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.
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…
I know it’s less than ideal for a reviewer to write about their own projects, but I’m not worried about subjectivity concerns in this case, because this new male-female two-piece is objectively amazing, and their debut is the most exciting thing to land in the satellite suburbs of Abu Dhabi since the British stopped shelling the place.
Before this initial release A&E were in development for nearly nine months, with my co-producer Cassie doing the bulk of the work. We’ve both invested a lot in their development, and as a result, we hope they realize the potential we know they have – in just one short month they have already accrued a devoted following.
I asked the band where they got the title for this album, and was told that it was a very personal, cerebral reason, but would say no more. I decided it would be best not to press them too hard on it.
Their output to date has been quite soft, with varying shades and textures. Despite the gentle, almost fluid consistency of what they produce, it can be quite jarring, and some of it needs a strong stomach to handle. I’m sure that as they mature, the consistency will become more stable, and the soft releases will make way for self-contained, firmer and more structural pieces, which are more palatable and easier to deal with.
A&E are prolific, with several releases per day, if you can believe that. A lot of it is shapeless filler to be honest, but that said, it’s reassuring that they are so regular. One way they keep their rate of production up is by continuing to work and produce through the night. It’s been quite hard for us to keep up with their pace, but it is worth it to discover what amazing new work they have produced. A couple of times I’ve been lucky enough to witness the very moment of creation of a new piece – a moment I would not wish to share with anyone.
Lyrically, A&E come from a much stranger place. On this debut they work not with recognizable words, but with what can only be described as primal emotional utterances. These can range from gentle whispers which wouldn’t be out of place on a Steve Hauschildt piece, to percussive grunts worthy of a darker, rhythmic Klara Lewis, ranging up to nerve-shattering William Bennett/Whitehouse-like shrieking, which brings to mind BBO’s 2015 #2 faves Ubre Blanca.
We expect A&E’s lyrics to become more literal and literate in the future. I’m sure there will be missteps and embarrassments, but I believe that all art must go through these phases and exploratory experiments before the artists can be sure they’ve done what they can.
I’m very proud to be associated with A&E. The members of the group, Arthur Elliott Petty and Edith Lenore Petty, have the looks, the talent, the potential, and the support to do great things. Watch this space.
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:
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?
Trensmat Records is rapidly becoming my label of the year. Having released GNOD in their Dwellings and Druss formation [review], they’ve now delivered one of the most stupendously intense albums of the last six months in the shape of Whirling Hall of Knive’s Devisions.
This intensity is composed through God-forsaken dirty krautscuzz (‘Wraith/Donn Amokk’ and ‘9xReal’), sustained minimal rhythmic tones (‘Tapheslip’) and fearful buzzdrone (‘Immureme’). Conspicuous in its glow of brilliance is ‘Alternate Devil (Dvaita)’: a ritual melt of scorching and searing fuzz, oblivion pulverized drums and throbbing haze which sounds like the band seeking salvation through noise from eternal damnation. Final track ‘Lonclusion’ threatens to tear out innards and fry them with its fiery and burning electronics.
This is the sort of soul music that might actually deliver on its promise of deliverance and redemption. ‘Devisions’ is a singularly immersive and powerful experience.
‘Alternate Devil (Tamas)’:
From their 2011 release Green Glow Bridge/Red Glow Bridge:
And from a 7” back in 2010:
I’ve always been fascinated trying to work out when the best time to listen to drone is. It’s hardly the sort of stuff you need on your morning commute to jolt the senses awake and enliven you to perpetuate capitalism. Perhaps the afternoon? Biorhythmic carbohydrate crash usually prevents this for me. So the evening seems ideal? Well possibly, unless you are gearing up for a ‘night out’ (remember them?)
After listening to and absorbing (for that’s what you do with this album) Oh/Ex/Oh’s Extant I realise that I’ve been focusing my fascination too much on the daily cycle. Instead, I should have been thinking longer time scales as it seems the new calendar year is the best time for drone. January, with its temperatures paralysing and its perennial sense of comedown is the time to listen to drone. This is electronic blues for the New Year; blues which manages to hint at a small change in the light and something brighter approaching.
Listened too closely these pieces are interspersed with distanced static or at least a half formed memory of what static might have sounded like. Sometimes these pieces take shape as the hum of some unidentified electrical equipment or the last life gasps of machines fly-tipped in rural lanes. At other times there’s glacial movement and enveloping warmth. There are barely distinguishable sounds drenched in, or perhaps even self-generating their own, reverb. There are spoken samples from film texts that I should know or at least I used to know but now don’t. There is the odd arpeggiator seemingly organised and run by a remote, even astral, hand.
All in all this is the soundtrack to an airborne journey across landscapes waiting for warmth, across beauty, majesty and utter desolation.
