£0+ DD £4 CC
Cassette mushes everything up and squeezes it together; on top of the warm, lush distortions naturally imparted by magnetic tape, the whole stereo recording is crammed onto half of a tape less than four millimeters wide. It takes some clever mastering to get a really spacious, clearly separated soundfield, but if what you want is a totally integrated sound then the format does half the work for you. This, you may be thinking, says ‘punk’ in brackets after the title, so why am I not talking about the songs? Production and other technical matters are a means to an end at best where punk’s concerned. Well, to an extent that’s true, and the aesthetics of punk recordings reflect that disregard, but those aesthetics are often carefully contrived specifically in order to signify that disregard, or a rejection of received values, or whatever; and in any case, the production is pretty interesting on Ringing Ears. The vocals are distorted and muffled, as though at a distance, both from the listener and the band, while the effect of the cassette format on the instrumental recordings is a form of presence; not the sort of presence that hi-fi buffs rabbit on about, but the sensation that the listener is crammed into a small toilet cubicle with the whole band. The singer is outside shouting with his head in the urinal. The guitar sounds are saturated before they even make it on to tape, the bass is surprisingly deep and well defined (surprising in respect of both format and genre), and the drums are, on reflection, probably in the adjacent cubicle, because they’re pretty muffled, although they are rhythmically clear. Does this sound like I’m knocking this EP? Nothing could be further from my intentions; the production values are more or less perfectly adapted to the material, which, as you can probably imagine, tends towards the hardcore wing of punk. Some of the songs are full-pelt, rapid-fire aural assaults, but a high proportion of the music on side A employs queasy lumbering riffs at tempos that hark back to early American hardcore musicians’ taste for old school doom metal. Lyrical themes are predominantly focussed on the traditional punk concerns of alienation and revolutionary rage, scathing critiques like ‘BBC Scum’ rubbing shoulders with more searching moral explorations such as ‘Ode To Jay’, and there are some surprises as well, like ‘Wu-Chi’, which draws a parallel between nihilism and contemplative tranquility. Volunteers don’t break totally new ground with this release, but it’s a really good one, full of attitude and commitment. Ringing Ears is a mad wikkid sound all round.
Killamari Records £0+ DD
This assured EP opens with a bittersweet soul sample, lending its atmosphere to a casual conversation, punctuated by sharp tell-tale inhalations, touching economically on the naming of the release, the sexual politics of text messaging, coping with rejection and the pleasures of weed: it’s Rick Fury’s creative persona in a nutshell. The cover shows him on a nondescript British street: a Chinese lantern and a restaurant sign across the way connect the banality of daily life to the glamour of the wuxia movies Fury frequently samples on his releases; a slim girl in a short skirt and tall shoes walks past, dismissing him with an off-hand gesture, her back to the camera. Fury’s established MO alternates humorous boasts with wry self-deprecation, and tales of the ordinary with the grandiose or extreme. On Genji The Dragon Prince he continues in this vein, and as ever, his flows are perfectly matched to his material; he combines a complete technical command with a sense of totally unconcerned relaxation, moving seamlessly between the rhythms of speech and infectious funky precision. Wit and skill are at the centre of his creative practice, but Rick Fury is not self-obsessed, and he has more interesting things to rap about than how good he is at rapping; that he wears them so lightly makes his considerable abilities all the more compelling. Production and beat-making are very accomplished; a variety of songs are sampled, of which only Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ was too poppy for my taste; even there though, the overall artistic vision, and Fury’s charisma, carry it for me, and the track’s very entertaining regardless. I’ve been following this dude’s progress for a few years, and with each new release he maintains impressively high standards, finding ways to progress creatively while sounding more and more like Rick Fury all the time. This is fun-loving stuff, neither overtly political nor particularly deep, although other releases have featured some pretty intense confessional, and Fury was featured on ‘Let’s Start A Riot’ from Verbal Terrorists’ The War On Terra, one of the most revolutionary hip-hop releases of recent years; Genji The Dragon Prince is just one of the best rappers I know of, relaxing and enjoying himself.
£1 DD £2.50 CD
The Tickturds’ brand of punk is the rabble-rousing, garage rock ‘n’ roll variety, with a sound that bridges pre- and early hardcore, albeit very raw and rugged. As with the Volunteers cassette reviewed above, the production puts the listener in very close proximity with the band, but Hey Hey We’re The Tickturds isn’t recorded with an overtly lo-fi approach; in this case the noise and fury all comes from the amps and instruments, which are reproduced relatively faithfully. The arrangements combine the unified communality of riff-rock with rhythmic echoes of collective improvisation’s organised chaos; if some ensemble music signifies the strength of the collective, this racket signals the strength that the collective lends to the individual, with sinuous guitar solos shouting their distinctive personality at a homogenised world. The songs are demands for action, acts of political confrontation that some might see as simplifications, but which, to me, just point out how simple things often are, and by implication, whose interests are served by the perception that it’s all very complex and we should leave it to the experts. Catchy, driving material like this makes for very effective sloganeering: this EP had me wanting to build a barricade and do some redistribution of wealth. Luckily we have the cream of the cultural capital on our side already; we just need to wake up, and notice that top whack grassroots music like this makes the stuff we’re peddled by big business totally superfluous. Bloody marvelous.
