Sunday, 27 October 2013

Label Round-Up: Chapel Yard Records


Ears For Eyes will be taking regular dives into the recent outputs of some excellent labels.  This first round up features Chapel Yard, a label from North Yorkshire that has been transmitting some amazing and awestruck music this year.  Here, we look at their last five releases, beginning with...


‘LP’ by Corsica_S is a an album of drift and roaring drone, sharp splinters of noise intruding like street lamp lit snow flurries.  Visually evocative, it paints a vista of multi hued chilly twilights, the sleepy calm following a brash sunset.  The quiet is often interrupted by clicks and gusting winds, a garble of tannoy voices washed in thin rainy granules of fuzz, sharp feedback whistles and wobbling fluctuating bass tones.  Their music is perfectly becalming; an ever-present roar, a ripping current of drone, ensures it never becomes too soporific; a harnessed wonderful bellow, like wind between mountains.  The entire album is achingly sad but awe struck, pervaded with a poignant pulse-slowing wonder; a sense of time coursing and flowing, appropriately given that it is structured around the days of the week.  Penultimate track ‘Saturday’ is stunning, a great example of shaped and honed noise; what could be a savage attack is instead blunted enough to excite without removing the friction that makes it so engaging.  ‘LP’ is an almost physically tactile grainy ambient music, a beautiful introduction to the label.


‘EP4’ by Raining Leaf and Corsica_S is plodding and sad but in no way pedestrian; their compositions are full of slow considered movement.  Unfolding languidly, their melodies in no rush to reach any kind of catharsis, they unfold naturally and patiently.  Sweetly picked guitars, notes sometimes caught and spun backwards in opposition to the main thrust of movement; like brief eddies in a thickly flowing river.   Thick with tape fuzz, low-end moans, and stops-out organ rumble; overtones generated from solid overlapping blocks of pipe wobble.


Raining Leaf’s ‘Gemini’ begins with a rush of wind and a slowly emerging hum, instantly captivating.  Its contours emerge slowly as if through fog; synthesised strings like Popul Vuh glimpsed in the haze.  The lengthy slowly unfolding compositions are loose and inviting, a baggy jumper of sound.  ‘Gemini’ is eclectic without being whimsical; it combines burbling techno; the tinkling shards of bent and twisted guitar notes tossed around by bouncing bass; twitching clicks rushing over screaming gaseous amp feedback.  The whole thing is playful, inventive, and energetic.  The drums of ‘Belles of Amsterdam’ resound within a large echo chamber, mixed with xylophone and the occasional rock-slide of noise; vaguely like ‘Alberto Balsam’ in a huge steel wind tunnel, clanking and groaning with metallic distress.  The wilted rave arpeggios and insect chitter of ‘Ballad of Ariel Tweto’, beat like hundreds of tiny syncopated claps.  The album even finds room for for the scorched bit-crushed video-game sugar rush of ‘Emulator’.

Reminiscent of 1970s German rock experimentation, but with a late 90s Warp slant, ‘Gemini’ taps incredibly fertile soil in a way that refences past groups without copying them.  Raining Leaf make songs entirely their own, music of quiet unassuming eminence; electronica and avant-rock so intertwined you couldn’t fit a hair betwixt them; a winning and charming, utterly successful fusion where so many other groups fail to integrate their multiple ideas.  Weighty but unpretentious, eclectic but focussed, this is a lesson in wide-minded generous music making.



The Infinite Whole’ by Dear God is no less interesting but in place of the previous albums multiplicity of styles, it focuses on a narrower spectrum, quietly devastating with slow circling piano melodies, bass drones, flickering electronics, and deep plunging hums.  A mournful album; with beautiful sadness, its arrangements drift along delicately; emotionally moving in their simplicity, tunes tossed into a softly falling snow storm.  ‘The Infinite Whole' is deceptively gentle but with a strong current of loss and melancholy.


