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August 2020 – single & track reviews – ReMission International’s ‘TOS2020’; Derw’s ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’; The Forever Now’s ‘Reciprocals’

28 Aug

ReMission International: 'TOS2020'

ReMission International: ‘TOS2020’

You can tease The Mission all you like, but you can’t deny that they’ve got heart… not least because Wayne Hussey is usually waving it at you on the end of a long stick. Even during their full booze’n’powders youthful phase, they had an avuncular, endearing air about them, partly due to Wayne’s effusive need to be loved. Over thirty years later, they’re able to settle into the role more comfortably.

Even though ‘TOS2020’ isn’t quite The Mission in itself – it’s performed by Wayne with a small army of friends and allies under the ReMission International banner – it’s pretty much Mish at heart. Tower of Strength was always the key Mission tune, and it stays timeless when it’s building on its key elements: that elegant spidery twelve-string guitar riff (like a slithering slow jig midway-morphed into a belly dance); that knee-patter of a drum pattern; and, finally, Wayne’s voice (showing less of the cavernous keen of old and more of the intimate warmth underneath it). Drawing on mystic Mediterranean drone, its distant kissing-cousin relationship to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, and presumably Wayne’s childhood memories of old Mormon hymns, it’s a spirit-lifter; an admission of weakness, an expression of gratitude, an affirmation of faith.


 
This particular version is a covid/healthcare fundraiser for frontline workers, with its profits to be spread globally across a wealth of charities. The array of contributors include longtime Hussey boon companions Billy Duffy, Miles Hunt and Julianne Regan (the latter slipping smoothly back into her old Queen Eve role), plus assorted characters from Gene Loves Jezebel, including the long-estranged Aston brothers. Other Goth-tinged old-schoolers contributing are Kirk Brandon, Bauhaus’ Kevin Haskins, ex-Banshees/Creatures drummer Budgie, Lol Tolhurst, Martin Gore and Gary Numan. Also on board are Midge Ure, metal/fusioneer Steve Clarke, Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, Guns N’ Roses guitarists Robin Finck and Richard Fortus (the latter reworking the faux-Hindi string parts), Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and (representing the neo-dark side of things) both Evi Vine and James Alexander Graham of noise-folkers The Twilight Sad. Various packages include a tribal-Goth remix by Albie Mischenzingerze and a lullaby- synthwave one by Trentemøller.

Most all-star collaborations lumber along like a tired old tailback, and you’d expect this one to be the same. Instead, it manages to coast like a streamlined train; a persistent smooth swap-over of duties from voice to voice, guitar to guitar, kit to kit. In its middle age, Tower of Strength seems to have evolved from an individual prayer into a communal round, from lighter anthem to campfire hymnal. The Mission always wanted to be luminous in the darkness. Despite the Goth-y star cast, there’s less glitz in the glow this time around, and it’s all the better for it.

Derw: 'Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr'

Derw: ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’

Having opened up with the expansive piano pop of ‘Dau Gam’ during early summer, Welsh-language chamber poppers Derw are rapidly going from strength to strength. There was a dash of Celtic soul and sophisti-pop to ‘Dau Gam’; they’ve kept all of that for ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’, but have incorporated it into an ornate slow-building confection which suggests a Cymrification of various sources including Clannad, Queen and Brian Wilson, with both a contemporary pop dusting and a hook into the past.

Derw’s particular dynamic remains the creative triangle comprising the songwriting partnership between Daffyd Dawson and his mother Anna Georgina, and Daffyd’s overlapping musical and performance partnership with singer Elin Fouladi: two different definitions of family which seem to have combined into a larger one. The Welsh title for the new single translates into English as ‘Where Did You Come Down’; the core concept is apparently Welsh hiraeth, or nostalgic homesickness.

 
Combining with Elin’s own part-Iranian roots, a sense of place pervades the song: more particularly, a sense of place adrift. Elin’s clear, fresh voice zigzags over rolling piano landscapes, a powerful melody skylarking its own way over plenty of places to land but always restless, as if looking for a new locale in which to renew old feelings and to build anew. Stuck in my limited Anglophone world, I’m probably overcompensating, trying to make up for missing out on the Welsh lyric which unfurls alongside the music; but you don’t have to know the Welsh to catch the mood. This is potent stuff; if it’s Celtic soul, it’s of a new, post-insular, hybrid-futured kind, and it’s very welcome.

The Forever Now: 'Reciprocals'

The Forever Now: ‘Reciprocals’

Mutuality is on the mind of The Forever Now, right now. It’s a little unclear as to where and what they are. Known as Winchester up until last year, previously associated with Toronto but now based across the icy seas in Copenhagen, they’re a duo who seem to be a little reluctant to be a duo. If you take The Forever Now as a solo act, then it’s Monty de Luna; Lauren Austin, however, is the “frequent collaborator” who seems to be something of a fixture and stands to the fore on the cover art. Musically speaking, it’s all a bit friends-with-benefits.

This is probably a bit misleading; but these kind of thoughts are provoked when a song like ‘Reciprocals’ surfaces. With a ruminating electric piano ballad at its core, it’s also a duet with no solo spots (Monty and Lauren sing in strict unison and harmony throughout). Contemporary pop choruses come at us in a rush of synthy planetarium twinkle; but the verses drop, line by line, into bitten-off spaces graced by click and patter, tinkles and rattle-rushes. Monty admits, straight out, that it’s “an honest and naked statement about the end of a relationship” as well as “a metaphor for broader statements about the world”. With his group in flux geographically, nominally and practically, it’s difficult not to read the song as a musing on changing terrain of all kinds.

