For once, there’s a good reason for this column being late: the new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. In keeping with their longstanding refusenik stance in relation to the music press, no promos were available in advance of the release of ‘Asunder, Sweet & Other Distress’ (out on Constellation last week) and it would have been crazy to post this column without including it. Because, dear reader, it will blow your fucking mind.
Those people who were disappointed by ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ (for the record, I wasn’t one of them) will be a lot happier with this. Asunder… is concise, focussed and flawless. Opener “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!'” comes on like Earth covering T-Rex somehow, chorused guitars supported by a martial – or is that funereal? – drumbeat. Lambs’ Breath is next, a beautiful, fucked up, broken-amp noise that softens into drones and effects and finally a basstone that gets under your skin (it lasts around three minutes on CD – on the vinyl version it’s a locked groove). Asunder, Sweet is almost the reverse, that same drone building in intensity, new elements being introduced, the intensity building until a fuzzed up guitar riff launches closer Piss Crowns Are Trebled, 14 minutes of crescendos and jubilance that might be the best thing GY!BE have ever recorded, the most potent expression yet of their resistance and their rejection and their disgust. I have a nagging suspicion that if you came to this track out of context – without the peaks and troughs of the preceding 30 minutes – it might sound overblown or clichéd, as the chorused guitars and strings spiral round each other in a manner that’s both aggressive and baroque. But fuck that, it’s magnificent. There’s several points during this track that make me want to punch the air in defiance – of what, I’m not sure – and there’s a moment about 6 ½ minutes in that has reduced me to tears. Seriously. Tristan Bath’s excellent review for The Quietus pondered whether GYBE’s songs are uplifting calls to arms against the system or the musical expression of how fucked we really are. All I know is that when I listen to Piss Crowns Are Trebled – and I have, over and over and over – I see slo-mo news footage of cop cars on fire and people taking to the streets and banks in ruins and I feel genuinely uplifted. Like the poster says, “WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH OUR COUNTRY IS FUCKED”.
You can listen to the whole album here. And you must.
Henry Blacker released one of my favourite albums of 2014, Hungry Dogs Will Eat Dirty Puddings. Their new one, Summer Tombs (released on vinyl for Record Store Day by Riot Season on April 18th with the CD about 10 days later) is even better. A ferocious, heavy as fuck and satisfyingly succinct blast – seven songs, 30 minutes, recorded in one day – Summer Tombs is a distinctly British take on a stoner / desert rock style, more Somerset flooding than California scorching, and you can’t imagine Josh Homme singing about million acre fires. There’s a dark humour here, albeit delivered with some convincing malevolence, and you get the feeling the trio (two of whom are also in the mighty Hey Colossus) have consumed plenty of trashy seventies horror and scifi novels: I’m almost disappointed by the lack of songs from the point of view of an embittered German tank commander on the Russian front. Instead we get the absolutely furious Shit Magus (“no robes, no hat, no staff, no shoes – SHIT MAGUS” – well they’re not based too far from Glastonbury, natural home of many a shit magus) and a funny / disturbing tale of a sea voyage gone wrong in Landlubber, all pissdrinking and cannibalism (“the cabin boy, locked in the galley we’re saving him for last). Joe Thompson’s bass is even more impressive here than it is in Hey Colossus, Tim Farthing’s filthy, fuzzed up guitar to the fore and his growl – often distorted for extra malevolence – sounds genuinely threatening at times, while his brother Roo is a mean fucking drummer. After 20 odd minutes of the macabre and frenetic, the closing title track entirely wrongfoots you. Summer Tombs is a seemingly sincere, genuinely affecting account of losing someone to cancer (“summer tombs, I thought we had more time”) that is all the more harrowing for the intensity of the playing. All in all, Summer Tombs is pretty fucking faultless.
Speaking of Hey Colossus, Bristol dubstep don Bass Clef has reworked their Wired, Brainless track from the recent Black & Gold album and turned it into a 14-minute, caverns deep epic, dubbed to fuck and barely recognisable. Not sure if there are any plans for a release.
