Tagged: post-punk

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 1 of 3

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Last heard from Trophy Wife with their eponymous EP from 2011…here they are now with Stella, My Star (PRIVATE LEISURE INDUSTRIES PLI-5), two songs which show this Tennessee all-girl band now reduced from a quartet to a trio and continuing their themes of haunted suburban angst which they deliver with lo-fi post-punkish guitars and synths and wispy washed-out vocals. Have to admit this is an improvement on the earlier EP which didn’t know where to put itself and wound up like a fakeified Goth-lite mish-mash of ideas, despite some spiky highlights in the playing. Here, the title track is a jumble of words which are hard to decipher, but it’s clear a sinister story is being unfurled and there’s no happy ending to it; matter of fact the song just stops dead abruptly with no formal warnings, leaving the listener a tad stunned. The disquieting tone of the instruments here, and the uncertain chord changes and key of the song, create the correct degree of unsettling paranoia. A dense and opaque nightmare in the daylight. B side ‘Frankie’s Song’ is certainly more limpid, and the dark nursery rhyme of the repeated lyric is incredibly basic, but the payoff to this “tale of childhood love gone wrong” feels as trite as a Hollywood teenage horror flick. I think this band have potential, but they gotta stop striking so many poses that don’t quite fit, and strive to be themselves a bit more. Arrived 10 April 2012.

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Romvelope has a seven-incher Catomountain / Hodmandod (ADAADAT ADA0025). This is the electro-acoustic sound-artist Bjorn Hatleskog, a man with feet planted in both Norway and Scotland, who performs with handmade sound sculptures in what could be deemed a rather eccentric performance setup. He’s built an electric organ that can be played with a remote control, a guitar that strums itself, and an item called the “robotic bongo” which I take to be his personal rustic update on the drum machine, and hopefully a convoluted device that is far more complex and time-consuming than some facile piece of programmable machinery. Hatleskog also generates his own unique form of live electronic sound by processing and amplifying the otherwise inaudible buzz from fluorescent lights. This might be akin to the methods employed by Atsuhiro Ito and his optron, but I’m prepared to be corrected on that. It’s probably no surprise to learn that he’s done it in art galleries around the UK and mainland Europe; this kind of thing just begs to be seen in a confined space. Reading about his quirkoid inventions makes them appear rather brilliant, but as sound art, this record is tame and unadventurous, a dreary series of random clops and buzzes; the endearing “clunky” feel to the recording is the only factor that appeals to me, as though Romvelope were presiding over a workshop of charming wooden toys that are gradually coming to life. However, neither Pierre Bastien nor Bruce Lacey will be losing any sleep. Limited to 200 copies, arrived 8th July 2013.

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MHFS is one of two items we received from the fine Emerald Cocoon label on 30 January 2013. This is Mark Sadgrove, a New Zealander based on Tokyo who is also an atomic physicist. The Grey Lynn Homeless Set (EMERALD COCOON EC006) was originally delivered in response to a commission from the label, who asked Sadgrove to perform a support set for Metal Rouge’s debut live show in 2006. He was too busy working on his thesis on quantum mechanics to attend, and instead turned in the recordings on this seven-incher, requesting that they be played over the PA. Well, I spun this item at home and have at first been massively underwhelmed by MHFS’s baffling outburst of arbitrary, meaningless noises. Now as I wrote this I find I can’t wait to hear it again. It’s short to the point of abruptness, the sounds generated are lazy, dull, and broken, and all the mistakes in the process – Sadgrove uses an incredibly primitive setup which can barely be called “musical” in any sense of the term – are exposed for all to hear, and indeed incorporated into the finished work. Apparently it’s all very deliberate; his selection of recording locations that allow for maximum leakage of environmental sounds onto the tape, his detuned and de-assembled acoustic guitar that has been strung with six low E strings, and a system of recording that is programmed, perhaps using mathematical methods, to deliver the certainty of randomness to a high degree. The other appealing element is that none of the above is “explained” on the recordings, which simply burst on stage and make their brief statements underscoring the absurdity of existence, before vanishing into the nearest wormhole. The A side of this item will be more “shocking” to those who crave form or structure, while the B side may win you over with its bizarrely distant voice elements and its additional textures, which contrast quite sharply with the stark minimalism of the A side. Marginal in extremis, the ultra-simple approach of MHFS calls into question more elaborate forms of sound art, making them appear labour-intensive and wasteful by comparison. This is #4 in the label’s “Alone Together” series.

The Lost Entrance of the Just: soft and pretty black metal pop with an ominous, brooding edge

Official sleeve image from handmadebirds.com
Official sleeve image from handmadebirds.com

Circle of Ouroborus, The Lost Entrance of the Just, Handmade Birds Records, HB-020 (vinyl release 2012, CD release 2013)

Originally released on vinyl in 2012, this was one of two full-length recordings put out that year by the idiosyncratic Finnish black metal / post-rock / shoegazer pop duo. These guys can always be relied on to deliver something, usually a few EPs and one or two albums, each year and 2012 was no exception. Compared with previous recordings of theirs that I’ve heard, this album seems softer and fuzzier, and the lyrics seem less melancholy, even appearing to aspire to hope and positive emotion. The feeling that CoO may have mellowed and adopted a more settled, more accepting and less angry attitude is never far away.

