This section gathers a selection of reviews from this particular year. If you would like anything reviewed, please consider our main areas of interest and the fact that we only accept physical formats. We are old-fashioned, have no time for downloads and generally feel that they stink. If you can accept that then the address to send material to is:
Richo/Adverse Effect, ul. Wilenska 5/70, 31-413 Krakow, Poland
Reviewers: Richo Johnson, Steve Pescott and Thomas Shrubsole
PISS STREAMS OF SOUND
ERLEND APNESETH TRIO Det Andre Rommet CD (Hubro, Norway, 2016)
Away from all the punk, junk ‘n’ noise piled up around here arrives this little nugget from the always interesting Hubro imprint, which remains largely dedicated to Scandinavian folk, jazz and improv artists themselves occasionally skirting other areas of music. The idea of documenting what’s going on there being the chief preoccupation, no less, yet Hubro’s radar seems finely tuned and dedicated to illuminating only those whose work resides amongst the cream. Erlend Apneseth appears to be no exception in this respect, either. Although this Hardanger fiddle player has clearly been honing his craft for a few years now, and has appeared on at least a couple of other releases, his leading of this trio with this traditional Nordic instrument certainly sets the bar for whatever’s next. Over the ten compositions here, warm melodies hewn from improvisations taking their cue from folk caress our imagination like tender flames. Tacked into place by highly-charged percussion, electronics and guitar, each piece appears restless in its creation of something new and forward-thinking whilst retaining something of the past that forged it. If music can continue to be perceived as a language that tells us much about the moments we are presently snagged in, when at least delivering on this notion, then the Erlend Apneseth Trio’s album only compounds this. This is music that firmly embraces not only the moment but also the listener all the way through. Incredible. Now to save some pennies for the vinyl version! (RJ)
DAVE BALL / JON SAVAGE Photosynthesis CD (Cold Spring, 2016)
Having to my knowledge never heard The Grid before, I can honestly say this is the only work of ex-Soft Cell’s Dave Ball since 1983’s In Strict Tempo LP, which was released by Some Bizarre and I personally owned a copy of around the time for at least a couple of years. Because of that, I genuinely didn’t know what to expect of this collaboration wherein eight pieces, inspired by the process of plants getting their nutrients and the relationship of this to the destruction in the world around us, take us on a voyage through deeply and often darkly atmospheric terrain thankfully a cut above most such music. Using a variety of both analogue and digital synths as a source for a rich, almost soundtrack-ish, terrain to meld gentle melodic gush with rather more unsettled sounds, fragmented snatches of dialogue are afforded the chance to occasionally clamber to the surface alongside sinister metallic sweeps or more lightly sprinkled piano keys. In lesser hands this could all only too easily shift into more generic fare, but there’s too much emotion here to render this anything other than a superior reflection of the generally disquieting state of things around us right now. Both absorbing and firmly capable of nudging something new into focus with every listen, Photosynthesis could almost be kosmische were it to have been dragged through a black hole before being cast onto a world of abandoned buildings and machinery. For every glimmer of hope afforded by some of the gentler touches, the decay is never far away. Amongst the most stunning such work for a long, long time. (RJ)
BAND OF PAIN ‘Still Falls the Rain’ 7″ (Easy Action, 2016)
Latest single from Steve Pittis’s solo endeavour, often given to collaborations with friends and likeminded artists (even including myself once, on the debut LP!) and never, partly due to this no doubt, remaining in one place musically. Always a good thing, especially if, as in BOP’s case, there are recurring themes or common threads kept in place throughout. On this 7″, Lucy Cotter recites the poem to be found adorning the cover of the first Black Sabbath album whilst Andrew Liles delivers some appropriate guitar thrusts and a thunder sample over Steve’s more subdued backing of electronics and looped church bells. An effective homage I’m sure everybody concerned would concede even Ozzy himself would agree with. The flipside piece, ‘Funhouse (for Karla)’, catches Steve solo and in more tempered and atmospheric mode, but with just the right amount of disturbance to keep those Lynchian dreamworlds in check. Limited to 500 on 180g purple vinyl. (RJ)
BY THE WATERHOLE Two CD (Playdate Records, Norway, 2016)
Second album by Norwegian solo artist Eva Pfitzenmaier, taking in a kinda stripped-down approach to a setting forged from loops, minimal percussion pound and layered vocals that wavers between earthy blues and breezy pop sheen. What makes this especially interesting is Eva’s obvious aptitude for trying different sounds to buoy her beautifully voiced (and sometimes ravaged) poetry along. While a pop sensibility ultimately drives everything, the sense of playful or sometimes even bold experimentation never strays too far from the proceedings. I never thought for a minute such avant-strained deconstructo-blues could still hold sway this century, but By The Waterhole make for a convincing enough statement to the contrary. It might not be for everybody, but I’m sure this makes an even greater impression live. (RJ)
RYAN CHOI Whenmill CD (Off, USA, 2016)
Following on from his Three Dancers debut, this catches the Hawaiian improviser once more wielding his ukulele to deliver a further four pieces of somewhat restrained playing steadily swaying between the melodic and politely obtuse. As with the already noted album, which is the only other I’ve thus far heard, Choi’s ability is evident in abundance, but there’s this overwhelming feeling that things could be pushed further. Perhaps the two collaborative releases with Kommissar Hjuler Und Frau compensate? I need to investigate. (RJ)
CIRCADIA Advances and Delays CD (Sofa, Norway, 2016)