Isobel Ccircle is a collaboration between Matt Bower and April Larsen; their EP ‘Eyes in the Ground’ is remarkable.  Deeply weird, even if you’re familiar with their solo work, it manages to be at once forbiddingly alien and deeply, stunningly beautiful.  Opener ‘I Live Through Death’ pairs April’s piercing drone with Matt’s strange subterranean cracklings; it sounds like glaciers breaking apart, monitored from the far-future sea bed by gilled post-humans.  The detail in the production is amazing, clanging pipes, vastly magnified vinyl crackle, singing primordial birds, scrambled xeno-broadcasts, melted audio files played through mile high stone chimneys; it has a whole world of sound in which to wander.  Put your head phones on, sit in the dark and let this stunning EP take you away to abandoned and impossibly old temples, locked in undiscovered ice-sealed isolation.
What unites the various Chapel Yard releases is their combination of emotional heaviness and sonic invention; they have a gripping attention to detail and smeared structures without forgetting to build in poignant and blissful music.  Chapel Yard is a label to spend time with, a trusty and reliable guide that will take you out onto chilly, forbidding but vastly beautiful tundra of drifting drone and sparkling starlight; night-music of great distinction.
Purchase music from Chapel Yard Records here.  Do yourselt a favour and get all of it.

Dunmill, Hanslip, Gibbs, Ricart - Weeping Idols (FMR Records)


‘Weeping Idols’ is the first recorded outing of a quartet consisting of Paul Dunmall (tenor sax), Mark Hanslip (tenor sax), Philip Gibbs (guitar), and Ed Ricart (guitar), and it’s a cracker. 
‘4 Souls, 8 Eyes’ is a great squabbling piece of music.   Weird effects strafe the sound field, providing a rich bed for the occasional super-rapid funk lick; the guitars hold up their end of the group well: sustained arching sighs, sharp clusters of notes.  The saxophones join to form a weird scrabbling hiss like someone sifting through straw; it sounds exploratory, a band searching for something, rifling through your mind.  This is a group in conflict, their sound thick and straining at the edges, running over.  Guitars join in a delicate elongated shudder before sci-fi bloop effects shatter the form and the buzzing saxophones overwhelm and encircle them, building to a scabrous peak.  The constant activity yields plenty of rewards; turbulent and packed with incident.  Subtle interplay of tiny arguing gestures confer, occasionally flare up in disagreement, but always return to a tense standoff.
‘Bhutan’ begins like a gamelan orchestra slowly awakening, clanking metal objects building autonomous action sculptures around watery bass gong strokes.   Creaking rusty scaffolding singing in a vibrating wind, festooned with wind charms of copper disks, clanging and smashing together.  Gripping and fascinating, if the previous piece found the group bickering and oppositional, this finds them in incredibly close union, fibres of noise meshing them together, a bird’s nest of fiercely absorbing sound.
‘Better Than Words’ returns to the approach of the opening track, the sax duo pushing and shoving at one another, the guitars whipping up rapidly collapsing grids, sounding like a profusion of strange animals shoved in a box and shaken until they peck and rip at one another.  Like a drunk orchestra tuning up.
Final piece ‘Weeping Idols’ is a great no-wave freak-out; 5 minutes of brilliant coruscating racket, thrashing 6 string destruction duelling with ferocious skronk.
Read Mark Hanslip's blog here.
Purchase the album from FMR Records here.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Barrel - Live at Artacts '12 (Idyllic Noise)


Shards and plucks, shivers and graceful sweeps; ‘Live at Artacts 12’ by Barrel is a soaring jungle of sound. The group are a trio of Alison  Blunt (violin), Ivor Kallin (viola), and Hannah Marshall (cello). 
Barrel are a stunning chamber group, their music entirely liquid, swirling and pooling in odd pockets, sonic labyrinths manifesting unexpectedly and resolved suddenly, changes of direction like the slicing of musical Gordian knots, seemingly intractable tangles whipped into straight racing lines.  But oh, those tangles... they expand and contract like a living breathing sentient wave, peaks and troughs smashed into cross hatched confusion, slopes jagged and pixelated.  A surreal and spring loaded ensemble, their hive-mind conjuring skills are amazing in ability and gripping in output, they drag you along on a circuitous ride.  At times evoking the winding of flaming ropes, the hiss of pre-digital television static, a haunted opera house, the fluttering of hundreds of tiny fibrous wings, they move from moment to moment in a blur of activity; bursts of silence detonating small spaces in their churning wake.  Barrel make haunting and beautiful music, at times maddeningly complex, at others lithe and elegant.  The sheer strangeness of it all is astonishing, it resembles a groaning wooden ship floundering against cellophane rocks in a choppy sea of sighing taut wires, officers bellowing wordless commands from the bridge, gusts of wind fluttering its tattered sails.
Catch them live if you can, a performance earlier this year at Boat-Ting was,  for me, one of the live highlights of 2013 so far, an awesome display of improvisation every bit matched by this fantastic album.


