Author Archives: matthewpetty
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.
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.
From Sweden’s Fluere Tapes label comes UFO Över Lappland’s eponymous cassette release, released in June this year.
The site describes it as “Plasmatic space waves peak tubes push bellbottoms and hardcore tudes to raise freak flags for the estranged teens of callous peoples.” Not sure about the bell bottoms frankly – The Young Ones taught me well – but some hardcore tudes and plasmatic waves are always welcome chez BBO. Plus aren’t we all estranged teens deep down? Certainly the lurid strangled prose below belongs in a sixth-formers rough book (are those still a thing?)
Clocking in at ober 12 minutes, opener ‘Keep On Keepin’ On Space Truckin’ ‘ has few f*cks to give, and gives them very reluctantly. Once the drums start, there is no stopping. The guitars chime and grind together, the electronics hover behind it all. Truckin’ is definitely the word for this. But this truck, grubby as it is, has hyperspace capability, the kind that has you looking through the front viewscreens as a cosmic slitscan conduit swirls past. Can the the tachograph keep up?
Midway along the journey, perhaps at an orbital rest stop, we take a pause and refuel, stretch our legs in the zero-gee. Out of the stop, back onto the freeway slicked with interstellar rain, refreshed by coffee and space crisps or something, we take the last exit to the final infinite destination, as guitars drums and synths crunch.
Bubbling synths die away as the destination is reached, and the truck is reversed into the loading bay as logistics technicians wait to receive the load of galactic shades to protect the eyes of the local heads from the brutal indifference of the universe.
We made it.
Apparently the Krell weren’t wiped out in one night by their monsters from the Id. Some of them escaped and moved to Sweden, where they provided the intro to ‘Podzol’. Then throbbing ceremonial drums and bass underpin the guitar and thin flute-like synth.
As the ceremony progresses, the standing stones reverberate with the bass, and the drums drive the faithful forward to the altar, where they each receive a party favour. Then it kicks off, and the purpose of the meeting becomes clear. Guitar soars, electronics drool, the drums fade away, leaving just the grind to clean up the mess.
Power is switched on, and the machines awake, with a crescendo of electronics, and bass like bleeping machines harnessed for the experiment. Drums pound as power is diverted from the city’s urban monads to the portal generator.
It seems to have worked – something has been let through. But the lab staff all agree that ‘Nothing That Lives Has … Such Eyes’. The entity starts to try and communicate, responding with an electronic howl to the experimenter’s repetitive guitar phrase in a hoarse plea for an explanation. But talks break down, and the lab is destroyed as the misunderstood and frustrated Galaxy Being upturns tables, smashes delicate equipment and eventually emerges into the dawn, confronted by the massed ranks of the military.
In the ensuing standoff, we aren’t sure if anyone will survive. Luckily, the visitor can simply fade out of this dimension.
Sadly the cassette-only bonus track will have to be left to our collective imagination, as the cassette is sold out. Perhaps if we all think together, we can read the magnetic particles on the tape, like in the CIA’s Project Stargate in the 70’s.
Alternatively, buy the files off a willing vendor, which is what the CIA ended up doing most of the time anyway.
This one goes back to August last year, but I’m not apologising. I’ve done enough apologising, dammit. It’s another one of those albums with people singing on it, so as I did with Debs, I’ll attempt to dig down into the tundra and bring up some core samples of reactive emotion.
Processed chords, acoustic strumming, and resonant strings combine with the vocals on ‘The Test of Time’ to create an opener that wouldn’t be out of place on an Ian McCulloch solo project.
Kindness is a risk indeed, but the sampled voice on the short-but-sweet sketch ‘Angel Breakdown’ doesn’t decide whether to stick with it or not. The gentle atmospherics of this track convinced me to go for it, though.
Album standout ‘Stars’ has a bit of the Richard Hawleys about it. Again, simple guitar, simple rhythm, simple lyrics, and that background atmospheric stuff that just gets me right there.
I have to admit I thought there were some pitch-shifted vocals in ‘Maple Leaf ft Daisy Davies’. Then I remembered I’m a Dad now, and decided it was actually quite cute.
‘The Light’ compares a receding taillight (on a bike? motorbike?) to the inspiration that you’re seeking. Perhaps the person leaving is what you need? This song actually gets quite heavy on the strumming, with a subtly disconcerting coda.
A sampled TV or radio gives a cosy Sunday feeling to ‘And Live’, but the guitar and backing occupy a much larger space than your living room. Expand your horizons? Or at least go for a nice walk in the refreshing drizzle, made better by the thought of coming home to tea and this album again.