Two lengthy improvisations by four international players all, I think, now based in Denmark and Norway but each with a rich heritage on the international circuit. The first of these two pieces, ‘The Animal Enters and Traverses the Light’, spanning around 20 minutes, is buoyed along by the dual guitar interweaving of Kim Myhr and David Stackenas, the former of whom also has a 12-stringer he’s capable of conjuring incredible hypnotic and possessed swells from that both have a slightly Turkish flavour and blend in with the accompanying guitar perfectly. Some appropriately moody bass-work looms into view whilst the percussion is kept taut and spacious, allowing everything to breathe just right. The second piece, ‘The Human Volunteers Were kept in Isolation’, is a more spread out affair that shifts from what sounds like a loose and open start to a landscape where the guitars once again hold sway. Melodic motifs that sound almost harp-like provide the basis to a portamento of abstraction being harnessed into something more soothing and mesmerising. Highly accomplished and riveting work, all told, arriving from some players very much in charge of their game. (RJ)
CONTRASTATE ‘True Believer’ 7″ (Dirter Promotions, 2016)
It’s very rare that Contrastate disappoint and this new single is no exception. In fact, the only thing disappointing about it for me is that my own Fourth Dimension label should’ve released, but my funds (or perpetual complete lack of them!) just wouldn’t allow it, unfortunately. At least Dirter stepped in and not only that but did a sterling job with the packaging, whereby the first 300 (of an edition of 500) are housed in a mirror effect sleeve you can use for your makeup whilst listening. Of which, ‘True Believer’, is smoothly buoyed along by soft-focus, sparse melodic keys and background swirls of indiscernible fug before Jonathan Grieve’s hushed, yet always somewhat ravaged, poetry defines the proceeedings before an intensified finale. True to form, there are many dimensions to this that are coupled throughout to an intimate sound bursting with movement. And, as the group’s name can never belie, contrast remains imperative to them, too, as once again proven by the B-side’s ‘The 10/40 Window’ and its combining what sounds like all three members singing along together to the kinda whispered electronics that’d doubtlessly fail if in anybody else’s hands. This is yet another great release by a group deserving far more attention than they ever get. When it comes to such music, their name should be carried to the same lofty heights as The Hafler Trio, Zoviet France and suchlike. I don’t make such claims lightly, either. Get the fuck to it, buy this and support them. (RJ)
DEZERTER ‘Ku Przyszlosi’ 7″ e.p. (Antena Krzyku, Poland, 2016)
At this point in time, it seems rather redundant to debate the significance of punk in different countries, but there’s no denying that Poland needed the voice it served perhaps more than many thankfully outside the Iron Curtain during the 1980s. Dezerter, who still limp along to this day in one form or another, were one such voice and amongst the very first Polish punk bands to even land themselves a deal and have an e.p. released in 1983. The beginning of an illustrious catalogue of releases that not only continues to this day but also includes this timely reissue of said debut, now remastered and housed in a fold-out cover that does the music far more justice. The four tracks themselves are an archetypal napalm assault that are heavy as fuck and speedily ram the sound of genuine anger home. It’s a glorious din, of course, but the point of it is what’s most important here and it goes without saying that it’s one that still, unfortunately, resonates today. (RJ
LAWRENCE ENGLISH Approaching Nothing CD (Baskaru, France, 2016)
The very latest album from Australia’s prolific Lawrence English, owner of Room 40 and known for his media work as much as his compositions, continues his foray into field recordings. Approaching Nothing spans around 30 minutes and is made up of a kind of travelogue to the village of Vela Luka in Croatia. Deeply atmospheric and enriched with sounds picked from church bells to busy street chatter and everything in between, this provides a nice snapshot of life there. How this in itself might differ from any other small town in Europe, of course, might pose a question but isn’t exactly the point. As a readily flowing narrative, replete with its soothing interjections of dismayed crows and lakeside noises, this works really well. Although I would prefer to hear Lawrence English fuse this with his proclivity for constructing sweeping ambient tones, everything slots into place to create a perfect whole as endearing as, doubtlessly, the sound-sourced town itself. (RJ)
FWY! CA 80’s – 90’s CD (Dub Ditch Picnic, Canada, 2016)
Before anything else, I should point out that the misuse of the apostrophes in the title of this album are exactly as printed on the cover and not mine. In fact, I always find this commonplace mistake annoying, but that’s because I’m an annoying pedant myself when it comes to such matters. At least the music saves the day, though. From what I understand, this album is a reissue of one that first appeared on a presumably limited and long o/p cassette in 2011, but it’s easy enough to see why it has been selected for another round of attention. Via its collection of simply arranged songs, themselves drawing from ambient house, naval-gazing post-rock and various atmospheric soundworlds, there’s a sprightly disposition at work here perfect for long drives towards the setting son. Through a shimmering array of gossamer textures and tinkling melodies, a Neu!-ish metronomic rhythm keeps everything tacked in place as much as the clear-cut head-nod sensibilities. Sometimes other random sounds will subtly jut out, such as what sounds like some mutated car horns on ‘The 405’, for a brief while before retreating to whence they came, but the twelve pieces remain nonetheless a smooth, if rudimentary, venture perfectly suitable for those more sober moments we all occasionally need. (RJ)
GAAP KVLT Jinn CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2016)