That’s my geography trip, what’s yours? Buy.
‘The Last Days’:
Is it cold out? Do the nights still feel long and dark? Are you troubled by a sense of foreboding?
I missed this very fine album when it was released last year, and only really decided to hunt it down after the Quietus made it their #4 record of 2011. Bobby Krlic’s extraordinarily atmospheric record weaves together droning, rumbling strings, rattling percussion and the occasional haunting piece of choral singing (‘The Fall’, for example). There’s also lots of silence, the space in which the sounds happen.
The name, and the general feel and look of the record, have occult resonances, and you might expect something a bit more metal from the label (Aurora Borealis) – the first track is called ‘Raven’s Lament’, and the third is ‘Burning Torches of Despair’. Whatever you call it, this is an experimental record that sounds cold, scary and bewitching.
This music is chilling. Ben Frost, without the growling. Play loud, and listen carefully.
‘An Archaic Device’ – The Haxan Cloak – The Haxan Cloak
Buy from the label here
I’ve stated my love of Loop before here, but with the re-mastering of two of their albums – Heaven’s End and Fade Out – I’ve got another excuse.
For the most part Loop are criminally forgotten and under-rated in most histories of the Alternative/Indie spheres. I was hoping these re-masters would propel them back into the kid’s consciousness, but I’ve yet to find much evidence for this. Collecting together various different and unreleased versions, rarities and Peel sessions (plus a stack of curiously abstract guitar loops from Fade Out) these two re-issues still sound fresh and innovative to these old(ish) ears of mine, despite an inevitable haze of nostalgia.
Loop settle you into a throbbing simplified groove from the outset. After listening to a few tracks you know that what starts will finish. Upon the droning background are layered razor edged refrains of fuzz and Robert Hampson’s blissed out, edifying and mostly indecipherable vocals which add another hypnotic energy to the blend. As such we’re not here to dissect and deconstruct clever observations on life and society. Instead we’re here just to drift. Sometimes – or for me, a lot of time – that’s just what you want or desire of music.
By the time Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey appears half way through Heaven’s End to tell us “I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over”, I just about manage to muster enough energy to nod in agreement before my neck muscles give in and my head lolls back.
One from each and a brilliant Suicide cover:
Buy some much needed bliss here
I doubt I can do better than the mini-review of Growing’s All the Way that appears on the cover sticker: “Two mates pissing about with effects”, attributed to ‘Some bloke in Bristol’. Succinct and to the point, I think you’d agree.
I’ve obviously come to Growing late given the amount of releases detailed here. Then again I’ve always been late to various musical parties throughout my fan years. Still, All the Way is a great serving of electronic looping experimental/improv that I’m glad I’ve found.
Opener ‘Green Flag’ is more weird rainforest than roadside rescue: sliced droning vibrato guitars interspersed with strange machinic frog calls. On the fantastically entitled ‘Rave Pie Only’ the looped guitars sound like they are connected to a dodgy amp or badly wired cable whilst being played down a mobile with poor reception. And this time they are caught in the cross-fire of proper B-movie sounding laser guns.
For Fennesz and/or Fuck Buttons fans this is hypnotic, peculiarly melodic and intense stuff. Worth a punt.
Round these parts, I think it safe to say, the descriptor ‘Shoegazing’ is something of a profanity associated with the Home Counties, private education and inability to see beyond unconditioned fringes. So it’s surprising that there are quite a few current bands out there using the tag uncritically – a nu-scene that celebrates itself? Tsk. You live and learn.
Yet this stuff engorges my love of repetition. There’s something securing and comforting to find a groove, stick with it and then add some decoration and deviation as one sees fit (and I’m thinking beyond music here as well). So since I rediscovered my love of Loop via this here blog I’ve been hunting down bands that are quite happy to hammer one note for upwards of ten minutes and layer eddying psychedelic effects on top in what amounts to an extended Krauty-jam. Here are two of them.
First up, Glaswegians Ursula Minor where it seems bass, synth or ear mincing guitar vie to take on the drone, with what’s left doing the deviating. Laudanum is their debut EP and is very promising.
Second, are The Black Angels, from Austin, Texas (what do they put in the water over there?), whose second album Directions to see a Ghost has a cover designed to give you one of those niggly headaches that you ignore until you give in to the Nurofen (it’s also embossed for extra pleasure). With vocals that more than hint at Nico this is great psychedelic dronage. I turned down the offer of seeing them in Manc recently despite high recommendations from a mate. When will I learn to take more of a punt on gigs?
Sod Shoegazing – I much prefer drone n’ roll (not one of mine). In fact, let’s go with Mr Cope:
S.P.A.C.E.R.O.C.K. with me.
Ursula Minor – Sick Fuzz
The Black Angels – Doves
Drift your way here to purchase