If the musical genre that went by the name of “goth” quickly got weighed down with pantomime pretensions, corny cliche and primary school theatrics until it disappeared into its own black hole, Gothic Novel is the perfect antidote to such silliness. Taking the general theme suggested by the title it is a collection of tales based around gothic literature, dark romance and moonlit encounters. Some might label such a device a concept album, but better perhaps to call it an album of concepts, especially given the collaborative and fluid nature of the music.
Anything that puts me in mind of All About Eve is going to be good with me. That may be a lazy way to start talking about Eve Vine’s fine new single but it does come swathed in similar psychedelic meets gothic textures, the same translucent beauty, the same sonic elegance. But whereas Julianne Reagan and the crew quickly headed out into more pastel and Pre-Raphaelite territory, Evi Vine stays closer to the swirling dark riches that AAE’s early demos marked them out for.
As the industrial white noise that kicks the album off descends into a searing, pounding explosion of shard-like guitars and cavernous atmospheres, oddly enough I have never felt so at home, so quickly. But then I grew up in the eighties. I grew up with clinical beats of The Sisters of Mercy, the beautifully washed-out and elegantly wasted soundscapes of My Bloody Valentine, the white hot riffs of The Jesus and Mary Chain, the demonic oppression of The Fields of the Nephilim and everything in between. And they are all, in some small fashion, pulsing away at the heart of Modern Cults.
There is a tendency to talk about such cool, dark and clinical music such as that found on Image merely in relation to a certain circle of bands who, driven by new technologies, new attitudes and new musical visions in the wake of the UK punk explosion, created a sound that reflected their stark, generally northern, surroundings. But such music, such art, such imagery has always feed a certain appetite in modern culture. From gothic romantic poets, Victorian horror novelists, Nosferatu’s black and white film appearance through to the dark Dionysian shamanism of The Doors, the post-punk experimentalist and on into the boom of comic book culture, cosplay and video games, society feeds off of it.
As we head into the halloween weekend, houses are being suitably be-decked in all things spooky and it is the perfect time to re-immerse yourself in the much misunderstood genre that is goth. Not only does it make for the perfect soundtrack, you will be reminded just how great some of the music was.
It comes as no surprise to find out that the lives and career of the people who make music as The Venus Fly Trap are intrinsically linked to those of fellow explorers of dark music, Bauhaus. Same home town, same art college, same gigging circuit, Kevin Haskins was even to be found as their producer from time to time.
It is fair to say that 34 years is rather a long time to wait for a new album and although the band underwent a period of rejuvenation in 2015 when they worked with vocalist Herra Ylppö to release a two-track e.p., this recent collaboration with Jyrki Linnankivi from The 69 Eyes was only ever intended to produce a couple of songs in English for fans beyond their Finnish borders. Still, as is often the way, one thing leads to another and the next thing you know you are clutching a full blown album of new material.
Musta Paraati are sonic brethren to the likes of Killing Joke or Theatre of Hate, skirting the cliche of goth with enough distance to put them in a more credible market. They build songs around the same sonic Strum and Drang as those dark post-punk bands, they wander between cavernous doom and chiming electronica and there is something of Carl McCoy in Linnankivi’s vocals, only with much better clarity and diction. But unlike McCoy’s Nephilim they stop short of the pretension that oozed from their pores. Like most bands who start in fairly niche genres you only survive by quickly broadening your horizons, The Clash had out grown punk by London’s Calling and more relevantly The Mission had shed the goth moniker by the time they had put Children to bed.
Black Parade is the sound of a band who know their audience but who don’t pander to its every whim, casting their net to a wider alternative rock potential crowd. The one older song here, Leader, proves that they already knew how to walk the fine line between the dark edge of underground New Romanticism and what would soon be termed alternative rock even as the NWOBHM championed the classic sound of the seventies.
The remaining ten tracks are all new. Chopsticks chimes with a wonderful space and accessibility, Radio is dense with heavy textures even as it references Bowies most soul -pop moments, Reaper is raw and jagged and Today is the perfect blend of dance groove and industrial edge. It’s easy to see where the bands blackened heart lies but the charm of the album is that this is the sound of the band writing the music that they might if they were starting out today. Whether you are a fan of the early albums or just someone looking for music that flies in the face of modern by-the-numbers alt-rock and identikit indie, this is an album that you are going to fall for immediately.
You have to admire a band’s dedication to its audience when they break into your house at night, rummage through your record collection, leaving as dawn breaks with the place as tidy as they found it and then use that covertly acquired information to write music which encapsulates the best of those sonic delights fashioned into something totally new. It can be the only answer, how else could they come up with a song that sounds so perfectly in tune with the music that constantly plays in the back of my head…not to mention my living room.
