The stars still shine, the museum's free.
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Friday, December 19, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
10. Blown Out –
Drifting Way Out Between Suns LP
If Stereo Sanctity were to award some spurious “musician of the year” award or somesuch, it’s safe to assume Mike Vest would be a shoe-in for 2014. One year ago, I knew Vest simply as the name credited with ‘guitar’ on the sleeves of Bong and 11 Paranoias records - which you’d think would be enough of a commitment to noise-making for most sane individuals, but Mr. Vest, operating primarily through his Visual Volume bandcamp page, seems to be on a quest to single-handedly colonise every conceivably corner of heavy guitar music.
As the prime mover in a frankly humbling array of currently active groups, Vest seems keen on maintaining a level of productivity that would be downright suspicious were the results not so consistently excellent, and the first of no less than three Vest-related records to feature in this year’s top ten comes courtesy of Blown Out - an open-ended psyche-rock jam band that sees the lad himself letting rip alongside a rhythm section apparently recruited from a band named Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs.
From the name on down, Blown Out’s sister band Haikai No Ku seem to be signposted as Vest’s most obviously Les Rallizes Denudes/Japanese noise-inspired project, but for my money Blown Out is the one that actually gets closest to the classic Rallizes sound, largely thanks to the valiant efforts of the bassist and drummer, who trudge manfully through these two 20+ minute extracts of endless, formless repeato-groove, swinging slow and loose like a particularly unthreatening rubber wrecking ball as Vest lets it all hang out on top, indulging all of his best/worst humbucker-mangling impulses in what appears to be an eternal rolling revue of wrecked, thug-psych fuzz-power.
In the hands of lesser players, this could easily have been a pointless mess, a “hey, let’s be Acid Mothers Temple this afternoon” piss-take, a complete waste of time. Thankfully though, these guys, in the parlance of our times, fucking rip, and four or five minutes of bandcamp head-nodding was all it took to get me on-board the star-freighter for good, and damn the consequences to my bank account if they keep sticking out every bedraggled live set as a limited edition release of some kind.
If space-rock can broadly be divided into music that aspires to take you somewhere, and music that defiantly DOESN’T, then Blown Out are definitely in the latter category, irrespective of their galaxy-travellin’ song titles. ‘Drifting Way Out Between Suns’ is nothing less than a sprawling, aimless journey to the bottom of the sofa, with guitar textures recalling nothing so much as early Bardo Pond, as sustained chords bend into raga-like dissonance as they decay and ghostly, sticky-fingered leads tumble across the top like sonic questions marks, banks of hissing, fuzzed out amp noise rising & falling in the background as Vest busts through every trick in his repertoire to keep things ticking over across a solid 45 minutes of formless drift.
Like all of Vest’s bands (with the possible exception of 11 Paranoias), Blown Out are breaking no new ground here, attempting no daring deconstructions of genre expectation, but no matter: for those of us who dig this shit, it’s pure bliss… one of the best blasts of utterly indulgent proper-psyche grue I’ve heard since Purling Hiss’s ‘Hissteria’.
Two thumbs up, raised v-e-e-e-e-ry slowly, and I hope you’ll all appreciate the fact that I got through this review without using the ‘S’ word, or throwing in any tired, haven’t-touched-a-joint-in-a-decade drugs references. Thirsty work, I tell you.
Listen and buy from Visual Volume, or get the vinyl from Riot Season.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
11. Slum of Legs –
demo tape & 7”
Lazy blog recycling goes meta here, as I quote from a September review of Slum of Legs’ single that in turn quotes from a bit I wrote about their demo tape back in March;
“I said of Slum of Legs’ demo tape earlier this year that; ‘..the three tracks [here] do function VERY MUCH as a demo […] giving only a fleeting, muffled impression of the kind of rampant creativity this unit is capable of’. This single then can be seen to represent the full realisation of this Brighton collective’s potential – a stew of wildly disparate (some might say contradictory) elements, successfully boiled down to a perfectly imperfect essence. A kind of fiendish, exploratory outsider pop music that recognises no limitations, imposes no boundaries upon its members’ divergent impulses, yet somehow works toward the same functional totality. It is a lovely thing to hear.”
