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…

Guapo – History Of The Visitation (avant-rock)

Guapo is a band with some form; since 1995 they have released a fistful of EPs and nine albums, and although the line-up and sound have changed considerably over that time, the name has been attached to music that shows a consistent and determined belief in the value of creative exploration. This music is progressive; it is also rock music, but if I were to juxtapose those terms too closely you’d likely jump to certain erroneous conclusions about the character of the sound. Although it has to be said that the prog-rock fraternity is a pretty broad church these days, and a noticeable proportion of its listening public would probably be eager to claim Guapo for their own; because what Guapo demonstrate emphatically is that there is room …

The Chewers – Every Drop Disorganized (avant-rock)

Absurdity in the arts is usually associated with comedy and satire; it is certainly true that much humour is absurdist in character, and that there is something about an incongruity that seems to tickle us. The mechanics of humour are doubtless complex, and they are not a topic I have spent much time thinking about, so I won’t dwell on the reasons for this, but I will say that there seems to me to be rather more to it than that. The absurd can be a route to more than just a laugh, and this is a point that has been exploited in a number of artistic movements historically, Dada and Surrealism for example (and Freud had a thing or two to say about the incongruous juxtaposition). Every Drop Disorganized most certainly is funny, sometimes because of the …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

As far as I know Dialect are no longer an active collective, although its members continue to release razor sharp and uncompromisingly independent hip-hop on their own account; they have released a lot of great music, and are clearly a mainstay of hip-hop in the Northeast, and this is the second album of unreleased tracks to appear on emcee Joe Eden’s Killamari Records imprint. You don’t expect a bunch of disparate tracks like this, recorded at different times for different reasons, to sound like an album as such when they’re bundled together for release, but there is a certain coherence to this music, a consistent aesthetic that makes it clear it’s a Dialect album, not a bunch of tracks by the crew’s various members. The rhymes speak …

Goya – Demo (stoner metal)

Drugs. Weed, hash, blow, smoke, tea, skunk, green, charas, gear, pollen, bud, sensemilla, kif, oil, dope, black, pot, marijuana, cannabis. I don’t wish to imply that Goya’s music is one-dimensional, but this is very clearly the central inspiration for their creative activities. So much so, that their Bandcamp page is simply addressed with the name ‘marijuana’; I imagine that there are a fair few musicians with similar enthusiasms spitting blood that Goya beat them to it. I wonder if there’s a band called Marijuana whose main inspiration is the last painter to be classed an Old Master? I must remember to form one, if my enthusiasm for making music gets rekindled at any point. Cannabis is a term we’ll return to; let’s turn now to another one. Demo.

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

If you describe Tamara Parsons-Baker’s practice as a formula, it doesn’t inspire much excitement: simple, mainly diatonic guitar strums; emotive vocals; songs about unsuccessful love affairs; we have heard these elements before. However, the five songs on Lover proceed from a somewhat more warped perspective than this formula might suggest, lurking with mischief aforethought behind the placid surface of a nice friendly singer-songwriter. The opening songs on the EP require close attention to the lyrics to reveal their disturbing character, but when we get to ‘I Stuck It Out’ Parsons-Baker’s full weirdness emerges, in a frighteningly witchy evocation of a relationship haunted by madness and murder

Thumpermonkey – Sleep Furiously (progressive rock)

Injunctions to sleep in a particular manner crop up from time to time as album titles. Hope & Social’s last album length release was called Sleep Sound, which is perhaps the kind of sleeping to which most of us are accustomed; either that or badly. Furiously is another matter altogether: normally, a high fever is a prerequisite for such an approach to somnolence, although once, when I was eighteen, I dropped a tab of transcendentally strong acid immediately before going to sleep, and I have to say my repose was, if not precisely furious, decidedly frantic. Is Sleep Furiously a comparable sort of experience? Well, it’s definitely disorientating, and I don’t get the impression that helping their listeners to orient themselves is one of Thumpermonkey’s central priorities

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 – Singles and EPs

This sophomore EP from The Light That Kills is less granular, more directionally narrative than the debut A Day That We Drift And Fall. This is not to say that it consists of conventional musical phrases arranged according to a nice, accessible formal grammar; that really would be weird, given Scott Crocker’s established experimental proclivities, but there is a far less atemporal approach to the succession of events, and there is a discernible dramatic arc to most of these pieces. There is also a more extended use of recognisable sonic sources, including some protracted free-rock improvisation in ‘Woken By Bells’, ‘Letting Go The Gods’ and particularly, most successfully, ‘New Eden’.

Slabdragger/ Meadows – split LP (stoner metal)

The last split release I reviewed also involved Meadows. The rationale behind split releases is obviously to seek a synergy: the artists involved generally have a close stylistic affinity, or their audiences overlap, to their mutual benefit; sometimes I suspect the reason has more to do with the relationship between the artists than any overt promotional or creative goal. Sometimes the contrast involved is more striking than anything else, as in the combination of Chad Vangaalen’s lo-fi pop songs and Xiu Xiu’s medium-interrogating sound art that I reviewed some months ago. In their last split release Meadows moved a considerable distance to close the gap between their creative practice and that of their collaborators, Chestburster, and this time they sound a lot more like Slabdragger, but also, it must be said, a lot more like they normally do.

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Being able to afford soap is the new bling. That’s not necessarily a satirical conceit most artists would consider hanging an entire album off, let alone their group identity, but BIG $OAP MON£Y CR£W are not ‘most artists’, and that’s exactly what they do. Not that this is overtly a concept album, despite its consistent use of all caps and currency symbols, but the identities adopted by its creators are maintained scrupulously throughout; it’s not pure comedy from start to finish, but WA$H YO FAC£!‘s unbroken satirical undertow betokens a refusal to take themselves too seriously, or to ape the street pomposity of the self-obsessed, machismo fetishising mainstream. This is funny, sometimes eye-wateringly so, and it pokes plenty of affectionate fun…

Caution Horses – City Lights (pop-rock)

The songs on City Lights are tightly orchestrated in guitar driven arrangements of a sort that might be attract the irritating descriptor ‘soft rock’, but sound more to me like a species of post-punk, à la Joe Jackson. A prominent, mid-rangy bass weaves sinewy counter-melodies through a weft of cleanly recorded and crisply played drums, while bright and rhythmically precise (acoustic and electric) guitar fills out the harmony; a variety of other elements are added to this basic structure, such as analogue synth and multi-tracked trumpet in ‘Sound of America’, a guitar and scat unison solo in ‘Letting Go’, electric piano and flute in ‘So What?’ or organ in ‘Start A War’. On paper that sounds like a recipe for an elaborate mess, but …

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 …

Church Of Riff 2 at Colchester Arts Centre (metal)

What a lineup. Any casual punter could readily be forgiven for being carried out in a box. Not that the sounds on offer were remotely toxic; on the contrary, they were entirely wholesome nut cutlets of crunchthudriffery, but seriously, heavy things can crush you, and things as heavy as this can crush you flat. Perhaps that’s why Colchester Arts Centre is ‘never knowingly understood’: stand under this sort of malarkey and you can wave goodbye to three-dimensionality.