Tagged: folk

Zo Rel Do: a curious and intriguing mix of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv


Mohammad, Zo Rèl Do, Antifrost, CD AFRO 2064 (2014)

Mohammad is a Greek trio employing cello, contrabass and electronics to create a curious fusion of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv. “Zo Rèl Do” is the first part of a trilogy exploring the music and sounds of the musicians’ homeland and immediate neighbouring areas in western Turkey and parts of Bulgaria and Romania.

We start off with some field recordings dominated by a solo flute melody and conversations that might have been recorded in a market-place. These are swept aside by low booming scrapey string instruments, deep and rhythmic, with a very minimalist melody loop: the music is a bit like an acoustic doom folk version of Sunn0))) at times. A scratchy spitting drone accompanies the raw and sonorous dirge-like march. The track seems very serious and solemn although there are moments when it appears not to be taking itself too seriously and almost parodies itself.

“Kabilar Mace” takes up the repetitive circular structure, applying it to a drunken seesaw melody and torments it with a nagging grinding string accompaniment. The two opposed melodies can be very amusing to listen to as one tune insists on going its own sedate way and the other buzzes around it like a jumpy pooch. The music steadily escalates to an extreme intense and quite deranged level with the odd pause or two to let off steam.

Subsequent tracks stick to the minimalist template of repetition (with variation), building up to an almost hysterical climax, and the sound lurches about clumsily as if in an empty and dark room feeling for the light-switch. One later track gives the impression of nearly falling over in a heap. “Samarina” in particular sounds a bit like the aforementioned hooded ones playing unplugged after having gone on one or two too many benders; this is probably the most memorable track in spite of it not sounding quite as accessible melodically as the others – it does have a certain mournful grace. The album concludes with what could be a barely audible recording of night crickets that might be overlooking a secret nature ritual.

While this is a fairly short recording, “Zo Rèl Do” has a massive sound and a clear ambience that emphasises the rough-hewn texture of the music. The mood alternates from bleary-eyed somnambulist slouch to solemn and serious to something suggesting a wry sense of humour at work building up the music to a near-insane, mind-transforming level. Though the music does not vary a great deal, the mood and humour behind it keep this listener transfixed, wondering what surprises these Hellenes might pull out next from within their instruments.

The thought has just occurred to me that Mohammad’s objective is to bring listeners deep into their world of native folk and other influences and to take their audiences right to the edge of infinity by mixing serious solemnity and playful teasing in equal measures. Beyond that edge, we become merged with the fabric of the cosmos itself and are at one with it.

Contact: Antifrost,  Mohammad

Berry Good


Hladowski & Joynes
The Wild Wild Berry

The Wild Wild Berry l.p/c.d. comes as a debut recording from the duo of up and coming English folk singer Stephanie Hladowski and firmly established acoustic fingerpicker and Leith Hill Records’ proprietor: C. Joynes. A surefire combination of Meredith Monk and Sun Ra fan Stephanie’s formidable vocalese; once described as a “mature and ancient voice”, that’s matched with the plangent, simple beauty at the centre of Joynes’s far reaching guitar philosophy. …Berry houses an eleven strong set of ‘Brit Trad Arrs’ that are stored (and you probably know where this is heading…) in the vicinity of Camden Town/Primrose Hill, N.W. London; namely Cecil Sharp House; that vast repository of the British song form. After a little research from yours truly, I’ve discovered that six of the tracks on disc have been plundered and subsequently remodelled before by, amongst others, Peter Bellamy, June Tabor, Steeleye Span, Shirley Collins, Steve Ashley, John Jacob Niles and The Young Tradition. But in this particular case, it really doesn’t matter one jot. In the hands of this alliance, middlingly familiar standards like “Lord Bateman”, “The Dark Eyed Sailor”, “George Collins” and “Higher Germanie” emerge in the cold light of another day as fresh and as vibrant as the very instance these tails of deceit, moral decay and untrammeled lust were initially penned.