 
If you’re looking for direct answers in the lyrics, there’s enough here to suggest a rationale for an honest break – “If we’re honest, I’ve been here before. / If we’re honest, I can’t see a way forward. / If we’re honest it’s not worth the fuss, / and if we’re being honest, you know I never wanted this much.” But it’s also about wordplay; masking full disclosure with abstractions and constructions, and (as Monty points out elsewhere) blurring the language of love with those of analytical equations. “So if you’ve got the time, then its time we go, / and if you’ve got the lines, then it’s time we draw them. / Because in another life I’d never let you go, / but I’ve been spending mine on reciprocals, on reciprocals.”

You don’t need to know or think about any of this, of course, and you might be more comfortable not knowing.

ReMission International: ‘TOS2020’
SPV, SPV 243541 LP/SPV 243542 CD-EP/SPV 24354D (no barcode)
Vinyl/CD/download single
Released: 28th August 2020

Get it from: buy/download from ReMission International store or Beauty in Chaos store; stream via YouTube
The Mission online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music

Derw: ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’
CEG Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th August 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Derw online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud YouTube Spotify

The Forever Now: ‘Reciprocals’
Symphonic Distribution (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th August 2020
Get it from: download from Bandcamp; stream via Soundcloud, Deezer, Google Play or Spotify. This is also the lead track from the ‘Reciprocals’ EP.
The Forever Now online:
Homepage Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

October 2019 – upcoming London rock, pop, noise, dancetronic gigs – Hurtling, Stephen Evens and Junodef (17th October); Gum Takes Tooth and Hyperstition Duo (18th October); Bunny Hoova, Gribs, J.B. Glaser and Halfs (18th October)

8 Oct

Hurtling + Stephen Evens + Junodef, 17th October 2019

Alt-rock trio Hurtling (fronted by My Bloody Valentine tour noisemaker Jen Macro) have a debut record to offer you – ‘Future From Here’, on Onomatopeia Records – and are launching it at north London’s The Islington in the middle of October. Their sound’s relatively easy to peg – post-Pixies, post-grunge, post-dreampop – but difficult to dismiss. There’s a full cupboardful of familiar indie rock ingredients to hand, but all reshuffled and re-examined via Jen’s particular perspective and inspired by the disorientations of touring, the displacement of emotions, the waywardness of health: the bumps and setbacks of a bright, questioning human organism pushed into too much motion. Sometimes, despite the noisy ethic, it’s surprisingly gentle; sometimes sludgy guitar parts pile up like rainbow cement ooze; sometimes it’s all about the vocal harmonies.



 
Once upon a time, most of Hurtling were part of cunningly witty indie/artpop sloggers stuffy/the fuses, and their glowering former employer (and current Onomatopeia labelmate) Stephen Evens is also on hand for the evening: ostensibly in a support slot, but probably to keep a dyspeptic jaded eye on them and to crush their remaining youthful dreams beneath his tapping boot. He’s playing solo – probably with guitar, microsynth and anything else portable which he fancies and which comes to hand – and is still working his own 2017 debut album, ‘Bonjour Poulet’. Which is fine, since it was excellent: a mordant larderful of creaky treats which revealed themselves to be gappy armour-plate wrapped around a surprisingly tender heart. He’ll probably give you all that sardonic, seen-it-all expression: actually, he’ll be pleased to see you.



 
London-based Swedish “post-death music” quartet Junodef fill the other support slot. Their debut single, a soft-strummed slice of spectral folk with additional Gothic guitar boom and the bleakness of a death metal song, was called Make You Die. Subsequent work hasn’t travelled too far from those initial emotional roots, although they’ve toyed with spooky progressive rock keyboards, acid rock shadings and lingering dark-country embellishments (the latter suiting both the paired vocals of Tyra Örnberg and Karin Grönkvist and their admiration for Emma Ruth Rundle and Chelsea Wolfe).

More recently Junodef have been feeding in noirish elements from trip-hop and droning electronica, citing inspiration by Portishead and Young Fathers. At the same time, they’ve upped their Bad Seeds clang and their clarity and put greater emphasis on their visual work, resulting in their most vividly fleshed-out songs and atmospheres yet. Don’t expect floppy Goth ragdolls: this band has a tough core, and a storytelling streak that’s just beginning to come into its own.



 

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Gum Takes Tooth + Hyperstition Duo, 18th October 2019In the same week, on the following day, relentless psychedelic noise-fosterers Baba Yaga’s Hut are putting on a Bethnal Green gig for block-party-inspired thunder-twosome Gum Takes Tooth. Singer/electronic bombardier Jussi Brightmore and wired-up drummer Thomas Fuglesang have been at this for a decade now, producing a music that’s
grinding and urgent, slow yet filled with unnerving impetus.

As with plenty of British acts on the weird/occult cusp, Gum Takes Tooth are fascinated by ritual (attempting to initiate it in both their recorded output and, more significantly, in their live performances) and with the jarring subconscious impact on the human animal from the mechanisms of technology, hierarchy and blunt cultural forces which surround us. Their last record, ‘Arrow‘, focussed on London gentrification from the perspective of those squashed under or flicked aside by its well-heeled, well-polished bespoke shoes; and on the savage simultaneous pressures from above to indulge the inner beast in competition, in nationalism, in a fracturing of common responsibility and empathy. While writing ‘Arrow’, Jussi saw all of this as a kind of cultural intoxication with the emphasis on toxic: it gave the duo a musical and moral focus which they’ve pursued ever since.



