Various Artists – Album Roundup

This is a selection of records that I’d like to review, but for one reason or another, it’s not going to happen. Some (in fact most) of them just didn’t quite make the cut, in light of the extremely high standard and preponderance of physical submissions I get now (these were all received as digital submissions). Others have just been sitting in the queue for too long for a review to be meaningful now, with their release dates receding behind us into historical time… All of them are well worth listening to however, although I do appreciate that most people reading this won’t have tastes quite …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Wayne Myers, singer, songwriter and principal instrumental culprit, sent me this mini-album in early February according to my records, but it somehow slipped through the net and never got reviewed. Well, better late than never. Sleeping Beauty is pure poetry. I intend that as a value judgement, but also a literal description; Myers is a poet who works in the medium of song. Now I’d think of it as a species of insult to say that this was an EP of poems set to music, but that’s not what I mean: these are songs, written as such, and the musical materials they incorporate are neither a commentary …

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 – Singles and EPs

Kibou Records is everything I talk about but don’t actually do. It’s a totally independent, DIY music label and online distributor, dedicated to uncompromising underground music, of the noisy punk variety. It’s basically the Revolution, as described by French anarchists The Invisible Committee, a parallel structure that is a challenge to the status quo simply by virtue of its existence. If everyone with music to distribute did this, and everyone bought their music from outfits like this, the corporate music industry would shrivel up and die. Of course the success of such an …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

My first exposure to Olds Sleeper was startling, and he’s yet to disappoint me, across four albums of his own and one collaboration with the beguiling Heidi Harris (not to mention the cigar-box guitar stuff he puts out as Jellyspine Jenkins). Using lo-fi production as a device to emphasise the pure materiality of his music-making, Olds Sleeper’s songwriting achieves a form of sincerity that can’t be contrived or dissembled; he gives voice to a particular form of American street-level experience, in a musical language precisely cognate with its cultural dialects. His songs speak from the soul of the alienated, hard- …

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…

Blank Pages – Blank Pages (punk)

LPs look and feel superb. I don’t know if they looked and felt so great when they were the standard format for album length releases; I mean I remember loving them, for their artwork, the music they contained, the convenience of their spliff-making surfaces, but given that they were all there was (other than the sad, sad second-best of the pre-recorded cassette), I think I appreciate them a lot more now than I ever did before. When this one landed on my doormat (or next to the garden fence to be more accurate), it was a moment of great excitement and sensual fetishism; somehow …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

What I know about Alun Vaughan is limited: I reviewed a very nice solo bass performance album of his, and an EP in a similar vein, and I gather he gets up to quite a lot of jazzy malarkey. This short EP bucks that trend just a little bit. The dominant sound is a raw, punky rhythm guitar, but it gets put to a fair old variety of uses. The opening (title) track is a brief hardcore thrash, punctuated by the ‘Clumpville Borstal Boys Choir’ shouting the title (the only vocals on the EP) and some entertaining instrumental breaks. ‘2013’ retains the instrumental timbres, but it’s much more of a modern prog/math rock affair, with tricksy rhythmic interstices, and plangent lead guitar melodies. ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’ opens with more lead guitar prettiness, against some upper register bass chords…

The Domestics – The G.D.P. E.P. (punk)

When I reviewed The Domestics’ debut release, on a CD in a jewel case, looking like a regular album, I noted that despite clocking in at just over twenty minutes, it seemed to have considerably more to say than most albums, which usually spend in excess of an hour saying it. Well, this eight-and-a-half minute wafer of yellow vinyl seems designed to drive the point home even more emphatically. There are six songs, a number comparable to the tracklisting of many ‘full length’ albums, and all of them have a great deal to say. While it’s true that many longer pieces of music need the time they take, and that the passage of time during the listening experience may be an aspect of musical meaning, the fact remains that there are albums …

Buke And Gase – General Dome (indie rock)

Buke And Gase armour themselves in symbols; the inquisitive listener’s eye, probing the album’s packaging for keys to the music’s meanings may find some affective affinities between its appearance and the sound (that’s a matter for their own aesthetic conscience), but its gaze will be reflected, denied admission by the obviously meaningful but unyielding glyphs that adorn it. The duo have announced that clues to assist in the decoding of their bespoke graphical alphabet will be meted out on their website once the record is on general release, but in fact everything you need to crack the code is right there on the cover (I have to thank my daughter for spotting the album title, from which everything else fell into place) …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Why do I write reviews? Largely so that I can blag free music instead of buying it like everyone else, and so I can kid my conscience that my inane ramblings are an adequate substitute for paying musicians their due. Of course I can (and will, given half a chance) list any number of more high-minded motivations, but I always feel that the transaction is balanced in my favour; so when this CD was pressed on me by guitarist Simon Rollo, and a review requested with the circumspection of a man asking me to clean the diarrhoea off his sofa, I was amused, embarrassed and confirmed in my impression of Three Thrones, which is that whatever they’re full of, it’s not themselves.

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Given its title, its cover, and Quak’s avowed intention to make ‘dusty’ albums, we might expect a taste of nostalgia, of painful distance about this recording; it begins with thunder. This doesn’t presage any protracted exposition of sturm und drang however; it seems rather more like the thunder heard through the windows of childhood, the thunder that tells you a rainy day will be keeping you indoors for the foreseeable future. Quak employs elements of conventional tonal practice to establish emotional conditions, and makes use of technological or human noise and natural ambience to evoke more experientially specific states of being. The sounds have an unsettling character, leavened with some notes of optimism, all filtered through a distancing …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

This is a record that gets straight down to business, a short, kinetic acoustic guitar intro prefacing a series of remarks, delivered with such visceral charisma that it almost doesn’t matter what they mean; the fact that they mean a lot imbues this music with a density that belies its simplicity and lack of frills. You Save You are a duo, performing material of a texture that might be delivered by a single musician (apart from some simple percussion, presumably operated by the singer), but it’s very clearly two people’s energy on Secondhand Suits And Cheap Sunglasses (or maybe ten people’s!). The guitar playing is raw acoustic rock ‘n’ roll, and the vocals hover between declamation and raspy punkish singing.

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

In recent years the avant-garde fringes of metal have become one of the most fertile sites of musical creativity and invention; while my central musical inclinations might be towards other areas, such as jazz or folk, and while those areas certainly harbour some radically creative minds globally, the majority of music produced and performed locally to me is pretty conservative. Earthmass is one of several bands I have the opportunity to engage with directly (attending gigs, meeting the members, building an ongoing relationship as a music writer, etc.) that pursue a radical formal agenda, and really keep their eye on the ball creatively. There is no uncritical regurgitation of the tropes of heavy music here, no taking the language as given …