Read more about Barrel here.

Dead Neanderthals - ...And It Ended Badly / Colin Webster & Mark Holub - The Claw (Raw Tonk)

Raw Tonk is an extremely promising label with two excellent albums released already.
The most recent album put out by Raw Tonk is ‘...And It End Badly’ by Dead Neanderthals, a record of high-energy, intensely engaging, blistering free-jazz, featuring Colin Webster (sax), Rene Aquarius (drums), and Otto Kokke (sax).  It instantly erupts with ‘There Was a Great Battle’, saxophones wrapping each other in sulphurous constrictor-tight fumes.  ‘Weapons Drawn, Blood Spilled’ is another close dialogue, a rusted blurt joined at the hip with short scribbles and sharp full stops from the other saxophone: a caustic duo exchange with Aquarius tapping around the edges, dropping the occasional startled thud.  There is drawn out tortured blues on ‘Both Sides Fought Bravely’, an acid drenched fugue; Aquarius unobtrusive until a repetitive pointed honk shortens its intervals and lunges for the other more languid melodic line, the drums become enlivened, rattling and provoking; it all culminates in a rusted siren skronk, the drums launching into a metal aggression, fierce and savage.  ‘It Went On For Days’ has drums like a gate flapping in the wind, the reeds droning and shrieking; full of space and reflection in place of the momentum found elsewhere, it slowly accumulates mass.  ‘And In Tears... Of Course’ is full of the sound of soft sighing melodic twines, vines of breath wrapping around the trunk of Aquarius’s solid backbone; it appears exhausted by the strenuous endeavour of the previous pieces; at its close, the saxophones collapse behind a rat-a-tat beat that hauls the album over the finishing line.
‘...And It Ended Badly’ is packed with heat and fire; a fully committed passionate ensemble performance.  Free-Jazz of the post-Ascension kind, the players locked in a to-the-death battle, full of screaming expression.  Certainly an album of violence and raw power at its peaks, ripping and clawing at the listener; it also finds space for more thoughtful moments.  The range of expression is tightened to a point, an economy of tone that benefits from its shortness; the attack doesn’t have time to blunt, remaining knife-sharp for its whole duration.
 


Raw Tonk’s first release ‘The Claw’ by Colin Webster (sax) and Mark Holub (drums) is a mighty beast.  Opening in gripping fashion with a deep buzz of baritone building a boiling head of steam, Holub’s drumming is almost Steve Noble-like in its rapidly rigged constructions; instant madly twisting scaffolds.  There is a great range of textures but the lasting memory is a ripping blaze, blown by Webster.  Pieces are short and explosive.  Even the more placid moments like ‘No Hidden Depths’ and ‘We’re Done Here’ continually threaten a storm.  Holub’s playing is reactive and sensitive to the scene, a subtle rattle of activity under the muscular punch of the saxophone.  He locks into Webster like a symbiotic entity during the racing outro to ‘We’re Done Here’, also taking a brilliant solo during ‘Little One Growing Well’.  Webster switches from full gales to soft curls and wisps; always with an edge, a concealed fury just off stage.  Even hushed, he sounds ready to pounce.  ‘Skua’ shows how talented they are at spinning something raging tangled and knotted; they often pick at a single element until it unravels and catches alight, fanning the flames until it becomes an angry conflagration.
Raw Tonk is a label to watch, at this early stage already building a formidable catalogue of fiercely gripping and meditative music.
Purchase their music here.
Read Colin Webster's blog here, and the words of Dead Neanderthals here.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

6 & 8 - City Plaintive / Hind Legs (Xylem)


6 & 8 are a duo of electronic music producer Rory McCormick and poet / vocalist Jessica Peace.  The second song on ‘City Plaintive’ epitomises what makes them such a great band.  'Opening City Plaintive' is full of thick sad chords.  A maudlin instrumental, interspersed with traffic noise; a background whooshing like wind under a bridge; the environmental sounds and music meshing perfectly.  A melody lost in the city, swallowed; much as you will be by this excellent album.  Its highlights are many but a few stick out like particularly memorable faces in a crowd of vivid oddity.