Though I’d like to focus on the other tracks which seem to have been left in the archives with precious little attention accorded to them. Like…the charming guitar showcase of ‘another’ “Greensleeves” which harks back to the recordings of Stephen Baldwin in the mid-fifties. Its attractive ticking clock rhythm being particularly ear-snagging. “Flash Company” is a melancholy and timeless song of regret. “If it hadn’t been for flash company,” she carols, “I should never have been so poor…”. Though things get way more fraught from hereon in…with the eventual body count coming in at five… The title track details the story of a young nobleman who “felt the deadly gripe of the woody nightshade” and died of poisoning. Found guilty of his death, ‘The Lordship’s Wench” eventually receives a good neck-stretching for his/her pains. Nothing though prepares us for the downright weirdness of “The Bitter Withy”; ‘a thirteenth century carol from the infancy gospel of Thomas – identified in the suppressed gospels of the Original New Testament of Jesus the Christ by Archbishop William Wake’. Rightly vexed at the arrogance of three rich young lords…Jesus “he made himself a bridge with the beams of the sun”. The trio blindly follow him across and promptly drown (!), only for the Christ child to receive a severe caning from his mother Mary with a withy stick (or Osier Willow). A strangely affecting and beautifully phrased gem which I urge you to hear. You thought high level strangeness was the sole province of the avant garde and the outsider? Well… here be monsters too.

Old Friends


My ears are gradually finding a toehold on the rather strange surface of the Jack O’ The Clock album All My Friends (NO LABEL), sent to us by a band member in Oakland, California. It’s a clutch of strangely poetical and melanholic songs, as pictureseque and raggedly twisted as those dusty old trees you find on the Pacific coast, bleached by the elements and forming queer shapes. The band are a five-piece of players, led by acoustic guitarist and singer Damon Waitkus who wrote most of the songs, and did the production, recording and mixing of the album; he’s joined by Emily Packard, Kate McLoughlin, Jason Hoopes and Jordan Glenn, an all-acoustic band of talented musicians who play assorted strings, percussion and woodwinds, and there are a couple of unusual old-fashioned instruments such as the hammered dulcimer and the psaltery in the mix. The lead singing voice – presumably that of Damon Waitkus himself – is quite remarkable, a distinctive honey-and-mustard tone which you won’t be forgetting in a hurry. His throat caresses each lyric with the softness of a mountain lion’s tongue licking its wounds. And his compositions are quite astonishing, both for the strength of his ideas (rich with literary and poetic ambitions) and the arrangements, which I can only describe as “idiosyncratic”. Simply labelling it “Americana” or “contemporary folk” doesn’t come close to unpacking the density and complexity of these intricate structures, which thread the listener through alternative histories of American musical history with as much verve, daring, and intellectual passion as Van Dyke Parks, with whom Jack O’ The Clock have been favourably compared. In short, it’s like hearing some of my favourite “Old Timey” fiddle and guitar records such as the Hackberry Ramblers or the Carolina Tar Heels updated with compositional ideas worthy of a Stockhausen or a Boulez. If Henry Cowell had grown up in Virginia…but then, I can’t think of how to end to a sentence that begins like that. Better for you to just find a copy of this, their third album, and start to investigate the back catalogue of this uncategorisable project. I’ll certainly keep revisiting this opaque and mysterious work, as I’m sure there’s a lot of content to be excavated from its deep mines. P.S. – Fred Frith endorses them too, describing Waitkus as “an extraordinarily courageous composer”. From 17 June 2013.

Inside Outside: a soaring ethereal voice above psych-folk electronica and abstract improv

Source: http://sygilrecords.bandcamp.com/

Aurora Dorey Alice, Inside Outside, Sygil Records, cassette 013 (2013)

A gorgeous if sometimes slightly sinister and deranged psych-folk offering with a split personality  is to be found on this release from the increasingly eclectic Sygil Records which among other things has proffered black and doom metal recordings and industrial drone art. The first half of the album, the “Inside” part partakes heavily of glitch and fuzz electronica and woozy, zonked-out wash effects; the second “Outside” half drinks in found nature sounds and sparse abstract improv. Whether you like your music to be outdoors or indoors, one thing you’ll surely fall in love with is Aurora Dorey Alice’s voice which at times is floaty and ethereal, and at other times assertive and soaring above the often intangible and dreamy music.

