menace of feathers: fordell research unit, witchblood, diurnal burdens, downer canada

April 8, 2017 at 5:50 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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Fordell Research Unit – Etches of Pain (Invisible City Records)

Witchblood – Xenie (Invisible City Records)

Diurnal Burdens – Inaction / Extinction (Invisible City Records)

Downer Canada – Ares (Power Moves Library)

fordell research unit

Fordell Research Unit – Etches of Pain (Invisible City Records) C45 Tape and digital album

Have I told you about my eyes lately?  It’s the ordinary story…this old guy keeps gets older, bits keep conking out on me – but my eyes?  I need my eyes!

I’m counting out change wrong, I can’t read a bus ticket at all and now these damn tapes have become a blur.  I need to rummage for my specs for any meaningful exchange between tape gunk and brain dump.

The reason I’m telling you this is, for a few weeks, this was written up as ‘that black tape’ in my note book. It took me a long time to notice the subtle grey on black lettering on the j-card – something one of you youngsters could spot at 100 meters no doubt.

My ears are sharp as a bat’s however so each time I played this mysterious monolith I was soon enveloped in the deep, smoky fug of what I recognised as an expert dronester.

Was it a secret butter-fingered Robert Fripp jamming with a sleepy Stephen O’ Malley? Were Jazzfinger scooping treats from their legendary tape library?

And then it slowly swam into focus…in a bleary wobbling font…it’s a Fordell joint.  Of course!

Things start out damn majestic with a shuddering overture as easy and relaxed as soft breathing in your ear.  Cornelia Parker’s flattened brass instruments shuffle themselves into formation on ‘Flying not Jumping’ creating a collapsing house-of-cards effect.

But it’s ‘Heat Death of the Universe’ that shifts these lofty airbourne melodies into pulverising heavy sub-bass Sabbath riffage.  A relentless avalanche, cascading down, down, down…and yet somehow it still remains pretty.

I wonder aloud, “How does he do it?” as the cats sit watching me.

But they soon scatter when ‘Frodell Ferox’ digs even deeper.  It’s a god-damn canal dredger of a track.  Filthy silt is drawn up from a hidden watery grave and held aloft facing an indifferent sun.  Jesus – this is epic stuff, but still…you know, beautiful man.

The B side shimmers macro to micro; from the size of a sparkling infinite universe to the dull silver bubbles swirling in my gin and tonic – it’s all here.

The constant now of ‘The Wrong Train’ is a singular vibrating point dragged out into eternity (quite seriously Horizon need to check this out for their science docs) each moment gently circling a central atom of dust.

The closer ‘Shark’ describes the brain collapse that immediately precedes sleep – a deep submission.  This night-time plummeting is underscored with a slight feathering, like the flex of a fin as it cuts through the dark water.

Truly immense music that echoes the subtle power of the natural world.

[postscript- it was only when I was jamming this tape later, in preparation to watching FRU in Gateshead, I noticed the sneaky Miles pun of the title.  Which reminds me…have I told you about my eyes lately?]

witchblood

Witchblood – Xenie (Invisible City Records) one-sided C70 tape strictly no download

This genius collaboration from Lee ‘Culver’ Stokoe and Lucy ‘Smut’ Johnson takes simple piano and tape drone and using their collective dark alchemy turn it into the purest gold.

This really is one hell of a tape – the handling of such humble materials is exceptional and each piece strikes a different tone on the melancholic memory gong marked ‘summer heartbreak caught in delicious amber’.

There’s an aching to the sound that’s more than the sum of any hiss or lo-fi tape wobble. It’s the marbled end-papers in a leather-bound book, it’s the smell of cigar smoke on a blue velvet jacket.   The sounds are so evocative of longing it is hard for me to not to run off with some Byronesque fancy, all frilly sleeves and a head full of opium.

Example?  A moment on the third piece where one tape of piano gently doubles up with another with the most gorgeous dissonance that made me, quite literally, swoon like a regency dandy.

The fragile and opaque piano clusters merge perfectly with the distant tape grot spluttering away yet they seem to swap foreground and background with a subtle magic – one moment I’m picking out ivory notes descending like doomed men.  In the next the boiling-ink bluster of the tapes scrubs my frontal lobes clean of any other information.

I flop around foolishly anticipating one of ‘my turns’ again and realise I’ve been gloriously witchblooded.

Limited to 50 only and no download (ever) so move quickly to bag this essential release.

diurnal burdens

Diurnal Burdens – Inaction / Extinction (Invisible City Records) C60 Tape and digital album

Superfuckingheavyconceptdrone from king of the amplified barbecue, Ross Scott-Buccleuch.

The sleeve notes are clear this smudged and grimy sound was created from reel-to-reel, no-input mixer and walkmen etc – but a sit down listen, pumped up pretty loud, suggests something more elemental.

The side-long ‘Inaction’ seems to be composed of low pressure ridges or gigantic boulders howled at by monks.  Then things change and become more avian – the magical instinct of migratory birds swooping through thin magnetic fields following graceful arcs of the ocean captured on tape.

It holds that menace of feathers still – a sight to behold but no one wants a quill in the eye!

Flipping it, ‘Extinction’ is slowly decaying leaves: bright reds and yellows leaching their energy back into a grateful Earth.  The movements are more delicate and angelic with an emphasis on collapse and euphoric hypnosis as centres associated with freewill switch off one-by-one.