“Weird, dissident, homemade, different from anything YOU’D make – these are some of the key notion that spring to mind where Slum of Legs is concerned I think. I may have bandied around an unpalatable number of dubious band-name comparisons in the preceding paragraphs, but perhaps SOL’s true spiritual predecessors are – naturally - outfits that sound more or less nothing like them. In particular, I’m thinking the sort of feeling that can be found lurking in the obscurest corners of unacknowledged female creativity in the murkiest years of post-punk era. Androids of Mu, The Fates, that sort of thing. Basically, both this single and the demo tape sound like what pop music might have become in 1982 if William S. Burroughs had been writing the script and a stern regiment of well-drilled Raincoats/Au Pairs partisans had been carrying it out.
Even in 2014 – perhaps especially in 2014 - it is exhilarating to hear a band making such imaginative, evocative and open-ended music whilst still remaining ostensibly within the realm of song-based ‘pop’, trawling for thrills in the shallows of the avant garde whilst happily avoiding its tendency toward alienating abstraction. This is Weird Music, no doubt - taking risks, posing questions, demanding attention. But it is also very giving music - a lot of fun for creators and listeners alike.”
Both releases are still listen- & buy-able from Tuff Enuff.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
12. Primetime – s/t EP
(La Vida Es Un Mus Discos Punk)
I’ve been meaning to do a post on this one for much of the year, but somehow it never happened. Just one of those things where it’s hard to find enough to say to hang a decent review on, so self-evident are the fact of the matter: Primetime are a great band, and this is a great sounding EP, whose four tracks have wormed their way into my brain through repeated exposure to the point where, on the rare occasions when I’ve actually sat down and tried to come up with a song recently, it’s usually an immediate rip-off of ‘Last Night’ or ‘Right Track’ that emerges.
Each cut here represents a perfected expression of rhythmic, riff-heavy mid-tempo punk, as built around exquisitely off-the-cuff gang chants that sound like probably began life pre-song as whatever the grown up, in-head equivalent of playground taunts might be. Instantly memorable – the kind of thing you can comfortably shout along with halfway through a first listen.
Largely rejecting the nervy, post-punk moves that dominate much current self-taught, quasi-riot grrl type punk, Primetime’s more straight-up, instinctive riff-rock approach hits my caveman brain just right (think maybe The Zeros' ‘Wimp’ or Eddie & The Subtitles ‘American Society’ for a good, back-in-the-day reference point, leavened out with a bit of Sham 69 call & response magic). At the risk of getting a bit gender essentialist about it (oops, too late), this the kind of thing that could so easily get all plodding and thuggish in the hands of men (how long before uptight practice room chats about pedals and Led Zep usurp any actual exploration of innate musical ability?), but, channelled and refurbished by women, this chasis of crunched up Marshall stack chords, floor tom pounding and fist-in-the-air vocals remains direct, fun, honest, open-ended, welcoming, slightly weird and… did I mention fun? Fucking hurrah!
Clearly I’m just drivelling on here filling space with barely thought-out notions that I’d prefer no one quote back at me at some point in the future, so let’s just back to the facts and conclude with: Primetime are a great band, and this is a great EP. I actually *dare* you not to like it. C’mon, it’s bloody brilliant. I’m telling ya.
Listen and buy from La Vida Es Un Mus Discos Punk.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
13. D/i/s/c/o /s –
live D/i/s/c/o /s CD-R
Until they finally get some recordings out there, this passed-among-friends live bootleg remains the closest those of us in the Western hemisphere are going to get to one of Tokyo’s, and dare I say it (hey why not) the world’s, most exciting rock n’ roll bands, the incomparable D/i/s/c/o /s.
A totally wrecked, dictaphone-in-pocket document of an unspecified live set, cranked up and compressed to the nth degree, this CD-R presents a gloriously indecipherable racket. Nailing their colours to the mast via covers of The Oblivians ‘N*gger Rich’ and ‘The Gories ‘Thunderbird ESQ’, the D/i/s/c/o/s duo make the garage-punk gospel sound more vital and violent than it has for years (on record, at least), recalling the glory days of The Mummies, Coachwhips and Teengenerate, and making me pause to reflect on what’s gone wrong with the world to render such a racket the sound of some vaguely defined yesteryear, rather than the sound of NOW, then, and every other time in between. Full-spectrum distorted blare and snarled/shrieked amp vocals render songs largely irrelevant, but instead give us a motherlode of Kato-san’s exhilarating John Lee Hooker-via-Lightning Bolt guitar moves and Akatsuki-san’s thoroughly complimentary take on the traps, balancing swing and bombast with rare aplomb.
