(another) fortnight with lee and miguel, part two: conspiracies

February 12, 2014 at 9:36 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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culver & la mancha del pecado – collaboration 3 (tape, At War With False Noise, ATWAR140, edition of 50)

culver & la mancha del pecado – collaboration 4 (CD-r, Turgid Animal)

culver & la mancha del pecado – collaboration 5 (tape, Narcolepsia)

The Dead End Street Band / La Mancha Del Pecado – El Mercado De Las Brujas (CD-r, Agorafobia Tapes, #25)

Crown of Bone / La Mancha Del Pecado – split (CD-r, Agorafobia Tapes #26/Occult Supremacy OSP040)

the collects & culver – untitled (tape, Matching Head, mh203)

la mancha - culver - collaboration 3culver - la mancha - collaboration 4

OK, see part one for an extensive preamble.  This second half showcases a bunch of Lee and Miguel’s collaborations and split releases.

—ooOoo—

Firstly, the ongoing team-up between our two heroes sees their powers squared by being combined.  Three more products:

#3 is the final moments of a desperate refugee attempting to escape certain death by clinging on to the landing gear of a passenger jet.  As the aeroplane climbs to cruising altitude, and hypothermia takes hold, this doomed soul hallucinates he is entering a kind of aviation heaven.  The roar of jets, the ‘whup-whup’ of rotors, the burrr of propellers all condense into a single throb carrying him upwards.  This pulse fades along with his own and a slow-picked refrain on acoustic guitar mourns the frozen.

#4 is a single 48 minute long track in three movements.  First is the chugging clatter of a damaged piston furiously rattling its housing as the engine it is part of belches out acrid black smoke.  Secondly, great swathes of the sound are blown away by a cooling wind leaving a rumble as the seemingly broken engine settles, components fusing.  Finally, surprisingly, as it cools the engine bursts back into life in a suicidal last gasp but then – spoiler alert – the piece ends in a relatively upbeat state as the rhythm calms and smoke is replaced with a pleasing iridescent glow.  It is a genuinely unexpected conclusion.

#5 is 38 minutes of scouring radio static as heard in the cockpit of a single propeller aeroplane surveying the bomb damage inflicted by Wehrmacht Lombardo’s war machines.

All great.

dead end street - la mancha - split

I know Miguel is proud of this one ‘cos it’s his tape label Agorafobia’s first transatlantic split: The Dead End Street Band hail from exotic Newcastle.  Their track, ‘Night of the Bloody Apes’, has the greasy, queasy electronic pulse that made the best of first wave industrial music such uncomfortable listening.  It also adds a viscous layer of inescapable stickiness.  At twelve minutes long it is the perfect length to lure an unsuspecting fly into the monkey cup…

The La Mancha track, ‘Raza Crapulienta’, has a forward motion I am tempted to describe as ‘roaring’ but in this case ‘gushing’ might be more accurate.  There is a wetness to the torrent that suggests subterranean rivers coursing through pitch black limestone caverns.

crown of bone - la mancha - split

It took me a while to warm to ‘The Chapters of Judas’ by Crown of Bone, their contribution to this split release.  At first it seemed too fierce for my tastes, too easily described with clichéd adjectives such as ‘harsh’, ‘relentless’ etc.  I was won round by its ridiculous, visceral, irresistible momentum.  At around the 16 minute mark pedals are stamped on which adds variation to the blowtorch ferocity.  With a few minutes to go we are transported instantaneously into the centre of a black mass before the noise returns just as suddenly to play us out.  I don’t listen to this type of stuff very often but I would if more of it was like this.

The La Mancha track, ‘Helena’, is an example of that super-advanced music for alien races that I mentioned in part one.  To feeble ears attached to feeble brains like ours it sounds like metal played by a flock of drunken geese.

collects and culver

…and finally we have the collaboration between Culver and mysterious, new-name-to-me The Collects.  Scott McKeating, the omniscient third voice here at RFM, reckons this is the best of the latest crop.  His verdict, pulled from the pneumatic tube system we use for office communication, is:

shit hot

…which is undeniable.  The cauldron of boiling black liquid provided by Culver is what you might expect, I guess, but a spell is cast by the carefully chosen ingredients tossed into the mix.  There is insectoid filter whine, viscera-rearranging generator throb and reedy, fluting near-melody amongst the other earthy and unplaceable flavours.  Stepping away from the witch’s brew metaphor and into the suburban living room, I am reminded (again) of the little girl in the film Poltergeist, speaking to voices only she can hear via a detuned television.  The first two tracks of this C30(ish) album, ‘clutch fed’ and ‘you are never going home’, could well be what is heard by her during gaps in the conversation: the background noise of a dead realm.

