It’s an odd combination, intensity and beauty, you feel that they should be mutually exclusive concepts but amongst the wall of shoe gazing guitar work, the driving drums, the pulsing bass lines and the half hidden vocal delivery, there is something beautiful indeed. For all its musical weight, its shimmering textures, its rawness and chaos, Mirror Song is also intimate and honest, speaking directly to the listener, half heard through the squalling sounds but still brilliantly engaging.
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.
Sitting somewhere between those early 80’s sonic experiments, ones undertaken by disenfranchised punks swapping guitars for broken keyboards, and a modern clubland minimalist chill out zone, Halo sucks us back into the strange and wonderful world of this mercurial duo. The term punktronica is often associated with their music and it is easy to see why. Punk was after all an attitude rather than a music genre, it’s just that skinny art students wielding guitars seemed to be the point where it crossed over into the commercial conciousness. And so meld that same attitude onto a more measured and subtle dance groove and you have punktronica, I guess.
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.
Beauty in Chaos is a strange and intriguing prospect and like anything deserving of such a description is hard to easily pin down. Too fleeting to be a supergroup, more organic than merely a curated project, too original and forward thinking to be merely a rose-spectacled look at the past…it skips fleetingly past all those ideas, echoing all but committing to none. Personally it feels as if someone has snuck in to my house, rummaged through my vinyl collection to see what I like and brought a large selection of those bands and artists together to make an album just for me. They even put everything back in the right place afterwards.
At the heart of this exquisite album is guitarist and keyboardist Michael Ciravolo who managed to gather together an impressive roster of guest artists to appear as co-writers, performers and often both. The result is an album rooted in Ciravolo’s textured creations and then flavoured by the artists he brings to teach song, thus creating new music that sounds like long forgotten favourites, songs echoing signature sounds whilst wandering new paths and new potential. And whilst the list of the great and good who feature here dictate that there is an obvious, ready made market, it has to be stressed that Finding Beauty in Chaos rings with as much originality as those artists did in the first place.
But you can’t ignore the appeal of the album to existing post-punks, goths and alt-rockers, just look at the bands that this connects with, The Mission, The Cure, King’s X, Gene Loves Jezebel, even Ministry and Cheap Trick plus many more. The overall sound tends to revel in cinematic soundscaping, lush textures and brooding sonics but often these are shot through with jagged sonics and raw, razor wire guitars. There are occasional meanders into more extreme territory such as Al Jourgensen giving 20th Century Boy an industrial make-over on the album’s only cover but more representative is the Wayne Hussey and Simon Gallup performance on Man of Faith or Evi Vine’s hushed vocals on the ethereal I Will Follow.
With so many combinations and shifting personnel, it is an album that delivers much, the perfect combination of the right amount of musical cohesiveness and enough room to let the individual musical personalities take centre stage. It would be easy to make such an album feel like a flash back to the past, instead Beauty in Chaos is a glimpse of a future that never was and for those tantalising dreams, I give my thanks.
Phillip Foxley is very good at tackling universal issues in a very small way, the way of the world seen as smaller, kitchen sink philosophies rather than trying to make big, overtly-verbose or over egged points. It’s the British way I guess. It’s Up To Us! (he does like his exclamation marks) was a deft and well-crafted piece, working with understatement, political opinion and subtlety. This time out he heads the other way and delivers a song that sparks with New Wave twitchiness and post-punk verve with Pete Hopkins copping just the right amount of terrace attitude and street punk singalong style to show where the songs heart lies.
But that was then and this is now and although it is easy to see where the song has its musical roots, the play off here is how those young musical turks and world changing punks have faired in the years between then and now. They may still feel the same about the world, still have the same hopes and dreams for the future, feel that they are still part of the musical revolution. It’s just that they can’t find their keys, have lost the TV remote control again and are pretty sure that there was something important that they were supposed to be doing tonight.