Another band who’ve played a big part in renewing my faith in gloriously in-your-face guitar noise is Nottingham’s Grey Hairs. A supergroup of sorts from the Nottingham / Gringo Records scene, they’ve been flying the plaid flag for about four years now (I first came across them with their magnificent Grey Hairs – Schmey Hairs single last year, on which they royally kicked Nilsson’s arse). And now, finally, there’s an album. Colossal Downer is out on Gringo, inevitably, on April 13th and it rocks. When I asked guitarist Chris Summerlin (Kogumaza, Lords, every other fucking band ever) about the ethos behind the band (their motto is “we’re not leavin’ till we’re heavin’”), he explained that “we were all involved in pretty ambitious projects with our other bands and wanted to remind ourselves of a time when it was enough to just come up with a song and play it as a band without thinking too much about crap like genres or what anything means or recording it or releasing it etc. Just playing loud in a room for fun and not thinking too far outside of that.”
And Colossal Downer is the fantastic result. An homage in part to a kind of pre-lapsarian Pacific North West, before grunge was even a thing. Before the smack, before Geffen, before Everett True. Summerlin also mentioned everyone from Link Wray to Stickmen With Rayguns as influences as well, surprisingly, The Breeders. And it’s fair to say that a couple of the tracks do sound like early, sloppy Nirvana. The propulsive, mutant surf of Jesco is one obvious highlight, the feedback drenched onslaught of Emergency Banger is another. Fuck it, they’re all highlights. This album is just a whole lot of scuzzy drunken fun.
While we’re talking about hair, the new Foot Hairs album on Box Records, that gloriously nasty little release I reviewed last month, is the latest release to fall victim to the increasingly ludicrous Record Store Day vinyl pressing logjam. But the label is sure it’ll be available on April 21st, so pre-order it now, it’ll ruin your day in all the best ways.
I’m fairly conflicted about Gnod. On the one hand, there’s an ill-advised Twitter spat (I had the audacity to describe them as hippies, they had the temerity to deny it, cusswords ensued), and on the several occasions I’ve seen them – in various incarnations – they’ve never quite satisfied. On the other, they’re clearly good people doing good things: their involvement in Salford’s magnificent Islington Mill, their endless collaborations with all the right people, their general industriousness and inclusiveness are all commendable. Their new album Infinity Machines, released on Rocket Recordings on April 21st, doesn’t really help. It’s too long, there’s too much saxophone and too often it’s a dystopian sci-fi dub wibble, all the right paranoid signifiers but nothing new or genuinely inspiring. Godspeed they’re not. That said, Desire works pretty well, in a sub-Kevin Martin industrial dancehall fashion, and Breaking The Hex is just ferocious, five minutes of staccato low end rumble. But those two tracks make up a fraction of the near-two hour running time. Too much of the rest sounds like a 90s ambient dub album turned grumpy.
I’m late to the Enablers party – they’ve been releasing albums for more than a decade – but I got there in the end. How much you like them, in particular their new album The Rightful Pivot which is out now on Exile On Mainstream / Lancashire & Somerset, depends on your tolerance for vivid prose-poetry backed by some fairly intense post rock. It would be doing them a disservice to describe their entire oeuvre as one long reworking of Good Morning Captain by Slint. But it would also be kinda true. It’s impressive stuff.
Honourable mention this month to a handful of other albums that are worth your attention: Ghold’s second album Of Ruin is just out on Ritual Productions, a Melvins-drenched drums and bass workout that will make your stomach churn and your synapses tingle, while Italian doom behemoths UFOMammut are back with Ecate, another gloriously OTT album of monstrous riffs and bewildering mythology on their own Supernatural Cat label.
Keeping it European, Belgium’s Raketkanon have just released their second, self-titled album, a sludgy and abrasive Albini-produced affair. The band betray some almost prog tendencies amongst the riffs which keeps things fresh, and apparently they’re maniacs live (a UK tour starts at the end of April). And last up – entirely out of keeping with the Panic & Carousels remit, but hey, it’s my column right? – I need to mention Reading Writing Revolution, the latest album from soi disant “socialist R&B” outfit Thee Faction. I like their schtick, I like their politics and I LOVE their tunes (check out new single Choose Your Enemy here). The album is out on Soviet Beret in the next few weeks. You should buy a copy – what could be better than heartfelt paeans to guild socialism to a pop-punk-Dr Feelgood backing? Nothing, right?
Finally, because we’re good to you, there’s a new Panic & Carousels mix for you to listen to featuring all of the releases mentioned this month, plus lots more that were either covered in last month’s column or in Narc magazine itself (and a fair few other that just deserve to be heard).