Various Artists – Singles and EPs

The Seas and The StarsKarda Estra – The Seas and the Stars (avant-rock) 

£4+ DD

Richard Wileman seems to be going through a particularly fertile patch of late, putting out releases somewhat faster than I can write about them (and the day he puts out something I don’t write about will be a long time coming). After the vigorous collaborative chops-fest (I simplify unfairly) of Strange Relations comes this short programmatic piece depicting the eventual collision of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Wileman predicts a cooler, calmer and altogether more pastoral event than sprang immediately to my thoughts, although the vast and oblique affective compass of his alternately gelid and cosy harmonies is as epic as ever. It’s a big topic for a twenty minute EP, but he is sensible enough not to attempt to imagine the entirety of that experience for every member of the thousands of self-aware species that doubtless inhabit each galaxy. Instead a lone observer seems to witness this slow-motion catastrophe from, as Wileman puts it, ‘an impossible, empty shoreline’. In his narrative the approach of Andromeda to our own galaxy is followed by ‘The Big Freeze’, in which, although a regular pulse continues, there is a sense of fragmentary masses drifting chaotically in a reverberant void, like the mysterious and threatening spaces of industrial ambient music. The textures of The Sea and the Stars are supplied almost entirely by Wileman’s own instrumental performances: Amy Fry plays wind instruments, and Ileesha Wileman contributes mellifluous and apposite vocals, but the orchestra is a rich simulacrum, forged in the studio from a wide variety of acoustic, electric and electronic instruments. Ultimately this is not a representation of the gargantuan forces in the event to which the EP refers, but of the experience of the lonely onlooker, abandoned by the very substance of their existence. They still seem to hope, although their terror and desolation are unmistakeable; and as ever in the music of Karda Estra, they, and we, still find beauty in the face of the terrible.


The Sun TreeLuminous Monsters – The Sun Tree  (psych-drone)

£0+ DD

I’m accustomed to Luminous Monsters releases opening with a roar, or with a slowly swelling drone. This one opens with a harmonically motile and melodically intricate acoustic guitar exposition. The modalities are minor, and the musical materials are a sequence of improvised riffs, interspersed with more florid passage-work; it has a distinctly southern Spanish or North African feel to it. Other sounds begin to swell, sounding at first, during ‘Seed’, like reverberations in the body of the guitar, then lengthening and thickening into the electric guitar drones with which I associate this act. By the end of ‘Sapling’ they are rich and heavy, the acoustic guitar submerging into their viscous waves of sound, and ‘Suns’ opens with a thunderous grinding sludge riff, accompanied periodically by howling atonal feedback. The Andalucía-esque melodies return in the electric guitar, and the whole texture builds towards a dense, pulsating crescendo. Rhythmic markers become progressively less distinct, until we are enveloped in a churning maelstrom of noise. Music serves here as a gateway drug to the world of pure sound, to the ritual, trance-inducing repetitions and continuities of the universe’s own sub-bass, consigning the ego to oblivion in the full fury of the solar wind. The Sun Tree is an epic psychedelic journey to joyful oblivion.


Burn & BuryJøtnarr – Burn & Bury (black crust)

Prismatik Records £0+ DD £5+ CD CC

Jøtnarr are all about the riffs, which is, of course, something you can say about a lot of rock bands, mainstream or otherwise. Burn and Bury borrows somewhat from the aesthetics and the bleak atmospherics of black metal, a music which to a large degree stands out from the extreme metal background for its eschewal of the riff as the organising principle of an arrangement. This EP opens with a nod (in a melodic riff) to BM’s preferred alternative, the continuous tremolo, and that texture is used where it suits Jøtnarr’s requirements, such as the central section of ‘Sunless’ or the opening of ‘Hernswolf’ but it’s just one colour in their palette. Most of their riffage sounds like doom or sludge, with a crusty roar to the guitars that makes the absence of a bass almost irrelevant – although it has to be said that aspect of their texture makes a welcome change from the usually untouchable conventions of rock orchestration. The vocals are delivered in the (to me indecipherable) hoarse whisper-roar common to BM and some electro-industrial styles, which works nicely with the more epic, doomy riffs to create an ambience of hellish abandon, a more atavistic take on BM’s ancient chthonian grimness. This is a dark, cold world of unremitting savagery, but as the powerful rhythms of the music hurl us rhythmically from side to side we feel its awful conflicts from the perspective of its active agents, rather than of the ego-flayed lost souls addressed by unremitting tremolo continuities. Burn and Bury is a call to action, a grinding blast of singular power that is as exciting as it is terrifying.