 
A couple of years ago, open-minded Sheffield Afrobeat/noise/dance-pop combiners Blood Sport called it a day. Two-thirds of them – drummer Sam Parkin and guitarist/Octatracker Alex Keegan – have since resurfaced as Hyperstition Duo, a blistering stew of kit-rattles and synth noise smudging and battering the line between live gig and avant-garde DJ electronica. They’ll be supporting Gum Takes Tooth on this occasion: but where the headliners favour slower pace and a ritual weight, the Hyperstitioneers prefer a break-neck-speed informational barrage.

At the end of this past summer, Hyperstition Duo released their debut EP ‘Virotechnics‘. There’s the usual jargonated hype to go with it – “summoning egregors of the Anthropocene, (they) plunge deep to deliver a maximalist collective immersion into their own lysergic phonosphere. Lurching, polyrhythmic pathways crumble and re-assemble; elastic dynamics snap; propulsion sparks from the nerve-centre of machine and corporeal entanglement… templexing, möbius loops and cybernetic subjectivities abound in an attempt to conjure escape vectors in a world of ubiquitous sound.” For once, the texture of the press release – a plunge into lathering, urgent verbalisation – actually fits the texture of the music.



 
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Overlapping the Gum Takes Tooth/Hyperstition Duo concert, Ben Vince’s south-east London clubnight Ellipsis (blending strands and clumps of experimental dance and experimental pop) ventures up north to Dalston on the same night for an evening of seamless switching between stage and DJ deck. I’ve not encountered Ellipsis before, but I’m impressed with what I’m finding out now.

Bunny Hoova + Gribs + J.B. Glaser + Halfs, 18th October 2019

To headline this time, Ben’s enticed the perplexing Dutch-born Mancunian Bunny Hoova down for her full-band London debut. Her work is simultaneously delightful and frustrating. At its simplest, it’s a kind of fall-apart dream pop – intermittent rhythms, addled guitar chording and bass thumbing, a cloudwork of woven-in samples, and a constant tripping over unvoiced questions, obscured conclusions and the track-loops of the thought-train. But while most dream-pop sinks into a narcotized structural conservatism (strumming away in the same key while admiring the whorls of sound coming through the pedalboard), Bunny’s material seems constantly uncomfortable, actively intelligent, and hovering at the midpoint between insight and misdirection. She’s been yoked in with experimental pop deconstructors/faux-idiot savants like Tirzah and Micachu, and I can see why. There’s that classical conservatoire training: coyly hinted at in the PR, for extra credit, but in practise forced off into the distance like a spurned aunt (even as it’s being used as the counterweight to punkish anti-technique). There’s the idea that the usual rules of pop song and riff culture are being scorned in a meticulous matter-of-fact way via an admixture of free play and cerebral manifesto.

Plenty of the songs on Bunny’s debut album, ‘Longing’, have the sensual drag-and-tug rhythm of slow jams; but rather than focussing a mood or a regular pace, they wander off at instinctive mental tangents or hiccup into a different arrangement; the instruments and samples entwining in a scratchy, bewildered, irregular intimacy. At times she seems to be taking up an erratic desert map scrawled by Captain Beefheart and attempting to apply it to close urban living. At other times, she seems to be spontaneously transposing into song experimental short stories about offbeat relationships, jolting encounters or small moments which change the course of a life; rich in detail and significance, short on conclusion. Plot and flavour are stretched out and split into gobbets, like odd-shaped beads necklaced on a guitar string. Her most-talked-about song, Lazy_Easy, is a scrubbing, slurred, pointed dissection-tract covering both the implicit and explicit links between consumerist culture and animal cruelty: more of a wall-collage with blended-in musical notes than an actual song. The world she flits through feels as rickety as a condemned flat; one that she’s too good for and shouldn’t have to live with, but which she has to accommodate and fit her voice to.




 
Also playing are a mixed bag of London and Manchester electronic experimentalists with bedroom studios. Gribs is a creative DJ and electronic musician, a label co-boss (Tobago Tracks) who in her own music weaving connections between straight-up dance music (trap, jungle, bass culture) and lo-fi DIY sound-and-voice experiments. There’s a distinct edge of discomfort to her work: not so much or so often that it repels, but her found vocals and implied song characters seem uneasy, morbidly eccentric or disassociated from the music’s rhythmic propulsion or sensual salve.

More DJ-ing and deckmixing comes from J.B. Glazer, another London-based creator of peculiar counter-intuitive dance music: for him, a kind of relentlessly alienated mirror-image R&B, all of its comfort and slickness rusted away into disassociative ennui. In the work of both Glazer and Gribs, there’s an echo of chopped-and-screwed culture: the slowing, the altered-state disconnections and new connections, the sense that they’re using alienation as a kind of gatekeeper (if you like dance but are prepared to discard much of its qualities of release or of socializing, then perhaps you can squeeze through this door).

Rounding things out (or upsetting any remaining unspilled applecarts) there’s the mysterious and performative Halfs – from what I can work out, a try-anything beat-making romper on Manchester’s queer arts scene. I’ve found a very fruity synthdance EP of his/theirs from 2017, so there are a few slurps of its whooping dayglo industrial tones below. There have also been percussion-favouring mixtapes and albums which have been whipped capriciously on and off Soundcloud, but are gone now: other than that, there seems to be involvement with scratch theatre, video and so on. In order to properly keep up with Halfs, you need to subscribe (both literally, and in terms of consistent loyalty) so just consider this vague, semi-accurate plug of mine to be a jumping-on point and take it from there.


