Fresh(ish) harvest from BBO regulars Ghost Box, with a new partnership of Ed MacFarlane and Ed Gibson of Friendly Fires with Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle. What should this aging fanboi expect from this new direction?
The template is set from the first seconds of the introductory title track. Distorted plucking, birdsong, needlescratch, and wavering flute. This is a Ghost Box album.
But! As soon as you settle into your rocking chair for an exploration of a grainy pastoral double-exposure landscape as ‘Black Rain’ starts with its chord washes and bass pulses, the extremely groovy rhythms and bassline kick in, and you’re on your feet. This track comes to you with fuel injection – toes tapping! Then vocals! Perhaps I missed something, but this is a departure from the expected – although expectations are subjective. A great synth phrase follows them up, and ghostly backing vocals keep us dreaming. There’s even a breakdown!? What’s happening? I’ll tell you what. It’s Pastoral Synthpop, in contrast to the paleofuture neon cityscapes usually associated with this style. Neon, but diffused through curling mist over a meadow.
After this cracking opener, waltzing bass wallows, pleading vocals, plucked scrapie guitar, flute trills and synth arpeggios make ‘Don’t Let Me Dream’ a sun-soaked drift down a very British river. Who’s up for a cruise? Then follow a couple of slowies, ‘A Simple Walk’, followed by ‘Daylight’, which starts mellow but gives it some oomph in the chorus. Arms-thrown-wide ecstatic dream chorus, brassy bass synths, naive little xylophone tinkles. This is another corker. Lovely drift-out chorus, one I could happily loop for hours like that one 6ths song about Hawaii.
It wouldn’t be a Ghost Box album with an ode to some bird or other, and ‘Sparrowhawk’ fits perfectly. Soaring, twinkling, watching, swooping, and climbing again with the hint of an acid tweak in its beak. A nice little interstitial, leading nicely into ‘Man and Machine’ and ‘Fluchtwege’. With titles like that, you’d best be channelling Ralf und Florian, or at least Jean-Michel. And they are – a bit.
The former starts a bit like an Oxygene hidden track, with a boppy shuffle/shuffly bop. The vocals bring it over the Channel and into the future / the bridge has some lyrics that are unusually optimistic about our relationship with the technium / and the chorus must be the machine itself, joyfully hooting its agreement with this sweet vision. A personal fave. ‘Fluchtwege’, with it’s arpeggios, chorus of soft voices and guitar licks, is a love song to textures. Rust, snow, dust, light, whispers, touch, the stars align. You half expect an erotic story set among the corn rigs. Echoing electronic textures, pulsing notes, minimal percussion combine in ‘Polymer Dawn’. Vocals blending in with just some phrases, layers build like rays of the sun edging into view.
Starting like a folk circle with picked guitar, tambourine and vibes, ‘First in an Innocent World’ turns into a waltzing electric ode to the new day. A swirling middle with hopeful yet triumphant chords, then simple phrases repeat and fade, as the album draws to a close.
Another classic Ghost Box album. The whole package – sound, imagery, voice, feelings. A couple of filler tracks don’t prevent this being a highlight of the year, and of the year to come. Should have been in the 2016 top thirty. Soz.
Welcome to our eighth best-of-the-year list, and our second as a crack team of four. It’s patently obvious that 2016 has been thoroughly rubbish*, but at least we’ve had plenty of good music to set against the headlines, bowings-out and splittings-up. The compilation of our Top Thirty Records of 2016 was less painful than usual too, the smooth working of one well-oiled machine (we call him Pete). Still, those of you who come back every year will see that despite the neatness of the electoral process the list shows the usual surfeit of eclecticism.
So we invite you to view our shiny baubles, our fresh and seasonal produce. Not a turkey to be seen, apart from the four above. See you in 2017 – at the very least it won’t be 2016. Cheers!
(*although angrybonbon got married to the love of his life, so 2016 wasn’t all bad for everyone. Cheers!)
In the bubbling under category: Apostille: Virile Strain Transmission; The Belbury Poly: New Ways Out; Bob Mould: Patch the Sky; Weaves: Weaves; Radar Men From The Moon: Subversive II: Splendor of the Wicked; Ben Chatwin: Heat & Entropy; Steve Hauschildt: Strands; Hen Party: Glitter Sweats.
