There’s a gentle oddness to these songs, cradled in gleefully brutal drum machine sounds and fugal laminations of electric guitar ostinatos. The executioner of the latter is subtly ‘off’, in both pitch and articulation, contrasting the fascistic precision of the former, but colluding with it to efface the performer, along with any notion of their heroic ‘star status’, from the centre of the performance. This is music whose own production sets out to tell us that its author could readily be substituted by a rudimentary machine, or by some other random person; but the songs, and the gloomy disregard with which they are sung, tell a different story, one of particular, irreducible individuality. Small acts of resistance, assertions of a subjectivity that focalises the alienation with which they are imbued, these are not songs as entertainments, but as the actions that constitute a life. They have the hollowed out melancholy of post-punk, and its melodic appeal, but little of its powerful drive, preferring to stay home and muse rather than go out and party. Stranger to Your Own Past is an idiosyncratic and affecting collection of songs.
You Can Fuck Off has a sound that gives the lie to the associations of its title and refrain, and to the pentagram in the cover art. Meandering guitar strums, punctuated intermittently by crashes of percussion, support incoherently gentle vocalisations; the whole ambles past on a plume of casual obscenity and stumbles to a halt, as though the musicians had suddenly remembered what they were supposed to be doing. One of the most original and amusing things I’ve heard in a long while.
Naplew Productions £3+ DD
I’ve been following Marley Butler’s art-pop explorations for some years now; he’s always made interesting creative choices, but Awake Night presents the most radical change I’ve heard in his creative practice. The arrangements of these three pieces are built around bowed strings, embellished by tuned percussion in ‘Ruminate’ and ‘Knowing Alone’, electronic beats and vocals in ‘Toss and Turn’, and piano in ‘Knowing Alone’. The string writing is assured, and exploits the resources effectively, although the material is recognisably from the same stable as Butler’s existing oeuvre, and it’s easy enough to imagine it arranged for his more accustomed instrumental forces. ‘Knowing Alone’ sounds most specifically a composition for these instruments, but in all three pieces the listeners attention is effectively re-focussed by the novelty of the approach. As tonal and as pellucid as ever, Butler creates intimate spaces into which he places ideas of great clarity and precision, their simplicity a token of their bounded ambition; there are no grandiose pretensions here, and in consequence the sense is one of creative goals completely realised. An unmistakeable moment of real artistic growth, and of gracile beauty.
Why the outgoing, sun-loving sport of surfing should be associated with a style of guitar music that is predominantly dark and threatening is a mystery (or a historical accident); The Deal is full of the twangy lower-register guitar sounds and characteristic melodic tropes of surf-rock, but it’s a spooky and creatively probing set of tunes, that finds new mileage in a predominantly well-worn palette of stylistic resources. The band have described their own sound as ‘noir-spy-experimental’, and the tradition they work in is as closely associated with 1960s soundtracks of that sort as it is with waves and longboards. The penetrating, wiry sound with which the muscular and agile basslines are articulated gives Busto Power Trio a distinctive voice in a genre with quite closely bounded conventions; and the power-trio texture makes for a distinctively stark set of atmospheres, in which moments of intensity are marked by raucously mordant roars from the guitar. Drawing on stylistic elements from reggae, jazz, central European folk music, Afro-Cuban music, and other places, these pieces retain a sense of real coherence, paying loving homage to the surf-rock (or noir-spy-rock), tradition while forging a genuinely individual and innovative sound.
Aural Sects $0+ DD
In a world in which everyone is exposed to everything, and all musical practices are available to the magpie tendencies of the eclectic, it can be quite hard to narrow down questions of style; ‘witch house/pop/sexyshit/tango’ is as close as Qeei herself can get, and I can’t really add much to (or argue with) that. That doesn’t give you much of the picture, however; the full picture is one of creative electronic production, characterised by close attention to detail and precise timbral manipulation, and of magisterially dramatic vocal performances. Neempha EP successfully straddles the boundary between the experimental and the accessible, worrying away at creative possibilities without discounting the pleasures of a melodic hook or a propulsive beat. It’s an essay in sonic and musical exploration, and an unabashed entertainment. Weird, yet fun. And very good.