Given its title – ‘do you remember her last moments?’ – and the bound figure illustrated on the cover, it would be easy to interpret the side-long third piece as some kind of torture-porn soundtrack but who wants to linger on that thought, eh?  Not me.  Instead let’s imagine the Culveresque rumble as the mud colouring a drop of dirty water.  Now put that drop on a microscope slide and take a closer look at its contents.  The uniform dirt is separated into boulders suspended in solution and a teeming ecosystem is revealed, thick with monsters.  This is the noise they make as they strive without sense, unaware of how beautiful and terrifying they are.  Flagella thrust clumsily, cilia ripple rhythmically, translucent blobs are attacked by floating mouths.  It is a grotesquely, magnificently alien scene.

Scott is, as ever, correct.

Matching Head

Agorafobia Tapes / Oracle Netlabel

Turgid Animal

Narcolepsia

At War With False Noise

Occult Supremacy

(another) fortnight with lee and miguel, part one: two (hundred) matching heads

February 9, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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culver – plague hand (2 x tape, Matching Head, Matching Head 200)

Culver – Angel Obsolete (CD-r, Molotov, molotov 25)

La Mancha Del Pecado – A Triple Fetichistic Treatment – Tribute to Raoul Valve (3 x CD-r, Altar of Waste, AOW 138, edition of 15)

La Mancha Del Pecado – Domina (2 x CD-r, Occult Supremacy, OSP027)

Wehrmacht Lombardo – El Vicio Tiene Medias Negras (CD-r, Agorafobia Tapes, #24)

Wehrmacht Lombardo – Tyrant (self-released download)

 culver - plague hand 1culver - plague hand 2culver - plague hand tapes

(Editor’s note: some of the releases above were sent to me as pre-release mp3s by an overexcited Miguel, thus format/label information might be incomplete and some cover pictures may be stolen from the internet.)

Radio Free Midwich is delighted to offer heartfelt congratulations to Lee Stokoe on the occasion of the 200th release by his mighty label Matching Head.  It is an unrivalled achievement, I think.  Others may have been around longer or produced a greater number of releases but who can boast such focus, such unerring coherence?  Over the years he has stuck to tapes whether or not bearded hipsters were enthusing over the format.  He has no interest in the online world.  His black and white aesthetic makes each individual package a counter used in an occult variation of the game go, played on a non-Euclidean goban.  His musical project has been, to reuse a metaphor I have leaned on before, a type of cartography.  Each of Lee’s releases on Matching Head, or elsewhere as Culver, is another detail of the map completed.  The landscape abstracted can be bleak, inhospitable but its geography is endlessly fascinating to me.  Click on the ‘Lee Stokoe’ or ‘Culver’ or ‘Matching Head’ tags above to see how many ways I’ve managed to describe what to the uninitiated might appear to be 40 minutes of mere ominous rumbling.  I am, in short, a fan.

As is our Mexican cousin Miguel Perez.  Miguel is a great friend of this blog and, via the magic of the internet, has become an enthusiastic contributor to the noise scene in the North East of England despite living on the other side of the world.  Modern life, eh?  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me describing him, with my tongue in cheek, as a disciple of Lee’s.  The influence is clear in his music, his fiercely independent stance and his awesome work rate.  However, I consider Miguel to be a notable artist in his own right, a skilled musician (with a background in metal guitar) and an open-minded and enthusiastic collaborator who brings out the best in those that work with him, including Lee.  Oracle, the netlabel that he co-runs, chalked up its 100th release last year.  Not to be sniffed at.

(An aside about the horror/fetish/porn imagery used on the packaging of these releases: I’ve tutted prudishly at these two perverts on several occasions in the past and can only throw my hands in the air again.  Oh well, boys, whatever floats the boat…)

OK, on with the show.  As I have a bunch of stuff on the pile from these chaps, much of which crosses over thematically or collaboratively, it makes sense to tackle it en masse. In part one: solo stuff from each, part two: collaborations and splits.

—ooOoo—

First, of course, I need to account for Matching Head catalogue number 200: plague hand by culver (covers above), a twin cassette 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.

