VA – Without Kibou There Is Nothing (punk)
Kibou Records £4 7” white vinyl EP
Kibou Records is everything I talk about but don’t actually do. It’s a totally independent, DIY music label and online distributor, dedicated to uncompromising underground music, of the noisy punk variety. It’s basically the Revolution, as described by French anarchists The Invisible Committee, a parallel structure that is a challenge to the status quo simply by virtue of its existence. If everyone with music to distribute did this, and everyone bought their music from outfits like this, the corporate music industry would shrivel up and die. Of course the success of such an enterprise would be predicated on the quality of the music, and although I’m sure this stuff has limited mainstream appeal, these tunes are fucking great. The Domestics are in evidence here as always (they’re the only band that actually has releases out on Kibou – the label is run by their singer), as are several allied acts that might be seen sharing the bill with them at various venues around the country. What they have in common is, well, all the good stuff: intensity, humour, commitment, loudness and a powerful dose of good old fashioned obnoxiousness, in a stylistic range from the terrifying grindcore of Social Rut to the hook-filled pop-hardcore of Science Made Us Robots. In the interests of fitting ten tracks onto a 7” EP these selections are all very short (the longest song clocks in at 1m 39s), which is all to the good, as every song is an object lesson in clarity and concision of expression, and none of them seem any less memorable than a longer recording would (or is that just because I’ve listened to this so obsessively?). This is a brilliant package, superb vintage photos adorning a delectable heavy white vinyl platter, so collectors take note, but anyone who appreciates good hardcore punk music should get this. Superb in all respects.
Ghosts In Daylight – Paper Heart (electronic pop)
£0+ DD EP
Although I am too ignorant/lazy to provide the details, there is a story about the painter Piet Mondrian, concerning the period that he lived in London in the late 30s. An English critic, sympathetic to modernist abstract painting, visited him at his studio and viewed a work in progress, which he thought was not quite ‘there’; on his next visit, Mondrian had adjusted the width of one of his black lines by a small fraction, and the painting ‘sang’. All it’s elements were in harmony, and it was clearly finished. Paper Heart is a bit like that. It’s a simple thing, a construction of simple elements, of simple electronic timbres, simple delicate drumming, simple well-judged melodies, austerely simple vocal delivery, and a simple, limpid production. It is, if you’ll permit me the paradox, a set of ice cool, and immersively warm atmospheres, in which every element is placed in the perfect relative proportion and position to all the others. Its black lines are precisely the right thickness, and as compositions, these songs all ‘sing’. The textures are constructed from Tim Heymerdinger’s live drumming, analogue synthesis, and any sound-source that came to hand, such as body parts and phone apps; the lyrical and melodic texts are delivered in the expressively aloof tones of Meme Love. There’s a degree of melancholy, and a restrained feel to the tunes, none of which are ‘bangers’, but it’s pop music, and not at all miserable. As an opening salvo Ghosts In Daylight’s debut EP is extremely assured and accomplished, an erudite, intelligent and creatively generous entertainment, produced and presented to a very high standard indeed. You should hear it.
RAD – This is Rad; Loud & Fast (punk)
Kibou Records £3 CC EP
This tape brings together two fairly hard to obtain RAD releases for easy UK consumption; it’s a tribute to the band’s dedication to punk aesthetics that a 7” vinyl release and something that describes itself as an LP add up to a total of seventeen minutes of music. Although James Scott at Kibou elected to put the whole thing on both sides of the tape, he could easily enough have put it three times on each side! RAD’s sound is pretty archetypal speed-hardcore, with clear, upper-register vocals hoisted well clear of the mix, and the kind of energy that makes you think the entire assemblage could fall apart and go flying off in all directions at any given moment. The degree of excitement that’s immanent in this music is unfeasible, and I started to feel sweaty and drunk just from listening to it. RAD are definitely one of the best punk acts I’ve been introduced to in the last several years, and this tape is a total riot.
Mr Loop – Things from the Other Place (hip-hop)
£0+ DD EP
Mr Loop has a real talent for assembling his beats seamlessly, combining disparate elements in a way that sounds like a band is playing, rather than like someone jammed some samples together over a drum machine rhythm (which is fact what’s happened). He also has an unusually good ear for a sample, plucking atmospheres from all over the musical spectrum, and employing them in ways that never feel trite or corny; there’s usually a certain element of darkness, even in the smoother, jazz-based beats, and he really knows how to put some top-spin on a groove. Polish is added at the mixing and mastering stage by Vee-Kay, one of the British hip-hop underground’s most notable production talents, but what really breathes life into Things from the Other Place is the superb cohort of emcees Mr Loop persuaded to chat over it. Ben Black, Humble Pious, Joey Prolapse and Mark From The Zoo are all among my favourite rappers, men with impeccable flows and superb word-play, while Reminisce and Super Dertie also put in sterling performances. This is a release that utterly smashes it on all levels; it ticks all the boxes for me, at any rate. Gnarly.
