Wednesday, August 16, 2017

John Wall & Mark Durgan





John Wall & Mark Durgan - Contrapt
Harbinger Sound CD. Harbinger164.


I had to wait for the ears to clear before entering once more the world of Wall & Durgan. Its a world where Durgan mans the synths and Wall the computer. Durgan I’m familiar with. He doesn’t seem to release that much these days so any release with his name on that come this way is warmly welcome. John Wall not so, but according to the sleeve notes he’s credited with ‘computer/editing/arrangement and composition’, Durgan with ‘modular synthesiser and signal processing’. Contrapt being the distillation of three years worth of free improvisation between the two. Wall is, by all accounts, known for the severity of his editing. A man for whom the words ‘spare seconds’ have been eradicated from his vocabulary. Thus the results between the two are what you might call action packed. Action packed computer edited modular synthesizer signaled processed sounds. It's the only place to be.

Not having perfect hearing in both lug holes makes listening to the likes of this a waste of time. Its like walking around an art gallery with shades on, like reading only the even pages of Gravitys Rainbow, you kind of get the idea in both instances but not the true picture. Or sound. You might as well put your head in a washing machine and have someone hit it with hammers. Which is something that Durgan might well have done at some point but not on here. I realised things were going south hearing wise while listening to The Fall track ‘Bombast’, Hanley’s bass reduced to an impatient foot tap, weak and meagre gruel where once stood a stand pie and pickle. And then there was improvement. Did I tell you my ears were fucked? Oh yes. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. To use an optical metaphor. At first a light crackling inside the skull. Like eating popping candy with your mouth shut, sounds traveling up through the head. Light relief. Air escaping. A bit like Contrapt.

So I’m not going deaf after all. A slight tinnitus that becomes apparent when I sit in total silence. I’ve Jazkamer to thank for that. Its something I can live with.

I can live with Contrapt too. Each track a slowly dwindling set of letters ending in ‘Pt’ that are of a whole. Each track seeming to move on organically, one from the other. No large shift in sound from ‘Ntrapt’ to ‘Apt’. Tracks that are filled with the flutter of tiny bubbles, digital chatter, the processed sound of bicycle chain being dropped in to a Quality Street tin. ‘Trapt’ leans towards the noisier end of the scale with digital tape rapidly spooling by, exploding flash bulbs pops and the squiggle squirt of almost rhythm.

Being familiar with Durgan and not with Wall stands me in good stead, I can hear what Durgan’s doing and what Wall is doing to Durgan. If you pardon the expression. Durgan’s brushing of springs and coils signal processed and then no doubt processed again by Wall. All this processing means that most tracks flit by in a flurry of micro sounds. On ‘Rapt’ nothing sits for more than a second, whizzes, burrs, chirrups and electronic groans, with only last track [and longest at 12 minutes] ‘Pt’ finding some space and with it the most reflective, contemplative outing.

This convergence of modular synth and computer generated sounds has me rapt. An endlessly fascinating, revealing and rewarding listen. Especially if you have good ears.


  

http://harbingersound.bigcartel.com/

https://johnwall.bandcamp.com/album/contrapt

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Mostly Awful.










The Warp/The Weft - Mapping an Absence
Admirable Trait Records


I have friends who are fans of a band called Mostly Autumn. They play a kind of proggy folky sway in the breeze female singer never ending guitar solo rock that is the bastard offspring of Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd. Depending on which side of the fence you sit on its either inspiring, uplifting, soulful, dreamy folk rock, or the most turgid, soul destroying cliched crap ever recorded by human beings. Guess which side I sit on. Those in the know  call them Mostly Awful. I pray I never hear them again. Each to their own though. If we all liked the same thing blah blah blah blah blah blah. But still, it has to be said, there's plenty of shit out there in the big wide world.

For some reason vast megabits of it makes its way in to my inbox. Should the mood take me I investigate and if the label or the outfit sounds interesting or its of a style or genre that appeals I’ll take a cursory listen. If it has the words ‘rock’ or ‘folk’ or Jethro Tull or Pink Floyd in it I delete it instantly.

This week I got an email from The Warp/The Weft and in their press release were the words ‘chamber folk rock’. What the fuck, went my musically overloaded brain, could ‘chamber folk rock’ sound like? I couldn’t begin to make sense of it. So I did something I now regret. I followed the link in the email.

I saw a recent Twitter conversation in which Campbell [amongst others] bemoaned the lack of negative music reviews. Examples of excoriating reviews that were much the norm in the weekly music press back in the 80’s were given as evidence. The music press in the 80’s having a reputation of building bands up only to slag them off mercilessly should they dare to do anything other than play pubs to audiences of thirty people in provincial towns you were only vaguely aware of. Most of it was personal and unnecessary but it made good reading. The example given by Johnny Cigarettes was typical of the time and its something that not just me still misses.

