Maybe I’m just paying better attention but this year already seems like an upgrade on 2021 in terms of the music I’m getting to check out. More submissions than ever before have been marked up for recognition in my inbox, with little green markers on them saying “review?” – I’m absolutely loving it. I’ve come to some kind of peace with the amount of writing I get done, too – I have a full-time job and two kids, for fuck’s sake, so you get what you’re given when you’re damn well given it. So, whether I actually get around to handling all the green tags is another matter, but to help offset this I like to put together these little round-ups. I hope they go some way to ensuring nothing I have had chance to listen to goes without mention, even if – in this case at least – some of it didn’t necessarily strike the right note. Although I will probably leave anything negative out of future instalments… I’d just already written this one and I think pissing snobs like me off is half the point of the band in question anyway, so…
Repulsar, “Fungal Hallucinogens Send Cicadas on Sex Binges After Their Genitals Fall Off” (Self Released)
Erm…. ok, where to start with this? So, if you dislike anything that could be described as “zany” then probably stay away from it. Repulsar is an electronic noise-jazz trio from Minneapolis, coming across here like a kind of Primus/Inca Eyeball horrorblend on a serious sugar high. It’s all a bit too clean, though, for my taste, too considered; too “look how barmy we are” to maintain any kind of depth or pleasure, which is almost certainly the entire point – you can almost hear them saying “shall we just stick a farty keyboard noise in here?” at times. It all somehow makes me feel a bit queasy, to be honest, with its juvenile squidginess and raspy psychedelia. The best – read most bearable – bits sound like a heat-warped copy of The Black Rider left to play to itself forever in an abandoned village; the worst, well… shall we just say it’s a bit zany?
VHS¥DEATH, “Corrupted Geisha EP” (Cruel Nature Records)
Laying sociopolitical spoken word samples over dark, gritty hip-hop and garage beats, Natalie Wardle’s follow-up to 2019’s La Llorona (Love & All The Hate) is a less glamorous affair, eschewing the Bang Bang Bar-ready synth smokiness for something far more stark. Where “What’s Your Worth, Vampire” nods to Wardle’s punk roots with its gnarly guitar squall and Lydia Lunch samples, and “Everyday is Halloween” is a straight cover of the Ministry classic, there are also tracks like “Space Bankers See You, the End is Near” that comes over like a kind of RZA-meets-GY!BE hybrid. “Falsehood of Man (Dystopian Mix)” skips and scuttles uneasily beneath a discussion about personality disorders, and “Snakes in the Grass” touches drum and bass territory, tempered only by the strangled vocals that weave disconcertingly through it like the titular serpent. “666 Pounds of Zero Gravity” dips into esotericism and drops the first beat on a presentation about Freemansonry with such accuracy it made me laugh – at least 3 of these tracks are crying out for a rapper and I’ll be damned if I didn’t think this guy was about to make good on it. The repeated emphasis on the letter “G” can’t be accidental, either.
Tamabot, “Basic Geometry” (Self Released)
For an album whose structure is dictated by the mathematical measurements of an array of shapes, there’s a remarkable sense of warmth to to Basic Geometry – a fact the French artist Tamabot says had him reconsidering his subjects’ very identity. This could so easily have been a dry, academic exercise more suited to a gallery than home listening but although it certainly rewards close attention, it also plays away quite happily in the background – tracks like “Triangle” drift with cooling freshness, as relaxing and blissful as the most expansive Pulse Emitter meditation and completely at odds with its angular inspiration. Tamabot provides a breakdown of each track’s time signature, tempo and pitch (for example, “Hexagon” = 6/4, 110bpm and 440hz), but explains the connections to its shape run deeper; even the number of chords and notes used is guided by the angles. The results range from futuristic synth sheen to the humid jungle dawn of “Octagon,” with several other synthesised touchstones referenced along the way: “Square,” for example, plays out with a lurching fragility akin to one of Basinski’s frayed loops, whereas “Pentagon” shines light on a multi-faceted construct of twinkling sci-fi menace Daniel Lopatin would be proud of.
