Category Archives: Album reviews

Meat Beat Manifesto – Impossible Star

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There I was in a double decker wingtube to Malaysia and I think to myself I should catch up with the Brainwashed podcast shouldn’t I? On it goes, and what do you know, John thingy’s guest for the episode is Jack Dangers, talking about his new album with my beloved Meat Beat Manifesto, ‘Impossible Star’.

Of course I buy it soon as, don’t I?

I’ve loved MBM since I visited a friend at college and she taped 99% for me, plus some other stuff including Nitzer Ebb (the Essex Front 242) and Front 242 (the Aarschot Nitzer Ebb). Don’t know what happened to her – I seem to recall she became a cop? Whatevs.

This is a solid MBM album, with many familiar textures and features, so I thought I’d present this review in the form of a matrix, so that readers can get directly to the bits they need. I’ve been working too hard.

Track
bpm / duration
Instruments /
Atmos
Album Role /
Discography /
Callback
Vocals
Bass
Drums
ONE
n/a / 02:40
swaying weird, looping movie atmospheric opener

can’t think of one

Vocals: Muffled speech samples Bass: none really Drums: none here either
Bass Playa
91 / 02:43
meow meow meow ahhhh here it is

Funny Feeling / Let’s Have Fun

Vocals: Muffled speech samples
Bass: dododododo
Drums: chugga chugga chugga
We Are Surrounded
115 / 06:00
juddering squelch, strums,
radio tuning
step it up a notch

Mad Bomber / The Woods

Vocals: Muffled speech samples,
Vocoder,
Accents
Bass: In the background
Drums: “Being Boiled”
Unique Boutique
124 & 68 / 03:02
pulses and tones previous album refresher

‘Lonely Soldier’

Vocals: Muffled speech samples
Bass: death rays
Drums: slow plod with skittering as is the style,
crashing cymbals
Nocebo
120 / 05:31
touch of the acids quirky sidestep

‘Placebo’

Vocals: Vocoder
Bass: chattering up and down
Drums: rimshotsssss
Impossible Star
106 / 03:54
jazzy chords title track, duh

‘Let’s Have Fun’ again? it is a fave of mine, but i’m not obsessed

Vocals: Muffled speech samples,
Ooooooooooo,
vocoder
Bass: In the background, relies more on the beefy drums
Drums: frantic snares
Lurker
114 / 14:52
plinky tones,
bouncy twoinks,
floaty yays
the long one

‘The Utterer’?
Also reminds me of ‘Let’s Have Fun’ a bit

Vocals: Distant simian choir
Bass: tab of acid
Drums: sparse taps with crunchy rattle
T.M.I.
73 / 05:16
jazzy chords, crackly vinyle, floaty tones jazzy one

Stuff off of  ‘At The Center’

Vocals: Vocoder,
Jack
Bass: dubby straight
Drums: muffled simple loop
Liquidators
n/a / 02:59
crackly vinyl
radio tuning
atmospheric middle

bits of ‘Electric People’

Vocals: Non-english,
Muffled speech samples
Bass: n/a
Drums: n/a
Nereus Rov
97 / 03:31
reverb bleeps, echoey peeps, tweeks we continue

can’t think of one

Vocals: n/a
Bass: low enough not to care
Drums: crashing loop
Synthesizer Teste
122 / 04:40
echoey bleeps,
tweeks
radio tuning
playing with his toys

sample from FSOL PNG?

Vocals: Vocoder,
it’s a test of course
Bass: bloop
Drums: Being Boiled’ again
Rejector
n/a / 03:04
roaring rumble,
whoosh,
voices,
tones
atmospheric ender

can’t think of one

Vocals: nothing coherent
Bass: none just the rushes
Drums: n/a
The Darkness
140 / 05:42
plinky tones,
bouncy twoinks,
tweeks,
voices
big finish

‘Spinning Round’

Vocals: Reverby exclamations
Bass: deep bubbles
Drums: 4/4 give it some more

More of the studio wizardry you’ve come to expect. The interview on the podcast made JD sound so cute and nerdy, he was just talking about what the ideas for the noises were.