Selective Sync ConflictTaggart & Andre LaFosse – Selective Sync Conflict (avant-rock)

$7+ DD

Selective Sync Conflict sounds like something that might go on in the gubbins of an analogue synthesiser: it is in fact, as I had the misfortune to discover recently, something irritating that happens from time to time with Dropbox. It is also a great title for a collision between two improvising musicians with a taste for electro-acoustic experimentation and real-time collage. It appears from the blurb at the link above (an annoyingly accurate and eloquent characterisation of the EP which leaves me groping for some new language with which to describe it) that these recordings started with Andre LaFosse’s fragmented guitar-loop performances, to which Taggart added layers of the various things that he does (piano, harmonica, synthesiser abuse and audio wizardry) until they sounded both immersive and disorientating. The finished works are scratchy, sketchy scribbles of sound, with persistent, driving rhythms, and laminated textures that interact in complex, unpredictable ways. The real achievement of this music is that it does the kind of stuff that I like experimental music to do – frustrating my expectations and prising my ears open to new ways of listening – using materials that are consistently accessible and entertaining. It does this by making sure that most of the action is in the fields of timbre and orchestration, employing a harmonic and melodic vocabulary drawn from the mainstreams of rock, jazz and blues, and by continually transforming and reinterpreting its own substance. The effect is atmospheric, funky, witty, humorous, visceral and cerebral, but it sounds a lot simpler than that probably suggests. It’s very clever, it’s very musical, and it’s a lot of fun.


Break & ReshapeTony Volker – Break & Reshape EP (folktronica)

£3.95 DD £10 12”

These songs are set largely to sparse, atmospheric beats, built from low-key electronics and pulsating acoustic ostinati. Vocals teeter on a precipice of fragility, recorded with intimate proximity; breath and sibilance are often as prominent as the vibration of vocal cords. Sometimes, as in ‘Impasse’, there are moments when the songs seem barely to exist, blinking into absence with each caesura; at other times they couldn’t be more present, bouncing onwards in rich laminae of trip-hop-folktronica textures, but space, and even silence, are immanent throughout the arrangements. Tony Volker seems supremely confident in the capacity of his musical materials to create a space around the simplest of gestures, marking the sound field with stark brushstrokes and schematic figures: his confidence is justified, by and large. By defining a zone of silence, a stillness outlined by the movement at its edges, he is able to drop ideas into its centre and watch the ripples spread, until they break on the shore of the listener’s attention. His ideas are pleasing ones, with a self-contained melancholy that invites reflection rather than directing our emotional response in a set direction, but it’s the clarity with which they’re expressed that is most remarkable about Break & Reshape. There is a delicate exactitude to this music that elides the distinctions between composition, performance and recording, uniting all aspects of Volker’s creative practice in a cool glow of nuanced beauty.


Perfect HolidayLos and the Deadlines – Perfect Holiday EP (art-rock) 

£5+ DD

‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’. In that line, W.B. Yeats describes a centripetal force of structural social contradictions, and in Perfect Holiday it is possible to hear a similar set of concerns, as the melodic and the accessible struggle against chaotic noise and a dystopian vision. It’s also amusingly pretentious to talk about Yeats when writing a review of a raucous and humorous slab of rock like this. Los and the Deadlines play loud, visceral guitar music that is aimed like a weapon at the self-delusion and kitsch of society’s self-image; this is not an atavistic howl of an EP, however, but a more nuanced and self-possessed beast, in which appropriate musical complexity goes hand in hand with a satirical sensibility and a critical appreciation of the pleasures of pop-culture (as well as its idiocies). Why should the uncomplicated pleasures of rock ’n’ roll be available only to those willing to switch off their critical faculties? This dark, loud, avant-rock exposition offers all the fun and swagger without acceding to the clichés, which, let’s face it, already looked pretty thin when they first emerged in late 60s white-boy-blues. If you like your music to rock out you won’t need to make any allowances, and the satire bites with a precise, satisfying crunch. Good songs, great playing.