I have to confess I’m more of an “indoors” gal here: the electronic soundtrack is gentle and slightly fizzy in sound and texture, dreamy in mood, and very other-worldly and shimmery overall. “Master / Apprentice” is a strong opening track that sets the tone for the rest of “Inside” to follow; indeed, it might just be the strongest piece on the whole album. The rest of the cassette is no bunch of slouching footnotes though. “Rain” is as close to country-western as ADA comes with its fast chugging-train rhythm and ADA’s own enraptured faux-Nashville vocal.

On the “Outside” half, the music is more acoustic and does not showcase ADA’s singing at all which is a bit disappointing because it’s her voice that really stands out on this recording. Here, the music could almost be one of many hundreds of live instrumental improv releases with flutes, found sounds and a not-too clear idea of where all the musicians are supposed to be going. It’s as if having found themselves out in the warm sunshine, the musicians decided to have a party and a snooze as well but not necessarily in strict alphabetical order of making music, partying and snoozing.

Nevertheless what we do get from ADA is to be treasured indeed: in range her singing straddles the divide between reality and the universe beyond, which already is far, far more than can be said for the current crop of mainstream female pop singers. I’m going to risk lying my head on the guillotine block and say ADA will be a significant influence on future female singers to come, even if her career does not turn out the way it should.

Anecdotal Evidence


Seamus Cater & Viljam Nybacka
The Anecdotes

Armed only with a vintage Fender Rhodes Electric Piano and a mixed bag of brass and percussion, Anecdotal Records head honcho Seamus Cater, Viljam Nybacka and their chums Shahzad Ismaily, Jeff Carey and Eiríkur Orri Ólafson present a beautiful set of subterranean soul searching sad songs.

In the same way as a douser searches for water with nothing more than a pair of divining rods, Cater unveils epic songwriting from the barest means. Despite years living in the Netherlands, Cater’s voice, despite not being completely free of inflection or Essex / East-End mannerism 1 is, however, engaging and clear and this is to his obvious advantage because the stories he’s got to tell on this record are certainly worth listening to.

The content of each presents a starting point for fruitful and fascinating research if you’re that way inclined. Cater’s publicity, I suspect, will probably wax lyrically about his British folk music family roots and the weight of such a history – I am aware that there is a contemporary resurgence of interest in British folk revivalism by our nation’s more broadminded youth but I’m not sure that this is essential to the existence of this record. In demonstration of his own contemporary folk-music credentials, Cater’s previous output has included a touring project with experimental banjo artiste Uncle Woody Sullender which resulted in a record on Dead Ceo called When We Get to Meeting.

One thing I must commend Mr Cater on is bringing the fascinating and obscure 1970s conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader to my attention on his very first song. He goes on to document the notable parts of another five historic figures’ lives to edifying effect. He does this in a poetic way with his lyrics and with the stripped back arrangements he employs on the limited palette of instruments. You get the feeling that every recorded sound is given much thought – Cater even employs a man – Jeff Carey – whose sole job on ‘Bas Jan Ader’ is simply stated as “reverb”.

‘Bas Jan Ader’ could be as much about Donald Crowhurst, another lone sailor who disappeared at sea six years before Jan Ader. Minimal Rhodes and drums. The line “…the second half of the trilogy / was to be left incomplete” refers to the fateful voyage being part of an unfinished piece of work by Jan Ader. Cater is indeed a skilled wordsmith albeit blessed with a slightly mannered vocal style; on the line “blow, blow the man down”, he sounds like he’s got a mouthful of soft fruit. On the end, the Morse Code for “Mayday!” is played on one-finger reed organ.

On the next track, ‘Muybridge Last Stand’, the duo utilise jaunty Rhodes piano paired with a muted trumpet. Cater has written some nice wonky lines like “when we touch / I’m such / a klutz”. The trumpet and horns are written and performed by Eiríkur Orri Ólafson.

Cater states ‘The Folk Music’ is about Ewan MacColl and the 50s-60s folk revival. Vocals and Rhodes only to start. This puts me in mind of an obscure uk band called Red Peal from the early 2000s who used a similar format to great effect. An accordion joins in. and a ukulele? Cater sings “who found the folk music? / who sang the folk music? / who made the folk music?” This prompts the question what exactly does Seamus Cater stand for? Is he a folk archaeologist or is he just interested in the trend for imagined neo-folk utopias?

