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.
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.
The four tracks on Overexposed EP, Flange Circus’ second self-produced release, each have a distinct sound of their own, but they are all definitely in the groove of electrically driven post-nu-kraut-psych-orbit-rock shot through with (dare I say it?) Northern Humour. I say orbit, because this Mancunian quartet are definitely grounded, not whirling completely into space.
Teaser tune and EP opener ‘Fabric Lughole Systems’ starts out with a driving warped synth line, before the reverb-soaked electronic melody takes control for the rest of the ride. This is a chase scene through some rain-soaked streets, taking side roads, then crossing against traffic. A pause for breath – have you shaken off your pursuers? Not now you’ve gone down a dead end. A resonant acidic pulse sweeps in as your pursuers approach, closer, there’s no escape… or is there?
Echoes of a warehouse with a strange machine at the center introduce ‘FAT CRAB’, before crunchy windswept Hawkwind guitar takes control. This is joined by mellotron-like organ, synth sweeps, and a single processed vocal stating the subject and the purpose of the piece. A live set would use this as a form of chant, perhaps. Even a signature dance move? The second half brings the one-chord driving guitar and organ, returning to the main theme, before wigging out in a whirlwind of electric sparks, ending on an almost church-like note.
‘Leopard Skin In Miniature’ starts out as what sounds like a straight rock song, backed with strings and whirring overhead noises, and distant paranoid phrasing from vocalist Pete, before some sinister Russian speech stops things in their tracks. Arpeggiated bleeps lead back into the main theme, and as the track resolves, the walls of sound move away, leaving you alone in the dark, with the electric fireflies.
I love me a phased intro, and ‘Disko Bay’ does not disappoint. The slow burn back-and-forth synths build, then step back for an electronic tapped phrase overlaid with violins, before all is brought down for the slow guitar notes and a beautiful piano resolution. A great EP-closer, and even better set-closer.
In this release, Flange Circus have taken the ideas and ideals of their debut Ekranoplan EP, and a couple of layering techniques from the spinoff drone duo Zirkus, pushed the rock harder in places, brought forth the psych, kept the humour, twiddled the knobs a bit more, added very welcome vocal touches, and come up with a tight, atmospheric and thoroughly good EP. Nice one. Buy it here.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Flange Circus contains two members of Both Bars On, in the great tradition of music journalists being in bands.Their previous release was reviewed by the then only other member. Now they’ve got me on board (the other new fella couldn’t do it because he’s in the band as well), so I drew the short straw this time. Except it’s a long curvy (yet angular) straw, which leads to places known and unknown, and I genuinely enjoyed the ride.
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?