'Girl on Steps' mixes sub bass wobble, moaning traffic, tick-tock woody beats, and, at one point, a voice stretched into a flattened sighing wave.  The discernible vocals: "cold steps", "watching the flock", "on the steps", are as fragmented as the music.  The words "this is not my city" would suggest alienation if the city belonged to anyone at all.  It is the possession of everyone and no one.  Individuals, mere temporal blips in its paws.

'Possible Interlude' is full of amplified pops, cracks, and hissing; a degraded opera recording swoops and soars, buried as the page turns onto street noise and steel pan before a fade-back to the singer, voices bleeding in at the edges.

'Then Him Then Her' is structured around a rapid percussive seizure of flickering digital jazz breaks; Peace intoning "I was on that train" through a metallic filter.  An endless loop of "I was with him, you were with her, I wanted to be with him..." begins to sound like several conversations overlapping in time, running out of phase, denuded of context.  A monastic chant intrudes; the banal and devotional in opposition. 

'Halo of the Moon' is captivating and beautiful.  Several rhythmic elements compete: glitchy pops, sharply synthetic bips, high register shivers; all melted in a wash of strummed guitar distortion.  The vocals are oblique and enticing, “did you ever see the halo of the moon”, "turn the lights off", "everything looks better in the dark".  An evocation of something just out of reach.

‘City Plaintive’ is a brilliant, fascinating album.  Mysterious but not impenetrable, it promises a little more with each listen; new sounds, weird buried samples, previously unnoticed audio spaces.  I've been listening to it for weeks and still notice odd bits and pieces I hadn't heard before; as if the album is in constant flux, pieces shifting while you're not listening to it.  Like the cities it wanders, new alleyways appear, buildings vanish, forgotten signs point to demolished tunnels; a magical sound-scrapbook of a city in constant flux; an exploration of the weirder parts of the mind and cityscape.

‘Hind Legs’ is just as weird and captivating.  ‘Walkaway’ incorporates snatches of breath, pops and crackles, and what sounds like an underwater clock or piece of wheezing hospital machinery; everything feels physically close, listening on headphones feels like you’re in the room with them.  ‘Gag’ is an attack of digitally crunching violence; storm-tossed industrial glitch; a soft pillow of synth drone is occasionally evident but buried beneath a hammering rhythm.  ‘Fourth Floor’ sounds melted and smeared, like strange trees whipping past a train window; a melody is glimpsed in snatches, over time, the blur all that remains; a wet, vastly magnified gargle drowns the track as it is overrun with humming bloops.  ‘Brutalist’ is a flickering shimmer; beautiful but with a serrated edge; a tour of a building abruptly switches to biological descriptions: a body exploded to infrastructural size.  ‘Cinderella’ is full of harsh buzz and bass hum; the vocals drawling “backseat” “lips hard” “she pushed me on the floor”; a remarkable song, deeply strange and absorbing; oddly seductive, like sex music for scrapped androids.

The vocals are intertwined with the music throughout; a vital counterpoint, they often sit high in the mix, zooming in on individual anatomies: lips and thighs, hands and limbs.  Jessica's voice is a human element among deep plunging alien weirdness.

‘Hind Legs’ is like Oneohtrix Point Never soundtracking ‘Snow Crash’; human language smashed into memes and looped clipped babble; compositions built from cultural detritus, leaky lurid synth textures, and vinyl crackle.

There is something deliciously eerie and forcefully intimate about 6&8, like seeing feet poking out of the bottom of a closed pair of curtains when you know you’re alone in the house, an image of your anguished face painted onto each toenail.
 
