Author Archives: Pete Collins

Both Bars On: Top Thirty Records of 2016

turkeys-marching-fade-2.jpgWelcome 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

gomarch

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

tresor285-artwork

Two of the heavyweights of techno come together as Borderland to produce the deepest beats and phasing loveliness.

18. Yak: Alas Salvation

yak

Fearsome guitar noises, shouting, tunes. Victorious!

17. Grumbling Fur: FurFour

412_900

Mind-expanding pop music, featuring biblical patriarchs from outer space.

16. The Heartwood Institute: Calder Hall: Atomic Power Station

heartwood

Sizzling with radioactivity, the polymath that is The Heartwood Institute delivers a beautiful slice of electro-hauntology.

15. The Pineapple Thief: Your Wilderness

pineapple

Somerset’s greatest prog band return to form with King Crimson/Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison along for the ride.

14. Teleman: Brilliant Sanity

teleman

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

theeohsees

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

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

a3068623356_10

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

worriedaboutsatan

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

posthuman

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

warnignlight

Entrancing clatter and looping tones as a taster for the full album.

7. Teenage Fanclub: Here

teenagefanclub

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

aquietenedbunker

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

meilyrjones

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?

voyag3r

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

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

ultimate_care_ii_front_cover

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

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

Advertisements

A Year In The Country: The Quietened Bunker

aquietenedbunker

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.

Get it on Bandcamp. Get it now.

petecollins

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…

Peter Baumann: Machines of Desire

baumann

A confessional: I don’t really understand the differences between satsumas, tangerines and clementines. I know I like to eat them I just don’t always know which is which.

And all of this awful sub-par observational comedy brings us to Peter Baumann. Who was in Tangerine Dream in 1971 – 77. Do you see? Tangerine Dream. I do know who they are – a very influential proponent of experimental Krautrock, the likes of which goes down very well with me. 33 years after his last solo album, Baumann returns with an 8 track almost fully instrumental album of moody, sparse electronics.

A feeling of menace pervades all the tracks, opener The Blue Dream setting the tone that the rest of the album follows: droning synths, stomping kick drums and portentous rolling toms. Searching in Vain is similarly baleful, although it does have has a John Carpenter feel to it in it’s later moments, and Valley of the Gods features heavily processed vocal samples occasionally breaking through to a surface almost hidden behind industrial percussion. Towards the end a lead synth line creeps in with a middle-eastern tinged rhythm.

Echoes in the Cave is wonderfully minimalist, while Ordinary Wonder conjures up rain and neon signage, a trip around a dilapidated city of a future that never quite was, a future as portrayed in countless cyberpunk novels. It’s more upbeat than all of the other tracks presented here, the lead synth offering hope and wonder.

Crossing the Abyss returns to the downtempo feel of the rest of the album, beginning with the clattering of dark bells for the first minute before allowing a marching beat and sequenced bass to take over, complimented perfectly with some spooky lead lines and atmospherics.

Dancing in the Dark pushes forth military march drum rolls played on a rickety drum machine with a pulsing, doomy bass and swelling synths, and Dust to Dust rounds things off, the highlight of the album for me. It starts with more metallic percussion that sounds like the ticking of an ominous clock, with Gregorian chants washing over the top. It’s almost two minutes into the track before the synth pad comes in, followed soon after by an arpeggio that seems to be leading you towards whatever horror the ticking clock is counting down. The song becomes much more urgent in the second half, the lead synth line taking on a guitar like tone until you’re left alone with that creepy metallic ticking and the chants again. Play it with headphones on in the dark. I dare you.

Get the album from Bureau B or your local reputable record store.

petecollins

Steeple Remove: Position Normal

Steeple Remove - Position Normal album cover

Yes, yes, I know. This album came out at the end of 2015. I’m at least 6 months late. ‘Never knowingly on the pop pulse’ isn’t the motto of this website for no good reason. But come on, have a look at my Google Drive – see that folder there? That’s got some reviews of albums that have come out recently that I’ll be posting soon. Really.