It’s a great little tune, one that matches the musical energy of youth with the lyrical realities of the joys of ageing. Yes, they might have a vinyl record collection to die for but did they remember to put the bins out? Musically it is punchy and perfectly paced, captures the joys of being down the front of a gig in 1978 but from the armchair of 40 years later it all seems like a long time ago. Rock and roll is nothing without a sense of humour and I’ve Forgotten Something Else! Is perfectly self-deprecating, poignant and slightly silly. I should know, I’m the target audience.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that John Andrew Fredrick is set in his ways but even he would be the first to admit that after fifteen albums he has a certain musical signature. How could he not, all artists have one. It’s the sound of the artist’s personality coded into their songs, their subconscious essence binding with the DNA of their music so much so that the two become, to a degree, synonymous. And, knowing this, it is exactly why the illustrious Mr F. made a conscious effort to record an album of music which deliberately moved away from the path so deftly travelled so far.
A dance record with minimal drum beat drive? Syd Barrett fronting New Order? A move away from the unexpected commercial viability of previous album The Gospel According to John and a return to more obscure or at least less obvious roots? It runs with all of these pre-planned considerations but like any good album, and this is indeed a great album, it is more than the sum of the predicted parts. And whilst it certainly has a bounce and buoyancy at times, as always, things are not quite that simple.
There are a number of central themes to these intricate pop songs, magic for one, but not magic as some mysterious otherworldly power but more magic as an ingredient to a happy life, the glue that makes relationships work, the magic of the unplanned, the mystical energy that makes things complete.
Some songs live up to the dance vibe that is cast loosely over the record, Georgette, Georgette being a groovesome beast, 80’s vibe post-punk/new pop but given the passage of time feeling totally at the edge of a whole new wave of musical reinvention as well-rendered pop once more takes on the fickle fad and fashion of the status quo. From Hampstead Heath is a dreamscape of delicate and resonant picked guitars and Graymalkin Comes picks up on the early Syd qualities as intended.
Talk has surrounded the question of where next for John Andrew Fredrick as he has occasionally hinted at a move away from the music making side of his creative life. On the strength of Witches! it is obvious that he would be sorely missed. That blend of the obscure and the accessible. The intricate and the melodic. The direct and the textured. The cool and the cultish. The backward-glancing and the forward-thinking. All of those mutually exclusive ideas and dozens more beside inhabit his songs in a way that is rarely seen and I for one am not ready to see such wonderfully mercurial oxymorons slip into the back catalogue of musical history just yet.
Alcopop! Records are pleased to announce they have signed Berlin-based post-punk art rock band Art Brut, who will play a special return headline show on 7th November in London at Boston Music Room.
Commenting on the signing, label boss Jack Clothier said: “A few years into running Alcopop! I created a little wishlist in my mind of the absolute top five dream bands who I’d love to sign most of all. Legitimately we expected to sign none of them, but, lo and behold, Art Brut are the fourth on the list to sign with us, and we couldn’t be more excited. This new material is undeniably their best yet, and it’s exactly what the world needs right now if you ask me.”
To celebrate the news the band are streaming their new single ‘Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!’ today which is released Thursday 9th August 2018 via all good digital retailers.
It doesn’t take an expert or even a jobbing hack like myself to point out that Tulipomania make a sound that would have fitted right into the 4AD fold back in the day. Their ability to blend dark avant-gardery with dream-pop melodies, that feeling of exploration that came with the arrival of new technical playthings as the last whiff of punk was drifting away on the breeze, that idea of otherness and outsider status. Its all there. And quite frankly, within certain rarefied music circles those things have never really gone away. But unlike many who look back to those heady days for influence, Tulipomania go beyond the mere copyists that they share space with and feel like the opening chapter to a sonic sequel to those days.
Off The Map is a slow and cavernous slice of, for want of a better word, alt-rock, heavy, oppressive, dark and driven by angst-ridden vocals and beats that fall somewhere between military and tribal. It may nod to the past but it very much looks to the future. Two versions of On The Outside accompany the lead track, the full version more drifting and futuristic and when rendered into purely instrumental form sounding like Bauhaus and Vangelis teaming up to write music for a dystopian disco.