Bass lines straight out of classic era New Model Army, the power and confidence of a Dave Vanian vocal delivery, guitars that shimmer with the Mission’s dark arabesque and chimes with Kevin Walker’s gothic dreamscapes. For anyone whose 80’s experience was standing in a muddy field watching live bands whilst wearing a “Coal not Dole” tee-shirt rather than the day-glo pop image we have since been sold, this is the perfect time machine back to their formative years. To everyone younger it is a slice of what you missed out on. But now you don’t have to miss out and I don’t have to just dream of the past, with bands like Klammer making records such as this gem, a dark and brooding musical renaissance could be just around the corner. Imagine….
One of the fun things about reviewing new music is the chance to make up intriguing, though ultimately pointless, new generic descriptions about the music under the spotlight. The fact you can do it at all says something about the band in question, to be able to find a new way to describe them in an already tightly labelled and pigeon-holed world speaks of the inherent originality. So ladies and goblinkind, I give you Splatter-punk! One part industrial noise, one part apocalyptic doom disco, one part horror sound track…a few visceral guitar riffs, cheese-grater to the skin bass lines and an avalanche of primal beats and you pretty much have it. And if such a generic title is actually something more than the product of my late night, coffee-wired, sleep deprived brain then Nasty Little Lonely would be its leading light. Or should that be dark.
Charlie Beddoes vocals are suitable manic, unhinged yelps acting as punctuation to the brutal lyrics, a delivery that wanders between sweetly innocent and “look out, she’s got a knife, “ and the music is as relentless and inhuman as you would expect. Throw in a video filled with pomegranates, dolls, scissors, wedding portraits revenge, a cat and a mad goth girl and the nightmare is complete.
The role of creativity is many and varied, to inform, to entertain, to reassure, to challenge, to confound, to frighten. If you find some of your preferences in the second half of that list then the wonderfully named Silent Disco Sex are probably for you. They come from a dark musical place, one that draws from eerie and edgy electronica, slow, shuffling and doom-laden dance beats, strange swirling synth riffs, heady atmospheres and heavy spoken word top lines. Throw in a video which looks like it was spawned by the Saw franchise and you have something well outside the usual range of pop gloss and dance dross.
Their’s is a playground of dystopian hi-jinks, of night times on the decaying streets, of subversion and protest, of industrial wastelands and underground nightclubs, of shadows and neon, light and shade taken to it’s extremes. It is the collision point of the sound of distant, industrial machinations and transient, clinical digital languages, the distant humming of the modern world and the poetry of decay. It is a distant, disembodied opera, which echoes from our technology reflecting the detachment and unease of the world around us.
They are fellow sonic travellers of the likes of Nine Inch Nails, reminiscent of a mutant coupling of Depeche Mode and Tool, a blend of gothic claustrophobia, industrial bleakness and dark, dance drama. It is easy to see where they come from, where some of their references lie, but the ability to shape those influences into new statements, musically speaking, about the world they find themselves in and comment on where it may be heading is all you can ask of them.
Musical things I like: Songs that are swept through with epic drama. Chilled electronica. Understated guitar work. Ambient gothic intrigue. Pretty much everything that came out on the 4AD label. Bands who create rather than follow fashion. Rock bands willing to mix and match classic sounds with eclectic potential. Musical things I love: At the moment there isn’t much higher up the list than this new album from The Blood Choir. Why? Because any band who can tick pretty much all of those boxes in the space of a 5 minute opening track is always going to impress the hell out of me.
Its been 6 years since No Windows to the Old World first walked amongst us but Houses of The Sun is well worth the wait, blending, as it does, Floydian soundscapes and mercurial Talk Talk-esque song structures, gentle balladic deliveries and seering guitars washes of keyboards and plaintive pianos and just as crucially space, atmosphere and anticipation.
Tracks such as the wonderfully named Outward Travel Must Not Be in the Past seem to exist as broken musical fragments drifting gently past on the edge of consciousness and at the other extreme The Boat is a full blown celebration of post-punkery made over for a new, less tribal generation. And whilst these two tracks show the extreme points of the scope and depth of the song crafting, it is the fact that rather than take a polarised position on such a sonic scale they are adept at wandering such extreme musical pathways within the same song.
White Bear is a chilled gothic anthem interspersed with jagged riffs and ethereal, fallen angel harmonies, Simon’s Beach is a slow burning, brooding and glitchy journey towards oblivion and the title track and opening salvo itself grows from distant, half heard noise to a cavernous crescendo.
