ALBUM REVIEW: Sleaford Mods – English Tapas

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The masters of minimal post-punk and street poetry return with their first album for Rough Trade, In the last four years the duo have gone from something of a curiosity to an established act with a cutting line in socio-political commentary and stark, primitive music.

English Tapas continues the sound and content of its predecessors. On Divide & Exit (2014), Andrew Fearn concocted a sound reminiscent of The Fall, it was muddy and ragged with a sense of disdain and an embrace of lo-fi grittiness. Their last album Key Markets signalled a cleaning up of their music, more rhythmic and groove-based, though still utterly primitive. In 2017 they’ve continued that process of refinement with the addition of subtle and detailed programming elements – a twinkling hi-hat here, bass-lines that feature more than three notes and on ‘Cuddly’, their closest attempt at digital dub.

Jason Williamson is still the focus with his heavily-accented, ranting approach. It’s part poetic attack, rap-leaning in its rhythm and rhyme and a glorious mix of colloquial and slang deployed to deliver commentary on issues of unemployment, social media, greed and the monotony of modern life. If anything, Williamson has become more abstract in his lyrics, cutting up sentences, fragmenting phrases so they are as suggestive as they are direct. When he does take straight aim at a topic there’s definitely no room for mis-interpretation – “Try scrolling down a website, the NME, without laughing, I’ll give you ten quid if you can keep a straight face. Honestly, just fucking try it, mate”.

There’s a lineage from Sleaford Mods back through grime, The Streets, P.I.L, The Fall and Suicide and here they continue to collated the sonic influence of those acts and others into a unique sound that marries ideas and gonzo simplicity that comes off as satirical, witty and critical without an ounce of musical fat or holier-than-thou preaching.

Chris Familton

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ALBUM REVIEW: Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1

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Moon Duo return with the first of two albums they plan to release in 2017, with both volumes rooted in balanced and oppositional ideas and textures. The conceptual approach of the double album is, in their words “an intricately woven hymn to the invisible structures found in the cycle of seasons and the journey of day into night, dark into light.” That Yin Yang format won’t of course make complete sense until Vol. 2 is released later in the year but for now you can be assured that Moon Duo are still doing what they do best – laying down dense, surging and grinding psych rock rhythms.

Their music is always one of perpetual motion and since their first releases, which were dominated by a colder and more mechanical mood, they’ve slowly evolved to find a unique common ground between machine-like repetition, Sanae Yamada’s kosmiche synth washes and melodies and the free-spirited guitar explorations courtesy of Ripley Johnson.

On Occult Architecture Vol. 1, the term primitive futurism keeps coming to mind. The pair conjure up images of mysterious shadowy figures, druids, shamanistic rituals and pagan mysticism with their obfuscated lyrics and general dark tones and textures. They also invoke the spirit of astral travel and space travel, their songs often resembling a object hurtling through space and free of any earthly restraint. There’s a certain cyber quality to the shape and relentless drive of Moon Duo, albeit infused with human emotions – both good and bad.

‘Cold Fear’ induces just that – a queasy feeling of unease which makes it a less aggressive descendent of Suicide’s experiments at putting their audiences in a state of discomfort. ”Cross Town Fade’ is a curious blend of a tranced-out Sigue Sigue Sputnik stuck in a glam boogie vortex while ‘Will Of The Devil’ spins on an axis of insistent drumming with a yearning, melancholic synth melody sounding like a lost transmission from the point where Joy Division became New Order.

The album closer ‘White Rose’ emerges from the dark mist into a more optimistic world, one built on a perfect Krautrock rhythm and Johnson’s guitar sounding like a demonstrative insect buzzing and demanding to be heard. The glorious drone rolls on for ten minutes, onward and upward toward the light and presumably its spring/summer-centric sibling album.

It’s a fascinating journey, with or without the overarching concept, and reinforces the ability of Moon Duo to create music that is both sonically straightjacketed, endlessly immersive and without visible horizons.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: The Bug Vs Earth – Snakes Vs Rats from their new LP Concrete Desert

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Dylan Carlson (Earth) has once again teamed up with The Bug’s Kevin Martin (Techno Animal, Ice, God, Razor X, King Midas Sound), this time for a full-length LP called Concrete Desert. The album also features guest vocals from Justin Broadrick from Jesu/Godflesh etc on two tracks. Below you can hear the first taste of the album – ‘Snakes Vs Rats’.

Martin says that the album is in some ways a Los Angeles-set companion piece to London Zoo. The record’s beautiful, chiming melodies are like shards of sonic light, glowing in currents of heavy bass darkness. There are pulsing soundscapes, ambient pinks and whites, and irresistible grooves. This is music that grips you entirely, and catches you in its lava-flow – an astonishing, primal album of vast depth.

Inspired by J.G. Ballard’s urban dystopias, Concrete Desert could be understood as reflecting a “mistrust of “Hollywoodisms”, the shadow of Hollywood fantasy that looms large over life in LA, and the USA in general. “Dylan’s a master at amplifying the flavour of America,” Martin says, “but not the side we see in this Trump climate.” For Martin, the “American dream is like a nightmare under Trump” but Dylan captures the “best side of that dream, a utopian openess…I hear the writing of Cormac McCarthy in his music. His playing conjures deserts, and wide open spaces.”