It is always healthy to understand where you are coming from but it doesn’t do you much good to dwell on it too much. Obviously if you are plotting a course into the great unknown it pays to remember your starting point but it is much more important to keep looking ahead, concentrate on the journey ahead and the course you are charting. Tulipomania are the masters of just such an approach.
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….
Music has always been used as a vehicle to promote an idea of otherness, non-conformity, of escapism, of world’s within worlds and worlds beyond as well. If you are the rocker you probably use that theme to play the role of the edgy outsider, the loner, the tough man, those drawn to more progressive music might use it to paint fantastic pictures of lost worlds or future predictions. Protocol:M explores such ideas in subtler and more mercurial ways.
The previous album to come out of the Protocol:M stable, Clockwork, was a collection of songs that wandered between style and subject matter, an eclectic outpouring typical of first albums, but this time around, Colin May, the man behind it all, offers a more focussed vision. His take on otherworldliness takes the form of a place on the fringes of society, a place where people who don’t fit in, purposefully or otherwise, go about lives very different from our own. It tells us that our view of the world is just one version, a view informed by our own narrow life path through it, but there are many other paths, many other versions of this world.
And just as it wanders interesting streets to collect its narratives, it wanders similarly off-beat sonic pathways too. There is a dark, indie core to the album as a whole but the devil, as they say, is in the detail and the detail here is wonderfully hypnotic and musically intricate. Still Life and Moving Pictures travels through a strange, slow, circus tune stomp, Gunshots and Violins rubs shoulders with The Cure’s dystopian pop and Tom Bongo is a late night dance floor filler for the last club night before the apocalypse.
It would be easy to suggest that this is just a nostalgic tipping of the hat to various forms of post-punk, but unlike many bands re-ploughing that furrow, Plastic Alter Ego goes well beyond that, bringing in everything from rock to dance to industrial edginess to brooding alt-pop and even touches of shimmering shoegazery. If there was a punk movement and then a post-punk next chapter, then the next wave could be labelled post-post-punk, presumably. Take that illogical scenario three or for stages on and you find Protocol:M not just keeping the flame alive but finding newer, cleaner and more efficient musical fuels with which to sustain it.
There is an art to making music that is at once, dark, apocalyptic and edgy but also infectious, poppy and commercially viable. Joy Division knew how to do it but didn’t stick around long enough to capitalise on the concept, leaving bands like The Cure and Siouxsie and The Banshees to take the idea to its logical conclusion. Social Station know the secret too.
In its original form Try (Cross My Heart) is the perfect slice of all things mutually exclusive. It is dark but jaunty, earnest yet accessible, groovesome and still the antithesis of the modern pop sound. It is a song that confounds, yet does so beautifully.
The single comes accompanied by four more re-mixes which take it everywhere from the cold and clinical to a more retro-dancefloor style, and from the alien and industrial to the ambient and chilled, but it is in its original post-punking form which resonates the most with an ageing scribe such as myself.
It also asks us to pose the question, for how much longer are we going stick with the term “post-punk” a journalistic moniker not only totally vague and meaning different things to different people but also thirty years behind the times. If there is enough music being made today that echoes those formative musical years, the least we can do is come up with a new name for it. Thoughts anyone?
It’s probably just journalistic laziness that keeps me coming back to terms like post-punk for bands such as The Room in the Wood. Although as a sort of shorthanded soundbite it communicates certain characteristics that were first and most deftly compiled in those head days as the punks learned that if they got their act together they could actually sell a few records. As a whole bunch of twitchy, angsty acts went off to form what became New Wave, many others fell into a very broad and varied, art-punk scene and The Room in The Wood would have fitted right at home there.
And whilst at first listen you can hear a polished take on The Fall, the drama but not the head aching intestity of Nick Cave and, particularly on tracks such as Raven Girl, a call back to the dark Doorsian haze, subsequent plays reveal much more depth, unique textures and clever construction. It is innovative, wilfully odd in places and wrestles with a wonderful dilemma of embracing rock and roll theatre whilst deliberately swerving anything overtly rockist.