 
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Dates:

Onomatopoeia Records presents:
Hurtling + Stephen Evens + Junodef
The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, Islington, London, N1 0XT, England
Thursday 17th October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Gum Takes Tooth + Hyperstition Duo
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Friday 18th October 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Ellipsis presents:
Bunny Hoova + Gribs + J.B. Glaser + Halfs
SET (Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England
Friday 18th October 2019, 9.00pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming English folk-rock-but-not-just-folk-rock gigs – My Octopus Mind on tour (13th, 16th, 21st, 22nd February) with Jakabol, The Display Team, Lapis Lazuli and Malika Collective; Hexvessel and Arktau Eos in London (22nd February)

10 Feb

Flexible Bristol almost-acoustic trio My Octopus Mind occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them. There’s a jazzy rattle, predominantly via the gloriously noisy effected double bass of Izy Ellis (a growling, punchy, conversational art-box; upfront timber and raw electronic treatments). The whole band’s informed by post-Radiohead/Mars Volta art rock and by the mating of contrasts implicit in assorted culture collisions (such the Hindustani-classical meets New-York-loft-music teaming achieved in one particular favourite, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s ‘Passages’). Frontman singer and guitarist Liam O’Connell cites the sonic and psychological crescendos of Jeff Buckley and Josh Homme’s mix of heaviness and irony, but also the restraint of Jose Gonzales. Ex-Lambhorneer Oliver Cocup adds refreshed drum bounce, and racing through the whole thing is a rivulet – or, more accurately, an unstoppable jet – of skittish Balkan folk.


 
With a debut album, ‘Maladyne Cave’, nearing release, My Octopus Mind are out on a brief English tour wriggle this month, taking in Manchester, Canterbury, London and their hometown. In part, it’s to celebrate the recent release of their debut single Elska, with its increasingly disturbing Coppelian dance video (in which a man wheels an impassive doll-woman around in a suitcase, engaging in secret and increasingly frustrated trysts with her).

While Manchester is an evening for the band on their own, various temporary tourmates slot in elsewhere – in London, it’ll be the accomplished Afro-Latin groove band Malika Collective. The Canterbury show sports an eclectic psychedelic edge with local jam band and “maximalist psych-prog heroes” Lapis Lazuli plus the convoluted Zappa-brass meets London-urchin-pop of The Display Team (see passim) and psych/prog/punk funk/soul/dub/afro combination DJ interludes from Professor Appleblossom. The Bristol tour launch show, meanwhile, also features Jakabol, a warm Bristolian instrumental band in which violin, harp, guitar and drums leap and lurch tunefully around a set pitched midway between post-rock gutter and country hoedown (perhaps a further extension of the rural post-rocking I’ve been hearing from Rumour Cubes and Apricot Rail).



 
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Linkings between folk music and heavy rock go back pretty much all of the way to the start of the latter, especially in Europe. In plain sight, Led Zeppelin regularly immersed themselves in Welsh border hillsides and Janschian jangle; a little later, Jethro Tull brought in the jigs, liltings and mandolins while allying them to Ian Anderson’s witty, sardonic absolutely-in-the-moment songwriting voice (which swept in the eclectic interests and erudition of a restless, randy, contemporary urban boulevardier who could’ve make the idea of a leprechaun in your sitting room sound like something contemporary, adult and immediate rather than twee). In the ‘90s a swell of Celtic/Nordic folk metal and Gothic paganism via bands such as Skyclad led to a revival of mythic musical drama; in the Noughties, there was the feeling that the likes of Opeth were peering over their successive ramparts of black metal and prog in search of something offering more air and antiquity. Nowadays, you can hardly move for this sort of thing sprouting up from Ireland to Israel: driving a guitar through a hefty amp seems like one of the most effective ways to kick off an interest in your own folk history.

In many respects, latterday Anglo-Irish-Finnish heavy-folk-rockers Hexvessel hanker back to Tull – some of the lilts and jangles are there, as are the banging barn-door blurts of chunky electric guitar work – but they also trade in some of the dramatic minor keys and broody, nonconforming, subculture-meets-antiquity feel of Skyclad. Of course, this is probably incidental: it would be more constructive to reconsidering the swirling body of interests and philosophy surrounding singer and prime mover Mat McNerney. Despite Mat’s former black metal links (as “Kvohst”, he cavorted across stages with bands like Dødheimsgard and Code), Hexvessel avoid certain predictable pitfalls – no ludicrous demonic posturing; no arid hating; no polluted white-is-right old-Europe nationalism. This is primarily because under the corpse paint Kvohst always seems to have been a thoughtful and sensible chap with a well-calibrated bullshit detector, sorting the nourishing myths from the toxic ones.




 
Instead, Hexvessel explore a range of thinking stimuli – post-/pre-Catholic pagan magick; the connecting threads connecting contemporary Finnish woodland psych with the brooding kosmische stews of Amon Duul and the chatty verbal maximalism of early ‘70s British psych folk; comic book legendariums; and respectful pro-feminist reintegrations of women back into musical forms that have often wandered too far down macho paths. Later this month, they’re setting up camp at St Johns Bethnal Green; playing a London show as part of the European tour in support of brand new album ‘All Tree’, in which they’ve endeavoured to blend Mat’s memories of old ghost stories and other transmissions of folk culture with their own dramatic Samhain vibes and symbolic forest-folk musical experiments (including playing tree boughs with violin bows). Mat sees it as a way of connecting to Samhain’s liminal side; a time when ancestors, as spirits and memories, are that much closer.

Hexvessel’s tree-bowing was captured out by the band’s resident field recording/sound conjuring wizard Antti Haapapuro. In another incarnation – as half of sacking-masked ritual ambient/oneiric duo Arktau Eos – he and fellow Eosian Antti Litmanen open the show, rubbing the psychic gateways open with their primeval sounding drones, swells and invocation of significant spaces – simultaneously post-industrial and prehistoric, thrumming out of a green church, resonating nook or ancient gravehole like a stone-tape playback of ancient, dignified rites.

