Friday, 31 August 2012

PHORK - Discrepancies

You'd think that finding information about new music in these ultra-connected times would be simplicity itself, especially now most of us have a decent web browser on our smartphones and constant internet connectivity. Occasionally though, a band decides to choose a moniker that wilfully skews our search results to the point which they almost become anonymous - a rare feat in 2012.

After running a few searches in preparation for this piece, I discovered the following available definitions;

PHORK - a flexible, open source PHP 5 framework.
PHORK - a specially constructed piece of cutlery which bends when exposed to body temperature.
PHORK - a branch of physical activity or social practice.

All of these are correct in their own particular context of course, but they are also incorrect. PHORK is actually an acronym for People's Higher Order of Royal Kinship.

The man behind all this search engine confusion is Neal Reinalda who is one of the founder members of an art gallery and studio called Open Space which is located in the Remington neighbourhood of Baltimore City. Discrepancies is his second release this year as PHORK and his first on the always wonderful NNA Tapes.

The tape starts with a mournful drone which floats languidly across a bed of static and various found sounds; rainfall, creaking wood, overheard conversations, a subway train pulling out of it's station - all held together by a single kick drum. It's simple but beautifully effective and sets a high benchmark for the next forty minutes. 

There are many more highlights; 'III' is a twitchy, phased and flanged skeletal dub techno joint during which a recording of a heated series of exchanges is woven into it's digital fabric whilst 'IV' uses a sparse electro rhythm track and gradually pushes the beats together into overlapping percussive eddies.

The press release dubs this tape a "surrealist techno collage" which is a pretty good place to begin it's descriptors. To my ears though, these eight tracks are as much about what isn't there as what obviously is, the myriad embedded details and judicious use of field recordings simply beg for endless replay. Neal Reinalda has created something fantastic here, a set of tracks which are not only deeply experimental but also eminently accessible. 

Copies of the C50 cassette can be obtained directly from the NNA Tapes website, digital downloads are widely available too.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Ekoplekz / Wanda Group - Split Cassette

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, cassettes were as much a part of my musical DNA as vinyl. They were viewed by our purist elders as a sonically inferior reduction of reel to reel technology and by the record labels as nothing short of a threat to their livelihood. To us they represented the gateway to an endless source of new albums which few of us could afford to buy and a tool to express ourselves via the mixtape format.

Over the past few years, vinyl has made a significant comeback but more surprisingly, so has the humble cassette. There are now a few rather excellent labels specialising in releases on this gloriously outdated medium - NNA Tapes being one of our favourite purveyors of ferric delights.

Further Records was established a few years ago in the US by Mark Cul and his partner to issue limited run cassettes, each with handmade inserts. They now have a Bandcamp page selling digital versions of these tapes for those folks without the requisite playback hardware.

This latest release features a side each from so much noise favourite Nick Edwards as Ekoplekz and the rather intriguingly named Wanda Group, an alias of Louis Johnstone, the man behind the brilliantly deranged Dem Hunger.

Nick Edwards turns in an incredible twenty minute A side titled 'Dead Escalator Suite' which cycles through all manner of dubbed out ephemera coated in his trademark submerged sonic patina. At around the halfway mark, reverb takes hold of the track displacing everything but it's trace elements before plunging headlong into a twisted coda of malfunctioning radiophonics.

The B side is no less absorbing, Louis Johnstone delivers a smudged and bruised smear of sound shot through with field recordings, vinyl crackle and a concatenated series of exercises in microtonal electronic manipulations. It's a beautifully refined take on his previous, more rhythmic output as Dem Hunger. 

The cassette has long since sold out as it was originally issued in a run of only one hundred units, a digital download is however available from the Further Records Bandcamp page.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Eccentronic Research Council - 1612 Underture

Exactly four hundred years ago to the day, eight women and two men were executed by hanging at Gallows Hill in Lancashire, England. They had been accused of the murders of ten people by the use of witchcraft in a trial lasting only two days. It would become one of the best documented cases of it's kind but also the most disastrous, prejudiced and oft mythologised miscarriages of justice in the history of the pre-industrialised North. I won't expand upon the story in any more detail here as there are plenty of informative online resources and well researched books available which can provide a far more authoritative account of the events leading up to this tragedy.