Reissues: Sweet Billy Pilgrim: We Just Did What Happened and No One Came
The Top Thirty:
30. Galcid: Hertz
29. Ogre & Dallas Campbell: Night of the Living Dead (Original Motion Picture Rescore)
28. Peter Baumann: Machines of Desire
27. Mugstar: Magnetic Seasons
26. Factory Floor: 25 25
25. Vanishing Twin: Choose Your Own Adventure
24. Barberos: Barberos
23. Goat: Requiem
22. Opeth: Sorceress
21. John Carpenter:Lost Themes II
20. Go March: Go March
Add Go March to your list of famous Belgians as this Antwerp band lay out a striking debut of spiky motorik and krautrock.
19. Juan Atkins & Moritz Van Oswald: Transport
Two of the heavyweights of techno come together as Borderland to produce the deepest beats and phasing loveliness.
18. Yak: Alas Salvation
Fearsome guitar noises, shouting, tunes. Victorious!
17. Grumbling Fur: FurFour
Mind-expanding pop music, featuring biblical patriarchs from outer space.
16. The Heartwood Institute: Calder Hall: Atomic Power Station
Sizzling with radioactivity, the polymath that is The Heartwood Institute delivers a beautiful slice of electro-hauntology.
15. The Pineapple Thief: Your Wilderness
Somerset’s greatest prog band return to form with King Crimson/Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison along for the ride.
14. Teleman: Brilliant Sanity
The second collection of slightly wonky but brilliant pop songs from a band who seem to be able to produce them without breaking a sweat.
13. Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits
San Francisco psych rockers manage what looks like a crossover smash on their first of their two records for 2016.
12. The Mortlake Bookclub: Exquisite Corpse
The only soundtrack you need for the Folk Horror Revival. Four movements of palimpsest drone that both spooks and moves.
11. Martha: Blisters in the Pit of my Heart
Reminds you it’s still possible to do quite a lot with the raw materials associated with ‘punk’ & ‘pop’ if you’re as smart and lively as this lot are.
10. worriedaboutsatan: Blank Tape
Brooding, ambient electronica and hypnotic atmospheric rhythms. Antoher top class album from this duo to follow last years’s Even Temper.
9. Posthuman: Back to Acid
12 tracks of caustic pleasure, from the robotic march of ‘Six Hundred’ to the delicious twang of ‘Beat Down’, via the excellent atmospheric throbber ‘Mezzotint’. I’ve said it before, Acid House is the new Dad Music.
8. Warning Light: Life Death Suite EP
Entrancing clatter and looping tones as a taster for the full album.
7. Teenage Fanclub: Here
It’s been six years since the last one, but the Fannies shine just as brightly as they ever did.
6. A Year in the Country: The Quietened Bunker
Nothing quite says 2016 like a compilation album on the theme of abandoned cold war structures and bunkers, because underground is where we’ll all be living soon after the nuclear button gets pressed. Unsettling drone, snatched samples, glitched beats and claustrophobic synths; it’s all here.
5. Meilyr Jones: 2013
So rich, extravagant, and strange that it sounds like a ‘best of’ album covering several years in an artist’s life; no single track can do it justice but this will do fine here:
4. Voyag3r: Are You Synthetic?
The perfect SF adventure album. From laser duels on frozen planets to war rockets being dispatched to Ajax, this album oozes class and sophistication whilst not taking itself too seriously. It’s the sound of a band having stupid amounts of fun and tracking ‘Flash Gordon On Ice: the Musical’ whilst they’re doing it. Utterly brilliant.
3. Gnod: Mirror
Our Salfordian troubadours picked up the guitars (or banjos as they like to call them) once again and proved why they lead the pack when it comes to enveloping sludge, resistant noise and all-consuming terror.
2. Matmos: Ultimate Care II
Two men, one washing machine and one track. Every sound made from said cleaning device. From intimate glitch to all-out pounding techno. Too see this live, replete with the machine, was to marvel at the wonder and genius that is Matmos. Amazing.
1. Oscillotron: Cataclysm
The purest and deepest space music. Cosmic kosmische of the highest order. An album that let us take flight and escape the hideousness of this worldly reality, especially as it unfolded this year. Transcendental.
So you can do yourself a big end-of-the-year favour and go buy some or all of the above albums. They are available from shops and sites – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones (who pay their taxes), ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too.
Merry Xmas and a happy Newest Year one and all.
angrybonbon, JKneale, matthewpetty & Pete Collins
Persistent, aggravating headache? That’s the sound of ‘Born Defective,’ which opens Virile Strain Transmission, released in February this year. Much of the album is as harsh as the first track, with snarled, distorted or muttered vocals, clattering beats and lots of acidic squelching. It’s more abrasive than 2014’s Perpetual Dirt, and more experimental than last year’s Powerless – though that album isn’t exactly formulaic either, just a little more poppy in places.
It’s not all as fast-forward as that, though, as ‘L.A. River’ makes clear.
