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

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Summers aren’t for sitting in front of laptops, thinking. They’re for sitting in front of stages, drinking. Ideally, tiny wooden stages in sun-dappled fields full of hairy people shouting and hitting things while you’re drunk on your ass and wondering if it’s time for another pint.  So, y’know…  the column’s late again.

Actually, some of the best bits of the summer spent sitting in front of stages etc was accompanied by music from some of the splendid gentlemen behind Hominid Sounds, which is fast becoming my favourite label. Doubtless resulting from some terrifying 3am conversation, it’s the work of Matt Ridout (of Casual Nun, and formerly Dethscalator), Gordon Watson (Luminous Bodies, Terminal Cheesecake, Melting Hand), Wayne Adams (of Bear Bites Horse studio and also Shitwife and Death Pedals) and all round top bloke Graham Dyer, and a look at their various ventures gives you a fair indication of what you’re letting yourself in for.

 

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That said, two of the earliest releases couldn’t be more different:  Frog Eggs, a short but deeply unsettling cassette of circuit bent noise, analogue filth, broken machines and crippled beats from the former Palehorse  synth botherer Mark Dicker; and Heated Patio, similarly electronic but comparatively tuneful wonky beats and woozy drones from Max Hardy (Adams again, with Aron Ward). There was also How About Never?  from We Wild Blood, the debut release – and another cassette – that features some concise but powerful riffs, blasted wigouts and a Mulholland Drive sample.

 

But it’s the two vinyl releases that have understandably gained the most traction so far.  Casual Nun were one of the highlights of this year’s Supernormal Festival (from a bill that is, after all, mostly highlights) and their debut Super Fancy Skeleton is a beast. There’s blistering psych blues on opener Green Tea and a menacing workout for the double-drummers on ûûû, and two lengthy (but never overlong) tracks – Keizoku Wa Chikara Nari and Sacrifice – that really kick your ass, blasted and psychedelic (in the proper sense of the term) but never losing track of the riff, the rhythm, the rock!

 

 

Melting Hand are one of those increasingly frequent supergroups that all seem to form in the Supernormal Red Kite bar (and all seem to feature Gordon Watson). Here he’s joined by fellow Cheesecake Russ Smith, Tyneside behemoth Mike Vest and Tom Fug (Gum Takes Tooth / Luminous Bodies), and debut album Highcollider sounds exactly as you might expect – which is in no way a criticism: huge riffs, cavernous rolling rhythms, a collision of Blown Out-style space rock and Cheesecake-style fucked-upness. Highly recommended.

There’s now a Hominid house band in the offing called Partycide featuring Ridout. Watson and Adams, and plans are already afoot for a bunch of new releases – including an album from Death Pedals (who trade in that frantic, dumb-but-smart, on-the-edge-of-collapse noisepunk we all love so much),  and a split with Casual Nun and Bruxa Maria.

Ah, Bruxa Maria. I’ve been rinsing their album since I first heard it a few weeks back. Human Condition is out on Necro Deathmort’s Extreme Ultimate label and it’ll take your face off.  This is abrasive, ugly / beautiful hardcore punk but rich with grinding, industrial textures,  full tilt and furious and with frontwoman Gill Dread coming on like a righteous feminist demon (miles away from her day job as the endlessly sweet and patient tour van driver to the elegantly wasted likes of Hey Colossus and Luminous Bodies).  Next time somebody starts banging on about Savages, play them Drunken Arab… This is some powerful medicine, friends.

After so much glorious noise, it’s surely time for some Kemper Norton.  Kemper seems to have been around forever but Toll is only his / their third album proper, and the second for the endlessly reliable Front & Follow label. There’s always more going on with a Kemper release than is immediately apparent – timeslips and landscapes and invocations – but on Toll the background is more explicit: the sinking of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker off the coast of Kemper’s native Cornwall in 1967. Using his trademark blend of unsettling soundscapes, melancholy electronica and sweetly simple folk song, Kemper explores the incident and its resonances and comes up with one of the most truly original albums of the year. This is headphone music, to be absorbed in one hit and then pondered over as its effect lingers.