Electronic indie-pop would probably be an adequate description of this music, but the beats are so fat and funky that it’s hard not to think of boom-bap too. Alex Ensoli’s project Faux Flux has been transformed, since the 2012 release of Tall Tales And Colourful Sounds, into a live duo, with drummer Demelza Mather, and although the beats on Come Alive are electronic, the sound reflects that change, and the necessary accommodations to the logistics of performance. Although the earlier release contained tracks that were, arguably, pop songs, this fistful of tunes features vocals that are more prominent in the mix, and vocal melodies that are more fundamental to the structure of the compositions. The performances are also less mediated by signal processing, suggesting an increase in confidence, which is entirely mandated by the high quality of the singing. The arrangements are big, hefty affairs, with thick, layered walls of sound or punchy, filtered synth-basses; for me, there’s a slight lack of air in the mastering, but this music isn’t really about subtlety. The songs are a lot more than pretexts for beats, but still, the main point of the EP seems to be its heavy grooves. That the grooves accompany well written, anthemic songs, realised in imaginatively varied productions, is what makes this release stand out from the crowd; Come Alive is an ace listen.
Sassbologna Records £0 DD £4 CC
The Peaks play shambolically punky pop-rock that upholds incoherence as an aesthetic virtue. It sounds like a return to the original punk ethic, which dismissed any sign of polish as elitism; this is music that you can play (okay, I know the ‘average’ reader of my blog is probably a musician, but you know what I’m trying to say), even lower in brow than The Ramones, who still had to run their recordings past industry execs before they could get them out there. Sassbologna (which I know mainly for their excellent underground hip-hop releases) is not that sort of a label, and there are few barriers to a small-run cassette plus download release. This is much less aggressive in tone than most early punk, however, and it basically sounds like a few people enjoying themselves. The fun’s contagious.
This American Snake Life combines a distinctly grindcore approach to aesthetics (and song length) with a very metal approach to riffcraft and tempo. The result is a very menacing sound, and a release that resembles an album far more than did Oh no. We Can’t Conceive. What DrugRunner don’t do is milk riffs, so these eleven songs, running for thirteen minutes in total, each contains enough musical ideas for a number three or four times as long, and the whole EP progresses with as much variety and dramatic unfolding as many hour long albums. They can play too, nailing their slabs of sound to the concrete with a tight, double-kick driven groove when they want to (and coming across like an accident in a metalware factory when that’s what the music demands); the most overtly grindcore aspect of the sound is the vocals, but the whole thing is full of the requisite drooling fury and mock-sociopathic attitude. That’s some gnarly malarkey right there.
Classic instrumental hip-hop in style, with big beats and expertly manipulated samples; Kill Emil displays a commendable taste for cheesy lounge vocals on ‘Go Away’, but for the most part these tunes are devoid of verbal content, combining chilled and inviting atmospheres with solid boom-bap kinesis. The feeling is pretty downbeat on the whole, an ethereal luminosity containing an earthy punch. It’s very well made music, and a decidedly enjoyable listening experience; by the end of the release I was wondering whether it might have been a good idea to get some spitting or singing on a couple of tunes, but not every release has to get up in your face and grab you attention. This one seems content to ease the passage of time, without making too many demands on the listener in return. Of course if you’re at all geeky with regard to this kind of music you’ll find plenty to keep you amused, as the tunes are carefully made, with a lot of interesting sonic details, but it’s all in the surface of the final effect. Broken is an extremely pleasant way to spend twenty minutes.
Dreamdark Records £0+ DD
Noise artist and musician Neil Morrison has sent me some interesting examples of his own work in the past, and now he’s started a label, whose third release this is (and the first that isn’t a compilation). Morrison’s own music is pretty heavy and dark: Angler Ape seem to take a fairly shadowy approach, but their music is much more accessible, even poppy at times. It resembles instrumental synth-pop, with lugubriously melancholy post-punk melodies played on fizzing FM synths, and beats that are heavy and driving in different ways. Noise plays its part, but as a textural element rather than an overwhelming assault or an inescapable ambience; these three tunes are carefully assembled sonic constructions, full of precisely tweaked sounds, and all are unashamedly directed at the dancefloor, without making any artistic compromises to get them there. It’s refreshing to hear ‘serious’ music that invites a bodily response. This is a very well made EP, with a superb sound throughout.