The reflective ‘Two Years Have Passed’ represents the still point at the middle of the album’s flow, before it rolls through into the glitchy, almost dubby openness of the tracks of the second half.
This was originally a cassette release; buy it (or digital) here. Looking forward to hearing whatever Michael Kasparis puts out as Apostille next year.
Warning Light’s new 2-track single is “dedicated to all my friends and acquaintances who for whatever reason are not with their friends/family/sweethearts for the holiday season.” I feel you.
It Looks Like Snow (08:29) – The musical equivalent of a still life of a lone house in a winter landscape, the snow muffling the swirling drone. Strings come in like low sun coming in through the window. Do you draw the curtains, or let it blind you?
Heading Home Songs (08:29) – The road reels out, with the lane so straight you seem not to be moving. The other voices in the car are smothered by your distraction. You want to get where you’re going. But once you get close, you enter the city, and energy picks up around you, as you finally arrive, with the same wind in your ears.
Beautiful sounds, and not a sleigh bell in sight. Pay what you want at Bandcamp.
“You are not alone, much love to you all.”
Much love to you too, D, and to everyone out there.
From the bulging BBO sac comes this nice little collection of distant noise and grinding ambient. This short abstract collection deserves a classic short matthewpetty stream-of-barely-conciousness™ review.
‘Fires in the field’ (04:01) wavering guitar washes drifting inland, dissolving into interference and eardrum buzz.
‘Sheltered’ (03:58) a rave taking place over the next hill, while the machines in the citadel who weren’t invited pump fluids into the patient on the gurney, the EEG giving the only sign of “life”.
‘While their backs are turned’ (08:41) at the riverside by the weir, we strip and clean our makeshift weapons. The pulse comes closer. Soon we must take a stand. But as they ascend over us, we realize they are not the enemy. They are leaving, and I think we’ll miss them.
‘Anabaptist’ (03:49) the runout groove contains a message? The bass shimmying along, making shapes with its hands, almost a buzzvoice. You could dance to it, if you were Gregor Samsa. Segue into…
‘Vow of dissolution’ (01:39) only two legs needed to dance now. The grind and the bass feel internal and persist and intensify until vow is promptly fulfilled.
‘Yielding light’ (02:31) chants and vocalisations deep in the warren. Stone surfaces channel it up to the observation deck where we meet for the first and last time, overlooking the fields where this began.
I am liking this one a lot. Name your price from good ol’ Bandcamp.
London’s sonic explorers have made their fourth record, and it’s an astonishingly confident effort. The thing that has always made Grumbling Fur hard to ignore is their combination of drowsy or startling psychedelic moments with honest-to-goodness (but never predictable) pop music. The bubbling, chattering rhythms of ‘Acid Ali Khan’ drift into the seemingly euphoric ‘Heavy Days,’ but on both tracks the heart-lifting spirit of the music is almost, but not entirely, undercut by the sweet but occasionally dolorous tones of Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan, and by the latter’s strings.
The net effect is cheering, or restorative, but at some cost; this is music that is light-footed but also dense and complex. Samples and sounds mesh but the tensions between them are as important as the harmonies of the whole. It’s hardly homework for the ears and brain, though. Here’s ‘Heavy Days’ to demonstrate that:
Highly recommended – and perhaps the most accessible record they’ve done to date. Buy from Thrill Jockey.
Cathy Lucas – of Fanfarlo and Orlando, both BBO favourites – has recruited members of Tomaga, Floating Points, and Broadcast, as well as film maker and artist Elliott Arndt to form Vanishing Twin. The band are named after Cathy’s identical sister who was, apparently, absorbed in utero, so that she’s still part of Cathy (sort of. google it).
The album covers a lot of ground, as that list of reference points might suggest, but the tone seems to be set by a gentle collision between psychedelia and soundtrack/library music, held together by lovely percussion and Cathy’s voice. ‘The Conservation of Energy’ possesses a perfect pop sheen, while ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ makes me think not just of those 70s/80s US gamebooks but of Sara Lowes‘ own adventures in gentle psych. Beautifully produced by Malcolm Catto, there’s so much space in these recordings that this is about as cosmic as it gets – without a drone or fuzzed guitar in earshot.
And having a film maker (and flautist/percussionist, natch) on board means the videos are pretty damn amazing. This, for ‘Vanishing Twin Syndrome’, made me wonder (when my eyes had stopped leaking) if they were gently mocking a certain Swedish voodoo outfit:
And this video for ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ ticks many BBO boxes – brutalist architecture, peculiar figures in spacesuits (one playing a multiplug extension like a melodica), disembodied organs. It’s a bit like the BBO xmas party!!!11!