Strings and strums on ‘You Have To Laugh’, with a gentle piano phrase, meander through this interstitial, leading into ‘My Shadow In The Maze’, which could be talking about a pastoral leafy labyrinth, or the dark twists and turns of trying to figure out how you feel. Then straight in with the atmospherics (they know how to get me), the guitar more distant than ever, ‘Rush To Wait’ is another compelling instrumental I could leave on loop.
Rain on the roof and processed piano accompanies the guitar on the album closer ‘Fool Man Runaway’. Guest vocals from Caoilfhionn Rose answer the lead vocals, and a tender piano phrase rounds it off.
Losing your shadow, now you’re seeing stars, then I talk to my best friend, and I finally made it out. A beautiful album, and they’ve had a few releases since it came out, so go and catch up, just at your own sweet pace.
BBO has featured Kieran Mahon’s work before, the cosmos-themed ‘Space Is The Place’ EP. This newest EP is three tracks of eyes-closed-warm-bath-of-sound ambient electronic texture that envelopes, guides and inspires.
The warm tone chord that opens ‘Mirrors’ is joined by arpeggiated phrases and resonate pulses. The chords intensify, becoming more triumphant, and introduce an echoing voice sample on the edge of intelligibility. Then all fades away, except for the opening chord.
‘Measured Motion’ has the scattered drops of sound and insistent bass, mutating into scintillating shower before a repeating synth phrase loops and wouldn’t seem out of place in eine Europaische café on a long train journey. I love this one.
A slow swell of phasing chords, looping mid bass tone phrases, and a periodic deep bass tone build up the layers of ‘Everything is Forever Running and Returning’, illustrating the point. Then a resonant distance appears with a processed voice, all the time with the simple drone acting like the strata or foundation for the whole piece. Then as the parts disseminate, a simple bass beat draws the EP to a close.
Mahon is prolific and generous. All his release are available on Bandcamp, and you can name your price. Go there and name something generous in return.
As a set of pieces to listen, think, distract, occupy and sooth, this EP is pretty great. Very effective, and one to return to. As Kieran says on the site,
It is highly recommended to be listened to with headphones.
I hope you enjoy it.
I did, and I did.
Arriving on my birthday this year, on the Blackest Ever Black label, this slab of rhythmic electroacousticity brings to mind the more atmospheric side of Plastikman, and the imaginary band from the comic strip Achewood, The Tenmen, if that’s valid. And if it’s not? Come at me.
All the pieces use a Reinheitsgebot of bass, percussion, single-note guitar and atmospherics. It’s a deceptively simple formula that manages to be very evocative of what this world seems to be headed headlong toward.
Opener ‘Coax’ kicks straight in with a throb and bark, swoon and twang. The bass manages to slide around enough to almost lessen the tension you feel is coming. Almost. ‘Dead Heat’ picks up the groove and walks down the straight road towards the horizon a little with it. Acoustic guitar tuning practice, a nice shimmy of percussion, and dog and child answering each other.
The animalistic cries return in ‘Hold Your Line’, but this time things are a little more urgent. Strings weave amongst the scuttle of drums and the beat of the bass, and the guitar line continues, in an attempt to hold the line against whatever is approaching. Will it succeed? Judging by the (only slightly) more upbeat ‘Front Running’ you might think it had. But then the strings and howls return, and the crunch of boots echo through the abandoned streets, marching back to the gunfire in the distance.
‘Dialling In, Falling Out’ brings the paranoia to the fore, as a regular expedition outside the bunker into the grey dusk turns into a stealthy cat-and-mouse game. Things seem much more calm on ‘Glassed’, and you might be forgiven for letting your guard down. The bass is at your side, and the guitar returns to an earlier refrain, along with the choir and strings.
Taps and scrapes herald a drone melody on ‘Cold Cain’, and I’m reminded of the days spent in the cellar with the Parsons under the cylinder, awaiting our fate. Then the guitar, more driven than the earlier student plucks, comes to encourage action.
Finally, ‘Stammer’ recapitulates all we’ve learned. If we remember our training, we will survive out there. The guitar is still urgent, the animals are back, the abstract drum gestures punctuate.
Apart from a few moments that could get you wiggling in a weaker moment, this album made this reviewer sit very still. It’s a fine line between an album being a “listener” and a “backgrounder”. Depending on your mood, this could function as both.
Not a party album. Grab the fancy vinyl now, or download from Bandcamp.
…the world, the tide, the seasons, the wheel, the dial…
Change is a constant. Here we are with a selection of constantly changing releases to change your mind and your habits.
Fatima Al Qadiri is a NYC-based Kuwaiti visual artist and musician. ‘Brute‘ is an album that combines Mark Stewart-like police state recordings with trippy dubstep bits and ethnic flutes. A bit of politics, but cool nonetheless.