Drone and ambient music is generally concerned with exploring the effects of sonic continuities; Timelapse finds Hanetration taking a somewhat granular approach to this idea, presenting the ongoing repetitions of some imagined machinery as the aural character of an indeterminate time and place. The sounds are rather less pretty and comforting than many listeners will expect of ambient music, and also rather less so than Hanetration’s earlier releases might lead us to expect. Harmonic coherence is notable by its absence, and the atmospheres evoked by this recording seem to be those of the city, of industry, of the workplace, rather than of some detached place of contemplation. ‘Moon’ has some melodic content, which even seems to gravitate around a tonal centre, although its pitches are wavering and inconstant, but mostly this is an ambience of percussion. Repetition stands in for long tones, and the inner spaces addressed by much ambient music are displaced by more material concerns. The creative demands of ambient music can make it hard to offer any challenge to the listener, or any substantial reward for close attention paid to the music; Hanetration are applying themselves with great success to this issue. As immersive as anything you’ll hear, this music also provokes thought and active engagement, and is clearly the result of a great deal of skill and creative effort.
It’s a grungey, sludgey, punky sorta thing. Just guitar, drums and vocals, but the guitar often sounds like the top two strings of a bass, and there’s certainly no gaping hole in the sound, or any sense that it’s thin. Potassium Benzoate (that’s a preservative, children – no, I can’t think why they called it that either) is all about riffs and commitment; every song is performed with total intensity, and irrespective of the volume you actually play this back at, you can tell it’s loud. Stylistically, it hovers around the fringes of hard rock and hardcore punk, with a kind of sleazy swagger reminiscent of late 60s Detroit (the rock music that emerged from it, I mean; I wasn’t alive in the late 60s and I’ve never been to Detroit so I’d have no clue if something was reminiscent of it). These are some shit-kicking songs, and they’re performed with a ragged vigour that is as charismatic as it is sincere. It’s moderately sophisticated stuff all the same, though, with plenty of dynamic variations and interesting formal ideas; melody shares the stage with raving sonic insanity, and the end result is a great listen.
I like to be descriptive when I write about music: after all, there are plenty of bloggers out there telling you what they like, and why should anyone give a shit what I like? But it will be hard to convey how good I think this is just by describing it. ‘Deep, downbeat, electronic groove-rock’ is the note I made when I first listened through to it, and that’s a fair account of it stylistically; but it doesn’t even begin to convey the effect of its combination of surf-twang guitars, boom-bap head-noddery and righteous vocal performances. Melancholy in tone, this EP’s emotional impact is way beyond a characterisation as simplistic as ‘sad’ or ‘regretful’; it packs as much affective punch as a dozen ordinary albums, and the songwriting is a masterclass. As I said, there’s no particular reason you should care about my opinion, but just for the record, I really love this.
Lush, sunlit alt-folk dreamscapes with an indie rock backbone. ‘Elide’ has a harmonic structure that takes the listener through some evocative historical territory (yes children, I mean the 1960s), while ‘Veils’ is more riff-based, but both tunes combine groove and melodic whimsy with conviction and aplomb. The music is extremely pretty, and it puts out some very positive vibes, but there’s more to it than that; musical and conceptual sophistication lurk beneath a humorous veneer of guileless naïveté. Bunny Punch’s debut release is engaging on all levels, skillfully made, a gas to listen to and entirely splendid.
Drunken Forest do not make predictable music. You might think you have some idea where it’s going after you’ve heard a few bars, but you’ll be wrong. By the time you’ve listened to this short EP you’ll have heard some Canterbury style jazz-rock unison noodles (although the music is actually made in São Paulo), some pronkish angularities, some decidedly unsettling rhythms, some pranksterish atonalities, some twangy guitar sounds, some noisy metal guitar sounds, some flat-out bizarro verbal samples, various other noises and about enough transitions of feel or form to populate an entire hour long album. Extremely complex music and a decidedly psychopathological aesthetic make for one hell of a listening experience. This is superb.
Frantic grindcore thrash, rather lengthy for a Chestburster song at just over a minute, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome; I’m not sure what Rob Saunders is singing about, as it sounds like he’s got a bit of a sore throat, but I imagine it’s probably something to do with a horror movie. The Prowler is very intense and extremely enjoyable.
Mellow and heavy, the beat on which this single is based makes its bones at either end of the frequency spectrum, leaving the middle to the voices. Marley Starskey Butler’s contributes a measured flow of intelligent, reflective rap, and Anne-Marie Allen’s adorns the track with soulful embellishments. It’s a lovely sound, and although it’s not at all in-your-face, it has enough of strange and inventive details to keep you guessing. Another blinder from this art-pop auteur.
Believers Roast £0+ DD
Clocking in just over eight minutes, and opening with rapid Moog (or moog-alike) arpeggios over a meter that may technically be even, but is certainly phrased oddly, Don’t Land On Me clearly exhibits certain characteristics not associated with commercial pop-music. Oh, how I laughed: don’t they realise there’s no point making such sophisticated and complex music beautiful and fun to listen to? All of these limpid vocal harmonies, lush woodwind arrangements, irresistibly crunchy guitar riffs, ethereally catchy melodies, perversely funky rhythms and dramatic shifts of feel and texture, completely wasted. Everybody knows that avant-prog fans like their music ‘difficult’; Knifeworld are sadly committing commercial suicide by releasing a single that is such pure, unalloyed sensual pleasure from the first to the last note.