I am electro, and I can dig the music, kids.

Buy it.

I did.

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Flange Circus – Abandoned Glow

I wasn’t able to witness FC perform back in March (or indeed ever), because I live sevenpointfive thousand kilometres away, and that’s pushing it. But if they weren’t wearing cloaks, I would have been annoyed. I hope the bird heads made an appearance.

Flange Circus released this late last year, which is too long ago. This is a damned fine debut album, with a nice combination of sounds, Bon’s guitar and Pete’s bass forming a scaffolding for the wide range of weirdness produced by the band’s machines, and John’s keyboards joined by Adam on one track, and Anna on flute on another.

The first single ‘Great Divisions’ opens with processed voices calling across the void, followed by pulsing machine tones and a zap kick. Marching chanting robed figures approach, bringing sludgy bass and soaring guitar. A great opener, and a cool video to match.

Introductory guitar and drum rolls introduce a show, but who’s coming on stage? That’s right, it’s the eponymous star of ‘Fucko The Space Clown’. Will this be a celebration of said clown, or a warning? Is this one of those songs Mexican gangsters commission for themselves from mariachi bands? A sudden change of tone in the middle brings 808s and howling (always a good combination), then Fucko is on stage, weaving his magic(k), waving his white-gloved hands, before the curtain goes up revealing his plan, and it all comes together with the guitar and bass, and a climax of clattering drums, ending with a final howl.

(On a side note, I sincerely hope Fucko becomes FC’s mascot, like Eddie, Booji Boy, or Vic Rattlehead. I foresee a giant inflatable over a stadium one day.)

Straightforward bass and drums introduce ‘Strange Hairy Airport’, and they’re then joined by a very nice resonant flanging choir. More processed voices join them, then rock chords hold the the chorus to account for their actions. The drums start skipping, and the whole thing reminds me of Sabbath’s ‘Supertzar’.

‘Homunculus Gardens’ is a strange abstract twinkling interlude. These gardens. Are they where the homunculi are grown, or the council estate where they live? Scrapes of furniture being moved upstairs, distant gramophones, interference pulses like an electric discharge, echoing layered klaxon or car alarms. Not a great neighbourhood I guess. Arguing voices confirm this, and then some metallic clanging as the new buildings collapse (geddit?!).

After the wanderings of previous, ‘In The Pestilent Folds of Chub 909’ is a flip-back-to-the-present 4/4 bouncer, straight in with the techno kick and nice reverb snap clap. A flat choir is joined by found sounds from Berlin basements and Manchester squares, and a pure tone tune takes us up. Then it really gets going as the drums become almost tribal, with wriggling notes down into grinding bass, shimmering splashes, flattened by the one note choir. Someone hits jam jars filled with different amounts of coloured water. The colours are important. And boom, it’s over.

A gentle flute (played by guest Anna Billett) plays ‘Scarborough Fair’ on cliffs overlooking the village, in the intro to ‘Moloch By The Sea’. But drums like those used to keep slave rowers in time herald the approach of the ships to the peaceful settlement. Soaring chords as the ships beach, then the drums and chords compete until…?

The fate of the village is left unclear. Perhaps they were just traders.

With my lack of imagination, I find it hard to detach the name of a track from the sound (you don’t say), but I will resist suggesting ‘Dehibernation’ follows the stages of someone emerging from a long sleep. Buzz, tones, phase, flange, synth bass tones, drum fills – sounds like my kind of alarm clock. Sludgy guitars and bass are followed by synth chords and a line from a 1983 electro tune.

Thinky interlude.

Flange Circus use drum machines, and in some cases it can sound a little stilted. Would they benefit from a live drummer? It would change the sound of the band, and perhaps it sounds how it sounds because that’s how it sounds. I don’t know what the live setup is.

Enough thinking, Petty, more listening.

Fitting in nicely with the current mood of Weird Folk Horror Britain, ‘Kwak’ is lovely stuff. The rook flies over the misty fields, with ghostly voices and phantom resonance trailing behind it.

