Monaural Headache

Monno‘s great album Cheval Ouvert (IDIOSYNCRATICS IDCD007) is a four-footed tromper for sure…it comes thumping out of the gate like a heavyweight animal, equipped with extra leaden weights on its hooves…it’s an example of what happens when American post-post heavy metal genres like stoner, doom and mathrock start to rub up against European inflections and accents, and when they do the fur really flies when the nuggets hit the shovel. Said Europeans are a crack team of assassins named Marc Fantini, Derek Shirley, Gilles Aubry and Antoine Chessex…Chessex is not unfamiliar in our asylum, he’s the Swiss genius who made an incredible sqwakeroo single with Arnaud Rivière in 2009 (I know I keep referring back to it, I’ve never gotten over its scorching attack) and is also capable of building strange alienating minimal compositions out of electronics…Aubry, also Swiss, also an all-rounder, into doing sound installations, free improvisation as well as performing rock music to the hungry massed crowds…he contributes the powerful electronic eruptions to Monno’s music…his noises bubble out of him like so much marmalade…while Fantini and Shirley are a rhythm section straight out of a building yard, men you could use to demolish a tower block in less then eighteen seconds, who play their instruments with sledgehammers. On Cheval Ouvert, the first couple o’ these four long tracks are airless poundage rhythm attacks, with everyone concerned hammering out their guts on the anvil of destiny and producing a fine pulp…delicious noise, refreshing absence of four beats to the bar…abstract art drum painting…free rock atonality crashing up against noise wall, with plenty of sweaty rock attitude like the Angel Whirl on top…greatness indeed…

Then there’s Track III where we suddenly slow down that heated pace and enter the Ice Age, where woolly mammoths wearing woolly tights lumber about aimlessly in the Arctic waste anticipating an early extinction. It’s here with these hideously slowed beats and grim bass grunts that we keenly feel the presence of ex-Swans Roli Mosimann, who recorded the sessions in Poland. Come to that we also feel the cold, cold ground of Poland’s iron terrain…in that bleak framework, electrical hurlements and heavily distorted sax blasts ring out to add to the frowning despair. Lastly Track IV which is pretty much an intense wall of bizarre, continual sound, where the implacable synth manglings of Aubry shred your face through sheer persistence and leave no space for argument or dissent. When the drums and bass join in this conversation, they’ve been studio-processed into some sort of grotesque parody of rock music, an abstraction beyond the realms of acceptability…this “experimental noisecore” band have been shattering illusions of the innocent since as far back as 1999, when they first met up in Lausanne…the United Nations in Geneva sensed imminent disaster and tried to ban the meeting, but they failed, luckily for us…this seems to be their fifth album, after two fairly recent ones they made for Conspiracy Records. All of ’em are Swiss, so they enjoy paying 96 Euros for one cup of coffee, apart from the Canadian bass player Shirley, who’s the relative newcomer. They’ve toured with some of the finest acts in American noise-rock, including Jesu, Isis and Lightning Bolt. This album is graced with a James Plotkin mastering and a superb cover artwork by Marc O’Callaghan, itself very redolent of the animalistic, visceral and hallucinatory nature of the music. Need I add…essential!

While we’re glancing in the direction of the Alps, why not take an Aspirin (METONIC RECORDS MET-00015). Aspirin is mostly a quirky Swiss combo led by the keyboardist Manuel Engel, a civilian about whom we don’t know much but at one time he may have been a member of the Bienne City Arkestra who made a record of off-beat jazz for Metonic Records in 2011. On their self-titled album, he leads a foursome of players who work their bass, guitar and cello in ingeniously imaginative ways, creating short tunes which effortlessly blend a whole morass of trans-continental music styles (including Arabic and African influences, according to one listener) in a skeletal, hand-knitted form, informed by elements of improvisation and 1980s New Wave. That’s tasty enough for starters – a fine dish of couscous, stuffed vine leaves and tofu, topped with lashing of bright red Glaswegian chilli sauce – but there’s also the French singer Ana Igluka, who was invited to sing four songs, and when she appears, her poised tones transform everything. She uses the band as a warped cabaret backing combo to support her breathless, urgent version of the “chanson” form, where not a second of space is wasted and she packs in as many delirious beautiful harmony overdubs and grace-notes as she can in less than three minutes. In some cases the songs veer off into a hurried vocal recit, almost like a subtext running alongside the tune; an academic deconstruction of its own inner core. She’s a fascinating cocktail of Edith Piaf, Françoise Hardy and Simone de Beauvoir, wrapped up in a compacted mysterious package. Astonishing work!

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