metallic cylindrical object, basic soldering skills and undead ancestors.  I’m sure I had the first two with me at least.

We all gathered round a table in the middle of the bar on which we found various items I came to know as ‘cells’, wires and other dangerous looking bits. I’m generally quite scared of electronics (old residual fear of metal work at school no doubt) and so always sign up for activities like this to try and get over this issue. Andy’s approach to the workshop was really relaxed with his main instruction being a hand drawn diagram that he placed in front of 4 of us before letting us get on with it. He was available to answer questions and sort out our various mistakes – great teaching style. This helped to kerb my concerns, I mean, if he could be so chilled holding a wand that can melt metal then why shouldn’t I be too?

There were a lot of confused and frustrated faces around the table during the process but these all turned into massive grins when the detectors finally worked out. It took me nearly 2 hours to attach the cells to a battery and a long wire wrapped around a giant pencil but you know what, it bloody worked. I mean, I’m not sure if the loud squealing noises that were produced from this thing were communications from the other side but when I stuck it into an amp through a bit of reverb at home some use was envisaged. In retrospect I shouldn’t have drank a really strong black coffee during the process because the shaky hands did become a bit of an issue but I got there in the end!

Tom and Jerry, I mean Dale

(Joe: While the laboratory is an evil hive of evil activity the wonderful folk of the N-AU turn up, firstly in ones and twos, then huddles, then mobs. I meet Sophie for the first time and gasp in awe at the purple camera she’s sporting so rakishly. The N-AU are prompt, alert and full of relaxed bonhomie. Crater Lake has started!)

Mel 1  Mel 3 Mel 4  Mel 6 Mel 7

Mel O’Dubshlaine

Joe: fractured electronics garbled and yarbled straight outta Mel’s mini-mouth – possibly reading out what she was doing (I’m lowering the volume on this tape, I’m adding more reverb on this channel) – via a Dutch translation aid and robot clarinet.  The vocal musings were calmly paced, relaxed and with an electronic softening that tickled the tiled floor all nice.  Phil Navigations joined in on cyber-Taiko drum to muss things proper towards the end.  Ke-tung!

Luke: droll Yorkshire instructions fed through robot vocoder.  About five minutes in it dawned on me that I could listen to this quite happily for hours.  My mate thought I’d left because Phil turned up and it was in danger of going ‘all musical’ not so: my chalice had run dry.

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Yol & Posset

Joe: (view from the floor) dunno about this, lots of knees and boots, getting awful hot awful quick, Yol clatters…HIT IT!

Boof/~~~scree/HAWKS////zingzingzing/~~II~~:~~BAU~~~~/CLANK.  The end.

Cor.  That felt good.

Luke: yowser this was fun like visceral high energy free gumph played with the contents of a skip, lots of gurning growling and testifying.

Marlo: the interesting element of this performance is that opposed to some electronic noise acts that seem distanced or detached from actual live performing, these two were very alive, very awake and fully present in a visceral and physical way.  Yol, as usual, used his body as his instrument to full capacity.  Apparent in his performance were both his sensitivity to environment and his physiological response to Mr. Posset’s intuitive electronic gestures. Both, not shy to show some presence, expressed a reciprocal appreciation of live art.

(Joe: Later… the food comes out full to bursting with Pascal’s grapes… I’m too keyed up to eat but notice it gets a thumbs up from Lee Culver who, no shit readers, is a proper gourmet/baking behemoth. Top Marks.)

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Stuart Chalmers

Joe: top drawer Dictaphone thumb-nastics from Stuart.  The whirr and ‘scree’ of fast forwarding tape was a joy to hear as it bounced from one hand to another; Stuart flinging his luscious black locks like a metalhead and shaking like a nervous cicada.  Even my tin ear picked up the subtle tape preparations and timings as skronk melted effortlessly into ethnic-plink with industrial overtones.  Of course no one knows what Stuart really looks like…he threw his Kim Thayil wig into the crowd and disappeared into the balmy Leeds afternoon.

Luke: about three beers in this was lush green elephant tea. I dig the candles, the wig, the ritual maaan. Led to an interesting conversation outside.  Seems in the N-AU you got your tapes lovers and your tapes haters (known as ‘taters’)

I’d rather watch him play the sounds than play a tape of it

…one geezer remarked.

He was playing a zither thing!

I retorted in his defense. I myself am pro tapes: the wow, the flutter, the plastic encased mystery.

20150307180032 20150307180738

Kay Hill

Joe: Ben Hallatt set up an impressive reel-to-reel machine and facilitated the sound of a monkey opening a recalcitrant jar of peanut butter through the fragile, disintegrating brown tape.  A play in two parts, this simian housekeeping was taken over by a more keening, knock-kneed hubble-style.  All glorious drippings to clear out me waxy tabs.

Luke: my highlight of the day. Tape music with lots of pop and hiss but with, if not a tune, then a beguiling pattern. I struggled to verbalize how impressed I was to the man himself and was astounded that he had no merchandise to pass on (you haven’t heard the last of Kay Hill, readers).

Marlo: Ben Hallatt performed a nuanced, textured and atmospheric tape art set. Despite the surging, celebratory atmosphere of Crater Lake, he held a patient and meditative space. Starting from a minimal structure, he added an elaborate architecture that was sturdy and mindful. The performance was a sound journey that led the audience through this construction and left them in a different place.

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Dale Cornish

Joe: Canary Yellow computer splutter. Spitting and frothing like a thousand tiny tummy kicks from the blue shrimps inside.  Marie said to me,

It sounded like the 90’s.

I said,

What.  All of it?

She said,

Sure, in Belgium.

I’m no flat pancake!

Marlo: I had previously seen Dale the week before in Nottingham. His mood was quite different this time. With alert attention, he proceeded to command his laptop to amuse, irritate, and tickle the audience. If I were to have a party, I would invite Dale. Always enjoyable, instead of baking him a birthday cake to compliment last week’s set, based on this performance I would make him profiteroles.  Thus instead of a treat that is made for pure enjoyment, celebration, and taste, a pastry as work of art which takes many steps prior to presentation (and I like profiteroles a lot).