It’s a majestic album, there is no other word for it, one that sweeps and broods, whispers and screams, caresses and frightens, attacks and atones…sometimes all within one song. It’s been a long wait guys but if that is the price we have to pay for such an album, then so be it.
Heptapod exists at a point where pop falls into a dark abyss, where electronica starts to become self aware, where gothic music finds its way from the dark basement venues and onto the neon glare of the clubland dance floors. Apocalyptic disco? Doom pop? Gothtronica? Take your pick, they all work. Imagine if Depeche Mode and Zola Jesus had a couple of strange children (how could they be anything other than strange from such a union) or if Nine Inch Nails went into the commercial pop business.
Because for all its mercurial ways there is something wonderfully commercial about Heptapod, not as in chart hit, TV advert, mainstream radio playlist type commercial but there is an army of movers and shakers, discerning pop pickers and tastemakers who will dig its otherness, its ability to wander down the same streets as the regular folk, to walk hand in hand with the conformists of the music industry machine but still retain their weird and beguiling musical persona. You don’t have to try and change them, you don’t even have to try to understand them, but you do have to admire them.
Any band worth their salt should be able to fill a book with anecdotes and stories of their touring and recording life, one that is a flame for moth-like fans and at least piques the interest of the more general reader. Any band, after even a few years on the road, who can’t fill such pages with tales of high-jinx and shenanigans would have to face some serious questions about their suitability for their chosen career.
Bauhaus, as you would imagine, are a band more than up to the task, as proven by Kevin Haskins new book, Bauhaus – Undead. The Northampton four piece always stood out, from their genre defining sound to their iconic look and right from receiving their first reviews in the local paper, drummer Haskins became the bands archivist. The book looks back at their 70’s/80’s heyday (as well as their Coachella reunion in 2005) and takes the form of a collection of amazing photographs as well as artwork for posters and flyers, there are backstage passes, handwritten lyrics, setlist, personal notes and even a Bauhaus comic strip all linked together by Haskins poignant and amusing text.
It charts the band’s rise from art-school dreamers through playing guerrilla gigs…they supported The Pretenders, without them even knowing…to the release of Bela Lugosi’s Dead which put them on the map and launched a scene which endures to this day, and finally bowing out devoid of fanfare. Somewhat ironic for a band long accused by the press of over the top melodrama and pretentious theatrics!
It goes without saying that this is a must for any fan of Bauhaus, the gothic sound, eighties alternative scenes or underground music in general. The book’s layout and design matches the bands stripped down aesthetic and art school origins but also signposts just how influential their mercurial blends of punk-gothique, reggae, dub, psychedelia and horror film soundtrack where to bands who followed. Everyone from Massive Attack to Sigur Ros and from Interpol to The Smashing Pumpkins have worshipped at their musical alter. More than that it will be the coolest book to be found on a coffee table anywhere in the Western Hemisphere!
Available from Cleopatra Music and Film HERE
Chandelier is an album which reminds us that the post-punk and gothic originators from which autumn, at least in part take their lead, were essentially pop bands, although ones not afraid to revel in a quirkiness and outsider stance. And whereas the likes of Souixsie and the Banshees, who are always going to get mentioned in autumn reviews not least for Julie Plante’s vocal similarities and The Mission’s dark Byrds-esque guitar work took things to darker places, autumn are more content to shimmer than brood, chime rather than moan.
Not that the two were ever very far apart anyway but Chandelier errs as much on the side of dream-pop as it does goth, happy to bathe in celestial light and bright ethereal haze rather than turn to the shadows. And it is this play off that creates the perfect sound. One about which the bat cavers and the creatures of the night will find a lot to like but also appealing to those mining a more 4AD and 80’s indie shaped furrow.
The Fall sums this dichotomy rather succinctly, dripping with melody and grandeur, accessibility and poetic poise but staying on the right side of the encroaching nightfall. It evokes dusk rather than the dark and that makes all the difference. Even songs with titles as in keeping with the image as Shadow Girl 2 and My Last Confession owe more to a dreamy pop canon, whilst driving on a strong sense of dance groove. This is music with mystery and majesty to spare but it is also perfect for the alternative club dance floor.
It was, and still is, easy to see the gothic scene as a monochrome set, a Poe faced bunch, the musical equivalent of a stack of Penny dreadfuls, cliched, derivative and pretentious. Chandelier and the band behind it are miles from that narrow view reality. Maybe the Banshees reference is even more apt than it first appears for autumn are also a band who have managed to out grow and evolve beyond the inner sanctum of what people would have you believe goth was really all about. Goth heading into the light of a new musical day? Oh the irony!