Following a number of low run CDr and cassette releases on Poland’s wonderful BDTA label (which I’ll one day do a little spotlight on here at the AE website), Maciej Mackowski’s Gaap Kvlt once again illustrates just how serious a concern it is by virtue of this second full-lengther, which, following the slightly disappointing debut on Monotype in 2014, witnesses the project delivering on the early promise. Collecting nine cuts honed from a black granite block of minimal techno and abstract electronica handed a neatly organic feel via some sparing field recording use where their presence adds a haunting touch, Jinn makes for one of the finest additions to the canon I’ve heard in a considerable while. Replete with cavernous underpasses of factory floor grind, spacious wells of dub sensibilities and layers of hypno-drift, everything slots together powerfully and majestically whilst possessed of a command a massive club space would serve the ultimate justice. ‘Bou Rattat’, with its almost early Biosphere lead to a brash melding of what seems like a Middle Eastern chant processed to something unearthly and a rolling stock rhythm, and the album’s centrepiece, ‘Prayer 8 (Death)’, itself commencing with an already chemical-soaked stark rhythm that heralds in something heavier, portentous and draped in a distorted hectoring voice, are particularly triumphant in their breadth and ability to create a sense of unrelenting unease. Gaap Kvlt should be an internationally recognised concern by now, if this album’s anything to go by. What more can I say? (RJ)
KANIPCHEN-FIT Unfit For These Times Forever CDEP (Hooverflag, NL, 2016)
This Netherlands-based trio comprise musicians with a shared history in experimental post-rock or whatever you’d like to call it this week, having played in various groups before themselves owing to punk and its myriad offshoots. The seven songs here are simplistic enough scuffed pop, sometimes given to a twisted funk leaning or a later Sonic Youth approach to combos of melody and poetry not too lofty in their ambition. Occasionally, I’m reminded of Half Japanese, but the music here is more spartan and unfortunately lacks that long gone group’s own forays into a kinda basement splurge where almost anything could happen. It’s sprightly and energetic enough, and promises to sound far better live, but Kanipchen-Fit ultimately sound like they’re holding back or are too afraid to push an envelope clearly in their view. Nice pop-up art inside the gatefold sleeve, though! (RJ)
KARIES eponymous 12″ (Harbinger Sound, 2016)
Looks like this record was licensed from This Charming Man Records, based in Karies’ native Germany, but clearly deserves the extra attention. Collecting four songs of a post-punk disposition, this is a punchy affair bringing to mind Breaking Circus and even Rema Rema with its wiry guitar lines, crisp production and tangents away from the generally more urgent approach. Although a greater pop sensibility shines throughout, Karies appear to have a perfect handle on keeping the balance just right. The fact they also sometimes sing in English, as unfortunate as that perhaps is, will doubtlessly go in their favour as well. Would love to hear the album they released before! (RJ)
KEDA Hwal CD (Parantheses Records, Belgium, 2016)
Keda’s debut is an exotically-inclined ethno/tronix dovetaining created by E’Joung-Ju; French-based Korean “Mistress of the Geomungo” , (a 1600 yr old stringed beast of the zither family, originating from her homeland), and French switchdoctor Mathias Delplanque; M.D. of the Bruit Clair label, who has also racked up over a score of releases on Cronica, Baskara and Ici d’Ailleurs amongst others.
This duo, formed over six years ago, recorded “Hwal” (Korean for ‘Bow’) in a completely live situation with the resultant dialogue later reworked by a chin-stroking Monsieur D. over a twelve month period. Unusually, ‘Dali’ (the opening cut), is strangely lop-sided, as the expected thwack, thrum or indeed twang of the Geomungo seems to have been excised from the equation by the weightier bulk of sundry analogue detonations and crackle. And quite why the title champions everyone’s fave lobster/telephone surrealist (and regrettably a General Franco cheerleader) is anyone’s guess. However, ‘Encore’ does reveal a clear sighting in which the jittery/agitated string plucks are eventually offset by distant jet contrails and dronescapes of a decidedly hollow-sounding stripe.
And discounting the title track, which briefly showcases a bowing technique, the general range of the Geomungo, within pieces like ‘Swordfish’, complete with its kitchen cutlery gamelan, and the alien blooz of ‘La Luna de Coree’, appears to resemble the Oud (an Arabian cousin to the european lute), albeit with a rougher/raspier voice. And…it’s a voice that’s been more than a one-off visitor since plopping on the doormat a while back and would be a pretty good supplementary to anyone whose dietary regime includes such east/west alliances such as…The Sun City Girls, Orient Express, Devil’s Anvil and Ahmed Abdul Malik. (SP)
KELLAR Sacred Cyclical Pilgrimage CD (Foolproof Projects, 2016)
Firmly nodding towards the whorls of noise Caspar Brotzmann Massaker and maybe even Gore once kicked up, this bass and drums duo (featuring Map 71’s Andy Pyne, no less) delivers nine mostly brutal stripped rock poundings sometimes given to, as on the final cut, ‘Sea of Entangled States’, meandering into a mutant psychedelia equally as foreboding. The bass is a heaving rasp that saws its way through the melee, whilst the drums throw wild fragments in every direction without once letting up the core pulverising at work. It’s an unstoppable beast of a sound, saturated in the kinda foaming-at-the-mouth despair and vexation fully understandable these days. Perhaps I’m reminded slightly of the long gone Ascension’s work, too, but that’s a winner round here. Only 100 of these, so don’t miss out. (RJ)
KURT LIEDWART/PHIL RAYMOND Rim CD (Mikroton Recordings, Russia, 2016)
Instead of thinking that the title refers to being close to the edge of something or other, I’d like to think that it just could allude (ironically?), to a rimshot; one of the entry point tricks of the trade of your common or garden drummer/percussionista. Not that ‘common or garden’ would be a particularly fitting description to hang on Phil Raymond, who has been a manipulator of avant garde percussive sonorities (via electronic modifications), since 2009. Naturally, it’s not the first occasion that hi-hat, snare and close family members have had these embellishments. Tony Oxley and AMM’s Eddie Prevost would rightly lay claim to be pioneers in that field with amped kitchenalia and electrified cymbals respectively. Nevertheless, it does seem that certain treatments/analogue filligree meted out by Moscow-based, Mikroton label boss, Kurt Liedwart to Phil’s raw data does possess a relatively individual voice in this microgenre, no doubt in some way, due to more user-friendly and sparklier technology.