The first track on side two is ‘Early Riser’. This one is about the ever-popular Salford painter LS Lowry. Cater can’t help but put in a dab of humour and a stroke of irony; “…I died nineteen six seventy / And Salford ain’t a place you want to be / But I heard they got / A new gallery”. While on the third track ‘The Piano’, “…Prokofiev was reportedly trying to outlive Stalin but didn’t manage…”

It is perhaps a bold move to release something like this in today’s market – i.e. a truly meaningful, understated yet emotional and personal version of popular song in an age of massive-scale live television trial by ordeal, such as X-Factor and The Voice not to mention the heinous new Westlife album and so forth. There’s a beautiful double-tracked harmony on the line “…you have been selected…” on ‘The Softest Horns’. Cater enunciates in a similar way to Syd Barrett or Robert Wyatt – I don’t mean he sounds anything like these singers – they all sing in their own voice/accent/dialect/whatever; not in the way you’re “supposed to” these days.

Vinyl edition of 500 of which this one in front of me is number 52, and includes a digital copy download code.

  1. At the time of writing, this could be said to be on-trend in popular song post Kate Nash.

Honky Tonk Medusa: an unassuming gem of dark and bittersweet folk pop


Donovan Quinn, Honky Tonk Medusa, Northern-Spy Records, NSCD 019 (2012)

The title of this album, the third solo full-lengther from Donovan Quinn since he left The Skygreen Leopards, suggests this work is going to feature light and dark in equal amounts. Certainly the tone throughout hints at melancholy and a slight sense of foreboding on what would otherwise be sunny and bright folk pop songs. There may be a theme dwelling on aspects of modern life in a post-industrial world where the American Dream is proving to be more nightmare than dream and people must struggle just to keep sane coping with the pressures of daily living.

The songs all have quite a distinct flavour though I can detect the influence of Bob Dylan in Quinn’s style of singing. (I’m not familiar with the history of American folk music from the 1960s on so readers will have to forgive me for my sketchy knowledge.) “Night Shift” is an early highlight for its deep droning near-industrial rhythms and the use of spoken word recordings in the background that reference the busyness of modern urban life. “My Wife” is a dream-like wistful piece, forlorn and sounding a bit nostalgic in its mood, with a sinister darkness at its core. (The song references the Who song of the same name and David Lynch’s TV series “Twin Peaks”.) “Dying City” comes across as a gentle, sorrowful elegy. “Love in an Evil World” is the most poppy-sounding track with its catchy melodies, slow though they are, and its unexpected twists that capture perfectly a sense of uncertainty and passive acceptance of whatever hardships may come.

The music can be challenging in its ambiguity and its attitude of seeming resignation and observational distance. Although Quinn is a good song-writer, there is something lacking in these songs: they seem so introspective that they don’t reach out to their audience and the listener must try to find a way into Quinn’s world and concerns. Of course, whether Quinn is interested in making a direct emotional connection with his audience is another thing; he’d certainly sell more records and become famous but he may not want the attention, expectations and pressures that fame would bring. Honky Tonk Medusa is a very unassuming little gem of bittersweet quality that with time may gather its own small group of devoted fans.

North: heralding a gorgeous nature-themed project of folk ambient black metal


Crown of Asteria, North, Red River Family Records, CD 025 (2013)

Crown of Asteria is a one-woman black metal project headed by one Meghan Hill that plays a mix of black metal, ambient and folk. “North” is CoA’s debut full-length instrumental meditation on nature and its wondrous, transcendental mysteries. This is a recording worth hearing in its entirety without regard for individual tracks: it’s a gorgeous work of atmosphere, acoustic folk and thrilling BM riffs and melodies.

After a brief introduction of nature-themed field recordings that transport us listeners in an instant to the CoA universe, we’re wrapped in shimmering keyboard / guitar tremolo drone wash. It’s as if we must undergo a ritual bath to cleanse us of the toxins of the urban world we left behind, so that we are ready to receive more of what CoA has in store.