Madeline North a.k.a So Below releases her highly anticipated new single ‘Visions’, the fourth and final track from her freshly released second EP ‘II’ which is out now.
‘Visions’ is a four way Kiwi collaboration with co-writers Chelsea Jade and Sam McCarthy (Boyboy), with mixing and mastering done by Aaron Short (Space Above, The Naked And Famous). Sonically channeling North’s love of bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, ‘Visions’ conveys a sparse sultry feel – a juxtaposition to the joyous pop overtones of previous single ‘Close’. Sam McCarthy explains, “When we wrote Visions, Maddie was playing us tracks that she liked and I noticed a bit of an industrial theme. It was a fun palette to play with because it contrasted so nicely with the delicacy of her vocals.” Chelsea Jade further expands on the songwriting process, “I always feel like writing with Maddie is like entering deep space. It’s very dark and visceral.”
They say never judge a book, or in indeed a record, my its cover, but occasionally it is exactly the right thing to do. Take the cover of Wild Insane where we see, presumably one of the duo, looking like Nick Cave striking an Andrew Eldritch pose through that visual balance of futuristic gloss and dystopian intrigue that Gary Numan revelled in. And that isn’t a bad place to start. It conjures a sense of digital modernity meeting dark post-punkery, something both emotive yet clinical, human yet…other. That is pretty much what Vandal Moon deliver, so books and covers…yeah, sometimes it works.
It is very easy when writing about such bands to constantly use the 80’s as a reference point, and whilst based on the sounds emanating from this album you could have a pretty good stab at what’s in the band’s record collection, this is no mere wistful backward glance. After the punks had kicked down the barriers they moved on, the rules were gone and people were looking to create a new musical future. Vandal Moon are the heirs to that vision, not slaves to its history.
Wild Insane is fiercely of its time, this time, and though it is easy to see where it comes from, where it is going is the real point here. It is wonderfully forward-facing, its glamorous sleek minimalism, pristine synths, alternative disco reclamation, shimmering and chiming riffs, and clinical beats all pointing to a new way of approaching dance music. The Bomb being the perfect blend of past, present and future, modern and brooding pop standing on the shoulders of giants and reaching for the digital stars and Computer Loves reminds Depeche Mode that life isn’t so dark after all..okay it is but maybe all the drugs and alcohol didn’t always help their cause.
Vandal Moon is the musical lingua franca for anyone trying to marry commercialism with creativity, past with future, darkness with euphoria. Contradictions are only a problem when they don’t sit well together, here the opposites attract and it all makes perfect sense.
Post-Punk is more a place on a musical timeline than any meaningful conceptual handle, too broad to be insightful, too vague to carry any deep meaning. But if we take it to encapsulate a place that fits between the end of first wave 70’s punk and the rise of Brit-Pop/Grunge, depending on which side of the ocean you happened to reside, then Nostalgist are very much a post-punk band. Or they would be if they weren’t releasing Disaffection a quarter of a century after the original scene. But then I guess that the clue is in the name.
And yet somehow they have managed to produce an album which seems to draw together so many musical strands that the original scene was centred on, Disaffection seems less like a rose-tinted revisit and more like the result of a sonic possession. And whereas first time around those various strands were separated by the tribal allegiances of the time, today they seem natural bed fellows, weaving around each other in a way that they never did before. It means that you get blasted gothic tones delivered as shoegazery, dark brooding pop laced with ethereal dreamscaping, punk as art and rock music envisaged as slow moving industrial grooves. The difference is that the original scene was more a bunch of disparate musical tribes held together by shared artistic sensibilities and outsider status, Nostalgist, with the luxury of hindsight and the overview allowed by the passage of time, finally turn it into a cohesive sound. A sound which, intentionally or otherwise, sums up the alternative 80’s scene like no band of the time ever quite managed to.
Smoldering Amber comes on like Killing Joke delivering one of their less frantic art attacks, all anticipation and resonance, sonic weight and deliberation, Present Tense reminds us of Fields of The Nephilim’s ability to build fantasy worlds that mixed blasted guitars with shimmering riffs and the wonderfully named Threshed At Dusk, Winnowed at Dawn wanders through some brooding and ultra heavy new pop. Nailing their colours firmly to the past, they sign off with a cover of Catherine Wheel’s Texture, and such is Nostalgists ability to evoke the era, they do a remarkable job of reminding us of the song, and indeed the band, in all its glory.