Steeped in hermetic philosophy and Apophatic theology, Arktau Eos come across as thoughtful ceremonial scholars in interviews such as this one in the ‘This Is Darkness’ ezine. Eloquent and courteous if you care to track them down for a respectful conversation, but unswayed by distractions from their business of the mining of the “ur-currents” of religious faith; the pull of site-specific mysteries, apprehending experience without attempting to stare it in the face or pin it down with sentences. In a similar spirit, I think I should just leave the descriptions there, as they stand. Essentially, it’s all in the sound and the placement, and the ceremonial use of the available moment. Understand them that way.


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

My Octopus Mind:

  • The Crofters Rights, 117-119 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RW, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 7.30pm (with Jakabol) – information here and here
  • The Old Abbey Taphouse, Guildhall Close, Manchester, M15 6SY, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here
  • UCA Bar Canterbury, New Dover Road, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 3AN, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.30pm (with The Display Team + Lapis Lazuli) – information here
  • The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm (with Malika Collective) – information here and here

Old Empire proudly presents:
Hexvessel + Arktau Eos
St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming London pop and rock gigs – The Mantis Opera, Bozo Zoo, The Butterfly Wheel and Imogen Bliss (25th August); Norwood & Brixton Foodbank fundraiser with Treasure Of Woe, Carl White and Apocalypse Jazz Unit (also 25th August)

15 Aug

The Mantis Opera + Bozo Zoo + The Butterfly Wheel + Imogen Bliss, 25th August 2018There are several reasons that I’ve been following the exploits of The Mantis Opera this year. One is the music: an illuminating synth-rock rush through cunningly orchestrated post-classical complexity and brainiac alternative pop, topped with similarly cerebral lyrics which slide fizzing, thinking ribbons through philosophy, logic and linguistic theory before binding them back into more down-to-earth life situations.

If this sounds hideously dry or snooty, it isn’t. This is simply music which is neither ashamed of its own cleverness, nor too self-absorbed or chilly to invite you along for the ride. They’re among an increasing number of newish, bumping-along-in-the-underground acts who share this kind of quirky enthusiasm and possess the requisite smarts and chops to back it up. Tom O.C. Wilson, Prescott, Thumpermonkey and Lost Crowns spring immediately to mind: bands and songwriters who see nothing wrong with turning out songs with the depth and twists of playful short stories, of compressed novels-of-ideas or of meandering Flann O’Brien-esque digressions.

As regards The Mantis Opera, I’ve been chucking around terms like “wide-awake brain music” and “avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil” and I’m not going to drop those yet, although I might have to come up with a few more if the band are going to keep up regular performances.



 
The other reason that I’m keeping an eye on The Mantis Opera is that they tend to keep interesting gig company. Whether they’re good at being invited or are inordinately good at charming their way into lineups, the band seem to have a knack for fitting onto a wide variety of different bills, and this end-of-the-month gig at Paper Dress Vintage is no exception.

Two summers old, already pegged as “rust-bucket swing” and compared to “Mark E. Smith manning the Hot Five”, Bozo Zoo play rootsy jazz-folk and rhythm & blues on drums, double bass and comfortably sleazy sax. Hollering, theatrical vocalist and off-the-wall lyricist Mark Warren (who also handles the inevitable, ubiquitous ukulele) ensures that they tilt into a similar realm of bulging-vein vigour and twisted circus berserkery to that of The Tiger Lillies. A few decades ago he was bobbing about in the kind of lucky-dip underground bands that showed up on Org Records compilations: now he’s singing up budding cabaret gallimaufries of music hall songs and ditties about chess grandmasters. On top of all this, Bozo Zoo seem to have fused Spinal Tap with Schrödinger, via recent online mutterings about “a new drummer but we’ve also kept our drummer… but it ain’t a band with two drummers… but we have got two drummers… it’s complicated.”


 

Hailing from east London and extensively festooned with mysticism, The Butterfly Wheel aren’t quite the esoteric revelation that they’d like to make out. Plenty of their surface schtick – the Gothic theatrical trappings, the Early Music dirge-wails, the stripping away of Western pop tropes in favour of frowning middle-continent antiquity – is more than familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Dead Can Dance (or of the host of intense, tousled imitators DCD spawned over three decades). What is refreshing is the shifts underneath those surface. A female duo, their songs reshuffle and transform archetypes for an increasingly feminised new time. There’s the sense of old stone patriarchal gods and legends being chipped away at; of more hopeful alternatives being birthed out of the sea; of the stories sitting up and rewriting themselves. We’ll have to see where it leads.



 
From Camberwell and Coldharbour, Imogen Bliss reshuffles Eastern European folk songs and tufty pop covers on voice, mandolin and loop station. The examples below are Armenian and Balkan/Romani, sandwiching a reworked Cure hit: the latter may not sound a great deal different to those pixiedreamgirl uke songs which still bog down every other cinema advert, but Imogen sounds awake and illuminated rather than sun-drenched and casually dreamy. I’m guessing that she’s got other tricks up her sleeve…

 
Paper Dress Presents…
The Mantis Opera + Bozo Zoo + The Butterfly Wheel + Imogen Bliss
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Saturday, 25 August 2018, 7.45pm
– information here and here
 

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Norwood & Brixton Foodbank Fundraiser: Treasure Of Woe + Carl White + Apocalypse Jazz Unit, 25th August 2018On the same night, there’s this. Lovers of righteous noise, here’s your chance to sample some noise that’s a bit more righteous…

“London promoters Wrongpop and Chaos Theory have gotten together for a one-off special event to raise money for Norwood & Brixton Foodbank: some of the best new underground bands out there have agreed to bring you their sounds for this excellent cause, so it’ll be a phenomenal evening with extra positive vibes. 100% of ticket sales go to the charity.