Basically, this is just a totally unhinged pile of good ol’ headache juice that’ll have the majority of today’s nervous citizens hitting the ‘off’ button in seconds, but will make the true believers light up like a pinball machine. ROCK A ROLL!!!!, as D/i/s/c/o /s’ esteemed countrymen taught us to say back in the day.
This music is not currently available anywhere. Sorry about that – proper recordings due out in some form next year, I'm told.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
14. Perspex Flesh – s/t LP
Bloody hell, it’s like mid-period Black Flag and Discharge got trapped in an early David Cronenberg movie and started growing bulbous, bio-mechanoid body parts. Gnarly.
I was really impressed when I saw Perspex Flesh play last month, but this album (subsequently obtained) is something else. Of their live show, I said:
“Perspex Flesh BRING IT, in capitals, proffering a vile, monstrous wall of aggro that’s something like the sonic equivalent of a musclebound, green-skinned mutant stalking toward you with a spiked bat. This is nasty stuff, building a sense of total unease and impending catastrophe solely through the noise dripping through the PA stacks, and without the need for the band to start strutting or getting in people’s faces. Not that they could if they wanted to, bless ‘em – the vocalist looks so exhausted after each song, he can barely bring himself to stagger a few steps and mutter incoherently before the next maelstrom commences.
I realise that describing somebody’s guitar tone as “totally sick” is a teenage punk/metal uber-cliché, but in the case of Perspex Flesh I mean it in a fairly literal sense - the sheer level of screeching filth this guy lays down is remarkable, occasionally breaking up the near-Skullflower-ish skree with a few of those evil little tri-tone riffs that will, until the day I die, always remind me of the music that used to play when the Decepticons were stomping about in the old Transformers cartoons (not a complaint). Rhythm section keep it together with a brutal, lumbering swing that puts me in mind of the kind of guys who might be playing in a new line-up of Black Flag in an alternate world where Greg Ginn isn’t a dickhead, and there you have it – a fucking beast of a radiation-damaged hc/grind nightmare, reminding me (more through sheer atmosphere than actual musical similarity) of ‘Scum’ era Napalm Death and early Earache stuff in general… and there are few higher compliments than that.”
On the evidence of this (insert superlative here) LP, I’ll stick by that. Fucking shattering stuff. (Insert “so, not much like Perspex then?” gag here.)
Listen and buy from Static Shock.
Friday, December 12, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
15. Irkallian Oracle -
Grave Ekstasis tape/LP
(Nuclear War Now!)
Back in March, I said of this one:
“…I’ll just give in to this record’s function as a hyperbole magnet and just say: holy fucking shit. This is the most purely devastating, world-swallowing thing I’ve heard from the realm of black metal in years. The sort of music that’s so overwhelming it just… make.. all… words.. stop, like the stuttering, ellipsis-filled end of a Lovecraft story, as ill-judged metaphors flail hopelessly, aware of their inability to ever really capture the totality of.. this.. goddamn… thing. The bone-shattering, practice room brutality of ‘80s Napalm Death, the gravesoil-caked pagan tape-hiss of the most funereal BM, the cosmic/hypnotic maximalist wipeout of The Boredoms or Oneida in their prime – all of these things are here, sublimated into something new and staggering.
For a long time now, many metal bands of a more forward-thinking variety seem to have been lost in bombast, endlessly trying to recreate that uncomfortable, tummy-churning Surround Sound OOF that comes from watching a giant monster lay waste to a city in some epic 3D folly. Irkallian Oracle are no exception, but where most contenders just end up creating the sonic equivalent of a Michael Bay Transformers headache, these guys actually walk the walk, conjuring the sound of the stars aligning as Cthulhu himself breaks the waves. And they do it themselves on fucking TAPES. None of this bloody drivel really does it justice, but… just… [speechless].”
So, there ya go. Get it while it’s hot.
Listen and buy from Nuclear War Now!
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
16. Joseph Curwen –
Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be some serious Lovecraft reading going on within Newcastle’s underground music scene at the moment. In addition to Bong’s frequent tributes to the Old Man of Providence, the same city now brings us one Joseph Curwen, a producer of monolithic bedroom eeriness whose recording name could well have been chosen with an eye to the fact that there is ALREADY another Newcastle band performing as Charles Dexter Ward. I’ve not spent a lot of time in Newcastle, but on the basis of this plus the vast amount of good music seemingly germinating there at the moment, the thought of heading up there to rent an unfurnished attic and start cracking the spines on a few paperbacks momentarily seems mighty tempting.