The long-legged rhythms provided by the loops allow this tape to amble in an exploratory mood – looking in your mood cupboards and checking your emotional temperature before slinking out the backdoor leaving the gas on.

The final few movements are a lazy rumble, worn smooth with use, like a pebble picked up from the banks of the Styx.

Heavier than expected but comfortable – but what is that terrible hunger?

ares downer canada

Downer Canada – Ares (Power Moves Library) CD-r and digital album

Superb gritty tape huss.

Kev Power Moves is really pushing at the boundaries of what is possible in the world of Dictaphone composition right now.  The limitations of micro-cassette have become their signature sound: that decaying roar, the wobble of thin magnetic particles and a mid-range fullness smeared like anchovies on hot toast. Kev takes each element and works it over with a purist’s conviction and a scientist’s ear for granular detail.

This two-piece disc starts and ends with some exquisite pause-button juggling that creates small movements of momentum in sweet binary on/off/on/off.  A constant tape roar is a busy scuttle – half howling winds of Tuva: half teaspoon circling a rough raku bowl that’s punctuated with the occasional cavernous Dub sinkhole.  This negative space punches through the mix like a hypodermic piercing tough skin injecting a rich blossom of carnation red.

This is the sound of the machine itself, not tape as a sound collection medium but tape as an instrument in its own right.  And for roughly 20 minutes, that’s it.  A confident and unfussy buffering as detailed as the dirty margin doodles in a High School Biology text book.  Wonderful!

The second 20 minute piece leads us out of the inner world of Dictaphone mechanics and manipulates real-world sound (all taped of course): water, street noise and rubber-band plucks in a cascade of doppler infinity and shove-button interventions.

The clarity of the plucks decays into an echoing shimmer (Alvin Lucier style) that makes my ear bristles vibrate passionately.  New taped-sound (footsteps, 3rd generation hiss) are introduced with care creating the gentle psychedelic effect induced when a loud sound is suddenly turned off and you can hear the oxygen atoms sigh with relief.

Increasing intense, complex and thoughtful music from the essential sound of Dictaphone Canada!

Invisible City Records

Power Moves Library

-ooOOOoo-

 

knotty scabs, fresh burns: joe murray picks at smut, witchblood

November 30, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Smut – Incomplete Chaos (CD-r, Turgid Animal)

Popular Radiation/Witchblood – Live at the Mining Institute (tape, Boiled Brains Bootlegs, BBB #003)

Smut - Incomplete ChaosSmut - Incomplete Chaos 2

Smut – Incomplete Chaos

Lucy passed this one to me merely minutes before she clambered up on stage at Newcastle’s OctoberTUSKfest and fairly flattened the attentive crowd with the extreme heaviness found inside an old violin and some dodgy FX pedals.

This time Smut plays it spookier and looser with a bunch of long/short/long pieces moving from candle wax smooth to hessian rough over 50 delightful minutes.

‘Mother Shipton’ is, as you’d expect, cave music; throbbing reverberation and haunted echoes.  Squashed foghorns moan in a deep drizzle, a children’s pipeband is lost in a nearby chamber but play to keep their spirits up.  You can hear terror in their reedy voices as eyes skit round the dampness looking for any pinpricks of light.

A rush of thick flaming oil is captured in the brief but aptly titled ‘A grandeur in the beating of the heart’.  It’s warm and rough like knotty scabs over fresh burns; you can’t stopping picking at it despite the crimson pearls of blood collecting under your fingernails.

Free-guitar overload lurches while the runes rattle as the pivotal piece ‘G&G’ unfolds…chunky riffing collapsing and re-building solid shapes, sucking all the light out the room.  A ragged apocalypse, dark alkali fires and barren earth all spring into my mind-cinema as I’m buffeted by this howling voodoo.

Long nights bring the unknowable with the three cackling demons: isolation, paranoia and fear.  The super-spooky track ‘Tramadol 4am’ is a séance of terrible magnitude.  Like slow suffocation, or waves closing over your head, the scruttered voices are just beyond the level of intelligibility… their dark chatter is unclear making this all the more haunting.

Phew… this brings us to the melancholic closer ‘Blood Moon.’  A giant ribcage from some monstrous beast is bowed (deeply) whilst thunderous exclamations get chucked from on high by a grumpy Zeus.  Truly restrained and ponderous, like the sound of glaciers calving, this is now standard kit for all Antarctic explorers.

Being in the right place at the right time snaffled me up this boxed copy but Incomplete Chaos will be released on Turgid Animal soon.  Keep watching… as the nights draw in you’ll need this grim disc, as autumnal as acrid bonfire smoke and spent fireworks found in the damp street.

poprad-witchblood frontpoprad-witchblood back

Popular Radiation/Witchblood – Live at the Mining Institute

Like Cheap Trick and the Budokan or Motorhead and the Hammersmith Odeon some bands and venues seem inextricably linked.  Is it the acoustics, the pre-gig ‘refreshment’ or the vibe (man)?  I’m not sure about all that lot but one thing I know is some places accept a performance and some don’t.  I’m delighted to report Newcastle’s Mining Institute is fast turning into a little Carnegie Hall for the No-Audience Underground with excellent performances this year from Fritz Welch & Crank Sturgeon, the Minton & Poot duo and Roger Turner & Urs Leimgruber to name but a few.  So while you might not be able to scream, “I was there man!” you can sup from the excitement goblet by jamming this pink little tape.*

