The Stringers are a four-piece from Ontario, that plays rock music of the old school – which doesn’t mean that it’s ‘old-fashioned’, but that it’s pop music, god dammit! This is entertainment, with no pretensions to any kind of creative territory beyond that compass; all too often that can imply some kind of highly manufactured, overly polished and self-consciously vapid ‘product’, but this is all about melodies, grooves and the raw sound of musicians making it happen together. Crisp, tight performances are represented in an immediate, close-quarters production, through arrangements that evince a good understanding of the small rock group’s expressive potential, without descending into ‘cleverness’. A variety of bespoke, guitar-based textures animate each lyrical mood, exploding at some point in each song into an outpouring of high-octane enthusiasm, bound together in a matrix of rock-solid percussion and tubby, melodic bass. No wheels were re-invented in the making of this EP, but if this kind of music is meant to be about sheer enjoyment, then See You At 7 delivers all you could ask of it.
Ominous and threatening from the start, the only obvious stylistic touch-stone for The Filth Expert is the kind of hollow-eyed, dystopian, post-punk gloom that had its brief brush with the charts in the early 80s. The Lovely Dreggs are a self-consciously outsider act if ever I’ve heard one, with their unpolished biro/photocopy artwork, and their basic, sometimes ramshackle production. The approach to songwriting is gnomic, erasing some and exaggerating certain other of the qualities that pop-rock music is ‘supposed’ to possess, until they cease to register as generic markers, or even as carriers of conventional musical signification, and point instead to other, ritual practices, or the methodical procedures of serialism. There is humour here, but it is not easily accessed, or obviously satirical; the sometimes surprisingly melodic songs are delivered with a glowering sneer, and abruptly terminated, as though it was simply too tedious to pursue an idea once it had been realised. This music shows a rare degree of commitment to artistic principle, and offers a compelling vision of what rock or pop could be were it shorn of all sycophancy.
Kibou Records £4 7”
It should be no secret by now that I am very partial to The Domestics’ brand of full-throttle, visceral and surprisingly cerebral hardcore punk. This record does nothing to discourage me, with its trademark catchy guitar melodies and devastatingly economical, insurrectionist lyrics; it also features a short James Domestic solo spot, in the form of a funny and apposite poem titled ‘Just Some Arsehole That Plays In A Band’ (anyone who’s been around musicians very much should know exactly what he’s talking about…) Volunteers are another of the most exciting hardcore acts in Suffolk, with the kind of intensity (and savage production values) that makes their music sound as though it’s constantly in danger of coming off the rails altogether; they bring a similar message to their EP-mates, essentially ‘live life on your own terms’, which is one I have no trouble getting behind. The split EP is a great institution in underground music, and here its two halves complement each other perfectly.
Kibou Records £4 7”
This is the second Kibou release in this roundup, although, like the first, a lot of other labels have their logos on the sleeve too. Haramarah are an uncompromising hardcore band from Bandung in West Java, Indonesia: I have no clue how they and Kibou came across each other, but that kind of happy collision is obviously a lot more likely in the internet age than it was previously. I’m not a big fan of globalisation overall, but this is its acceptable face. The spitting electrical energy of this intensely committed music is as palpable and as dangerous in my quiet Suffolk village as it was when it was committed to ones and zeros, although I imagine it sounds a lot more subversive in its native context, and probably represents a deeper personal commitment than making this sort of noise in the UK. Everything is secondary to the power of the performance here, and the record is a really vivid account of a band that must feel like a good glassing in a live setting.
Bad Elephant Records £3+ DD £4.50+ CD
The Fierce And The Dead started as a relatively casual collaborative side-project for Matt Stevens, and has evolved into something with a life of its own, through a process of constant change and renewal. Although Stevens’ solo practice has gone through some changes, and his most recent release is full of new ideas, what’s most noticeable about this EP, as a piece of the band’s history, is that it sounds nothing like an electric version of Matt Stevens. You can hear his voice in the music, but Magnet sounds exactly like TFATD, and nothing else. There’s no sense of sudden disjuncture: ‘Palm Trees’ still has the kind of cinematic, post-rock sweep that made Part 1 and 10 x 10 so engaging, and there are numerous guitar parts with the kind of minimalist repetitions that Stevens brought with him from his live-looping adventures. But the sound of this release is somehow more compact than anything we’ve heard to date, precisely focussed in on what is essential to their sound, and nowt else. Skeins of Stevens’ and Steve Cleaton’s chiming guitars are draped over the angular scaffold of Kevin Feazey’s grinding bass like coloured silks, fluttering in the breeze until the whole crew decides to climb up and hurl rubble at the listener, under Stuart Marshall’s thunderous percussive guidance. Heavy, riffy, and unlike most guitar music that those adjectives are at home with, subtly nuanced, this is textural instrumental rock of the first order, as impassioned as it is thoughtful. The EP format offers a concision that suits TFATD’s approach to a tee. This is top-whack malarkey.