But anyway: Joseph Curwen’s bandcamp self-description of “HP Lovecraft inspired Post-Rave Hauntology Rituals and Radiophonic Occult Synth Horror Soundtracks” clearly pushes enough try-hard buttons to seem instantly suspicious, and may indeed prompt those with less tolerance for these kind of aesthetic clichés than I to do a sick in their mouths and swiftly turn their attention elsewhere. For the remainder who do indeed harbour a bone-level love for some or all of the notions he’s crammed together in that little sentence though, it is difficult to argue with the titanic sonic doorstops that comprise ‘Shunned House’s two digital ‘sides’.
Admittedly, Curwen’s initial methodology, focussing as it does on recording of ‘90s dance music slowed and echoplexed to point of abstract oblivion, sounds so similar to that employed by V/VM / Leyland Kirby’s ‘The Death of Rave’ and Tim Hecker’s ‘Ravedeath 1972’ that it’s tempting to mark this guy down as a mere copyist trying to muscle in on an already thoroughly marginal & tightly delineated aesthetic gimmick. Stick with it though (because admit it, you LIKE this thoroughly marginal & tightly delineated aesthetic gimmick, however snotty the tone of this review), and the sheer weight and breadth of the sound Curwen builds up across 88 solid minutes of foggy cloud chamber nightmare-haze is actually pretty beguiling, moving beyond the tiresome ‘haunted house’ puns of the piece’s initial concept as he builds up seemingly endless layers of sonic detritus into a blinding, maximalist reshaping of his source material into a jerry-rigged cathedral of amplified silence and alien, angelic ghost-vocals that in its heaviest passages recalls nothing so much as the mass guitar epiphanies of Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca. Transcendence through fear and alienation would seem to be the game here, at least to a certain extent.
The opening ten minutes or so of the second half is my favourite bit here though - a stunningly malignant piece of work, providing just about the densest and chilliest masterclass in spectral chain-scraping, subliminal attic-creaking and rolling graveyard fogbanks one could ever wish for. Subtle it ain’t, but the cliché is laid on so heavily it’s actually pretty unsettling, like the sound design for a blow-your-mind ultimate horror moment in a ‘Ring’-type movie looped across infinity. Later on of course, the inevitable angelic vocal tones fade in like a beam of light from the heavens for that full, blissed out euphoria/funeral rave-death effect – which is nice and all, but it’s the proper ‘Legend of Hell House’ kinda stuff I like the best.
Basically, if you’ve ever watched that film and wished that Brian Hodgson & Delia Derbyshire would stop pussyfooting around with their ‘electronic treatments’ and just go full on ELP arena tour with the whole thing, ‘Shunned House’ is quite possibly the record you’ve been looking for. Just don’t go rinsing it too enthusiastically when there are other family members around, or you’ll be back in that unfurnished attic with the paperbacks before you know it. Actually, could be a plan…. I wonder how Newcastle rents are looking these days…
Listen and buy from Joseph Curwen via bandcamp.
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
17. Dregs –
bandcamp download EP
Matching utterly furious feminist invective with a full strength crust/noise punk assault, the tracks Dregs have up for download add up to one of the most exhilarating bits of racket I’ve heard out of London in ages.
Illness and poor planning have contributed to my failure to see them live thus far, but, making it a priority for the near future.
I can’t really think of much else to say at the moment. I mean, I’m a pretty quiet guy. I’m happy to just stand at the back. I hope they won’t hit me.
Check these tracks out anyway, they’re brilliant.
Listen & download from bandcamp.
Monday, December 08, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
18. The Love Triangle
– Clever Clever LP
(Originally Released in 2013 Alert! Write in if you care.)
Into every year, a little pop-punk must flow, and if 2014 hasn’t exactly been a banner year for the form (round these parts at least), it’s nonetheless good to have a group as efficient as The Love Triangle working the mill.
A classic Brit-punk proposition, variously recalling Alternative TV, Buzzcocks, The Adverts, Wire, Sham 69 and even a dash of early TV Personalities at different points in this LP’s run-time, one may legitimately wonder how the band manage to hit these well-worn bases without ever sounding tired, irrelevant or subject to accusations of pastiche.
The answer, basically, is that they just bloody get on with it. There’s no winking at the crowd here, no strutting, no style – just a breakneck, heads-down tempo, clear no-nonsense recording, fierce, clean-toned chord-riffing and lyrical themes that emerge as both personal and contemporary once you get a minute to pick them apart - but kept subservient to the musical momentum, where they belong.