Also just out on Front & Follow is A City Rewritten, another of the label’s collaborative projects which sees last year’s Shape Worship album A City Remembrancer (one of the best electronic albums of 2015) getting some remixes from F&F fellow travellers Laura Cannell, Pye Corner Audio, Eva Bowen, Hoofus, Lutine and the aforementioned Kemper Norton. As is usually the case with F&F releases, the quality is high throughout – Hoofus flat out dismantles 1987, Lutine and Cannell transform their selections into folk delights and Pye Corner Audio turns Vertices into… Well, a Pye Corner Audio track.

In the last column there was a lot of love for Preston’s Concrète tape label, and it’s good to see the quality isn’t slipping. Out just now is a small two-track release from Preston Field Audio called Sometimes Only Swallows. King Bird is almost a nineties trip hop track gone wrong in the right ways, blurred and anxious before collapsing into field recordings of birdsong.  The title track starts gently enough but swells to something vast and lovely and immersive that could run far beyond its 5 minutes without outstaying its welcome. It seems the tracks are the product of paternity leave and thoughts of nesting, which perhaps accounts for all the birds, but any infant brought up an environment producing sounds like this will do well. (all profits to be split between the Islington Mill roof fund – see more below – and The Wetlands Trust.)

 

 

The big news last month round these parts was a third album from the mighty King Champion Sounds, the Dutch / English collective led and masterminded by Ajay Saggar.  Like its predecessors,  To Awake In That Heaven Of Freedom is essentially a distillation of Jah Saggar’s preoccupations – dub, punk, jazz, kosmische and of course, towering above it all, Das Gruppe. It shares a lot of its sound with the other releases – those driving basslines and solid rhythms,  GW Sok’s urgent, gnomic lyrics, the flailing guitars and frantic brass arrangements – but it’s just MORE,  and not just in length. There’s also a ridiculous guest list here – vocal turns from the likes of Mick Derrick (Prolapse), Mike Watt (Minutemen) and Alasdair Roberts and guitar from J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr) and Tom Carter (Charalambides). Between the relentless Mice Rats And Roaches to the abstract closer Baarsiderius II, the album covers wildly diverse styles without ever appearing unfocused or arbitrary. To Awake In That Heaven Of Freedom feels like the culmination of the project somehow, but I really hope that’s not the case.

While the God Unknown Singles Club keeps coming up with the goods (recent highlights have included Terminal Cheesecake, Action Beat – there’s GW Sok again! – and Sly & The Family Drone, coping admirably with the restrictions of a 7” single), the label is still releasing the occasional full length, and out last week was Astragal, the debut album from London’s Broken DC. Frequently labelled post-rock, there’s more going on than that tag – with its promise of polite poly-rhythms and soaring guitars – suggests (although that sort of sound is evident in places, and a handful of songs do drift a little). But tracks like Phase In A Still River Flows are positively epic and not a little shoegazey, producer Daniel Sullivan (of Grumbling Fur and Ulver) helping create something that’s genuinely beautiful in places. Forever Blue in particular – featuring typically plangent trumpet from Sam Barton (Teeth of The Sea) – builds to something utterly uplifting.

 

 

Neurosis seem to have been around forever, and whilst their ethos and methods have always been laudable, they’ve always been a band I’ve admired rather than enjoyed. Last month’s Fires Within Fires – their eleventh, out on Neurot – doesn’t do much to alter that. Steve Albini’s production is as crisp as ever and the band are clearly always pushing against the limits of what metal is supposed to be, but ultimately the huge riffs and none-more-portentous vocals leave me a little cold. Fires Within Fires is obviously impressive stuff and this is bound to keep the fans happy, and hopefully earn Neurosis an even wider audience, but it’s not for me.