First up, Hasan Gaylani’s Popular Radiation.  A full-throated and rich-coffee roar fills the air as soon as I press play.  Blimey… this is heavy.  Derived from something Sarod/Tanpura-esque this is a single point in time, stretched across 20 mins or so, but it would be disingenuous to call it a drone work.  Poplar [sic.  Editor’s note: nice typo though – imagine the luminescent forest!] Radiation has more in common with the dark art of the DJ, in particular Millsian techno. Deep sounds are mixed and blended and it’s in this mixing and blending that the magic takes place.  Tiny incremental changes are edging between different states until it dawns on you that you’ve moved from one listening position to another without even knowing.  As the Killer Bees state:

The slow blade cuts deepest.

Flipping the tape introduces us to Witchblood (Smut & Culver) who employ gas piano and shadow violin in a devastatingly effective duo.  For me the name Witchblood conjures up Hammer Horror but this music is no campy bombast; it’s pure dustbowl depression.  Like a tornado full of sepia-tinted pianola and slack cat-gut, sound whirls slowly.  Things keep at a menacing pace but become more dense and complex as notes topple over each other, edging themselves out the twister to collapse to the ragged rocks below.  It’s elemental, with that sense of gathering power, like when clouds bruise and blacken and you feel the delicious tension before the first fat drops of rain fall.  Most precious of all is the beautiful, respectful silence that follows the thin grey fade out, a precedent to the howling cheers and applause.

All this for £4 only from the mighty Turgid Animal site.

—ooOoo—

*the other option of course is to just lie about it like the thousands of Manc half-wits who ‘saw’ the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall and still haven’t stopped going on about it…

the 2013 zellaby awards

January 4, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

Ladies and gentlemen, dear readers all, welcome to the hotly anticipated Zellaby Awards for 2013.  The show, in its third annual outing, is presented in association with Radio Free Midwich and hosted by the editor from his comfortably-appointed padded cell in the basement of Midwich Mansions.

In previous years the awards have formed part one of a two part round-up of cultural highlights.  However this year I can easily roll what would usually be part two into this preamble.  Why?  Three words: Thomas James Hayler.  The birth of our son in March was an epoch-defining, paradigm-shattering, life-forever-altering event for all of us – I’m sure you’ll remember the moon turning a fire red that evening – but looking after the kid (y’know: issuing orders to the nannies, sorting through the mountains of flowers, cards and teddy-bears left at the gate of the estate, that kind of thing) has rather cut into the time and energy afforded to culture in general.

It was interesting to experience how looking after a baby pares life down to the essentials.  I now do my bit to help with Thomas, I look after my wife Anne as best I can too, I keep up with my friends and family (more or less), I go to work (when healthy) and I think about music.  That’s all I have but, crucially, it is all I want.  Sure, we could do with more money and better health – who couldn’t? – but establishing this balance has been refreshing and revelatory.  I can sincerely state, all joking and archness to one side, that Thomas joining us has made 2013 the best year of my life so far.  By some distance.

Thomas at Xmas 2013

<stares wistfully into middle distance, wipes tear from stubbled cheek, returns to business at hand>

I did get to read a handful of books, of which HHhH by Laurent Binet, about a 1942 mission to assassinate Richard Heydrich, chief of the Gestapo, was the most compelling, original and intriguing.  I even stole a line from it to use in a review.  I think I read the entire of Museum Without Walls, a collection of essays and television scripts by polemicist, architecture critic and commentator Jonathan Meades.  I say ‘I think’ because it was mainly done in sleepy five page chunks in the middle of the night.  Otherwise I kept my membership of the bourgeoisie fresh by reading the London Review of Books and took my news mainly from Private Eye which, despite its many faults, holds power to account at least some of the time thus making it unique in the mainstream.  I pretty much gave up on film and television aside from using the boy as an excuse to watch Regular Show and Adventure Time on Cartoon Network.  Oh, and Game of Thrones series 3 was fun too if you like that sort of thing.

Down here in the no-audience underground I devoured, as ever, anything posted by Uncle Mark over at the essential Idwal Fisher blog and cover-to-covered the no-less essential Hiroshima Yeah! the moment it arrived in the mail.  Congratulations to the latter on reaching its 100th issue this year, no mean feat with one of its two editors in prison…  Also in the realm of the self-published, a pamphlet of poetry by my good friend and comrade Nick Allen has been on my bedside table since he surprised me with it at work one morning and has been well-thumbed and repeatedly enjoyed.

It has been another golden year for music, both live and recorded.  A couple of my all-time favourite gigs occurred in the last 12 months and my ‘long list’ for best album contained 34 contenders!  Never mind those bullshit ‘end of year’ polls you see in print magazines that you know were proofread over ice-creams in August, never mind those ‘best albums of the last fifteen minutes’ you see on internet based blogzine snore-fests.  This is the real deal: compiled whilst the New Year is still bellowing after being slapped into life.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we need to trot through a few methodological points, then the ceremony can commence.