It’s there if you want it, particularly on the two closing tracks, which crack the shell a bit to offer reflections on mortality and depression (cf: TVPs comparison). But, largely, subject matter sticks to the basic perennials of bad sex and eating toast, music offers a solid kick up the arse, and if you’re just looking to find a soundtrack for getting to the post office very fast on the cold morning then rest assured, you’ll find few better.
Listen and buy from Static Shock.
Sunday, December 07, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
19. Notes Terriveis –
2014 demo tape
As I said when speaking of Brazil’s Rakta in a post here last month: given the multitude of decades people have spent grinding away at the basic guitar/bass/drums rock band template without ever ceasing to find exciting new variations to explore, just imagine how many years more mileage you’re gonna get when you throw a few intelligently employed Boss delay boxes into the mix.
Such a sentiment applies perhaps even more so to Notes Terriveis, another band featuring Rakta’s guitarist Laura, alongside three male dudes if their bandcamp’s header pic is to be believed. She must be handling a good 75% of the vocals on this tape though, because to be honest, this is some veeery Rakta-like shit right here. Occasional interjections of man-voice aside, I’m not sure how well I’d do differentiating short bursts of the two bands in a random taste test. But, given how nuts I am on Rakta at the moment, that’s no bad thing. The same neon nightmare distorted guitar roar is right here, and the same ricocheting delay too – the latter perhaps employed with even more riotous abandon.
What most clearly differentiates the two groups I think is the absence here of Rakta’s more intense moodiness and kinda doom-wracked sense of musical ambition, which is instead replaced with a focus on more basic / playful punk tropes, faster and looser tempos and general sense of chaotic fun and non-damn giving.
By and large, I welcome this, and though Notes Terreveis’ grubby little mixtape can’t really hold a candle to the more calculated assault of Rakta’s LP, it nonetheless makes for a great, complimentary listen – like, Rakta in the playground, letting off steam before lessons recommence, or something.
In conclusion: both of these bands are awesome. Unexpectedly discovering them over the past few months has been awesome. I hope whatever they come up with in 2015 will be more awesome, and I hope they come back to the UK, which would be triple awesome.
Listen and donate via Bandcamp.
Saturday, December 06, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
20. The Blind Shake –
Breakfast of Failures LP
I only just got hold of this one, but what I’m hearing so far, I’m liking.
I first encountered The Blind Shake a few years back, backing up the great Michael Yonkers on his more-robust-than-you-might-expect comeback album ‘Carbohydrates Hydrocarbons’, and indeed the influence of the more outgoing end of Yonkers’ oeuvre continues to be a key reference point here, as they step out on their own for their third, or fourth, or possibly hundredth, full length, but the first I’ve happened to stumble across. Which is not to say it sounds like anything in the Yonkers canon (it doesn’t), but… you know the way those solo Crazy Horse records don’t really sound like Neil Young, but they nonetheless make perfect sense when viewed as some music a bunch of Neil Young’s pals might make..? Similar deal here I think, though The Blind Shake would no doubt be rightly miffed at my flippant denial of their individual vision.
Anyway, needless to say, this is a right old heap of ugly, thunking mid-west weirdo-rock, infused with diesel-powered rustbelt sci-fi abandon and a dreadful determination to slay the audience in some regional dive bar. Little sense of any distinct personality emerges from the songs or their vocals, but hey, that’s ok – instead, wild, unguessable noise and unhinged stunt guitar fuzz/wah moves infect each track, delivering exactly the kind of synapse-fizzing skree I’m always a sucker for. Slower numbers invoke a kind of crawling Scientists/Elevators hoodoo, whilst moments elsewhere recall ‘Frankenchrist’-era Dead Kennedys or more marginal, rock-orientated punkers like The Weirdos or The Pagans. Perfect xmas sounds for the disgruntled bald man in your life, in other words.
It’s perhaps a tad too spiffily recorded and ‘competitively’ played to really compare with the chaotic grue of, say, Simply Saucer or Red Transistor in the retro-futurist outsider punk dirge sweepstakes, but nonetheless, what can I say – I kinda dig it, and if the myriad reference-points I’ve thrown out above have got your attention, maybe you will too. Track 7, ‘Young Carnival Waste’, in particular is a stunner. Further immersion needed.
Listen to some bits and bobs on the band’s site, buy from Goner for the full international vinyl shipping experience, or maybe just give in to the budget option and get the mp3s off Amazon like I did.