When discussing Lee’s music (and Miguel’s and others like it) I often lead with metaphors of decay.  If I’m in a fancy pants mood I’ll throw in terms like ‘entropy’, thus suggesting Culver depicts a world in the process of rusting shut.  However, today I think I might have been looking in entirely the wrong direction.  Perhaps instead Lee is composing for a super-evolved race living in a parallel universe where Culver is pop and our most sophisticated, technically accomplished mainstream musical efforts sound to them like a sick pig farting into a tin bucket.  Nice to think that somewhere at least Lee is a star…

culver - angel obsolete

Angel Obsolete, released on Mike Simpson’s wholly reliable Molotov imprint, begins with a few seconds of a doomy bass riff and ends roughly 38 minutes later following an onslaught of electric weather.  This is the sound of being trapped under an upturned giant glass fishbowl as a desert storm gradually blasts it to an opaque white.  Every grain of sand, every scratch and abrasion, documented by the texture of Culver’s roar.

la mancha - raoul valve

This three disc epic both appears on US label Altar of Waste and takes its inspiration from the work of Cory Strand, the label’s head honcho.  Cory is known for his multi-disc noise/drone extrapolations from favourite film soundtracks and, following this lead, Miguel has chosen to interpret the work of Raoul Valve, best known for scoring the high-gloss art-porn films of director Andrew Blake.  The sheer nylon/patent leather glamour is abstracted through the crooked lenses, peepholes and clogged filters that define the La Mancha vibe.  Cory’s own description of the album is compelling:

…a frightening excursion into the deepest realms of the glisteningly erotic illuminating the horrid emptiness lurking behind boudoir noir. Utilizing the eclectic soundtracks composed by Raoul Valve for three Andrew Blake films, “A Triple Fetishistic Treatment” sees La Mancha Del Pecado transforming the vaguely banal and unobtrusive into blackest night clouds of uncertainty and self-doubt. The artistry in Blake’s films reveals layers of suggestion not oft found in standard gonzo pornography, teases of themes and relationships oft left unexplored by the mainstream in favor of quick release and exhaustive bouts of fucking. La Mancha Del Pecado takes that artistry and rips it open, exposing both the emptiness at its heart and the lurid technicolor expanse of the images it approximates.

The guy can write a sizzling blurb, f’sure, but I don’t agree.  Miguel’s perversion does not seem sleazy or hollow.  His submissive worship of the stocking is not an expression of existential malaise.  Rather it is joyous, celebratory and engaged.  His band name translates as ‘The Stain of Sin’ but there is no judgement implied in this – Miguel just doesn’t mind getting dirty.

The first disc, ‘Subtle Exhibitionism (Kyla Cole)’, is a mere 43 minutes of blood in the ears – what you might expect to hear after an hour being strapped upside-down in a dominatrix’s dungeon, your brain an electrical storm of consciousness drowning discharge.  My theory is best supported by the second disc, ‘Slaves With Stockings and Heels (Kelly Havel)’, which is a glorious, sense heightening, scything buzz.  Profoundly, heavily psychedelic, it writhes at a furious fever pitch throughout and seems nowhere near spent even after over an hour of effort.  The third disc, ‘Industrial Girlfriends (Justine Jolie)’, is the toughest.  Clocking in at 55 minutes, it begins, appropriately, with hydraulic rhythms and pneumatic hiss and continues with a pummelling tour of the factory floor where molten plastic is injected into amped up, anatomically suspicious moulds of the human form.  The second half eases up a little as a series of satisfying metallic clatters are picked up, rattled, dropped and replaced until all that is left is echo steeped in static.

la mancha - domina

Domina is another epic, this time two tracks spanning a double disc set.  ‘Enfermera a Domicilio’ is a La Mancha cocktail built from one part Geordie-style free-rock noise and two parts drone: Matching-Head-style ice cavern atmospherics complimenting desert scorched organ psychedelics.  It is structurally ambitious and consistently engaging.  After a short burst of fast talking voices (a news report?  Lo siento, no hablo español…), ‘Ciudad Sangre’ steps up into a brash, abrasive fuzz with slower moving undertones.  It’s like rain on the surface of an oily lake obscuring the shadow of a monster swimming menacingly beneath.  The opening, the title (‘City Blood’) and the short burst of sombre percussion that appears near the end all suggest the piece is influenced by the never-ending, senseless drug war that blights Miguel’s home town of Ciudad Juárez.

wehrmacht lombardo - tyrant

Wehrmacht Lombardo is the pseudonym usually saved for the harshest of Miguel’s noise.  You might expect panic-inducing, deep-into-the-red Geiger counter static, an icy arctic wind whipping across the tundra and rumbles as the inhabitants of a nearby city are reduced to burnt tar by aerial bombardment.  These components will ebb and flow within the baseline roar.  However, that said, neither of these releases follow the blueprint exactly and differ quite markedly from each other too.  Tyrant is 23 minutes of wandering around the innards of a semi-organic, mountain-sized machine – its purpose unfathomable, the variations in its rhythms heavy and mysterious.  El Vicio Tiene Medias Negras is largely standard Lombardian business: earthily visceral throughout with a particularly effective last few minutes during which Miguel cuts the low end completely.  Was that the generator finally breaking down?  Is the electric fence surrounding the compound now just a few strands of harmless, flimsy wire?  Have we come to The End?

