Humble Pious – NAM KYO (hip-hop)
self released, 2012, DD EP, 22m 39s
Schoolday nostalgia seems to be a current in many branches of music nowadays. It’s by no means a new thing, but it’s definitely growing. It’s curious how it lends historicity and distance to times that probably don’t seem at all distant to a greybeard like me; my theory is that it represents a re-appropriation, a staking out of territory in which an artist can feel rooted. It’s definitely not the dominant theme on NAM KYO, but it’s an important presence, and not just in ‘Were Still The Same’, where it is explicitly referenced. We live in an era where history is fragmented and recycled, and individuals are as disenfranchised from historical agency as from political agency. Asserting the significance of personal biography is one way to reclaim that agency, bringing nostalgia into the same zone of self-articulating subversion inhabited by the more overtly political lyrics on this EP. Rootedness seems to be the central theme here: the beats are deep and funky, with a sometimes geological bottom end; the flows are similarly earthy, with a low-register propulsion that is always hooked up to the ground beat; and the words dig for identity, in personal history, oppositional politics, the deep seams of socio-cultural inheritance, and the sheer seditious jouissance of linguistic play. This is a very articulate, emotionally literate piece of work, with a rough-and-ready swagger that befits the considerable skills that went into making it.
The History Of Colour TV – 1-800-Badnite (shoegaze)
self released, 2012, DD and 10” single, 9m 58s
€8.99 (vinyl) €1.49 (DD)
A less specific nostalgia drenches this creamy slab of hypnagogic shoegaze. They explicitly reference the ideas of a past ‘yet to be’ and a forgotten future; combined with the pelagically reverberant, historically dislocated guitar soup of their sound, this positions them pretty clearly at the a-chronic saturation point of cultural reflection described so precisely by Simon Reynolds in Retromania. Whatever they’re nostalgic for has never happened, and what’s more, it’s hard to avoid reading these sounds as nostalgic for an already nostalgic moment, when the first wave of shoegaze re-enacted the sonic and psychic distance of their own inspirational sources in the glimmering fog of their contrarian studio artifice. Of course, I’m writing from an obsolete perspective, where pop has to do something entirely novel every week, and that’s no longer possible; The History Of Colour TV are practitioners of a musical language that by any normal standards has only just been established, and they do an admirable job of exploring the wrinkles of its remaining potential. This is a blood-temperature aural bath, evoking an unexplored place and time, as familiar as the womb.
The Light That Kills – A Day That We Drift And Fall (ambient)
self released, 2012, DD EP, 15m 21s
The Light That Kills is the solo project of Scott Crocker, half of the experimental electronic/ noise metal duo Barren Waste. A Day That We Drift And Fall is his first release under that rubric (although a second EP followed almost immediately, which I will doubtless review at some point). The sound is diffuse and ambient, but with identifiable melodic materials, that wander in and out of tonality. Some sounds have synthetic origins, (or obscure ones), but recognisable instrumental timbres, such as steel guitar and steel drums, are also included in these largely granular soundscapes. What’s interesting to me is that although there are historically locatable sonic references, there is none of the wistful, homesick longing that has so much currency in contemporary music, despite some superficially similar strategies of distancing and de-focussing. The past is a presence in this music, but it is mediated by both a total disconnect, and a lack of any distance whatsoever. The temporal span of these songs is a space for particles of sound to move in, rather than a narrative frame, and the music’s entire sense of time is spatial. There is no looking back, and there is no looking forward; the experience of listening is both strange and familiar, a sense of possibilities continuously unfolding, that never compromises on its principles to contrive a sense of arrival or closure.
Grenouer – Computer Crime (progressive metal)
Copro Records COP061, 2012, CD EP, 22m 16s
The keening melodies, unexpected harmonic junctures, mathy rhythmic groupings and relatively complex song structures of Computer Crime put it firmly in prog territory, not just for its approach, but for its stylistic impact as well. Grenouer come from a background in extreme metal however, specifically the death- and technical- stripes of that spectrum, and although I’m not familiar with their earlier sound, that heritage is clearly audible in the heavy, homorhythmic textures they employ from time to time. Death metal vocals break out only for occasional brief moments of maximum intensity, but mostly the central point of this music is melody. Hooks abound, sometimes somewhat glib, as in ‘Golden Years’, but mostly just possessed of a generous accessibility. This is music with commercial potential, although in English speaking markets the Russian accents will probably prove a handicap, but it is also a complex and involved sound, that rewards close listening with a more or less continual succession of technical easter eggs. A sound like this is basically predicated on scratching its listeners’ itches, rather than challenging them to extend their listening practices or examine their aesthetic responses: part of its appeal is acrobatic, as it’s highly accomplished, in composition and performance, but its main strength is good tunes in highly listenable arrangements.
Ian Evans – Ghostwatch (avant-pop)
self released, 2012, DD EP, 13m 19s
£3+ (name your price)
One of the blurbs on Ian Evans’ website is from Tim Smith of Cardiacs: it simply says ‘strange and normal at the same time.’ That’s actually a fair description of much of my favourite music… The songs on Ghostwatch are recorded with pretty normal textures, and present themselves as relatively conventional layer-cakes of rhythms, chords, melodies and words; but then everything’s just a little bit off-kilter. Phrases end nearly where you might expect them to; cadences nearly generate a sense of harmonic closure; melodic contours nearly follow idiomatic narrative arcs; lyrics nearly make sense. At every point where most songwriters might rest on a generic convention, Evans insists on making up his own, and only allows the established pop-rock idiom to guide him in between those points, in the places where those other songwriters might decide to ‘get creative’ and fuck with the texture a little. The end result is beguiling, pleasingly melodic, but free floating, depriving the listener of anchor points, and forcing them to actually listen, more or less continuously. If it resembles anything, its ambiguously negotiated sense of key put me in mind of the aforementioned Cardiacs, but it sounds very much like itself: very original, very appealing despite its strangeness, and hiding a considerable amount of musicianly light under the bushel of its self-effacement.
Telepathy – Lucretius (avant-metal)
self released, 2012, DD single, 5m 46s
£0+ (name your price)
This track opens with what I once heard referred to (by someone discussing James Bond movies) as a prelim slam: by which I mean that, after a few notes of melodic guitar, it comes heavy. A pachydermally ponderous riff deals in burnished gestures, exaggerated bass slides sounding like the loops on a well executed signature, before it drops away dramatically to an atmosphere presaged by those first few notes. And then, about two minutes in, it changes shape completely. Telepathy are a band without vocals, or any direct substitute for them (such as samples, or long solos), but their sound is as expressive and engaging as any, and with as much human interest. The range of textures and rhythms they employ, while still maintaining a very coherent sonic signature, is impressive, and the range of affect on Lucretius, from gentle to thunderous, ponderous to flat-out, plaintive to chest-beating, makes you think you’ve listened to an opera, not a single track. This is a very creative and powerful piece of riff-craft.