Similarly pushing agains the limitations of genre are Helms Alee, who’s Stillicide album (out now on Sargent House) refuses to fit any neat classification. It’s metal, sure, but there’s a post-hardcore sound to much of it, and bassist Dana James’ voice – a powerful, full-throated roar – wouldn’t sound out of place on a Sub Pop record. In fact, most of the obvious reference points for Stillicide land you in the early 90s, in that sweet spot where various scenes collided, plaid flying, before it all got turgid and bombastic. There’s so much to love here – Hozoji Margullis’s drums are incredible throughout, Ben Verellen’s guitars sound huge, songs jump between styles without ever seeming scattershot – that the occasional downside (Verellen’s vocals occasionally slip from ‘overwrought’ to ‘asthma attack’, for example) doesn’t detract overly much from the positives.

At approximately the other end of the metal spectrum, here comes Shit & Shine with Teardrop (out now on Riot Season), eschewing the bad trip electronics of late for a belligerently ugly collection of mercifully brief grindcore filth (all the tracks seemingly named after guitars) complete with scary monster vocals, insanely fast D-beat drums and stoopid riffs. This is puerile, reprehensible and a whole heap of fun – I’d draw the line at actually recommending it, but still…

Also out recently on Riot Season was the new Blown Out album New Cruiser, but I spend far too much of my life banging out about those three reprobates so let’s just say it’s probably their best yet. Blown Out guitarist Mike Vest is also one half of Dodge Meteors (alongside Italy’s Matteo Dainese Il Cane), who just put out a limited run cassette on Riot Season’s sister tape label Swap Meat. It’s not a great departure from Vest’s normal style, perhaps a little more unhinged and raucuous than usual, but the quality is as high as ever.

 

 

And last but not least, Mr Riot Season (not his real name) obviously thought it was time the kids got some schooling and put together Cultural Vandalism: A Young Person’s Guide To Riot Season – a ‘pay what you want’ label sampler with 15 tracks from that particularly essential label’s back catalogue. From Mainliner to Hey Colossus, Dethscalator to Bad Guys, this really is the good shit.

Montreal’s Constellation is another label you can usually depend upon to come up with the good shit, and Momentform Accumulations from Automatisme is pretty special. If you’ve spent the last few years ankle-deep in Ben Frost, Mika Vainio or Emptyset, this will rock your world: minimal glitch / drone pieces, dubby as fuck at times, and veering from staccato pulses to fluttering tones, from fierce to calming, from pulsating to abstract. William Jourdain largely eschews synths, primarily building his music from field recordings, twisted and transformed into something rhythmic and engaging, heard at its best on tracks like Transport 3 where the glitches are propelled along by skittering, almost dancehall beats.

 

 

It’s a rare Panic column that doesn’t at least mention the mighty Woven Skull, and there are two Skull-related releases to consider this time out: Divil A’ Bit is Natalia Beylis and Willie Stewart from the Skull working with the remarkable David Colohan (United Bible Studies, Raising Holy Sparks etc), who’ve just completed a handful of UK shows and have a very limited (35 copies!) cassette out now on Natalia’s lovingly curated Sofia Records. Blackberries & Juniper Twigs consists of two tracks of that name, recorded at a pair of Dublin shows on April 16th this year, and both are powerful, magic(k)al moments, rich in texture and the kind of intuitive connection that only really close friends and collaborators can achieve.

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Natalia also has an album of mostly solo piano recordings out on Delphine Dora‘s Wild Silence label.  Green Bird Fountain, like everything the broader Skull community is involved in, weaves powerful, ritualistic magic out of often simple materials, with the location of the recording, and the passage of the moon and the stars, and quality of the whiskey consumed all as important as the notes played. There’s an intimacy and honesty about all their work that gets me right in the feels; spending time with them in person and with their many releases, you can’t help but be inspired and uplifted both by the music these people make and the way they live their lives – full of a kind of simple mysticism but somehow utterly free of the bullshit that might suggest (Natalia’s notes for this release on the bandcamp page are a perfect example). Lose yourself…

 

 