Oi! What are you doing? Don’t look at that other folder! Stop it! Give me the mouse back! Forget you ever saw what you just saw. Please.

Ahem…anyway we’re here to talk about French band Steeple Remove’s first album for 6 years, Position Normal, and not what’s lying about in my cloud storage. I don’t know much about the city of Rouen, other than it featured in the game Call of Duty 3. Thankfully Steeple Remove don’t seem to take their influence from that, so there’s no songs about annoying teenagers continually headshotting you and then pretending to teabag your prone body.

Or are there…?

No. There are not. (I don’t think so anyway).

What is does have are songs which successfully meld synth-led motorik and post-punk influences. Other blogs may have honed in on Bauhaus or a trippier Echo and the Bunnymen sounds coming through, but – in a move which is sure to see me fired from the Both Bars On team – I think Position Normal has more than a little something of Simple Mind’s classic 1980 album Empires & Dance about it.

Opener Mirrors is all sharp edged guitar, atmospheric synths and haunting vocal, plus what sounds like a screaming ghost around the halfway mark. (Wooooooh! That’s the sound of a ghost. In French). It gets both effects and more musically heavy for the last couple of minutes before segueing very nicely into the urgent synth and bass repetitiveness of Silver Banana. Plus it has lyrics we can all relate to:A silver banana in my hand / It’s good enough for you it’s good enough for me”.

We’ve all had that kind of weekend.

My favourite songs are always ones that feature a prominent, driving bass line and Steeple Remove do not disappoint in that regard – see Imaginary Girl, Sunshine, Calling Up and album highlight Activation, which ushers you in with an arpeggiated 8-bit pulse and gives you a one word sing-along chorus to boot.

Throw in a great Psychic TV cover (Unclean) and the eerie Western (as in Cowboy film) sounding Invisible Lights and you’ve got a cracking album that may not be the most original thing you’ve heard, but is certainly an enjoyable and rewarding long player.

Home Run finishes things off in a rousing manner; an optimistic sounding instrumental motorik and synth journey for the most part until it’s allowed to gently dissolve about four minutes through before reprising the main theme in bare-bones fashion.

Get it now from Bandcamp or your local reputable purveyor of recorded sound.

PS We’ve reviewed Steeple Remove before – you can have a look here. And then have a look here.

petecollins

Maserati: Rehumanizer

maserati

The most recent album by Maserati actually came out last year, and had I actually listened to it during 2015 it would have stood a very good chance of getting into my top 10 albums of the year. But, such is the life of a downtrodden music blogger such as I, there is so much music I want to listen to that I neglected this until the end of January this year. Sorry lads.

Anyway, Rehumanizer lays down its intent from the very start with 10 minute long opening track “No Cave”, swelling synths eventually segueing into driving space rock. And it’s got a euphoric bass and drums only midpoint which makes me very happy indeed.

“Montes Jura” takes the tempo down, and is an absorbing synth-led epic. It’s dark, it’s portentous and it’s absolutely massive. I want you to listen to this while staring at the album cover. Go on.

After their previous album, Maserati VII, became the first to feature a song with vocals, Rehumanizer has two – and while the overriding feeling I had about much of the album was one of John Carpenter meets Krautrock (in Space), “Living Cell” strays into a post-punk world reminiscent of The Chameleons. The other vocal track, “End of Man” is a tightly driving piece that features heavily processed vocoder singing and is none the worse for it; in fact it sounds like how you were told the future was going to sound in an Atari 2600 sci-fi game. If it doesn’t get you chanting the word “Institutional!” like a demented robot while just walking down the street, much to the surprise of your fellow commuters, then nothing will.

“Rehumanizer I” and “Rehumanizer II” bring the album to a close, both songs paring back the synths to allow twin guitars to fight to the finish, pushed on by a chugging, propulsive bass. And just like that, 40 minutes in, it’s all over and you’re back on earth – but Rehumanizer is an interstellar trip you’ll absolutely want to take more than once.

Buy Rehumanizer on Bandcamp

petecollins

Go March: Go March

gomarch

Look, I don’t want to start out this review in an aggressive tone, but you and me have got to have words. I see you there, looking all smug, banging on about how there are no famous Belgians. Well, smug face, there are loads. LOADS. And hopefully Go March, hailing from the vibrant city of Antwerp, will also be joining that esteemed list of famous Belgians very soon if the quality of their debut album is anything to go by.

Opener ‘The Ship of Bambi’ is a slow burning kick off. Personally, I don’t think I’d want to be on a ship that was being navigated by Bambi. I wouldn’t hold out any great hope of getting to my intended destination. But I defy you to not be smiling by the time the synth organ breaks in around the 3 minute mark.

‘Chase’ takes the tempo up, spiky guitar rhythms and bubbling synths justifying the Krautrock plaudits that Go March have been accumulating, and recent single ‘Rise’ pulls you in from the get go with a hypnotic arpeggio and doesn’t let you go. ‘Like a Record’ follows that, and is a fabulous slab of Motorik which unexpectedly dissolves into a post-rock guitar ending.

There’s no let up in the second half of the album, with ‘Slow Horse’ almost serving as an interlude before you get hit with the 1-2-3 sucker punch of ‘Earthbound’, which steadily builds to a beautifully synth/guitar duel climax; ‘Lighthouse’ (with hints of Modular Synths meets New Wave to it); and finally ‘The White Lodge’ provides a suitably brooding ending to a beast of a record, evoking the feeling of dark clouds and rain over the river Schelde if you’re into that kind of thing (and I am).

If there was one small criticism it would be that a gradual building-style formula is adhered to on pretty much every track on the album. Repetitive? Yes, a little. But is that a bad thing, especially with songs as strong as this? Never. There’s plenty here for Motorik, Krautrock and synth fans. And anyone else interested in Famous Belgians for that matter.

Pick up Go March from the band’s website (or your other favourite retailer, most probably)

XAM: Tone Systems

a2901340574_10

The first hurdle with this new EP by XAM, (AKA Matthew Benn, bassist in the the acclaimed Hookworms), is not a musical problem. It’s how to actually pronounce the name. Zam? Sham? Exam? X A M?

I’m none the wiser.

Anyway, pronunciation issues aside, this three track EP (clocking in at over 40 minutes) has plenty on offer for fans of kosmische, krautrock and skewed electronica.

It all kicks off with Werk and Play, underpinned by a pervasive motoric propelled beat and a simple arpeggiated synth progression that gets gradually more and more hypnotic during the length of the 8 and a half minutes you’re alone with this track.

Coke Float has much more urgency to it than the opening track. Again, the motorik beat is in attendance, but this track has a grittier feel than the opener, chirping and bubbling effects breaking through in the background behind the synth foundation.

Side two sees EP highlight Lifer – it’s 22 minutes in duration, and if you know me then you’ll also know I appreciate a long song. It’s all glorious drone for the first four or so minutes before a bright, coiling synth line comes into view. It’s a track that rewards you if you immerse yourself in it, headphones on. Eschewing the beats of the tracks from side one, here you can glide gently on glittering analogue noises. But Lifer isn’t content just to drift, oh no, there is real progression in this track, especially so when it gets into the last few minutes where the the drone takes a slightly darker turn, and subtle explosion noises and electronic pulses take over.

Tone Systems is available for digital download or on Vinyl (if there are any left…) from Bandcamp.

petecollins

Matt Parker: The Imitation Archive

a3247368605_10

The Imitation Archive is an album produced solely from field recordings at the UK’s National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park, where Matt Parker spent 2 months as the artist in residence in early 2015.

And it’s magnificent.

It’s an album made up of 10 mostly quite short tracks, opening with “WITCH” – a track that sets the tone for the whole album, introducing the clacking and clicking of the Harwell Dekatron Computer, before leading into the blissful drone of “The Bold and The Beautiful”.