Opening track “Cast in Clay” suggests this new outlook with its softened though slightly ominous clouds of guitar blur through which lazy percussion and Antti Klemi’s vocals emerge and proceed at a loping pace. “Black Hole Womb” might just be a return to the CoO of old with its sharp, arch sound and mood and an extended section with angry spoken word against a backdrop of rising and falling sea-waves. But there’s a jauntiness in the music that suggests a relaxed attitude of going with the flow of the universe, absorbing what it offers or deals out, treating everything as part of one’s journey through life and beyond.

Throughout the album there are a lot of very pretty tunes and even Klemi’s famously individual style of awkward, seemingly off-key singing and occasional shouty declamations doesn’t detract from the warm glow that emanates from the muddied melodies and easy-going drumming. The music serves as a vehicle for the lyrics and to create a highly immersive atmosphere so it tends towards minimalism and loose structure. Melodies and riffs exist in an almost formless way and slower songs like “Mirror Universe” are on the verge of falling apart from drunkenness. The album ends with the only Finnish-language track “Toivosta Syntynyt” (roughly translating as “Hope born” – I hope, I’m only using Google Translate!), a darkly edgy piece with an air of wariness whose meaning and place as closing track must be wondered at.

This is a poppy album with good if not distinct melodies, riffs and rhythms though with a dark and sometimes menacing atmosphere. The music is not one of the band’s best but makes up for the lack of aggression and energy by being a heavy, almost formless and brooding presence. The emphasis on repetition and monotony has a trance-like effect on listeners. This is the kind of recording that grows on listeners over time.

The vinyl issue run is already sold out – CoO fans are nothing if not loyal.

Ordine ’91 – ’96: a varied palette ranging from post-punk / garage to severe minimal abstraction

Starfuckers, Ordine ’91 – ’96, Sometimes Records, CD SR_02 (2010)

Here’s an interesting compilation of songs by Italian band Starfuckers that traces the musicians’ evolution from Stooges / MC5 / Patti Smith -styled post-punk to deconstructed anti-rock minimalism verging on abstraction and musique concrete. According to the information in the accompanying booklet, tracks 1 – 6 come from a mini-album “Brodo di Cagne Strategico” and the bulk of the compilation’s second half comes from a full-length recording “Sinistri”. The remaining three tracks on the collection appear never to have been released previously and include a cover of the old Beatles song “Dear Prudence”.

The songs from the mini-album are out-and-out garage rockers with saxophone lending a funky jazz edge on most tracks. Vocalist Manuele Giannini announces the lyrics in a rather arch, almost distant manner, as if regarding the music with some irony or amusement. Even the Beatles number, when it comes, is treated with some disdain to the extent that it can only be recognised from the sparse beat and the key changes that correspond to the original song’s choruses.  By now the band’s half-rock / half-jazz approach includes a fair number of electronics-based effects and found sound recordings that put these astral followers on a groove parallel to New Zealand’s The Dead C. The other cover “Mechanical Man” sees a slightly more noisy Starfuckers band experimenting with space; at this point they’re sounding a little like The Fall in their heyday.

Tracks 9 to 15 come off the “Sinistri” album and a strange lot they are, more like fragments of other songs that for some reason fell apart and only scraps of them survived the disaster that caused them to disintegrate. Some of these songs got spliced together again but not necessarily in correct order; you can’t even be sure that some tracks are not jumbled bits and pieces of several songs. “251 Infinito” is an eerie piece of disjointed sounds and proto-melody filaments linked by space and more atmosphere than would normally be found in so-called ambient or atmospheric mood music. Another mysterious track is “Mutilati”, a noirish mood piece of urban blues guitar tones, Giannini’s spoken lyrics delivered in a matter-of-fact way as though he were a hard-boiled private eye dispassionately describing a vicious murder in an alley-way, shrill falling-comet effects and sharp snare drum work. The quietest and noisiest track on this part of the album is “Zentropia”: deep and dead silence is punctuated by howls of guitar and percussion effects. At the rate these guys were developing their music, it’s a wonder they didn’t create Onkyo music before the likes of Yoshihide Otomo and Sachiko Matsubara did.

“Ordine pubblico” is a rather odd song to be found on this side of the compilation, nested up against such abstract improv: it must have been intended as singles material and Giannini’s declamations suggest a political sensibility that must surely have been a long-standing motivator for their music. There is still considerable experimentation with rumbles and handclaps in the instrumental parts of the song. Bringing up the rear is “Quattro studi (su un’intervista) I”, about as abstract, unstructured and improvised as a song can be this side of Raster Noton.

It’s a wonder that a band with such a varied palette of music that on paper would jar so much yet when heard makes complete sense has remained little known outside its native Italy. The language barrier and perhaps the band’s lyrical preoccupations about Italian politics and society would have been major barriers to their acceptance in the wider world. (As would also be the usual stereotypes we have about the Mafia pulling the strings in politics.) One would like to think that the band’s style – perhaps a bit ironic but always open-minded and defiantly idiosyncratic – would be the main attraction for potential followers outside Italy. Starfuckers would be an ideal musician’s band for sure.