Thread Recordings, a relatively new label on the UK underground scene,  still keep the faith for the simple pleasures of the acoustic guitar, as demonstrated by their reissue of Nick Jonah Davis‘ lovely House Of Dragons album. Originally a limited vinyl release on Lancashire & Somerset, this CD / digital release should see Davis’ resonant, folk / flamenco-tinged guitar work get some much deserved attention. A release with a similar flavour out next month is a second album from Isasa (aka Conrado Isasa) released on Spain’s La Castanya label. Again soaked in flamenco, but through the prism of the American Primitive scene – both its originators (Fahey, et al) but also modern exponents like the greatly missed Jack RoseLos Dias‘ 9 songs are primarily acoustic but with lap and electric guitars in the mix too. Shifting from lyrical flights to more atonal moments, I’ve spent hours lost in Los Dias and I recommend you do the same.

 

 

Equally immersive is Remoteness Of Light, the new album from The Stargazer’s Assistant (out now on House Of Mythology). The trio have between them played with Coil, Cyclobe, Shock Headed Peters and Guapo amongst others, so you know you’re in for something deep, deep in the occulture. The three 20-minute tracks follow a similar route – a gentle but unsettling opening section building to something intense and often overwhelming, ritualistic and alarming, with a particular debt to Cyclobe and Coil at their most bacchanalian.

Out simultaneously and with a similar root in England’s Hidden Reverse is Create Christ, Sailor Boy, the debut album from Hypnopazuzu, which sees Current 93‘s David Tibet and Youth (Killing Joke, The Orb et al) collaborate for the first time in perhaps 30 years. The success or otherwise of this album very much depends on how you feel about Tibet because it’s business as usual here: hysterical incantations of an apocalyptic bent from a monomaniacal chap with a voice that’s perhaps best considered ‘an acquired taste’. Youth gamely turns everything up to ‘epic’ and it’s certainly portentous stuff but over the course of an hour, Tibet’s ‘mommy, sky is falling’ visions prove a little wearing. One for C93 fans, I guess. Stick with The Stargazer’s Assistant (and HoM’s other 2016 gem, the truly brilliant ATGCLVLSSCAP by Ulver) for records that prove more affecting without straining quite so hard for seriousness.

We might be waiting a long time for that sainted Surgeon / Lady Gaga collaboration, so for the time being we’ll have to make do with a new Surgeon release in collaboration with Gnod. As I’ve mentioned before, whilst I have a huge amount of time for Gnod’s praxis and creativity (their involvement in Islington Mill and Supernormal Festival for example), a lot of their albums have left me cold. But this two-track collaboration with Surgeon on the Tesla Tapes label is grand stuff. Presented to the Birmingham techno don by Gnod’s Paddy Shine as almost finished tracks which Surgeon then ‘tickled’ (his word), the first part of Behind The Lids is a clammy, unsettling industrial piece, while part two is for most of its length a far lovelier proposition, although this too unravels a little towards the end, like dark thoughts creeping into a reverie. And not only is this a pretty splendid release, it also serves as a fundraiser for the roof of Islington Mill, which took quite a beating during the recent rainstorms and desperately needs a new roof. Dig deep, kids.

 

 

If I hadn’t already reviewed or otherwise written about them for the print version of Narc, I’d now be banging on about Grumbling Fur, Ex-Easter Island HeadRattle and Oozing Wound, all of whom have released stunning albums in the last few weeks. I’d probably find time for 75 Dollar BillEla OrleansThe Caretaker and Pye Corner Audio too.

I leave you with another Panic & Carousels mix including tunes from everyone mentioned above plus some extra bits and pieces, including a NoMeansNo tune because I already miss them and The Ex because they blew my tiny mind at Supernormal. Nearly three hours of it, you better be grateful.

Next month expect new releases from Terminal Cheesecake, Deutsche Ashram, Sex Swing, Papa M, The Sea Nymphs and more.

A bientot, as Theresa May probably wants to ban us from saying…

 

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