Rim comprises five pieces, all titled by their timings, perhaps a ruse, concocted to scotch any preconceived notions about the material, when scanning the sleeve for clues. And for all intents and purposes, this collection should really be perceived as one huge amorphous 50.38 minute suite; in which ‘10.58”s speaker-rattling grey throb morphs into ‘3.52”s furtive rustlings and bad dream synthetics which then eventually fuse into the geiger counter-like cracklings of ‘4.16’.
This duo, fiercely resolute in their anti-rhythmic, anti-melodic stance make, to me, their most telling statements with ‘9.27’ and the closing ‘22.45’. The former seemingly focusing on h-e-a-v-i-l-y magnified transmissions diverted from a neighbourhood radio telescope, while the latter magnum opus weaves its sinister way into your psyche with a sound not encountered since Kluster’s Klopfzeichen LP sessions, which, by an unusual quirk of fate uses untitled tracks too… (SP)
LOTTO Elite Feline CD (Instant Classic, Poland, 2016)
I saw this Polish group play in one of Krakow’s many dingy watering holes recently enough and after a promising first song and in spite of just how good the drummer was felt they quickly lost their way, unfortunately. On what appears to be their second album in nearly as many years, the terribly named Lotto deliver two lengthy pieces of lightly jazz inflected rock slow-burn that’s meandering but purposeful and propelled by an improvisational chemistry maybe the guys were just too tired to pull off live. The overall sound is akin to, I dunno, Codeine trying to reinvent some of Twin Peaks score. It’s warm and suggests low lit backrooms licked by orange candle flames whilst something perhaps sinister lurks nearby ready to disrupt proceedings. The atmosphere is haunted and haunting, like that of a deep forest after the sun has long ago kissed it goodnight, yet equally grandiose in its overt mastery of understatement and subtlety. I suppose this is what certain people would deem ‘post-rock’ still, but such a blanket term would serve this album an injustice. Although the very nature of this music might cause some to cry out for their duvets in despair, the deftness of the playing and the neat peppering of tiny touches infused within render Elite Feline a winner for me. Proof positive that, once more, powerful music can be generated from the most clandestine of approaches. (RJ)
MAMMOTH ULTHANA Particular Factors LP (Zoharum, Poland, 2016)
Second album by this Polish duo featuring Rafal Kolacki, who can also be found in the rather prolific ritualistic metal percussion group Hati and avant-psych terrorists Innercity Ensemble, amongst others. The seven cuts here (more if you go for the CD version also released by Zoharum) traverse a wide plateau of sounds mostly arriving from a mesmer-glare where they are forged into shapes clearly designed to reach deep into spaces both inner and outer. Spanning beyond the mere domain of the casual head nodding, however, the music often caresses a salubrious avant-garde sensibility rife with grizzled flourishes of an indiscernible nature always twisting and turning whilst poised to surprise. There’s a rich counterpart to anything conceding to easy enough listening at work here and it pays dividends I’m sure would make even greater impact live. On ‘Baldr’, there’s a steady thud keeping an array of metal clanging in check that wouldn’t be too out of place in Hati themselves, but the second side’s opener, ‘Antiphase’, delves into molten digital territory of an interstellar leaning whilst what sounds like a flute drifts in and out of the proceedings in an appropriate ghostly fashion more in keeping with the general feel of the album. This itself recalls Kluster at times, tho’ clearly filtered through a post-industrial sensibility at once earthy, organic, penumbral and ultimately hypnotic. A genuine triumph. Only 300, too. (RJ)
MICHALIS MOUSCHATIS Ny;on LP (Holotype Editions, Greece, 2015)
Self-imposed button-down hair-shirted freak outs on the nylon stringed acoustic guitar, strangling and throttling the life out of any sustained tones in favour of rapid-fire pellets of unpigmented plastic and clamp-handed damped wood (sound-wise, we’re talking – the humidity levels are strictly arid)
Mouschatis scrabbles frantically through the strings to reach an essence, an essence of dry guitar body. The man-made strings, sinewy when dry (the opposite of Jon Bon Jovi) ,keep snapping back as if to thwart him. He maintains a dogmatic focus on this wooden-fingered mission at an oblique angle to the designed and crafted properties of the instrument-as-instrument. Sheer bloody minded/fingered determination to elicit sound with the most studied wooden fingered technique – an oppositional sympathy of materials.
There’s a hollow-bodied foregrounding of technique that comes on popping like some micro-Pastorius, the schemata of peacock dexterity mapped onto a performance where any reverberant tones are replaced by the clattering and snapping of muted and damped strings in a blur of tweaks, twitches and fretboard slaps. A pointillistic approach where even the track utilising a bow emphasises in intense close-focus the uneven monochrome topography of small sawing actions, creaks and shards generated under pressure.
The general feel is of a frantic burrowing like Kafka’s eponymous neurotic subterranean dashing to his earthen labyrinth, plucking with unseeing pink fingertips and clawing the dirt of the tunnels frighteningly straightened out and bolted onto a hollow wooden frame. An alternative virtuosity not an alternative TO ‘virtuosity’ as posited (many of which exist) thus remaining essentially situated in display of technique at high velocity. In sound and temper tightly screwed, prickly, although also brief with it.