Feefawfum – Feefawfum (avant-rock)
$0+ DD $5 CC EP
There are some subtle dynamic modulations on this release, some sophisticated changes of feel, some precisely articulated unison passages and some challenging rhythmic complexities… but it’s all delivered in a tone of voice that combines the grit of punk with a Dadaist pleasure in absurdity. The listening experience ranges from a pronounced sense of discoherence, to a compelling sense of forward motion, frequently swinging wildly and rapidly between the two, as it does in ‘Crapitalism’. The discoherence is carefully crafted however, with very precisely written rhythmic diminutions and augmentations creating the illusion of randomness within a strict metronomic pulse; the performances are similarly indicative of some highly developed musicianship, combining ensemble precision with a relaxed feel in a way that is only possible when the material is well within the players’ technical compass. All of this cleverness is worn lightly, and Feefawfum is an entertaining listen, funny, but also satisfyingly virtuosic, and creative in a way that calls conventional musical aesthetics into question. This is a highly accomplished recording, and one that I’m happy to predict will stick with me for a long time. Top whack malarkey.
Deej – Stolen Beats and Swollen Egos (hip-hop)
Killamari Records £0+ DD EP
One third of Tyneside crew Skrufz, Deej has a gruff, aggressive flow that never wavers under the weight of his humour, delivering every bar straight, deadpan and brutal, right to the guts. There are no credits with this, apart from the guests on ‘House of the Rizing Sun’, but there’s a shout-out for the beat, so I’m assuming that the precise attributions of the work on the EP are still a mystery to scientists. Other than the obvious (and credited) guest spot from the manically charismatic Rick Fury, I think it’s safe to say that Stolen Beats and Swollen Egos features Deej and some of his mates. Whoever’s involved, it’s a totally solid production on every track, and feel is as tight as arseholes. It’s the usual mix of amusing samples, heavy back-beats, and razor-sharp humour; the nineties loom large, except for the broad Geordie dialect, which for me is one of the most appealing aspects of the EP. The main man lays it down with the panache of a master, and basically, hip-hop doesn’t get much more enjoyable to listen to than this.
WTCHS – It’s Not A Cross, It’s A Curse! (noise-math)
Perdu $6 CC & DD EP
It’s Not A Cross, It’s A Curse! is a loud, chaotic racket. Clattering drums, thunderous bass and hairy guitars, with distant vocals howling in plaintive fury somewhere towards an invisible horizon… It’s also full of intricacies, careful arrangements, and precision manoeuvres that turn the rhythm around like a skater swinging on a lamp-post. Somewhere in the liminal zone between total disorder and total organisation, then (what, didn’t you know they were adjacent territories?); and in that fertile terrain WTCHS produce a listening experience that is so intense, so compelling and so uncompromised by any consideration other than their own satisfaction that I for one was hooked on my first listen. Between their fury and their formal compositional concerns they often strike a note of yearning heartache that put me in mind of some of the luminaries of no wave, to which indeed their sound does bear some resemblance, but this is not a band to sit easily within any ready-made genre category, even one as vague and nebulous as that. This is a really good record.
Kylmyss – Isostatic EP (ambient)
Creaked Records £3.95 DD EP
The Placyde remix of ‘Very Jeremiah’ with which this EP concludes will wake you up if you put too much faith in the genre label I’ve appended above, with its combination of rock-ish, distorted synth sounds and heavy beats; but nothing Kylmyys do is easy to categorise. The five pieces here are essays in texture and atmospherics, with complex, evolving, granular timbres, and tonal content that is more about articulating a state of being than an affective narrative. There’s often a sense of the large, of the listener floating in a space whose boundaries are somewhere out of sight, or of the sounds floating on the surface of some vast unknowable substrate. There are often hard-edged, rhythmic elements, however, or jarring concrete sounds, or even driving synth riffs; it’s just that what sticks with you is the mood, not the melody or the groove. This is electronic music of the most creative sort, and I could listen to this EP repeatedly without any risk of boredom. Excellent.
RossyFlair – Garbage Fire BBQ (hip-hop)
Strange Gibberish Records $0+ DD EP
The artist previously known as Fat Ross continues with his squeaky-voiced infantile schtick; he can be relied on to undercut any misguided inclination to take him seriously, within about half a bar of any given moment in any given track. Which is not to say that this EP is a joke, or should be classed as satire rather than ‘real hip-hop’; the beats are creatively produced and effective, and RossyFlair’s flows are compelling. His humour is directed at a spot somewhere between the clichéd postures of mainstream hip-hop and the geek-machismo of the hardcore gamer. As much of that stuff is characterised by unreflecting mainstream misogyny, enough of that is reproduced to get a bit tiring, but basically, this is funny-as-fuck, accomplished and creative underground hip-hop, that pokes fun at the very notion of taking anything seriously.
