Hi. How are you all doing out there?
If, a few years back, you’d asked me whether I would be turning to ace-but-morose Benjamin Shaw for something to cheer me up during this neverending shitshow, I would have laughed like a drain. He’s not without a sense of humour – singing about drowning Tories in a well on his first album, which we loved and which is now available in remastered and extended form – but I would never have guessed that he would make something that I might describe as euphoric….
This is ‘HELL YEP,’ from his latest EP as Megadead. The video is soothing, too, if you don’t mind the shorts, anyway.
This is the second outing for Megadead, after a self-titled album (also very good, and also on Audio Antihero – get that here) but this is from new EP , Screams, Banging, Etc, self-issued, which can be purchased here. I like the cover.
Stay safe, everyone.
There I was in a double decker wingtube to Malaysia and I think to myself I should catch up with the Brainwashed podcast shouldn’t I? On it goes, and what do you know, John thingy’s guest for the episode is Jack Dangers, talking about his new album with my beloved Meat Beat Manifesto, ‘Impossible Star’.
Of course I buy it soon as, don’t I?
I’ve loved MBM since I visited a friend at college and she taped 99% for me, plus some other stuff including Nitzer Ebb (the Essex Front 242) and Front 242 (the Aarschot Nitzer Ebb). Don’t know what happened to her – I seem to recall she became a cop? Whatevs.
This is a solid MBM album, with many familiar textures and features, so I thought I’d present this review in the form of a matrix, so that readers can get directly to the bits they need. I’ve been working too hard.
bpm / duration
|Album Role /
n/a / 02:40
|swaying weird, looping movie||atmospheric opener
can’t think of one
|Vocals: Muffled speech samples Bass: none really Drums: none here either|
91 / 02:43
|meow meow meow ahhhh||here it is
Funny Feeling / Let’s Have Fun
|Vocals: Muffled speech samples
Drums: chugga chugga chugga
|We Are Surrounded
115 / 06:00
|juddering squelch, strums,
|step it up a notch
Mad Bomber / The Woods
|Vocals: Muffled speech samples,
Bass: In the background
Drums: “Being Boiled”
124 & 68 / 03:02
|pulses and tones||previous album refresher
|Vocals: Muffled speech samples
Bass: death rays
Drums: slow plod with skittering as is the style,
120 / 05:31
|touch of the acids||quirky sidestep
Bass: chattering up and down
106 / 03:54
|jazzy chords||title track, duh
‘Let’s Have Fun’ again? it is a fave of mine, but i’m not obsessed
|Vocals: Muffled speech samples,
Bass: In the background, relies more on the beefy drums
Drums: frantic snares
114 / 14:52
|the long one
|Vocals: Distant simian choir
Bass: tab of acid
Drums: sparse taps with crunchy rattle
73 / 05:16
|jazzy chords, crackly vinyle, floaty tones||jazzy one
Stuff off of ‘At The Center’
Bass: dubby straight
Drums: muffled simple loop
n/a / 02:59
bits of ‘Electric People’
Muffled speech samples
97 / 03:31
|reverb bleeps, echoey peeps, tweeks||we continue
can’t think of one
Bass: low enough not to care
Drums: crashing loop
122 / 04:40
|playing with his toys
sample from FSOL PNG?
it’s a test of course
Drums: Being Boiled’ again
n/a / 03:04
can’t think of one
|Vocals: nothing coherent
Bass: none just the rushes
140 / 05:42
|Vocals: Reverby exclamations
Bass: deep bubbles
Drums: 4/4 give it some more
More of the studio wizardry you’ve come to expect. The interview on the podcast made JD sound so cute and nerdy, he was just talking about what the ideas for the noises were.
I am electro, and I can dig the music, kids.
I wasn’t able to witness FC perform back in March (or indeed ever), because I live sevenpointfive thousand kilometres away, and that’s pushing it. But if they weren’t wearing cloaks, I would have been annoyed. I hope the bird heads made an appearance.
Flange Circus released this late last year, which is too long ago. This is a damned fine debut album, with a nice combination of sounds, Bon’s guitar and Pete’s bass forming a scaffolding for the wide range of weirdness produced by the band’s machines, and John’s keyboards joined by Adam on one track, and Anna on flute on another.