Friday, December 05, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
Yes! December 2014, and this blog’s still hanging on to life by a fine thread. Rejoice!
About the only thing that is predictable around here is the inevitable records-of-the-year run-down, and, in beginning this year’s edition, I was planning to drop a bunch of fatuous, “well, what a year it’s been huh music fans” think-piece style blather addressing the mutation and abuse of the term ‘psyche’, examining the shaky foundations of my own persistent fetishisation of ‘exotic’ instrumentation within rock, considering the continued ossification of the ‘music industry’ even on the indie label level, and suggesting techniques that might be used to avoid having to look at its rotting flesh for too long when you could be doing something useful instead. Also, belatedly demanding that you all go and read Neil Kulkarni’s extraordinary Eastern Spring immediately.
Thankfully though, time is short and I’m knackered, so instead I’m going to skip all that crap and just get on with it. On a personal note, let’s just briefly say that 2014 has been one hell of an eventful year for me, and one that has shifted the foundations of my life around in ways both positive and negative. As such, my range of listening during the first two thirds of the year wasn’t what it could have been, but when I emerged blinking in the daylight a few months back, punk rock and its myriad off-shoots were waiting, and since then, there have been amazing times.
Practical notes before we begin:
1. Extending my already pretty flexible rules for formats applicable for this main “records” list, I intend to welcome with open arms the overdue death of the “you-must-make-an-album” mentality, and thus am going to be including for consideration *pretty much anything I feel like* that consists of more music than, say, a regular length two song single.
2. Some of the things on my list were released in 2013, because that’s just the way it is.
Hope that’s clear. Countdown commences TOMORROW. New posts every day until the new year if yr lucky. Hurray and hurrah, etc.
Friday, November 14, 2014
General Update, London Punk Musing
& Top Five from the Static Shock Weekend.
Rest assured, for once the lack of meaningful content here of recent hasn’t down to apathy, but more the fact that all of my allotted music-time over the past few months seems to have been spent watching live music, making music and (gulp) even promoting a bit of music [obligatory self-promotion links: 1 / 2].
Though road-hardened punks may justifiably scoff at our puny endeavours, last month’s tour was a hell of a lot of fun, and left me feeling rather joyously reconnected to the world of DIY music and the fine people who enable / inhabit it. (Random pics visible here and here.)
Since then things haven’t let us much. Bong gig in Camden was obviously a colossal highlight, and I’ve got a ticket to see Pelt play for the first time this weekend, for god's sake. That aside, I’ve also been coming to the belated realisation that London is absolutely swarming with vicious, new self-taught punk bands at the moment, all seemingly keen to hack away the macho/muso culture that has built up around that music for so long, returning it to the basics of noise, rage, simplicity and chaos.
Rather than just being confined to one or two isolated examples of the form (Frau, Good Throb), there seems to be another one of these great bands popping up every time we leave the house at the moment, all, like most recent London music of worth, driven to a state of manic ferocity by the sheer shittiness of trying to continue to live in this city whilst maintaining some degree of personal dignity.
Maybe I’m over-thinking things here, but if the notion that urban creativity often flourishes when space is cheap and capital is scarce (cf: New York in the ‘70s and ‘80s), what happens in the opposite situation, when intense concentration of populous & capital, malign government policy and over-inflated property market do their best to bulldoze pretty much everyone into poverty? London’s current punk bands provide a pretty eloquent answer to this question I think, and it’s probably time to call “scene!” on the fuckers and invite some snooping journalists to get it all mixed up. Dregs, Bona HC, Snob, Semi, Cianuro – all are very worthy of your time.
Not entirely disconnected from all that, this month’s Static Shock weekend felt like a bit of a marathon, and, god knows, I only went to about half of it (wussed out on the ultra-h/c Saturday night show, and missed the Hard Skin headlined Friday due to prior obligations). The bits I did go to though were fucking brilliant – an electrifying few days, blessed with line-ups that barely ever the quality dipping below “great”, with frequent stylistic and demographic hand brake turns doing a lot to remind us of the kind of variety and energy still lurking filed under ‘punk’ in yr local record emporium (or, more likely, bypassing it altogether and going straight to the distros and merch table sales, as is only sensible).
Here then are five of the best bands I saw at these events, discounting the aforementioned Snob, who are limited to one shout-put per post.
