Category Archives: Album reviews

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…

Martha: Blisters in the Pit of my Heart

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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)

UFO Över Lappland: UFO Över Lappland

UFO over LapplandFrom 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.

matthewpetty

Some Kind Of Illness: Some Kind Of Illness

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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.

matthewpetty

Kieran Mahon: Mirrors Lenses Echoes Projections

Mirrors Lenses Echoes Projections - Kieran Mahon

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.

matthewpetty

Raime: Tooth

Tooth by Raime

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.

matthewpetty

Peter Baumann: Machines of Desire

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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

Oscillotron: Cataclysm

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Swedish metal is not something we cover here at BBO terraces. However, when one of said fraternity – in this case David Johansson, front-man of KONGH – delivers a beautifully menacing six tracks of synthscapes, you take note.

The wonder of this album, as with most horror-synth workouts, lies in its affective simplicity: many tracks are constructed through uncomplicated leads dancing with grace across foreboding swirls of sound. The stunning ‘Pioneers’ illustrates this perfectly with eddying and airy melodies giving way to eldritchian peril with real bravura. Three note leads evolve with ominous resonance, as siren-call chords warn of some hideous transformation of matter on ‘Mutation’. And the delightful choral eeriness and zombie pacings of ‘Terminal’ and ‘Cataclysm’ can only spell creeping fear.

Four years on from the also brilliant first album Eclipse, Oscillotron’s return seems to be immensely well-timed: John Carpenter playing ATP in Iceland in July and touring later in the year; Goblin performing their soundtracks live; and the likes of Ubre Blanca, Umberto and Zombi in our midst – this is a very good time to be a fan of the horror-synth nexus.

Buy Cataclysm here (from May 27th or pre-order now). Do it now before some killer virus lays us all to waste.

You’ve been warned.

Debs McCoy: Silent The Corner

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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.

matthewpetty

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