Disaffection is both an updating of the past for those who weren’t there and also a reminder for those that were. But in an age where ill conceived tribute acts and poorly executed covers versions rely on the nostalgia receptors of the listeners brain to fill in the gaps, here we have a band which are neither a cover or a tribute but a genuine evocation of past glories whilst peddling their own unique and amalgamated sound.
If you believed in time travel and wormholes and all that science fiction malarky, you could probably build a convincing conspiracy theory around autumn having access to a portal that connects modern day Minneapolis with 80’s England. And if I was going to pin it down further I would say that it leads to the side door of one of those long lost, basement clubs that saw the outsider London punks blending with the dour northern bands to form that dark thread which has woven its way through the underbelly of music ever since.
I’m not saying that autumn in anyway plunder the past, with over 25 years in the game they are as much responsible for its sonic evolution as for where it goes next, I’m just saying I can see where they would have fitted right in. Somewhere between Souixsie and The Banshees shimmering textures and elegant vocals, The Cure’s otherness and Bauhaus’ brooding sense of doom.
Fall comes accompanied by a remix which pushes things into an electro dance world, it is beat driven and groovesome, but where that plays to the cyber-set, the original very much mines an old school seam, all swirling riffs, ambience and atmosphere. And what we would have called the B-side in more primitive times takes those atmospheres to slower, more chilled and greater theatrical heights. Before and After drips with dark majesty, shrouded cinematics and chiming elegance and whilst I’m sure the G-word is out of fashion, haunting is a much over used term for such a dark embrace and alt-anything is too broad to have meaning, never has a band blended pop infectiousness and rock grandeur in such a dark and dramatic way. Well, not for a very long time and rarely this far west anyway.
If the music which, often to the chagrin of the artists in question, became known as gothic was born out of the post-punk crucible, part the echoing of early punk urges, part embracing the electronic experiments that futurists and Blitz Kids pioneered, then bands such as On The Wane feel much more the natural successors to those seminal acts than the metallers and rockers who seem to have since grabbed all of the glory in its name. Whilst most bands of that initial scene quickly turned into straighter rock bands mining the commercial buck or began to take their pretentious crusade far too seriously, the music found on Schism feels like its long lost second chapter.
To many the term gothic now seems mainly to exist as just another sub-genre of metal supported by a generation who want to live in the Sunnydale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and pretend to be pagans and creatures of the night but this album manages to pull referential strands from the older, darker heart of the punk-gothique and industrial genres as well as myriad other references from college rock to progressive EDM to psychedelia and beyond. Human Race and The Real Coward are a wash of brooding sound palettes that Bauhaus would have sold their soul for, if indeed one could have been found, and around this resonant and gloom-laden core the band build their dark-art attacks.
One of the most obvious musical pulses is a darkwave electro vibe which immediately conjures images of Siouxsie and The Banshees, a band who were always the epitome of otherness and singular trailblazing brilliance, but there is also the muscle of more conventional rock sounds, albeit driven along on a by more jagged and caustic guitar lines. Drop Bombs has that intensity and madness of an early Killing Joke number, mixing dub grooves with skittering rock and roll, scatter gun vocal deliveries with eastern guitar refrains and Bad News wraps things up with a strange and cavernous death disco vibe.
Schism is the sound of this Kiev four-piece picking up the tattered black flag and running headlong into a bright new future…okay, not bright but you know what I mean. It is the sound of a band understanding where all the best alternative music was found and then musing on what that music would sound like if it had run its evolutionary course. The result is a mix of then and now, whys and why nots, what was and what ifs. The building blocks may be familiar but the sonic architecture is nothing short of stunning.
There was a time when goth was the hybrid toddler of punk and what would soon coalesce into the New Romantic movement. There was a much later time when goth had been subsumed into heavy metal as some sort of strange William Gibson themed cyper-punk cosplay. Between those points, it could be argued, goth had its day in the sun, well, okay not the sun, more likely the looming shadows cast by a full moon but you know what I mean, and this is the period that Slow Decay reference so well on their three track e.p. Ghosts.
It brims with just enough rock posture, dark menace and soaring vocals, sails very close to the black waters that were home to the likes of Ghost Dance before they cheered up and pop-rocked off in a different direction and wonderfully reminds us of those early eighties heydays and suggests that maybe it is time to set the record straight, reclaim the musical high ground from the chancers, self-aggrandising, unholier than thou neo-pagans and Buffy fans, and start a gothic revival.