6 & 8

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Boat-Ting - Lisa Fannen + Alice Eldridge, Sylvia Hallett + Anna Homler (Bread & Shed), Ricardo Tejero + Daniel Thompson + David Leahy, Sam Andrae + Hanna Olivegren + Gus Luxbo (Silence Blossoms) - Bar & Co, Temple, London, 7th October

Bread and Shed (Anna Homler + Sylvia Hallett)
Boat-Ting continued its current season with yet another great evening.
First on were Lisa Fannen (poetry, guitar) and Alice Eldridge (cello).  A brilliant pairing, Fannen’s fierce lines like “immigration enforcement 12.15am” and “armoured police officer fat power coward” met with pairs of looped guitar notes twisted into a beautiful sweep.  They were a thin and tender embrace of musical elements despite the ominous and heavy verse; Eldridge a very subtle player, at times barely there, a whisper between Fannen’s angry and sad verses.  The words spun a dark cityscape of discarded needles and slammed doors.
Second act Bread and Shed consisted of Anna Homler, with a table full of toys, and Sylvia Hallett playing violin and a looped and phased smear of humming harmonica.  The duo were amazing, surreal and gripping; at one point Homler  deployed a stylophone burble in aid of a soft glitchy lullaby, singing almost-words; later adding a whistling mini-theremin and the crinkling of plastic tubes.  The performance occasionally resembled some kind of odd ceremonial music, a weird funeral rite or a dada christening.  Homler said that her vocals were made up of “a phonetic language you can understand if you don’t try” which was true of every move they made; this was music to simply submit to and be carried away.  The second piece was faintly nightmarish, troubling and disorientating; fascinating and mind-twisting, this bizarre and inventive noise deployed a panoply of texture: unfolding sellotape, clicking beads, vocals distorted through a child’s sound-effects microphone.  The pairing of a classical instrument, the violin, with a lush harmonic drone and the clattering jumble of Homler’s contributions was inspired.  Party whistles, duck calls, plastic castanets, a hilarious operatic solo sourced from a greetings card.  All of this and more run through looped and melted effects pedals.  Wonderful.
Ricardo Tejero (sax), Daniel Thompson (guitar), and David Leahy (double bass), quickly fell into a thick tangled knot.  Leahy was an aggressive, physical player, attacking his instrument.  Thompson and Tejero were a close pairing, a double helix; a slightly cracked pairing, a mirrored surface where your reflected image may occasionally wink at you independently.  There was plenty of contrasting sounds arrived at: a lovely almost folk-like passage presaged a section of violent turmoil.  Leahy throughout was a large presence, knocking the bridge with his bow, smacking the body and making sweaty hand squeaks.  Thompson switched between long gestures and sudden activity, a periodic scrabble of taut string hysterics.  Tejero’s saxophone playing was full of pops and quacks.  My favourite moment saw Leahy utilising a discarded plastic cup as a noise making instrument, scraping it over the floor before smashing it into shards and jamming the pieces between the strings of his bass.  This act summarised their set, instantly reactive and open minded.
Final act of the night were Silence Blossoms, a great discovery for an intrigued Ears for Eyes.  The opening duet vocals were an arresting powerful folk song Sam Andrae (sax) and Hanna Olivegren (voice)singing tenderly and affectingly  while Gus Luxbo blew into water from a straw.  Silence Blossoms are a mysterious ingenious group. They played an all-too-short performance, full of tense precipitate edges; a music there but not there; a drifting sonic vapour, leaving a blur of bass, contorted sax tones and vocal growl, twirling softly in the wake of their passage.
Boat-Ting listings here.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Laica - Environs (Alrealon Musique)


‘Environs’, the new release from Laica follows the excellent ‘Puls’ from earlier this year.  Like ‘Puls’, ‘Environs’ is split into two halves of absorbing electronica, this time sourced entirely from manipulated field recordings.  It builds on the excellent sound design of its predecessor while pushing its structures further into abstraction.