“Formed from members of Long Slow Dissolve,The Love Me Tenders and Witchfist, Treasure Of Woe play stoner and psychedelic jams on guitar and drums. We’ve seen this duo doing their thing at The Facemelter last September and they just keep on recording their jams and releasing them online, so have a listen at the link and get down for the full live experience.


 
Carl White are a guitar/drums experimental rock duo, originally formed in Brighton and now based in London. Over the years they’ve shared the stage with acts such as Nitkowski, Alpha Male Tea Party, Flies Are Spies From Hell, Witching Waves and The Mae Shi.They’re currently working on a new EP, from which there will be a single/video released in the next couple of months.


 
Apocalypse Jazz Unit were started in 2013 by Rick Jensen as a recording project, after nearly three years of not making music. After numerous albums, Rick recruited some new and old musician buddies and started playing live. AJU quickly went from a small group to an over-the-top collective of psycho improvisers, with up to seventeen members at any one time. To date, they have released over seventy albums and have played a ton of gigs. AJU harnesses the spiritual fire of free-jazz of the ‘60s, mixed with a bit of disco when the mood takes them. Always high-energy and with a heavy sense of humour, AJU can easily swing from delicate and sombre, to full-blast horn mayhem.”


 
Wrongpop & Chaos Theory Music Promotions present:
Norwood & Brixton Foodbank Fundraiser: Treasure Of Woe + Carl White + Apocalypse Jazz Unit
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Saturday 25th August 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming gigs – Bauhaus’ David J plays solo in London and Wellingborough (25th & 26th August)

13 Aug

Peter Murphy tour with David J, 2018This week, half of goth-rock godfathers Bauhaus – in this case, sculpted singer/self-styled myriad of colours Peter Murphy and bass player David J – embark on the latest of their intermittent reunions: the Ruby Celebration Tour, which commemorates the original band’s fortieth anniversary (and on which they’ll perform the whole of their 1980 debut album ‘In the Flat Field’, ending up with a crowd-pleasing encore of Bauhaus classics).

Sprawling sonorously across several months in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the UK, the tour’s probably already old news if you’re a committed member of the eager bat-chasing hordes, but full dates are available here if you want them. What you might have missed is that, in parallel to the tour, David J. is playing a couple of special solo shows.

David J, 2018 (photo © Circle23)

David J, 2018 (photo © Circle23)

Soft-spoken and thoughtful, David’s been regarded as one of the peacekeepers within Bauhaus’ sometimes belligerent emotional ferment, ameliorating the ongoing turbulence and “psychodrama” between Murphy and restless guitarist Daniel Ash. He was also a prime contributor to the oft-underestimated intellectual weight of the band, weaving references to Zen Buddhism, funk, art and architecture into the dark, dank, post-punk shape-throwing.

Yet aside from Bauhaus (and regardless of various reunions), he’s made a multi-faceted post-band career for himself, taking in sculpted noise, drama scoring, playwriting and fine art as well as songwriting. In addition to solo music, this has included work with The Jazz Butcher and Amanda Palmer; with Dutch downtempo trio Strange Attractor; with original Bauhaus art movement member René Halkett; and in particular with his fellow Northampton occultist Alan Moore (initially through the macabre campfire singalong of The Sinister Ducks, then a ‘V for Vendetta’ tie-in EP, and most recently and rewardingly via five albums of intricate words-and-noise psychogeographic “workings” as members of The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, digging up and expounding on weird history on location).

David J, 25th August 2018Both the tour with Murphy and the solo dates coincide with the early September reissue of David’s second solo album, ‘Crocodile Tears and The Velvet Cosh’. Initially released in 1985 (shortly before David re-engaged with a Murphy-less Bauhaus lineup to form alt-pop pioneers Love & Rockets) it was part of a determined move to shed the cloying Bauhaus image. Its bright semi-acoustic pop sound (with David comfortably swapped over to guitar and fronting) and its assured singer-songwriter stance had more in common with the songs of Aztec Camera or the deft wit of the Postcard Record bands, simultaneously freeing up and revealing the genuine breadth of his influences and ideas. He now remembers it as “a personal pastoral favourite… the album that really set the tone for all of my future solo endeavours.”


 
David J, 26th August 2018Of the two shows, the London performance looks like being a relatively straightforward affair. The truly committed and intrigued will need to make a pilgrimage the following day – up to the Midlands and to Wellingborough, where David will be playing a special acoustic show in Bauhaus’ original stomping ground Beck Studios, in which the band recorded much of their early work).

A limited-capacity event (with a boutique price tag), it’ll focus on songs spanning David’s career as well as songs originally recorded at Beck, and will also feature a live interview conducted by Andrew Brooksbank (author of ‘Bauhaus – Beneath The Mask’) and a Q&A session with the audience, with the whole event being recorded and filmed for later release.

Dates:

  • The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, Islington, London, N1 0XT, England, Saturday 25th August 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • ‘Back to Beck’ @ Beck Studios, 2 Gisburne Road, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, NN8 4EE, England, Sunday 26th August 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here

 

November 1996 – album reviews – Various Artists ‘Radio Hepcats’ compilation (“a strong whiff of dark-toned, filigreed, 4AD style introspection… heady, winning underground music”

26 Nov

Various Artists: 'Radio Hepcats'

Various Artists: ‘Radio Hepcats’

Can you can imagine a sort of cross between ‘Friends’ and a pre-job-market ‘This Life’, in which all the characters appear to be played by close relatives of those odd, unclassifiable, button nosed mammals (what the hell were they, then? bear/possum crossbreeds? doughboys?) who got perpetually stuck with the supporting roles in Disney Club comics?