These microscopic essays in the suppression of the will to resonate inherent in strings under tension are approached with grain and attack rooted in a single-minded approach to the component materials. Tension is characterised as conflict in a stringed drama where despite protestation the human antagonist seems determined to speak for the materials. Whether the combatant fingers emerge with any points or are rebuffed by the elasticity and the calm after the agitation spends itself is uncertain. Splintery. (TS)
NACHTHEXEN 7″ e.p. 7″ (Kids Of The Lughole, 2016)
Very tasty collection of four songs by this Sheffield all-female group doing their best to prove there’s still a reason to make punk music in the 21st Century. Mostly, when I hear such music I, having been around far more years than I really want to dwell on, tend to feel it barely goes anywhere I’ve not already been take to before. Countless times. However, once in a while, such a group will come along and demonstrate there are still ripples of energy to tap into enough to generate something that still sounds fresh, vibrant and, most important of all, bursting with meaning and purpose. I saw Nachthexen play a very lively show in Krakow in July and liked the fact that not only were they as energetic as their music but they kept their set swift, exactly as any self-respecting punk group should. The songs on this yellow vinyl 7″, duly bought after the show along with a DIY cassette release (their only other one so far, I understand), are positively charged, sarcastic and bitter whilst simultaneously sprightly and kept in place by a suckerpunch approach with a prominent synth firing out all kinds of abrasive noodling more akin to what fellow townsfolk early Human League and Cabaret Voltaire were up to than what’s generally heard in such music. The shouted vocals, sometimes shared with the entire group I think, might likewise recall Slits, but I’m wary of the lazy parallel and would prefer to say that while the lyrics are equally imbued with some (unfortunately) still justified gender politics the overall approach is one of a post-punk sound reshaped for the current landscape. This is amongst the very best such music I’ve heard for a long, long time. This band deserves to grow. I don’t often say that. (RJ)
NEW ROME Nowhere CD (Room40, Australia, 2016)
Ten gently lolling driftworks from a Polish artist, Tomasz Bednarczyk, whose proclivity for subtly evolving timbral meshes and soft-focus melodic structures wouldn’t be at all out of place on the low-key yet prolific Preserved Sound imprint. Whilst generally a little too polite and pleasant for my tastes, the overall beauty of these compositions has a calming effect and at least shines a little light into a world where, unfortunately, little time is given over to such matters. The fourth piece, ‘Beginning’, is especially graceful with its cyclical melodies and nods towards early Reich and Nyman. (RJ)
TERUYUKI NOBUCHIKA Still Air CD (Oktaf, Germany, 2016)
This would appear to be the third album by this Japanese purveyor of contemporary electronic music swaying breezily towards the gentler end of things. Throughout the eight short cuts there’s much emphasis on movement and layers of tempered yet neurotic sound, both subtle and otherwise, that if mixed higher would jostle well with any industrial-noise record. Everything is kept in check, however, rendering Still Air much needed weight in a medium all too often poised for a flotation tank I’d personally rather see it completely submerged by. Underneath the misted textural swirls Teruyuki has clearly worked hard to tease an array of mostly convoluted, jarred and machine-like noises into focus before they are distilled to assume engagingly hypnotic and comparatively pleasant states. Each piece is served especially well by this lattice-like approach to its construction, illustrating there are still places such music can go. If Still Air already evokes the notion of captured moments of quietness, it actually takes matters further via its suggesting the listener delves into its component parts. Very nice. I have turned to this often and cannot see anything changing. (RJ)
KK NULL ‘Machine in the Ghost’ 7″ (Dry Lungs Records & Himtrust Grind Media, Austria, 2016)
As anybody who has kept a wry eye on Japanese underground music over the last three decades will know, Kazuyuki K. Null, one of the founders of Zeni Geva and equally responsible for having a hand in countless other projects and groups over the years, long ago embarked on a solo quest that has swayed from guitar treatments to digital electronic noodling. I have to ‘fess I prefer the rawness of his earlier endeavours, but believe he can still cook up an interesting enough array of sounds when he sets his mind to it. ‘Machine in the Ghost’ is a limited run 7″ that sees the title spread into two parts, one per side. The first part, replete with scrunched-up rhythms and a whorl of spaceward-bound hisses, is formidable enough, but the flipside’s second part is the real winner here with its tinkling introduction paving the way for high speed rhythms jostling into each other like heavily processed gamelan kicked down some stairs. A whole album of this might do anybody’s head in, but kept to its 4:20 length it works a treat. A nice addition to this series of releases on one of Austria’s least known labels. (RJ)
LAURENT PERRIER Plateforme #2 (Baskaru, France, 2016)
The latest album from this French artist who over the years, besides running both Odd Size and then later the Sound On probation imprints, has skirted around the periphery of many genres related to electronic music and composed music for dance/theatre besides occasionally returning to the kind of noise-rock he once cut his teeth on. On Plateforme #2 he delivers three lengthy abstract electronic/musique concrete pieces sourced from material provided by Francisco Lopez, Tom Recchion and Christian Zanési. While there are some nice sounds hewn from the proceedings, I have to ‘fess much of this seems somewhat sterile and too pristine to give me what I personally prefer in such music. I wouldn’t usually say this, but a little dirt under the otherwise immaculately manicured fingernails would make a big difference here. Some of Perrier’s oeuvre is truly worth investigating, but I’m sorry to report this isn’t amongst it. (RJ)