Big reverbs and dark synths instill the production of ‘Foolosopher’ with drama and darkness, an ominous feeling that represents something of a novelty for Diane Marie Kloba; her trademark humour and uncertain delivery are present in spades throughout this EP however. Short as it is, Dandelion Exclusives feels quite big, in creative terms; its compositions and arrangements feel so assured, so subtly expressive, that they are clearly the work of an artist at the peak of her powers. This is a work of pronounced creative maturity, turning our attention to Kloba’s quizzical observations with a deft, un-manipulative touch, and employing the simple resources of guitar pop with singular power.
Naim Label £1.48 DD £5.99 12”
These two remixes of ‘Going Home’ from Burn sound sufficiently different from the original that I probably wouldn’t have noticed they were remixes of that tune, had it not said so on the label. In fact, this doesn’t sound at all like the Sons of Kemet I know from that album, but it is, on the other hand, pretty damn good! The ‘Bludd Relations Version’ has a driving drum-machine beat and adds a vocal, while the ‘Hello Skinny Remix’ is a dubby affair, that retains more of the original. Neither sounds like I expected, but both are very listenable.
Spacey, cinematic electronic rock, whose methods owe more to pop than to the pelagic texture-weaving of post-rock and its bedfellows. Desert Ships are self identified as a ‘dream wave’ band, and they sound more or less how that would suggest, weaving and deploying skeins of diaphanous, hypnagogic, aural webbing; they spin their yarn from the commonplace materials of the guitar band, and scour it in the same lye as shoegaze and dreampop, but their music retains more textural structure and aesthetic concision than is usual with such an approach. There’s a touch of the motorik about their grooves, which leaves the listener feeling as though they are driving a wake through the band’s oneiric cloudscapes more than floating in them. It’s a dream, but it’s a trip as well; and it’s all a real pleasure.
Stereogram Recordings £0.79+ DD
Salvation is a dark, countrified song, infused with baritone register twang-guitar, that nails you to the wall while its self-doubt and redemptive desires infest your soul. It has a kind of crippled lope, dragging a leg behind it in a hillbilly tango that’s erotic and disturbing in equal measure, its forlorn hopes more terrible than its desperation. Why it is that such grim musical affect can be so entertaining is unclear to me, but this is a truly compelling slice of gothic Americana.
Downtempo electronica from the producer behind Dementio 13, these are three simple, trip-hop-ish tunes, named ‘one’ to ‘three’, but not in that order. They sound like a distinct set of material, not quite like anything else I’ve heard from this artist, but I’m still not quite sure why they don’t carry the Dementio 13 monicker (maybe just because the ultra-polite assassins from Diamonds are Forever do make for a great band name). I gather their author was setting out deliberately to challenge his working habits, and these very organic, analogue, fluid streams of mellowosity are a definite departure, but for me it adds value to consider them as a part of the same body of work as the material released under the usual project name. This is creative growth, y’dig? It would be fairly easy to imagine an actual band producing much of these sounds, but that’s by the by really, as this guy has been proving for several years; it doesn’t really matter how you make the sounds, if they come out as deep and as immersive as these. Even the grinding overdriven bass in ‘three’ comes out as smooth as silk and as sweet as honey in these deft, masterful hands.
Opening with a well chosen vintage sample, a clattering backbeat supporting a soulful vocal, this track creates some early boom-bap expectations, and immediately confirms them; its beat serves only to fatten up the sample, which continues throughout, its vocal returning periodically to supply the chorus. Its a very nice piece of production, with the maturity to let its sources speak for themselves, simply adding some heft and some subtly propulsive scratches. Seek The Northerner provides his signature ingredients, to whit an urgent, funky flow and socially aware bars that are overflowing with sincere positivity. Sweet, solid and ridiculously infectious.