For now.  Continued in part two…

Matching Head

Agorafobia Tapes / Oracle Netlabel

Wehrmacht Lombardo on Bandcamp

Molotov

Altar of Waste

Occult Supremacy

a handshake from mexico: simulacro, la mancha del pecado, wehrmacht lombardo

May 28, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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simulacro – cuatro ep (CD-r or download, registro latente)

La Mancha Del Pecado – Anciano Y Enfermo (CD-r, Altar of Waste, AOW 52, edition of 20)

Wehrmacht Lombardo – Au Convent de Panthemont (CD-r, Altar of Waste, AOW 61, edition of 20)

letter from jorgesimulacro - cuatrola mancha - ancianowehrmacht lombardo - convent

Some time ago I saw an interview with that Thom Yorke from that Radiohead (presumably by accident, I have no more than a passing interest in their work) in which he was asked his opinion as to the meaning of life.  He gave the following answer:

The most essential thing in life is to establish heartfelt communication with others, there’s bugger all else to do.

I thought this impressively robust and, whilst not agreeing entirely with the second clause, found myself nodding in vigorous approval.  As I can’t think of a better way of putting it, I find myself in the embarrassing situation of living by a maxim trotted out by a pop star (of sorts), albeit a thoughtful one.  Oh well, it could be worse: ‘life ain’t nothing but bitches and money’ as Ice Cube once asserted…

Anyway, I was reminded of Mr. Yorke’s comment again the other day when a package arrived at Midwich Mansions from my Mexican Cousin Miguel Perez, wrapped, as is his habit, with rolls and rolls of sellotape.  Hacking it open, I found it to contain, amongst other things, two new releases by Miguel himself (see below) and a letter and CD-r from a fellow Mexican previously unknown to me named Jorge Gonzalez.

Jorge could easily have just emailed me but instead he took the trouble to write a (beautifully handwritten – see scan) letter and instead of just sending me his CD-r directly, forwarded it to Miguel to include with his by way of an introduction.  I was charmed by his effort, approach and the sentiment of his correspondence.  This, comrades, is WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT: making connections with far-flung enthusiasts.  That this guy on the other side of the world has been inspired by our meagre endeavours is enormously heartening and I was touched by the method he used to contact me.  I was amused to discover that it took a blog based in the North of England to bring these two countrymen together.  The no-audience underground is like Gentleman’s Relish on hot buttered toast: spread thinly, richly flavoured, not for everyone but delicious to those who have acquired the taste.

So what of his music?  Well, Jorge records under the name simulacro and this CD-r comprises four tracks (hence the title), totalling about 20 minutes, in a colour printed card sleeve.  The opener, ‘hangar 197 X’ is five minutes of free rock that I have to admit didn’t grab me.  Its heart is in the right place but it isn’t my bag.  Track two, ‘nebulizador eterico’ is a slow moving lava flow of drone metal – heavy, viscous, hot enough to make the air shake but spacious enough to walk around.  I like this very much.  ‘escudo ceramico’ is a synth whine overlaid with some ghost jazz guitar.  It kinda works and its oddness has grown on me.  The closer, ‘instruccion clasificada’, is a fitting final track as it draws on elements of the previous three: synth drone, a background rattle of metal guitar, slow sludge rock stabs allowed to bleed out.  So: one track I didn’t like, one I really did, two others that showed interest and promise.  OK, I’ll settle with that for now and look forward to Jorge’s next effort.

Do your bit for international no-audience solidarity and visit his netlabel blogspot where you’ll find details and links to his files at archive.org.  You don’t have to break out the calligraphy pens.