STROM X CD (Mikroton Recordings, Russia, 2016)
Looks like this Swiss duo, comprising electronics artists Gaudenz Dadrutt and Christian Müller, with the latter also throwing some deep bass clarinet blurts into the mix, have been furrowing their particular space in those realms where every sonic shape is battered into something abstract for almost a decade now. Over the seven cuts here, every single squelch, parp and scrunch arrives courtesy of a relentless attempt to not only get inside the noise these two guys create but to hammer it with meaning. As often the case with such work, the listener might not know exactly what it is they’re expressing or, indeed, what the narrative is, but the tension and space to be found in the interplaying illustrates more than finely honed intuition in its anticipation of a greater sense of disquiet or frustration. Any fragmentary nod towards melody or rhythm is distilled into something far removed yet kept at a level where nothing is too disturbing or unwelcome. In someone’s head, somewhere, this kinda electroacoustic dissonance is doubtlessly the modern equivalent of free jazz. I’ll never be able to claim I fully ‘get’ such music, but my door remains open to it regardless. (RJ)
THREE FREE RADICALS Diary of a Left-Handed Sleepwalker CD (Panoramic Recordings, USA, 2016)
This appears to be a one-off collaboration between US composer Scott L. Miller and an Estonian guitarist Mark Soo following the former’s 5-month stay in Tallinn and his having immersed himself in the city’s vibrant improv scene. Utilising live electronics and sparingly used field recordings alongside the prolific Soo’s broad palette of sounds, themselves ranging from sparse yet jarred note ping-ponging to those more expansive textural gestures Helios Creed made his trademark, the eleven cuts here span a wide range of moods and styles. Although sometimes shaded by Miller’s background in electroacoustic work and accordingly hewn from more jagged sensibilities, these pieces generally tend towards a gentler and more atmospheric ride, proving at once that the avant-garde can be as much about restraint and subtlety as creating difficult settings where compromise is never an option. What’s particularly interesting about Diary of a Left-Handed Sleepwalker is its arc from the more haphazard opener, ‘Heat of the Day’, replete with a healthy indifference and scattering of bent notes, to the almost post-rocking’ pastoral domain of the final cut, ‘Smoke’. It’s a cliche, but this really does have the feel of a ‘journey’ about it, with lots of neat touches along the way. ‘Rides on a Six Eye Cloud’ is a particular highlight for me as it seems to capture the album’s general impression in one track and compounds just how well these artists were mentally in tune with each other. Next time I try and convince you I’m tired of improv music, feel free to ram this album down my throat. Thanks. (RJ)
UGLY ANIMAL Panic Button CD (Foolproof Projects, 2016)
From what I gather this is the first solo album by Brighton-based Andy Pyne, presently one half of the incredible Map 71 and a musician who’s clocked up numerous credits over the years via groups such as Dakota Suite, Union Wireless and Shrag, plus even more collaborations and suchlike. Essentially a percussionist he is also given to trying his hand at other instruments as well, as the nine cuts on this release successfully demonstrate. Although there’s a Charles Hayward-like sensibility to the rhythm-bound instrumentals here, what sounds like an organ, a neatly pulverised voice (on ‘Not What Is Not’) and electronics can also be discerned from a morass of sound cut from the kinda places Richard Youngs also turns to. Indeed, while no obvious musical cues can be found nestled here, Panic Button is definitely stamped with the feel of the ‘outsider’ Youngs’ own work is likewise often graced with. It’s always a good thing to hear an artist clearly locked into something of his or her own design without any regard whatsoever for the surrounding environment. In fact, it’s so rare that they appear now it’s, perversely, baffling they’re not more celebrated. Whatever, the music here is largely percussive or rhythmic in nature, yet sways from the comparatively calmer waters of ‘Buzzard Husband’ to what sounds like the programmed results of a cat having walked over a keyboard with an electronic drum setting on ‘The Scientific Approach’. In the wrong hands, it could be annoying as fuck, at least on certain cuts, but there’s a keen sense of balance also at play and, indeed, everything is delivered by a man who evidently knows what he’s doing. And, heck, even if he doesn’t, it still sounds convincing enough. (RJ)
UROK Nagawor CD (Mozdok, Poland, 2016)
This rather delectable merging of talents and ideas arrives courtesy of Robert Skrzyński (known as Micromelancolie and already with a nice string of releases behind him) and Michal Turowski (owner of the BDTA and Mozdok labels, plus to be found operating under the name Gazawat). Spanning almost 38 minutes total, the album is spun from a neat handling of psycho-ambient techniques, looped dialogue samples lifted from what sounds like relaxation tapes, field recordings and tempered rhythms poised straight for the clouds. The music itself might not be especially removed from what both these guys are already known for, but as an exercise mirroring both their compatibility and a pleasant take on contemporary hypnotronica, it works beautifully. As comfortable as freshly plumped pillows. (RJ)
THE BEN VERDERY GUITAR PROJECT On Vineyard Sound CD (Elm City Records, USA, 2016)
Cannot say I’ve heard of Verdery before, but he’s a teacher at Yale who with the help of his colleagues at the School of Music has assembled this rather lavishly packaged album comprising 16 cuts mostly worked around his proclivity for gentle classical guitar compositions originally written by them. A handful of the pieces are collaborations with Jack Vees on pedal steel guitar, Rie Schmidt on flutes and Pablo Neruda on “pre-recorded voice”, lending dimensional gravitas to the proceedings but barely detracting from what are ultimately softly trod shuffles through work that could equally be found at home on a piano or fully orchestrated. Melodic and perhaps slightly too pleasant for my personal tastes, these compositions, sometimes drawing from traditional or folk music with their lolling refrains and signatures, at least make up for this with their warmth and sincerity. Only the tenth piece, ‘Play These Notes’ assumes a stoic and more erratic guise I’d welcome more of. Not quite the John Fahey-esque journey I was vying for then, but a generally easy listen with plenty of movement in to still buoy one’s interest. (RJ)