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Dylan Nyoukis & Kieron Piercy

Joe: Soundtrack to Night of the Living Squelch that somehow managed to dissect Dylan & Kieron so one duo played breathing noises: hisses, coughs and sighs and the other ‘ghost’ duo played the sound of the first duo running their outputs through resinous pinecones.  By gently slapping their foreheads bubbles of gas birthed from parted lips adding a metallic sheen. Please stop me if I’m getting too technical.

(Joe: Later…. booze is consumed, hands shook and booty exchanged. Among the hugs plans are hatched and reputations blackened! Later… we meet the boss. In what must look like a comical gesture to onlookers we both reach out one hand to shake and another to pass cdr/tapes/notes to each other.)

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Charles Dexter Ward

Joe: Erotic Jerome is the most focused man in the N-AU.  Every twitch and tremor of his hands opened another subtle filter, let out a deceptive synth note or texturised the canvas with his painterly guitar thribbings.  Guess what?  Watching CDW reminded me of that Keef.

What do you think about when you’re playing?

Asked the handsome young Vee-jay.

I don’t think on stage.  I feel,

came the raspy reply.  Nuff Said.

Marlo: I had the immense pleasure of being acquainted with Jerome after his stellar set at Tusk Festival. This time, the layers and processing felt more dense. Every time I felt as though I had embraced a new element of his guitar mosaic, I was being introduced to yet another level of intensity that abandoned yet built upon the previous input. It was a rich and powerful piece.

Rob: I got my non-euclidean groove on and shimmied like a tentacle.  It was cyclopean.  Who would have thought such a nice guy could be an Old One in human form?

(Joe: Later…a fart in front of Elkka Reign Nyoukis makes her laugh so hard it drowns out the nearby trains.  Later…it’s a Warhol of confusion. The heat and the noise and the crowd means conversations start, stop, merge and scatter. I’m bending ears all over.  Later…The RFM photo op. I never realised our erstwhile photographer was the legendary Idwal himself! Our handsome group is propped up by my screamingly odd face.)

5-6ths of RFM take 1

Rob: The evidence!  Five sixths of RFM: me, Sof, Luke, Joe, Marlo – Chrissie sadly couldn’t make it as she was recording an orchestra.  Cheers to Uncle Mark for taking the picture.

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Stephen Cornford

Marlo: As they said in Videodrome (1983),

Long live the New Flesh!

I say this because I felt like Cornford was battling with the mind melting controlling of vertical and horizontal holds, in a telekinetic struggle with amplitude and frequency, he went head-to-head with his multiple television screens. He was absorbed. I was absorbed. I think the visuals that seemed to translate his audio concoctions were pretty. I would love to see more of his work.

Rob: I felt like the little girl in Poltergeist (1982) but I wasn’t communing with the dead, rather a race of electric creatures attempting to re-programme my bonce with strobing logic.  They may have succeeded.  I await the trigger word from Mr. Cornford.

(Rob: Sof, Sof!  Where are you?  I think Sof and Jake’s last train beckoned around this point)

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Culver

Joe: Rich sarcophagus music.  Prostrated like a monk with a Casio, Culver played the sound of the tides spiced with deep orange paprika.  Ebb and flow washes over you easily for sure but remember Culver’s dark gravity pins you to the planet like a moth in a cabinet.

Luke: whilst Charles Dexter Ward embraced the crowd with his pink love drone in a highly pleasing manner, Culver extended the black tentacles of Cthulu and left us powerless facing the ghastly pit of torment. I am inebriated at this point and only roused from my Culver trance by my pal clinking glasses, it’s a fine moment: we are ridiculously close to the high priest himself. There can be only one.

Marlo: Culver is remarkable in that he uses similar gear and techniques to others whilst adding something completely signature and unique. I would say that Culver is one of the best drone artists in the UK. His monastic and constant involvement with his gear makes for a compelling performance. Despite the darkness that he chooses to invoke with sound, there is a clear joy interspersed amongst the high frequencies.

Rob: I make a mental note of all in the crowd who talk during Lee’s set.  There will be a reckoning.  A RECKONING!

(Luke: sad to say I had to miss Evil Moisture and Rudolf Eb.Er but I was successful in navigating my way home. Cheers Pete, see you next year!)

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Evil Moisture

Joe: A Very Wonderful Fucking Sloppy Mess (AVWFSM).   Long, long loops of disgruntled squirm get run through the Bolus-zone to come out triple-strength odd.  With nothing to hold on to the free fall becomes increasing delicious.

Marlo: When watching Andy Bolus, one wishes that they had superpowers like photographic memory or the ability to time travel. The issue is that normal human capacities do not allow for full visual comprehension of the devices across his two tables and to simultaneously be absorbed by the sounds. There is just so much going on! From the crazy inventor’s lab of his set up to the enveloping waves of sound, my body was compelled to move. Pushed up close to the stage with several other victims of unintentional movement, I held onto a monitor to make sure I didn’t collapse from my undulations. These movements are, by far, my favourite response to good noise. His detailed dynamics had a light touch. Well paced yet not predictable in his shifts, Andy seemed to be using his whole body, even his feet to make the monster chewing sounds. But there were purposeful and understated details placed delicately through sound blasts and running engines. Not sonic saturated and definitely not shy, Evil Moisture’s intuitive performance was well worth the wait.

(Rob: at this point I bow out myself and trot off for the second-to-last bus home very happy with how the day has gone.  I’m in such a good mood that when I discover the New Blockaders tape Joe gave me earlier is leaking oil onto the other merch in my bag all I do is chuckle.  Ahh, occupational hazard.)

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Rudolf Eb.Er

Marlo: One of the best things about seeing noise and improvisational music played live is the feeling that what one witnessed is unique and unrepeatable.  Experience a performance by a sound artist like Ruldolph Eb.Er, for example, and you know immediately that what you saw and heard will never occur again the same way.  In this case, it might be the fact that several Crater Lakers had lost their marbles on booze and kept hollering throughout the set. That was a bit unfortunate but his professionalism didn’t allow one moment of lack of concentration. I use the word ‘dynamic’ a lot when I talk about noise and sound art, often using it to describe movement.  However, in this case, Rudolf’s use of tension and silence is signature to his style. Silences punctuated the set and left the audience irritable and anticipating each aural stimulation. Personally, I was enthralled by the spectacle – I felt prone to his ‘psychoaccoustic’ gestures and was dizzy with confusion.  My favorite part of his set was when he placed some nodes covered with a black, inky sound conductive substance on his face and head whilst appearing startled and trembling. I like to think he was slightly losing his mind with the audience but by the end he was fully composed and I felt freaking grateful I had stayed cognizant enough to appreciate all the different acts contained within the piece.