Firstly, the music mentioned below may not have been released in 2013, although most of it was.  To qualify it had to be heard by RFM for the first time in the calendar year 2013.  Secondly, releases featuring the staff of RFM (me, Scott McKeating, Joe Murray) are excluded.  Modesty is not a virtue I can be accused of but awarding ourselves prizes is a bit much even for me.  Thirdly there are the same five award categories as last time (although one has had to be renamed…).  Should an artist win big in one of them they may appear overlooked in others.  This is deliberately done in the interests of plugging as much excellence as possible and thus no-one should get the hump.  Finally, I did invite the aforementioned Scott and Joe to contribute nominations but the final decisions are mine.  Think of me as a benign dictator listening carefully to his advisers before passing judgement.

OK, shush now – the house lights are dimming…  Time for the first category!

—ooOoo—

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

Lucy Johnson

smut - piano one

(with honourable mentions for Joe’s choice: WANDA GROUP, “the absolute master of steamy hiss and non-linear edit”)

Here’s a extract from the lengthy overview of Lucy’s back catalogue that I posted back in July:

One of the refreshing things about what I playfully refer to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is that it is not full of self-aggrandising blabbermouths.  There are a few – me, for example – and an acceptable level of self-absorption is common, but many artists quietly get on with producing excellent work mainly, it seems, for their own gratification and the pleasure of their circle.

This situation allows for the gradual discovery of that most mysterious of creatures: the unsung hero.  Names are pencilled in – an aside from the omniscient Scott McKeating, a credit on a Matching Head insert, say – then repeated until they become underlined in bold and further investigation becomes inevitable.  Such has been the case with Lucy Johnson.

I had, of course, already praised Space Victim, her duo with Mike Vest, to the hilt (they featured in RFM’s best of 2012 list) and more recently did the same for the Witchblood tape, her duo with Lee Stokoe, on Matching Head.  A comment from Miguel Perez led to me picking up her tapes as Smut and hearing those led to me finally paying some proper attention. Over the last few weeks I have been putting two and two together via Discogs, the Turgid Animal site and various other rune-casting activities and have been gathering up examples of her work.  She records solo as Smut and Esk, is half of the aforementioned duos, is the vocalist for black metal band Rife, and is also in the bands Obey and Dark Bargain (as reviewed by Scott below).  Her artwork adorns covers and T-shirts and has recently been made available to buy as prints.  Most of this stuff is available from the label and distributor Turgid Animal which (according to that same review by Scott) she co-runs.  Blimey, eh?

Can’t wait to hear what comes next.  There is at least one more Smut tape to pick up and the Obey album to look forward to as well…

Next is…

4.  The “Stokoe Cup”, given for maintaining quality control over a huge body of work making it impossible to pick individual releases in an end of year round up goes to…

Robert Ridley-Shackleton

r r-s - butterfly farm

(with honourable mentions for Kevin Sanders whose consistency proves awe-inspiring, Bjerga/Iversen’s album-per-month Bandcamp project, Joe’s choice Hapsburg Braganza and, of course, Lee Stokoe, who was also Scott’s choice)

Given that I went from not knowing who he is to hearing/seeing around 50 objects produced by him during the course of a few months Robbie was odds-on favourite in this category.  That said, I realise that it is a controversial choice as ‘quality control’ may not be an entirely appropriate concept to apply to this gushing, unstoppable flow.  I suppose one man’s drivel fountain is another man’s exuberant exploration of an outsider vision.  As I wrote in my first overview piece about his stuff:

Call it an ‘aesthetic’, a ‘vision’ if you like, but it becomes clear during the perusal of these artefacts that this is Robert’s world – a dimensionless jiffy bag containing a wonky, distorted universe – and that the rest of us are tourists within it.

For what it is worth, The Butterfly Farm, the tape pictured above released by Beartown Records, is as good a place to start as any.

On to…

3.  The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award goes to…

Joe Murray and Scott McKeating

posset - my hungry holesscott

(with honourable mentions for Dan Thomas and Miguel Perez who both understand what friendship is really about.  Cheers fellas.)

Obviously.  In May Scott offered to help out, I bit his hand off.  This gave me the idea of asking Joe, who bit my hand off.  Once these appendages had been sewn back on we shook them vigorously and got down to the typing.  I like to think that the house style at RFM sits somewhere between the jazzed exuberance of Joe and the more meticulous, journalistic work of Scott.  Thus between us we offer a comprehensive ‘three bears’ account of this remarkable scene.  Being able to lean on these guys has kept the porridge at a perfect temperature during some pretty distracted times, especially baby- and illness-related, and I am beyond grateful for their contributions.

Now we have…

2.  The Label of the Year Award which goes to…

Memoirs of an Aesthete

Half an Abortion - Drowsy Seepage

(with honourable mentions for, well, see below…)

This was a very, very hotly disputed category.  I was tempted to be perverse and, in the style of Time magazine’s mirror cover, proclaim label of the year to be ‘self-released’.  Certainly, in this Bandcamp enabled age the idea has to be considered seriously.  But that ain’t much fun is it?  Let’s have an argument instead!  Joe stepped up for Winebox Press:

Jon Collin’s labour of love has presented some amazing music this year (Vampire Blues, Lost Wax, and his own gorgeous schizzle)  all nailed to hand-sanded wooden chunks.  This extra detail might make things difficult to file but the soft hand-feel makes me return again and again to these loose spools of joy.

