Adrian May – The Comedy of Masculinity (poetry/ singer-songwriter)

This is a review of a CD and a book, although there’s no particular reason to stop there. Adrian May is a performer, and although it says ‘songs and poems’ on the cover of his book, it’s pretty hard to draw a hard and fast distinction between them; poetry, music and performance in both modes seem all to be more or less equally important aspects of his creative practice. I’ve seen him perform, and I’ve made public some words on the subject, but the oddly arbitrary context to which I restrict myself here confines my attentions to the particular objects I have before me. Ordinarily this would be a CD, with a more or less …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Golden Diskó Ship drop the listener immediately into a vast reverberant space, in which percussion thuds like a carpenter’s mallet and sweet vocal melodies drift tentatively into scene… Thus begins ‘These thoughts will never take shape’, and indeed there is barely time for the music’s forms to register in the ear before they shift into something else: we are presented with a kind of deconstructed pop song, in which elements are presented serially, in isolation… Until, eventually, around halfway through, after an upper register surf-guitar figure has been presented on the song’s conveyer belt, they come together…

The Domestics – Routine and Ritual (punk)

This is not music that’s meant to be engaged with as a text. It’s physical music, an onslaught of experience, that invites your participation or your absence. If its material impact has a politics, it’s a politics of action, a politics of fury, of atavistic solidarity and unmediated resistance. It’s music to enable the forging of many wills into one under the sacrament of alcohol; it offers a context where we can, in Public Enemy’s memorable phrase, party for our right to fight. But there is a lot more to Routine and Ritual than guitar noise: this is music with lyrics, and the lyrics are anything but unreflecting. The …

Rhys Marsh – Sentiment (progressive rock)

The sweet clarity of Rhys Marsh’s voice unifies his album with a luminous, melancholy calm, effortlessly bridging the steepest dynamic gradients in arrangements that can swing rapidly from finger-picked acoustic guitar to weighty chunks of rock. The instrumental textures on Sentiment are dramatic and powerful, but there is never any doubt in which strand’s service the whole thick, complex braid is marshalled. This is rock music in the service of song, or it is the songwriter’s art writ large and bold, in the deep, layered colours of which progressive rock orchestration is capable. It’s not about instrumental

Reagan’s Polyp re-releases (satirical anti-rock)

When I’m asked to review a fistful of reissues I might ordinarily feel a moment or two of guilt at never having listened to the band before (which is usually the case, given my perversely idiosyncratic listening habits). Not so with Reagan’s Polyp, an obscure and wilfully unappetising band from Little Rock, Arkansas. Rather than going to some other place, where their brand of satirical, lyrically infantile, musically heterodox, avant-garde rock might have been appreciated by hipsters and bohemians, they stayed in Little Rock, released thirty-odd albums, earned predictable notices in the local music press (‘abusive …

Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita (avant-pop)

There are many ways to do anything. There are musicians that spend their entire career mining one small patch of stylistic territory, exhaustively plotting its possibilities, immersing themselves in its world, refining its vocabulary until their creative utterances are as idiomatic as the language of everyday life. Then there are those that reinvent themselves continually. Both approaches are equally valid (as if I was in any way qualified to tell anyone whether or not their work was valid!), and as far as I can tell, both are equally fertile. I know of many artists, especially in genres like jazz and folk, where great store is …

Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour (folk)

I come late to most notable artists, since I’m not the sort of person that avidly follows the latest developments, or that cares much one way or the other about currency. It’s pure chance that I came across this most accomplished duo on the cusp of their currently burgeoning notoriety. I was lucky enough to share the bill with them on one occasion, and their performance was the undisputed highlight of my evening; shortly thereafter I received a review submission from Mark Harrison, in whose band they both play; and Josienne Clarke was sufficiently appreciative of that review to contact me regarding this …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

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 …

Prescott – One Did (avant-rock)

There’s an openness, and a sense of ensemble solidarity, to Prescott, that puts me in mind of jazz as much as it does of the art-rock influences they own up to in their press release; much of the music is clearly arranged in detail, but it feels improvisational, and its musical meanings seem to stem from this group of musicians, making this sound, on this occasion, with that devotion to the present moment so characteristic of the most committed jazz. In stylistic terms there is little to tie this music unequivocally to jazz, rock or anything else. Frank Byng’s drumming is expressive and propulsive …

Monkey Puzzle Trio – The Pattern Familiar (avant-jazz)

The musicians that make up Monkey Puzzle Trio are all confirmed experimentalists, all situated on the peripheries of, or the boundaries between, socially validated zones of practice, where the population is sparse and the musical meanings hard-won. The press release for this album situates the ensemble’s work on ‘a tightrope between song, improvisation and sound-as-sound’; while that helps to give us the general picture, it’s inevitably a simplification. Starting with the idea of song (the album is also described as a ‘song cycle’), it should be noted that while the music …

Review Of The Year 2014: 20 Albums

My views on end-of-year roundups in general are quite aggressive, and can be read at greater length in the introduction to last year’s selection, here. Suffice it to say that I think anyone claiming to know which are the best few albums released in any given year is seriously delusional; my selection is simply some of the records I liked the most out of those I happened to come across. These records are all seriously good, but there were over a hundred other albums that could equally well have made it onto my list; my advice is, yes, investigate these records, but more importantly, go hunting for …

Bitter Fruit – It Gets Worse (noise rock)

This bunch of raucous, abrasive noise-mongers from Oakland CA specifically describe their music as ‘queer death rock’. That raises a couple of issues as a genre label. The first is that given that the sound of this record is something that makes sense in an established set of musical practices, what is it about the sound that makes it specifically queer? I’m not talking about the lyrics here, which are delivered with the kind of approach that makes recourse to a lyric sheet a prerequisite for any form of judgement or analysis, but about the stylistic and textural qualities of the recorded sound, and I have to say …

Regal Worm – Neither Use Nor Ornament (avant-prog)

‘A small collection of big suites’ is the sub-title applied to this ‘mini-album’; I can’t concur with either characterisation. Taken as a single work in several movements (it’s really two long suites with three short pieces as an entr’acte) this would be, at forty-six minutes, a respectable length for a Classical symphony. In other words, it’s quite short for a prog-rock album, but it’s a pretty substantial work; its predecessor, Use And Ornament, is about fifteen minutes longer, and I guess that the language by which this record is being promoted suggests we should expect a substantially longer release in the …