Dean Honer of Sheffield groups I Monster / All Seeing I and Adrian Flanagan, a Salfordian and member of electro-pranksters Kings Have Long Arms have created a concept album commemorating the so-called Pendle Witches. The true stroke of genius here though is the casting of actress Maxine Peake who provides the narrative throughout the record, her beautiful Lancastrian burr is a fantastic counterpoint to the vintage analogue electronics and firmly places the recording within it's specific geography.

Released via Finders Keepers (who else?) on their Bird sub-label, the album is described on their website as "one part political commentary and feminist manifesto and two parts theatrical fakeloric sound poem". Sonically, this is an album that sits well amongst the likes of Belbury Poly, Moon Wiring Club and Pye Corner Audio in it's conjuring of the ghosts of the past through it's antiquated machines - the past inside the present. Or, as it is more eloquently stated on the ERC Soundcloud page; "Post 1612 Ghosts on Pre 1977 analogue Synthesisers". 

The journey starts with 'Autobahn 666' (the first in a series of four travelogues) as our intrepid travellers set off on a pilgrimage to Pendle Hill from Salford via the devil's road, the A666 "like Terry and June in a battered old Hillman Minx". The second travelogue proudly proclaims "This is the North, the fantastical North. Home of proud, hard grafting bastards".

And this is what makes the album such a pleasure to listen to, the narrative is both incredibly poignant and yet brimming with dark humour. On 'Her Kind' Peake recites three verses in which the late American poet Anne Sexton identifies with the misunderstood women in society against a battery of eerie sounds and screams, the final verse ending with "A woman like that is not ashamed to die. I have been her kind." It's a powerful track that owes as much to the narrator's vehement delivery as it does to the significance of the original poem.

As the story's protagonists reach Pendle and are ushered into the gift shop, Peake snorts "How do we market the loss and hanging of women like us? With coasters and tea towels". On 'Trial By Jiggery Pokery', Peake asks "how can one defend oneself against rhetorical slights of hand when the law, if it's to be infallible must be manifestly evident. It is not manifestly evident that Saint Peter appeared to the Pope or that man can walk on water but it is taken unquestionably as infallible". The last travelogue recounts a visit to the grave of Alice Nutter, "the educated, the wealthiest, the luckiest of them all - The Pendle Witch with a grave". 

The album closes out with a searing condemnation of the injustices which occurred four hundred years ago, yet are still apparent today as Peake channels the spirit of Owd Demdike on 'Ghost Of Old Lizzy Southerns Returns'; "Curse the ancient law books you still use today and Boots the chemist for stealing all my potions. Bark of tree and twelve crushed red ants, it's the London look. Curse the endless persecution of 'our kind', there's nothing more wicked than a watching, but turned blind eye."

1612 Underture is an incredibly passionate, brilliantly realised album which, in lesser hands could have easily fallen into the 'worthy but dull' category and is more than deserving of your attention. It comes very highly recommended to adventurous listeners, lovers of analogue electronics and scholars of all things hauntological.

Both CD and digital download versions are available over at the Finders Keepers online shop.

Dedicated to the memory of the so-called Pendle Witches who were executed on 20th August 1612; Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alizon Device, Anne Whittle (aka Chattox), Anne Redferne, Jane Bulcock, John Bulcock, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt and Jennet Preston. 

Also dedicated to the memory of the accused; Alice Grey who was eventually acquitted on all charges and Elizabeth Southerns (aka Owd Demdike) who died whilst awaiting trial.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Moon Pool & Dead Band - Human Fly

In a recent piece about a pair of albums by John Elliott's Outer Space Project, I remarked that he had been extremely prolific in releasing music under a variety of different names during the past six years. However, Nate Young who forms one half of Moon Pool & Dead Band makes this work ethic seem positively slothful by comparison. As a member of Michigan noise legends Wolf Eyes alone, his tally of releases goes well into triple figures and keeps on rising through an almost infinite number of splits and side projects.

Moon Pool & Dead Band first appeared on my radar after picking up a cassette called Overspace which was originally sold at a few live shows in 2010. They followed this up with a self released EP called Gossypol and then a self titled LP via Agitated at the end of last year. It's an unlikely pairing to be honest; Nate Young with his impeccable experimental/noise credentials and Dave Shettler, drummer in garage rock outfit The sights, but the biggest surprise for me was the music contained on that first cassette. 

