Category Archives: yes I know it’s really late

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

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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

 

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

Flange Circus: Ekranoplan EP

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The Ekranoplan, as you all know, was a Soviet Ground Effect Vehicle. It’s a very suitable choice for Flange Circus’ first EP, because it was designed to glide steadily and efficiently and it looked bloody weird. That’s the Flange Circus take on things in a nutshell – while elements of the music are definitely krautrock-y, ticking along like motorik, there’s not an autobahn to be seen, no kopters, nothing but the vehicle dubbed ‘The Caspian Sea Monster’. This in itself makes it the most interesting record inspired by both Neu! and modern transport systems since Super Furry Animals’ ‘Inaugural Trams’, and the band is to be congratulated for its originality.

But it is also a rather strange mash of other influences – dark electronic noises, drones, Loop’s loping riffs, bits of found sound… I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the 80s burbling noises lurking amongst the maelstrom on ‘MBSD’ are from a classic video game, either. ‘Socrates Is Not Your Real Name’ is more stripped-down, ‘Mein Gott is Kaput’ seems to be following some of these ideas in roughly the same direction as Both Bars On favourites Teeth of the Sea, and epic 10-minute closer ‘PUBC’ continues in this spooky, paranoid vein before shifting into an atmospheric, driving, sinister theme that really should be soundtracking the final climactic chase in a horror film. Here’s the whole thing:

My only complaint is that the EP doesn’t contain early smash ‘Zerodom Heritage’, but you can get that free here and anyway, here’s the video:

This is an amazing 41 minutes of original music AND IT COSTS ONLY £1, or more if you want. Go and buy it. The band are all over the internet: Bandcamp, homepage, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Flange Circus contains one member of Both Bars On, in the great tradition of music journalists (cough) being in bands. I’m the other member, so this is as unbiased a review as you are ever going to get from this blog. Despite this, I genuinely think it’s great – it’s more that they’re musicians with good ideas and record collections very similar to BBO’s interests rather than some sort of ‘oh yeah my mates are great’ review. And he hasn’t given me any money or drugs, the tight sod. Alright?

JKneale

No Age: An Object

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On first listen No Age’s An Object sounds more direct and less experimental than earlier albums. Many tracks, like the almost no wave ‘No Ground’, are sparse and relatively uncluttered, but in the background there are the usual drones, stutterings, and squalls of controlled feedback. The contrast between the relatively straight-ahead, structured songs and these aural meanderings works well, especially when the cello arrives on ‘An Impression’.

And that contrast does make some other tracks, like ‘I Won’t Be Your Generator’ or ‘C’mon Stimmung’, positively poppy – well, by No Age’s own standards.

Of course there are still dreamier, more expansive songs; the album closes with some lovely washes of sound on ‘Commerce, Comment, Commence’. When I say this record sounds less experimental, well, it’s all relative; there’s the usual mucking about with samples and recording effects that drew us to No Age in the first place. It’s just a little more controlled here, and it’s an interesting direction for Dean Spunt and Randy Randall to be taking. Looking forward to what comes next.

No Age’s Sub Pop page is here; you can buy An Object there and at the usual places, and you should.

jkneale

The European: ANTI-PATTERNS 1 EP

ImageThis EP, the first of a projected series, was issued by Stolen Recordings in March and develops the distinctive musical style displayed by The European on his first album (In A Very Real Sense Now, reviewed here and still much loved by BBO London). The EP is like a double A-side with three extra tracks, if that makes any sense: the excellent ‘Waves on Waves’, where Simon Break’s wistful voice floats over the top of a scintillating tune that’s equal parts Moroder and the Pet Shop Boys; ‘The Fountainhead’, a Randean love song with its tongue in its cheek; ‘Progressive Debris’, a more experimental instrumental; a reworking of one of the key tracks from the first album by the Soft Regime; and a longer version of ‘Waves’. All fabulous. Here’s that full-length version of ‘Waves on Waves’.

You can stream pretty much everything The European has released here, and you can buy the EP from Stolen here or the usual digital music places. Here’s hoping for more in 2014.

And yes, one of the best covers of the year for me 🙂

Jkneale

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