‘Zerodom Heritage 2016’ is a reworking of FCs first demo release from 2013. Let’s revisit the original first.

A simple walking pace pulse bassline with a drilling resonance sliding in from the rear. A pause, silence, then the bass and wind over a bottle, with a jagged stuttering. All the factors combine before it ends on a fading car horn.

The original was an intriguing debut that left us all curious and wanting more. The new version features beefed up bass, the drums are given more space to twinkle, distant reverbed sweeps add texture, and a new middle eight organ sequence that takes it in a new and uneasy direction.

A sample collage interlude as the album approaches its end, ‘Mellow Birds, Mellow Beards’ combines voices processed to the extent they sound like a demented Speak’n’Spell™, and deep troubled klaxons.

A wash of atmosphere gives way to a Vangelis warped synth coming in sounding like old video game lightcycles, in ‘Gnu Fantasy’. Then we a treated to a heartbeat kick drum and chapel organ, and a nice solid no-wave bassline. Motorik synth and angry guitar grind gets you grooving, or at least twitching. It’s a toe tapper. The calm at the centre is followed by rambling tones, looping atmos, stuttering bass, receding as the album closes… and scene.

This debut album is a good progression from their first two EPs, and takes them in a good direction. I’m keen to hear more, and even keener to see them live someday. They have elements of BBO faves Teeth Of The Sea, German prog synths, pastoral folk, and Ghost Box Britweird. In the final track of the album, someone got to yell, “1, 2, 3, 4” – and isn’t that what it’s all about?

Get yourself enveloped.

matthewpetty

Man From Uranus: Alien Flowers

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I could do with something fun right now. Couldn’t you?

This is the very thing, a slab of fruity foolishness from Phil MFU – the eponymous Man From Uranus – who is also part of the brilliant Vanishing Twin (and Broadcast, before that). Library sounds, you ask? Psychedelia? Moog noodling? Tick tick tick – plus a whole load of inspired mucking about. It reminds me of both the superb compilation A Psychedelic Guide to Monsterism Island and Fantasma-era Cornelius, which are pretty good reference points.

‘Energy Charger’ opens up with some 8bit-ish upbeat enthusiasm, before ‘Stationary Object’ takes us into more reflective, mind-altering territory. And that’s the two sides of this album, really. ‘Cucumber Sword’ – cough – is probably the best example of the first sort of track, with some very excitable shouting/rapping from Taishi Nagasaka (Fat White Family). Look, the video pretty much explains the whole song:

After that we’re back into glitch-y tones, slowly stumbling rhythms. ‘Death Dreams of Opulence’, you say? Yes, and Neone Meate Dreams of the Octafish! RAM tapes, home of MFU, has a thing about amphibians – as the Orlando/TOMAGA split cassette made clear – and here’s the Man with a chorus of ‘Alien Frogs’, who are not advertising crap beer:

The penultimate track, ‘Cosmik Telephone’, is interrupted by what I can only describe as a dissolve sequence soundtracked by the Clangers, before busting out some full-on skronk. If this is a telephone conversation it sounds like the colloquy of elephants – maybe a trunk call? ‘Dream Trains,’ which closes the album, starts with no wave guitar and clonking drums before moving on to the calmer sounds of goods trains clanking past while contemplative piano plays.

This is a thoughtful, fun, inventive, where’s-that-going?! album and I urge you to give it a listen.

Buy from RAM Tapes Bandcamp page whydon’tcha?

jkneale

The Pattern Forms – Peel Away The Ivy

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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.

Definitely buy it here.

matthewpetty

Apostille: Virile Strain Transmission

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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.

jkneale

 

Warning Light – A Winter Single

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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.

Ryan Huber – Anabaptist

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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.

Grumbling Fur: Furfour

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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.

jkneale

 

 

 

Vanishing Twin: Choose Your Own Adventure

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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.

jkneale

A Year In The Country: The Quietened Bunker

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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…

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