This is a rather special album from Soundway Records; a perfectly realised idea that’s also a musical adventure and certainly so much more than just a cheesy concept. I really think you should get yourselves a copy right now from their Bandcamp page.
I used to work with this bloke who had a joke that ended with the punchline “bus shelters, air raid shelters…” and I can’t remember what it was. It was probably a smutty joke, as he was a smutty man. He used to tell the joke at least three times a week. Now I very much appreciate an abandoned shelter too, but I think he and had different views about what activities we were using them for.
The recent release by A Year in the Country, The Quietened Bunker is an exploration of the abandoned and/or decommissioned Cold War installations (i.e. my favourite places). And (spoiler) it’s brilliant – an absolute contender for my album of the year. Every single track is expressive of the theme, though they all take a different approach to presenting it.
Keith Seatman kicks us off with Lower Level Clockroom, featuring dueling arpeggios and an icy pad mixed with the ominous ticking of a clock and snatches of speech or laughter. The occupants of the bunker counting down to nuclear Armageddon? The longer the track goes on the more it feels like you’re being led closer and closer to a disaster.
What better way to follow up that than with some genuinely unsettling drone? This comes in the form of Drakelow Tunnels by Grey Frequency and evokes a real sense of unease that conjures up images of moving slowly through abandoned tunnels, torch in hand illuminating corroded walls, doors and furniture, unsure what may lie around the next corner. The final 40 seconds or so of the track ends with a faint tapping sound on metal bunker walls, a chilling discovery perhaps of something or someone trapped down there.
Maybe the person trapped down there is the last man playing the last piano, star of the next track The Filter’s Gone/The Last Man Plays the Last Piano. The tinkling piano slowly mixes with static and synths, it’s beautiful and fragile and could fall apart at any moment.
There next three tracks take the tempo up, Aggregates II by Pannbrites introduces glitchy, percussive pulses, while Polypore’s Bunker 4: Decommissioned takes us down a much more horror route, enveloping us in a swirling wind of synths and a creeping beat. Comms: Seen Through the Grey by Listening Centre harks back to a time before the cold war bunkers were abandoned and East and West nations were monitoring each other’s communications. You could (almost) dance to this one.
Both Crafty Mechanics by Time Attendant and Crush Depth by Unknown Heretic are claustrophobic, doomy listens. The latter pushes in similar musical directions as Haxan Cloak and is as outstanding as it is terrifying.
Those hoping to end the album on a more uplifting note aren’t going to find it in Waiting For the Blazing Sky by David Colohan, but it is a ten minute long magnificent slab of swirling and droning synths punctured occasionally by snatches of dialogue; the perfect soundtrack as we watch the world burn. Indeed, events of the year 2016 may have us all waiting for the blazing sky, but not before you’ve got your hands on this compilation.
PS I’ve remembered the joke my old work colleague used to tell. It was: “I’ve lived a sheltered life. Bus shelters, air raid shelters…”, followed by a wink even more creepy than an abandoned bunker…
The Mortlake Bookclub are a shadowy collective whose first release on the brilliant Reverb Worship label is “inspired and directed by the surrealist parlour game Exquisite Corpse” wherein each collaborator adds to the previous person’s output. One of these members is Melmoth the Wanderer. Add to the mix a reading group centred around Dr. Dee’s library and surrealism, and you won’t be surprised to hear I was hooked immediately.
Opener, ‘The Sexton’s Dream’ sets the phantasmagoric tone beautifully: hazed and throbbed electrics, distanciated plucking and a spoken sample that is as threatening as it is cautionary. And it’s this sample that places the Exquisite Corpse squarely in a spectral rurality, where half-glimpsed simulacrums spook and uncanny survivals pervade.
‘Live Deliciously’ has ritual purpose. And I say this in a the same way an archaeologist digs into the land, finds something that can only be surmised as significant, and deems it a ritual object. Here this translates into a vague sense and aural awareness of a ceremonial performance whose importance and meaning is both enlivened and obscured by a resonant dissonance and distant chants. Only a tolling bell gives some clarity that a ritual is happening or has happened here. And no amount of polishing your obsidian stone will allow a clearer view.
With its swirling strings and baritone spoken word, ‘Exquisite Corpse’ could not be more haunting. The reversed voices, the shards of whispered narration, the funereal atmosphere – it’s definitively one of the heart-rending and poignant pieces of music I’ve heard in years. In short, it’s incredible.
Exquisite Corpse is available here in a limited and desirable edition. It’s on its second run so be quick
Here’s a sampler: