Benjamin Shaw is back!
It’s been more than two years since his first album was released on Audio Antihero, and while he’s been pretty busy since then this news of another is very welcome. For those of you who have somehow missed him, Shaw offers a superbly lo-fi mixture of guitars, hesitant vocals, buzzing-hissing-scratching noises and found sounds, like a singer-songwriter fighting to be heard over a swarm of lazy bees made of entropy. Or something. His last record, Summer In the Box Room, was pretty much all entropic bees; track it down on Bandcamp. But I think what makes this music valuably off-kilter is the way these things scuff up against the more straightforward songs; and, of course, Shaw’s superb lyrics, which are both hopeless and hilarious. Often at the same time.
‘Goodbye, Kagoul World’ is the title track of this new album, due out later this month. Available as a free download, it’s a lovely chiming stately thing – sounding a little like much-missed AAH labelmates Fighting Kites – that will make you feel comfortably glum. Lovely piano and trumpet by Lieven Scheerlinck.
The video is even sadder, filmed as it was at an animal rescue centre, but rather lovely too.
The album can be pre-ordered here in a number of formats, with or without the Benjamin Shaw Stress Ball. I’m really looking forward to my copy.
First must-buy single of the year. Stanley Brinks (who was André Herman Düne) and the Wave Pictures have teamed up again and there will be a new album (Gin) in March, but this song and the b-side won’t be on it. It’s a very cheery affair, a slightly ragged singalong about getting by when faced with rubbish things (weather, bad music on the radio, dogshit on the streets, the meaningless of life) “with a little bit of you, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, ephedrine and orange juice”. Sweet, very catchy and surely that’s the best list of psychoactive substances in song since ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’?
The flipside ‘Maybe I will See You Again’ is alright too. Well worth £2 for both, or there’s an orange vinyl 7″. You need some sunshine in January, treat yourselves.
On first listen No Age’s An Object sounds more direct and less experimental than earlier albums. Many tracks, like the almost no wave ‘No Ground’, are sparse and relatively uncluttered, but in the background there are the usual drones, stutterings, and squalls of controlled feedback. The contrast between the relatively straight-ahead, structured songs and these aural meanderings works well, especially when the cello arrives on ‘An Impression’.
And that contrast does make some other tracks, like ‘I Won’t Be Your Generator’ or ‘C’mon Stimmung’, positively poppy – well, by No Age’s own standards.
Of course there are still dreamier, more expansive songs; the album closes with some lovely washes of sound on ‘Commerce, Comment, Commence’. When I say this record sounds less experimental, well, it’s all relative; there’s the usual mucking about with samples and recording effects that drew us to No Age in the first place. It’s just a little more controlled here, and it’s an interesting direction for Dean Spunt and Randy Randall to be taking. Looking forward to what comes next.
No Age’s Sub Pop page is here; you can buy An Object there and at the usual places, and you should.
This is an album about the English countryside, something I like to think I’m not really interested in.* But one of the first sounds you hear on this album of voices, found sounds and music is a car whooshing past (on ‘Dedham Vale’), and second track ‘Imber & Tyneham’ sounds like a folksong played by No Age, guitar and drums rattling through the track before ending in a looped peal of bells. The rhythm of ‘Bacup / Knaresborough’ is supplied by live firing, or perhaps firecrackers, looped. No idylls here, then, but ‘pastoral punk’, a curious, thoughtful set of songs about those other countrysides: villages seized by the MOD or abandoned in the middle ages, lost to the war or the waves. Christopher Tipton and Claire Titley founded Upset The Rhythm and this album shares that superb label’s qualities: it taps into a vein of genuinely creative, challenging English artistic work, but is not in the least precious or pretentious. Declaimed words over music that sounds like it is always on the edge of falling apart; in places it reminded me of the Blue Aeroplanes’ reading of Auden’s ‘Journal of An Airman’. In the end it’s the combination of the very ordinary and the very weird that stays with you, as on ‘Sipson’ where we are told “Please drive slowly through this village” and then that there are “dangerous substances, explosive atmospheres”. As this suggests, the lyrics respond to place, to signs and notices and overheard fragments. ‘Westonzoyland’ in particular sounds like notes from an old notebook. It does not come as much of surprise to discover that there is a map of the album.
I could write an essay on each of the thirteen tracks. As ‘Roughting Linn’ shows, though, this is also an album that reels you in with rhythms, sounds, and words.
*I’m not much of an urbanist either.