5. The Splits
Playing early afternoon at the Power Lunches matinee show, these Helsinki-based ladies & bonus gent easily overcame their generic rent-a-punk band name with a set of dense, Wipers-esque clean-toned guitar jangle, smoke-lunged vox and relentless forward momentum. Really nice guys too. Recommended.
4. The Number Ones
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen these Dublin power-pop stalwarts once or twice in the past, but I dug their total oddball status on the Static Shock line-up (a paisley shirt and a ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ jacket patch certainly stand out amid the leather and hoodies), and I dug their music too. Though not in any way exceptional within its genre, it is realised with as much muscle, energy and good feeling as is possible in 2014, and brought to us by some fellas who know how to get down together and really make it work. A couple of nice, unexpected covers (The Byrds’ ‘Feel a Whole Lot Better’, The Clean’s ‘Oddity’) pushed them from “pretty good” toward “GREAT” at the Saturday Power Lunches show, and when they took the stage on a bleary and hungover Sunday after a couple of middling hardcore bands, I’ll admit it was a joy to just hear some good ol' rock n’ roll.
the highlight was an ad-hoc blast through The Undertones ‘Get Over You’, used to cover a string-break incident from one of the guitarists. Hearing him restringed and ploughing back into the song just after the other guy knocked out a ragged, Bob Stinson-esque solo was a real “raise your drink in salute” moment. The #1s are certainly never going to change your world or even your afternoon, but if you’re just in the mood for the kind of band that’ll kick some ass at your wedding reception or whatever – look no further.
3. Perspex Flesh
Straight-up hardcore is just swell, don’t get me wrong, and I'm glad it's there - but for me personally,it takes something extra for it to really make much of an impression. Thankfully, Perspex Flesh BRING IT, in capitals, proffering a vile, monstrous wall of aggro that’s something like the sonic equivalent of a musclebound, green-skinned mutant stalking toward you with a spiked bat. This is nasty stuff, building a sense of total unease and impending catastrophe solely through the noise dripping through the PA stacks, and without the need for the band to start strutting or getting in people’s faces. Not that they could if they wanted to, bless ‘em – the vocalist looks so exhausted after each song, he can barely bring himself to stagger a few steps and mutter incoherently before the next maelstrom commences.
I realise that describing somebody’s guitar tone as “totally sick” is a teenage punk/metal uber-cliché, but in the case of Perspex Flesh I mean it in a fairly literal sense - the sheer level of screeching filth this guy lays down is remarkable, occasionally breaking up the near-Skullflower-ish skree with a few of those evil little tri-tone riffs that will, until the day I die, always remind me of the music that used to play when the Decepticons were stomping about in the old Transformers cartoons (not a complaint). Rhythm section keep it together with a brutal, lumbering swing that puts me in mind of the kind of guys who might be playing in a new line-up of Black Flag in an alternate world where Greg Ginn isn’t a dickhead, and there you have it – a fucking beast of a radiation-damaged hc/grind nightmare, reminding me (more through sheer atmosphere than actual musical similarity) of ‘Scum’ era Napalm Death and early Earache stuff in general… and there are few higher compliments than that. As a closing band for the weekend, it’s more “fuck off, return to your homes” than “cheers folks, see you next time”, but I’m tired and cold so I can get with that.
I saw this lot a few years back, opening the bill on a busy gig on a boat, and wasn’t particularly impressed. I don’t know if they’ve changed in the interim or if I’ve changed, but seeing them again, still opening the bill for a few early risers at the Power Lunches matinee, I thought were bloody great. Louie of The Love Triangle / Shitty Limits plays some fantastic, near Wilko Johnson-ish choppy / wiry clean-toned guitar, whilst the vocalist (whom I’m SURE I’ve seen in at least one or two other band s- reminder anyone?) belies his smart casual pub-bloke demeanour by coming on like as witty and charismatic a frontman as you could wish to encounter at 2pm on a rainy Saturday. Drummer is A1 too, and it’s nice to see the vocalist from Frau filling in the gaps on bass.
Like the now disbanded(?) Hygiene and many of the groups I was going on about earlier in this post, Personnel deal primarily with the kitchen sink banalities and sundry indignities of life in the UK, but, notably, do so with a dry sense of humour and a touch of soul rather than just inchoate rage. I like it a lot. If you want a snappy quote for the CD sticker, think an Ian Svenonious band as directed by Ken Loach and you’ll probably be dreadfully misled by such platitudes, but fuck it, it's late, it’ll do.