BBO’s review of Warning Light’s album XXXI described it as, variously, “just simply beautiful”, “airy propulsion”, “electro-motorisation”, and “sublime awe and cosmic wonder”. D Haddon’s latest EP, ‘Life/Death Suite EP‘ is made up of bits left over from his latest CD, which BBO will get to in due course.
The EP’s two tracks deal with such trivial issues as life and death. ‘Often Chance’ matches swirling strings with a deep pulse, then brings in stuttering back-and-forth percussion which sounds to me like the emerging Martians in Pal’s 1953 War of the Worlds. As the track expands, more elements combine until it turns into a literally entrancing wave. 10 minutes passed while I hardly noticed. ‘Dream Lovers Never Dream Alone‘ is a slower but nonetheless powerful piece, bringing to mind a triumphant funeral march through a village, to a meadow where the ceremony ends. Grab it.
I’ve always loved acid house, but I’ve never seen it as party music. I would listen to my TDK D90 cassettes marked “Dance I”, “Dance II” etc in my bedroom and on my bike, but I was never in a position to go out and shake it as was so often suggested by the music. A combination of age, personality, who knows what. Still, the squelch of a resonant 303 always gets me tingling.
To me, Posthuman embody that ‘headphone house’ aesthetic. Their forthcoming compilation ‘Back To Acid‘ is pretty straightforward. A silver box with knobs, a black box with orange buttons, and a white box with grey buttons – what else do you need? (rhetorical question, I know what you need. Indulge me). 12 tracks of caustic pleasure, from the robotic march of ‘Six Hundred’ to the delicious twang of ‘Beat Down’, via my favourite, the atmospheric throbber ‘Mezzotint’. I will be buying.
Baron Mordant is a name well known to those who dabble in the darker reaches of techno/electronics. Here as Phlekz, he’s released an EP of wondrously deep, dark and dubbed machine music. Shards of glitch and chiptune filtered through a hazy recollection. Rattling bass rhythms meld with rave whistles often mangled beyond bare recognition. Throughout, though, there’s a lightness of touch to the melancholic melodies that find their home in the background – glimpses of light on a dark but rewarding canvass.
Is hauntological Rave a nascent genre where half-remembered events that may not have happened are charted through drone and distanced rhythms? Dunno. But if it is then Body Boys, on the ever-reliable Opal Tapes, are ahead of the game. Over six carefully constructed pieces, Body Boys evoke the sound of a full-on club submerged in a heavy fog of recollection and half-formed memories of loved-up abandon. Spectres reach out of these memories to offer water and sweaty embraces, and ghostly DJs push at the levels but are barely heard through the veil of time. Marvellous stuff. Get it here.
Spring will spring, the grass will riz.
matthewpetty and angrybonbon
I don’t know if it’s age, new fatherhood, some deep psychic need for contemplation and peace, or a combination of them all, but I’ve been drawn to much more quiet and gentle music recently. Now that is not to say boring. You can be raucous, frenetic, and boring, and you can be gentle and quiet, and still capture and hold my attention.
That’s where Debs McCoy comes in. A musician and artist based in the UK NE covering many disciplines, her music is a mix of folk guitar, layered piano, trance-like rhythms, and her own voice, which weaves among the other elements in a quite haunting way.
Her album ‘Silent The Corner’ was released in 2013, but it’s taken me this long to get to write about it. The conditions had to be right (see above). It was released as a collection in two halves: one half acoustic folk with textural elements, one half more cinematic instrumental pieces.
I’m not a big vocals fan, as you may know. I tend to treat the voice in music I listen to as just another sound – I don’t tend to catch lyrics (again, this may be due to age). In addition, I have to admit I don’t have the vocabulary (musical or emotional) to describe this music. I will probably embarrass myself by referencing styles and techniques at odds with what Debs is doing, or revealing I could go my usual route of writing down what the instruments were and how they interlace. But that would not do this music justice (and I’m sure you’re sick of it anyway). So please bear with me as I wade into unfamiliar waters, trying to describe how the songs make me feel.
A spoken phrase, a strummed guitar, a cello, even the “tape” noise adds to the atmosphere of opener ‘Propagate’. The song mentions sunshine, wind, leaves, and brings to mind walking in the stark low winter sun.The strummed guitar is joined by a tambourine in ‘Wendy’ giving a little Western tinge to the song.
‘Beauty, Majesty & Drama’ is something different, and one of my favourite tracks on the album. The instrumentation is the same, but the vocals are more dramatic as the name suggests. The lyrics deal with the artistic process, as a face is drawn and changed. The artist’s relationship with the subject is touched upon. The song is reworked with piano and cello later on the album, to great effect. It transforms into a more melancholic version of itself. Perhaps from the POV of the artist’s subject?
