Barren Waste – Broken By The Number 10 (ambient)
self released, 2012, DD EP, 23m 24s
This track, this EP, is a remix in one continuous utterance of the Hanetration EP Tenth Oar which I reviewed in my last roundup of short releases. Tenth Oar was divided into four tracks, while the Barren Waste EP I reviewed in the same roundup was called A unified idea split into meaningless pieces, which may explain why they stitched this into a continuum. The piece evinces the same sort of tonal continuity as the source from which it is constructed, and its sounds are recognisably the sounds of Hanetration’s release, but it is very much its own thing, with very much the sound of Barren Waste. There’s a moment halfway through where it could be a dance tune if it wasn’t for the mix (in which the percussive elements are more or less completely submerged in the drones), but on the whole this is a piece that invites contemplation and immersion. It always goes against the grain, with all of my inherited assumptions about active engagement with art, even when a musician specifically invites their audience to have a kip while they listen, but I’d suggest you don’t listen to this too analytically. It’s an experience, a context, even a place; there’s an element of narrative, in the ebb and flow of the proportion of noise to harmonic elements, but if you just go with it Barren Waste will take you somewhere as interesting as they always do, and they won’t betray your trust in their ambiental credentials with any sudden loud noises (honest).
faux flux- Environments (electronica/ indie)
Killamari Records, 2012, DD single, 3m 12s
Something of a departure, this, from Killamari’s usual fare. It’s a moderately unconventional piece of atmospheric and melodic electronica, with strong acoustic and vocal elements. Chiming idiophones (or their digital equivalents) establish a simple ostinato, reminiscent of a tribal percussion pattern, which is picked up by the guitar, while the ground beat is established with chunky constructed/ found sounds; synth and string sounds come and go, and the vocal melody moves at a sedate pace. It’s a gentle and engaging piece, that never relies too heavily on any established language. Very creative, and a really nice listen.
Brooke Sharkey – May (folk)
self released, 2012, CD and DD EP, 22m 50s
£5 available May 1
I may as well make it clear straight off the bat: Brooke Sharkey is a serious talent. She fits comfortably into a pretty non-threatening, well established mode of composition and performance, that of the female acoustic troubadour — and yes, there are specific aspects of her practice that are more commonly found among women musicians than men, before anyone jumps on me to ask why I mention her gender. The intimacy and fragility of her delivery are pronounced, and although she sometimes deploys a steelier strength (the line ‘good old fashioned whiskey’ in ‘Roundabouts & Scarecrows’) she’s mostly right up against the mic, sounding like her lips are brushing your ear. Her breath control is superb, her vibrato is spine tingling, her pronunciation and diction involve continual active choices, as the material demands, moment-by-moment, in English and French. She’s a superb dramatist and storyteller, and I haven’t even mentioned the material yet! These are sophisticated, complex but accessible songs, with a strong but non-specific flavour of the Celtic fringe, and some beautiful harmony fiddle parts (arco and pizz) with Irish sounding ornaments. The band kicks every kind of arse there is to kick, with a disciplined, subtle control of dynamics and timbre, a deep/ light swing and some serious fire at their disposal when they want it. The lyrics are great too. Beautifully recorded. I’m really not jealous. (But, yes, I wish I’d played on this).
Mista Smith – Wordamatic Vol.1 (hip-hop)
self released, 2012, DD EP, 24m 1s
‘Straight outta Cleethorpes/ is a brother that’ll smother yo’ mother…’ Well, maybe not, but Mista Smith and the crew he’s part of, Estuary Heads, are indeed from Cleethorpes, and they sound like it. This, of all things that are good about British underground hip-hop, is a Good Thing: where else is locality and geographic identity celebrated so militantly and so eloquently as on tracks like these? Mista Smith spits with a measured and deliberate flow, dropping relentless terminal rhymes that drive in perfect tandem with the easy, swaggering funk of these beats, and his lyrics speak with an authority and certainty that only the firmly rooted can evince. There’s little here that’s overtly groundbreaking, nothing stylistically transgressive or formally radical, and politics are mainly noticeable in the strong commitment to a nationally and regionally specific style, but the language of the old school still has plenty of mileage in it, and these eight cuts swing with an undeniable propulsive looseness that’s hard to ignore. There are skills on display here, but they’re not gaudy or over used; instead they’re worn lightly, letting us know Mista Smith and his collaborators have nothing to prove, and if they did, the nodding of my head would be all the evidence required.
Trim The Barber – Trim The Barber (post-punk)
self released, 2012, CD and DD EP, 17m 17s
£2.50 (DD) £4 (CD numbered edition of 100)
Apart from earning major kudos by naming their band after a stand out track from the founding father of dub, Trim The Barber have a thing or two to say about making atmospheric and texturally creative post-punk music. At this stage in proceedings it’s probably a bit late to call this stuff ‘New Wave’, but it certainly harks back to that historical sound of the future, without sounding at all nostalgic or derivative. There was a thing in the immediate post-punk period (coincidentally the period when I first became aware of something called ‘the charts’ or ‘popular music’) where vocalists adopted a deliberate coldness or hollowness to their delivery, declaiming their lyrics like great howls of anomie in the infinite existential darkness. Trim The Barber have that kind of buzz going on, in combination with an effects laden set of textural guitarscapes, also redolent of that era, when players like Robert Smith and Roger Morris sought ways to play more creatively than punk allowed, without resorting to the tired old cock waggling of earlier approaches. What the guitarists do on this release is pretty rocked out in comparison, in keeping with contemporary tastes, but dead creative, firmly supported on an angular gridwork of bass and drums. They claim to fuse post-punk with elements of shoegaze, but the influences I’ve mentioned are where shoegaze came from anyway. These are big, creative, engaging musical journeys, and I was with them all the way.
Karda Estra – The Land Of Ghosts 3 (chamber rock)
self released, 2012, DD EP, 21m
I’m trying to work out what this movie is about. It has a powerful sense of the otherworldly about it, but then I can imagine the camera lingering on a rain-washed brick terrace somewhere in England’s post-industrial heartland. The extraordinary and the fantastical in the warp and weft of the ordinary, perhaps… but I’m beating a path into the densest of critical thickets trying to ascribe a specific meaning to instrumental music as complex as this. Beautiful, haunting arrangements of strings, woodwinds and choral voices, punctuated but not directed by synthesisers and rock instruments, articulate harmonies of chromatic but consonant tonality, offering an emotional narrative with the sort of ambiguous resolutions often found in modern jazz. I’ve probably said similar things about Karda Estra in previous reviews (I haven’t checked), because Richard Wileman’s compositional method is relatively unchanged, as he continues to work out some of the myriad modes of musical thought provoked by what must have been some very profound questions. There is still an enormous amount to say on these subjects, and Wileman’s imagination shows no sign of exhausting its fecundity. There is a compelling resemblance to soundtrack music (of the more sophisticated sort) as the arrangements seem to sketch out scenes, and mark out paths between them, but because of the ways the avant-garde has been employed in film music, and the way we have been trained to respond, it can obscure some of the music’s nuances to get too hung up on a literalistic sense of narrative. The music’s atmospheres obviously arrive in a linear succession, but there is an atemporality to it as well; digested in the round, reflected upon after it concludes, it offers a truly remarkable breadth and scope of experience.