Joe: It had been a very long day.  Whist I don’t approve of public drunkenness I am charmed by the tipsy.  All my notes say is:

good oaky noise but possible Harkonnen spy.

I think it’s about this point that my brain packed up…

—ooOoo—

…which is an appropriately wonky note on which to end.  Alas, that is that for another year.  Many thanks to all involved – performers, venue and attendees – with special back-slapping to Pete Cann for making it happen.  It was a terrific day.  See y’all next time.

—ooOoo—

Photo credits:

Agata Urbaniak: performers

Sophie Cooper: workshop

Mark Wharton: Team RFM

turkey

garden of forking paths: chrissie caulfield on stuart chalmers and tlön

March 14, 2015 at 2:37 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks Vol.2 (CD-r or download, Blood Diamond Music, BDM 005)

Tlön – Truth in the 13th (tape and download extras, Birkhouse Recordings, BIRK.007)

Imaginary Musicks2

I’m not even going to try and guess what instruments, objects and bent circuits Stuart Chalmers has used in his second volume of Imaginary Musicks. The range of sounds involved is quite remarkable and his grasp of the techniques of bending existing sounds to his will is better heard than analysed. If I describe sounds in this review it’s not necessarily what was used to make the noise, just what it sounds like to me [Editor’s note: no worries, that’s the RFM way].

That said, I think I’m on fairly safe ground (looks down expecting quicksand) in stating that this is substantially a Musique Concrète album, though that doesn’t really begin to describe the breadth of experiences it contains. There are sumptuous drones, beats made from household objects, tape noises and the occasional sax solo. If there is a track on here that you don’t particularly like, then simply skipping to the next one will bring something different for you to try. That’s not to say there is no consistency, there is; perhaps think of it as an aural version of the 1990s TV programme The Crystal Maze: buzzing with wild contraptions, bizarre puzzles and an enigmatic host – Chalmers himself.

Personally, the album had my full attention from the opening track ‘Breaking Chains’. After some gentle scratching and scraping it explodes into a glorious Ben Frost-like festival of noise that assaults the ears, with heavy drums, tortured saxophone squeals, delay feedback and all manner of shrieking and buzzing. If ever an album started with a…

WAKE UP AT THE BACK!

…call, this is it. ‘Breaking Chains’ lasts just three and a half minutes but I wanted it to go on longer. This is typical. Chalmers never outstays his welcome with anything on this album, the tracks are about the length of many popular songs but with far more originality. Like Richard O’Brien at his most frenetic, he opens a door, gives you a three or four minute puzzle and then whisks you onto something new.

There is a love here, that I share, of industrial and mechanical noises [Editor’s note: see Chrissie’s own excellent Mechanisms, as she’s too modest to mention it herself]. Chalmers drops you into a room of ghostly clocks in ‘War on Nature’, there are car horns and squeaky gates in ‘To Be Lost is To Be Found’ and ‘Abandoned Cities’, then you are required to grapple with motors in ‘Wax & Wane’. There are probably all sorts of other things that I’m sure I’ve missed either because they’ve been heavily processed or secreted beneath layers of other interesting sounds but that just adds to the puzzles that repeated listens will, possibly, reveal. Chalmers leaves you few clues – sometimes the titles seem as though they are descriptive, other times they merely add to the confusion.

‘Wax & Wane’ is another favourite of mine, partly because it’s another noisy one, but also because of the way the dense textures here are so careful constructed. The motor sounds provide a basis for cheesy organ and distorted guitars (see disclaimer above) as they fade into swirling synths and gurgling. It’s like you’re locked inside the body of the engine, trying to find a way out.

Each piece on this album is a single idea in its own right and that is both it’s beauty and, possibly, its weakness. There are wonderful tracks, but also several that feel as though they should be developed rather than stopping and moving onto the next idea. That would make it a different experience, of course, and the simplicity of those pieces definitely has appeal – always best to be left wanting more.

Truth in the 13th

I enjoyed this album but I have to say that Chalmer’s other release, a collaboration project with Liam McConaghy [Editor’s note: of the excellent Microdeform] called Tlön was even more to my taste. Truth in the 13th is much more synth-based and is comprised of slightly longer pieces which gives the music more chance to breathe and go through a little more development.

Again, the opener is a blinder. ‘Crepuscular’ begins with dark beats and haunting synths. Listening to this you definitely feel like you’re walking through an overgrown and dangerous forest at night – Crystal Maze’s entrance to the Aztec Zone with the lights switched off and alligators added to the pond. You get buzzed by giant insects early on, and later there are growls from larger animals that become quite terrifying in the manner of Ben Frost’s By The Throat.

Unlike Imaginary Musicks, the titles of the tracks on this album seem to be much more descriptive of what you’re going to get – or maybe I’m just very suggestible. ‘In Accordance With Divine Laws’ sounds to me like some sort of spooky, scratchy church service, complete with indistinct singing – though over what sounds like heavily distorted guitars. ‘Ancient Ruins’ takes you from the undergrowth into the full Aztec Zone in bright light where you can explore the buildings left after centuries of neglect.

As with the solo Chalmers album, this one is packed full of manipulated recorded samples and things that sound like vinyl scratches and radio noises – and here we also have even more powerful guitars and yet more synths added to the mix to give a generally thicker, often quite oppressive, sound. It’s highly risky to second guess the roles of the artists in a collaboration, these relationships are always more complex than you think, but for my money the influence of McConaghy adds something to Chalmers’ quirky puzzles that lifts them to a different level.

For me, the least appealing track on Truth in the 13th is the title track. The simple snare rhythm quickly gets boring and distracts from the otherwise good things happening around it. The two remixes of the track that are included, quite sensibly, play this down.

