Discorporate Records DISREC23 €5+ DD €12+ 12”
A combination of electro-acoustic and programmed sounds are used here to create a sound that pays clear homage to African polyrhythmic percussion music, unpitched attacks mingling with sounds similar to idiophones or lamellophones, although they might come from almost any source. Then there are the synths, guitars and lo-fi samples… No Security Through Numbers is far too complex to glibly summarise with a juxtaposition of stylistic labels or a list of other bands I think you might have heard of. Towards the end of ‘Super Symmetry’ a series of fusionesque stabs appear as if from nowhere; there has been no indication in the track, or the two that preceded it, that we should expect such an occurrence. Mostly the music is animated by continuous percussion grooves as described above, but that track is introduced by an extended section of slightly gritty melodic drones; ‘Hompa’ features some noisy electric guitar phrases; the release as a whole has a coherent sound, but it is so individual that the first listen through left me continually surprised. It’s frequently quite ‘heavy’, although not via the mechanisms of crunching guitar riffs or brutal sub-hooks; electronic and acoustic percussion noises are unified into powerful barrages of sound, bolstered by a variety of synthesised voices, none of which take the obvious path to aural wish-fulfillment. The sound is, nevertheless, quite accessible, and the rhythms, although often quite abstract, are generally very funky. What this music does not have, which many listeners might expect to find in the company of some of the other elements I’ve described, is vocals, or overarching instrumental melodies. These are the things that locate meaning in European musical culture. These are the discursive statements of the definitive individual voice, the author we are conditioned to seek in all forms of art as the source of its true value; such an idea is absent from much African art, except inasmuch as it has been imported by the processes of colonisation, and this is particularly apparent in music making. African pop music has been exported extensively, and it takes many of its conventions from the North, but even so, it still usually evinces a certain communality of creative effort; folk music is another matter altogether, most notable for the absence of any aurally distinct primary voice. SchnAAk and the Rundu Choir achieve something of that communality; although a duo, they seem to have sunk their individual voices completely into the whole of their music, giving the impression not only that there are more than two of them, but that the two of them are no more important than any of their imaginary friends. This is not only very musical, very pleasing, powerful music, produced with great musicianship, but it is also creatively adventurous work, which seeks to explore avenues to musical meaning that, if not exactly new, certainly depart the comfort zone for most European musicians.
Reel Me Records £5 CD £5 7” £2.49 DD
When someone started recording and performing as a rapper, I suppose it’s predictable enough that when they apply themselves to the business of singing their phrasing should be sharp. Joe Eden may be more familiar to readers of this blog as the emcee Chattabox, and it’s a rare month that I don’t review at least one release from his Killamari Records imprint; here he’s at work as a band member, and his kinetic, precise vocal delivery is one of the most compelling things about Tell ’Em Lies. It’s particularly obvious on the closer, ‘Back’, where his syllabic percussion bounces along above a slow-moving half-time rock/soul groove: with singing like this, even a ballad feels like a dance tune! Three Kings High have been hovering on the fringes of my awareness for around two years now, and here they are with their second ‘official’ release, their first on Reel Me Records; two of the four songs on the EP version of this single were actually in the not-officially-released Soundcloud set I reviewed in December 2011, but I’m taking this as sign that they are going slowly and carefully, rather than that they’re short of material. Their sound is worthy of care, because not only is it accomplished and entertaining, it also sounds to me as though it could have real commercial appeal (mind you, if I was the last person alive willing to proffer an opinion, it would probably still be a bad idea to take advice from me on matters of commercial appeal). The sound is basically groove rock: the guitars (courtesy of Sam Otis, who is also a jaw-dropping rapper in his own right, although his vocal contributions to Three Kings High seem to be limited to one verse of ‘Tell ’Em Lies’) are raw and prominent, and the production favours lower mid-range crunch, with synths thickening up the arrangements, while the drums and bass drive the wheels with deep, earthy beats. The vocal melodies have, as I’ve said, a lot of groove, and the line between singing and rapping is extensively blurred, particularly as Amy West’s backing vocals frequently emphasise the pitch more than Eden’s lead. I’m probably the last person to insist that music should have to have hooks, and I’m often shocked when critics denigrate recordings solely on that basis; I’m also often averse to music with too many hooks, which can devolve into something like fast food, all sugar and salt with no nutritional value. But somehow, Three Kings High manage to pull off the trick of writing memorable phrase after memorable phrase, and stringing them together into coherent, well balanced songs, that leave you chewing on their meanings, rather than nursing a headache as your blood sugar plummets. ‘Tell ’Em Lies’ and ‘Nothing New’ are the most energetic of the songs, and they’re the two on the 7”; but if you want my advice you should buy both versions of this release, because while the vinyl will definitely sound better (unless you have an unusual and very expensive stereo), the other songs on the CD are dope. This is a brilliant release from a crew that deserves to go far.