Sabina’s vocal sits in a post-punk sweet spot, not as harsh or as Teutonic as Siouxsie but not quite as honeyed, hippied or sensual as Julianne Regan, just the right amount of chill for such shaded music and the guitars weave atmospheric, cool and chiming patterns to tribal back beats and pulsing basslines. Three tracks which capture all the theatrics and overstated eloquence, power and poise of those heady days of yore. Time to start practicing picking curious fruit and brush up on my imaginary rope climbing skills perhaps!
Being a reviewer of pretty much any genre that comes at me, obviously there are strengths and weaknesses in my arsenal of scribbled thoughts. Particularly when I see those three little letters in close proximity, E, D and M, I automatically worry about how I am going to find something new and convincing to say about a wannabe DJ remixing the same tired and over-used bass burbles and glitchy beats, enough to fill the allotted space anyway.
Five seconds in to the strange and evocatively titled Philly To Long Branch (part 2) and I realise that I actually have the opposite problem, that EDM is just one small part of this heady, high-octane, electro rock hybrid and that trying to explore, capture and describe the music in mere words is not only going to be a longer job than I anticipated, it is going to be a hell of a lot of fun.
Philly… is built on a beat of fractious urgency, a frenzied, adrenaline fuelled headlong rush where the clinical cold synths of the dance floor are mixed with white hot rock muscle to create a blend of the futuristic and the primordial, the industrial and the elemental, the pre-determined and the organic. It also has a brooding presence, far from the euphoric and joyous nature of the uptown club, it feels as if it has been fashioned from the scattered musical trappings and attitudes that the punks, the goths and the garage rockers left behind after their bubbles burst and they either went underground or learnt to conform.
Those who insist on labels might like terms like Stygian dance music, industrial groove, darkwave, techno-goth, well goth, always a misunderstood term, was very much built on dance grooves and whilst the term now seems to have been re-appropriated into just another sub-genre of metal by a generation who want to live in the Sunnydale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, this gloriously grim groove manages to pull referential strands from the older, darker heart of the punk-gothique and industrial genres. Knowing where you come from has always been as important as knowing where you are going. But the more you listen to the music, the more labels it manages to conjure, thus reminding you of the limitations of such attempts at pigeon-holing.
This is dance music built from the detritus found scattered across an industrial wasteland, all sharp edges and jagged design and driven by a relentless powerhouse of bruising beats and searing sparks. It is the white-hot groove of factory noise being rendered onto the nightclub floor, but not the nightclub that just anyone can find. This one is probably in a decaying warehouse or dead car plant miles away from civilization and possibly even in some sort of parallel universe, and as the clock strikes thirteen this is the sound which hits the sky for probably the last party before the apocalypse.
We are continually told that “rock music is dead” but maybe, like everything else subject to evolution, it has merely changed and is no longer recognisable to those who still think it is all about long hair and a guitar riff. If we ignore what you actually use to make the music and what you happen to wear whilst you are doing so, then Philly…actually ticks more rock boxes than you might think in terms of power, drive, intensity, groove, ferocity, weight and sensibility. AC/DC it obviously isn’t but in many ways a new form of rock music it certainly makes an argument for being.
I like music that I can’t just hang a sound bite or label on, can’t kick into a well defined generic drawer, music that I didn’t see coming. Well, I didn’t see this coming. I feel like I have been run over by demon-possessed truck, experimented on by extra-terrestrials, battled with denizens of the night, have stood on the edge of the end of the universe itself, been attacked by cyborgs and had a music shop collapse on me. What a way to spend a morning. And the weird part is…I can’t wait to do it all again.
I love music that acts as your own personal time machine; able to take you back to a time and a place, and evoke the sounds and styles of that particular point on your personal timeline. She is Lost does just that for me. It is some time in the early to mid eighties, I am sporting a great coat…which happens also to be a Greatcoat, winkle pickers and undoubtedly too much hairspray and the music in the club that night sounds a lot like this.
But it isn’t enough for music just to be a ticket to the past, not for me anyway, been there, done that and got quite a few tee shirts to prove it. Calling down the shadowy sounds of those times is fine provided you bring something new to the table. The Foreign Resort does just that. Yes, they wear their love of the likes of The Cure, Joy Division, The Cure, The Damned and The Cure on their sleeves but they also follow similar paths at times to The Editors, Foals and the Banshees soaked sound of Savages.
But that is just me trying to prove that I have earned my journalistic stripes, the bottom line is whether it is a good record or not. No, it isn’t…it’s a great record. It captures that wonderful broken hearted emptiness that lies at the core of all the bands I have mentioned above, it drives on chiming guitars, grounded bass lines, embedded synth washes and less is more, straight out rock back beats.