If so, then you’ll have a fair (if reductionist) idea of Martin Wagner’s ongoing graphic novel ‘Hepcats’. Along with its darker and more tragic sister strip ‘Snowblind’, this warm, witty, compassionate and beautifully drawn adult strip – set on the campus of the University of Texas – follows the fortunes of a small group of students (Erica, Joey, Gunther, and Arnie) and their perpetual struggle of balancing friendships and growing maturity with an acceptable level of fun and the freedom to make mistakes. Sounds familiar? In Martin’s hands it’s both recognisable and sparkling.

Currently celebrating a new linkup with Antarctic Press and the consequent release from the headaches and pitfalls of self publishing, Martin’s just expanded the “Hepcats” world by releasing the first in a set of companion CDs: not so much a ‘Hepcats’ soundtrack as just a set of, as Martin puts it, “damn good songs that seem right at home with Erica and the gang.” But if you’re expecting another college beerkeg singalong album, think again.

Despite the tendency of the Hepcats cast to engage in animated chat as opposed to holing up in their bedrooms brooding over a Walkman, there’s a strong whiff of dark-toned, filigreed, 4AD style introspection to this compilation. It’s the tendency of the bands involved to spice their music with a little darkness, a little ornateness: and as a result ‘Radio Hepcats’ is generally closer to the sombre and unsettling shades of ‘Snowblind’ than the lively sun-washed tints of ‘Hepcats’ itself. Green Day’s pogo party this ain’t: it’s more like Ivo Watts-Russell’s children coming home to roost.


 
Explicitly, sometimes. The Curtain Society‘s waltzing Ferris Wheel has that familiar sound of twangling Cocteau Twins bass and grumbling spiky washes of guitar under the melancholic push-and-pull vocals. More of those queasy, giggling, Robin Guthrie-ish guitars show up on Siddal‘s Secrets of the Blind, a two parter that swings unexpectedly from chirpy drunken-fairy pop into one of those Cocteaus alien piano ballads that dislocate you from your own consciousness.

And if you’ve ever wondered what a troubled hermit’s answer to the arresting, barren grandeur of Dead Can Dance might be like, look no further than Soul Whirling Somewhere. Unhittable – utterly isolated and beautiful darkwave – drifts up as if from the bottom of a well: Michael Planter’s ashy, yearning voice floating out from its shrouds of tolling Joy Division bass and dark persuasive ambience, which caress and pull it down like water saturating the clothes of a drowner. It lulls you with sepulchral beauty while draining the warmth out of the room: you can all but see ice forming on the speakers.


 
But let’s not nit-pick. Even if the 4AD pointers can sometimes be pretty self evident, this is – at the very least – an album of heady, winning underground music. They might have some obvious forebears, but the bands on ‘Radio Hepcats’ also possess persuasive and seductive sounds, which are especially welcome in the current atmosphere of half asleep indie and heritage Britpop. With The Red Dots, An April March plunge down into their own thunderous take on guitar heavy dream pop with enough force to squish any of their British shoegazer ancestors (Chapterhouse, Slowdive). This stuff rides on a natural internal dynamic as much as on any phaser pedal setting, and coasts in on a dark thrum of guitar as impersonal and unstoppable as a typhoon.


 
Martin’s offered us the odd surprise, too. Visible Shivers have the sort of name to suggest more of the same chilly darkwave as Soul Whirling Somewhere but prove, in fact, to have the same sort of Southern States nerviness as their near brothers in name, Shudder to Think. Lo-fi country-flavoured twelve-string jangle pop, complete with plaintive harmonica and plonky bass, which on After Glory prances closer to the Appalachian chirp of Robbie Robertson, Dr Hook or ‘Fables…’-era REM than to the stonecarved artiness of much of the rest of the ‘Radio Hepcats’ broadcast. Then there’s William McGinney‘s ‘Hepcats’-themed snatch of filmic lo-fi piano and synthwork, halfway between ‘Knotts Landing’ and Angelo Badalamenti. And to silence any remaining doubts, there’s two more bands on here – the shimmeringly lovely Mistle Thrush and the ever-magnificent No-Man – who transcend genrework altogether.


 
Mistle Thrush open the CD with a soulful seduction, giving us Wake Up (The Sleep Song). First it curls into our hearts like a gorgeously soporific Julee Cruise ballad, and then suddenly expands into a huge cathedralline Bark Psychosis space where Valerie Fargione’s voice strips itself of anxious sugar and powers up into a huge, majestic Patsy Cline alto, as if the lump in our throats has finally gulped them into a place more fit for their bewitching talents. Further on, No-Man provide two wildly different and divergent contributions: the industrial, near incomprehensible clatter pop of Infant Phenomenon (which powers along on a rattling log drum beat, offensively dirty guitars and gasped, abstract lyrics), and the all embracing Steve Reich-ian trance funk of Heaven Taste; a sweetly slumbering twenty plus minute ambient monster with a bellyful of twinkling lights, sky tickling violin, leviathan Mick Karn bass and perhaps a couple of bites of Chartres Cathedral.



 
Martin Wagner’s not only compiled a beautifully-paced compilation album, he’s also given much deserved space to a clutch of very under-regarded bands. And the latest activity on the ‘Hepcats’ site suggests that an even more captivating follow-up compilation is on the way. The whole ‘Hepcats’ affair, both on and off record, is looking like a series well worth tuning in to. Cool for cats and everyone else.