Greedy Stars is the perfect place to start, deserving its prominent position as opening salvo and musical introduction, a sort of alt-pop jangle built on a busy shuffle with some stand out harmony vocals which add a wonderfully ethereal edge to its dark design and Magical Thinking which follows gets a second outing after being the title track of their last EP and rightly so. It does that rare thing of talking about …well, magical thinking – religion, mythology, cultism – a weird tale in its own right but never once falls into that cliched goth band way of revelling in such the subject and coming across like a starry eyed fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. This is the real deal.
Sensation waltzes down a dustier alt-country, spaghetti western sonic pathway, as if Ennio Morricone had earned his stripes not as a jazz trumpeter and film scorer but had been a one time member of Echo and The Bunnymen and Sky Pool is a strange brew of heavenly 60’s vocal washes and brooding chamber pop majesty.
It’s an album that keeps giving, the first listen delivers post-punk memories, the second more progressive and alternative pop missives, the third reveals subtlety and depth and by the time you hit double figures you have been taken across time and genre, style and stance. If you think that familiarity breeds contempt then listen to this album, the more you play it, the more it feels like you are hearing it for the first time. How does that even happen?
I didn’t realise that bands were still making music like this but I’m rather glad that they are. In an age where punk seems largely about rose-tinted nostalgia trips, alt-rock is all about getting just the right brand of skinny jeans and the this week’s complicated hair style and metal has long become a parody of itself, it seems as if the heavier end of music has been subsumed by imposters and chancers, retro-gazers and pastiche plunderers. Thankfully bands like Bitter Grounds pop up with just enough frequency to give us heart and stay true to the ragged, rock and roll cause.
Two Sides, from an up coming new album, reminds me of those punk bands who formed in the wake of that first three-chord explosion. As the initial shock and awe of the original scene was fading out and the next wave of bands realised that they had to offer something more meaningful, more melodic, more musical and then realised that if they did they could actually sell records…post-punk was born. Bitter Grounds would have fitted right in back then, the same balance of angst and artistry, of attitude and addictiveness, of accessibility and….other alliterative words that would neatly finish that sentence.
Cyborg Asylum has always been great at blending a sort of clinical, cold war, drama with a slightly apocalyptic musical vision. Their great art has always lain in their skill for looking at the political machinations and social choices being made today and extrapolating their views of where those decisions might takes us. And to be fair there is no shortage of blatant, sweeping and impactful policies being forced upon an ever more helpless or uninformed (or perhaps wilfully ignorant) population. They may not provide us with answers but it is enough to ask the questions, instigate a conversation and raise concerns.
And what better way to make your voice heard than wrap those worries in slick and cool post-punk infused, industrial dance music? They revel in robust electronica, the sort which replicates the grind and grunt of rock music but which uses the synth palette of electronic glitches and riffs, programmed beats and washes to create their dystopian dance sound. It is Depeche Mode heading into the dark places of their later career, it is Nine Inch Nails gone dance, it is a file sharing, long distance, collaborative process which reflects the times that we live in. With previous release My Metallic Dream having already laid out a stall for their beautiful and bleak sound and a full album Never Finished, Only Abandoned now available it is the perfect time for you aquatinted yourself with the Asylum. You’d be mad not to.
There is no template for a Shriekback album, we worked that out a long time ago. They have that brilliant way about them, a way of using different sonic building blocks from album to album, from track to track, and yet always sound like Shriekback and blending that sort of quintessential familiarity with the ability to be so musically flexible is the magic formula that all bands worth their salt should be searching for. Thankfully, few bands manage to capture such seemingly mutually exclusive concepts and so the band remain a brilliant go to for those looking for exceptions rather than rule followers.
As opening salvo Shovelheads bursts forth, it gives you an indication of some of the loose boundaries of their sonic playground this time out. Sleazy and raw guitars, sumptuous harmonies, diabolical gospel vibes and a more organic approach to the sound all resulting in the same apocalyptic blues, southern mutant grooves and blasted, wasteland rock vibes that the likes of Nick Cave and Jeffery Lee Pierce revelled in.