My formative years were set against the tribal backdrop of small town 80’s post-punk and we would have claimed a song such as this as our anthem in a heartbeat and it is quite telling that in this post-genre world we apparently find ourselves, where musical boundaries have been completely eradicated and any fusion and cross contamination of musical styles is accepted as the norm, people are still looking back to and emulating those twilight sounds.
When the What’s Her Name? single landed before my reviewing pen a few months ago it seemed to have arrived at the perfect time. It gave me the perfect opportunity to rally against the conformity and unadventurous nature of the rock scene at the moment and hold up Smoking Martha as being exactly what was needed to shake things up a bit. The right band, the right sound, the right time. Right? But even with such a great musical calling card and a hint as to what might follow, it still didn’t fully prepare me for just what a joy to behold this full album would be.
In the same way that I waxed lyrical about that song’s ability to strip things back and capture the singular essence of rock, to be simultaneously raw and melodic, incendiary and infectious, cultish and commercial, with In Deep you realise that song was anything but a one off. Smoking Martha have only gone and filled up a whole album of brilliant musical balancing acts and fine-line generic tight rope walks.
With most bands you can probably pinpoint one or two musical references that seem to drive the music, with Smoking Martha things are not quite so straightforward. Although things drive along pretty much on a classic rock vibe or via a more visceral garage rock subversion, this is no mere rehashing of the past and whilst you can probably pick out many of the individual musical building blocks, what they have fashioned them into is a totally new piece of exquisite sonic architecture.
Find a Way broods and glowers with gothic undertones, Ebb of the Tide bristles with high drama and shifting dynamics, and opening salvo So Lonely blends punky skanking guitars with foot on the monitor seminal rock sounds. And the more you peel back the more you find; blues grooves pushed to the extreme, theatrical excesses, grunge intensity, biker bar swagger and effortless attitude. But despite this scattergun of references, or perhaps because of it, nothing here ever sounds derivative, familiar perhaps but just the right blend of comfort zone and new ground being explored.
Smoking Martha is a band looking for a bigger stage. You can hear it in their music, music crafted for big platforms, anthemic launch pads and stadium broadcasts – big songs looking for a big space to call home. I’m sure watching them play in a small music venue is still a brilliant, white-knuckle experience but what they have managed to capture on this album is the best argument ever for them being given the chance to step up and join the big leagues. When that door opens for them, not if but when, rock music will be in an altogether more interesting place.
The future of rock music isn’t just looking bright, it is positively smoking!
What’s in a name? When you hear the moniker Shotgun Six your mind can’t help but conjure leather clad, classic rock warriors, stuck in an eternal mid seventies nirvana. But we all know about judging books by their cover don’t we? Thankfully as soon as opening salvo, Away From Here drops into earshot you realise that they, thankfully, have something more interesting to offer. Slow burning industrial spikiness, dour gothic undertones and a grunge intensity spiral around the subdued lyrics, wonderfully discordant riffs subvert the norm and jagged edges coat every surface. And so the scene is set.
They then use this surly template to wander down parallel musical avenues, infecting them and bending them to their will. Blues rock gets warped into new dystopian shapes, acid tinged psychedelia takes a turn for the bleak, this ain’t the summer of love by any means, and sometimes they just rock out like a New York, no wave, punk crew.
If there is one flaw it is in the production, better separation of sound would serve them well, but I guess they are on a budget and to be fair given the warped meanderings and ragged edged sounds that they play with, in some ways it even adds to the air of menace. So what’s in a name? Absolutely bugger all….
The fantastically named Glitch Trip, Death Drive continue their mission to subvert musical expectation with the economically titled EP Two, though that seems only logical considering the title of their first offering. But if the name of the record (yes, I still call them records, get over it) is one of conformity, from here on in you can abandon any such thoughts.
As I pointed out last time around, GTDD’s charm lies in their ability to meld scuzzy punk noise and over driven garage rock musical poses onto what are essentially pop songs. Not pop in the sense of the slick, dance routine driven, style over substance of the charts as they are today, but more the contents of the charts as they might sound in a parallel universe. A universe based on the teachings of our glorious leader Frank Zappa, one where Bela Lugosi’s Dead is the national anthem, one that has statues of Sonic Youth in it’s town squares.
And subversion isn’t always about ripping up the rulebook; sometimes it is tearing out the pages and fashioning them into interesting origami or deftly snipping them into puzzling paper chain designs. Just listen to Hamstring Horror Show – dark, atmospheric and throwing some brooding looks about but also filled with an undercurrent of urgency and washes of lush harmonies, that is until the mood shifts and the whole building falls on you. Such is their ability to fashion shade and light, sweet and sour into stark and jarring musical statements; Wrestl(er) Romance is the Velvet Underground laced with modern pop sensibilities and If I Could Disco proves that you can even build palatable and groovy songs purely out of acute angles and sharp objects.