Law of Glances, “Fountain of Nothing” (Bonambi)
Belgian duo Law of Glances’ debut release for the young Bonambi label is something of a sonic grab-bag, navigating liquescent piano underlays, misty synthscapes and surprising diversions into beat-driven poetics across its eight tracks, although all are tied together by Sophia Abderazzad’s icy vocals and an inescapably nocturnal atmosphere that permeates throughout. The star of the show is undoubtedly the title track, which flickers hazily like candlelight in fog, buoying and bobbing beneath a vocal that falls somewhere between Liz Harris and Thom Yorke. Elsewhere, “scenes within scenes” progresses with a halting creepiness, its piano a chilly drip of meltwater to the spine, and “tramontana” is a barely-there wooze of glistening synth. The baleful opener “azurite” sets the ambience beautifully but unfortunately, for all its simmering portentousness, Fountain of Nothing otherwise proves a somewhat uneven experience.
Lynn Avery & Cole Pulice, “To Live & Die in Space & Time” (Moon Glyph)
As I sit here at my desk with the sounds of the garden coming in through the open window on the early spring sunshine, I can’t imagine a better soundtrack than To Live & Die In Space & Time. A debut collaboration by Avery and Pulice for saxophone, piano and synth, this is as feather-light, cool and breathy as the breeze that carries in the scent of the plum blossom. With the exception of sections of the album’s final track, “The Sunken Cabin (Night),” which extends the saxophone into almost bagpipe-like territory as it conjures heady, humid mysteries in sunset heat and the zipping of evening insects above perfumed meadows, these tracks wisp and whisper with the grace of lonesome predawn pollen fluff. The album title, so evocative of interstellar travel and sci-fi sheen, is in fact a little tricksy – this music is a far more personal journey, redolent of our everyday drift and the minute effects we have on our closest surroundings
Blessed are the Hearts that Bend, “Sadness Be Damned” (Self Released)
This is advertised as another fake soundtrack, but bear with me – I know this sort of thing gets done to death, which is why it takes something special these days to make me take notice. This is something quietly special, for sure; an album created during Covid and imbued with all the horror, sadness and uncertainty the pandemic brought but defiantly not a “Covid album.” Blessed are the Hearts that Bend is Luke Seomore, best known for his work with Joseph Bull on videos for acts like British Sea Power, Tricky and Liquid Liquid, as well as several well-acclaimed feature films. He suggests Sadness Be Damned is taken by the listener to help battle loneliness – to fill the aching void we can all feel at times with whichever images we might allow this beautiful, often heart-rending music to conjure for us. Sonically, it’s lush, slow-moving and orchestral, with guest musicians adding cello, slide guitar and violin to Seomore’s cloud-drift textures – the effect, with it’s keening crescendos, is not unlike A Silver Mt. Zion at times, albeit without anything like the preachiness. More often than not, the music is uplifting; tracks like “Cactus” and “Present,” for all their introspection, always emerge on the side of faith, with clouds lifting and sunshine creeping through the curtains to light the darkest corners. It’s an album to look out of the window to – to observe to – and to find inner acceptance with; even as it doubts itself, such as with the chugging, nervy “The Flood” and its threatening partner “The Pines are Laughing,” you won’t lose the sense that this is a shared journey. Darkness and uncertainty are just natural hurdles on this path, so play the tape and let it guide you through.
j. doursou, “Choreographies of Decay” (American Dreams Records)
Loosely based on concepts related to the uniquely unnerving Japanese dance form butoh, this is Doursou’s first release under his own name having previously worked as MY.HEAD. A graphic designer by trade, Doursou is well placed to translate the visual into the aural and, just like butoh‘s chief originator Tatsumi Hijikata, he skilfully avoids what the latter disparaged as “fixity” with Choreographies of Decay – butoh is traditionally free of common method and perturbingly slow, relying on loose sketches and basic notation to create an often grotesque spectacle that nonetheless hypnotises its audience. These are extraordinarily dark pieces of music, swollen with disembodied voices and haunted by shadows of great violence – instructions, as the artist puts it, “for dancing at the end of the world.” Synthesizers, field recordings, computer noise and overwhelming low-end rumble combine to create a densely obsidian scene that rarely relents, although brief snatches of piano do gleam here and there like diamonds in the dust. “SOL” is the sound of the final ray meeting the earth before the sun is drowned; “foliage, filling voids” casts a dust-scarred eye across an eviscerated landscape empty of humanity; “searchlights through walls”… you get the picture. You can dance if you want to.