Reach For The WeathermanRum Thief – Reach for the Weatherman (indie-rock)

£3.16 DD

‘Swaggering, full-pelt indie-rock’ could describe something about as interesting as a beige carpet. There are already quite enough guitar-toting yoof convinced they’re the very first people to think of using a circular disc to roll stuff along, and we’ve all heard their schtick before. Rum Thief are clearly in a completely different league, or you wouldn’t be reading about them here, but their sound isn’t novel in any obvious way, and the things they do to make the music exciting have all been done before. But the reason Reach for the Weatherman makes me sit up and listen has more to do with its sense of individual style, and the sheer undeniable commitment and sincerity with which the songs are delivered. Jot Green (the band is to all intents and purposes a solo act) pulls off something quite remarkable in making his relatively conventional pop-rock music stand out from the crowd so distinctly. The production is perfectly matched to his vocal, shoving everything right into your face, but the real star here is the songwriting, which hits that completely indefinable sweet-spot, at the intersection of accessibility and particularity. Great tunes delivered with wild abandon.


Back to Pike PlaceAngéline – Back to Pike Place (post-soul) 

£6+ DD

Produced and arranged with a light touch but an innovative set of techniques, this EP is the perfect setting for Angéline’s nuanced post-soul vocals, which might disappear against the background in a more traditionalist setting. Hopefully she will continue to take this approach when she’s better resourced: she and collaborator Garry Cosgrove worked creatively with the limited resources available to them, and it can be hard to find the same rigour and energy when your circumstances are less restricted. The arrangements are mostly very simple, their sparse, angular riffs surrounded by space, which gives a fuller texture far more impact when one is employed from time to time; often there is nothing there beneath the vocal but bass and percussion. The vocal harmonies sound like the multi-tracked parts they are rather than attempting to imitate a rank of backing singers, and there is a certain honesty to the way the whole of Back to Pike Place is put together. It takes an educated ear, and a good deal of confidence to take such an economical path through the many decisions that go into a set of recordings, and this deft, atmospheric EP is an essay in self-assurance.


ThnaksBen C. Winn – Thnaks (laptop poetry) 

Meat Fer Manners MFM002 £3+ DD £4+ CD

Goofy humour accompanied by keyboard presets is a genre in which John Shuttleworth is an unavoidable presence, but Ben C. Winn carves his own path – and although every word of his lyrics and poems are as daft as they could be, they do seem to be about something, rather than just going for the easy laugh. Of course there’s no obligation on poetry to tell us what it’s about in terms that can be easily restated; in fact, it’s arguable that its purpose is to say things in ways that can’t be paraphrased. Winn’s topic is a self-deprecating, wry and absurdist perspective on the world, which he articulates gently across these eight tracks and the additional poems in the accompanying PDF. He doesn’t ram it down our throats, but just lets the awful puns and sometimes surprisingly adept musical clichés accumulate (the ‘lead guitar’ solo in ‘Preloved’ is pretty awesome). There’s a serious insight in any refusal of pomposity as emphatic as this, but the main take-home is the fun, and the holes poked in stock formulae, verbal or musical. Thnaks is a very likeable and well-judged offering.