Some bands try so hard to be different and then go around pointing out just how weird and leftfield they are. Sorry, eccentricity doesn’t work like that. Others are just strange naturally and this is indeed the case with GTDD, I just think that they are strange by default. Wonderfully so.
When the dark musical strands that came to be termed goth first coalesced in the post-punk melting pot, the bands pushing that genre always seemed to have more to do with dance and pop music than the rock and punk that had kicked down the barricades and ignited the various musical revolutions of the 80’s. It is only natural then that even after all this time, those same atramentous elements can still be found in the most unexpected of places.
It is surprising how many references are evoked from such a minimalist delivery and the song writing itself does share some common ground with any number of pop and R&B acts albeit given a slower, more atmospheric spin. However, it is the more eclectic choices that really make this track stand apart from the competition. It is the clash of classical grace and gothic etherealness that really jumps out at you, the oft cited less is more qualities, the pauses between, the notes, the unresolved tensions in the music and the inherent melancholy.
Comparisons to a similar black lace shrouded torch singer, Zola Jesus, are easily drawn but where as she surrounds herself with cold and inhospitable musical layers, Neonomora revels more in a classic elegance and classical eloquence. The overall effect is one of richly textured chic and that will sit much more easily with the wider commercial market she is destined for.
Lionface tick plenty of boxes no matter which generic direction you approach them from. Rock fans will appreciate the underlying drive and aggression, pop fans will dig the accessibility, one that could easily transfer into chart territory. Add to that subversive industrial dance grooves, dark strands of gothic pomp and twisted electronica and you have a band with broad appeal. I know this from the live show and thankfully all of that on-stage energy and creativity is captured by the e.p.
As the sparse dance grooves of Vampire take us gently by the ear, you realise that this is not a band afraid to explore all the colours of the musical palette, dynamics soar and fall, squiggly electronica dances with full on rock attacks and Kat’s voice transfixes you with its power and clarity, a sonic boom in the eye of the storm. They deliver more conventional rock on Living and glitchy speed fuelled dance on Eclipse, a song that if given to any number of pop divas parading as rock crossover artists would sell in its millions.
No Hope State signs out with the other side of their creative coin. Sultry balladering but still delivered in their own inimitable style showing that even when they take the foot off of the accelerator they still manage to be just as compelling. Whilst many bands stick to the tried and tested formulas and others try too hard to create new templates, Lionface seem to just fuse existing sounds into new shapes, the building blocks are all familiar but the boundaries between genres are no longer a barrier which makes them the perfect band for the post-genre generation.
We often focus on the desired affect of a record on the listener at large, the man in the street, the record buyer. Things Left Unsaid shows the music making process from a more personal point of view as Kirt Debique’s debut album reveals itself to be a series of letters to friends and family seeking answers, questioning decisions or explaining actions that have brought him to this current point in his life. It therefore raises questions regarding how much can you let the general listener in on such personal thoughts, does it matter that much of the meaning will be closed to them or how people may find their own meanings and be able to relate to the ideas only from the perspective of their own personal journey through life.
Musically Debique explores dark electronic landscapes similar to those traversed by later Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, pulsing, sonorous synthetic twilights which act as the perfect backdrop to the soul-searching subject matter and yet never providing a distraction from the heartfelt expression of the narrative.
Somehow it manages to link the rhythms of his Trinidadian upbringing with the industrial pulse of 80’s Sheffield and the dark experimentations of an alternative American underbelly that only existed sporadically in hidden corners and basement clubs. It is an album of universal exploration, music that asks many more questions both musically and lyrical than it answers but isn’t that the whole point of life? The question is the journey, perhaps.
Described as “Hellraiser meets Scooby Doo” Vampire is the first single from the new EP Battle. It continues the bands quest to embed pop hooks in gothic tinged alt-rock and mix forward thinking, cacophonous electro mayhem with driven classic rock potency and it is a quest that is leading them into some wonderfully inventive places. This is the sound of rock moving forward, losing all the cliches and fusing with whatever possibilities cross their path in this post-genre world.
The results are stunning, aggressive without being blatantly hostile, pop aware without pandering to mainstream sensibilities and dark without resorting to melancholia and self-pitying. The best of all worlds, laying claim to many genres but not quite sitting comfortably in any of them. Perfect.