So, if you fancy a trip round the Aztec Zone, Mechanical Zone, the Futuristic Zone and others, I can recommend these releases to you. Personally, I’d still like to be whisked round them by a young Ed Tudor-Pole, but that’s probably just me.

—ooOoo—

Stuart Chalmers on Bandcamp

Blood Diamond Music (via Blue Spectrum Tapes)

Birkhouse Recordings

 

the 2014 zellaby awards

January 4, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

The deliberations are over, the ballots are burning.  White smoke billows from the chimney here at Midwich Mansions.  Ignore the salty wave of ‘best of 2014’ lists you saw prematurely ejaculated over an appalled December – here is the real thing. ‘Never finalised prior to January 1st’ – that’s the Zellaby pledge.

And what a conclave it has been!  Scott turned up early and presented his nominations as a hyperlinked series of Discogs listings – he spoke using a vocoder throughout and would only answer our questions if we assigned them catalogue numbers.  Joe’s effervescent enthusiasm remained undimmed despite a trip to Accident and Emergency following a foolhardy attempt to gargle Christmas tree baubles.  New kid Luke seemed happy to fetch and carry despite our hazing pranks – oh, how we laughed sending him to Wilko’s for a tub of left handed CD-rs!  All I had to do was sit in my wing-backed leather chair, fingers steepled, and pass Solomon-style judgement.  My beautiful Turkish manservant took copious notes during procedures, of course, and whilst those are being transcribed I’m afraid I must begin with some sombre news: the underground is dead.

An article making this claim by David Keenan was published in the December issue of The Wire magazine and caused adverse weather in the crockery.  Having finally read it I can confirm that it is, by and large, laughable.  The friend who sent me a copy included this note:

Here it is.  I will look forward to reading your response as it would be great to see his flimsy, self-obsessed nonsense getting torn apart.

Hmm, yeah, tempting as it is to to embark on a comprehensive rebuttal what does it really matter?  I hate to disappoint but engaging with the wilful fucknuttery to be found in publications like The Wire is like arguing about the properties of phlogiston – it might be of vague historical or semantic interest to those with too much time on their hands but is ultimately pointless.  My favourite response has been Tom Bench‘s (@TJDizzle) satirical summary of Keenan’s disdain, tweeted in reply to some genuine outrage from Duncan Harrison (@Young_Arms):

yr not tru underground because u have friends and sometimes talk to them about music

Lolz.

Some of the fallout has been quite interesting though.  Just before Christmas, RFM started getting hits from an Italian language music site that was, on investigation, carrying an interview with Keenan in which he is asked specifically about the idea of the ‘no-audience underground’ as popularised by this blog.  In his short response he manages to invent a barely recognizable straw man version of the notion, take a swing at it, miss, then step back as if he’d actually landed a punch.  Admittedly, Google Translate may have knocked some nuance out of his answer but, as I was able to read it, it was good for a hearty chuckle and fuck all else.

Phil Smith, currently researching the history of Termite Club for a book chapter, wrote a thoughtful piece largely agreeing with Keenan that contained the following tragicomic scene:

One of the saddest moments of the year for me (on a lovely day) was Neil Campbell & John Tree talking about whether there was ever in our lifetime likely to be a music revolution like (say) punk again (one which Keenan seems to want), & shaking their heads in total ‘of course not’ resignation, the required kidz soaked in computer games & all manner of other entertainment drips & (I suppose) music, whatever it signifies to people, only ever welling up in such a way as part of a business move anyway.

I laughed out loud reading this.  Not only have these rueful old geezers forgotten at least one revolution we’ve already had since punk (rave culture – musically game changing, actual laws passed to disrupt it) but the internet enabled golden age is orders of magnitude more significant than punk.  Here’s a piece from yonks ago which begins to explain why and, for good measure, here’s another from double-yonks ago about why The Wire is hopeless too.

Neil Campbell, emboldened by Keenan’s piece and nostalgic memories of poorly received gigs unearthed in response to Phil’s Termite research, ramped up his usual silliness.  On Twitter he lamented the lack of confrontation nowadays and took the piss with his #realnoaudienceunderground hashtag.  I was interested to find out if there was any substance behind his bravado so devised an experiment.  After waiting for Twitter to move on, I called Neil out on some random nonsense in a deliberately antagonistic manner.  As expected, fight came there none.  Indeed, after explaining what I was up to both publicly and via direct message (the latter, I admit, did contain the phrases ‘full of shit’ and ‘you ol’ fraud!’) I found myself unfollowed.  Ah well, so much for confrontation.

(Aside: Neil has form for practice/preach discrepancy.  After hearing him proclaim several times that he’d rather read a bad review than a good one I took him at his word and minced three Astral Social Club releases including the album Electric Yep.  I did this with heavy heart and even ran it past Neil before posting.  He replied with a jaunty ‘hey you know me, go ahead’ but after I did he deleted the RFM link from the list of friends on his Astral Social Club blog and has not submitted anything at all since.  I was amused to find myself excommunicated for heresy.  Ah well, so much for bad reviews.)

I get the impression that Neil might be a bit uneasy with his current status as universally loved sacred cow.  Or maybe he digs it and is frustrated not to be a Wire mag cover star?  Who knows?  I love the guy, have done for about fifteen years, and hate to jeopardise a friendship with a shameless ad hominem attack over something so inconsequential but… dude has clearly forgotten how to take a kick to the udders.

So, in summary: those that say they want confrontation don’t, or rather only want it on their own terms or at a safe distance, those that lament the lack of revolution need only to open their eyes to what is happening around them and those that proclaim the underground dead are talking pish.

Before moving on a word about terms of engagement.  Whilst I’ve enjoyed a few physical fights in the past (yeah, I may be short and out of shape but I’m fucking mental), I find this kind of swaggering jaw-jaw to be boring, childish and unproductive.  Comment if you like but unless what is posted is novel, substantial and engaging I am unlikely to respond.  I won’t be tweeting about it under any circumstances.  I have washed my hands and will need an irresistible reason to get ’em dirty again.

—ooOoo—

BOY!  WHERE ARE THOSE NOTES?  Oh, thank you.  Have a shortbread biscuit.  Right then, shall we crack on with the fun bit?