Karen Grace – Deep Down Things (folk pop)
£4 DD EP
Karen Grace is a singer-songwriter, whose material and delivery are heavily influenced by the style of folksong that became prevalent in the folk revival; it’s kind of strange to refer to it as folk, since it’s really an art music tradition characterised by nothing so much as by the performance of original compositions by their authors, but if I use the f-word you’ll have a clue what her vocal delivery is like. The latter is also extremely skilled and appealing to the ear, and her melodic songs are ably represented by simple, lilting acoustic arrangements performed with rhythmic delicacy and precision. Groove, melody, and luminescent atmospheres abound. This EP is not about to upset the apple-cart in terms of its approach to the business of writing and performing songs, but it is a sheer unalloyed pleasure to listen to. Real ability, lightly worn, and gorgeous songs.
Amy West – All That It Takes (acoustic pop)
Donut Records £0 DD EP
A pretty unassuming but very enjoyable EP from a singer (and ukeleleist) whose previous releases have mainly been as a member of the up-and-coming Bristolian hip-hop tinged indie-rock band Three Kings High. All That It Takes compiles three mainstream pop songs, performed to simple acoustic orchestrations, with an R’n’B styled vocal delivery. Amy West is an ear-pleasing singer, although she could lose a certain percentage of her melismatic embellishments for my money (this release is free, so she can do what she likes…); her EP is an uncomplicated and appealing entertainment.
Goryl – Carlsonic (drone rock)
$2+ DD single b/w ‘Diviner’
‘Carlsonic’ and ‘Diviner’ are not the sort of drone pieces that trade in extended continuities of pitch, favouring instead the persistent repetition of simple guitar motifs. The texture of each piece is identical, and very simple: a single electric guitar, its tone tweaked to a penetrating, overdriven roar. There is rhythmic and melodic content: the guitar plays riffs. But they simply repeat, and repeat, and repeat, until the effect is more of being immersed in a medium than of listening to a creative discourse. I’m describing a school of drone rock, so I’m not really saying much about Goryl, or this release in particular, but what I will say is that Carlsonic is evidently born from a genuine love of sound, and the ineluctable materiality of the sound in this recording is a powerful and involving quality. Drone is an acquired taste, but the point of it is the magic it works on the listener’s consciousness, not their analytic response to its aesthetic surface. This is a powerful psychedelic trip, and I love it.
Alpha Male Tea Party – You Eat Houmous, Of Course You Listen To Genesis (math rock)
Superstar Destroyer Records £0+ DD single b/w ‘Athlete’s Face’
There’s a warm melodicism to Alpha Male Tea Party’s predominantly crunchy math rock, in places at least, that suggests an affinity with post-rock’s immersive emotional approach; the A side of the single has a huge, anthemic chorus, which is no mean feat for an instrumental guitar-rock record with experimental, underground leanings. Both these tracks are very in-your-face, noisy, rhythmically convoluted affairs, with a quite uncompromising approach, but their musical materials are all melodically and harmonically accessible, with little dissonance to them. The result is a very pleasing balance between hard-edged creative intensity, and uncomplicated fun. This is a band I loved as soon as I heard them, and You Eat Houmous, Of Course You Listen To Genesis is a release that more than lives up to their promise. Splendid.
Faux Flux – Week Long War (electronic indie)
Donut Records £0+ DD single b/w As Kids
Week Long War basically packages a driving, melodic indie-rock song into a set of electronic textures. That might not sound like a particularly exciting recipe, but the production is superb, a gritty, detailed concoction that sets the acid, slightly dangerous sounding vocal delivery in just the right context. As Kids is a ballad, but not a soppy one, and features some pretty daring (brief) moments of polytonal dissonance. These two songs may not be revolutionary, but they are infectious, and creatively presented. Nice work.
Cherry White – Don’t Hold Me Back (hard rock)
£0.25+ DD single
Regular readers will know I mainly get worked up about music that is experimental, stylistically novel or just plain bizarre. Cherry White are not really any of those things, but they knock out their sizzling brand of hard-rock with such aplomb and panache that I find it incredibly compelling. Don’t Hold Me Back is the first release for their new vocalist, who lays it down with considerable skill and charisma, and the whole tune is an electrifying essay in rhythmic excitement. The very prominent and active bass work is a real winner for me too! Superb stuff.
Marley Butler – Freckled (avant-pop)
Naplew Productions £0.79+ DD single
Rap is a relatively new technique to Marley Butler, but he doesn’t make the mistake here of taking it on in its core territories. Instead he exploits the specific impact of a lyric delivered rhythmically, setting up a nice flow with some simple cross-rhythms cutting through a sparse, chunky beat based on an acoustic bass sample. The main event in this excellent single is the lyrical text, and there’s a great video to accompany it. One account of a woman’s visual self-image is offered, from her lover’s perspective; then another is offered from hers. And then the groove ceases and a wordless female voice speaks its own bodily reality through melody. And then it’s done, enough content for a novella in under three minutes.