And this new twelve incher on Not Not Fun is no different, Human Fly contains three tracks of wilfully smeared and squashed techno hewn from the classic Detroit template. As on previous releases, each track is a product of live improvisation without overdubs using analogue equipment and bargain basement effects. The fidelity is suitably blunted with tape hiss which makes this set almost impossible to place on a timeline stretching over the past twenty five odd years.

The title track pits a squelchy bassline and acidic bleeps against a chugging drum machine rhythm. At the six minute mark, a twanging guitar line pinched from The Cramps' classic punkabilly track Human Fly appears momentarily before fading out, only to reappear again a few minutes later during the coda. It's a ridiculous touch but it works brilliantly - Poison Ivy would be proud! The remaining two tracks; 'Jagged Orbit' and 'Cyber Rebels' follow slightly lighter but equally skewed trajectories. 

Highly recommended listening for those who like their electronics decidedly old skool and a bit lo-fi.

The 12" Vinyl can be purchased through the Piccadilly Records online shop, the digital download version is widely available although Juno is always a reliable service.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Outer Space - Akashic Record (Events: 1986-1990) / II

John Elliott is a prolific creator and curator of some of the most incredible drone and synthesiser music produced over the last decade. After founding the self confessed "bullshit boring drone band" Emeralds with Mark McGuire and Steve Hauschildt, he helped establish a back catalogue of over forty releases in just four years. He has also put out a variety of releases as Mist, Imaginary Softwoods and Lilypad (amongst others) as well as setting up the excellent Spectrum Spools label with Peter Rehberg in 2011.

Last month saw the release of not one, but two new albums under his Outer Space moniker which has been stated is a "laboratory for electronic investigation" which utilises supplementary contributions from a host of Midwestern musicians and associates. Due to Elliott's prolificacy in producing music outside of Emeralds, these shouldn't be classed as mere 'side project' releases and therefore dismissed as second rate. I can't help but assess each Outer Space album within a wider context and ultimately view it as being a logical extension of the Emeralds back catalogue.

The first album to be released was Akashic Record (Events: 1986-1990) which was issued by Elliott's own Spectrum Spools label and was described as an investigation into "synthesizer experimentation and it's esoteric relations". This statement of intent is fully realised from the first track onwards; 'Ellipse' begins with a series of metallic drones which are overtaken by sequencer and synth phasing before dissolving into an elongated coda of electronic abstraction. This approach is modified and expanded over the following two tracks before the album closes with a pair of incredible live recordings. Elliot's measured use of arpeggios throughout this album makes it, for me at least, his most explicit reference to the material that Tangerine Dream were releasing around the mid 1970s. 

The Second album, fittingly titled II was issued by UK independent Blast First Petite just a few weeks after Akashic Record. Here we are presented with two ambient miniatures (I & II) and more of those beautiful arpeggios (vanishing Act) which reminded me of 'Marboubra Bay' from Edgar Froese's majestic 1975 solo LP Epsilon in Malaysian Pale. In addition to these, '3332' is seven minutes of thudding, proto-acid synthesiser dynamics whilst the final track, 'Liquid Systems Functions' manages to recall Cluster, Autechre and Tod Dockstader during it's running time.

It's been two years since Emeralds released their last album - Does It Look Like I'm Here? Hopefully there will be new material on the horizon at some point soon but until then, this pair of albums are every bit as satisfying as their creator's main band.

For links to purchase Akashic Record (Events: 1986-1990) on limited edition coloured vinyl or as a digital download, head over to the Spectrum Spools website. Similarly, II can be purchased as either vinyl or download directly from Blast First Petite.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Thought Broadcast - Thought Broadcast

There have been many scientific studies undertaken over the years to determine what effect music has on humans, both mentally and physiologically. It would seem that the general consensus of opinion is that happiness is the most common feeling to be derived from listing to music, especially given it's ability to stimulate the release of neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. I'm not about to disagree with this research but I'd also like to add another effect that I take pleasure in experiencing when playing a record for the first time - confusion. Some of the most confusing, strange and downright "difficult" albums I've initially encountered have gone on to become absolute favourites over time and I suspect that this will become one of them.

