Category Archives: album reviews

No Age: An Object

naao

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.

jkneale

Way Through: Clapper Is Still

wtcis

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.

Certainly one of the most interesting records I’ve heard in some time, and one that I’ll be coming back to. Way Through are here and you can buy the album here. Highly recommended.

Jkneale

*I’m not much of an urbanist either.

Cave: Threace

Threace

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.

‘Sweaty Fingers’:

‘Shikaakwa’:

Ron Morelli: Spit

Morelli

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’:

‘Crack Microbes’:

Basic House: Oats

Oats

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.

Buy some sleepless nights here or here.

‘Est Oan – B​.​G. Feathers – Dry Contract’:

Emptyset: Recur

recur

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.

Album preview:

‘Recur’ (Raagthma re-edit):

‘Order’

Fresh Snow: I

Fresh Snow I

If I was going to compile my atlas of super-music cities, Toronto would be on there. I’m not going to, but Berlin and Bristol would be circled as well. Oh and Austin, Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Ok, there would be lots of places, but Toronto would definitely be on there – as this release from Fresh Snow proves.

The question of how a place becomes a musical ‘scene’ is something for a different voice, but you certainly can hear the other sounds of Toronto through the orchestral and cinematic flourishes that layer Fresh Snow’s tunes. Yet this is not some apocalyptic neo-liberal revanchist OST that other contemporary Torontonians might wish to score. In fact, on the end-credits rolling ‘Helix Pass’ there’s a real jet-age optimism, infused with a lounge-core shininess, fully amplified by echoes of Stereolab and ‘Theme from Casanova’ by The Divine Comedy.

Fresh Snow can also do scuzz with the best of them – the guitars and electronics on ‘French Horse Hall of Fame’ and ‘BMX Based Tactics’ veritably char (although on the latter these give way to yearning second half, which in turn is mirrored by the Mercury Rev stylings of ‘Los Vientos Del Tiempo’). Elsewhere the compass points to Düsseldorf with the incredible motorik wig-out of ‘Saturation Complete’ and then back to Toronto with the tension fuelled melancholy, and brilliantly entitled, ‘Your Thirst for Magic has been Quenched by Death!’

Sometimes a band comes along and takes what you know and love and infuses it with such warmth and passion that it’s irresistible. Fresh Snow are one of those bands. Buy it here.

‘Helix Pass’:

‘Saturation Complete’:

The Superman Revenge Squad Band: There Is Nothing More Frightening Than The Passing Of Time

tsrsbThere might be nothing more frightening than the passing of time, but it does have some advantages. In this case Ben Parker has had time to record several new Superman Revenge Squad songs, and return to a selection of older ones, with a full(ish) band. The SRS were always much more, musically, than Ben, his guitar, and a whirlwind of words – just listen to Martin Webb’s cello on ‘The Summer We Finally Cut Our Hair’, for example, from Dead Crow Blues. But the addition of a mix of saxophone, accordion, piano and cello gives these songs added depth. As do the drums, of course, because Adam Parker is there too. That, plus the fact that There… is released by Audio Antihero means that this is, in some sense, a bit like getting another Nosferatu D2 album.

If you’re not a regular BBO reader (ha) that might not mean that much, but Nosferatu D2 made one of the best albums of the last ten years (which we reviewed here). One of the reasons I love that album so much is the collision of Ben Parker’s smart, witty, self-conscious lyrics with brother Adam’s busy drumming, both often delivered at some pace. These songs now have that, and are equally good examples of Ben Parker’s songwriting and lyrical brilliance (he’s certainly the only singer-songwriter I’d trust to write about wrestling, or the Rocky films, or Flavor Flav). So  the passing of time has been good for something, at least.

This is perhaps the best example, though the drumming is quite restrained: ‘The Angriest Dog In The World’, sounding quite wonderful.

You can pre-order this lovely album, out 14th of October, from Audio Antihero here – digital (£3) or very limited CD (£4) – and if you need any more persuasion, here’s the new song ‘A Funny Thing You Said’, which is also a free download.

