FEATURE: Panic & Carousels – August 2015 | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The hiatuses get longer and the deadlines whoosh past but here’s the latest Panic & Carousels column and it’s packed. Let’s pretend that since the last one, nobody released much of any consequence.* Everybody too busy going to prom nights and barbecues and such. Or in my case, three excellent festivals – Supersonic, Bradford Threadfest and – this last weekend – the remarkable Supernormal; all three rammed with Panic-friendly music throbbing with ambition and imagination

Let’s kick off with a remarkable compilation. In its half-decade of existence, Exotic Pylon was one of the most fascinating small labels out there, putting out dozens of intriguing releases that covered everything from the agridustrial electronics of Hacker Farm to the lush urban poetics of Band Of Holy Joy. But Exotic Pylon was more than a label, because of the vision and enthusiasm of label head and radio producer Jonny Mugwump: it was a community of sorts, and it felt like a shared ethos united the otherwise very diverse artists involved.

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The label is no more but that sense of community has spilled over into a brilliant new release, appropriately named ExPylon. The sixteen-track download compilation (out on August 6th) aims to raise money for MIND and is entirely worth your cash (the suggested price is £7 but I urge you to stump up more). Some of the artists included are comparatively well known – Nick Ekoplekz is here in his Gloria Gloucestershire guise on Contak (Replekz), his bubbling, foreboding-laden electronics providing a bed to Dolly Dolly (David Yates), archly reciting some gloriously euphemistic vintage contact ads (“continental lady, residing in Bournemouth”). Kemper Norton is in particularly disorientating form on Colour Out Of Space, while his erstwhile West Country kindred spirits Farmer Glitch (one third of the mighty Hacker Farm) and IX Tab are both on great form – the former’s Dead Bands setting rural musings to a lurching, industrial-dubstep backdrop, while the latter’s The Sutton Wytch-Wud is typically eerie and other, a dark mushroom trip in a Somerset wood. Less well known (to me at least) are artists like Misty Roses, who turn in some amazingly lush but wonky uneasy listening on Mara Corday, like The Walker Brothers heard midway through an absinthe binge. I loved Portia Winters Epicotyl album back in the spring and her Future Flexure contribution is just as good, processed vocals and fractured beats creating something distinctly unsettling. Sophie Cooper’s Half Wondered, with its overlapping vocals and unravelling home-made tin guitar, sounds a little like a mind splitting open. But in a good way. There’s so much more to recommend – Howlround, Shape Worship, Cindytalk, Time Attendant etc. – but you should probably just order it from here.

Sophie Cooper is also one of the good folk behind Tor Ist Das!, which takes place in Todmorden next weekend (from August 14th-16th). A collaboration between Cooper and Jake Blanchard, who run Tor Bookings (among many other ventures) and Ned from Was Ist Das?, the event will take place both in the astonishing Todmorden Unitarian Church (see this recent interview with Sophie for a little about that) and the nearly-adjacent Golden Lion pub, both key venues in a thriving Calder Valley underground scene. A modest £20 will get you a ticket for the whole weekend, meaning you get to see artists like The Family Elan, Kemper Norton, Andrew Liles, Woven Skull With Core Of The Coalman and Laura Cannell among others, as well as DJ sets from Rough Fields and Justin from Front & Follow. And greatest living Geordie Richard Dawson is playing, which is why I get to include it in a column for a north-east based magazine. Get your tickets here – and you should: for the music, for the vibe, for the beautiful Calder Valley location.

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Meanwhile, those other Exotic Pylon alumni Band of Holy Joy have a new album due in September by the way. A Night of Word & Blood Sparked Under Fire And Stars In The Land Of Holy Joy is out on Stereogram on September 21st and it’s ridiculously good. Keep an eye on the magazine for more details.

I’m still reeling from the Boredoms performance at London’s Barbican back in June, a breathtaking two-hour plus performance featuring 88 cymbal players, four guitarists, four bassists, four drummers and – at the very centre – Yamantaka Eye, conducting proceedings with a series of gnomic visual cues and laying his trademark quasi-operatic wail and electronic textures over the top. That wail is to the fore again on his new collaboration with Tokyo duo Gagakirise. Limited to 500 7” singles worldwide, the Gagakiriseye single is released on Thrill Jockey on August 21st and features two tracks: The Flash is a frantic prog-hardcore assault, full of sudden key changes and some remarkable, surging guitar work (and Eye’s voice, of course). The flip, Robobird 2, start off as a far more reflective and tranquil affair, before building to an epic, cathartic crescendo. This is Eye’s first release in about five years and it’s a gem.