“Through the Birch and beyond the Lakes” is perhaps the first real black metal track: it starts out with a shrill spiky tremolo guitar lead and has a dreamy, trance-like quality. Clear reverberating guitar-tone chords duet and perhaps duel with the black metal guitar background. There is a sunny feel that I usually associate with shoegazer BM and fans of that genre might be interested in checking out this album. The track develops into something more crunchy and hard-edged and the introduction of percussion adds a sharp crispy edge. A lead guitar solo is a late crowning glory for this piece.

The title track gets off to a slightly slow start but makes up for lost ground quickly with warm shimmery guitar noise textures and a pounding percussion beat that is all but swamped by the guitar work-outs. Licks are thrown out here and there. The real highlight of the track comes with an extended passage of folk acoustic guitar melody, accompanied by a faint but interesting rhythm in parts. The music is soft and has a strong hypnotic effect; the mood is at once dreamy, a bit lonely and melancholy, naively hopeful perhaps and uplifting overall. The transition from quiet and soft folk ambient back to assertive BM is gradual but once this is complete, the music has an exhilarating, triumphant attitude. This is one of the most intense and exciting moments I’ve experienced in listening to BM. CoA lets the moment linger for listeners to savour to the full.

Four minutes of mostly monotonous strumming acoustic guitar with a late melody follow: “Wildflowers” is a pleasant pause for breath but for what it does, it’s too long and could have been slimmed down to 2 – 3 minutes. Final track “These Stars hang from the Boughs of Firs” is a great finale, though again there are parts that are just a bit too long and repetitive. Admittedly the percussion throughout this album isn’t great but on this track its deficiencies are amplified: the drumming is too soft and needs to be a bit more upfront in the mix with a strong thumping sound. On the other hand the acoustic guitar melody loop is a welcome warm contrast to the generally grim black metal.

Without a doubt this is one of the most beautifully atmospheric BM recordings I’ve had the privilege to hear, a tremendously immersive musical experience with deep sincere emotion. The first half of the album has a slight edge over the rest, being more attentive to creating a definite atmosphere of beauty and wonder, inspired by the artist’s contact with her woodland surroundings. The later half of the album has rather less emphasis on maintaining atmosphere; maybe the work seems that way because there’s much more acoustic music and how it just absorbs Hill’s attention (and ours) to the full, but some of the early lushness seems to disappear. The production is crisp but not too clear: it allows a dream state, in which meditation and inner journeys of exploration become easy, to dominate.

The drumming is the main weakness here – it’s soft when perhaps it should be loud, hard and energetic. There are long passages on this record that cope very well without any drums and perhaps an entire album done only with guitars and atmospheric effects is something CoA should try.

The album is a rich audio experience of folk, ambient and black metal elements and natural field recordings, all the more so because the music is not heavily layered: by that, I mean there are no strata of guitar textures overlaid with excessive effects, Nadja-style, yet what few ambient effects CoA deploys seem to be used to their utmost, with all the nuances of meaning they bring to the recording. Pure-toned music is crisp and brimming with feeling and context. This debut album deserves to be better known and in time might be considered a classic of its kind.

Beyond This Vessel: a dark and demonic sermon of swamp folk psychedelia


Geist & the Sacred Ensemble, Beyond This Vessel, Moon Glyph, cassette MG68 (2013)

It’s time for some dark and demonic ritualistic psychedelic folk from way down in the fetid, humid swamplands of … uh, Seattle, courtesy of a bunch a-callin’ their selves Geist & the Sacred Ensemble. Lazy drawling half-singing / half-declaiming vocals from Geist himself lead the way and what a trail is blazed by these musical gypsy travellers: a lackadaisical rhythm, simple tribal percussion, stark and sometimes massive guitars, and a generally heavy kind of atmosphere.