…and speaking of international no-audience solidarity: Miguel Perez, another fine case in point.  My first mention of him and his work was a one-line dismissal of his side of a split tape shared with Culver back in the Summer of 2011.  Undaunted, he got in touch to say thanks for the mention anyway and since then a transatlantic friendship has blossomed that has involved thousands of words sent in emails, the exchange of hours of music via the magic of the internet, many parcels trusted to the worrisome international postal system and collaborations on a couple of releases with more promised for the future.  Partly via radiofreemidwich but mainly due to his own indefatigable spirit he has, for example, ‘met’ Yol and formed the peerlessly strange improv duo Neck vs. Throat, secured releases on excellent labels like Striate Cortex, Molotov and Sheepscar Light Industrial and arranged collaborations with everyone he can pin down.  I’ve heard so much of his work over the last couple of years I feel like I’ve been sitting drinking a coke on his doorstep, listening to him figure it all out in real time.

Whilst his work rate would kill a lesser man, or at least lead to a battle-fatigued drop in quality, the opposite seems to be true of Miguel.  The trick is: he listens.  He reads his reviews, takes it all on board and makes mental notes of things to try next, he learns from his collaborators and, especially recently, he approaches his own solo ventures with a view to refining their quality, concentrating their purpose.  All this whilst already being a virtuoso guitarist having grown up in the metal scene.  He tells me that he is satisfying the hard-plucked improv impulse with his guitar duo Colectivo N (even playing live, winning over bars full of initially puzzled punters) which is allowing him to focus on the majesty of drone with his other projects.

The two albums pictured above illustrate his development perfectly.  Produced in very limited editions, as is typical for this intriguing and prolific American label, they are packaged in DVD style cases and wrapped in some striking photography (even more eye-opening when you find out that the provocatively posed ‘nun’ adorning the inlay of Au Convent de Panthemont is Miguel’s wife Maria!  What can you say to that?!).  The professional quality of the finish is noteworthy considering the tiny number available, but entirely appropriate given the quality of the contents.

Au Convent de Panthemont by Wehrmacht Lombardo is an epic ‘airless drone’ (Miguel’s own description) apparently inspired by the Marquis de Sade’s Juliette.  Whilst I agree that it is claustrophobic, albeit in an erotically complicated way, I’d say its defining characteristic is an ever present throb and that the drone, although heady and intoxicating, is secondary.

After a brief orgiastic opening, for the first half hour this throb plays out aching and distended, gratification painfully delayed, in an atmosphere thick with incense.  Around the 30 minute mark an insistent hiss is pushed to the fore adding a deceptively soothing layer of white noise balm under which the fleshy redness continues to pulse.  With 20 minutes to go the rhythm resolves into a metallic clatter which, in this decadent context, suggests the workings of a flagellating machine into which out hapless protagonist has been strapped.  The last few minutes see the return of the initial throb only to be merged with a final burst of the duelling hiss.  It’s a satisfyingly ambiguous conclusion.

The pace of this piece is perfect.  The movements flow naturally from one to another giving it a clear, resolute narrative drive despite its minimal components.  That it remains wholly engaging over a running time of more than an hour is a measure of Miguel’s accomplishment.

Anciano Y Enfermo (‘Old and Sick’) by La Mancha Del Pecado comprises two tracks (the title track is 46 minutes long, the second a mere 25) and is apparently inspired by a freakish snowstorm hitting Miguel’s home town of Juarez.

It is stating the obvious to say that ‘Anciano Y Enfermo’ does indeed sound cold.  I’m not above reaching for clichéd imagery – arctic winds across the tundra, electric blue ice caverns and so on – but a proper account of this track demands a little more effort.  You could consider it purely descriptive but I think it also contains a kind of dread for the future, a middle-of-the-night panic that we are well on the way to making this planet uninhabitable for us humans.  This could be what we have to look forward to: what isn’t on fire is underwater, what isn’t desert is frozen.  I wasn’t entirely convinced by John Hillcoat’s film of Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road but a few scenes have stuck with me, one of which I thought was a very efficient piece of character exposition.  In a flashback to the start of the civilisation ending disaster, the Viggo Mortenson character looks out of the window at the coming chaos and immediately starts filling the bath with water.  He isn’t going to wash, of course, he realises that the water supply may soon be cut off.  He’s a survivor.  This track makes me want to fill the bath.

‘Tragedia Silenciosa’ has an oceanic feel.  It could be a soundtrack to the recurring nightmare of a shipwreck survivor.  In the dream they are not dragged onto the beach and rescued but instead drown under the wind whipped surf in the howling black of the night storm.  The ‘chk, chk, chk’ noise, an often present artefact of Miguel’s recording equipment, here reads as the superimposed sound of a motor dinghy forlornly searching the bay the following morning for corpses or salvageable jetsam.