Ripe with the additive rhythmic complexities of math-rock, this music is also extremely odd, full of humour, unpredictable misdirections, and dramatic, absurdist vocals. Notta Comet bring a considerable pool of musical ability and creative imagination together with an outsider’s glee in ridiculing the self-aggrandising assumptions of the mainstream. If they can stand on one hand and hum the theme to M.A.S.H. while wearing their y-fronts on their head, they seem to be asking, then why do you look so self-satisfied just because you played a riff? This is not to suggest that their music is a gimmick, or that this is a comedy record, but it’s very clear that they are not selling sex, charisma or ‘cool’. If you look on their Bandcamp page, hoping to find out what they do in their native Montréal, you will discover that they ‘play bike rock’, ‘play scientist rock’, and ‘play with rocks’, which I think is a good summation of their apparent attitude to ‘rock’. It’s something to play with. They’re having fun doing so, and if you’re interested in art with a genuinely individual take on the world, you’ll have fun listening to them. This is technically excellent, enormously entertaining and unremittingly creative music.
Darkly atmospheric, melodic pop-music, that draws audibly on post-rock and folk, ‘Hush’ is a strangely dramatic tune. It punctuates a melancholy and ethereal atmosphere with periodic outbreaks of monolithic, roaring guitars. Drums clatter irrepressibly while the rest of the band struggle to hold back from realising the intensity implicit in the vocal… until, eventually, they let it go, then retire from the stage, bleeding and exhausted. Nice.
Black Hay is a band concerned with atmosphere, specifically with film-noir type, stylish, retro moods. I’m familiar with them as a band that plays its own material, and when they’re doing that I’m happy to call them one of the best bands in the UK underground today (or in other words, one of the best bands in the UK). Of course I’m just some arsehole with a word-processor, so I’m in no position to make a claim like that, but let’s be clear about two things: they’re very good and I like them a lot. This is their paean to some of the music that’s inspired them, a four track EP of covers, titled as a collision between MC5’s ‘Kick Out The Jams’ and The Nymphs ‘Imitating Angels’; the other two tunes are The Jesus And Mary Chain’s ‘Some Candy Talking’ and Bad Brains’ ‘Sailin’ On’. These are all songs and bands with their own brands of darkness, but Black Hay subsume them to their southern-noir snakeskin glower, performing each tune as though it were a Johnny Cash number (other than ‘Some Candy Talking’ which already sounded a bit that way, so instead they turn it into a comedy tune with farty-synth root-five country bass). Needless to say, the result is the coolest thing in the history of the universe this week. ‘Style’ is a much debased cultural property, but Black Hay are bringing it back.
This music is not drone in the sense that it sounds like it came out of a bagpipe or a hurdy-gurdy, but in that it is essentially an acoustic statement of material that would sound like drone metal if it was played on heavily distorted electric guitar. There are riffs, there are melodies and simple modal harmonies hanging off a defined rhythmic structure, but they outline a series of static, suspended atmospheres, rather than inviting any interpretation as journeys or stories. It’s a melancholy world into which Goryl invites us, and without the steep dynamic gradients available to an electric instrument, it is a calm and austere one as well. A single acoustic guitar outlines descending minor motives, dwindling to root notes that feel more like an absence than they do like home; moments of syncopated intensity quickly falter. The guitar sounds sweet, and the riffs have the dark, subversive nihilism of classic doom metal, but there is none of its bombast. Snakes sounds like a landscape of devastation, after a storm.
This is not a companion piece to the Goryl EP reviewed immediately above, but appears to be one to The Father of Witches, released last year, whose cover art is the inverse of this one’s. I haven’t heard that release, but The Father of Evil Witches can still be heard fruitfully in terms of its relationship to Snakes, inasmuch as it takes more or less the same approach (a single guitar outlining slow, simple minor riffs), but employs a loud, filthy electric in place of the other release’s acoustic. This is what puts the drone in ‘drone’, the electric guitar’s far lengthier sustain emphasising raw, wounding continuities, where the acoustic exposition is continually punctuated by despairing cessations. Again, this is not music in which to seek a narrative, far less solace, but it offers a place to inhabit for a time, recasting a sense of melancholy as an epic phenomenon, like a waterfall or a volcano. It is a place that is compellingly imagined and rigorously realised.