‘Environs 1’ is immediately intricate and beautiful.  Bird song is dropped into dub techno echoes, tiny clicks abound and multiply.  The pall of thin gossamer fuzz from ‘Puls’ returns, lending the production an aged and gnarled atmosphere.  An almost-rhythm gradually builds itself over time, beats, clicks, and cuts, steadily gathering together.  The bird song is clipped and woven among the many snapping percussive claps and buried in the occasional burst of bass.  The momentum is unhurried; an Autechre-like fracturing occurs frequently, splintering any forward drive into shards.  Alien in its intricacy, there is an odd, difficult to grasp logic at work.  It sounds like a machine slowing gathering sentience, pieces falling into place.  The sound design is wonderful, shorn of its percussive element; it would work as an effective piece of ambient drone. 

’Environs 2’ is no less inscrutable.  Rapidly cycling clicks and bit-crushed buzz flickers at the periphery of a howling wind; they rush to the foreground and intrude occasionally but disperse back into the corners as fast as they arrive.  There is a churning central atomised mass struggling to find a contiguous form but settling instead for an amorphous non-shape, fascinating and full of alien contours.  Again, an atmosphere of dread pervades, dark and unsettled.  Fragments of rhythm refuse to sit still for long.  An unresolved tension builds a head of steam.  The beauty of this side is that it doesn’t resolve in a simple noise crescendo or percussive burst.  It simply dissipates without you being able to get a firm hold of it; this only invites further exploration.

‘Environs’ is a real headphones-in-the-dark album; a work to mull over and return to repeatedly.  Mysterious and pulsing with menace; it consists of what feels like several distinct sections, but with the edges melted and smeared together; like Burial remixing Thomas Köner.  A steady beat will threaten to emerge but then disappear and collapse before it truly gets going.  At times it flirts with industrial music with some harsh textures and what sounds like clanking ultra-amplified gong strikes.  It has a hermetic structural logic all its own, a puzzle to unlock; avant-electronica that makes the listener do some of the hard work.  An intelligent, mature and engaging album.

Environs: Bandcamp here.
Alrealon Musique record label site here.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Fire! Orchestra - Exit! (Rune Grammafon)

‘Exit!’ by Fire! Orchestra is an astonishing record.  Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, and Andreas Werlin have expanded their trio to encompass four drummers, four bassists, electronics, assorted massed reeds and brass, and some awesome vocalists.  They have together created something that will pin you to the wall.

Side 1 is driven by a profusion of drums clattering in thick unison.  Warm blares of brass threaten and recede.  Vocalists wail.  The massed horns break into small clusters of fierce confusion; their squiggles fight and tear against the increasingly fruitless but fearless efforts of the rhythm section.  Electric guitars begin to tear and rip at whatever unifying fabric remains.  The rhythm rolls on implacably, the one steady element in a screaming sound-world of flux.  A soft vocal solo midway is effective in gaining a breather amongst the noise, creating a bubble of utter calm before the bass and percussion begin a loping stalk, dragging the rest of the band behind them; a band that returns in sections like people gradually arriving at a party.    A brave sax solo picks out small melodic fragments but is torn apart by atonal piano bashing and the encroaching return of the rest of the group.  The loping bowl of its lazy momentum is enlivened by the furious raw power unleashed by the horns, guitars, singers, and electronics.

The wordless solo vocals of the second side’s opening are beautiful.  The addition of clicking electronics and high piano pings make way for a killer motorik beat that acts as an out-of-control vehicle for the rest of the ensemble.  The huge horn section gathers its breath and summons an almighty skronk.  The entire honking, screaming edifice collapses in an exhausted heap halfway through, only for the vocalist to return, singing sweetly and gently from atop the exhausted ruins of the band.  The respite is brief before the players begin to twitch, stir and shake themselves into life.  Clangs re-emerge, warbled muted trumpets, wheezing electronics, tuneful licks of guitar; all begin to coalesce into a steadily heating morass before a crescendo freak-out so loud and intense it’ll leave you with the ability to see through time.