Concrete Desert is out 24th March via Ninja Tune. Preorders available HERE

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LIVE REVIEW: My Disco @ Newtown Social Club

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My Disco, Marcus Whale, Hviske @ Newtown Social Club, 11 February 2017

Minimalism shaping grand emotion was the order of the night at NSC for My Disco’s last stop on their summer tour. From the headliners down through Marcus Whale and opening duo Hviske, there was a common thread of space, intensity and the blurring of technology and organic instrumentation to create dramatic musical pieces.

Hviske are Kusum Normoyle and Ivan Lisyak and they generated a densely rhythmic mix of techno and cold wave electronica that hit the occasional peak but for the most part settled into a rewarding mix of hard surface sounds and minor melodic excursions. Live, Normoyle’s vocals were the weak-point compared to the more layered and integrated sound on their recordings and she seemed unsettled and distracted, never fully immersing herself in the music.

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Marcus Whale

 

Marcus Whale’s solo work seems to go to another level every time I see him live. Flanked by two drummers with stripped down kits (tom, snare, ride cymbal) and performing over backing tracks Whale took us deep into his album Inland Sea, his voice urging, consoling and serenading the audience with conviction and passion. The closest comparison is Bjork’s more recent work crossed with avant hip hop and dark electronica. A compelling performance.

My Disco have progressively peeled back the layers of their sound with each new album, whilst simultaneously ratcheting up the tension and their avant garde leanings. They are still a band of guitar, bass and drums but they now sound like a raw machine, ominous and commanding with their instruments often bathed in as much silence as coruscating noise, relentless drones and repetition. King Sound set the scene with Liam Andrews intoning those two words like an android with a glitch in its system while guitarist Benjamin Andrews scattered shards of distortion across the audience at high volume. The heartbeat of the band is still Rohan Rebeiro who brings the most humanistic element to their music, he controls the machine with his blend of doom and jazz-tinged tribalism. Their intensity and commitment to their sonic aesthetic is what defines My Disco, from throwing in an overlong drum solo to the complete lack of audience interaction, they have their own musical eco-system which made their set feel like we were temporary visitors to their fascinating, hypnotic and shadowy world.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Bic Runga – Close Your Eyes

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This is Bic Runga’s fifth album in two decades and comes as she is inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame. A collection of covers and two originals, it finds her tipping her hat to some of her influences, from the obvious to the obscure. Both originals (the title track and Dream A Dream) are lush rhythmic pop songs with tropical noir textures while elsewhere she tackles Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Love’s Andmoreagain, Nick Drake, Kanye West and the Roberta Flack classic The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face. Many fans would prefer an album of originals but as a stop-gap this is a wonderful and worthy insight into Runga’s musical world.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: The Laurels

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THE SCIENCE OF PSYCHEDELIA & BREAKBEATS

The Laurels have re-emerged from the studio with an adventurous take on their brand of psych rock that takes influence from both Primal Scream and Public Enemy. Singer and guitarist Luke O’Farrell takes Chris Familton inside the creation of Sonicology.

“I went a bit nuts, we all went a bit crazy in the studio working on these songs “ says O’Farrell, describing the long and intensive process of writing and recording Sonicology. They set up their own studio and “started getting samplers and experimenting with junk shop records, sampling them and making beats” before spending numerous hours recording and sampling themselves to avoid copyright issues. “It is very much a studio album. The guitar took a back seat on this album. If anything samplers were the main instrument. Even the guitars were fed into samplers and triggered and sequenced. It still sounds like us and is guitar heavy but the way we approached the recording was completely different to what we’d done before,” explains O’Farrell.

The genesis of the new album reaches right back to before the band started recording their previous record. “With Plains, we were playing those songs for six years before recording them and then you have to play them on the road for another two or three years. We really adjusted to that way of working as a live band. With this one we started getting into hip hop influences just before we started recording Plains – a lot of Public Enemy, a lot of funk and soul, stuff like James Brown. That was the headspace we were in after the Plains tour finished and then it was a matter of convincing the other guys to try something really different in the studio this time around.”

Between albums, drummer Kate Wilson (The Holy Soul) decided to leave the band and Jasper Fenton, who O’Farrell and Piers Cornelius had played with in other groups, was drafted in. “It wasn’t easy, it was very sad to see Kate go after that amount of time. We’re still mates and we still love her. With the new tracks and the way we wanted to approach them in the studio, that wasn’t what she wanted to do with the band. Jasper is also a multi-instrumentalist and a producer which really helped the recording,” says O’Farrell.

One hurdle to overcome after making an album steeped in studio production and different technology is how to present the songs live. O’Farrell explains that they’ve got their head around the songs now. “It’s taken us a few months going back and re-learning and adjusting songs. Their entire life has been in the studio, they weren’t really made for live performance but we’ve figured out a way to represent them live. There are three of us triggering samplers now but we’re not tethered to a click track, we want to still keep it loose and free and incorporate the samples from the album.”

“This album was more collaborative than anything we’ve done in the past,” says O’Farrell, when asked if the band is a collective vision or driven by one or two people. “There’s never really been a leader, we all have ideas bout how we want the band to sound and we try to incorporate everyone’s vision. It’s a mix of all of us and I guess that’s why we are still together after ten years.”