A great deal of patience, restraint and concentration are shown in the construction of these long form compositions.  With this release (and alongside some other recent work) La Mancha Del Pecado shrugs off the epithet ‘Culveresque’ and becomes its own creation.  Miguel has distilled his sound from the muddy mixture of his influences and what remains is a clarified spirit.  As Cory Strand, Altar of Waste head honcho, puts it:

…these sorts of records are exactly why I started the label in the first place.  You will not emerge unscathed.  Fucking amazing.

I concur.

Altar of Waste blog, entry on La Mancha Del Pecado, entry on Wehrmacht Lombardo

Altar of Waste shop

More from Miguel

a fortnight with lee stokoe, miguel perez (and friends)

April 15, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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 La Mancha Del Pecado & Culver – Collaboration One (tape, Matching Head, MH191)

Witchblood – Eponine (tape, Matching Head, MH193)

Indian Lady – Help Wanted Female/The Creeper (tape, Matching Head, MH194)

Culver + La Mancha Del Pecado – Collaboration II (CD-r, molotov 18)

La Mancha Del Pecado/Xazzaz – La Fetichista (CD-r/tape, molotov 17/agoraphobia 20)

The Skull Mask – Delbene (tape, agoraphobia 21)

La Mancha Del Pecado – Cadaveres Exhumados (CDr, Ruido Horrible, rh54)

Enoc Dissonance/Pordiozero/ La Mancha Del Pecado – 3 Way Split (CD-r, agoraphobia 22/El Canzancio Records 01)

Wehrmacht Lombardo/Black Leather Cop – Stars Extinguished, Black Sky (download, Grindcore Karaoke)

Xazzaz/La Mancha Del Pecado – La Esquina Roja (download , Oracle, ORE90)

La Mancha and Culver - Collab One  Witchblood Indian LadyCulver and La Mancha - Collab IILa Mancha and Xazzaz - La FetichistaLa Mancha Xazzaz Skull Maskla Mancha - Cadaveres ExhumadosEnoc Pordiozero La Mancha - 3 Way SplitXAZZAZ_&_LA_MANCHA_DEL_PECADO_-_LA_ESQUINA_ROJA

As I sit here listening to Thomas the Baby enter a particularly blood-curdling, screamy phase of the vocal improv set he is currently honing (provisional title: “The Aptamil Variations”), I find myself pondering the question ‘what is it to be a conscientious reviewer?’

Some context.  The submissions pile at RFM never gets totally out of hand.  It is currently about 20 items (the oldest received two-and-a-bit months ago) and that is as big as it gets.  I am not complaining, of course, as being given artefacts, or pointed at downloads, is an inexhaustible pleasure for me.  Having learnt a few lessons from the Termite Club/Fencing Flatworm days, I also have provisos in place to stop me getting swamped and/or frazzled.  See the submission guidelines on the ‘about me and this blog’ page – basically, I am allowed to take my time and say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ if I like.

That said, the pile can still induce a kind of overloaded, guilty numbness occasionally.  One of the meanings of ‘no-audience’ in my tongue-in-cheek phrase ‘the no-audience underground’ is that there are few passive consumers round these parts, everyone is involved in the scene in some way.  So I ask myself: what do I owe in return for this generosity?  How much work counts as ‘doing my bit’?  The question feels sharper than usual at the moment because new-to-fatherhood-tiredness has sorely eroded my powers of concentration.

What, for example, should I do with the several hours of roar recently bestowed upon me by the gentleman Lee Stokoe and his Mexican cousin Miguel Perez?  An intriguing body of work for aficionados of the darker, metal-infused side of drone music, no doubt, but there is a fuck of a lot of it.  The answer came to me as I lulled Thomas the Baby to sleep with Cherry Vampire by Culver the other day, or rather I was reminded of a tack I have taken before.  When there isn’t time to put life on hold for musical appreciation, what you can do is just use the music to soundtrack life and live inside it for a while.  Thus, for a couple of weeks I have been listening to the releases above on my commute, on lunchtime strolls, when changing nappies in the middle of the night and so on.

This approach seems especially fitting for these two artists.  Both are exploring the nuances of a haunting and enveloping aesthetic.  As such, releases are like a series of landscape photographs that build up into an atlas of a bleak, windswept country, beautiful in its desolation.  Thus they can be enjoyed en masse, at length, repeatedly and in pretty much any order.  The more you breath in their atmosphere the more acclimatised you get and the more sense it all makes.  Details emerge as your eyes get used to the dusk, collaborations offer new angles on the scenery.