Scott proclaimed Matching Head, natch:

Same as every other year. Lee Stokoe keeps it prolific, adding new regulars to a strong cast of returning cassette-friendly noise/drone/wtf artists.

Both excellent choices, of course, but what of the Sheepscar Light Industrial, last year’s runner up, or Kirkstall Dark Matter – a blood feud between Leeds postcodes?  Or is the glorious return of Sanity Muffin gong-worthy?  Speaking of returns, was any more welcome or surprising than that of Union Pole which made a long-gone 76 item back catalogue available to download for the total of one dollar?  Or what about Hissing Frames or hairdryer excommunication, the content-pumps of Robbie and Kev respectively?

The choice seemed impossible so I left the scribbled lists and did a couple of those things that you only see people do in the movies: splashed my face with water then stared into the bathroom mirror, took a cold can out of the fridge and held it against my cheek etc.  Soon clarity was restored.  For not putting a foot wrong, for never having even a single hair our of place, it had to be Memoirs of an Aesthete.  Phil Todd’s label has released one belter after another this year and has probably clocked up more minutes playing time in Midwich Mansions than any rival.  If it has Phil’s seal of approval on it then you should buy it.  Simple really.

…and finally…

1.  The Album of the Year Award

Risking accusations of hyperbole, I have claimed once or twice over the course of 2013 that we were living in a golden age.  Revisiting the releases I heard during the year I feel absolutely vindicated.  Add my long list to the short lists provided by Scott and Joe and you have a total of over 40 titles without even counting much not-really-released-as-such-but-still-magnificent work such as the soundcloud presence of, say, ap martlet.  Scott mentioned…

Black Sun Roof4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow (Handmade Birds) – Davies and Bower make noise ritual a rhythm thing.

Vile PlumageBlack Tar Jenny (No Label) – Scum froth and gutter glitter.

Skullflower / MasterySplit (Cold Spring) – Black metal soundtracks.

Joe added:

Duff/Nyoukis/Robertson/ShawAcetate Robots (Giant Tank) – Soft Scottish mumble, sweet as tablet.

Poor MouthS/T (Total Vermin) – Stream of consciousness wonk-out in proud Estuary English.

Lost Wax – My Sore Daad Heap’d (Winebox Press) – Environmental sounds lashed into a bivouac as the sun rises.

ID M Theft AbleBabb’s Bridge (Veglia, King Fondue, Zeikzak, Taped Sounds) – Like Manson’s internal monologue as knives get knotty.

Blue Yodel & Lovely HonkeyPoppies & Cocks (Chocolate Monk) – Mooooggg, hummm…voosh. Boo-fffff.

Both lists pleasantly indicative of the interests of my comrades, I think.  Take note.  Right then, as I did last year I have whittled my choices down to twenty with the first half presented in no particular order, linked to the original RFM reviews.  Here we go:

Witchbloodspoils and relics - angelsplurals sli 018Ceramic Hobs - Spirit World Circle Jerkaqua dentata - ten thousand wooden faceshalf an abortion - quandarystarlite coffins - medicine eagleGalena - Buried Finchpeople-eaters - imprecate

Every one a winner.  Click on the above for further thoughts and for contact/purchasing info.  Now on with the top ten, in reverse order…

10. Xazzaz – Untitled (Molotov 20)

xazzaz - 'untitled' molotov 20

This was reviewed twice on RFM this year.  Firstly Joe said:

…a melodic pitch-shifting that recalls those tremolo-heavy vibes from MBV…except this time the jazz electricity comes via belt sanders, floor polishers and hammer-action drills rather than sappy guitars.  The crashing continues, churning up plankton and hurling it on the zinc-coated rocks until, at around the 11 minute mark a large rusty anchor is thrown overboard and is dragged nosily (sic – it was more fun to keep the typo than correct it – RH) across a rocky sea bed.  Grrrgrgggrgggrgghhhhhh!   After a while your ear hairs can bristle no more and I had to settle back to accept this Black Metal take on Frippertronics as an astringent lullaby…

…then I pitched in with:

Mike’s music causes my edges to crumble, then crevaces to open, then huge thoughtbergs to calve from my mental glaciers.  He isn’t averse to roar, of course, and can stamp on pedals if need be, but it is the subtleties and nuance that make it so compelling.  He listens patiently, he understands what is going on.  He knows what to do.

Check out the Molotov catalogue now distributed by Turgid Animal.

9. Shareholder – The Backwards Glance volumes 1, 2 and 3

shareholder 1

Joe turned me on to this one.  He wrote:

The Backwards Glance is ten god-damn years of recordings all wrapped up in beguiling drawings, elastic bands and creepy collage work.  Sandy has taken the Faust approach and jams are cut-up hard against each other so you lurch between approaches, styles, themes and moods … My advice is to block out a few hours in your schedule, settle yourself in your preferred listening area and drink this special brew in deep.  As in the dog-eat-dog world of high finance the Shareholder is always looking for a unique selling point.  This USP for these clever little tapes is their god-damn addictiveness!