The title track blends close lyrics, simple synth textures and cello into an intimate lullaby, while single piano notes over guitar give ‘Ruben’ a Mountain Goats feel. The subject is lying about their identity, but the singer knows better.
Train rides always provide good backdrops for gentle thoughtful songs. ‘Recoil’ is no exception. This journey is one to a gathering of people, but the narrator still feels alone, trapped outside. This is a very personal song, clearly, and the simplicity of the voice and guitar bring us into her confidence. The voice is closer and gentler than ever, with an almost childlike feel to it, on ‘Sound Carrying Flowers’. The piano beneath sounds like it is taking the singer’s hand and gently guiding and encouraging them as they explore the music room.
The first of the second set of pieces, and definitely a soundtrack , ‘Insufferable’ would work over the final “climactic” scene to a grainy black and white film. Perhaps in the days after a heavy bereavement, as the character emerges back into life, bruised and sore, but somehow renewed, as the credits roll. The processed strings and piano are joined by a momentary harmonica – perhaps memories of the lost one.
Cello, electric piano, xylophone drops like rain in a simple cycling phrase, ‘Spring’ is perfect for sitting at a window with a steaming cup, waiting for the sun to break through a little. Cabin fever is at an end. ‘The Lake’ sounds like a deep family secret being revealed. Tentative piano, rumbling strings, cello, and a sense of realisation. The secret could be good or bad, or both. The excuses anchor the piece, while the repercussions ripple out, affecting many lives, in various ways. In the end, the teller is left alone on the shore.
The beautiful ‘For The Birds’ occupies the same English landscape as some tunes by BBO regulars The Advisory Circle. Trilling flutes, tinkling piano, slow pulsing bass. And finally, album closer ‘Begotten’ opens with a rotating piano line overlaid with xylophone, while the strings below provide an insistent tone. This ending sounds more like an urging or continuation, even as it closes.
Even if my feelings have not been clearly expressed here, it has had an impact on me. ‘Silent The Corner’ is a beautiful album. Buy it here. Buy Debs more recent improvised works here, especially The Therapy Sessions. Buy her box set as well.
HOX is a project from Graham Lewis (Klara‘s dad, Wire bassist) and longtime collaborator Andreas Karperyd, and guess what, surprise surprise, it’s on Editions Mego (a label which seems to have grabbed me recently). This album came out late 2015, and scraped into BBO’s Top Thirty of the Year with a brief mention, but now it deserves some more words.
Duke of York has a lot in common with Lewis’ earlier solo efforts, with some beefy updates and fresher sounds. Many tracks have a definite Wire feel, with Lewis’ buzzing bass and distinctive sonorous vocals. Others lean toward the He Said synthpop style. The first three tracks demonstrate this variation. Opener ‘Anthracite’ dives straight into the He Said/Mute/Ebb/Mode slow tech march territory, with a wry spoken commentary. Rocky guitars introduce my personal favourite ‘Javelin’, leading into a fast beat, driving staccato tune, distinctive Lewis vocals, and stuttering guitars. Then ‘Correct Co-ordinates’ is definitely Wire-y. No beat as such, semi-spoken lyric, mutating into an guitar and synth layered texture.
Tense stuttering synths crash into a driving beat and howling guitars in ‘It’s Too Much’, with the title being the only vocal. Direct and to the point. In a more mellow zone, flutey tones and plucked strings open ‘X In Circle’, then a crunchy groove leads into Lewis’ signature wordplay. Deep horns round off the mixture.
Want tribal drums via Nitzer Ebb with Kraftwerk jabs? Instrumental ‘White Space Conflict’ has you covered, while standout ‘Track and Field’ is a fun exercise in bait-and-switch. What starts out as a synth-driven instrumental on Mute records, suddenly transforms into a Warp-released pulsing workout, before veering back and combining the two.
‘Goodbye’ is a strangely naive song, clearly dedicated to a late beloved friend. Its simplicity and basic rhyming lyrics make it clear that this is a sincere and heartfelt tribute. Other than that, the tune is nice, there are some nice strings and boingy synths, with Lewis’ bass rumbling throughout.
To round off the album, ‘Frequency’ a very He Said sound. Simple bass and guitar with distant sounds, then the vocals appear very close in. The chorus is classic Lewis, with the whole managing to be soothing, tense, relaxed and paranoid all at once.
This album is a good collection of functional and interesting pieces. That sounds like faint praise, and it’s true that it’s hard to get too worked up about it, but in the area they’re working, Lewis and Karperyd deliver (and if you know me, you’ll know I’m not the kind to bandy the word “deliver” about). I will continue to be a fan of the Lewises if this is what I can expect. Buy it if you want.