As always, their love of language is apparent with puns and word play, twisted narratives and dark nursery rhymes, the poetic, the profound and the profane all playing out. Never has a lyric had the ability to run from the Byronic to the moronic (in the most knowing and positive sense of the meaning) in such a short space. “The dog man don’t but the cat-man-du”..apparently! Geditt? Oh, never mind.
Lead single, And The Rain tips a battered Fedora at Tom Waits, The Painter Paints is a blend of philosophical spoken word, scattered jazz fragments and late night soulfulness and 37 is a post-punk sea shanty to be sung as the final maelstrom pulls us under the waves. A reference to the band’s age too perhaps? As always it’s a joy to spend time in Shriekback’s world, a world of words and musical gene-splicing, a place that seems to exist with one foot in the dark underbelly of modern society and the other in a parallel, mirror world woven from their own wonderful imaginations, thoughts and fears.
We hear a lot of talk these days of the post-genre musical world, a place where the tribal allegiances and lines of demarcation have been swept away and people are free to mix and match musical ideas as they see fit. News flash kiddies, Shriekback has been approaching music that way for more than three decades!
Silent Animals may be the debut album from Italian trio Crimen, but it arrives over a decade into their career. Simone Greco (bass, voice, sound engineering) and Patrizio Strippoli (guitars, voice) formed the band in the Centocelle district of Rome in 2007, before recruiting Giuseppe Trezza (drums and electronics) six years later. After a string of successful EPs and two years hibernating to record the opus, the band feel now is the time to release a full length.
A heady cocktail of krautrock, psychedelia, noise rock and post-punk, Silent Animals will be released on Fuzz Club on June 29th and it takes us on a whistle-stop tour of Europe’s musical history with a newfound stomp and malignancy. Conceived in their own DIY studio in Rome, the Flamingo Recording Studio, the band have self-produced and engineered their debut in a state of total creative independence. The group says of their long-awaited debut: “Silent Animals talks about emotive fragility and wasted loves. It sounds nocturnal and psychotic, though essentially it’s a work about love and the exorcism of fear and anxiety”. An exorcism it certainly is, full of gnostic grooves and cathartic releases. The most forthright example of this is the first single from the album, ‘Six Weeks’, which the band are sharing now. It’s hard rocker cloaked in reverb, feedback and throbbing electronics – sounding downright satanic as Simone bellows “six-six-six” as the song constantly veers on the verge of sub-atomic explosion.
The Third Sound is the project of Icelandic musician Hákon Aðalsteinsson who used to play in cult Reykjavik rock’n’roll bandits Singapore Sling and currently plays in Brian Jonestown Massacre. Now residing in Berlin with a fleshed-out live line-up, The Third Sound have just released their fourth album All Tomorrow’s Shadows via London label Fuzz Club. To celebrate the release, The Third Sound are sharing the video for the latest single to be taken from the album titled ‘Photographs’ – a haunting, impassioned piece of post-punk that has BJM’s Anton Newcombe helming the vocal duties.
Talking about how the song and Newcombe collaboration came about, Hakon explains: “It was the last song we wrote for the album and we weren’t really sure what to do with it. I was emailing Anton about the upcoming BJM tour and thought I’d send him a demo version and ask if he had any ideas for vocals. I didn’t hear back for a few hours and then all of a sudden he got back to me and not only had he written lyrics and recorded his vocals but he also added some guitar at the beginning. It worked out perfectly.”
As the opening, titular track washes past, there is something in the soft edged vocals and the rich guitar textures that roughly fixes The Black Watch’s sonic pathway. It’s the same one walked by any number of jangling eighties musical mavericks who found the majestic tones of the Byrds in their parents record collections and who set about making it over for a new audience. And why not, it’s an iconic sound. Post-punk infused with psychedelia, pop melodies wrapped in indie dreamscapes.