PIERCE WARNECKE Memory Fragments CD (Room40, Australia, 2016)
First album ‘proper’ from a multi-instrumentalist who here wades through crystalline lakes of shimmering timbres shaded by field recordings, unobtrusive musique concrete and collaborators on, between them, a double bass, alto sax and motorised cymbals. The eight cuts were assembled from many recorded fragments fed through the painstaking work of countless edits and re-edits before being moulded into these finished states, and it is clear from the seamless dynamics bringing the disparate sounds and ideas together here that Pierce is a composer dedicated to his craft. Between them, I’m reminded of some of Christina Kubisch’s work or even that of Mirror, which is no bad thing. Certain pieces are imbued with rougher edges emphasising a penchant for organic abstract sounds occasionally nudged to the fore before minimal piano keys come into play, but this is exactly why Memory Fragments is a cut above so many releases received here that do little to transcend their predictable settings. There are many dimensions to this and each is explored to a sometimes unlikely hilt. A composer in one’s interest to keep an eye on, then. (RJ)
BAND OF PAIN / NURSE WITH WOUND Noinge/Gloakid with Phendrabites split-10″ (Dirter Promotions, 2016)
I understand this was released for the annual (and, to me, now utterly pointless) Record Store Day in Spring, hence (presumably) the novelty factor of the orange vinyl (altho’ this might also have something to do with the reference of the sourced material on the BOP side, too). That aside, though, Steve Pittis’ Band Of Pain project here delivers two pieces of nicely molten musique concrete sourced only from NWW’s excellent A Sucked Orange album. Both sound like an android with stomach problems, but that’s a winner where I’m sitting and, indeed, makes for a perfect accompaniment to the NWW side, itself of course using only sounds generated by BOP before besides voices. Clunking, stammering and choking machine-like sounds use the surrounding space to great effect while voices (one of them Andrew Liles’ wife, Melon) drift in and out or are equally battered out of shape, more in keeping with the ideas found on earlier work. Doubtlessly limited. It goes without saying, really, but this is highly recommended. (RJ)
CURED: THE TALE OF TWO IMAGINARY BOYS by Lol Tolhurst (Quercus, H/Back, 356pp, 2016)
This publishing debut from founding member of The Cure’s Lol Tolhurst amounts to a memoir that’s as digestible as it is open and earnest from beginning to end. Taking in his background as a bored teenager in Crawley whose schoolboy dream to start a group with his best friend Robert Smith in order to try and alleviate the humdrum trappings of life there, Lol regales us with how said group transmogrified from some kind of school group to one that, in 1976, became fanned by the flames of punk and found its own path due to everything that thankfully afforded. Heavily painting what lay behind all this via reminisces about his own somewhat troubled family and life in a town located outside of London just far enough to retain both a critical distance and the desire to be a part of something in the late 1970s, we are exposed to how the fledgling group, beginning as Easy Cure, grew from something vaguely hobbyist to being one of the most successful on the post-punk circuit via energetically charged shows with Wire, Joy Division, UK Subs (who, it transpires, Charlie Harper asked Lol to drum for!), Generation X, The Ruts and countless others whose own audiences were often swept away by them.
Fleshing all this out with anecdotes (including the already infamous one of Lol’s own drunkenly pissing on Billy Idol’s leg whilst the comedically lip-curled one was having a sex in a toilet cubicle) and details concerning recording sessions and life on the road as a touring band, Lol goes at great length to illustrate how The Cure were more about the genuine friendships and shared ideas and attitude behind the music than the music itself, despite being fully committed to that as well of course. What comes across most is, doubtlessly because of this all-important factor, just how dedicated and hardworking the group were. Being their only means of escape from Crawley, however, it is only too apparent that they had to be. There were no other options available to anybody looking way beyond mundane jobs and lives drowned in sorrow surrounded by equally miserable people in the pubs there.
Despite this huge yearning and all the dreams harboured by Lol and his friends in the group, however, he still fell for the bottle and became an alcoholic. Candidly describing this descent and peppering it with tragi-comic accounts of blackout-related incidents, he illustrates precisely the kind of strain this put on his relationship to the group, his partners and everybody else close to him. Whilst often funny to read how many times Lol fell over and injured himself or lost a shoe or even ended up in a police cell, the real story here is of a man coming to terms with the toll this placed on others besides himself. It is a story of redemption and forgiveness, but thankfully devoid of all the quasi-religious bullshit that usually runs concomitant with such matters.
Although the music is very much there in this book, as much anchored to Lol’s own compulsion to create as his remaining to this day something of a punk who “searched for meaning where there is no meaning”, what renders Cured being far more than yet another ‘rockstar’ autobiography is his heavily personalised and often moving trawl through his own troubles and all the demons partying with them. Charting the progress of The Cure’s elevation from residing in post-punk’s backwaters to becoming an international success (albeit on their own terms and with credentials intact) plays second fiddle to what was simultaneously going on (or not) in the narrator’s head.