8. Culver/Somália ‎– Split

culver-somalia

Joe also beat me to this one too and came up with the best simile of the year, damn him:

Culver is a master of the dark art of static movement.  In the same way smoke will fill a room to the corners, too thick to see thorough but fragile enough to part with the wave of a hand, Culver plays that hard/soft, full/empty, maximal/minimal dichotomy like Erich Von Daniken’s  ancient astronauts. Always working on the edge of being there and not being there this piece, this relatively brief drone called ‘seven human hairs’ is like watching ink boil … Somália is some mysterious Portuguese music maker who, on ‘das cordas’ takes a melancholic Satie riff (Gnossienne No. 1 I think) and loops it over and over again with a grimy patina of tape murk.  That’s it.  No speeding up or slowing down. No descent into beats or basslines.  Just a gradual fade into the muck collected round the capstans.  Super simple and super effective.  It works at times (and I have to point out here I have played this tape a lot!) like dark canvas, swallowing the light but freeing up the subconscious.  This is dreaming music.

7. Seth Cooke – Run For Cover

seth cooke - run for cover

The spec is simple enough, a single track of about fifteen minutes in length, but its ingredients are tricky to separate out.  I suspect the noise that sounds like a swarm of angry wasps flying into a juddering extractor fan may be a vibrating implement set upon a drum skin.  The buzz is malevolent – like tapping the glass of a giant tank full of insects only to have them all turn in unison, give you a hard stare and then start working together to get the tank’s lid off…  Some abrasive electronics are then set loose in order to scour and gouge the source noise whilst a bucket of low end catches the swarf.  The concluding crescendo is visceral, tough and as sparkling as your peripheral vision after a sharp smack to the back of the head.  Yeah: awesome.

6. Yol – Four Live Pieces

yol - four live pieces

Joe is a true believer:

I think it was the mighty Stan Lee/Jack Kirby axis that came up with the Incredible Hulk to explore the untamed, brutish side to mankind.  The trick Yol has turned is to take this Yahoo Hulk and transplant it into the damp and bland world of Northern Britain – 2013.  This is no Marvel Universe magic realism but the dark perverted land of a bent cop, conflicted priest or overworked teacher.  It’s a post-Saville world where celebrity corrupts and no one can really trust each other.  Yol gives a voice to the bitter and bleak, the misplaced righteousness and revenge that most of us keep buttoned up tight.  The inner struggle is played out in vivid crimson, choked out, spat into the gutter and stamped on with spite.

5. Shoganai –  ショウガナイ

shoganai

The fella behind this project, remaining semi-anonymous for his own reasons, has produced a piece of work so ambitious and accomplished that the fact that it is available to download on a pay-what-you-like basis from that Bandcamp left me stupefied … Some details: your download will contain nine tracks spanning 41 minutes.  These episodes are clearly the product of a single aesthetic but vary in construction.  There is computerborne surrealism, the programme code distorted by a horseshoe magnet ordered from the Acme catalogue, there is deep-fried tropical psychedelia the like of which wouldn’t be out of place on a Space Victim or AshNav album, and there is the cooing and squawking of an alien menagerie, recorded rooting and strutting about the forest floor on a distant, poisonous world.

4. Helicopter Quartet – Where have all the aliens gone?

helicopter quartet - where have all the aliens gone

Their sound (‘drone rock’? ‘dark ambient’? I don’t know) is dense and rich, each element absorbing in its own right, all contributing to a mysterious but coherent whole.  It is like finding an ornately inlaid wooden casket containing a collection of exquisitely handcrafted objects: what might be a bear, carved from obsidian, a female form cast in an unplaceable grey/green metal, an abstract pattern, possibly even unreadable script, scrimshawed onto yellowing bone.  All irresistibly tactile, all fascinating, all revealing aspects of the character of the unknown and long dead collector who gathered them together.

It is cliché to describe simplicity as ‘deceptive’ and efficiency as ‘ruthless’ but both phrases are perfectly apt in this case.  There is no waste, no let up, the emotional demands of this music are unmistakeable.  Despite the jokes about torturing aliens on its Bandcamp page, this is a deeply serious music but it is epic on a human scale.

3. Various – Knurr & Spell

knurr and spell

Four tracks, each about twenty minutes long, by four different solo artists.  First is veteran Leeds scenester Shem Sharples, recording as his robotic alter ego Shemboid, who kicks things off with ‘myths of the prehistoric future’ – a Ballardian pun well suited to this blistering, splintering track.  Shem is an aficionado of the garage psych sound and his skyscraping fuzz/wah guitar illuminates the rubble like harsh Californian sunshine.

Next is ‘bontempi bastet’ by Ocelocelot, Mel O’Dubhslaine’s noise/drone endeavour.  The track is remarkable: an ectoplasmic gumbo, a thick electronic soup spiced and seasoned to make the corners of your eyes twitch.  Or is it an evocation of heaven?  Mel is a serious artist quietly and brilliantly re-purposing music to serve her own mysterious ends.  She does this with good humour and modesty and I think she might be my hero.

Third is ‘no forks’ by Moral Holiday, Phil Todd’s affectionate homage to first wave industrial music. The backing is brittle, unforgiving, stark.  Phil has taken the bucolic feel of the most utopian electronic Krautrock, frogmarched it to a grimly urban setting and then recorded it amongst the glass and concrete, mutating to fit its new surroundings.

Finally, we have ‘taser delerium’ (sic) from Paul Walsh’s foldhead.  Perhaps you could imagine spiking the punch at a convention of shortwave radio enthusiasts then getting the fried participants to improvise a jam using nothing but the guttering warbles of atmospheric interference.  Life affirming stuff – joyful noise wall.  Like an intruder appearing at the foot of your bed, paralysing you with a swift injection to the sole of your foot, then draping his cock across your forehead as you lie prone and immobile, it is a perversely calming experience.