A word about the covers.  Apart from the noteworthy exception of those designed by Mike Xazzaz for his label molotov, they pretty much all feature pictures of women in states of undress and/or duress.  I can’t help feeling this is a bit teenage and distracts from the impact of the music, but I am also aware that I’m unlikely to convince anyone of this.  Lee has wryly raised an eyebrow at my prudishness before (I insisted there be no tits on the cover of faraday cage).  He just shrugs and points over my shoulder at the totally sexualised depravity of popular culture nowadays.  At least he and Miguel are aficionados of schlock images and use them in a way which acknowledges the history and context.  I suspect I’ll just have to continue grumbling in my quaintly 1980s-style feminist way.  Anyway, the quality of the music makes it possible to ignore the dubious packaging illustration…

There is indeed much to engage and satiate.  Collaboration One is a single track documenting a primordial scene: distant landslides bury forest, volcanoes steam menacingly, giant lizards hiss in desperation as they sink into a tar pit.  It smells of animals rooting in hot soil.  Collaboration II is a good place for a newcomer to start.  ‘Graveyard Kiss’ features a trademarked Culveresque melancholy loop rotting into mulch and coloured with Miguel’s metallic, echoing chang.  ‘Funeral in Black Stockings’ (see what I mean about schlock?) is a gloriously elongated crescendo of low end rumble and crackling heat haze.  It is a natural, fluid partnership of artists clearly in sync with each other.

Witchblood is a duo of Lee and Lucy Johnson (of Smut etc.) and Eponine is made up of several tracks presented on a one sided tape.  There is an elusive shimmer to this, rising through the murky recording like silver carp just below the surface of a muddy pond.  Delicate piano lines are partially submerged in clockwork loops, burbling water and overamped hiss.  It’s like the accompaniment for practice at a ballet school for ghosts.  Indian Lady is, y’know, a ‘proper’ band featuring Lee on bass.  This tape contains two lengthy jams presented apparently unedited.  Rumble is to the front and centre with a satisfyingly fried psych/metal guitar grooving its own way behind.  I imagine teenage, stoner dragons listening to this whilst picking their teeth and relaxing after a huge meal of peri-peri hobbit.

The split album La Fetichsita finds Miguel and Mike (of Xazzaz and molotov records) on a war footing.  Miguel shows us billowing clouds of metallic noise and the machine growl of giant tanks advancing whilst foot soldiers (presumably, given the title, in rubber skin suits with high heels and ‘sexy’ gas masks) finish off the wounded.  Mike gives us Sabbath as played by an ill disciplined battalion of mechanical trilobites then later joins Miguel on the choking battlefield to supervise the collection of the corpses.  Yes, this is pretty dark.

La Esquina Rosa is the return leg: one twenty minute track each from the same two acts, this time made freely available to download via Oracle Netlabel.  Miguel’s track is a satisfying, viscous drone.  Imagine filling an indoor swimming pool half with syrup and half with ball bearings then chugging backwards and forwards in a little dinghy on the surface using the outboard motor to churn the mixture up.  Of you could just bounce your Casio through some filters if that proved too messy…  Features a two minute long surprise towards the end unique to Miguel’s drone work.

Mike’s track begins with the sound of the listener being locked into a shipping container and the situation remains heavy thereafter.  Scything, arcing, guttering electrics – as lithe and unnerving as mating snakes – and some punishing guitar feedback makes me concerned for his health and safety.  Exhilarating.  Mike’s stuff is so good I feel a little embarrassed subsuming it within a review headlined by others.  My apologies Mike – next time you’ll get the prominence deserved.

Enoc Dissonance, a duo with Oracle netlabel collaborator Pablo Mejia, and the solo Wehrmacht Lombardo are the most balls-out-total-noise of Miguel’s various projects.  Stars Extinguished, Black Sky is a split featuring the latter and Black Leather Cop, a collaboration between Scott McKeating (of Bells Hill) and RFM’s North East Correspondent Joe Murray (of Posset).  The Wehrmacht Lombardo track is a very convincing, satisfyingly panic-inducing tale of a gathering hailstorm.  It eases off around the twenty minute mark briefly so we can hear Miguel torture his guitar as he kills time hiding from the weather in his cave.  Otherwise: you wouldn’t want to be out in it.  Black Leather Cop present an almost indescribable gumbo of doomy noise/metal and discombobulating, scrabbling, dictaphonic collage.  It might be awesome – I can’t tell – which means it probably is.  I suspect it of being unholy at the very least, if not downright satanic.  Freely downloadable from the wonderfully named and breathtakingly prolific Bandcamp label Grindcore Karaoke.