Contact: Sometimes Records, Starfuckers

Noize 2005: jazz klezmer fusion that’s born to be wild … or mild

KRUZENSHTERN NOIZE 1
Kruzenshtern i parohod, Noize 2005, Auris Media, CD aum033 (2011)

In spite of its title, this is an album of fusion klezmer / jazz / punk metal and the odd eccentric vocal or two. We’re entertained by sprightly light-hearted runaway chase-caper music dominated by a shrill clarinet with smart crisp percussion and a surprisingly deep, lightly fuzzed bass with an occasional hard edge following in the woodwind instrument’s wake. There’ll be rock or metal rhythms (most notably in the third track “Danglers Song”) but the attitude is not very serious and I get the occasional impression that this Israeli quartet is paying affectionate homage in performing light-hearted send-ups of various past heroes and musical inspirations.

Some tracks stand out more than others: “Shmock on the Water” substitutes Middle Eastern folk melodies for the signature Deep Purple riff; “Danglers Song” pokes fun at rock star posturing; “Young Ones” features creative percussion rhythms; and meaty bass lines and hell-for-tefillin-leather / go-for-broke passages of screaming clarinet and thrashy rhythm abound in the guys’ cover of a John Zorn piece “Meholalot”. Altogether though this is an enjoyable and fun set of spirited music for those born to be wild … or mild.

Contact: Auris MediaKruzenshtern i parohod

ELECTRIC ELECTRIC 021

Discipline: an efficient electronic pop machine lacking in soul and originality

ELECTRIC ELECTRIC 021
Electric Electric, Discipline, Herzfeld H26 CD (2012)

French trio Electric Electric plays a highly rhythmic and dance-oriented electronic art-punk style of music inspired in equal parts by post-punk /new wave, techno-industrial, ritual and tribal folk genres. “Discipline” is as the band says it is: relentless and repetitive looping electro-pop tunes atop insistent and quite complex tribal polyrhythms that force you to dance, and dance for as long as the music determines you will! There are some very pleasant little melodies played on what seem at first to be folk-oriented instruments but are actually synthesised approximations of the originals. The tracks run with a regimented order all their own and the overall impression I have is an efficient machine in which everything is well co-ordinated and running smoothly, and it hums producing sounds and noises in preplanned combinations and patterns to order. Several pieces start at medium-fast pace and quickly progress to frantic hither-and-thither as though the musicians were being pursued by sinister android police or hostile warriors of a long-lost tribe. The songs give an impression of disorder yet if you listen closely enough even the apparent chaos has all been programmed in advance.

Most songs are quite enjoyable although after about two or three minutes they become soulless automatons allowed to run riot in their own little ruts. Any singing present is located back in the mix and seems drained of all life. The title track is not too bad but after four minutes of mad dashing about in a labyrinth of narrow street alleys, dead-end bazaars and passages of shut wooden doors in a distant city in the Orient, it settles in a boring groove of ever-more frantic to-ing and fro-ing. The gamelan novelty that is “Exotica Today” is briefly bewitching but the repetition is overdone.

At this point I start feeling that my occasional predilection for the traditional folk musics of faraway lands is being not so much exploited for commercial gain as continuously ground and steamrolled to death by the sheer weight of repetition and lack of subtlety and wit on the musicians’ part. I don’t want to hear constant Keystone Cops chases either; I saw enough of those in the Indiana Jones films. If indeed exotic cultures are on the mind, they’re likely to be those of clubs in tourist-oriented beach strips where Westerners hang out all night long binge-drinking, snorting strange substances and dancing to tired disco music of 30-plus years ago after all-day shopping and surfing. Also having to hear snippets of different styles of folk music from places around the world thrown into an electronic pop meat-grinder with no apparent thought given to what they have in common and completely out of their original cultural context, resulting in something that sounds false and lightweight a lot of the time, tends to bring the red mist down before my eyes and before I know it, I’ve done serious damage to an innocent disc.

Contact: Herzfeld

Music that Folds Itself

Suns and Lovers

Tasty rum fish of the month from November 2011…a double CD it be, by Sun Of Monkey…arrived from Portland Oregon in the USA. Not especially experimental music nor is it trying to be, but Sun Of Monkey (DRAGONBONES RECORDS) is a good set of unusual and quirky songs played and sung with conviction and passion, delivered in a uniquely American homespun version of psychedelic rock, folk, blues, and Allman-Dylan-CSNY styled balladry. My preference is for the raunchy numbers like ‘Green Monkey’ where they come off like a third-division imitation of The 13th Floor Elevators (it’s mostly to do with the slightly demented vocals), but they also perform a version of ‘Ant Man Bee’ which uses the Beefheart lyrics to a tune of their own making. There’s a ten-minute epic workout on the second disc called ‘Eeeee’ which should appeal to fans of The Grateful Dead circa 1972, and ‘Lucia’s Lice’ is a surreal lyric underpinned by surly guitar-grunge fuzz riffing. It’s the singing voices that are mixed upfront though, and there’s a lot of warmth and honesty in the massed crooning throats of this band, even when tackling a dirge-like ballad of melancholy proportions in a minor key setting. They appear to be currently located in San Francisco and the exact personnel is hard to identify, as most of the players go by first names or nicknames only. “We never turned down or missed a gig,” is the proud declaration of the author of the sleeve notes, who stresses the spontaneity and outlaw nature of this band with their “no rules, no set lists, no patience for the norm”. Their drummer Rob Aiman had a hand in the cover artworks, and those in serious need of more product along these lines might care to investigate their triple-CD set from 2009, The Very Best Of The Year Of The Rat.

Mesmeric Revelations

Since they believe strongly in their songs and lyrics, Sun Of Monkey have not tried to cultivate an especially unusual sound, but Dixie’s Death Pool has gone out of its way to do just that. Listeners who seek incredibly artificial, mannered and highly crafted studio song work should bend an ear to The Man With Flowering Hands (DRIP AUDIO DA00762). Mostly the work of Lee Hutzulak, the musician with the vision who works overtime in his Vancouver studio, joined by numerous guest musicians who wander in to contribute instrumental sections as needed. An indescribable musical montage results, a kaleidoscopic melange replete with elements of jazz, ambient, pop music, electronica, loungecore, acoustic folk music, pyschedelic dreamery, and more. Hutzulak has a labour-intensive working method, and this album took many years to complete; a song typically starts life as an improvisation, not a written composition, and he undertakes a lengthy process of adding and subtracting elements as he sees fit. It’s about trying things out through overdubs, layering, remakes, dropouts, and elaborate mixing techniques; clearly the studio is one of his most important compositional tools. That hasn’t stopped him from listing all of his devices inside the cover, and the lengthy column of text indicates he’s a real musical omnivore who veers freely from high-tech recording equipment to conventional keyboard and percussion instruments by way of junkyard debris and detritus. Someday, someone will read these lists with as much interest as they would the shopping lists of James Joyce. The finished record has much to recommend it, even if I find myself admiring the studio craft more than I enjoy the music; where the album starts off suggesting we might be about to enjoy a 21st-century update on 1960s studio pop meisterwerks such as Curt Boettcher’s Sagittarius or The Millennium, The Man With Flowering Hands gets progressively more sinister the more we’re sucked into it. At his best, Hutzulak achieves a thrilling blend of baroque overwrought darkness with sweetened pop melodies, the lyrics usually delivered in his half-whispered sleepytime mumbling vocals, such that we seem to be eavesdropping on the secret thoughts of a near-obsessive mind. His cluttered recordings are like an untidy attic, the private space of a compulsive hoarder. The artworks on the cover are his too; like the music they have this appealing half-finished quality, odd images accumulating where they will on the page, without much apparent logic.

Grizzly Art Bears

Dixie’s Death Pool is a triumph of introversion and self-contemplation, two watchwords which are clearly not to the forefront in the psychological vocabulary of the Californian polymath Moe! Staiano. In December he sent us Relapse In Response (DEPHINE KNORMAL MUSIK DKM12), a new studio CD by Surplus 1980, his latest band which plays a highly energised form of art-rock music informed by punk, post-punk and the sort of complex avant-rock favoured by Chris Cutler’s ReR label in the 1990s. Staiano drums, sings, plays bass and guitar and pushes each song along at a frenetic rate, but it’s pleasing that he keeps time with the rigidity of a stainless steel kitchen unit; no free-jazz, loosely defined time signatures for him, as he effortlessly drums his way through compound triple metres and half-bars. And he’s joined by some topnotch extroverted and half-mad musicians who redefine the meaning of “chops” with their jazz-influenced crazed noodling. The lovely Ava Mendoza plays guitar on almost all the cuts – her solo guitar album Shadow Stories is one of my most treasured items of recent years. There’s Liz Allbee on trumpet, whose bizarre and unsettling solo records for Resipiscent are essential listening for any disaffected soul. Plus there’s members of Staiano’s other bands Mute Socialite and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and a cameo from Andy Moor of The Ex. It’s true that most of these cuts tend to be dominated by bass, drum and guitar, and the relentless percussive drive makes this album an exhausting listen, but Staiano and his crew are explicitly setting out to make their version of a punk rock album, paying homage to some of their favourites from the 1980s such as The Nightingales and Dog Faced Hermans, and they even record covers of songs by Bogshed and Diagram Brothers, two English post-punkers who are personal favourites of mine (and I thought they’d almost been forgotten about). The triumph of Surplus 1980 is to render this spiky punk music with ultra-precise and energetic drumming, entire choruses of singers belting out manic utterances in the requisite shouty manner, and the unusual voicings provided by the woodwinds, brass and violins, instruments which were clearly not meant to be used for playing this sort of music. This latter strategy really pays off on ‘The Mechanics of Mathematical Courtings’, an unbelievable composition where the intense string section attacks you with the force of a thousand Bernard Herrmann film scores, and the fast-paced time signatures just defy all rational possibility. This one shows Staiano at his most Zappaesque, and it’s a tune that would fit right in on Burnt Weeny Sandwich, if only The Mothers of Invention could have played it. This release is also available in a vinyl edition with a bonus seven-inch included.

Round-up of Rotary Rogues


Some fine cassettes pulled out the boxes of late. Dead Girl’s Party is a Scott Foust (Idea Fire Company) side project where he teams up with Matt Krefting, who I think has occasionally played in live IFCO lineups. The Things I’ve Lost (ENTR’ACTE 106) combines droning synths, electronics, radio waves and guitar with vocal wailings, tending to convey a raw sense of desperation and futility on dirges such as ‘The First Pill’ and ‘U-Boat Flu’, or a postpunk-riddled anger on ‘I’m A Tick Tock Bomb’. Their spare sound and interminable repetitions are highly commendable, and at times the tape harks back to Foust’s first band XX Committee from the early 1980s, although Dead Girl’s Party are not quite as suffocatingly intense. Foust would probably disavow it, but I think this 2010 release could appeal to listeners of the so-called “Cold Wave” genre, and with its generally bleak tenor it sometimes feels like a lost record from the United Dairies catalogue.

Swedish electronicist Joachim Nordwall has penetrated zones of deep gloom and anxiety with his grimoire-styled work as one half of the noisy Skull Defekts, but his cassette Ignition (ASH INTERNATIONAL ASH 8.9) contains five rather subdued drone-pieces made from analogue synthesizers, fed through effects and computer processing, and most of them purr along quietly in the layered idiom with tinges of the sinister curling around at their edges. Assembled over four years and in several different international locations, the actual musical content of Ignition may not be large, but your listening pleasure is delivered by the subtle changes in timbre and texture that are gradually enacted. Largely a slow-moving album, although there are passages where sequencer rhythms and patterns are overlaid together to create vaguely hypnotic op-art effects. Using the cassette format appears to have enabled Nordwall to really stretch out into infinite lengths in ways which are not possible on the CD, even. The mysterious track titles, almost like chapters from an existentialist horror story, do not exactly inspire good cheer.

Just mentioned English noisester Hate-Male the other day, and I forgot we had this odd tape from him also. Reversible Tape #1 (EAR EAR RECORDS EER006) is a powerful electro-acoustic experiment built out of voice tapes, guitars and laptop processing, but it’s the voices – echoed, overlaid, multiplied – which form the core of the work, and three friends add their voices to Lawrence Conquest’s to supplement the eerie vox humana wall. In the context of Hate-Male’s other brutal releases, this tape is quite subtle and approachable, and might be a good starting point if you’re tempted to investigate this creator’s world of surreal insanity and sonic violence. The keynote of Reversible Tape #1 is sheer gaping horror rather than violence, and the unsettling Otto Dix cover painting which reminds us all of the fleeting joys of youth and our own approaching mortality, is just the beginning. A truly grisly ghost-train ride in both aural and psychological terms, and the light at the end of the tunnel is a long way away. The tape purports to play the same content both sides; the B side may run backwards, but I can’t verify that.

No less unsettling are the Streams Of Unconscious (NO LABEL) tapes sent to us by the American writer and performance artist Bryan Lewis Saunders. Three volumes I know of so far; the first is Replicate, a collaboration with Hopi Torvald, and Kommissar Hjuler and his wife with Red Bugs. Saunders has been documenting his sleep-talking and dream states for many years, even recording his own sleep-talking on tape. For this series of projects, he sends out the tapes to musicians and sound-artists to refashion them as they will. Torvald creates a suitably ambiguous tapestry of nightmarish ambient music, whose very disjunctiveness does its level best to follow the twists of Saunders’ mind. For this side of the tape, Saunders’ continual mumbling becomes one more element in the mix, and the overall effect will gradually unhinge your mind. Full transcriptions of the sleep-raps are included inside little printed booklets with the releases. The Kommissar Hjuler side is quite different, looping and repeating a single short phrase of the sleep-talking as the basis for an invented song, a dark nursery-rhyme plucked from the deepest recesses of the brain. The endless repetition of ‘objects…supernatural’ will probably send you to the bughouse in short order, but since Hjuler is a Dadaist nutcase of the first water anyway (and I sincerely mean that as a compliment) he is a perfect candidate for a marginal aural experiment of this nature. Also pictured, not yet heard: Volume 2 with Razen and Classwar Karaoke Friends, and Volume 3 with Evil Moisture and Wehwalt. If you’re a fan of the record Dion McGregor Dreams Again, prepare for something so powerfully odd that McGregor will soon seem positively quaint and charming in comparison.

More Richard Rupenus product arrived in September and November, cassette reissues of existing works, both in limited editions of 200 copies. Mixed Band Philanthropist‘s The Impossible Humane (HYPNAGOGIA PN01), mostly recorded 1984-1984 and now remastered by Paul Coates; and Simphonie In A Major (HYPNAGOGIA PN03) by The New Blockaders, a 1989 recording originally issued on vinyl in 1991, now here with new sleeve art. These items have already been covered in previous issues of the magazine, and this is just to let you know the tape versions exist.

The Chica-X (HEWHOCORRUPTSINC) tape is an oddity we’ve had in the box for some time now sent to us by André Foisy of Locrian. The story behind it is explained on the enclosed letter written on a bright pink index card, which I have photographed. Chica-X, just ten years old at time of recording although she’s been doing it since age seven, sings her take on modern electropop and raps her little heart out; the way she intones “To the library…and step on it!” is sheer brilliance. I thought this release might be somewhere in the area of The Shaggs (untutored / naïve expressions of pop music) but of course it isn’t; Chica-X is clearly as well-informed and sophisticated as you’d expect from a 21st-century urban American youngster and probably has more street smarts than the average X-Factor wannabee from Solihull. The main listening interest here derives from her distinctly odd and highly-enthused way of burbling out the words in her thin but feisty voice. If anything, the musical backdrops supplied by her Dad are the boring bits; he may play in an experimental band, but here he’s transformed himself into a cheap karaoke machine. Not sure about availability of this tape, but these five tracks are available as a digital download; and there are YouTube videos of Chica-X too.

The Infiltrators


Another piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the It’s War Boys label has been reissued in the form of Color Him Coma (PD 27) by Gus Coma, in a double CD reissue package from Paradigm Discs. This UK post-punk freakoid label was, for a brief period in the 1980s, the home to some of the most extraordinary de-produced fractured pop-dub music ever produced. It’s virtually impossible to get a handle on its machinations, as all of the releases were put out under pseudonyms, with the band personnel changing false names between records with all the gleeful abandon of a false-faced master of disguise outwitting the Sûreté (although it is known that some of the musicians were also involved with The Homosexuals and Black Noise Records). Plus, a lot of the music only existed on cassettes, and those in small runs; the hand-made LPs, such as Milk From Cheltenham, command high collector’s prices now. Thus, what a blessing to get our hands on this, a comparatively late entry in the It’s War Boys catalogue (£17 in the series, perhaps the very final release?) which on CD1 rescues all 31 tracks from the original 1983 cassette release, and on CD 2 give us the complete Disco Coma suite, a hitherto unreleased compositional monster-werk. The sonic experience on this set is just short of indescribable; mostly very short fragments, many of them about 60 seconds in length, and constituting a jumbled grab-bag of aural delights: the fag-ends of brilliant studio constructions, resulting from the inventive dub-like antics behind the mixing desk that characterises these creators. Sluggish, weird improvisations made on the horn, percussion, or piano. Episodes of absurdist cut-up voices dredged up from the most obscure TV and movie segments that the tape-splicer could find in his musty collections of esoterica. Hideous and unsettling tape-loop compositions fashioned from multiple layers of unknowable source material. It’s all here, on one of the most extreme and subversive art-rock records that Paradigm has ever admitted to its roster, even giving the LAFMS CD I.D. Art #2 a run for its money. You will note I am being rather cagey about which creators hide under the Gus Coma mask, and I have some vague idea who it might be, but to reveal this information simply engages us all in a never-ending chase after a false trail of pseudonyms and misinformation. Aye, these artistes are taking the anti-celebrity stance about as far as it can possibly be taken, and doing so in a brilliantly playful manner. All original cassette artworks are printed in the package, plus a colour spread of what I take to be a more recent collage, shewing movie monsters, cartoon characters, the comic strip antihero Bizarro, and space travel. 27 years have not dimmed the hideous power of this music. If I may I would like to recommend this glorious reissue as an essential purchase.

I see Eli Keszler‘s Oxtirn LP has been reissued on CD by ESP-Disk as ESP 4061, which is a grand thing to do as the 2010 LP apparently sold out in as much time as it takes to say ‘Cream Cheese’ to a bagel counterman on East 86th Street. As I’ve already reviewed the LP in our current issue, may I direct you there for a more in-depth appraisal of this grand-scale work of percussive and metal mayhem, where Keszler is not just improvising his heart out but is effectively “playing” an entire art-gallery sculpture installation piece. Of supreme interest today to us is the fact that the label have also released a deluxe 2-CD edition which includes a live version of the work. The same notated score is used, but the instrumentation is slightly different, as are Keszler’s collaborators, but the lineup includes the players Ashley Paul and Geoff Mullen, who have very apt “skillsets” in this area and are both key to realising this composition. The live version, I’m here to tell you, to a certain degree has more immediacy, weight and grittiness than the studio version, and the alien elements – scraping metal, forlorn horn and woodwind sounds – really shine forth. As others have noted, the electric guitars really add a superb dimension of avant-rock basso-amplification to what is already a heady mix of improvisation, composition and controlled reverberating-metal noise. Issued with spiky screenprint artworks courtesy of Ashley Paul, too. This arrived here 15 June, so here’s hoping copies are still available of the luxury edition.

io o.o.1. beta++ (SLAMCD 531) is the title of a CD I received via the School of Music and Sonic Arts at Queen’s in Belfast, although it’s released on Slam Productions in Oxford and the chief instigator, Han-Earl Park, is based in Los Angeles. The guitarist Park, sometime member of Mathilde 253 whose fine CD impressed us in March this year, is joined by two improvising saxophonists, Bruce Coates (from the Birmingham Improviser’s Orchestra) and Franziska Schroeder (member of the trio FAINT), and the record documents the meeting of this trio with the “machine musician” io o.o.1. beta++. This device is an automaton, a musical robot if you will, built by Mr Park; it’s not just another computer programme that plays random sounds or builds an “interactive” space for other laptop musicians, but actually occupies physical space and performs on the stage alongside its human counterparts. Shades of Pierre Bastien…it might have been nice to scope some photos of this mechanical man at work, but there are none provided with the release. The multi-media artist Sara Roberts from California writes the liner notes and she does a much better job than I possibly could in articulating the cultural resonances of this man-meets-automaton event.

Food Pyramid‘s New Omni Directional Healing Techniques (DBL 057) is just one of many releases we received from Debacle Records in May and June. Food Pyramid are a trio from Minneapolis who have had three cassettes out on Moon Glyph, and they play a brand of suffused pulsating electronic ambient music which sometimes isn’t too far away from what I suppose you would hear on a relaxation tape or some other therapeutic aid. Perhaps the title of the album references this impression, in a knowing way. Not unpleasant combinations of several synth voices and computer drum patterns emanate from these three Americans, and almost all these lull-worthy instrumentals are played in a major key with simple one-hand keyboard inventions sprinkled on top. The fifth track ‘Shambhala’ shows some evidence that the trio are capable of breaking into a sweat, with live drumming freaking out behind a wash of vaguely jumbled electronic drone explosions; and ‘Manufracture’ does a convincing take on the Kraftwerk thing in its production of background film music for a monorail ride. The remainder is like a more saccharine pop-art version of Cluster.

The team of Ian Holloway and Banks Bailey from Swansea have impressed us before with their studied and focused approach to the production of pastoral drone-music allied with gentle field recordings of the countryside. A Slow Feather Falls (QUIET WORLDS SIXTEEN) is a 32-minute work situated in that same area, leading the listener gently through an endless landscape of glorious beauty – birdsong, river, insects. Throughout, a restrained keyboard organ maintains a steady drone, sometimes mixing the chords to suggest varied reactions and moods to the situation. While mostly dwelling in optimistic and sunny modes, the drone can also suggest slight concern and troubling emotions, and the fragility of the natural environment is thereby highlighted in a more articulated and genuine way than could be expressed by a thousand and one pamphlets written by some earnest ecologist or Green Party member. Meanwhile the stark cover image, taken at the seaside, likewise hints at nature’s darker side, and leaves us wondering what agents caused the death of this seagull whose buried wing juts out at an angle to the horizon. A forlorn image, and a moving piece of music/sound art. Released in May 2011.

What do we need to know?


Five items from the Polish record label MonotypeRec., which arrived on 12 October 2010 in the TSP wicker basket. Three examples of art music, and two examples of post-rock modernism on their new sub-label, Cat Sun.

Brasil And The Gallowbrothers Band have I think come our way before with their 2004 CD for Last Visible Dog, but failed to dent my cranial listening buds with much that was memorable outside of an unusual instrumental line-up. In The Rain, In The Noise (CAT SUN CAT4) isn’t about to convert me into their number one fan, but I note the instrumentation has now slimmed down considerably and makes good combinatory use of acoustic guitars and flutes with the electronic elements, which include a Yamaha CS5 and samplers. Pale and washed-out vistas of slow and penetrating dismality are occasionally punctuated by pallid vocals from the dessicated throat of a wasted, strung-out murmuring man. At 20 minutes, the opening track (vague reminisces about a sojourn at a holiday camp, recalled through the aural equivalent of faded snapshots) is rather listless and inconclusive; only on the last cut do the sleepwalking band start to rouse themselves slightly. Apparently these five pieces were all improvised and taken from live concerts, and are said to be quite uncharacteristic of their studio recordings. Band member Tomek Mirt also did the pen and ink drawings on the cover.

Intervals (MONO32) is a team-up between Z’EV and Jason Kahn, both renowned for their innovative and ornery drumming and percussive work (although of course they do many other things as well). Two long pieces here recorded in Lausanne and Zürich in 2009, to which Kahn also lends his analogue synth. Kahn owns himself to be delighted to be playing alongside one of his heroes (Salt Of Heavy Metals was one of his favourite spins in the 1980s) and the two corresponded a few times before meeting up. Both performances come across as rather subdued and sluggish overall, but the production of unusual sounds is nothing short of uncanny; the second cut in particular conveys the feeling of being locked inside an oil drum that is slowly sinking to a depth of 60 fathoms.