Various Artists: ‘Radio Hepcats’
Antarctic Press, RHCD1 (no barcode)
CD-only album
Released:
November 1996
Get it from: (2020 update) Long out of-print, rare, and best obtained second-hand. Originally came free with deluxe edition of “Hepcats” #0.
Hepcats online:
Martin Wagner’s Hepcats blog, and online reprints of the original comic at Comic Genesis.
Additional notes: (2020 update) Of the artists on this album, The Curtain Society and No-Man are both still active; Visible Shivers enjoyed a ten year career between 1990 and 2000; Mistle Thrush’s Valerie Forgione was later in Van Elk, while Soul Whirling Somewhere’s Michael Plaster resurfaced in Yttriphie and An April March’s Danella Hocevar later worked as Danellatron. William McGinney has divided his time between film music and academia.
 

July 1995 – album reviews – Mark Tschanz’s ‘Blue Dog’ (“vast expressionistic tableaus”)

13 Jul

Mark Tschanz: 'Blue Dog'

Mark Tschanz: ‘Blue Dog’

It starts well: a dark slow maelstrom of synth choir nailed down by a harsh hammering drum, then synth double bass adding a steely spring over a tickle of menacing percussion. Pagan synth-brass blares force their way in: finally a brandy-soaked voice like the High Priest of the Temple of Dark Desires roars “this is the life!” and in come slamming techno beats and snarling, snorting metal guitars. Vangelis jams with Nine Inch Nails? Well, there’s a few perceptions busted.

I first heard about Mark Tschanz from a chance encounter on a train, when someone described him to me as a Swiss Peter Gabriel. This was a little misleading. Mark Tschanz is in fact a Swiss Elvis Presley as orchestrated by Carl Orff and directed by Cecil B. De Mille, with words by Jim Morrison and spiritual guidance by Mephistopheles on mescalin. And while Gabriel mostly writes intimate and vulnerable psychological dramas, Tschanz always opts for vast expressionistic tableaus: angels, typhoons, and circuses casting stark shadows against deserts and discoloured skies.


 
His music is correspondingly epic – symphonic synthesized Euro-pomp and harsh Prokofiev pitches melded with steamy drum loops and biting guitars, and topped off with the stony intensity of the itinerant, isolated lone bluesman. He also has an ear for uncanny lyrics – unless it’s just the tricks of translation – with imagery ranging from the sharply poetic (“the white clown who blows great big bubbles full of screams”) to the plain bizarre (“I’ll be the heat inside your dog”). And he’s blessed with the kind of dark, monolithic baritone voice that sounds like the pronouncements of a huge pagan idol. It gives his brooding forays into colossitude an edge that rescues them from the “big-music” cliches they skirt.

Like his obvious antecedents – Dead Can Dance – Mark Tschanz has enough sheer presence to justify the scale of his musical canvas. And it is on a huge scale: his dark meditations on the human spirit are swollen to Wagnerian proportions. The Immortals broods thunderously on stagnation – “I am the church upon the hill, and I am full of infidels / As they are all trying to kill what of me still wants to rebel.” Both Happy and Rattlesnake charge off into darkly-orchestrated funk-metal, sizzling dance loops wound around with metallic sheets of funk-wah guitar and scraping, rasping ba-a-a-d vocals – “the world takes us like a whirling wind, and it would be so good not to be wondering… / Something in you knows, baby, / whatever makes you happy is what will set you free.”

The stark loneliness in Time is illustrated with an epically mournful rush of thunderously weeping cellos and guitars, as Tschanz ties himself together with starving dogs, swollen rivers and weeping women in a net of timeless patience and pain. And the apocalyptic forebodings of Storm are medieval ones – the world, in half-conscious anticipation, slowing to a halt, angels and demons preparing for battle in the skies, and earthbound horses huddling close to fences in nameless dread and desire for human warmth. Tschanz hovers above all this with the sardonic air of someone who knows what sort of bill has to be paid: “one day you will turn around, / maybe only for a second, / and there will be no-one to call, / and there will be nothing at all.”

Yes. All right. At its worst it’s pumped-up goth pomp; and one might question why everything has to be so gigantic. Incubus, in particular, sounds like a cathedral hosting a black mass in full swing: screeching metal guitar, menacing choral stabs and deep belling synths as Tschanz roars and broods on the seductions of immortality (“Look at history unfold. / Are you sure time can’t grow old? / I’ve got something on my mind / that wants you to live forever.”), acknow,edging that such desires are rarely pure – “I hear it howling!”. Mr Crowley, they’re playing your tune.


 
Still, many of these songs somehow knit the existential dreads of Robert Johnson’s blues to the blood-soaked threads of Eastern European history that thrum through the music of Gorecki or Orff; as in Time, the blurred carnival blues of Love Song, or the tear-smudged Rain which takes the striving and drama of human achievements, of wars good or bad, of systems that swallow and actions significant, and reduces them all to washed-away impermanence. And Tschanz knows when to skewer the pomp with humour: as The Life peaks, he snarls “I drink to fiction and monsters and paradise, / I drink to the light, the out of sight – I drink a lot!”

The threatening, showy grandeur of ‘Blue Dog’ might not be for everyone, but if big-bastard stadium paganism is your bag then it’ll stalk you, grab you by the ankle and won’t let go. And if his musical world doesn’t implode under the weight of its own epicness, we can expect great things from Mark Tschanz’s savagely baroque imagination. The Wicker Man probably has this playing on his headphones.

Mark Tschanz: ‘Blue Dog’
Warner Music UK, 0630-10606- 2
CD-only album
Released:
10th July 1995
Get it from: (2020 update) Best obtained second-hand.
Mark Tschanz online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Last FM Spotify Amazon Music
 

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