Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Finger-picked arpeggios fall with the regularity and impersonal melancholy of rain, offset by a vocal delivery that is hesitant not in its phrasing, but in its timbre. The sound of this four-song EP is intimate, extremely close to the listener’s ear, and it is formed from the kind of performative gestures in which the proximity of the musician is most pronounced: this is sound as embodiment, its aesthetics rooted in an erotic of human frailty. Lyrically and melodically it is concerned with the concrete, with particulars, but it is an idea of the concrete that is as ephemeral as smoke and as fragile as eggshells – Calming River’s voice

Various Artists – Album Roundup

This album, originally released in 1989, was for a long time the definitive answer to the question ‘what do Thinking Plague sound like?’ It was ten years before In Extremis presented a new line-up and a changing sound to the record-buying public (sans legendary founder-member Bob Drake) – and let’s face it, bands as daring and un-commercial as this tend to communicate with their audience more by the medium of recordings than by live performance. Cuneiform Records, with whom Thinking Plague have been since that follow-up, characterise this album as the band’s ‘stylistic coming of age’, and that certainly seems a fair …

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 – Singles and EPs

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 …

Orange The Juice – The Messiah Is Back (avant-rock)

The physical presentation of a release is an interesting issue. There are some who would argue that it’s irrelevant, that the only interesting thing is the sound on the recording, that the packaging is an aspect of nasty, dirty, anti-art marketing, or so superficial that authentic music fans shouldn’t care about it. Context is definitely not irrelevant, however, and cover art or packaging are part of a release’s context, I would argue an important part. Without context the sounds on a recording are literally just noise: we might detect some patterning (with an album like The Messiah Is Back we would, certainly), but without a context …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

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 …

Karda Estra – Strange Relations (avant-rock)

The Karda Estra brand has been built on continued invention and creativity: across the preceding eleven albums composer Richard Wileman has consistently and rigorously poked around at the fault-lines of his practice, finding ways to surprise the listener that nevertheless cleave to an established and instantly recognisable aesthetic. Although Karda Estra’s discography features very high standards of musicianship, and some amazing guest musicians (most notably and repeatedly the wonderfully warped avant-rock guitar savant Kavus Torabi), one pretty consistent feature of the work has been that it is more …

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 …

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 …