In summary: this album is damn near perfect.

2. Ashtray Navigations – Cloud Come Cadaver

cloud come cadaver

Previous winners come oh-so-close once more.  I wrote a lengthy psychedelic ramble accounting for each track in turn which you can read by clicking on the title above.  For now I need only quote the final remarks:

It’s like a ‘Comfortably Numb’ for the psych/noise underground but defiant, without a trace of self pity.  It could accompany the ‘ages of man’ sequence at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Did I mention that Ashtray Navigations are my favourite band?  This is why.

Absolutely magnificent.

…and finally, the RFM Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2013 goes to…

1. The Piss Superstition – Vocal Learning

vocal learning front

Back in May I had a moment of prophetic clarity:

The music suggests systems gone wrong, like some guy pushed in a punch card upside down and then went to lunch leaving everything running.  Yet heavy, juddering electrics describe arcane symbols as they spiral through the iterations of this garbled instruction set.  Something truly wierd is being revealed.  The serrated buzzing suggests saw mill equipment escaping its moorings and consuming itself as one bladed machine vibrates into the path of another.  But again, there is nothing random about this movement.  All is being conducted by an unfamiliar intelligence for some unknowable purpose.  In the end though, all metaphors, similes, superlatives and whimsy just slide off this band or, at best, get caught in the gears and mashed – such is the beauty, mystery and power of their output.  They do not sound like anyone else and yet, somehow, it turns out that this sound is exactly what I wanted to hear.  Its value can only be calculated by fumbling with an alien currency, glinting strangely in my palm.

Thus: Vocal Learning is the best album of the year so far.  Why?  Because it is – I said so.

…and there we have it.  The End.  Well, not quite.  There is a prize should the winners wish to claim it: a release on the fabled fencing flatworm recordings.  Yes, in a tradition stretching all the way back to one year ago I decided to reanimate my legendary label to issue one release a year which could only be by the winner of the Best Album Zellaby Award.  So, JB & Paul, how about it?  Drop me a line if the idea tickles you both and we’ll talk turkey.

RFM’s ongoing account of the no-audience underground’s creative endeavour will continue shortly.  We wish you all a very happy New Year!

hot ashes: the work of lucy johnson

July 11, 2013 at 7:50 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Smut – ‘Scraps’ (tape, Turgid Animal)

Smut – Piano One (tape, Turgid Animal)

Smut – Live at Morden Tower, Newcastle, 09.03.13 (self released download, Soundcloud)

Space Victim – Angel Face (3” CD-r, Turgid Animal)

Space Victim – Decreased Awareness Of Inner Processes (CD-r, Blackest Rainbow)

Space Victim – Kiss From The Serpent (self-released download, Bandcamp)

Esk – Ashdene (tape, Turgid Animal)

Rife – “Demo” (tape, Turgid Animal)

smut - piano onesmut - scrapsspace victim - angel facespace victim - decreased awarenessesk and rife

One of the refreshing things about what I playfully refer to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is that it is not full of self-aggrandising blabbermouths.  There are a few – me, for example – and an acceptable level of self-absorption is common, but many artists quietly get on with producing excellent work mainly, it seems, for their own gratification and the pleasure of their circle.

The noise scene in the North East of England has often been celebrated here for this kind of self-sufficiency.  I write a 1500 word review full of words like ‘entranced’ and they just look up from their effects pedals for a second, murmur an embarrassed ‘thanks, man’ and get back to work.  Nowt insular about this, of course: they are a friendly, passionate, talented lot generally happy to talk, pleased to see you and flattered by any interest.  It’s just that, with a humility I find barely understandable, they don’t go looking for it.  Nor does approbation seem that important to the process.

This situation allows for the gradual discovery of that most mysterious of creatures: the unsung hero.  Names are pencilled in – an aside from the omniscient Scott McKeating, a credit on a Matching Head insert, say – then repeated until they become underlined in bold and further investigation becomes inevitable.  Such has been the case with Lucy Johnson.

I had, of course, already praised Space Victim, her duo with Mike Vest, to the hilt (they featured in RFM’s best of 2012 list) and more recently did the same for the Witchblood tape, her duo with Lee Stokoe, on Matching Head.  A comment from Miguel Perez led to me picking up her tapes as Smut and hearing those led to me finally paying some proper attention. Over the last few weeks I have been putting two and two together via Discogs, the Turgid Animal site and various other rune-casting activities and have been gathering up examples of her work.  She records solo as Smut and Esk, is half of the aforementioned duos, is the vocalist for black metal band Rife, and is also in the bands Obey and Dark Bargain (as reviewed by Scott below).  Her artwork adorns covers and T-shirts and has recently been made available to buy as prints.  Most of this stuff is available from the label and distributor Turgid Animal which (according to that same review by Scott) she co-runs.  Blimey, eh?

Now, I am aware she is on Facebook but I have self-excluded myself from that party for reasons of life being short and, anyway, where’s the fun in that?  Far more entertaining to piece all this together imagining a shadowy matriarch/polymath pulling strings and making things happen isn’t it?  Then write a lengthy blog post about it.  Then, AND ONLY THEN, say ‘hello’.  Thus:

Hello Lucy.  I trust you are well.