—ooOoo—

Radio Free Midwich presents The Zellaby Awards 2014

Thank you for bearing with us.  Firstly, an apology: due to, y’know, austerity n’ that, this year’s ceremony will be taking place on the swings in the playground at the muddy end of the estate.  Nominations will be scratched into the paint of the railings and refreshments will be whatever cider Luke can prise from the grip of local vagrants.

Secondly, 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 2014.  It does not need to have been released in 2014.  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 any of my own releases, nor any releases that I had a hand in, er…, releasing (with one notable exception this year).  My three comrades are free to ignore these rules and write about what they like.  The price paid for this freedom is that I, as editor, have final say.  Thus the awards are the product of the idiosyncratic taste of yours truly with input from my co-writers along the way.

A couple of omissions explained.  Long term readers may be shocked to find no mention of previous winners Ashtray Navigations or the piss superstition.  Phil and Mel have been preoccupied this year with moving house, full time unenjoyment and various celebrations of the AshNav 20th anniversary and have not been as prolific as nutcase fans such as myself would like.  There has been one cassette of new material, Aero Infinite, which, to my shame, I only became aware of recently and do not yet own.  Believe me, the pain is fierce.  Bookies have already stopped taking bets on their planned four-disc retrospective winning everything next time out.

Julian and Paul have shared a split live tape with Broken Arm and had a CD-r, The Dialled Number, The Bone-Breaker, The Heavenly Sword, out on Sheepscar Light Industrial but, in my humble opinion, their defining release of 2014 was getting nothing to appear on the developed film, a mighty album which is sadly ineligible for this year’s awards because it was released by me on fencing flatworm recordings as their ‘prize’ for winning album of the year last time.  See, complicated isn’t it?

There are also many releases on the guilt-inducing review pile that I suspect could have been contenders had I found time to digest them properly: apologies to Ian Watson, Prolonged Version, Troy Schafer, Seth Cooke etc. and thanks for your continued patience.  For the first time, two entries in this year’s poptastic final chart are previously unreviewed on RFM.  Mysterious, eh?

OK, enuff with the preamble.  The first category is…

5. The “I’d never heard of you 10 minutes ago but now desperately need your whole back catalogue” New-to-RFM Award

Joe votes for Yoni Silver:

I heard Yoni Silver play a solo bass clarinet set on November 1st this year. Over the course of 20 minutes I blinked repeatedly and snapped my fingers; my mouth hung open like a codfish and eventually my eyes filled with hot tears. I’d emerged from a jazz-hole that ranged from barely-there, reductionist ‘hummmm’, to wet-chop dribble/spittle outta the brassy pipes, to full-bore Ayler-esque gospel skronk. It was so good I didn’t just clap and holla…I vowed to start a record label to immediately box this shit up. Yoni’s discs are thin on the ground but live shows with proper jazz cats and beards like PWHMOBS are gathering pace. Watch out!

Luke goes for Botanist:

Ever fantasized about a forest dwelling black metal troll singing songs about plant life on drums and hammered dulcimer only?  Me too.  Well, fantasize no longer: he exists. Just when your jaded ears smugly tell you they’ve heard it all along comes the Botanist.

taming power - twenty-one pieces - cover

…but anyone paying attention will have already guessed that the winner this year is Taming Power.

I might have indulged in some ill advised Campbell-baiting above but I am profoundly grateful to Neil for taking the time to introduce me to the world of Askild Haugland.  This quiet Norwegian has amassed a sizeable back catalogue of tape and vinyl releases on his own Early Morning Records, most of which were recorded, edited and annotated around the turn of the century and have remained largely unheralded since.  His work – created using tape recorders, cassette players, shortwave radios, electric guitars and the like – is perfection viewed from shifting angles, filtered through prisms.  His patience and dedication to uncovering every nuance of his processes are truly inspiring.  It has been an enormous pleasure to promote his music to a (slightly) wider audience – exactly what this blog is all about.  The chap himself seems lovely too.  Read more: Neil’s accidental guest post, reviews, more reviews, Early Morning Records catalogue.

…and when you return we can move on to…

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

Joe makes a compelling case for the Peak Signal 2 Noise broadcasts:

If Cathy Soreny and her Sheffield-based gladiators had released ten 25 minute compilation tapes in a year featuring the creamy froth of the N-AU we’d stand to attention and sing a rousing song. To create ‘visual cassettes’ for your telly and computer screen and navigate the machinations of the community TV industry and come up with such a thoroughly curated, imaginatively shot and god-damn funny series is just the bee’s knees. PS2N has opened another glossy window into the N-AU.

Luke keeps it pithy:

The Stokoe Cup should clearly go to Lee Stokoe.  ‘The underground is dead ‘ announces David Keenan in The Wire this month ‘shut up you prat’ is the reply from Radio Free Midwich.

Scott agrees:

Predictable enough, I HAVE to say Lee Stokoe. Browsing my discogs list for 2014 acquisitions it’s virtually all Matching Head tapes – either the new ones or tapes from the 90s that I didn’t already have. Its consistent to the point of sheer ridiculousness.

daniel thomas - that which

However, the editor has other ideas.  This year’s winner is Daniel Thomas.

Dan’s output in 2014 has been prodigious.  He even wins in two categories that don’t exist: ‘1016’ the opener on Enemy Territory is my track of the year (go on, play it whilst reading the rest of this article) and the ‘flower press’ edition of That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades put together by Dave Thomas (no relation) for its release on Kirkstall Dark Matter wins packaging of the year too.  The latter album is perhaps the definitive expression of ‘extraction music‘ – the sub-genre I defined as a way of herding the work of Dan, Dave, Kev Sanders and other fellow travellers into a manageable fold of headspace – and one of at least three projects involving Dan that could have been album of the year.  For the record, the other two are Hagman’s Number Mask on LF Records and the remarkable Dub Variations by The Thomas Family in another beautiful package hand crafted by Crow Versus Crow:

It is the bead of sweat on the brow of the tightrope walker. It is a time-lapse film of dew condensing onto a cobweb.

Dan shows no signs of slowing, nor of relinquishing his choke-tight quality control.  I cannot wait to hear what he has for us in 2015.