3 Way Split is comprised of tracks by Enoc Dissonance, Colombian electro-noise act Pordiozero and La Mancha Del Pecado and is co-released by Miguel’s agoraphobia tapes and Pordiozero’s El Canzancio Records.  The Enoc Dissonance tracks are full-frontal racket.  Fans more knowledgeable than me get the hump when I use the term ‘harsh noise wall’ because I often do so inappropriately, but surely this is pretty close.  It’s like getting into a very, very hot bath or a very, very cold shower – bordering on painful at first but then strangely invigorating.  I admit I don’t listen to this end of the noise spectrum often but a blast every now and again is a welcome brain-rinse.

Pordiozero provide two central tracks of agitated, restless electronics.  Sub-genres of hard dance, industrial and synth based noise are smeared over one another, squeezed flat, then discarded and replaced.  Vocal snippets, crunching rhythms and increasing distortion create a atmosphere of disaffected alienation.

I’d had a copy of the La Mancha track ‘She is Misery’ on my hard drive for a while prior to this being released and it is good to see it finally available.  It has a dystopian, science-fictional feel to it that could well make it an appropriate soundtrack to the shenanigans pictured on the cover.  Ah yes, the cover: this album is notable for its very professional looking packaging and insane artwork.  A pro-copied CD-r is housed in a properly printed digipak featuring photos of some kind of post-apocalyptic alleyway in which gas-masked, pseudo-military, fetish-zombies threaten each other with guns.  The mind boggles.

Anyway, here is your chance to do your duty for the international noise underground by buying one of these.  It isn’t the best release in this round up but I know it cost a fair bit to produce and it would really help out our Latin American cousins if you got busy with Paypal.  I know times are hard but, if it helps, you could consider it payment for all the stuff you can download for free.

Finally, we have two key releases by Miguel’s major solo guises: La Mancha Del Pecado, as already encountered several times above, and my favourite of his incarnations: The Skull Mask.

Cadaveres Exhumados by the former is a full length, five track CD-r presented in a grey digipak by Ruido Horrible (stick that label name into Google translate for an example of truth in advertising).  It is an ambitious and accomplished noise album that almost scuppered this ‘fortnight with…’ idea by hogging the time available for repeat listens.  There are quiet, elegiac passages of bells, pipes and slow picked guitar that balance the roaring crescendos, lend an air of mournful seriousness and indicate the level of care and sophistication taken in its construction.  The noise itself is forceful and thick as bitumen in places (the final track, ‘Renuncia al silencio’, is HNW until it breaks at the end) but thoughtfully layered and throughout most of it there is space to think and appreciate what you are hearing.  Its scope is impressive.  Fans of the kind of metal-infused, heavy psychedelics typified in this country by the North East noise scene (from Culver to Jazzfinger to the various Mike Vest projects) should really track this down because they would dig it.  High praise from me.

A word about the ‘chur-chur-chur’ sound that can be heard high in the right channel on many La Mancha Del Pecado tracks.  I suppose it is an artefact of one of the filters he uses, or perhaps a result of knackered recording equipment.  It would distract me occasionally at first but now it seems like a signature – like the bubbling electric jug noise that is all over those 13th Floor Elevators records.

The Skull Mask has an intensely personal vibe.  It is Miguel’s shamanistic response to his experience of the Mexican wilderness.  He draws on folk traditions from around the world to construct dizzying ragas and desert improv using almost nothing but acoustic guitar.  Whilst the influences are sometimes clear, it has a core identity that is Miguel’s invention alone.

The tape Delbene is perhaps more varied in style than previous Skull Mask releases.  Side B is definitely more hard-picked than the seasoned Miguel-watcher would expect.  It shares the spiky, Bailey-esque, rawness of the pieces he records under his own name.  Side A, though, is pure Skull Mask: a swirling incantation, calling up dust devils to whip the desert sand into the air.  As well as his usual loose fingered virtuosity on the guitar there is some mysterious instrumentation (trumpet?!) adding to the impression that a rite is taking place.  Great, as ever.

OK, I think my ‘bit’ might be done for now.  Links below, folks.

Matching Head

Oracle netlabel/agorafobia

Molotov

Ruido Horrible

Grindcore Karaoke

El Canzancio Records

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