Author Archives: jkneale
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.
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.
You look like you need cheering up. How about some smart, cheery punk-pop? As you probably know, the best place to go in Britain for that kind of thing right now is the village of Pity Me, Durham, the home of Martha and about six other bands (made up of some of the same people). This is their second record, and it’s fizzing with great songs. I am the original target market for political punk songs with four-part(ish) harmonies, and this has a) a song about anarchist Emma Goldman (‘Goldman’s Detective Agency’), b) a song about shitty precarious supermarket jobs (er, ‘Precarious (Supermarket Song)’), c) a lyrical shout-out to Billy Bragg’s ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’ (‘Curley & Raquel’, though here it’s “Celebrating my love for you/With a stick’n’poke and an Irn Bru”), and d) a closing song that squeezes in six references to the Replacements in 2 1/2 minutes, while (maybe) boosting Paul Westerberg’s claim to be a spokesperson for LGBT youth (‘St Paul’s (Westerberg Comprehensive)’). And all so English, but in a way that makes me think this miserable shitty country might have a future after all.
This makes it sound like clever-clever stuff, but this lyrical and political sharpness rides along on an irresistible musical avalanche of guitars and harmonies, broken by the occasional change of pace and mood. And they’re too knowing to let themselves look daft. Martha send themselves up for taking the mickey out of, and then falling for, the “naïve romantic shite” of being different, a bit like Jarvis might. Anyway, we should let the music speak for itself. First off, the blast of pure ‘existential crisis mix-tape on repeat’ fun that is ‘Chekhov’s Hangnail.’
And then there’s the solid gold pop of ‘Goldman’s Detective Agency,’ with some prize mucking about from the band.
Truth be told, I could keep listing songs from this album, it’s that good. Buy it! from Bandcamp – though we should mention here that they were signed to Fortuna POP!, RIP. It’s what you need right now – trust me.
jkneale (h/t Matthew White)
Silvery love xmas, or maybe just the ghost of xmas music past – the stuff you can still listen to, just, after decades of heavy seasonal rotation… 70s glam stomps in particular. Silvery have done this festive pop thing before, having released a few xmas EPs over the years. Even their rip-roaring cover of ‘You Give A Little Love’ is sort of xmassy, given that Bugsy Malone was a seasonal fixture on kids’ TV in the UK for what seemed like years.
Both Bars On have a tradition of xmas posts, too, though this year we’ve been a bit slow off the mark. There’s a bloggers’ theory that the sort of bands we like are more likely to put out xmas songs because – let’s face it – they’re not worried about fighting off TV show winners on Top of the Pops. So we’ve often had seasonal songs in before. Not sure what’s happened this year – do we know it’s xmas, or what?
Anyhow, Silvery present a couple of clever pop songs with their usual set of references – Victoriana, a glam/punk knees-up, daftness. Great fun. But my favourite, I think, is their latest contribution to the shaggy dog (cat?) stories they began with ‘Animals Are Vanishing (Or, Martian Invasion 1853)’ from Thunderer and Excelsior. This one is an updating of A Christmas Carol and I INSIST you listen to it, and listen to the end. You’ll thank me.
And here is ‘Animals…’ which, again, should be heard through RIGHT TO THE END.
So buy the latest EP here.
Sisters Julia and Maria Reis play guitar, drums and keyboard between them – and that’s it, just them. They set up their own label, Cafetra Records, in Lisbon five years ago and this is their second album, released here on the peerless Upset the Rhythm label. And in a sense they remind me of No Age – the set-up is similarly simple, but can be so flexible and creative, and there’s a mix of songs demonstrating pace and power on the one hand, and reflection on the other.
Opener ‘Braco de Ferro’ has what I think is the best-sounding riff since ‘Teenage Kicks’, and the vocals are perfect though I have no idea what they’re singing about.
Then we’re straight into ‘Branca’, with its cracking drumming and driving pace:
The short album does have more light and shade; ‘Es Tu, Ja Sei’ fades in and out, distorted like a Lisbon version of the Shop Assistants, ‘Amendoa Amarga’ drifts from lively verse-chorus dynamics into ragged noise and back again.
When you get to the end you just want to play the whole thing again.
Post Tangent is a charity compilation supporting CalAid, a group of volunteers collecting for the Calais refugee camps. The compilation seems to have been set up by some of the bands playing the ArcTangent festival in Bristol last month, so it’s essentially 32 tracks of post-, math-, noise-, glitch- and drone-rock.* BBO favourites Deerhoof are as full of beans as ever on ‘Kuma Kita’:
And the last track, the more contemplative ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,’ comes from the brilliantly named He Was Eaten By Owls (who were new to me but are well worth investigating):
I don’t know anything more about this compilation beyond what’s on Deerhoof’s facebook page, but it’s definitely worth buying – excellent music for a very good cause. The Bandcamp page is here and it’s £4 or more. You could always donate to CalAid too, here.
* do you like that hyphenated rock?
Big news. Both Bars On now has four writers as we are joined by Matthew Petty and Pete Collins. Both are experienced bloggers, lovely people, and hold opinions on music suitable for sharing with the public.
We like them a lot, and we think you will too. Keep an eye out for posts from Matthew and Pete!
– the other two
Fourteen consistently excellent songs in thirty minutes… when you get to the end of Sauna Youth’s second LP you just have to play it again. For a band with such a clear idea of what they want to do and such a deliberately DIY approach to doing it, Sauna Youth are full of smart ideas. Short sharp post-punk pop songs, propelled by insistent no wave guitars. Spoken word pieces. More expansive songs like ‘Creeper’, which here seems positively epic at three minutes and forty three seconds. And the sonic oddity ‘End Loop’ (which is a loop but comes at the start of the record. How very Sauna Youth).
Here are two of the livelier tracks, because I love them so much. First off, ‘Transmitters’. Mind the dinosaurs.
And then ‘Abstract Notions’, which might well be the best 99 second song ever recorded. Why would you need a hundred seconds for a song? This is perfect.
I saw Sauna Youth once, supporting their Upset The Rhythm labelmates No Age. One of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. And of course Sauna Youth are also Monotony, on different instruments but equally amazing. You can tell I’m a fan, can’t you?
Buy this now here!
So because we are always on the pop pulse, I missed the news that the great Fanfarlo have shut up shop. I hate it when bands we have loved (since 2008!) fold, but at least you can hope that each member will go on to produce interesting new music. That’s certainly the case with Cathy Lucas’s new project Orlando, who share this cassette/download release with Tomaga. RAM Tapes (or The Association for the Re-Alignment of Magnetic Dust to give them their full title) re-use old tapes for that essential crackle and pop experience, and the theme is suitably 80s: video game soundtracks, kerbside frogs, ghost mazes, etc. It’s too sophisticated – at least to these cloth ears – to be just more chiptune landfill but it’s extremely playful all the same. The Orlando side is closer to Cornelius in terms of its invention and charm; the Tomaga side is a little more spacious, dubby, dronish. As an album it’s a pretty irresistible combination.
Orlando’s opening track brings you the croaks of a telepathic amphibian, a bit of bossa nova and a steely science-fictional theme, all in 3 minutes and 25 seconds.
While Tomaga’s ‘Giant Bitmap’ made me wonder whether Pacman ever got the cold sweats while cruising those haunted midnight mazes…
Highly recommended. Of course the tapes sold out long ago but the download is available from Bandcamp here. We look forward to the next RAM Tapes release.