…and now a favourite moment for the editor:

3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award

Scott goes for a far-flung ambassador:

It has to be Miguel Pérez.  For making RFM a global concern, and being full of passion, he’s the man.

Joe, as ever, finds this a tough one to pin down.  He suggests…

…we should say a thank you to all the readers and contributors … to everyone who has waited patiently for a review/carried on reading without sending us hate mail…

…which is a sentiment I share, of course, but this year I think one particular set of contributors has to be recognized in this category.  God knows how 27 different acts are going to share the gong though because the winners are…

Michael Clough - eye for detail cover

The artists who submitted tracks to eye for detail – the midwich remixes album:

Andy Jarvis (Vile Plumage, NIHL), ap martlet, Aqua Dentata, Breather, Brian Lavelle, Chrissie Caulfield (of RFM faves Helicopter Quartet), Clive Henry, Dale Cornish, Daniel Thomas, devotionalhallucinatic, DR:WR (Karl of The Zero Map), dsic, foldhead (Paul Walsh – who accidentally started it all), Hardworking Families (Tom Bench), In Fog (Scott McKeating of this parish), John Tuffen (of Orlando Ferguson), Michael Clough (who also provided cover art), Michael Gillham, Neil Campbell (Astral Social Club), Panelak, Paul Watson (BBBlood), posset (Joe Murray also of RFM), Simon Aulman (pyongyang plastics), the piss superstition, Van Appears, Yol, and ZN.

This year I finally joined Twitter which, as a wise-cracking, smart-arse, mentally unstable narcissist with self-esteem issues, turned out to be a perfect platform for me (though for those exact same reasons I think I’ll have to exercise a bit more caution with it in future).  One of the first things that happened was a throwaway comment about a midwich remix project ballooning into an actual album that had to be retroactively called into existence.  The final release six weeks later contained 27 re-workings of tracks from my back catalogue and lasted a total of 3 hours 40 minutes.  The process was humbling, exhilarating, joyful and unprecedented in my personal experience.

The album remains available here (along with more detail as to its construction).  If you don’t already have it, I recommend you treat yourself with that Christmas money from Gran.  I’m charging a fiver for the download and all dough raised is being given to The Red Cross.  The total donated so far, after PayPal and Bandcamp fees, is something like £180.  When I reached a ton I had a giant-cheque-handing-over-ceremony, again following whims blurted out on Twitter.

Many, many thanks to all involved – you are elite members of the pantheon of the righteous.

—ooOoo—

BOY!!  DIM THE LIGHTS.  What?  Oh yes, we’re outside aren’t we.  Fetch me a shortbread biscuit then.  What do you mean there are none left?  Well, just give me the one you are holding.  Gah!  The impertinence!  Anyway, finally we come to the two main categories…

—ooOoo—

2. The Label of the Year Award

Joe goes for No Basement is Deep Enough:

You could easily mistake No Basement is Deep Enough’s tape goof for a zany Zappa-esque prank. But peel away the layers; brush the fringe to one side, open that single plush tit and you are rewarded with some amazing music. Almost like a wonky Finders Keepers NBIDE have unveiled some new ghouls and re-released some remarkable old gizzards (Alvaro – The Chilean with the Singing Nose, Ludo Mich and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson) in frankly outrageous packaging. Old or new, experimental classicists or gutter-dwelling hobo these gonks are pure trippin’ for ears.

Yeah, I’ve been involved as a one of these gonks this year but I think that means I can give you an extra bit of insight into how curator Ignace De Bruyn and designer Milja Radovanović are such wonderful human beings. I told them about getting some mentions in The Wire (Ed – you’ll love this) and they didn’t give a shit. “Ha, we always get mentioned in The Wire without any clue how, what, where, when” said Ignace, “and let’s keep it like that” he chortled into his waffle.

Luke narrows it down to two:

Beartown Records.  A consistent champion of no audience sounds and nice and cheap, they sent me a parcel addressed to Luke ‘ the sick’ Vollar which contained a postcard with ‘sorry just sorry’ written on it.  For this reason they are my label of the year.

Also a mention for Altar of Waste.  I find it comforting to know that somewhere in North America there is a guy called Cory Strand transforming his favourite films / TV programmes / music into insanely limited and lovingly presented sets. Twenty disc drone interpretation of Harry Potter limited to five copies!? He also releases loads of drone/HNW discs that are lovely items to look at and listen to including my album of the year [SPOILER REMOVED – Ed]

Scott apologises:

Sorry, Matching Head again.

Luminous worthies, for sure, but I reckon my choice has been phosphorescent:

kevin sanders - ascension through apathy

The winner is hairdryer excommunication.

The solo venture of Kevin Sanders has released, I believe, 26 items in the calendar year 2014.  Unbelievably, during the same time, he has also had his creations released by other labels, has played live, has moved house and job along a lengthy diagonal line from North to South and has let fly with a gazillion opaque tweets.  This guy’s heart must beat like a fucking sparrow’s.

But never mind the girth, feel the quality.  Kev’s hairdryer excommunication sits alongside Lee Stokoe’s Matching Head as an absolute exemplar of the no-audience underground micro-label as expression of personal vision.  Each release is a new page in the atlas mapping the world he is presenting to us; each trembling drone, each nihilistic/ecstatic scything fuzz is a contour line.  Like all great labels, hXe is greater than the sum of its parts and only gets more compelling as those parts collect and combine.  I appreciate that this might appear daunting for the newbie so here’s five to be starting with – you’ll thank me for it.

Now you see why I have to strictly enforce my ‘win allowable in only one category’ rule.  I could have created a top 40 (!) that just contained releases by, or involving, Askild, Dan and Kev.  Astonishing.  So, leaving those guys sat chatting under the climbing frame, we finally come to the blue riband, best in show, gold medal event:

1. The Album of the Year Award

Woo!  Lists!  Click on the album title and you will be taken to the original RFM review (if such a thing exists) or another applicable page (if not) where you will find details of the release (label, whatnot) and, most importantly, how to go about hearing/purchasing these marvels.