£4.99 DD £5 CD
This release is a veritable explosion of groove and joyfulness. If you heard these songs accompanied by nothing but an acoustic guitar, you’d hear some distinctly British indie-pop, with an intelligent, celebratory approach, and a compelling sense of melody; the rhythm section treatment lifts them into another dimension altogether. The orchestration is all jangly guitar pop, but the grooves are deep, driving African and Caribbean beats, performed with impeccable feel and precision; feelgood music is an inadequate term for The Best Of Times, but the title is a pretty good description. If you see any gigs advertised, go to them, because I can guarantee, purely on the basis of this EP, that they will be pure, dance-till-you-drop parties. I don’t often encounter new bands as fresh and accomplished as Cable Street Collective.
£6+ DD £7+ CD
What Emily Jones sees with her ‘autumn eye’ is a world of contingent, changeable transitions, of the tension between that season’s ‘dark restless storms’ and its ‘gold and calm’. She expresses this duality by means of seven songs of wide-eyed, open-hearted avant-folk-pop, with a dreamlike feel, and some unsettling moments (‘Hermegant and Maladine’ in particular). Whether the sound of Autumn Eye is particularly autumnal is a judgement I’ll leave up to you, the listener, but it’s certainly very involving and atmospheric. Jones’ processed guitar strums are at the core of the arrangements, with only very minimal embellishments, although the EP doesn’t sound like a straightforward singer-songwriter bash at all. The songs are prone to turn unexpected corners, lurching into new territories impulsively, the floaty reverbs and mellifluous vocal harmonies serving to effectively anaesthetise the abruptness of the shifts. It’s music that lulls you, and then gives you a kick just as you’re settling into its dreamscape; a very pleasant and rewarding piece of contemporary psychedelia.
Sober Up Records £5.94 DD £3.99 CD
Summon The Octopi play creative, jangly math/ post-rock, with an absurdist streak, and a penchant for oblique fusions. If I have described any other artists in this article as being ‘prone to turn unexpected corners’ (see above), then Nonversations represents the apotheosis of that tendency, making it almost the basic substance of their music. ‘Slobodan the Sloth’, the second tune, gets heavy, very surprisingly, in the last minute; it’s not a trick they overuse, but it’s a good example of their methods. Their materials, at any given moment, are quite melodic and consonant, even warm, and the effect is never abrasive or brow-beating, but this is music that demands your active engagement nevertheless, and which punishes complacency. These compositions are crafted in great detail, and performed with impressive precision and delicacy of touch. Summon The Octopi are a band with a coherent creative vision, a high technical standard, and a pervasive sense of fun.
$4+ DD $10+ 7”
Henbrain arrange dramatic psychedelic rock in a guitarless, two bass, vintage keyboards and drums kind of a way. One bass is fat and round, the other is as dirty as porn. Both have some intricate, intertwined riffing to do. Both songs would doubtless sound like hard rock if they were orchestrated that way, but the temptation is resisted to make one of the basses stand in for a guitar, with the result that the sound this band make is pretty much unique. The material is exciting, and the playing is superb, flowing with total assurance through challenging lines that always end up sounding easy. There’s real drama in this music, thanks especially to the soaring vocals, and a dervish cyclicity that speaks of trance and ritual; this is top-whack malarkey.
Acid reflux is not a pleasant experience; but this record is. That’s not to say that it’s a simple and unassuming bed of floaty synth pads and spatial ambiences: its drones and textures are mostly quite unsettling, warping just out of reach of a consistent tonality or a stable timbre, but it still stays below the threshold of the jarring or the disturbing. Hanetration have a way of smuggling some decidedly subversive musical meanings just below the radar, appearing to respect the sort of mainstream understandings that underpin much drone and ambient music, while twisting everything they touch into sounds that require a more active engagement, or at least a more open mind. Personally I’m quite happy to lie back and float off where this music takes me, but the journey feels more like Dave Bowman’s experience at the conclusion of 2001 than it does like a body-temperature isolation tank. Ambient is a word that could be used of these sounds, but the ambience is of a space which is unknown, unknowable, and highly contingent, a shadowy warehouse full of shrouded objects. Hanetration have a strong history in making ‘this sort’ of music, and Acid Reflux shows clearly that they’re not about to run out of novel ideas for it.