Paper Boats is a wonderful four track blast through what The Black Watch do so well. They look back to the 1960s while veiling their music in more contemporary trappings such as reverb-drenched guitars, trebly production, and the occasional squall of noise. Oh You Little Witch is a wonderful blend of rhythm section energy and The Cure’s less quirky moments, and like them it reminds us that The Black Watch may feel like a band slightly out of step with fashion, which is oh course a good thing, but it wouldn’t take much for them to find them championed in more commercial climes.
Jingle Jangle 2 is buoyant and brilliant but it is final cut of the collection Your So Dark Sleep which is the most interesting and less conventional song here. Brooding and raw bass lines are balanced against chiming guitars, there is drive and drama, and an unexpected change of pace as the e.p. comes to a close.
Music is cyclical and The Black Watch is proof that if you stick to your sonic guns, fashion will eventually catch up with you, though I suspect that isn’t even in the thoughts of the band when making music. But with a modern crop of indie bands looking back to the eighties to inspire their sound, just as those bands also looked back to find their sonic building blocks, The Black Watch must surely be positioned to move out of the “cult and underground” column and be carried over into the “why have I not heard of this band before” column. With the right people championing their cause, a bit of luck and the right tail wind and they might even find themselves in the “new and emerging” section of the mainstream market, which would be kind of ironic considering how long they have been releasing such great music.
Somewhere between the haze of 60’s psychedelia and its later re-appropriation by the likes of post-punkers such as Echo and The Bunnymen, between the drive and groove of blues gone slightly off the rails and the sumptuous dreamscaping of the more interesting end of the modern indie spectrum, where rock starts to reinvent itself based on half forgotten blueprints, you find Die Nerven. Theirs is a timeless world, one that draws lines between the dark underbelly of the Summer of Love and the gothic drama of the early 80s, between the more melodic end of the grunge scene and the less fashion driven sectors of modern alt-rock.
It would be all too easy to just label the band as just another bunch of rose-tinted, retro minded, post-punk fans, but that era never produced anything this textured, this intricate, this genre-hopping. Whilst songs like lead single Niemals is built on a wonderfully melodic and accessible framework, tracks like Frei sound more fractured and Doorsian, had the Doors actually formed in Stuttgart a generation or two later.
Alles Falsch plays the old American alt-rock loud-quiet game to brilliant effect, Dunst is a claustrophobic, hypnotic and intense onslaught and Skandinavisches Design takes them into the realms of skuzzy, drug-fuelled punk.
As an album it covers a lot of scope musically, from the melodic and accessible to the challenging and underground. Discerning alt-rockers, ageing 80’s indie kids, hipsters looking for the next musical fix, goths, rockers and outsiders will all find lots to like here. In fact its hard to imagine anyone who shouldn’t at least give the band a go.
Coldplay fans perhaps!
It’s very easy to throw comparisons around when reviewing bands, in his case make that one-man-bands, such as Cup, but as the short, sharp, opening sonic salvo of Runny Rummy hammers its way into your consciousness, all monotonous, industrial guitar riff and blunt trauma melody, you realise that none of the usual touchstones will really do. You hear fleeting suggestions of what Tym Wojcik’s record collection might contain and who his musical heroes could be, you hear the Pixies uncompromising weight, Pavement slabs of post-punkery and Dinosaur Jr’s blasted melodies but where others might plunder or plagiarise, he merely tips his hat, Cup is all about reference rather than repetition.
Jitter Visions even updates his own sound, previously happy to build his songs through simple punk aligned musical ethics, here, and used to great effect on songs like Eye See, analogue synthesiser is thrown into the mix creating odd and wonky backgrounds that somehow wander easily between whimsical and childlike one moment, and dark and menacing the next.
Songs like Cosmic Brain takes angular indie into even more off-kilter territory, Time Attack! is a white-noise, jagged edged slice of strangeness, Magic Planet is a sonic re-imagining of what New Wave could have been about and the title track is as odd and disjointed, restless and claustrophobic as anything you have ever heard.
As always Cup presents something new yet not new, oddly familiar and often just plain odd. It re-examines everything from punk to psychedelia to (very) alternative-rock, it takes in the fun and the frantic, the brilliant and the bizarre. As always with this wonderfully oddball artist, it is all about taking tried and tested sonic building blocks, the same ones that people have used for the last 40 years or more, and putting together in new and challenging ways to build a sonic monument to doing things your own way. And why the hell not?