It just gets better and better from there, “Test Patterns” is all scratching hiss building to a static crescendo in just 44 glorious seconds. “Terminal” continues the static hiss, combining it with dark foreboding percussion and is one of the absolute highlights of the album.

One of my favourite things about the album is the way Parker has delved way back to some of the earliest examples of British computing such as the WITCH and Colossus (and the ‘Bombe’ – the decryption device designed by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, the calming whirring and buzzing drone of which can be heard on “Bombes of Bletchley”). This ensures the album is far removed from the 1980s style chiptunes that some people associate with the sounds of retro computers.

Get the Imitation Archive from Bandcamp – if you’re into experimental noise and drone then it’s an essential purchase

The Imitation Archive (Teaser) from earthkeptwarm on Vimeo.

petecollins

Kieran Mahon: Space is the Place EP

a2944804368_10

Kieran Mahon returns with a new EP, which continues with the cosmos theme of his album from earlier in the year, Radio Astronomy. There’s 4 tracks of beautifully droning soundscapes which really do convey a feeling of outer space.

‘Leonov’, named after the first cosmonaut to do a spacewalk, is the short opening ambient track. A steady drone floats in the background while over the top of this oscillator sweeps evoke the vastness of space, and just how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.

Track two, ‘The Men went to the Moon’, starts with samples from NASAs recently released archive of sounds, and if you shut your eyes (that’s it, squeeze them tightly closed) you can imagine the inertia of lifting up from the earth’s surface in a rocket, headed for the stars, then the strange calmness of orbiting the planet.

‘The Eagle Has Wings’ is another shorter track, building up from calming static to what sounds like a space choir, which sets us up nicely ‘16 Orbits per Day’, the ten minute long EP closer. It’s an epic drone worth the price of admission alone.

Space is the Place can be picked up from Bandcamp, where you can name your price. Do it.

petecollins

Stearica: Fertile

stearica_fertile

Italian instrumental post-rock band Stearica have served up their second album, and such is the intensity of it that it’s almost like running a marathon. Well, probably a bit like that; I’ve never ran a marathon myself but I imagine you start out all bright, eager and full of energy, have a little bit of doubt in the middle, and then end strongly as you feel the finish line coming up.

‘Delta’ is a storming first song, all angular guitars, in your face bass and sizzling hi-hats; next track ‘Halite’ takes up where that leaves off, with pummelling in your face drums. Then, while you’re still reeling ‘Bes’ slides in. Lulling you in with it’s slowish start before the punishingly thumping bass and drums combo bludgeons you.

With these album openers offering a one-two-three knockout, you’re left wondering if you’ve got enough stamina to keep up with this pace throughout the entire album.  Things do slow down a little…eventually.  But not until the final couple of tracks, by which time you’re all ready to be wrapped up in that shiney silver blanket that gets thrown on people at the end of a big run.

Mid points of the album, ‘Nur’, complete with shouty (occasionally almost bordering on the screamy) vocals, and ‘Tigris’ are pretty unrelenting, coming at a stage where I wanted some light to go with the shade of the physical assault, and ‘Siqlum’ borders on metal, which depending on your mood at the time might be utterly glorious or just a step too far.

Thankfully, Amreeka arrives just in time to slow things down a little, complete with atmospheric vocals. Things get even better with Sha Mat, the 11 minute-plus ending to the album. This brings in brass and woodwind instruments providing a contrast with the all-out guitar/bass/drum battering of the rest of the album, and the slow burning, building approach of this song makes it an absolute highlight. Taking it’s time to get into it’s stride it eventually transforms into a combination of all the best bits of the album on one song before fading to a satisfying drone.

And just like that, it’s over. You can topple over the finish line. Then you can do it all over again – this is an album that rewards repeated listens, and fans of bands like And So I watch You From Afar and Russian Circles would do well to check it out.

Hear the album on Soundcloud

petecollins

%d bloggers like this: