Tagged: rock music

Absolution: good heavy doom sludge / melodic rock fusion debut needs a few tweaks

Khemmis, Absolution, United States, 20 Buck Spin, SPIN075 (2015)

The debut album from Denver band Khemmis (cool name!), which the guys released in 2015 on trusty doom label 20 Buck Spin, “Absolution” isn’t quite my cup of coffee for various reasons so I’ll try to be brief. Khemmis deal in a style of heavy gritty doom sludge mixed with classic melodic rock riffs and tunes: plenty of lead guitar soloing is to be found throughout the album. Song lyrics have an apocalyptic edge to them and there are visions of an unyielding God enforcing His pitiless law on imperfect humans.

First track “Torn Asunder” is a lively and energetic song with jagged riffing and crunchy fuzz-guitar tones. From then on, the songs settle into a slower pace and it’s from this point on that I must admit the album has lost me. I’m not sure why every time I try listening to “Absolution”, my enthusiasm starts to flag. I have to say the clean vocals, wherever they appear, seem very out of place in music that’s heavy and grinding with riffs the size and weight of tombstones. At the same time, the more gruff and raspy voices, acting as counterpoint to the clean choirboy singing, are shouty and come off as pretentiously macho in a way not intended by the band. Sorry guys but that’s how the singing, whether clean or harsh, comes across. There’s a one-dimensional quality to both sets of vocals and it seems that the singing tries too hard to compete with the music and needs to concentrate more on bringing the emotion and the vision out of the lyrics to listeners.

Apart from the gripes that I have regarding the vocals, the music hits a sweet spot between deep grinding concrete doom sludge miasma and a more melodic and commercially accessible hard rock style. Khemmis need to take care not to fill every moment of the album with epic melodic doom sludge bombast. Some quiet passages of ambience or acoustic guitar music would help vary the music and maintain listener attention and interest. I’d suggest that the band should concentrate either on the clean heroic vocal style or the shouting rasp, or another style entirely – a deeper clean baritone might suit – and also look at playing more all-instrumental tracks with plenty of jamming and improvisation.

As it is, the album showcases a band with good technical skills and songwriting ability in abundance. I see no reason why Khemmis shouldn’t go far with a few tweaks to their brand of doom sludge / melodic rock fusion for a more individual and distinct style.

Meaning Over

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Terminal Lovers
Flight Out
USA BIOLOGICAL RECORDS BR-06 CD (2015)

Very welcome return of Terminal Lovers, whose LP As Eyes Burn Clean (for Public Guilt records) we noted in 2009; the “good old days”, since we used to love receiving eccentric noise and rock music from the label Public Guilt, but they seem to have run out of steam in 2011. Terminal Lovers are from Cleveland, and are led by the very active Dave Cintron, a guitarist and singer who has been a member of our other favourite Cleveland band Scarcity Of Tanks, whose back catalogue we recommend heartily. Cintron has also toured with “the” Cleveland band of all time, Pere Ubu, in 2013. He’s joined here by some very talented sidemen recruited from members of Keelhaul, Inmates, Blind Spring, Boulder, Destructor, Midnight, Darvocets, and Cider. If you find the “mathrock” (whatever became of that genre?) of bands like Keelhaul too exhausting, you’ll probably get on better with Terminal Lovers – they’re full of energy and verve, but not overloaded to the point of insanity. While we can detect elements of Nirvana-like grunge in their amplified guitars, there’s also some incredible delicacy in the harmonised vocals and the singing, which I can only recommend to fans of psychedelic music; this is a credible update on powerful psych records by Mad River, Kak, SRC, or even 13th Floor Elevators. Terminal Lovers have the drive to push things into the far-out realms when called upon, but ‘The Lamp’ (co-written with Depew) is a gorgeous doomed melodic hymn of incense and faded splendour worthy of Ultimate Spinach. The band also do the “meandering jam of lostness into the cosmos” thing quite well on ‘Meaning Over’, where we are pulled towards dark matter and black holes for some 9 minutes of spacey grooviness. Most of the album though is hard-rocking material full of twists, alienation, and eerie menace. Excellent. From 23 June 2015.

Non-Pedestrian Beat

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Entertaining and slightly demented split LP (OG2014) from the Old Gold label. Ben Lawless’s side is Friday Night 4 Lyfe, and it’s a dazzingly professional piece of sub-Zappa 1970s melodic funk-rock playing that he can be proud of, all the more so as it was produced solo using a four-track recorder. The work began life as demo tracks for one of his many other bands, the four-piece Heavy Medical Hardware; they never played them, but it seems he worked on them for years afterwards, adding tracks and overdubs and little twists. The Edgar Winter Group and Steely Dan are namechecked as possible reference points to help steer you through this remorseless slab of tightly-produced fusion. The press describe it as “an endless legion of zombie big band party breaks”. Impressive and entertaining for sure, though Lawless could do with some lessons in how to give his melodies extra punch and meaning; he’s not as skilled at song-form craft as he is behind the faders and knobs, and his work evaporates quickly through lack of form and meaning. Even so, it’s a tasty firework display while the Catherine Wheel spins. Atlanta-based Ben Lawless is also associated with King Congregation, Forever, The Bon Vivants, The Bad Poet, Yximalloo, and Prefuse 73.

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While Lawless dreams of producing a cross between The Grand Wazoo and Jasmine Nightdreams (perhaps with guest guitar work from Larry Coryell), on the B side is Squinchy, a New Yorker who dreams of playing in a beat combo during that brief sweet spot after 1959 and before the first Beach Boys LP. He plays in Autobody, Dymaxion and Fly Ashtray. His Assorted Nuts is a set of songs and instrumentals, much more down-to-earth in the production, and with slightly more memorable melodies than the flashy Lawless side. At any rate, almost every song title refers either to nuts or to assholes, suggesting that Squinchy affects a worm’s eye view of the human race, shrugging to himself that the whole world’s gone crazy. He’s a strong guitarist and has a facility with overdubbing that a lot of musicians would envy, and each production has a no-nonsense, no-frills sound which the label would liken to 1960s surf records or describe with the catch-all term “lo-fi”, but there’s something unaffected about his delivery that refuses any “kitschy” associations, unlike the way that say Stereolab copied tics and mannerisms from all manner of recorded sources and played everything in such a way that they wanted you to know how clever they were being. This LP isn’t about to cause any revolutions in ideas, theory or practice, but it’s hugely enjoyable. From October 2014.

Kofuku: don’t resist the clutch of this depressive sludge doom psychedelia fusion pop / rock debut

Low Flying Hawks, Kofuku, Magnetic Eye Records, CD MER040 (2016)

An interesting new presence coming over the horizon of sludge doom metal is this predatory bunch who call themselves Low Flying Hawks, dropping by to drop off their debut album “Kofuku” into my quivering paws. (Well actually the CD was dropped off via plane and post all the way from Aquarius Records in San Francisco but that’s probably not such an intriguing little tale.) The band is led by two mysterious guitarists who rejoice in the initials AAL and EHA, and who have enlisted the services of Melvins members Dale Crover and Trevor Dunn on percussion and bass respectively, and producer Toshi Kasai who also helps out on guitars, vocals and effects. So what we have here is a veritable super-group guitar army skimming through the skies like a portent of aerial bombardment destruction with their particular brand of sludge doom …

… or doom sludge rather, since the music is as deeply lugubrious as any could be if stuck in a pit 25 kilometres deep down in the earth with no hope of escape or of ever seeing the sunlight again. “Now, Apocalypse” leads off with a pained and lumbering groaner of a track in which drums mooch along in a brain fug and guitars blare and complain. The vocals are smothered in wash-out reverb and astonishingly combine shoegazer croon and a deeper, slightly more sinister rumble. The next track “Seafloor Fathoms” is not that much faster or more energetic; it is crankier in parts but there are also moments where calm reigns and something of the inner pain of the protagonist singer becomes plain.

For most of the album the pace rarely rises from knuckle-dragging slow and the mood is depressed throughout but the music’s meandering through wailing doom bass drone, hippie psychedelia, hard-edged concrete-slab sludge and stoner attitude, all shot through with a pop sensibility and an atmosphere that’s half-hell, half-trance washout, and all enveloping to boot, is what makes this album distinctive. Music and sounds from the last 50 years, starting with psychedelic pop and rock in the late 1960s, parade through “Kofuku” in various combinations that bleed into one another and form a solid wall of sound for over 50 minutes.

The songs aren’t greatly different from one another in pace and mood and the singing probably could do more than flail about in a soup of blurry echo. I can make out groans and cries of pain but not much else. The lyrics are difficult to make out unless you turn the sound knob up high enough that distortion occurs. Unexpected humour is present in little interlude tracks like “Ruins” or the introductory title track where there is spoken-word found sound that, in the context of the album and its cover art, might be poking fun at the music’s intent. The cover and inner sleeve art itself is a thing of sinister and dark beauty though it could lead some listeners to expect a lot more of the recording than it actually delivers.

This is a well-made album generally with varied music and a distinct stoned-out trance ambience. “Kofuku” might grow on me with a few more spins, and may well do the same for you if you’re inclined towards fusion depressive doom psychedelia. When these raptors come for you, don’t resist the clutch of their talons!

Desert Suns: stoner doom band’s time has arrived with reissue of debut album

Desert Suns

Desert Suns, self-titled, Ripple Music / HeviSike Records (2016)

Hailing from San Diego is a new four-piece stoner doom band Desert Suns whose self-titled debut album was first released independently in 2014 and then re-released in January 2016 on LP/CD by Ripple Music in North America and in a limited LP edition by HeviSike Records in the UK. These dudes are serious acolytes of Black Sabbath whose influence runs right through the album and is balanced with a good mix of psychedelia, sludge metal, stoner blues and some gritty desert Americana.

Intro track “Burning Temples” was originally released as a single and it’s a very strong opener with deep crunchy steel riffs, the moodiest of moody bass lines, and plenty of variety in pace, melody and riffing to please the most particular Sabbath worshipper. The sound is clear enough that stark atmospheres are revealed when the music dies down a little and goes into a reflective, pensive mode; but there’s enough acid grit that the music is also very tough. “Burning Temples” is an excellent introduction to the band but, wait, there’s a lot more here – hard on the first track’s heels is “Space Pussy”, a very Sabbath-like piece of doom psychedelia with lead vocals in-between Ozzy Osbourne and Anthony Kiedis (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) and plenty of shrill lead guitar derring-do over thick slabs of bassy miasmic rifferama. “Passing Through” possibly tips its hat to former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant in the high-pitched singing but what really catches my attention is the driving music, the low resonant guitar drones and those bristling bass riffs. I’m not sure though whether Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin ever did anything quite like “Ten Feet Down”, a desert blues number with Southern Goth feel and subject matter: this is a very minimal track whose stark lyrics on death and its aftermath have much depth and reveal more than they actually say.

The last couple of songs are a return to hard rocking blues and doom metal, and while not nearly as great as the others, they still hold up very well. The last song especially is a good atmospheric mood piece. The album seems to end on something of a cliffhanger which might leave a few people scratching their heads in puzzlement.

Most songs on this album are potential best-selling singles with incredible hooks, some of the heaviest, crunchiest riffs, flowing music and lyrics of alienation, isolation and perhaps longing for connection. The musicians are a fairly tight unit (though not so tight that the music ends up stiff) and have an ear for good catchy tunes. While there’s plenty of lead guitar soloing, the guys could afford to go hell-4-leather broke on extended improvised jams on some tracks (especially the more psychedelic ones) – a slightly deranged air in some songs might actually help them. Otherwise there is plenty of variety in the music and the singing, with at least four songs drawing influences from different genres. Versatility will be a trademark and a source of inspiration and creativity. It’s inevitable that some people will complain that the band has no definite “style”, as though all its songs have to sound much the same, but that will be a small price to pay.

The only surprise about this album is that it didn’t gain more attention than it did when first released. This is definitely a record whose time has come. Let’s hope that the arrangement to reissue the album on two labels in two continents generates the interest it deserves.

Melting Maitreya

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Nice to receive a double-CD album The Night Before (PATAPHYSIQUE RECORDS DD-012 / CAPTAIN TRIP RECORDS CTCD-686) of heavy Japanese psych-rock, a genre I’ve been addicted to ever since the Tokyo Flashback sampler discs started appearing from P.S.F. Records in the early 1990s, and caused maximum distress to thousands with their high-end mastering…Majutsu No Niwa may not be first-division major stars in the league of High-Rise, Mainliner or Musica Transonic when it comes to radical reinventions of heavy Stooges-influenced psychedelic music, but lead guitarist and singer Fukuoka Rinji is not a man to be dismissed lightly. While we’ve recently heard a fair bit from his melancholy introverted side in the form of astringent acoustic duets with Michel Henritzi, he’s out-there and all-rocking on these two sprawlers of 2014 recordings, one studio CD and one live DVD, and the music’s more of apiece with one of his other many projects Overhang Party (who appeared on Tokyo Flashback Vols 2 and 3).

The studio set is packed mostly with straightahead rockers, as if they were extended jams by Mick Ronson and The Spiders from Mars playing a highly melodic hard-edged clutch of old-fashioned ballads and stormers while Bowie wasn’t looking. The wall of guitars (more like a barrier of solid fuzz) just won’t quit, the solos squeal like live eels as they pass unwillingly through the wah-wah pedal, and the vocals are haunted by the triple ghosts of Bowie, Bolan and Ferry (and any other glam star from the 1970s you’d care to name, with the possible exception of Brian Connolly). One track here (‘Tropics, Ionized Jungle, Peeping Auroras’) stands out as being “cosmic and abstract” with its distorted feeding axes brooding in a dark way that Ghost would have liked to glom onto their early albums, but the long title track which closes the album is also more experimental than the rest of the glammy stuff, meandering through a thick swamp under a full moon, wallowing in its own disjointed and forlorn noises. Their version of Iggy’s ‘Search & Destroy’ is also, erm, interesting…the cover art is ambitious, but while its vision of cosmic lights like the Aurora Borealis may work as a wall-size art installation, it loses something being shrunk to CD size and comes over a bit murky. A joint release between Fukuoka’s own Pataphysique Records label and Captain Trip Records, the latter run by Ken Matsutani of Marble Sheep. Arrived 5th May 2015.

Species of One: crackling with energy and a raw primitive and crazed sound

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Vrag, Species of One, Germany, Schattenkult Produktionen, CD SKP069 / ROPE 005 (2015)

If the music industry had awards for sheer determination and persistence, Australian BM band Vrag would certainly qualify for one; this band in its various forms, revolving around guitarist / vocalist Vrag Moj, has existed since the late 1990s. Vrag was originally based in Sydney, recording several demos, compilations and its first album “Black Plague of Extinction” there, but in the last few years Vrag Moj relocated to Hobart in Tasmania and established Vrag anew. “Species of One” is the band’s second album and its first for a label (Schattenkult Produktionen).

This is a work on the attack, always on the alert, crackling with energy and fuelled by a scornful attitude towards Homo sapiens and the great havoc humans have brought to planet Earth. The disdain for organised religion, the contempt for sheeple always following the herd without thought for the consequences, alienation, madness and defying conformity and being free among other things are all grist for Vrag Moj’s mill, expressed in succinct lyrics he either sings or spits out with filthy slavering relish bordering on the deranged. Songs are short, streamlined and punchy, and dominated by the singing. That’s not saying the music merely serves as a backdrop: most songs have riffs, melodies and strong rhythms that define them, making them potential singles material, and a definite groove is present on tracks like “Ahasver” and “Vagrant in the Astral Plane”. Although the production on the album might be basic, it is clear enough that very discreet ambient effects can be picked up, as on “Ahasver” where tiny licks of synth tone give a cold feel to proceedings.

The music might be best described as a mix of black metal (the dominant style) and elements from death, doom, grind and melodic hard rock. Earlier tracks showcase Vrag as a straightforward old school BM band, trampling on the things that humans have done which make them undeserving of inheriting the Earth, while later songs from “Madman” on seem much more personal and have more complex music and mood, along with a definite rock’n’roll feel.

Even though the songs are short and straightforward in musical delivery, there are little surprises for those who listen to them very carefully. I think some of the middle songs like “Madman” and “Vagrant …” could be a little longer than they are: when some songs have so much vitality and electricity in them, anything less than three minutes feels like a decapitation! One big surprise is the completely space ambient “Interlude” – it seems a shame that it’s less than a minute long and is an unassuming piece.

I’m in two minds about the quality of sound and production: the songs might have benefited from a better production with a deeper bass sound. On the other hand, this might rob the music of some of its raw, primitive BM quality. There is a ragged, desperate quality that is worth preserving and better sound and production might make the music seem too polished.

Moving to Tasmania and regrouping with a new set of musicians have definitely given the Vrag project a new energy and positive outlook. The music now has a distinct tough flavour while staying raw, primitive and crazed.

Boogie Transformation

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Most excellent album in the form of While The Recording Engineer Sleeps (STAUBGOLD 138) by The Cocoon, a 1985 recording reissued with aplomb by the lovely Staubgold label…this one-time studio affair was a team-up starring the great jazzman Gunter Hampel leading the assault and carrying the master plan in his pouch, aided by various German underground art-rock geniuses of the 1980s and 1990s…namely Jurgen Gleue, a guitarist and bassist who achieved notoriety as captain of 39 Clocks – a latterday-psychedelic garage band who released several intriguing albums in the early 1980s – and later as The Phantom Payn in the 1990s. Guitarist and keyboard player Matthias Arfmann, who played in 1980s indie combo Kastrierte Philosophen, but is also famed as a producer. Plus the drummer Rüdiger Klose, who’s played in most of the other bands named above… main man Gunter Hampel was the real “veteran” of the group and probably familiar to many through his free jazz work since the 1970s, with numerous releases on the Birth Records label and collaborations with Cecil Taylor, Marion Brown, and The New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra with Don Cherry.

This improbably wonderful band recorded their work at Studio Harderberg in Osnabrück, apparently while the engineer was fast asleep – perhaps meaning that they did it during studio down-time. Unless he fell asleep on the job in studio. But it would be hard to imagine that scenario while hearing this semi-insane and lively racket, a free-wheeling melange of jazz, blues, and queasy underground rock with added vocals. Fans of Embryo, the Munich jazz-rock collective founded by Christian Burchard and Edgar Hofmann, are advised to check in – I say this mainly for the way that Gunter’s sparkling vibraharp work dominates many of the instrumental passages, but The Cocoon are a unique proposition of their own, with their relentless rhythms half-rocking and half-swinging their way across bizarre LSD-tinged productions with spooky studio echo and multi-overdubbed excess…another strong point is the eerie vocalising, mostly emanating like dusty spirits from the mouths of Gleue and Hampel, both men projecting a curious range of emotions and forcing out mannered mumbly vocals as if half-asleep, stoned, drunk, or tripping…plus there’s the solid & heavy rhythm section, thrashing relentlessly away with all the ham-fisted Germanic passion and lack of subtlety that’s both enriched and bedevilled most Krautrock and German Progressive LPs throughout the 1970s.

All the above elements and genres conspire to make The Cocoon’s sole album a dark melting pot of hippy dreams and free music ideals…said dreams are not tarnished nor frayed with age, and instead they come back to a new life (a slightly dark, semi-Satanic form of life) in the crucible of The Cocoon’s cauldron. Powerful alchemical forces unleash the best elements of jazz and rock’s history, making good on the promises of freedom we’ve long heard whispered. Net result…unclassifiable, immensely enjoyable, near-riotous fun and haunted by many undercurrents of sheer oddness, this album is a true curio whose reissue is more than welcome. Purchase forthwith, and then check out the work of these other righteously heavy German indie bands, starting with 39 Clocks, assuming you can find their records. From 30th April 2015, a vinyl pressing also available…

Maniya Velichiya: first Soviet heavy metal album is a shotgun marriage with no clear identity

Ariya Maniya Velichiya

Ariya, Maniya Velichiya, independently released in 1985

At long last I found a hitherto long-forgotten and ancient Judas Priest album where instead of Rob Halford screeching his lungs inside-out and back again, Freddie Mercury is the one warbling songs about war, future dystopian scenarios and riding his Harley off into the sunset after a hard day’s setting the asphalt ablaze. Well, no, not really, but this recording, apparently the first true heavy metal album made by a band in the Soviet Union, sure as heck sounds like it! Go on, hear it for yourself – it’s at this Youtube link – and tell me if I’m hearing things!

Actually this album, the first by Russian band Ariya (more usually spelt Aria in English, I know, but I’m transliterating literally from the Cyrillic spelling) is not bad at all: sure, the influences from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden among others, especially in the singing, are very obvious but the songs are well written and played, and at times the music even surpasses the originals in style, subject matter and inspiration! Most songs have distinct toe-tapping melodies and lead guitar solos that rip up the fretboard and nearly set it on fire. As the album continues, there are inevitable moments where it falls into poodle-rock territory and the arrival of synthesiser on some tracks does put the fear of schmaltz polish into a self-respecting metal-head’s soul, but apart from one song in the middle, most tracks are not long and the musicians tend to keep everything fairly restrained. By the time the last couple of tracks are on the horizon, the early fire has long since settled into warm-hearth mode and only occasional sparks of lead guitar riffing give any indication of what these guys are capable of.

For what is basically a home recording – the band members recorded this album in their own studio/s, and one must bear in mind the political / social context in which Ariya were writing, recording and performing where Western cultural influences were at best frowned upon and discouraged by government authorities – the production is not bad though it’s basic. Indeed the lack of polish adds a much-needed tough quality to the songs, especially those songs coming later in the album that aspire to the operatic (the title track) and the overblown (“Mechty”).

It’s a bit of a shame that at the time the band did not have a very clear musical identity of its own: the guys slip from Judas Priest through Iron Maiden and the Scorpions and back again, and sometimes I even hear 1980s Queen. I have heard one other recording from Ariya and it seems telling that, like this debut, it starts with a track most like Judas Priest and then goes into something more like generic melodic hard rock with no clear identity. According to the band’s entry at Encyclopedia Metallum, it is still a going entity though like Priest and Maiden it has suffered from revolving-door personnel crises and the current line-up features only one original member (guitarist Vladimir Kholstinin) of the line-up that recorded “Maniya Velichiya”.

The Daily Dozen

The Ruminator (NO LABEL) is mostly a solo work by Steve Schmitt, taking a break from his Seattle “surf noir” band Diminished Men; he knowingly imitates great surf records from the past and twists a little black scuba knife into the heart of each tune. Crisp sound booming out of his beach-side studio, but the tunes lack a strong melodic structure. The overall production is amateurish, but at least it beams in loud and clear. Hang five out of a possible hang ten.

My Tiger Side is the solo work of Remi Saboul, who thoughtfully provides a detailed catalogue of all the guitars he plays on 1 (WLD CD 01 / ALTER SONIC ASR 08) so that we might better appreciate their tone colours, perhaps. Considering he has a tiger’s head and is friends with a chimpanzee, I was hoping for more feral music to leap fully-clawed from his wild amps, but he mostly plays wistful, melancholic non-tunes and slow drones.

Some strangely affecting moments on Chvad SB’s Crickets Were The Compass (SILBER RECORDS NO NUMBER). This American experimental droner has been active for over 20 years with his band and solo work. Here he works against the trend towards “lushness” in ambient electronica, and his empty-stage pulsations and eerie bleak tones hint at inner darkness and desolation, like three heavy-hearted bats sighing at twilight. Unsurprising that he gets film score commissions; instant atmosphere is his bag.

Crackling Spanish free jazz on Sputnik Trio (RAW TONK RECORDS RT006), recorded in one day in Madrid by the team of Ricardo Tejero, Marco Serrato, and Borjia Díaz. It might help that the rhythm section have other jobs playing in metal and noise-punk bands, but in fact if you read the collective CV of this combo, it seems there’s no genre or style of music at which they haven’t tilted their lances. Tenorman Tejero is also a composer, conductor, and music teacher, if you please. Some of the track titles lend weight to the “outer space” theme, which might stir Sun Ra Arkestra fans in this direction, but they’d be disappointed; overall the Trio expend most of their fire in the opening cuts, then pass remainder of the sesh diddling around with annoying playing techniques, half-finished ideas, and false starts.

Period are an American duo playing bass and drums in loud, roaring fashion on 2 (PUBLIC EYESORE 129) – Charlie Looker and Mike Pride roll out a species of slightly more cerebral sludge-rock tempered with alien noise and thoughtful quieter passages, aimed at the evening cocktail set who frequent today’s hipster bars in search of free noise. Imagine Nadja dressed in a blue lounge suit, or Melvins with red-rimmed glasses. Chuck Bettis (who has made some splendid solo noise records) adds guest vox and electrical equipment on 5 of the 7 cuts, plus Darius Jones and Sam Hillmer weigh in with some wayward sax howls. Apparently Period don’t improvise, they “compose-in-the-moment”. Some good moments, but largely aimless.

Micro-mini-inaudible sounds abound on (aral) (MYSTERY SEA MS74), an electro-acoustic composition from d’incise that may use field recordings somewhere in its mysterious construction. But recordings of what? The poetic press notes allude to water, deserts, heat, and the process of evaporation. It’s abstracted to the point of bewilderment, not offering a single familiar element to the listener. Listen long enough, and next day you’ll find you turned into a molecule.

Michael Durek has fun playing as The Use on his album What’s The Use? (ALREALON ALRN052), a collection of 10 wobbly synth-pop ditties that show his stylistic influences from watered-down hip-hop music and allow him to indulge his classical piano-playing skills with many accomplished arpeggios and trills fed through squelchy synths. Despite the bright colours, bizarre sounds, and rollicking fun with the beats, there’s a serious lack of compositional skill and basic design that hampers every track, creating a very frustrating listen despite his obvious keyboard fluency. To put it more simply, there aren’t any tunes, just disorganised bloops.

Dissonant modernist classicism from Guy Barash on his Facts About Water (INNOVA 893), a recording of four suites for small ensembles; the strings are particularly harsh and alarming on ‘Wrong Ocean for String Quartet’, and things don’t improve when trained classical soprano and tenor singers start to sing the texts of Nick Flynn on ‘Blind Huber’. ‘Seven Testimonies’, combining Barash’s compositional strategies with an attempt to flirt with digital sound processing and a “rock band” setting, is one notable aesthetic catastrophe here; he merely creates a pile-up of ugly noise. Produced by Elliott Sharp.

Martyn Bates of Nuneaton is known as the lead singer and songwriter in Eyeless In Gaza, a 1980s indie band who I never heard, though I gather the band’s lyrics used to display an inordinate interest in Kodak photographs. We previously noted their 2012 album Orange Ice & Wax Crayons. On his solo record Arriving Fire (AMBIVALENT SCALE RECORDINGS A-SCALE 048), Bates turns his attention to difficult affairs of the heart, frequently using metaphors drawn from the seasons, the weather, and nature. He is joined by a number of talented players on assorted unusual instruments, but the album puts his mannered singing voice and jangly guitar at the front of the mix. I found ‘Port of Stormy Lights’ affecting, a sound-melange involving a piano, sound effects, and distant echo techniques to invoke certain nostalgic moods. But it’s uncharacteristic of the rest of the album. Somewhat out of my line, but fans of wistful longing and highly personal emotions will appreciate Bates’ delicate approach to song construction.

I always hope I’m going to enjoy Dutch band Space Siren, perhaps because of the astringent colours of the cover art for If You Scream Like That, Your Monkey Won’t Come (KATZWIJM RECORDS KZ011 / SUBROUTINE RECORDS SR059) which seem to promise heavy-duty punk-noise action; it’s a visual technique that imitates how old Xerox machines used to work. The combo of Gwendolien, Ineke, Corno and Aico are competent enough at delivering some solid rock-propelled racket…the best songs seem to derive most of their force from studio overload, using tons of guitar layers and controlled distortion, especially for the vocal parts, so that singer Gwendolien often appears to be shouting at us in a high wind. There are quieter and less frantic songs here, but the more restrained studio enhancement on these reveals that Space Siren are more conventional than they first appear. One track references (and misquotes) a Syd Barrett lyric, which isn’t a promising sign.

Reanimation is the work of Michael Shanahan, who plays everything and wrote and produced the entire album Under The Last Tree on Earth (NO LABEL WIN062914) by himself. We noted his previous work Giants Hide Among Us in 2014, and Last Tree displays the same hallmarks of consummate care in the building of rock-based songs and slightly more ambient-y instrumentals. Reanimation’s music is not particularly “experimental”, and indeed some sections of the album are quite ordinary four-beats synth and guitar music, but Shanahan has a lot of personal conviction behind his ideas, and his studio craft supports that.

Hugely enjoyable retro-guitar rock splurge from Alien Whale on their vinyl ten-incher of same name (CARE IN THE COMMUNITY RECORDINGS). Colin Langenus has won his spurs both as USAISAMONSTER and his astonishing Colin L. Orchestra release for Northern Spy. Here, he’s not crafting orchestrated pop tunes, and instead shamelessly wields his guitar in overamped manner having much wild and freaky fun. Matt Mottel from Taliban adds keyboards, and the drummer Nick Lesley from Necking completes the trio. Not especially underground, avant, or “out” music; to me it sounded like a doubled-up Hawkwind, while other reviewers have likened it to Hendrix, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, and King Crimson.