‘Exit!’ is the sort of record that makes you glad to be alive.  Explosive and ecstatic, it nevertheless possesses periods of calm and space amidst the chaos.  It reminded me of William Parker’s ‘Double Sunrise Over Neptune’.  This is one of the very best free jazz / noise / improv / whatever releases of the year.  Ambitious, impassioned, furiously delivered music to make you squint your mind and flinchingly revel in the sheer excess and majesty of it all.

'Exit!' is an amazing achievement, bursting with invention, soul, and scorching fire.
 
More info from the label here.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Roscoe Mitchell / Tony Marsh / John Edwards – Improvisations (OTO roku)


Another fantastic release from the house label of the Café Oto venue in Dalston, London; ‘Improvisations’ is a brilliant album, it brought together Roscoe Mitchell (saxophone), Tony Marsh (drums), and John Edwards (double bass). 

‘Improvisations’ begins with a limbering of limbs and a gathering of thoughts; in no rush to launch, it builds a quiet, considered intensity; gestures and movements stitched closely together.  Mitchell twirling in ever decreasing spirals, deftly and densely; almost a psychedelic output at times, a Technicolor flood of tones and notes.  Edwards, as ever, is a vital presence, laying dizzyingly deep bass foundations; never a mere roar, he sits out for periods but always re-enters with a fevered commitment, employing bowed scrapes and pointillist string bashing buzzes.  Marsh is brilliant throughout; like an elastic tether, anchoring the group without setting rigid parameters, capable of sudden snapping violence: on Side C, a tremendous late flurry of activity explodes from a long droning solo from Edwards, Marsh clashing with him like a fox suddenly introduced into a chicken coop.

The technical mastery of all three artists is obvious in every moment of this recording but it is their collective imagination which really captivates.  They fill the air with a full spectrum of sound, music packed with incident, reflection, considered movement, and reckless abandon; a group of fierce and beautiful ability.

As the final recorded performance of Tony Marsh before his death, this record was always going to have an air of momentousness hanging over it.  But ‘Improvisations’ transcends any sense of finality.  So much more than a fitting epitaph to a great musician, it stands as a testament to free thinking and freely improvised music; a twisting, screaming joy to listen to.  Its multifarious tentacles encircle the brain, never loosening their grip for its hour-long duration.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Neil Metcalfe / Guillame Viltard / Daniel Thompson - Garden of Water and Light (FRM Records)


Recorded in December 2011 at St Leonards Shoreditch church; this an album of close musical communion, each gesture between the players answered.  In particular, Viltard (bass) and Metcalfe (flute) are effective in mimicking each other in high register congealing pools of sound.  Thompson (guitar) often foreshadows the more thickly drawn lines of his partners.  The interaction between the players is tight and intuitive; the dense scrabbled clusters and string bounce from Thompson are cut through by the straight darts of Metcalfe's flute, slicing the thicket of Viltard’s mossy groaning coils.  A beautiful display of ensemble playing, sounds are selected with care and sensitively deployed.  Close listening is required as there is a very subtle piling up of detail, an economy of delivery that leaves plenty of space and stillness.  However, the group is not afraid of the occasional bolder noisier movement; at one point Thompson and Viltard lock into a wobbling, shivering mass.  Thompson at times resembles a vibrating barrel of rusted springs.  The second piece opens with a dense buzz of bass; a shorter, more ominous piece, thick with unresolved tension; Viltard providing a thick pulling undertow for Thompson and Metcalfe to struggle against; they frequently drop out as if pulled beneath, only to emerge again suddenly, as if violently breaking the surface, splashing and gasping.

'Garden of Water and Light' is a work of contrasts and fluctuating mass, its peaks built organically and patiently.    The appropriateness of the title becomes evident after the album really hits its stride about 16 minutes in.  Despite its improvised nature, everything feels balanced and ordered, each element growing and twisting around its neighbour.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Various Artists - Down To The Silver Sea (Gecophonic)