For the best part of sixty years, we’ve been waiting for people to run out of new stuff to do with the basic guitar/bass/drums set-up, and it doesn’t look likely to run out of steam any time soon. Add a couple of Boss delay pedals to the equation then, and imagine the mileage a few driven individuals can get out of that. An all-female Brazillian band playing moody, ambitious sci-fi-inflected punk with loads of harsh noise and extreme use of effects, Rakta are, in short, probably the most exhilarating new band I’ve seen this year.
Not everyone’s cup of tea maybe (the vocalist’s monotone howl has a bit of a Zola Jesus-ish gothic bombast thing to it that may put some off), but with a solid base of relentless pounding from the rhythm section and a relentlessly imaginative skree from the guitar, bits of unidentifiable echoing racket whiplashing around the place, and just a hellish energy and sense of weird, unholy evocation going on… man. We were lucky enough to see them twice over the weekend, and on both occasions I was left speechless. They’re playing again in Peckham next Tuesday – you’ll find me front row.
They’re currently midway through a mammoth US / Europe tour, so if they’re pitching up anywhere near you – drop everything and get along. Just a fantastically exciting band. You'll be hearing more about them in these pages, I'd imagine.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The Night The Screaming Stops:
Being the Seventh Annual Stereo Sanctity /
Breakfast in the Ruins Halloween mix CD.
Cross-posted with Breakfast in the Ruins.
Every year, I find myself wondering how the hell I’ll manage to put together another full 80 minutes of top drawer horror-themed music in time for next Halloween…. and yet every year I end up pretty pleased with the results.
Word goes out this time to a particularly fruitful batch of new bands ploughing this general sort of furrow (Zig Zags, Satan’s Satyrs, Blood Ceremony…), meaning that this year we haven’t even had to draw upon the ever more stretched catalogue of Cramps and Misfits hits (though good old Roky does of course get a look-in). Not even room for any random slabs of Ennio Morricone nightmare fuel, although we do have a right belter from Bruno Nicolai and a few nice library cues.
Films evoked within, either directly or indirectly, include: ‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’, ‘Possession’, ‘The Fog’, ‘The Legend of Hell House’, ‘Carnival of Souls’, ‘All The Colors Of The Dark’, ‘Blood Sabbath’ and ‘Let’s Scare Jessica To Death’. Pretty good line-up if your going the 24 hour movie marathon route this Friday, I should think.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Ten years gone…
By necessity, I remember 25th October 2004 very well. Trudging across town to my three month temp job, struggling to get my bloody Sony discman to work (at least a year before the revelation of my first hand-me-down mp3 player), hearing skipping fragments of the second Icarus Line album that I’d got out of the library, thinking, well, this sounds pretty shit to be honest, but I should give it time cos I liked their first one (I was credulous like that back in those days).
I remember halfway through the morning, someone in work saying something to the effect of “oh, have you heard, that famous old DJ bloke died… what’s his name?”, and spending the rest of the day in a blank state of shock.
In the evening, a couple of friends and I went to the pub. There were really elaborate Halloween decorations up everywhere. We said reassuring things and all that. Closest thing to a wake for a family member I’d ever experienced until, in recent years, I’ve had to attend actual wakes for family members. Word to those friends, if they’re reading.
In spite of all the memorialising, the ascent to ‘iconic’ status, the BBC’s well-intentioned yet persistently ass-backwards attempts to pay ‘tribute’, I can’t help but think that the sheer magnitude of the legacy that John Peel left to music fans in the UK is still under-appreciated.
On many occasions of late, I’ve found myself talking music with people who, for temporal or geographic reasons, were unable to experience Peel’s programming in their formative years. Often, I find myself slightly shocked and distantly offended by what I interpret as their closed-mindedness and (to some extent) ignorance of the totality of pop musical forms, and their failure to appreciate the basic commonalities that exist between all such forms.
You mean to tell me, I keep thinking, that you’ve been listening to music all these years and you haven’t managed to come to an understanding that trad jazz and electronica and extreme metal and Chicago blues and African hi-life and stuttering introverted indie and dancehall and techno and unclassifiable outsider noise are all, basically, like, the SAME THING, to be experienced side by side, and appreciated according to the same system of values, as borderless forms of ecstatic human expression..? What the hell is wrong with you?
Then I remember, it’s not their fault – they mean well. But they didn’t have John Peel.
Then I contemplate the vast and humbling variety of great music currently being made in the British Isles by the age group that DID grow up listening to John Peel, and I think…. thank you John, we owe you too damn much.
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