The Neurobot record feels like a highly interesting proposition and I intend to spend more time unravelling its taciturn grooves. The trio of young men that produced Pȩtla Bohumína (MONO 030) may come out of the shadows equipped with the usual digital set-up of laptops, synth, computers and effects, but they also shroud themselves behind odd identities, namely Dr Kudlatz, Wolfram, and – my personal favourite – Facial Index. A turntablist, DJ Zmarszcki, joins them for the title track at end of CD. Spin the disc, and umpteen layers of fizzing incident start to fly in the air like so many strands of sweet honey, with gently pulsing loop structures and samples thrown in to a low-key mix that makes no logical sense at all. Inside, a sleeve note that alludes to urban desolation and the state between dreaming and waking, and various other mental conditions that have allowed these zoony Poles to create this open-ended mind-massage. Largely free from clichéd and over-familiar sounds, the record may not be a totally innovative contribution to the ever-expanding sub-genres of electronica, but at their best these three feel like they’re sorcerers weaving an obsessive spell rather than make a record. Love the cover image too; a knight’s helmet with a moustache built into the visor. Why?

In contrast to what we’ve heard so far, Michael Vorfeld‘s Flugangst (MONO031) is an extremely minimal utterance; seven pieces from 2007 recorded in Germany using percussion and stringed instruments alone. Slowly and patiently, this Berlin-based musician and visual artist attempts to populate the room with a variety of scrapes, thunks, and resonating creaks. Punctuated with quite a lot of silent or near-silent stretches, this is very testing work and is delivered in a rather solemn, serious tone.

Lastly, we have Dutch band Mekanik Kommando, described by the label as a “New Wave” combo (their roots lie in the 1980s) who have previously dabbled in electro-pop for their previous releases and now turn to making a sort of acoustic folk record with tinges of psychedelia, studio effects, and foreign noises. Sadly on Shadow of a Rose (CAT SUN CAT6) I find their song-writing skills are undistinguished, and some of these dippy quasi-pop tunes win the laurel wreath for sheer banality. But I like the spartan instrumental backings produced by these four, even if their mannered singing voices are a bit of an acquired taste – they manage to sound bored and strained at the same time. If inclined, you could seek out a copy of the special edition which arrives packed in a wooden box with a badge and a t-shirt.

To You, With ReGard


To my astonishment, I recently managed to pick up a copy of To You, With ReGard (CHANT RECORDS EJSP 9692) by Sudden Sway, one of my favourite UK bands to ever have been labeled within the post-punk pigeonhole. This is a four-track 12” single released in 1981 on the Chant label; not easy to find in any shape. It could be their second release (one single a year – they weren’t exactly very prolific!) after the 1980 single Jane’s Third Party, which I also happen to own. I’m still looking for Traffic Tax Scheme. But from what I can hear Sudden Sway have already evolved into their recognisable signature sound. What we got is a very spartan assemblage of guitars, bass and drums, with the percussion sounding like an amplified form of woodblocks, or maybe just hitting a tabletop; completely lacking in any sort of flourish or showing off. The guitar has some near-psychedelic effects added on, but these too are basic and austere. Then there’s the singing voice. It’s always hard to know where to put yourself with a Sudden Sway record, but it’s the singing in particular that adds multiple layers of second-guessing, irony, and doublethink. Is he being sarcastic, or genuinely bored and agonised? The subject matter of the disjunctive lyrics is also pretty hard to penetrate, although we seem to have vague and very disenchanted references to urban life, young people, and dancing. It’s as though Sudden Sway had gone to tremendous lengths to create a pop record, then carefully distanced themselves from every conceivable cliché and pitfall involved in the process, just in case anyone was in danger of thinking they were too “obvious”. Don’t forget though this was around a time when numerous UK bands were enjoying chart success with what was then regarded as quite sophisticated pop music (Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode, et al), and heartily endorsed for their efforts by intellectual writers in the pages of the NME. I personally find Sudden Sway’s convoluted and stilted methods quite fascinating, but I can see how a lot of listeners (if they got anywhere near this band) would have been puzzled at best, infuriated at worst.

Besides the cryptic and elliptical lyrics, we have an 8pp 45 photocopy booklet inside the record, which miraculously survived. I’m showing the covers and centre spread in my photos here. The covers appear to be a cross between a circuit diagram and an imaginary tube map, with witty variant station names like ‘Morden Likely’ and ‘Lester There’. The spread is a handwritten concrete poem producing a spiral shape, and the rest of the booklet is filled with indecipherable and bizarre cut-up typewritten texts. Plus we have the perplexing front cover art, which reads like a diagrammatic version of a Jade Warrior album.

As you can see I remain silent on the matter of personnel and credits, mainly because they aren’t printed on the cover and also because over time it’s proven very difficult to nail down the membership of this band, who whether by accident or design tried to adopt a low-profile and mysterious persona throughout their career, possibly as a subversive gesture of some sort. They even (especially?) carried on with this strategy when they signed to a subsidiary of a major label. They weren’t quite as successful with this as The Residents, but I suppose it’s all about getting us to concentrate on the music rather than the personalities of the creators. However, it so happens that inserted in the copy I bought is a photocopy of an article from the music press of the day. It’s an interview with Sudden Sway conducted by Dave McCullough, probably taken from Sounds, and a published review of this same record. I’m immensely grateful to the previous careful owner of this record who preserved this snippet. In the interests of supplying secondary source information to the few Sudden Sway scholars who may be out there, I am providing a scan of this material in PDF format. Happy reading, pretty people!