If you can tell the character of a person by the company that they keep, you can tell a lot about a band by who they ask to re-mix their music. With the likes of Daniel Ash, Assemblage 23, Rodney Anonymous, Mindless Faith and Gost Remix II all working their magic, or at least re-working it, on the band’s 2016 single it is obvious that …And We All Die move in some very rarefied circles.
It would be easy to be suspicious of a release which is effectively 10 remixes of the same song, but unlike the usual pop trend or commercial dance fad of giving a single a few pointless re-tweaks and changes of beat, and passing it off as a new incarnation, here the various collaborators bring much more to the table. They bring their own personality.
This is no mere make over, this is musical gene splicing, often the complete deconstruction and rebuild of the materials at hand to produce a chimeric facsimile of the original, a whole new sonic beast. Ben Weinman’s take on the song is the perfect example of how far things are taken as he crashes glitchy industrial techno into strange dystopian symphonics and seemingly delivering the whole thing through a broken short-wave radio.
Daniel Ash casts a straighter, darker and brooding spell on the song, a mix of the terrifying and the groovesome, the danceable and the distressing. The Rain Within remix feels like the missing link between post-punk dreams and post-everything futuristic nightmares and Gost Remix II brings a strange mix of clubland vibrancy and synth-wave poise to these dark visions.
Considering this whole album is based around one song, it is amazing how varied, how eclectic and how imaginative this is, but then I guess this is less a collection of remixes in the conventional sense and more in the style of variations on a theme of Modern Day Privateers. As a concept in its self it is destined to return some interesting results, but when you have the best in the game re-imagining, re-inventing and re-building the song, then the quality of the results were never in any doubt.
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
Dean Garcia’s post and parallel Curve career is a CV which demonstrably shows that he has never been someone to rest on his laurels and coast on past achievements. Bands such as The Secret Meeting and more recently SPC ECO prove that he hasn’t lost his sense of musical intrigue, always moving forward as he wanders new and less well trodden sonic landscapes. Volker, the second album from his intriguing collaboration with Polish musical protagonist and multi-instrumentalist/producer/composer Jarek Leskiewicz, sees the pair of them heading into hazy, post-rock minimalism and the quieter echos of shoegazery to wonderful effect.
It is an album which drifts as much as it pulses, skitters as much as it beats, is shrouded in gloom and glitch, in pause and effect and there is a restrained and smoke-like beauty to the music it contains. But this minimalism is in constant flux and flow with more robust and well-rounded sounds and it is this dynamic which creates the charm of the album as it drops down into near silence, reaches for noisy crescendos and explores every combination in between.
Night Crawlers is as tense and scratchy as its name suggests, Is This It wanders between clinical beats and a wall of cavernous industrial noise forged into a melody which seems just outside the range of human senses and Starry Eyes draws a line between the then and now of alternative synth music. And all the time the vocals seem to lurk below the music playing an instrumental rather than a communicative role.
Blurred City Lights is helping to add a wonderful new genre to the modern musical canon, one that sits between post-punk dream scapes and modern ambient pop, between post-rock excess and cinematic delicacy. It revels in space and a whole new and evolving sound palette which doesn’t seek to conform and in not doing so is being picked up by a whole new alternative pop and indie audience.
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.
You can always rely on Nasty Little Lonely to throw a spanner in the works, it’s the reason that you have to love them so much. Just when the music scene seems to have found its beige balance of acoustic troubadours in wide brimmed hats, skinny-jeaned alt-rock fashionistas and production line pop liberally sampling the same old same old, along comes the latest single from Bristol’s most interesting noise makers. Howling like post-punk banshees they emerge from their industrial wastelands all sharp edges and challenging defiance, barbarians at the gates of popular culture.
