Black Magician – Nature Is The Devil’s Church (doom metal)
Shaman Recordings CHANT001, 2012, LP, CD & DD album, 42m 58s
£14 LP, €10 CD, £4 DD
The green, pastoral idyll of the English national myth, the archetype of England that is reputed to ramble gently through the rolling downs and valleys of a harmonious rustic hinterland, is bollocks. The countryside in which it is supposed to be found is not a place with which the majority of the English are very familiar, living as they do, in cities, and rarely leaving them. More fundamentally, it’s never really existed; country life was always a miserable existence for the sturdy yeomanry that made it what it was, and now the villages of the agrarian milieu are residential neighbourhoods that differ from those in towns only by being more widely separated. The metaphoric landscape of rural folklore always reflected the truth, in desolate and comfortless tales of a cold, ruthless supernatural world; the other kind of rural England was invented by c.18 aesthetes to justify their privileged existence. Black Magician make it their explicit aim to celebrate that darkness; Nature Is The Devil’s Church is a grim and brooding record of slow, lingering riffs that feel like traces of slow, lingering deaths (of the tortured guitars and amplifiers that made them). ‘Ghost Worship’ makes clear their debt to folk music, but for the most part their connection to the themes I’ve been discussing is philosophical and affective. And rarely have I heard bass, guitar, drums and organ so effectively employed to evoke an atmosphere. I doubt I’d have made the rural connection unassisted (I could hardly have missed the darkness), but then they describe it as ‘anti-urbanism’; the rurality that Black Magician present is to be valued not for its comfort, its pastoralism or its peace, but for the cavernous potential of place to swallow subjectivity, rather than drowning it in competing egos as a city does. The title implies no fear of the countryside, but a disregard for the pieties of a self-important society; the world of Nature Is The Devil’s Church is one that doesn’t care about you, and will feed its roots with your blood if it can.
Digiflex – Flexifit (electronica)
Killamari Records, 2012, DD album, 44m 38s
Vee Kay is an established name in the British hip-hop underground, with production credits going back a lot of years, most recently for Three Kings High (a superb up-and-coming band who you should definitely hear). Digiflex is a handle he seems to have adopted to release music that is less overtly hip-hop, although little of it is emphatically not hip-hop, and sometimes an emcee is all it would need to sound like it. Nevertheless, there’s a range of rhythmic feels and soundscapes here that stray well beyond the funky bounds of the dope beat to borrow extensively from rock and electronica. I remember reading Vee Kay disavowing the darker end of the hip-hop community, not out of hand, but professing a decided preference for the upbeat and positive; this is not a dark record, but there is an element of melancholy in it. It doesn’t wear a fixed grin, and has interests other than dancing. There are three vocal tracks, two with Amy West (one of which I reviewed as a single) and one with Joe Eden; these all have their own character (and excellent performances), but the instrumental cuts resemble some of the ‘electronic post-rock’ I’ve reviewed from composers such as Dementio 13. The record showcases some considerable production and engineering expertise: compression and EQ are used with precision to create pugilistic bass that never drives the air out of the mix. It’s the kind of production that the listener doesn’t notice as such (strangely enough, as most of the time the album is just production), but each element is tweaked and crafted to exacting standards. Textures are layered and varied, without crowding the soundstage; melodies are well-shaped and effective, not afraid to be accessible; and there’s a strong sense of narrative development to each piece. If anyone doubts that an instrumental, electronic producer’s album can be entertaining and accessible, and if they doubt that an accessible pop record can be worthwhile as art, they should let Flexifit give the lie to their prejudices.
Douglas Deep – &U (minimal house)
self released, 2012, DD album, 58m 11s
£0+ name your price
The complex thicket of dance music sub-genres is not something I want to take too seriously. I’m a geek, but I’m not that kind of geek; that kind of geek invests a lot of effort in defining, and then, inevitably, policing the boundaries between musical practices that have much more in common than in contradistinction. Whatever floats your boat, but in my experience all truly creative musicians blur and transgress stylistic boundaries, between or within compositions, unless they happen to be the definitive artists of a sub-genre… I’ve tagged &U as ‘minimal house’ because it sounds a bit like house, and it sounds a bit minimal; the style fascists will deny the existence of any such genre, but I’m just trying to communicate what it sounds like goddammit, get off my case! This record is dominated by the bass: it’s the dark, pulsating superstructure around which the other elements flit like fireflies. It taps a geologic wellspring of rhythmic compulsion in much the same way as dub, while other sounds array themselves in syncopated counterpoint to its deep central groove; the result of this is that a sound which is predominantly clean and digital, sounding crisp even in its glitchy moments, becomes profoundly biological. This is not machine sensuality, worshipping at the altar of the perfect surface, but earthy, funky music that harks back in spirit, if not in form, to the first days of house and techno. Even at it’s most detached, like the spooky closer ‘Radioshed’ (which reminds me of Biosphere’s 1992 album Microgravity), this is palpably human music, music that has been felt, shaped almost haptically, for all that its processes are technological and its materials predominantly synthetic. Douglas Deep presents us here with a beautiful series of open, inviting spaces, that combine compelling beats with expansive atmospheres; cranked through a meaty system they will shake a crowd, no question, but they are equally at home in headphones, where their elegant simplicity is an invitation to the listener’s imagination.
Heidi Harris and Joaquín Mendoza – Circe
self released, 2012, DD album, 38m 4s
$0+ name your price
It would be easy to describe this music as ‘experimental’: that’s the default term for anything that doesn’t employ a conventional compositional grammar. The main difficulty with that term is that it implies a certain form of creative enquiry, to whit, ‘what happens if I press this button?’ That may be a fair description of some musicians’ practices, but not of everyone who forges their own language. A more general sense of the experimental, the collection of observations against which to test hypotheses, the search for new understanding, is a part of every rigorous creative practice, however stylistically conventional. However, Circe does convey a real sense that its authors are exploring new territory; I don’t get the impression they are in much doubt as to the emotional effects of any given technique, as they are employed with a deft self-assurance and fluency of gesture, but the forms and premises of these recordings are just as much the field of creative endeavour as are the sounds which flesh them out. There are no obvious song structures here, but there are structures, scenes and sequences, arranged in coherent relationships. The music sometimes seems aleatory, as in the discoherent spaces of ‘The Water Broke and We Didn’t Even Notice’, and at other times it is composed of recognisable phraseologies, like Harris’ vocals on ‘The Porn Auditions’, or Mendoza’s insistently angular piano on ‘To Behold The Sight’. Both artists bring a great many sounds to their collaboration, and a great deal of knowledge and understanding to their use; there isn’t room to enumerate their techniques, but Harris’ vocals and clarinet, and Mendoza’s piano and field recordings, are the voices that linger most in my memory. Circe is an album which requires its listeners to suspend their preconceptions, and follow its meanderings with an open, actively engaged mind: those that do will be rewarded with a set of atmospheres that are as warm and as generous as they are challenging and as austerely beautiful as they are intrepid.