Humble Pious has one of the most distinctive voices in rap, a subterranean susurrus with its vowels stretched out sideways; Nate Glace is less timbrally extreme, but like his collaborator here he spits laid-back, resonant streams of reflective verbiage with a charismatic air of uncompromising commitment. The beats are downtempo and atmospheric, each of the five tracks featuring a different producer, all of whom share a taste for vintage grooves and analogue grit. Broke Heater is not without a sense of fun, but its themes are predominantly serious, and it is dark in tone, although not, on balance, in outlook. This music is not hampered by any spurious preconceptions regarding the appropriate lyrical topics of rap music, and the songs move easily between politics, sex, spiritual consciousness, social awareness and lived experience, without signalling any distinction between such areas, which are, after all, equally a part of every human’s life. The chances are that I could listen to this dozens of times without picking up on everything these emcees are on about, and that any other listener doing the same would come away with a different interpretation of the work; that’s just how life is, and art that’s serious about representing it with integrity is necessarily the same. If you’re looking for uptempo bangers and virtuosic rapid-fire spitting, you won’t find them here; but you will find some of the most thoughtful, soulful, reflective, intelligently conceived and skillfully executed hip-hop around.
Alpha Male Tea Party – Real Ale and Model Rail: A Lonely Man’s Guide To Not Committing Suicide (math rock)
Superstar Destroyer Records £0 DD £? CD
The gloves are off these days in the creative catacombs of rock music; nobody really cares what set of stylistic conventions they’re adhering to, and the lines are getting blurred between math, art-rock, and the various strands of metal and prog. In terms both of their instrumental textures and their arrangements, Alpha Male Tea Party fall quite readily into the ‘math’ category, but they include the tag ‘progressive rock’ on their Bandcamp page, the important thing to note being that they may not sound like ‘prog’, but bugger me, they certainly are progressive. The songs are probably not ones you’ll be humming much, but songs they are, with melodies, and words that are about stuff (although scientists are still not certain what that stuff is). In terms of technical invention, the main field of play for the band is rhythm; rather than pumping it out in the general direction of their listeners’ collective pelvis, they fabricate sturdy but complex additive mechanisms of noisy crunching, which they assemble with equal parts precision and enthusiasm. The texture is essentially the raw sound of punk, sometimes tending towards the intensities of sludge, but basically a ragged, upper-midrangey guitar shout. Alpha Male Tea Party are far too absorbed in the pleasure of making music to let any hipster bullshit creep in, although aspects of their practice border on some sounds favoured by the talk-like-an-idiot-dress-like-a-twat brigade; as such we can pray they reach some of that demographic and infect them with a genuine appreciation for real music. This EP, out on August 26, for which pricing, availability and catalogue numbers were unavailable at the time of writing, is frankly superb, and unless the above description suggests its stylings will be completely indigestible to you, you should watch the Superstar Destroyer Records website like a hawk and buy it as soon as you can.
That old sixties faux-sitar sound is the first thing you hear, and the subsequent guitar chords and organ melody also situate the listener right in that decade, although the rich patina of filth in the sound signals that something’s not quite right… When the approximately pitched vocals enter we’re clearly in avant-garde territory, the art-rock/psychedelic/drone/noise hinterland of late sixties New York. Not every song wields the same exact set of references, but the sound of Cesare Runs Away is consistently that of experimental garage-psychedelia, and the band makes few compromises to accessibility or commercial appeal. When I searched to see if I could find The Longdrone Flowers on Twitter, the only reference I turned up was a tweet from a promoter, saying he wouldn’t be booking them again; I know nothing about the promoter in question, but I take that sort of press as a recommendation (I think it’s safe to say that he wasn’t objecting to an excessively slick presentation). I honestly have no clue what the band are like as people, or how they come over live, but this EP has that vibe of subversive, antisocial radicalism that makes me want to do bad graffiti, talk gibberish and key expensive cars. It’s not about calculated songwriting, carefully crafted performances or mainstream aesthetics; this music is about taking a creative vision and presenting it, warts and all, without polish, in a spirit of total truthfulness. It’s pretty funny in places, but there’s also an intensity to the whole project that is very compelling indeed.