“How was that?” Parker asks, at the end of ‘Angriest Dog In The World.’ It was great, Ben. What’s next?

jkneale

PS – you can stream the whole album at Bearded Magazine here.

Teeth Of The Sea: Master

MASTER

We were privileged and honoured to be sent this album ahead of its release on 7th of October on Rocket Recordings. We’ve been kneeling for the MASTER for over four weeks now. Here’s our gushings…

Moments of utter jaw-dropping majesty abound on this album. Such instances of breath-taking scale come early on – around four and half minutes into opening track ‘Reaper’ to be almost precise. And from there, the expansive-cum-cosmic is heralded midway through the brilliant ‘Black Strategy’ or again in the swirling phantasms of ‘Siren Spectre’.

From such a description you might think this is an album all about ascension and transcendence, especially given the Christ like figure that centres the artwork:  with all-too-human innards on show, the heavenwards body takes leave of the earthly and the finite. Yet repeatedly this album has a claustrophobia bounded by the skin and the labyrinthine city that is firmly (under)grounded and bound to the earth: the visceral gonzoid noise-filth of ‘All Human Is Error’ being one example of this, or the paranoic poetry of ‘Put Me On Your Shoulders So I Can See The Rats’ being another. Master is composed as much by bodily discharge as heavenly effluvia.

The intriguing and beautifully schizoid nature of Master is again made evident on ‘Pleiades Underground/ Inexorable Master’. Seemingly a travelogue through the underworld and vast caverns of belittling grandeur, all sense of serene drifting and tranquil magnificence is disrupted and humiliated before a hellish vision given shape by a bastard-Beelzebub colossal riff. In the worlds of Teeth of the Sea, everything that seems perfected and at peace is actually diseased and conflicted.

And then there’s final track ‘Responder’. Pensive throbs, cardiogrammatic twitches, skin scorching static and abbreviated riffs meet and mingle with guitar melodies taking flight, the horns of avenging Angelic hordes and a purposive pomp-stomp that hints at a coming redemption. Perhaps here we will see the resolution and synthesis of the beautiful contradictions that shape Master? Perhaps this atonement “will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed” (1 Corinthians 15:52)?

Fat fucking chance! Teeth of the Sea are far too bloody canny to bring about a cosy synthesis and they’re far too shrewd to deliver redemption. And, of course, therein lies Teeth of the Sea’s magnificence and power.

This is an album simultaneously transcendental and primeval in its intent, scope and achievements. This is Teeth of the Sea’s masterpiece.

You can pre-order Master here.

‘Black Strategy’:

Here’s ‘Reaper’ live at this year’s Roadburn festival:

And a bloody scary preview vid:

And ‘Black Strategy’ live at Café OTO in March 2013:

Chop: Illuminate

Illuminate

Chop, or Mr Chop, or Coz Littler (take your pick) seemingly inhabits Ape Recording Studios in Cheshire which acts as a repository for vintage analogics of all shapes, tones and timbres. One assumes that Illuminate has emerged from said space. One thing is for sure – Mr. Chop the curator has made these machines do his bidding with panache and elegance.

One of the trite ripostes to electronic music is that it lacks a “certain humanity” (the equally clichéd “it lacks soul” I completely pompously refuse to deal with any longer). This (surely) can’t be said of Illuminate which charts the interface of humanity and technology with emotion and feeling. Indeed, there is a palpable sense of wry humour here. This is not a po-faced album: it’s one that persistently grins into your face and ear-holes with its multiple musical references, voices vocodered and filtered, and titles (‘Bow Down To The Mutant’, ‘You Want More Life’, ‘Picture Box’).

Illuminate overflows with bubbles and interference, crackles and electro-cackles, with grand symphonic gestures, with ground-shaking mega-chords and more besides. It sits at the glorious intersection of Add N To X and Holy Fuck, or Afrika Bambaataa and Tangerine Dream. It’s really great.

Buy it here or here.

And a great mix here.

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