By the time we get to the last few pages of the book we should feel not only relieved that this now middle-aged man made it through his own battles intact but appears to have become a far better person for all that. The fact he is now happily married and seems perfectly content, plus long ago made peace with his endearingly loyal friends in The Cure (in spite of even having once taken Robert to court and subsequently losing the case), pays testament to this.
It’s a fantastic reflection of how a teenage dream can take shape before plunging into an abyss of its own making. I’m glad Lol survived it and managed to take stock of everything here. (RJ)
THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A RECORD LABEL by Frans de Waard BOOK (Timeless Editions, H/bacck, 196pp., France, 2016)
Anybody with a keen interest in the post-industrial underground of the early 1980s ought to be familiar with Staalplaat, a Dutch label initially set up in 1983 by Geert-Jan Hobijn to issue cassette releases by the likes of Z’ev, Sleep Chamber, Laibach, Etant Donnes and The Hafler Trio, etc. under the Staaltape moniker. Between then and the late 1990s/early 2000s, the label expanded to become, similar to a number of other such labels and enterprises started around the same period, an idealistic co-operative umbrella housing a couple of shops (the first one based in Geert’s hometown of Amsterdam), a radio show, a mail order outlet, a fanzine and the organisation of countless shows by artists connected with the label, such as People Like Us, Kapotte Muziek, Deutsch Nepal, Jaap Blonk, Charlemagne Palestine and, naturally, the terminal cash cow that is the late Bryn Jones hugely overrated Muslimgauze. Besides all this, most of the people staffing the Amsterdam shop, Frans de Waard himself included, operated their own endeavours courtesy of satellite labels, groups or graphic design services. To claim that one simple glance into this hotbed of activity might in and of itself knock the breath out of most people would be something of an understatement. Then, to actually be afforded the opportunity crawl inside and get to the heart of everything is, well, something else entirely. And that’s precisely what Frans throws some light on here with admirable insight to some of the machinations, relationships and hardships encountered whilst struggling to not only keep Staalplaat from crumbling but continue building on its reputation as a hub where interesting music could be made available via often distinctively packaged releases.
Whilst the basis to Frans’ story is forged by the evolution of Staalplaat, a place he goes at considerable length to emphasise he only worked for and was not responsible for the running of (although it becomes clear that his own effort and enthusiasm played a crucial role regardless), this book largely concerns, as he also illustrates, his own perspective on matters there and is accordingly angled from a highly personal take on everything. This in itself renders much of what’s said as a lengthy enough series of gripes and overt grumpiness, but most of this is truly entertaining and delivers far better than Frans’ reviews for his own weekly online Vital Weekly ’zine might suggest (like most people directly involved in this particular world of music, I enjoy getting a guaranteed review here, but I often feel the reviews lack passion and read rather more like a sterile report despite the evident knowledge of all concerned). When FdW is, for example, regaling us with accounts of the Staalplaat shop’s decidedly customer unfriendly service (instantly bringing to mind the character of Bernard Black, as played by Dylan Moran in Black Books), complaining about his own near misses as an artist who could have perhaps collaborated with Mike Patton, or indeed voicing nothing but disdain for some of Staalpcaat’s very own releases or artists, everything is often delivered self-mockingly or cast with with enough threads of caustic humour to keep it all engaging.
Alongside numerous anecdotes about bands, artists, labels and suchlike there’s also a lot of stressing of just how much work is involved in getting a release out and, naturally, the concomitant problems sometimes incurred in this. Although the landscape has shifted dramatically during the past ten years due to more digital download releases and suchlike having replaced physical formats, This is Supposed to be a Record Label still ought to be read by anybody seriously considering launching a label (and, more importantly, being serious about it once set up). At times, many readers might draw parallels with some of the grander scale mistakes Factory made and, beyond this, most will I’m sure remain aghast at the ‘principles over business sense’ approach underpinning countless decisions made at the label. An attitude I’d contend remains perpetuated by countless other small labels and artists (my very own endeavours included, to be perfectly frank).
As well as exposing just how things were between getting an artist’s music to making it available, however, there’s a lot here regarding the way all concerned were with each other and their respective differences. In a way, this underlines exactly how the chemistry afoot was doubtlessly more than the sum of its parts, though; a facet that probably contributed far more to Staalpcaat’s relative success than any one person working there would readily admit.
Humorous or just plain baffling emails and transcriptions of phone calls punctuate the main text before everything is rounded off with a selection of Frans’ favourite releases from the label, several appendixes (including an interview with Bryn which makes him seem socially dysfunctional, and a few from fanzines with Geert-Jan and FdW about Staalplaat), thoughts on a selection of the concerts or events organised, and a complete discography of the label and its various offshoots and subsidiaries.
Everything adds up to an exhilarating read difficult to prise oneself away from that serves as both a glimpse to a world now steadily being chipped away to the point of nothing and maybe even a wry yet cautionary tale infused with unbridled passion, contradictions and a smattering of amusing gossip. Behind all this is the music, the ideas and the attitude, each of which plays a significant role and continues to buoy what remains of Staalplaat now (essentially a shop in Berlin and a campaign to keep churning out more wholly pointless Muslimgauze releases) and, perhaps more importantly, what remains of a disparate and niche area of music still doing its utmost to propagate ideas far beyond and challenge all notions attached despite increasingly numerous odds.
Before reading this, I had some doubts about Frans’ ability to write something so captivating and downright fucking funny. I’ve worked with him myself before, plus we have met a few times, and I always had this impression he was a somewhat sombre, serious type (an impression maintained by his reviews), but This is Supposed to be a Record Label shatters this completely. The man ought to put down his pipe long enough to get another book out because he certainly knows how to tell a story. (RJ)