I've had this album on my hard drive for quite a few weeks now and only recently had the chance to add it to my iTunes library. A few moments after sitting down to listen for the first time, I had to check that I'd sourced the correct playlist as I was sure I had inadvertantly selected a collection of tape recordings from circa 1979.

As far as I can tell, Thought Broadcast is led by New York artist Ravi Binning. There may be other people involved in the project but that information isn't readily available, partly due to the fact that the band's name is also a commonly reported symptom of schizophrenia and therefore hard to pin down relevant search engine results.

This self titled album consists of twelve tracks fashioned from monotone synth bleeps, minimal beat box rhythms and a variety of additional atonal sounds generated by other analogue machines. Binning's voice appears on most tracks, his vocals scrambled and rendered all but unintelligible through sheets of cassette tape hiss and smudged ferric murk. To say that this set is lo-fi would be a massive understatement but I think it's sonic limitations merely add to the overall effect. Think new wave/no wave minimal electronics or pre-punk/post-punk experimentation. It's hard not to deny the antecedents here; Throbbing Gristle and early Cabaret Voltaire being the main sources of influence. Coincidently, when adding this album to my iTunes library I noticed that it sat directly above the first entry in my Throbbing Gristle back catalogue, segueing perfectly into their Second Annual Report album.

With Thought Broadcast, Ravi Binning has created an album of oblique, submerged, aphotic brilliance that perfectly recalls a specific point in music history and ends up sounding like one of it's lost classics. There are quite a few people out there at the moment using this timeframe as a source of reference but no-one has yet managed to sound so focussed or accomplished as this.

There are a few copies remaining from a limited run of heavyweight vinyl in a silkscreened sleeve via the Olde English Spelling Bee online shop. A digital download version is also available through Boomkat and Juno.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Tropic of Cancer - Permissions of Love

There seems to have been a huge resurgence of interest in post punk and it's more minimal, electronic cousin over the past few years. This has led to some fantastic reissues (4AD's recent This Mortal Coil remasters) and a clutch of intelligent compilations (two volumes of The Minimal Wave Tapes from Stones Throw and Strange Passion from the always reliable Finders Keepers) - all of which are indispensable listening.

After a recent session delving amongst these dusty old records in my library, I spent a good few days listening to early albums by two of the unsung heroes of the Factory Records catalogue; Section 25 and Crispy Ambulance. I couldn't help think how distinctive and incredibly relevant they sounded after around thirty years.

And so, when I read the first review of Permissions of Love, the first thing that caught my eye was a reference to Section 25. Coincidences like this usually result in some interesting outcomes so I snagged a copy of the EP on the same day.

Tropic of Cancer are Camella Lobo and John Mendez (who also records as Silent Servant) from California and have released a handful of records so far on esteemed imprints such as Downwards and Blackest Ever Black. Back in May they also played live with so much noise favourites Demdike Stare and Vatican Shadow, this is a mightily impressive pedigree for a band with such a short history.

The EP contains three tracks clocking in at around fourteen and a half minutes and is the band's first release on Italy's Mannequin label. From the outset, it's clear that the early Factory aesthetic casts a huge shadow across this record. The drum machine sound has that unmistakable attack of classic period Martin Hannett productions and underpins ghostly synth drones, sparse guitars and beautifully submerged vocals cloaked in an opium haze of reverb. There's also a definite 4AD feel to these tracks too, dripping as they are with the kind of emotionally charged, gothic paeans to love and loss that haunted some of their finest releases.

It can be argued that nothing contained across these tracks is entirely new or original but that doesn't detract from the feelings they instilled in me after an initial spin. Maybe it's partly due to my love for the music that has clearly influenced this set; these were some of my earliest obsessions as a teenager. But then again, maybe it's because this is an incredibly good release from a band who are still building up to their first album and are already clearly operating at the height of their powers.

The digital download version of this EP can be obtained via the Mannequin Records Bandcamp page. Previous releases are also available from a variety of sources, all of which come highly recommended and are well worth tracking down.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Prostitutes - Psychedelic Black

Psychedelic Black by Prostitutes first came to my attention back in March as I happened to accidentally stumble upon a piece about it's recording on a blog. I immediately headed over to the stabUdown website and decided to keep an eye out for a release, five months later and here is the finished article. This is a very limited pressing - only 100 hand numbered copies are available so I didn't hang about long and neither should you.