Mesumamim- Face to FaceSpiritwo – Mesumamim/ Face to Face (art-rock)

£1+ DD

Spiritwo’s established stylistics – a combination of noisy rock, electronica, middle eastern modalities, playful satire and slightly unhinged theatricality – are thankfully intact in this double A-side release. I mean, I like when artists change and move, but these two songs have some novelty with relation to the earlier releases, while proving there is a lot more mileage in the core creative concept. ‘Mesumamim’ describes the sort of opiated myopia that will be familiar to anyone that lives in a metropolis (or follows international politics), and ‘Face to Face’ seems to address itself to similar concerns, screaming for something to puncture the veil of separation. I guess the power of art to fix social ills is limited, but if anything on record was capable of punching through the fog, it might be this. Another bit of decidedly top-whack malarkey from one of my favourite artists.


SorryvilleMilton Star – Sorryville (noir rock)

Stereogram Recordings £0.79 DD

A gritty darkness pervades this melancholy blues chant, which measures its tread with a regularity that speaks of the ineluctable and the irrevocable. A grinding, pulsing bassline anchors a baroque assemblage of echoing, curlicued guitar sounds, beneath a vocal that crackles out through the disembodied radio of an early 60s Buick. It’s a song about regret that somehow seems to relish it. Atmosphere abounds.


Never Again- The MasterFord – Never Again/ The Master (post-house)

£1.58 DD

Experimental electronica for the happy dancefloor, this music could be tailor-made for Tummy Touch Records main man Tim ‘Love’ Lee’s ‘yes wave’ manifesto. Both songs are funky and uplifting, constructed from an interesting set of sounds and techniques, that whatever else they do always maintain a strong connection between the melody and the beat. The sounds are not particularly outlandish, and the vocals are distinctly poppy, but there’s plenty of novelty in the way it’s all assembled, and ‘Never Again’ in particular could be a serious floor-filler.


Song for DebberaAutopsy Boys – Song for Debbera (synth-punk)

£1.49 DD

This song is a paean to the indie-horror actor Debbie Rochon, who narrates an introductory passage. The driving, post-punk electronica groove sets a lyric that looks back explicitly to the 80s, re-casting hedonistic teen rebellion in the transgressive tropes of horror fiction. Song for Debbera is a compelling mind-warp of a song, hurling itself headlong to its conclusion in celebration of an enjoyably twisted aesthetic.


Passes ByGrus Paridae – Passes By (prog-rock)

£1.98 DD

Epic, melodic prog… no wait, that’s going to make you think of something incredibly cheesy and bombastic. There’s actually an austere quality to Gus Paridae’s sound, full and lush as it is, and a pleasing undercurrent of weirdness – particularly in ‘Inheritance of Devotion’, the second of these two tracks, which swirls and pulses ominously like an unexpected weather pattern. There’s some very nice playing, as you’d expect in this genre, but Passes By is more about its melodies and atmospheres than it is about its authors’ instrumental facility. Mournful, measured, and enigmatic music to take you somewhere very particular.


EnoughMarley Butler & Aokid – Enough (art-rap)

Naplew Productions £0 DD

I’m not quite sure what started Marley Butler rapping, but the noted art-pop auteur turns out to be quite good at it. He doesn’t attempt to blind us with what the rap mainstream would recognise as dazzling technique, but runs with its fluctuating meters and recursive rhyme schemes, cleaving to the spoken-word poetry fringe of the genre. With Aokid’s dream-like production underpinning his bars Butler’s free-associative lyrical flow produces a disorientating effect. This might or might not be a break-up song… but whatever it is, it’s far too ambiguous and complex for any such characterisation to sum it up. I could listen to this beautiful track all day, without ever working out quite what questions it’s asking.


Blinking ThinkingBud Sugar – Blinkin’ Thinkin’ (groove pop)

£2 DD

A groove-tastic pop song, with a bit of a High-Life vibe, elegantly garnished with ukulele, and hilarious lyrics. Blinkin’ Thinkin’ is a tale of foolishness, that somehow comes across as a paean to the same; the recording is a document of such exuberant levity and communal glee that it’s very hard not to throw your hat in and say ‘whatever they’re doing I’ll tag along’. This is probably the most ludicrously enjoyable record in this roundup, and I challenge you not to like it.

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