As for the music: Lucy has the Midas touch.  We’ll start with Rife as I don’t really know its genre – black metal – so am not qualified to judge.  Despite my ignorance, though, I dug it: sounds well angry and has the recorded-on-a-dictaphone-that-had-been-left-in-the-boot-of-a-car-parked-outside-the-rehearsal-room muffled rawness that I am told is customary for bands of this type.

Ashdene by Esk, another Turgid Animal tape, this time a solo project, begins in a similar vein but soon mutates into something far more apocalyptic.  These four tracks recorded by Lucy bridging 2011 and 2012, feature sulphuric vocals – treated to the edge of power electronics, riffs as sticky and abrasive as beach tar and an overall heaviness equal to sleep paralysis.  By the time we get to ‘III’ the words ‘fucking’ and ‘awesome’ seem entirely appropriate and adequate.  After this storm, the final track is shockingly quiet.  A slow picked guitar accompanies the sound of a troll enduring unhappy dreams as he sleeps under his bridge.  The sound of savvy locals using a chain ferry can be heard nearby.  They watch with interest, the guitarist slowing to a stop, as an unwary traveller chooses to cross the river on foot…

What next?  Ahh… Space Victim.  The more I listen to this duo of Lucy and (longhaired doyenne of the psych/noise underground) Mike Vest the more I want to listen.  Such is their obliterating power that the rest of the review pile can only tut as Space Victim strut to the front of the queue, skip over the velvet rope, work their Jedi mind trick on the bouncer, settle down in the VIP area and spark up a huge joint whilst sitting under a ‘no smoking’ sign.

The music is dominated by an acid-fried guitar sound and the vibe is heady, humid and darkly psychedelic.  It manages to be both expansive and claustrophobic at the same time.  Like staring at the sea, becalmed in all directions to the horizon, then turning to face the reality that you are stuck on a tiny desert island and the only potential food source is the fly blown corpse of a fellow shipwrecked sailor.  The epic Decreased Awareness Of Inner Processes feels like campfire music for an evening with the tribe of human/animal hybrids rejected by Dr. Moreau, the horror of their abject condition tempered by their heartbreaking nobility.  They stir the ashes with a stick and the embers glow the same red/gold colour as the setting sun.

Don’t let me put you off with grim similes, though.  There is ecstatic release to be found within the vine-choked entropy.  The end of Angel Face, for example, lifts as Lucy and Mike make the existential decision to accept their roles as protagonists in an early J.G. Ballard novel and paddle their kayak above the flooded streets of the newly tropical Newcastle.  Kiss From The Serpent is all exquisite submission – like the willpower-sapping first taste of the terminally delicious, transformative fungi in the exceptional weird tale ‘The Voice in the Night’ by William Hope Hodgson (if you don’t know this beautifully creepy short story do yourself a favour and slap a librivox reading on your mp3 playing device – you’ll thank me for it).  Dangerously, addictively glorious.

Finally then, we come to another of Lucy’s solo projects: Smut.  I’m not sure in what sense she is using the word – soot, ‘obscene material’ etc. – but I discover it can also mean a fungus causing disease which fits nicely with the reference above.  It’s like I plan this stuff.  Anyway, Live at Morden Tower, Newcastle 09.03.13, a record of the first Smut gig, is a collection of well chosen noise elements looped, layered and topped and tailed with a brief sigh of solemn church music.  The method is simple enough – a collection of pebbles dropped one after the other into a pond – but the effect is profound.  It is like being dragged backwards, in slow motion, through the terrible events that the sombre music bookending the piece is memorialising.

Side one of ‘Scraps’, the first Smut tape, is filled with an increasingly angry spiral of distorted and overlapping alarms.  The hull has clearly been catastrophically breached and life support is failing.  The racket is visceral enough to be properly panic-inducing.  That it ends with a burst of song, so smeared as to be unintelligible, is not the least bit reassuring.  The second side begins with a would-be crescendo, tethered to the spot.  Stabs and rattles pierce the fuzz as it tries to shake itself free.  The final section acts as a bridge between this noise and the tape that follows below.  A delicate but determined piano line echoes with doomed insistence until it is subsumed under unintelligible radio communication and an all-consuming mechanical grind.

Piano One, the most recent of Lucy’s releases that I have heard, is a remarkable album and a fitting place to come to a halt.  The resources she calls on are minimal: piano played with slow deliberation, tape hiss, pedal throb and that is about it.  A couple of tracks are more active, including one in which she appears to be strumming the wires within the instrument, but most are stark and simple (occasionally brutally so: one track is little more than a two note refrain).  At first, given the context of the releases above, this seems incongruous – like Erik Satie picking up a guitar, stamping on the DS-1 and screaming ‘for those about to rock!!!’ but repeat listens reveal a melancholy air and a seriousness of intent that is of a piece with the rest of her work.  The heaviness here is emotional: there is nothing to hide behind.  It is like partially recalling a troubling memory and being uncertain as to whether it was a dream or whether it actually happened.  I was transfixed by this, as I was with the similar vibe of Witchblood, her collaboration with Lee Stokoe, and recommend it very highly indeed.

Turgid Animal

Smut on Soundcloud

Blackest Rainbow

Space Victim on Bandcamp

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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