They growl and groove, blast and boogie in equal measure, come on like a tsunami of burning oil and belligerent attitude and lay down musical layers so dense and dangerous that you will drown in its dark back wash. But behind the aggression and musical density is that same tribal groove and mutated melody thatyou might have thought had died with the likes of The Gun Club, Jesus Lizard or the Riot Grrls. Nasty Little Lonely is here to summon that ghost, welcome to the grooviest seance in town.
This is a band that isn’t just welcome, they are necessary, musical thorns in the side of the modern music scene, not only reminding us of a more ferocious and interesting past but beating an alternative route through the cloying commercialism of an era happy to settle for a lowest cultural and creative common denominator. Time to celebrate, that bland party is all but over.
Japan Suicide feel like the front runners in the search for a new form of rock music, one which very generously tips its hat to the darker swathed, post-punk originators but which also reminds us that commerciality and success should be the by-product of creativity not the drive. And it isn’t even that Japan Suicide couldn’t find themselves with commercial success, it is just that we have to change the rules first. Santa Sangre is the suggestion of change, a reminder that just because we put suffixes such as post- and alt- before established musical genres, it doesn’t mean that the bands found in those new and convenient pigeon-holes are not playing by the game, they are just doing it in the trappings of the outsider.
Japan Suicide, however feel like the real deal. Yes, you can tell a lot about their record collection from listening to this album, Joy Division obviously spring to mind, as does Bauhaus, in their less fractured moments, but if you are going to wear influences on your sleeves then why not pick something enigmatic, dark and beguiling. But once you get past those boring debates about how much a band borrows and from whom – it’s the way of the creative world – get over it, what opens up before you is a collection of songs with a wonderful balance of weight and deft creation, melancholy and intensity, depth and darkness.
Blown Away shows the straighter edge of Santa Sangre, dripping with old school gothic moves and dystopian Blitz Kid groove, whereas Thus Bad Begins comes on like Depeche Mode on Ketamin, all claustrophobic swirls and slow, oppressive electro-dirge. For Every Flaw skips through rawer edged garage rock territory, it smiles at The Pixies whilst dreaming of being The Cure and Circle is a monolith slab of droning rock. There is more going on here than first meets the ear.
And as much as it references a very specific musical era, it also neatly links arms with other modern sonic tourists to that much maligned decade like The Editors and Interpol. It is this weight of musical reinvention which could see real change, offer real alternatives to the beige and conformist world we largely find ourselves in. And like a musical pile on, a creative bundle, if you like, it could be Japan Suicide’s added mass which breaks the bed below and clears the way for a fresh start. Strange analogy I know, but you get what I mean.
I think the word we are looking for here is intense. Right from the off, as the opening salvo of Some Cop blasts its way into the listener’s consciousness, the album comes on like some sort of New York No Wave nightmare blended with PIL’s darkest and most gritty sonic secrets. I’d hate to be that guy, the one who says, “they don’t make music like this anymore” well, now I don’t have to be, they clearly do. Who knew?
Defeated is a collection of short, sharp shocks, the musical equivalent of being roughed up in a back alley, an onslaught of industrial repetition, crashing percussion, sonic scar tissue and barked, stripped back vocals and I’m not even saying that as if it is a bad thing. It isn’t, the brutality of the record is great and somehow feels creatively from a more innocent time whilst being musically more experienced and world weary.
Obvious nods are given to those head days when punks, having destroyed rock and pop’s status quo…and indeed Status Quo, set about building new sonic structures to take their place, creating along the way everything from the twee new pop, the frantic sound of new wave, goth isolation, strange electronica and much more. Kudzu sits at one extreme of that brave new world, a dark angular and uncompromising polarity and whilst many genres have tried to capture the same brutal nature of those dark and frightening fringes scenes none have come close until now.
Balking The Grave comes on like the punk-gothique experiments of the late seventies, more Bauhaus than Sisters, Burn Yourself is the sound of industrial synth wave having a nervous breakdown and Sleep In Disguise takes pop for a walk down some very twisted paths.
This is 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 night club floor, but not the night club that just anyone can find. This one is probably in a decaying warehouse or dead car plant miles away from civilisation and quite 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. Now…what to wear?