The clock of this EP’s title is evident from the beginning (the title tune), in the regular pulsing of the piano, an ineluctable condition of its diachronic, yet curiously static soundworld. There is something of a minimalist, procedural quality about the way the other elements (other piano notes, and the irresistibly human voice of the cello) align themselves to its gridlines; this comparison is reinforced in ‘Circular Argument’ which follows, with its more directly syncopated cyclicities leading into an unpredictable but entirely appropriate sounding entry of kit drums and electric bass. ‘Big Sky’ has more concrete or clearly artificial elements, and again references minimalism, with quiet echoes of Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack, although its language is also redolent of more recent post-rock appropriations of that heritage. The simplicity of this music is its key feature, its sparse textures and carefully placed articulations producing an elegant, precise sense of specificity. Rael Jones and Peter Gregson are not practising minimalism per se, but there are elements of overt homage, and they share with that historical moment a recognition that certain forms of ideological avant-gardism, as exemplified perhaps by mid-century Darmstadt School atonalities, are missing a trick. This release reinforces the observation that music can not only be both rigorous and beautiful, but that it can be as beautifully rigorous as it is rigorously beautiful.
Naplew Productions £0.79+ DD
The details of this recording, the sounds of a real place that hover just below the point of audible clarity, the unfabricated particulars of Dattani’s lyrical observations, the physical woman’s body immanent in her voice, are so fragile and so precious that they make me want to cry. Such clarity and honesty are a rare gift. It’s a brief song, just a guitar and a voice, and it deserves to be heard.
The whole broad spectrum of industrial music feels a bit under-represented in the UK, considering how huge it is in Germany and the U.S., including the kind of beaty synth-rock purveyed by the likes of Mindless Self-Indulgence. This is a shame, because all branches of that sprawling family have a lot to recommend them, but at least The Dead Betas are bucking the trend. Thick, thunderous homophonic textures characterise this release, welding saturated synth sounds to heavy bass and rich guitar power-chords in unison riffs. Lyrics playfully satirise the world of dissipated youthful hedonism through which many of us passed (myself included) on the road to comfortable middle-aged regret and mental illness. Humour and intensity abound. The music is not huge on dynamics (or other harbingers of subtlety), but is compressed into a ball-busting aural weapon that it is almost impossible not to turn up to full volume while drinking tequila through a straw and watching Swiss trans-sexual porn on angel dust. Be warned.
Sunny, upbeat, stylish pop-music, strongly flavoured with the 50s and 60s, although its reach is fairly wide, and takes in some elements of punk and rock, hilariously juxtaposed with playfully direct lyrics, like the opener ‘Fuck You, Matthew’. Apparently this is ‘circus rock’, a genre that Chanel Samson is keen to establish as a thing; it’s certainly entertaining, although I’m still waiting for the elephants and trapeze artists. It’s hard to say exactly why this works so well: it may have something to do with the way the retro, theatrical musical stylings – which might lead us to expect the sort of superficial wit found in show tunes – are undercut by the sincerity and frankness of the humour. Certainly it’s very well realised, from a technical perspective, and Samson is an excellent singer, with a knowing, charismatic delivery. The Beginning is an extremely accomplished debut, and I look forward to the middle.
£0+ DD £5+ CD
Although clearly embedded in the public discourse of hardcore punk, Bear VS Rhino, with their oblique declamatory vocals, creative use of atonality, inventive textures, and often quite measured tempi, sound completely unique in a field whose stylistic conventions can lead some artists towards a fairly generic practice. Vulture Song sounds like outsider music within a milieu which is supposedly an outsider culture in the first place. Purely on the basis of that stubborn adherence to principles of originality and individuality, I’d have a lot of time for this, but their no-wave-ish noise rock schtick has a lot going for it sonically in any case: a swirling chaos of nihilistic disregard launches itself bodily from the speakers, critically atavistic in its sheer fuck-off-ness. No nice tunes, no groove, no polish, no closure: just a septic cacophony spiralling around the mad, staring eyes of a seer.
TNS Records £0+ DD
‘Mutual Aid’ is named for a book about evolutionary biology by the Russian Prince Pyotr Kropotkin. The book in question is also one of the founding texts of anarchism, and its title is a very concise, accurate summary of that ideology’s core principle. Faintest Idea’s hair-raisingly intense skacore single on the subject is a call to arms. Help each other and we’ll be free. It’s an incendiary, thoroughly enjoyable recording, as fierce as it is melodic.