Dolo. Seven. Six, “Escobarian Hippos” (Loretta Records)
By using the Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar’s escaped hippos as metaphorical bulldozers marauding through affected communities worldwide, producer Dolo 76 shines a light on the war against drugs you perhaps won’t expect to see from a genre that still inexplicably has to battle accusations of glamorisation where drugs and crime are involved. Recruiting rappers like Shinobi Stalin, Maze Overlay, MidaZ The BEAST and Tony Madness – all of whom share Floridian connections – means Dolo can present something like front line knowledge, and tracks like Stalin’s “Floridian Snow” weigh up the drug-impacted histories of cities like Miami with impressive dexterity (“those condos and skyscrapers you see / that’s something only cocaine can achieve,” he rhymes, before diving deep into the structural weaknesses that led to the Surfside tragedy). Samples used range from Trevor Noah’s Steve Irwin impression to the menacing honks of the African beasts themselves, with Latin American noir flourishes throughout that are sometimes redolent of Ghostface Killah’s team-up with Adrian Younge. The project flows brilliantly, with nary a dud on show – each and every participant brings drive, perspective and intelligence to the debate, which never falls into preachiness or romance. There are some amazing packages available to buy too, with at least one featuring a coke-based version of Hungry Hungry Hippos billed as “A Drug War for the Whole Family.”
yndi halda, “Enjoy Eternal Bliss” (Self Released)
This is the debut record from UK post-rockers yndi halda, reissued to celebrate the 15th anniversary of its “official” release (i.e. when it was plucked out of obscurity by Burnt Toast Vinyl on the back of accolades that ranked the Kent teenagers above Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Ros and Pelican in instrumental music round-ups of the time). Although it has been reissued before, it gets a “luxury” update now with interchangeable sleeves and fancy-looking vinyl as well as being remastered for the occasion. Content-wise, all’s the same; there are no outtakes, sketches or alternatives, simply four lengthy originals. Having said that, if you haven’t got the album in your collection already it’s probably worth a look – fans of Godspeed! in particular will enjoy the scrape and soar of Daniel Neal’s strings and, if the band never quite reaches the pummelling heights achieved by their Canadian counterparts, they do bring a certain folksy English sensibility to proceedings that helps set them apart. It’s crescendo-reliant, relatively by-the-numbers stuff in hindsight, sure, but who doesn’t love a good post-rock blow-out anyway? Put it on and you’ll be doing that slow, head-nodding thing with a furrowed brow and your hands in your back pockets in no time.
Pound Land, “Can’t Be Arsed” (Cruel Nature Records)
The title here quite aptly sums up Adam Stone’s attitude throughout this sophomore missive from the former Future Bomb man and his Dead Sea Apes collaborator Nick Harris – for the most part he performs like he has been punched in the mouth so hard his vocals were recorded from a hospital bed. Being from Manchester, there’s a natural hint of Mark E. Smith in Stone’s lyrics, with a modish sneer redolent of Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson to the delivery; but where the latter’s lack of access to the traditional trappings of post-punk made them the back-to-basics wonders they’ve somehow become, here Pound Land load as much as they can of what they’ve accrued down the years into the proverbial kitchen sink and hammer it all out as loud and clangorous as it’ll go. “Cheshire Set” is a straight-up scuzz banger railing against the “rich cunt” populace of the titular English region but the other tracks stay around a lot longer – “Tony Ex-Miner” reaches close to quarter of an hour, a nasally intoned screed on the ruination of British industry as influenced by Tony Harrison as it is John Cooper-Clarke. It’s hammered home by a knotty stretch of sonorous blown-amp fiddling and the unlikely trio of Aleister Crowley, Leslie Crowther and Shirley Crabtree form a libertarian alliance – my feeling is it’s probably a reading of something previously published, but I can’t find it. Not because I can’t be arsed – I have tried and I genuinely can’t find it. Good tape though.
H. Anthony Hildebrand, “Get Reincarnated or Die Trying” (Death to Dynamics)
Fuzzed-out and cerebral noise here from a UK artist I’m just catching up with, albeit with a slyly melodic undercurrent to round the corners a little. Not a lot strikes me on the pure noise scene nowadays, but this one hits differently somehow – there’s humour, sure, as highlighted by Hildebrand’s track and album titles – but I think it’s the way the subterranean elements are allowed to rise and fight that I find most enjoyable. For example, although “Uh huh yeah yes ok sure fine” busts out of the gate with as clean and piercing a blast of electroshock howl you’ll find, it soon succumbs to the grittier, more nuanced rumbles that underpin it and the two then flay each other senseless throughout. “The thing about islands is water” is rocked by a wonky, woozy hum, seemingly unable to flee its moorings before a final, frustrated scream severs the connection. It’s a great balance, summed up best by the blurred batter of “Cyclopses come from that one island,” which judders open like a submerged Black Pus thumper before snagging itself asunder and rushing headlong to a crazed end.