The first single ‘Great Divisions’ opens with processed voices calling across the void, followed by pulsing machine tones and a zap kick. Marching chanting robed figures approach, bringing sludgy bass and soaring guitar. A great opener, and a cool video to match.
Introductory guitar and drum rolls introduce a show, but who’s coming on stage? That’s right, it’s the eponymous star of ‘Fucko The Space Clown’. Will this be a celebration of said clown, or a warning? Is this one of those songs Mexican gangsters commission for themselves from mariachi bands? A sudden change of tone in the middle brings 808s and howling (always a good combination), then Fucko is on stage, weaving his magic(k), waving his white-gloved hands, before the curtain goes up revealing his plan, and it all comes together with the guitar and bass, and a climax of clattering drums, ending with a final howl.
(On a side note, I sincerely hope Fucko becomes FC’s mascot, like Eddie, Booji Boy, or Vic Rattlehead. I foresee a giant inflatable over a stadium one day.)
Straightforward bass and drums introduce ‘Strange Hairy Airport’, and they’re then joined by a very nice resonant flanging choir. More processed voices join them, then rock chords hold the the chorus to account for their actions. The drums start skipping, and the whole thing reminds me of Sabbath’s ‘Supertzar’.
‘Homunculus Gardens’ is a strange abstract twinkling interlude. These gardens. Are they where the homunculi are grown, or the council estate where they live? Scrapes of furniture being moved upstairs, distant gramophones, interference pulses like an electric discharge, echoing layered klaxon or car alarms. Not a great neighbourhood I guess. Arguing voices confirm this, and then some metallic clanging as the new buildings collapse (geddit?!).
After the wanderings of previous, ‘In The Pestilent Folds of Chub 909’ is a flip-back-to-the-present 4/4 bouncer, straight in with the techno kick and nice reverb snap clap. A flat choir is joined by found sounds from Berlin basements and Manchester squares, and a pure tone tune takes us up. Then it really gets going as the drums become almost tribal, with wriggling notes down into grinding bass, shimmering splashes, flattened by the one note choir. Someone hits jam jars filled with different amounts of coloured water. The colours are important. And boom, it’s over.
A gentle flute (played by guest Anna Billett) plays ‘Scarborough Fair’ on cliffs overlooking the village, in the intro to ‘Moloch By The Sea’. But drums like those used to keep slave rowers in time herald the approach of the ships to the peaceful settlement. Soaring chords as the ships beach, then the drums and chords compete until…?
The fate of the village is left unclear. Perhaps they were just traders.
With my lack of imagination, I find it hard to detach the name of a track from the sound (you don’t say), but I will resist suggesting ‘Dehibernation’ follows the stages of someone emerging from a long sleep. Buzz, tones, phase, flange, synth bass tones, drum fills – sounds like my kind of alarm clock. Sludgy guitars and bass are followed by synth chords and a line from a 1983 electro tune.
Flange Circus use drum machines, and in some cases it can sound a little stilted. Would they benefit from a live drummer? It would change the sound of the band, and perhaps it sounds how it sounds because that’s how it sounds. I don’t know what the live setup is.
Enough thinking, Petty, more listening.
Fitting in nicely with the current mood of Weird Folk Horror Britain, ‘Kwak’ is lovely stuff. The rook flies over the misty fields, with ghostly voices and phantom resonance trailing behind it.
‘Zerodom Heritage 2016’ is a reworking of FCs first demo release from 2013. Let’s revisit the original first.
A simple walking pace pulse bassline with a drilling resonance sliding in from the rear. A pause, silence, then the bass and wind over a bottle, with a jagged stuttering. All the factors combine before it ends on a fading car horn.
The original was an intriguing debut that left us all curious and wanting more. The new version features beefed up bass, the drums are given more space to twinkle, distant reverbed sweeps add texture, and a new middle eight organ sequence that takes it in a new and uneasy direction.
A sample collage interlude as the album approaches its end, ‘Mellow Birds, Mellow Beards’ combines voices processed to the extent they sound like a demented Speak’n’Spell™, and deep troubled klaxons.