It's described on the website as "8 tracks that orbit the center label like rusted out satellites launched by a dead civilization" and I think that gives a pretty good description of what's contained within the beautifully silk screened jacket.

The first few tracks immediately put me in mind of the kind of ferric experiments undertaken by early electronic pioneers such as Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire - all blunted pulses, grimy reverb and queasy synth drones. But the album quickly progresses beyond these influences and throws in a stripped down electro-Krautrock jam (Get Off The Streets), some post-punk/new wave tinged pop (Flipped Pieces of Coin) and even a new age synth miniature, complete with wind chimes (Rogue Elephants).

This is a record that was most definitely worth the wait and should be grabbed from the label shop quickly whilst they're still available. I'd dearly love to see this one given a digital release too as it really should be heard by more people. I suspect those initial hundred copies will disappear rapidly once the word spreads.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The art and music of Foster-m

When I was first introduced to Foster-m he was working temporarily in a very badly lit studio. He switched on a lamp and angled it so that his paintings could be seen a little more clearly but this wasn't really necessary as the canvasses spoke for themselves. They were incredible; huge meshes of coloured lines, drips and submerged human forms which incorporated symbols, slogans, elements of collage and anatomical diagrams. The copious layers of colour were exceptionally vivid, he explained that he uses any kind of paint he can get his hands on from oils and acrylics to household gloss. In some of his paintings, he also utilises items he finds in skips outside his studio which is located in Sheffield's old industrial quarter; wood, tiles and various pieces of discarded factory waste. 

Everything is used to it's fullest effect in his work, from the source materials to the vibrant colours, densely layered paint textures, compositional structure and various application techniques. He spoke about his work in terms of an expression of the struggles he experienced in his early life growing up in Sheffield's notorious Kelvin flats complex - a failed social experiment in high-rise living which was built in the 1960s and is now, thankfully demolished. Foster also talked passionately about his love of music, telling me that he was currently listening (amongst others) to the Lost Tapes box set by Can, various Demdike stare albums and a variety of post punk, cold wave and minimal techno releases.

He told me how he had spent his formative years saving up what money he could to buy records from a variety of Sheffield's tiny specialist shops, most of which are now long gone. We spoke of a shared interest in the work of early pioneers in electronic and experimental music as well as countless forgotten Sheffield post punk bands and a lifetime spent tracking down rare records, not for the sense of élitism attached to their ownership or ridiculous resale values but for the music they contained. Music it seems plays as much a part in the life of Foster-m as his painting.

After further conversation, I discovered that he was an active participant in the local Sheffield music scene from the 1980s onwards and was instrumental in setting up the Audiolaceration label in 2000 which specialises in limited releases covering all forms of experimental music. The website is worth a visit as there are still some CD releases available. He was also involved in the production of a record called Saint Agnes Fountain which purports to be a lost session from the 1970s by Japanese music student Masayo Asahara. It's an incredible piece of work which features manipulated organ drones, free jazz outbursts and Krautrock/prog sensibilities. A press review at it's release in 2004 likened it to the sound of Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Mike Ratledge and the Art Ensemble of Chicago jamming with Faust in 1973. The album is still available on CD over at the Discus website and is highly recommended.

Foster-m is also a bass player and turntablist amongst other things and was recently recorded using contact microphones applied to the canvas whilst painting. The resulting sounds were treated, edited together and eventually pressed onto vinyl. He is a restless, inveterate explorer and experimenter in both art and sound.

At the end of our meeting, I stood looking at one of the large canvasses he was currently working on and noticed that he had written something across the bar which held a tarpaulin to the wall behind it. The words read as follows;

"I really don't give a fuck what you see in my painting… I'm more interested in what you hear!"

This is, in my mind at least, one of the most honest statements made by an artist in relation to their work, irrespective of discipline.

An exhibition of new paintings by Foster-m called Exposed Interiors Vs. Opaque Occupants will open on Friday the 10th of August at the Snig Hill Gallery in Sheffield.