The guys swagger through “On the Next Full Moon”, simmering up some Southern Gothic rock dirge drudge drone for the monthly sacrificial lynching ritual to appease an angry Old Testament spirit. The music becomes a bit more urgent and apocalyptic on “Seeker”, Geist almost in supplication to the personal demons and angels locked in eternal battle in his heart for his soul. The guitars change from insistently heraldic and emphatic to soft woozy wash. This becomes “Terraformer” and as the title suggests, the music has indeed metamorphosed from structures based on simple beats, repetition and riff loops to soft desultory, dreamy ambience with rippling guitar notes out front and reverbed guitar wash out over the skies above. Geist’s singing sleepwalk barely holds the track together. Black misty shadows rise from the still green waters beneath the tangle of mangrove and tree roots, a giant reptilian shadow glides through the muddy depths, a deep alien machine starts to rumble  - perhaps there is a UFO down deep within the marshes?

“Bird Passage” is a peculiar name for the lethargic ritual conducted by Geist in deadened preacher mode, leading an equally enervated congregation in prayer to their unholy chthonic spiritual masters. Woozy wobbly effects and a solemn acoustic guitar accompany Geist on his journey to whatever passes for spiritual enlightenment and union.

It’s a surprisingly short album for its cassette format – the album repeats over on the B-side (this must be the new trend in recording albums to cassette tape) – and with the songs sort of joined up, listeners could be forgiven for wondering what happened to the second half of the album, unaware that it in fact has sailed right past them. The music is brooding and haunted yet not very absorbing; the vocals tend to be exaggeratedly twangy and drawling and need some real sulphurous fire-and-brimstone passion to capture that full-on prophet-in-the-wilderness apocalyptic quality. There probably should be more thumping hypnotic psychedelic music with the guitars soaring at wild and swerving tangents to create an intense rallying mood in which it should be possible for listeners to fall to the floor shaking uncontrollably, foaming at the mouth, perspiring by the bucket-loads and uttering pathetic little cries that appeal to their dark pitiless god for mercy or delivering warnings of global doom in guttural demon tones.

Decollate: going headless again with the thinking person’s favourite black metal horde

Source: http://clothbodies.blogspot.co.uk/
Source: http://clothbodies.blogspot.co.uk/

L’Acephale, Decollate, Black Horizons, Canada, cassette (2013)

L’Acephale‘s latest release “Decollate” is a short five-track set on cassette that includes two original songs and three covers of songs by Emperor, Darkthrone and Current 93 in that order. For less than 30 minutes in total, Set Sothis Nox La and his merry musicians deliver some of the most militaristic, sabre-rattling, operatic and bombastic music this side of La Scala Theatre in Milan. Plenty of industrial, folk and ambient music elements abound here without the band’s essential black metal style floundering under so many different genres.

First up for the headless horde’s treatment is Emperor’s “Ye Entrancemperium”, a thumping martial folk beast with savage rhythms and riffs, a venomous gabbling vocal and super-bombastic percussion. Multi-layered at various points, the song is complex and murky. L’Acephale’s rendering of the track sticks closely to the original with details in the vocals and percussion being different and the production distorted. Then follows one of two original songs, “Sleep is the Enemy”, a seething sinister beast, laidback yet doomy, lurching into view with subliminal swamp-monster groans and growls and rhythms that slouch from somnambulist soldier march to frenzied blast-beats and chaos, and back again. And again. It’s a simple song to follow though with much of its emphasis on the quietly creepy atmosphere that envelops it.

Flipping over to the B-side, we find Darkthrone’s “As Flittermice as Satans Spy” given a dramatic neo-folk reworking that makes the song supremely sinister and inhuman. Militaristic horns, severe marching percussion, jittery mandolin tones and crabby misanthropic grim vocals render the track an implacable juggernaut experience. My complaint is that it’s not long enough to drive a listener totally deranged. “Passing into Sleep”, the second original track which might be a continuation of “Sleep is the Enemy”, is another quietly malevolent and oppressive piece with samples of droning vocal chant combined with operatic singing, percussion experimentation, guitar drone and piano punctuation. Again the atmosphere is the most important element here, more so than the previous original, allowing L’Acephale the opportunity to experiment with tone, space and texture.

Last up is a Current 93 cover “Allons vior si la Rose” (“Let us go to the Rose”), dressed Burzum-style in folk melodies and a lead guitar playing over a steady repeating rhythm and a basic drum beat. The ambience is a curious mix of not-quite summer folkiness and sinister blackness. The song ends all too quickly after a minimalist delivery and listeners are likely to feel a bit cheated that the cassette ends much too soon.