A wash of atmosphere gives way to a Vangelis warped synth coming in sounding like old video game lightcycles, in ‘Gnu Fantasy’. Then we a treated to a heartbeat kick drum and chapel organ, and a nice solid no-wave bassline. Motorik synth and angry guitar grind gets you grooving, or at least twitching. It’s a toe tapper. The calm at the centre is followed by rambling tones, looping atmos, stuttering bass, receding as the album closes… and scene.
This debut album is a good progression from their first two EPs, and takes them in a good direction. I’m keen to hear more, and even keener to see them live someday. They have elements of BBO faves Teeth Of The Sea, German prog synths, pastoral folk, and Ghost Box Britweird. In the final track of the album, someone got to yell, “1, 2, 3, 4” – and isn’t that what it’s all about?
Get yourself enveloped.
Happy Hallowe’en, All Hallows’ Eve, Samhain and Hop-tu-Naa, one and all.
May your ectoplasm run freely and copiously.
Some soundtracks for the day when the veil is thin…
First, The Heartwood Institute on amazing form:
Second, some a dark ritual in the forest from the Russian label Black Mara:
Next up, the opening titles to a film, ‘Bethany’s Cradle’, that was never made, by Klaus Morlock:
And then one of the many stand-out tracks from a brilliant compilation from Burning Witches Records:
And then we must leave you with the traditional dodgy goff. And probably one of the lowest budget videos ever made:
Party today and tonight, because tomorrow you die…
Grant Hart has died aged 56. Drummer, singer and songwriter with Hüsker Dü, he then put out several albums as a solo artist and with his band Nova Mob.
Hüsker Dü had two – sometimes three – songwriters, and in Grant and Bob Mould they had two of the best; my favourite songs are split pretty evenly between the two of them. The band had more of a range style-wise than is sometimes thought, but there’s no denying that some of the most quintessentially Hüsker songs were Grant’s, like ‘Don’t Want to Know if You are Lonely’ from Candy Apple Gray. He had a fine voice, too, and he made drumming look easy whether it was the straight-ahead hardcore stuff or the more complicated later material. He was a key part of one of the most important bands of the 80s and he will be missed.
Here’s ‘2541’, from his first solo EP. It was rerecorded for his first album Ecco Homo but I’ve always loved this version for its raw, direct sound, and it seems more suitable right now than any of his Hüsker Dü songs.
Rest in peace, Grant.
I could do with something fun right now. Couldn’t you?
This is the very thing, a slab of fruity foolishness from Phil MFU – the eponymous Man From Uranus – who is also part of the brilliant Vanishing Twin (and Broadcast, before that). Library sounds, you ask? Psychedelia? Moog noodling? Tick tick tick – plus a whole load of inspired mucking about. It reminds me of both the superb compilation A Psychedelic Guide to Monsterism Island and Fantasma-era Cornelius, which are pretty good reference points.
‘Energy Charger’ opens up with some 8bit-ish upbeat enthusiasm, before ‘Stationary Object’ takes us into more reflective, mind-altering territory. And that’s the two sides of this album, really. ‘Cucumber Sword’ – cough – is probably the best example of the first sort of track, with some very excitable shouting/rapping from Taishi Nagasaka (Fat White Family). Look, the video pretty much explains the whole song:
After that we’re back into glitch-y tones, slowly stumbling rhythms. ‘Death Dreams of Opulence’, you say? Yes, and Neone Meate Dreams of the Octafish! RAM tapes, home of MFU, has a thing about amphibians – as the Orlando/TOMAGA split cassette made clear – and here’s the Man with a chorus of ‘Alien Frogs’, who are not advertising crap beer:
The penultimate track, ‘Cosmik Telephone’, is interrupted by what I can only describe as a dissolve sequence soundtracked by the Clangers, before busting out some full-on skronk. If this is a telephone conversation it sounds like the colloquy of elephants – maybe a trunk call? ‘Dream Trains,’ which closes the album, starts with no wave guitar and clonking drums before moving on to the calmer sounds of goods trains clanking past while contemplative piano plays.
This is a thoughtful, fun, inventive, where’s-that-going?! album and I urge you to give it a listen.
Buy from RAM Tapes Bandcamp page whydon’tcha?
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.