A phone rings, an echoing voice invites you to tea, someone giggles, a patient jazz beat marks time, church bells ring; this is the utterly beguiling opening to the rather wonderful ‘Down To The Silver Sea’, a compilation of summer evoking oddtronica commissioned from various artists and gathered on a spinning black vinyl disk by Moon Wiring Club.  The artwork itself, more than worth the price of admission.
‘Morgane’ by Kno deploys finger snaps between bouncing sub-bass beats; a wordless vocal sighing; sun-baked malfunctioning dubstep, its beats stretched into smears, its light clockwork intricacies bathed in synth drone.  Time Attendant’s first offering on the album is lushly weird, full of crackle, manipulated shepherd calls, and primitive beep melodies, summoning memories of clamorous arcade machines.  ‘Dune Buggy’ by Our Head Technician, is a warm electro-funk head-nodder; beneath the bass and rubbery rhythm, clicks and odd bursts of noise twitch and scatter.  ‘Hello Sunshine’ by Sarah Angliss is magically odd; a trilling harpsichord, clanging bells, a heated stillness, a close moist oppression; like turning a corner in a busy park and suddenly finding yourself alone in a hedge-walled garden, full of bizarre statues and its own frightening micro-climate.  Howling Moss’ ‘Pleasant Stroll’ is calming and beatific: seagulls chatter over a blur of humming synths.  Moon Wiring Club’s ‘Voyages De Plaisir’ is a rolling stream of boop and fractured drum loops.  These are just a few of the many highlights.
‘Down To The Silver Sea’ is a wonderfully skewed album full of sonic delights.  A window onto the summer activities of an alternate Britain, a couple of dimensions away; beaches packed with biomorphic weirdness, levitating silver orbs dripping with ice cream, a glistening obsidian smooth shore abutting a sea of resonating metallic flatness.  Still, hot ,calm, and perfectly evocative of summertime bliss and that enhanced set of senses you seem to gain in the hottest months, allowing a greater engagement with your surroundings; the surroundings, in this case, cracked and mysterious.
This is also a compilation that, along with the Collision/Detection and Outer Church collections, shows the electronica of these isles to be in rude and perhaps unprecedented health.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Winged Victory For The Sullen - Village Underground, Shoreditch, London, 1st October


Supporting A Winged Victory For The Sullen could be a thankless task but Douglas Dare was worthy of his spot.  He played a subtle and evocative set of aching torch ballads, wounded vocals soaring over minimal piano compositions, full of storm tossed note clusters and deep plunging chords.

A Winged Victory For The Sullen then took to the stage to perform pieces from their upcoming live soundtracking of a dance performance.  From a doomy, misty opening, the  string quintet commenced playing long sweeping sighs amid sustained organ chords from Dustin O’Halloran, and mingling drones from Adam Wiltzie's guitar.  O’Halloran picked out thick isolated blocks of ringing sound.  The quintet throughout were a scatter of scraping beauty, a polyphony of stretched singing wires; a calming slow embrace, a wrapping of limbs, and a confluence of breath.  The sound from the group as a whole was filled with a chamber elegance and a whispering electronic low-end.  The new material was tender and cleansing, lacking some of the melodic hooks from their self-titled album, but compensating with new music of enormous beauty.  During ‘We Played Some Open Chords…’ there was a sense of time stilled, a contemplation of stasis, the bass rumble holding the simple melodic piano fragments in a wash of room-filling hazy bone-wobbling drift; the strings when they enter are entirely captivating and hypnotic, like the unbroken gaze of a lover, a dark pool of sound in which to sink without trace.  The compositions contracted and expanded in a natural biologically sympathetic rhythm; a comfortable music wearable like a second skin.  The album pieces were perhaps more satisfying because of their familiarity; but the new music felt more open, a sense of stretching out and reaching for the horizon; it lost none of the magic of their previous work.  The fourth piece, in particular, was extremely moving, consisting of a gathering drone joined by a frayed violin; a sub-bass quake stripped back to reveal an underlying softly burring cello.


A Winged Victory For The Sullen offer a music of anticipation, a yearning resolved in simple melodic relief; achieved with a subtle complexity that is vastly rewarding.  They operate with an elegance of execution, a Reichian multi-phasing evident in places.  There is a masterful command of medium and material, a total synthesis of harmonic nuance and emotional weight.  They sound like a gently but inexorably swelling tide.  The sound of solace, of coming home.  A sadness balmed.  A comfort. 

Quite simply, a necessary band.