Thirty minutes for a recording, even if it’s an EP, are just too short and cramped for an ambitious and maximally inclined band like L’Acephale who like throwing everything they know or can reference into a big pot just for one song. The individual tracks go by far too quickly and, though some songs can perhaps sound overdone and overwrought, they all seem to need more development to become mighty huge structures of black metal evil.

One problem with covering other people’s songs and including them with your own work is that the song covered can show up deficiencies in your own song-writing and arrangements. This is true with particular bands whose work you’re covering and which happens to boast complex musical structures and arrangements – like Emperor for example. But I should think SSNL and company would have been well aware of the scale of ambition and ability needed to tackle Emperor’s work and what they needed to do to make their version succeed. The cover is very good indeed but L’Acephale’s own compositions on the cassette pale in comparison as a result.

As always, L’Acephale make no concessions to first-time listeners who have to come prepared with sufficient general knowledge worthy of ten university doctorates to understand the references the band tosses into its music. Fans will find this cassette an essential addition to their collections, as long as they realise it’s not likely to deliver to their high expectations.

Folk Songs for an Obscure Race: freaky combination of noise junk industrial and faux naif folk


Grim, Folk Songs for an Obscure Race, Haang Niap Records, CD HAANG-002 (2009)

A weirdo industrial junk folk record, this is a compilation of releases and compilation tracks made in the 1980s by the Japanese industrial music project Grim. This band was (maybe still is?) the baby of one Jun Konagaya who sometimes had help from a couple of other noiseniks. This album is very much in the style of industrial bands like Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Z’ev, Einsturzende Neubauten and early Whitehouse: lots of bashing metal rhythms, a harsh declamatory pygmy-Hitler vocal, a screechy high-pitched siren drone, crude rhythms and song structures, and a lo-fi punk sensibility.

The recording switches from early noise-junk industrial to serene soundtrack music to harsh brutal power electronics to delicate acoustic-guitar folk ditties and back again: quite a dizzying range of music styles that bleed into one another can be found here. The contrast between severe uncompromising noise electronics, suggestive of torture, deviant sexuality and compulsive psychotic behaviour, on the one hand and an extreme faux naif innocence in the folk music stylings on the other can be very disturbing. I’m rather reluctantly reminded of some Whitehouse late-1990s releases that had tracks by Peter Sotos where he assembled together spoken dialogue recordings by girls and women who had been sexually abused. On several tracks, Konagaya’s vocal is pained and screechy, far beyond what William Bennett and Phillip Best achieved in their band’s heyday; on some of the later tracks, he could pass for Dalek Caan of the Cult of Skaro from Doctor Who.

What separates Konagaya’s music from his noisician compatriots is strong rhythms throughout the industrial pieces; the quieter folk songs have distinct lullaby melodies. The music is not at all free-flowing and the attitude behind it is very different: it’s often confrontational and hostile to the society from which Grim arises. The folk music pieces can be quite comic in their po-faced blank innocence after all the aggression that’s come before them.

All the music is very good if deranged and the tracks near the end of the album, superficially calm and child-like, are perhaps the most disturbing and freaky of all. They have a Grand Guignol air about them in their careful merry-go-round melodies and rhythms, while in the background something like a Nuremberg rally from the late 1930s might be running. Near the end, dreamy psych-folk songs sung by girl singers who might be evangelising for their particular nut-house religious cult that promises highly sanitised retro-1950s white-picket fence suburban domestic bliss salvation add another level of deranged sensibility. There’s an all-instrumental percussion piece that might have been written for a tap-dancing troupe that rounds off the album and at this point, I shudder to think that our friend Jun has been accepted into his local little trendy avant-garde artist colony that survives on government hand-outs and performance art stunts that try but fail to shock little old ladies and families with small children.

Nevertheless this album is a revelation in that there are actually forgotten Japanese acts that could more than hold their own against the likes of Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse, that also didn’t fit into the classic Japanese noise improv mould. What more might there be, that have been overlooked for far too long?

Contact: Haang Niap Records, haangniap@gmail.com