First to the lectern is Mighty Joe Murray:

It’s taken a real effort to whittle this down but here’s my top 5 in order:

faint people

1. The New Band of the Faint People – The Man Who Looked at the Moon

Keep yr Wounded Nurse. These micro-pieces are stitched together with a domestic hand juggling fly agaric.

2. Rotten Tables, Golden Meat – My Nose is Broken

This cheeky release opened a new stomach pouch and gassed itself in…yeasty and fruity. Biggest smiles of the year.

3. Pascal – Nihilist Chakai House

It goes, “tk tk tk tk tk …. po/po/po – ping.” Blistering like hot metal pipes; fragile like seaweed.

4. Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget

Stream-of-consciousness becomes conscious itself…a living, breathing music as fresh as green parsley.

5. CKDH – Yr Putrid Eyeballs/Fungal Air Creeping Adders

The most violently restrained listen of the year by a long shot. Needle sharp. Music to break radios.

Scott briefly interjects:

skullflower - draconis

Skullflower – Draconis

As sylph-like a heavyweight as you’re ever likely to hear.

Now over to the office junior Luke:

Album of the year…

midwich - the swift cover

Midwich – The Swift

Utterly sublime floating tones, get your cranky toddler off to sleep in minutes, limited to 15 copies only?!  Madness. [Editor’s note: ha! What is more shameful? Luke sucking up to his editor or me for publishing it?  Yes, I know its me – shut up.]

The rest:

Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget
culver & posset – black gash
Skullflower – Draconis
Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus
Robert Ridley Shackleton / Werewolf Jerusalem / She Walks Crooked – April Fools
Ashtray Navigations  – Aero Infinite
Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg
Dylan Nyoukis – Yellow Belly
Ezio Piermattei – Turismodentale

..and last of all, to your faithful editor.  I have chosen twenty items (well, twenty three including cheats).  The first half are presented in no particular order, the second set in the traditional ‘top ten run down’ ending with the actual, objectively verified best album of the year.  In my opinion.

10. NIHL / Female Borstal / Dear Beloved Henry / Albert Materia

female borstal nihl splitdear beloved henry

The perils of the split tape, eh?  I dug the Female Borstal side of the former, sadly didn’t get on with Albert Materia on the latter.  However the sides by NIHL and Dear Beloved Henry were bloody marvellous and, if they’d appeared on the same object would have rocketed up these rankings.  So I’m imagining an ideal world in which they did.  NIHL got a haiku:

Seduced by darkness

beyond guttering arc-light –

like moths, like dead souls.

Praise for Dear Beloved Henry – equally heartfelt, less formatting:

…deceptively simple in execution: a flowing electronic drone groove with a vaguely East Asian feel – like 1970s Krautrock that has been listening to a bunch of gamelan LPs – works through the variations.  However, every so often a magnetic pull distorts it off course and adds an intriguing, complicating layer of discordance.  It’s like it was mastered to VHS and someone is now messing with the tracking.  Is this an artefact of duping it to an old recycled tape or is this woosiness wholly intended?  The result is magical either way.

9. Helicopter Quartet – Leading Edges

helicopter quartet - leading edges

 …the album expresses a profound vision with an austere but soulful beauty.  Imagine a slate-blue version of Ashtray Navigations psychedelics or a restrained take on the intensity of, say, Swans without the self-loathing bombast. The band may jokingly self-describe as ‘semi-melodic mournfulness’ but this is a deeply serious music with, I think, plenty to say about the difficult, forlorn, wonderful, awe-inspiring condition we find ourselves in.

…Helicopter Quartet are, to my tired ears, a near-perfect example of how musicianship can be harnessed in a noise context.  Chrissie and Mike balance their considerable skills with an understanding of how to use noise to pluck the soul of the listener and have it vibrate with a slightly discordant, emotionally complicated, seriously intended, profoundly satisfying resonance.

8. Sophie Cooper – Our Aquarius

sophie cooper - our aquarius

 

When I wrote in the RFM Christmas message to the nation…

To be transported by a work of art – to be lifted from yourself, your surroundings and placed elsewhere for the duration – is a profound experience and, as someone who has trouble with self-sabotaging mental illness, one that I greatly appreciate. Catch me right and the bus to work is swapped for a magic carpet skimming the treetops. Find me in a susceptible mood and waiting at a pedestrian crossing becomes standing at the bedside of an elderly relative, brimful with a mixture of love and trepidation. Listening to music pans the muddy water sloshing inside my head, nuggets of gold and squirming, glistening creatures are uncovered. It – thus: you – is a constant source of revelation, of insight and of inspiration.

…it was no coincidence that I had been listening to this album a lot.  My apologies to Sof for not getting around to reviewing it but, hey, Uncle Mark did over at Idwal Fishers.  The cad suggests that it is ‘by no means a flawless release’ but if he dare repeat that in my vicinity I shall strike his cheek with my glove.

7. Stuart Chalmers – imaginary musicks vol. 1

stuart chalmers - imaginary musiks vol 1

The world his music describes is fully formed and the listener’s experience of it is immersive and ego-dissolving but carefully placed ticks – a filter echo, a moment of dictaphonic skwee – bring you back to the surface by foregrounding its artificiality. It’s like a South Sea Islands version of Philip K. Dick’s Time out of Joint. Imagine walking on the golden beach, admiring the dancing palms, looking out over the glassy ocean to the setting sun only for it all to suddenly disappear and be replaced with a featureless white room and a scrap of paper at your feet with the words ‘tropical paradise’ typed on it. As with all the very best stuff: the more I listen to it, the more I want to listen to it.

6. The Skull Mask – Nocturno Mar / Sunburn

skull mask - nocturno marskull mask - sunburn

Another terrific year for the prolific Miguel Pérez, RFM’s Mexican cousin.  From the bloody-minded free noise of his improv duo ZN to the incense-and-bitumen ritual drone of The Will of Nin Girima (released on new label-to-watch Invisible City Records), I doubt a week has passed without me spending some time in his company.

My favourite of his projects is The Skull Mask and these two recordings were released either side of Miguel’s return to acoustic guitar.  The former is made of enveloping, tidal drones containing half-submerged reversed vocals.  It can prove oppressively menacing or hypnotically soothing depending on your mood as you encounter it.  Just like the night sea it is named for.  The latter is ravaged, desert psychedelia improvised with raw acoustic guitar.  There is no shade under which Miguel, or the listener, can hide – this is completely exposed music and is riveting.

5. Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg

yol - headless chicken

From the preamble to a review by Joe:

For the uninitiated Yol has carefully and modestly created his own footnote in the frantic world of kinetic poetry.  Imagine tiny fragile words battered with broken bottles.  Innocent syllables and posh sibilance swashes getting clotted and clumped together.  Those classy phonics all chopped up and smashed; ground out like spent fags and stuttered wetly in a barely controlled rage…

Musical accompaniment is of the most primitive and brutal kind.  Forget the chest-beating Harsh Noise dullards, this is frighteningly naked and exposed.  Short blasts of destruction come from broken machinery, sheared plastic shards, bits of old hoover and burnt cutlery.  A more dicky commentator would say recordings are made in carefully selected site specific locations.  The truth?  Yol’s breaking into empty factory units and shouting his rusty head off.

4. Spoils & Relics – Sins of OmissionEmbed and then Forget

spoils and relics - sins of omissionembedandthenforget

The closest the RFM staff come to ‘critical consensus’.  I can’t decide which of these releases I prefer so you are getting ’em both.  From my review of the former:

Their music denies narrative … The palette used is a largely abstract selection of found, domestic and field recordings as well as sound produced by the various electronic implements that make up their ‘kit’.  The source of any given element is usually (and presumably deliberately) unclear.  They are examining the innards of everything, poking around where noise happens and taking notes.  It is more akin to the meta-musical experiments of AMM and their progeny.

Don’t be scared off – this music is not dry and scratchy, it is layered with humour (ranging from the wry raised eyebrow to banana skin slapstick), tension and a whip-smart self-awareness that speaks of the telepathic relationship between the band members when performing.  A piece by Spoils & Relics is about sound in the same way a piece by Jackson Pollock is about paint.

From Joe’s review of the latter:

There is a constant flow of ideas all itchy with life; reminding me of a similar feeling – running your finger over a gravestone, nails gouging the names.  I’m caught up in a multi-sensory melting of meaning into a constant ‘now’ … Listeners who favour that hi-fidelity will be delighted.  Beards who dwell in the no-fi world of clanking tape jizz are going to be entranced.  Skronk fans will be be-calmed.  Zen droners will wake up refreshed and sharp.

3. Ap Martlet – Analog Computer

ap martlet - analog computer

The title is perfect – it calls to mind a room-sized, valve-run difference engine humming with contented menace.  These three tracks seem less compositions than iterations of an algorithm set in motion by a wonky punchcard being slotted into the machine upside-down.  ‘Comdyna’ and ‘Thurlby’ are both rhythmic in an abstract sense – the latter being a low impact step aerobics class for retired ABC Warriors, the former an exercise in patience and discipline as a series of low-slung tones are held until they start to feedback, then released, then repeated.  The final track, ‘Heathkit’, is a coruscating, brain-scouring, fuzz-drone.  It is the kind of sound that in a workshop you would wear ear protectors to dampen but here it is presented for our contemplation and admiration.

2. culver – plague hand

culver - plague hand tapes

[Editor’s note: a sudden attack of prudishness has stopped me from reproducing the covers of this release.  Scans can be found accompanying the original review.]

I need to account for Matching Head catalogue number 200: plague hand by culver, a twin tape set containing four side-long tracks totalling, you guessed it, 200 minutes.  Each of these four untitled pieces (the sides are labelled a,b,c, and d and that’s all you get) is a sombre Culvanian documentary: a long, wordless panoramic camera sweep taking in the scenery with an unblinking 360 degree turn.  Each is different from the last, all are wholly involving and will have the attentive listener crowing ‘aww… man, I was digging that!’ and reaching to flip or rewind as soon as the track ends.  I say ‘attentive listener’ but really there is no other kind because you have no choice in the matter.  This isn’t background music – allow yourself to get caught and your ego will be dissolved like a fly in a pitcher plant.  It is a masterwork and a fitting celebration of the numerically notable point it represents.

[Editor’s second note: Lee later told me that this is in fact all one track with various movements.  Just so as you know.]

…and the winner of the Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2014 is:

1. Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus

aqua dentata - cygnet procambarus

My review took the form of a science fiction (very) short story.  Eddie’s music does that kind of thing to your head.  Here it is:

In some future hospital you are recovering from a horrible accident. Within a giant glass vitrine, you are suspended in a thick, healing gel – an amniotic fluid rich in bioengineered enzymes and nanotech bots all busy patching you up. From the waist down you are enmeshed in metal, a scaffold of stainless steel pins keeping your shape whilst the work continues. The first twenty minutes of Eddie’s half hour describes your semi-conscious state of prelapsarian bliss, played out over dark undertones of bitter irony: every moment spent healing is, of course, a moment closer to confronting the terrible event that put you there.

During the final ten minutes the tank empties, bizarrely, from the bottom up. Pins are pushed from healing wounds and tinkle and clatter as they collect below you. Attending staff shuffle nervously but maintain a respectful distance and near silence. As the gel clears your head, your eyes slowly peel open, the corners of your mouth twitch. You look out through the glass at the fishbowled figures in the room. You weakly test the restraints you suddenly feel holding you in place, and with a sickening flash it all comes back and you rememb———

No-one in what this blog lovingly refers to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is producing work as consistently brilliant as Eddie Nuttall. The back catalogue of his project Aqua Dentata – growing with the alien beauty and frustrating slowness of a coral reef – contains not a wasted moment. His work – quiet, long-form dronetronics with metallic punctuation – is executed with the patience and discipline of a zen monk watching a spider construct a cobweb.  Best dressed man to feature on this blog too.

—ooOoo—

So, that is that.  Eddie’s prize, should he wish to take me up on it, is for Aqua Dentata to have the one and only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings some time in 2015.  I’ll keep you posted on negotiations.

Oh, and should any of you be interested in how this blog does – y’know, number of hits and all that – I’ve made the annual report provided by WordPress public and you can see it here.

Heartfelt best wishes for the New Year, comrades.  All is love.

Rob Hayler, January 2015.

 

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