Just out on Mogwai’s Rock Action label is Atheist’s Cornea, the new album from Japanese post-hardcore band Envy. It’s impressive stuff in places – Envy have always been a lot smarter than many of their scene peers, blending the best elements of metal, hardcore and a garnish of post-rock into their unfailingly intense music. I could have done without the weak ‘Shining Finger,’ a rather florid power ballad that could soundtrack the credits of a particularly lame Japanese teen movie, and ‘Footsteps In The Distance’ is only a little better, but ‘Ticking Time & String’ in particular gets the balance of in your face assault and more reflective moments just right, with a coda which is pure Mogwai. Ditto the full-on opener ‘Blue Moonlight’ and lead track ‘Ignorant Rain At The End Of The World.’ Envy don’t always get the balance right but it’s worth being around when they do.

Last year, God Unknown Records announced a very limited singles club (200 subscriptions only). Those of us who missed the boat on a membership have had to wail and gnash our teeth as each new release was shipped: split singles featuring exclusive tracks from the likes of Teeth Of The Sea, Mugstar, White Hills, Hey Colossus and Acid Mothers Temple, with the Clinic / Sex Swing and Bardo Pond / Kogumaza 7”s still to come and all of the singles already fetching stupid money on collectors websites. With that in mind, you really don’t want to miss out on Volume 2, which you can sign up for now even though the first release isn’t due until November. Order here to get freshly minted wonders from Henry Blacker, Mainliner, The Bevis Frond and Goat (well, they can’t all be good).

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Speaking of Goat, they must have noticed that a few of us had misunderstood the intent behind their whole Black & White Psychedelia Show schtick and are eager to show a keen awareness of the socio-political situation, especially in their beloved north Africa. Luckily, new single ‘Time To Have Fun (August 7th, on the otherwise reliably excellent Rocket Recordings) meets this head on.

“Pick up your drums Put down your guns No time for problem It’s time for fun”.

Not since ‘War (Is Stupid)’ by Culture Club has a band so eloquently expressed the hopes and fears of a generation. Musically, it seems that having spent their first couple of albums adding second hand Tinariwen styles to their unremarkable psych, they’ve now moved on to fresher African sounds – Konono No 1, perhaps, or the Kasai All Stars. I’ll grudgingly admit ‘Time To Have Fun’ has a naggingly memorable chorus and satisfyingly waspy synth line, and I’ll even more grudgingly admit that B-Side ‘Relax’ is pretty lovely, in a Fourth World/ David Toop kinda way, with a warm, sinuous bassline that won’t quit. But, on balance, they should still fuck off and take their dressing up box with them.

What saves this seemingly endless psych revival from hippy irrelevancy is the way most of the key bands have embraced the darker side of things – Suicide, Can, Velvet Underground, United States Of America – as much as the more patchouli-drenched sixties pioneers. But as the revival persists, things are starting to shift. Take Hills, Goat’s labelmates and fellow Swedes, whose third album Frid is released on August 28th. From a track titled Milarepa to the album title Frid (“peace”), there’s a distinctly Indian feel to this set of extended acid jams – the ragas, the circling percussion, the bells, the whiff of mysticism. Hills keep it just the right side of hippy though, with the Krautrock relentless to the near-11 minute ‘Och Solen Sankte Sig Rod’ and the fuzz-laden groove of National Drone. But we must remain vigilant, folks, before people start thinking it’s okay to sound like The Grateful Dead again.

On September 17th, Richard Dawson is playing St Gabriel’s Church in Heaton alongside Asiq Nargile and Spires That In The Sunset Rise. The latter, a Midwest psych-folk duo, are releasing their new album around now on Newcastle’s own alt.vinyl. Here’s a video taster for what to expect from the album, Beasts In The Garden, and from the gig.

So that’s it for now but there’s Luminous Bodies and Working Man’s Noise Unit albums imminent, and hopefully new albums from Hey Colossus and Sex Swing too, so let’s all get excited about the autumn, that season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and glorious, glorious noise.

In the meantime, as is by now traditional, here’s a mix of tunes either from releases featured in this column, releases that were missed in the last couple of months, and a few things that might pique your interest.

Panic & Carousels – Slow Chocolate Autopsy by Hickeysonic on Mixcloud

* But seriously, things that the column would have covered may have included Jet Black Hallucinations by Blown Out (Golden Mantra), To Where The Wild Things Are by Death & Vanilla (Fire), Key Markets by Sleaford Mods (Harbinger Sound), Instrumentals 2015 by Flying Saucer Attack (Domino), Apocalypse, Girl by Jenny Hval (Sacred Bones), Lasers From Atlantis (Extreme Ultimate), the new Sly & The Family Drone cassette (Cruel Nature) and all manner of other stuff.

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