Various Artists – Album Roundup

Abject and lonesome mid-fi folk, that drifts across the field of consciousness like a progession of washed-out, dusty photographs, before it becomes quite heavy and ominous towards the end of the album, and finishes with an unlikely cover of ‘Twerk’. One of Uhlich’s Bandcamp tags is ‘devotional’, and there is a sense of outsider ritual about this music, as though a set of the personal habits that make an individual were reified as doctrine: the songs are about something, certainly, but it feels like Uhlich is singing meaning to himself as much as he is singing meanings to us. Songs unfold at a steady pace, with static or slow …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Mark Harrison and his very capable band (whose members include the extremely talented duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker) play a curiously English take on American roots music. Their stylistic materials mine the cracks between country blues and old time country music, continuing a UK tradition that began with skiffle and was nourished by the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and the pop-jug-band sounds of Canned Heat. There’s a sense when listening to American performers in such styles, particularly the older ones, that they are singing from beneath a heavy encrustation of …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

In the best tradition of underground music, it’s not entirely clear what Milktoast Music is; probably not a label in the traditional sense. More likely a collective of closely related musical projects, I would imagine. This album includes tracks from four of the six acts listed on their website, with those by Richard Pickman in preponderance, and several credited to the label, which are presumably collaborative efforts. The music is humorous and wantonly bizarre, although also quite accessible, and peppered with science-fiction samples. In style, it echoes the timbres of chiptune, with retro digital synths and …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

This entire album is performed straight to tape (or whatever recording medium was used) on a Roland MC-505 groovebox; Cory Peak chose to use a particular set of simple, rounded timbres that gives it a distinct 8-bit vibe, although the machine is considerably more sophisticated, and a much more powerful synthesiser, than the devices that gave rise to that genre. The point is a similar one, as well: in an era of expanding technological possibilities, where the range of options available to electronic music producers on even the tightest budgets is dauntingly vast, defining a closely constrained set of creative …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Cassette mushes everything up and squeezes it together; on top of the warm, lush distortions naturally imparted by magnetic tape, the whole stereo recording is crammed onto half of a tape less than four millimeters wide. It takes some clever mastering to get a really spacious, clearly separated soundfield, but if what you want is a totally integrated sound then the format does half the work for you. This, you may be thinking, says ‘punk’ in brackets after the title, so why am I not talking about the songs? Production and other technical matters are a means to an end at best where punk’s concerned…

Various Artists – Album Roundup

You’ll hear a lot of familiar echoes in The Executioner’s Lover, but I can more or less promise that you haven’t heard anything quite like it. It opens with a song, ‘Half Life’, that is mainly arranged for ‘orchestral instruments’, but which also incorporates a rock rhythm section, which comes and goes at strategic moments; the song is a melodramatic number, which while it is not a ballad, has a narrative feel to it, like a piece from musical theatre or light opera. This is more or less the course followed by the album as a whole, but within those approximate bounds there is a huge diversity …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Opening with an extended skit inspired by John Carpenter’s Darkstar, it’s obvious from the start that this Strange Gibberish mixtape is going to be heavy on the humour. It’s also heavy on the creativity and experimentation, with some of the beats straying well into avant-garde territory. It’s far too diverse for me to sum it up here, but the quality is consistently high; this is independent music, in every sense of the term, and most of the producers take a pretty freewheeling, eclectic approach to beat-making, while the lyrical themes are varied and unfettered. Although it’s often …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Concept albums are something that are probably most often associated with complicated rock music and high-falutin lyrics dealing with such themes as the importance of dragons as a symbol of self-realisation. Well, this is very definitely a concept album, but the music it includes is not rock, not complicated, and not endowed with any kind of lyrical content. There is a brief explanation on the Bandcamp page: 4-zero-7 relates the experiences and reminiscences of the eponymous interceptor droid 4.0.7 as it lies on the operating table after sustaining combat damage; eventually the …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

There are ‘pieces’ that are undeniably rap, and definitely not poetry, such as The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’, and there are others that are undeniably poetry, and definitely not rap, such as John Donne’s Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going To Bed. This emphatic distinction is a matter of customary usage however, not of hard and fast definitions, and to look for the precise boundary between the two is to fall into an essentialist fallacy. Nevertheless, many assume the existence of such a defensible frontier, which can make for a strong reaction to its penetration, either of outrage or amazement. The Ruby Kid straddles that imaginary barrier without difficulty; the songs/poems/raps on Strange, Lively & Commonplace are both one …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Sufficiently independent not to sound ‘indie’, yet aesthetically straightforward enough not to sound ‘experimental’, Neurotic Wreck’s schtick is a pretty accessible art-pop stew; a predominantly electronic production mashes up trip-hop, electro, shoegaze and other downbeat sources, into a melancholy and and carefully textured soundworld, freighted with nostalgia and regret. The album is all about its songs, which is to say it’s as much about lyrics and melody as it is about production, but the creative textures and arrangements are a central part of the utterance; it’s moderately avant-garde, but it’s also furnished with a pop sensibility, and very well put together. It’s not party music, but it’s very listenable, and indeed re-listenable.

Review Of The Year 2012, Part 2: 12 EPs

In previous years I’ve assembled my annual review solely from album length releases; it’s interesting to note that the vast majority of music I come across, whether I actively discover it or somebody sends it to me for review, is in something resembling album format (notwithstanding that most of it reaches me as a sequence of ones and zeros). However, I do receive EPs and singles, and some of the very best music I’ve heard this year has come my way in shorter releases. It’s clearly time I reflected this in my end of year review, and as it would seem strange to compare two track singles with seventy minute albums, I’ve decided to assemble my favourites in two parts …

Various Artists – Straight Outta B.C. – Tape One (hip-hop)

B.C. Birmingham City. Britain’s second city, and crucible of the world’s first industrial revolution; ask most people in Britain about it though, and they’ll probably think it’s just some Midlands city, and they certainly won’t think of music at the first mention of the name. Unlike Liverpool, Manchester or London, Brum is not associated in the public imagination with any particular act or scene, and it is generally a byword for mediocrity rather than a paragon of cultural excellence. This is a total misconception, and in the field of music Birmingham has particular historical significance, with formal music institutions that possess an international reputation; Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Napalm Death have all re-written metal from this West Midlands base …