£0 (separate downloads, limited to 200)
Drums, bass and vocals: that’s all this is. I mean, honestly, who needs all those guitars, keyboards, bassoons and hurdy-gurdies cluttering up the place? These two songs are really just a taster for an album slated for release in the autumn, but until their free downloads run out you can get them from Bandcamp gratis. I suggest you do. I hope you’ll forgive me, as a bass player, for focussing on the bass for a moment: while the drumming is superb, and the vocals are awesome, the bass here is holding down a whole range of roles usually filled by multiple instruments, and it does a very good job of providing bottom end, harmonic structure and rifftastic juice all at the same time. It’s played by Sam Warren of Thumpermonkey, and I should really declare at this point that I’m wearing a Thumpermonkey t-shirt as I write, so I make no claims to journalistic objectivity. I’ve only heard these two songs (having been unable to get to any gigs so far), but I’m already a massive fan of this music. It’s a mathy, heavy noise combining deep smash with rhythmic intricacy, in the arrangements of which the seriously intense vocals play a major part. It’s more or less all right in your face, with quiet moments that still sound quite angry, but it’s definitely not without shading and variety. It’s very musically sophisticated, brutally intense, and it’s generally excellent in all regards. Get it while it’s hot.
I think IIOII are Chilean; they say they’re from Santiago, and although there are quite a lot of those, in the absence of any qualifications I think that’s the most likely candidate. Regardless of their nationality, they make gently graded ambient music, grounded mainly in extended drones, but with a variety of short term electro-acoustic articulations contributing to the texture (I suspect them all of being guitar noises, but it’s hard to be certain). 6 6 is a single piece of nearly twenty minutes’ duration; its dynamic develops over the first three minutes until it reaches a level at which it remains until nearly the end of the composition. The music is not purely about atmosphere or subliminal affect, as there are continually developing textural and timbral variations from the beginning of the track to the end, but it is certainly both atmospheric and spatial. It sets a mood of unhurried contemplation, but provides plenty of content for the active listener to absorb and digest. In detail it’s a meticulously crafted sonic environment, and in general it’s a beautiful and absorbing piece of art.
Big Red Sky Records £2+ DD £3 CD
Comparing these two songs to the versions of them that appeared on the EP Lover (released under the name of Tamara Parsons-Baker) is a good illustration of the art of production. The earlier release of ‘Get Him Out’ was fine, but this is both better realised and more creatively imagined; both tunes also feature noticeably more intense vocal performances. Where I probably, if I’m honest, thought of Parsons-Baker as another young acoustic singer-songwriter, albeit with a bit more creative bite than most, this release makes it clear I need to really pay attention. The band sound is superb, and there is such unhinged conviction in both tracks that they earn a place among the select group of weirdos I listen to for pleasure. Very creative and powerful stuff here; you should hear it. Album please!
Bright shimmers of synth pad float over bare bones beats and deep bass. This brief two track EP is a gentle business, the product of a good deal of care and craft, presented as a simple evocation of atmosphere. It has beats, and it has melody, but not hooks as such, and there is no vocal. For aesthetic interest it relies on its transparent textures and bittersweet harmony. G H O S T S 2 is neither pretentious nor demanding; it’s just a very pleasant way to while away six and a half minutes.
A deep, subtly resonant bass brings in this track with the gentlest of syncopations; a constellation of electronic texture manifests around it, and Pixieguts’ rich contralto pours over it like Bailieys on ice (or pick your own stock phrase cliché for mellifluity). Does it then pursue its ordained course as a beaty chill-out choon, with toned-down dancefloor stylings? No. Its texture expands, it loses the beat, and it produces an open, spatial ambience of increasing reverberance; bucking expectations and massaging ears in equal measure. Beautiful stuff.