This EP, the first of a projected series, was issued by Stolen Recordings in March and develops the distinctive musical style displayed by The European on his first album (In A Very Real Sense Now, reviewed here and still much loved by BBO London). The EP is like a double A-side with three extra tracks, if that makes any sense: the excellent ‘Waves on Waves’, where Simon Break’s wistful voice floats over the top of a scintillating tune that’s equal parts Moroder and the Pet Shop Boys; ‘The Fountainhead’, a Randean love song with its tongue in its cheek; ‘Progressive Debris’, a more experimental instrumental; a reworking of one of the key tracks from the first album by the Soft Regime; and a longer version of ‘Waves’. All fabulous. Here’s that full-length version of ‘Waves on Waves’.
And yes, one of the best covers of the year for me :)
Cave, it is plainly apparent, have got da funk. Since their last outing they have developed, but not lost, their nu-Kraut motorik stylings, and have made an album that grooves and vamps on our collective bottoms. This is a welcome advance of their sound. And I say this even though I balked when the wah’d guitars on ‘Arrow’s Myth’ found their accompaniment in a sax. Yet, it bloody and quite simply works.
Importantly they still know how to riff with the best of them: there are moments on this five track album that call to mind the image of some decidedly lank haired and denim clad figure stumbling around Montreux in a stupor (see ‘Silver Headband’). More importantly, for these ears, they still deal in that trademark tension with riffs that expect resolution but never do (opener ‘Sweaty Fingers’). Cave, the big teases, are contemporary masters at this game. Buy here.
Ron Morelli (the much hyped boss of L.I.E.S records) has a refined ear for the improvisatory and obviously likes to indulge in the one-take approach. This is evident throughout Spit with its randomly screaming filters and flanged stutterings. Sounds suggest the fevered dreams of submariners (‘Radar Version’), sheet metal air conditioning ducts in distress (‘Sledgehammer II’) and the shuddering memories of other’s dialogue (‘Director Of…) The tracks that leave the lasting impact are those where relentlessly battering drum machines are left to run their course as delayed sweeps of notes journey round your head: please examine ‘No Real Reason’ and ‘Crack Microbes’ as case studies.
As noise – broadly defined and much contested – seems to be flavoursome for the techno/electronic community in 2013, you could do much worse than get a taste of Spit to sample such trends. Buy.
(Nb: I really don’t like the cover of this album, hence the mug shot above)
‘No Real Reason’:
Basic House is Steven Bishop founder and head of Opal Tapes, unreservedly my label of the year. On Oats, Bishop seems to act as a custodian of discarded, unloved and forgotten bits of electronica: all manner of aural debris is retrieved from the skips of studios and cracked hard drives, and then made centre stage and allowed to shine. With the über-glossy productions of EDM filling the earholes of the kids (not always, but often, a bad thing), the love and attention given to the sound of hiss on Oats, for example, is a refreshing lesson in the possibilities of the usually unwanted electronic. The same could be said of assembled and rhythmically deployed distorted noise, which is used to incredible effect on ‘B.G. Feathers’.
‘Est Oan’ really stands out. The elongated moan that opens the track, akin to the death cries of a cow, is one of the most disturbing things I’ve heard this year. Throw in whirling sobs and breath and your sleep patterns are guaranteed to be fucked (although the later more drone-ambient tracks of ‘La Coccinelle’, ‘C-Beat’ and ‘Wave and Comb’ may allow for some repose). Yet such nocturnal upset is a small price to pay for such excellence.
‘Est Oan – B.G. Feathers – Dry Contract’:
When I lived in Bristol I would often walk past a building akin to a garage that carried a small sign indicating it contained ‘The Institute of Grinding Technology’. Approximately every thirty seconds, without fail, the building would emit an ungodly hissing grating sound. Lord knows what went on therein. I could probably find out, but I don’t want to. That sound, that weird mechanic emanation, was and remains a source of fascination.
I give you this as a contrived introduction to Emptyset’s latest offering. Hence, if ‘The Institute of Grinding Technology’ are looking for some background music to their next staff party they would find much comfort in Recur.
Throughout Recur Emptyset seemingly act as conductors of a murmuration of mechanical locusts. Armed with serrated wings and antenna, these nine tunes swoop, contract and change shape. The most jagged of noises continually pierce and shred all that is comfort and fluff, leaving only sharp edges and abrasive surfaces behind. It’s relentlessly and incredibly intense like Demiurge, but all the more brilliant for it.
Recur is an album that composes emotions that others steer well clear of. This is why you should buy it.
‘Recur’ (Raagthma re-edit):