The Bearded Wonder over at RFM has long since given up with the negative review, arguing that his creative energies are better employed extolling the virtues of all that is good in the world. Leave the rubbish to die its own natural death. Why waste time sticking it to the crappy noise CDR when you can be waxing lyrical about that gorgeous drone cassette that comes wrapped in a dried maple leaf, tied up with string, wax seal, ten copies only, filled with love and warmth. He has a very good point but then I clicked on that link and thought why the fuck not. Bands should think carefully before sending promotional emails to those they don’t know very well.    

I’ve not written a negative review for as long as I can remember. Along with the Bearded Wonder I gave them up too. Plenty of good stuff to be writing about. Why waste my time. But then I clicked on the link in that email.

So for the most part I ignore emails that begin with the words ‘Hey Idwal check out my new album. It contains ten songs that I wrote on the steps of a brownstone in Williamsburg on a battered guitar that I got in a thrift store for ten dollars and its classic singer songwriting songs with a Northern Cambodian twist’.

The email from The Warp/The Weft began with these words:

‘We write to introduce you to “Mapping an Absence,” a new album by The Warp/The Weft, a Poughkeepsie, NY-based band. The songs range from chamber folk rock to dark, haunted ballads, to sparkling psychedelia—all led by the riveting vocals of singer-songwriter Shane Murphy.’

So I went to the Bandcamp page where you can listen to Mapping an Absence and after about five seconds of a guitar picking intro a voice appeared the like of which I’ve never heard before nor ever wish to hear again. It sounded like someone reciting 16th century Italian poetry in a falsetto faux Irish accent. Imagine such a thing? The track in question was the opening track ‘A Welcoming of Owls’. Imagine such a track title. Can you even believe such a thing exists? As much as I hate Mostly Awful I’d rather sit through their entire discography on headphones with the volume on full, strapped in to a chair with no means of escape or toilet facilities than to suffer ever again the hideous thing that is the song about owls. I’m still not sure if this was the chamber folk rock song though. It was definitely not the sparkling psychedelia one. I’m guessing it was the haunted ballad. Its haunted me ever since.

What makes this all the more sad is that it is quite obvious that I have never and will never review such material. A cursory glance at the pages of Idwal Fisher will reveal to the casual reader a leaning towards the outer edges of our musical planet. The noisy bits that fall down the back of the settee if you will. Nowhere does it say ‘chamber folk rock reviewed here’. Its why The Warp/The Weft will probably never see this review. And yes I did listen to it all the way through, mostly with my jaw on my chest, shaking and jibbering like an idiot. Writing it all down and dissecting it may tip me into a foul mood the escape from which may take weeks. So I'm not even going there. I need to listen to something loud and hard and fast. Each to their own. Blah blah blah blah blah.



 

https://thewarptheweft.bandcamp.com/album/mapping-an-absence

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Mutton











Vampyres - Century Scars
Invisible City Records. ICR 34. Cassette/DL. 50 copies.

Death in Scarsdale - Ruminations
Invisible City Records. ICR 33. Cassette/DL. 43 copies.

Three Eyed Makara - Moonmilk Roof
Crow Versus Crow. CVC06. Cassette/DL. 100 copies.

Colony - Alocasia gardens
Crow Versus Crow. CVC05. Cassette/DL. 50 copies.

Stef Ketteringham - More Guitar Arrangements
Crow Versus Crow. Cassette/DL. 50 copies





I’ve just returned from the doctors having being told that I’m partially deaf in both ears. Which goes a long way to explaining why everything’s been sounding shit for the last month or so. The deafness is temporary.  An accumulation of hardened earwax, a thin veneer of catnip accumulated after being given some bad advice r.e. ear wax and aural canal hygiene. Don’t put anything bigger than your thumb in your ear I got told. Ears are self cleaning. The wax is there to protect your ear drum. And then I woke up one morning and couldn’t hear anything at all out of my left lug. A disorientating feeling. Like someones  banjoed you round the head and your face has gone all numb. Two years ago I got an abscess in my left ear. I’m ear cursed. For someone who likes listening to music I fear that my dotage will be filled with ear trumpets and large print books. The eyesights going too. Television with subtitles. All my music on eBay to help fund a bath chair. Don’t get old. Don’t get ill. 

Some would say that having a thin veneer of hardened wax snug to your eardrum would be of benefit when listening to noise. Especially on cassettes. And it is. A medium not known for its fidelity [though the digitally copied mass produced cassettes that appeared just as cassettes were dying out are an exception] is one of the best for listening to noise. So long as that noise had no fidelity to start with. Immersing yourself in a C90 of bad noise can have its benefits but that noise still has to have something about it. Something that passes for no-fi hippy noise trippy head mong psych noise. Something that you can travel with. Smell the Stench released lots of noise cassettes in this manner and though I hated most of them at the time [cheap covers, poorly dubbed, dozens arriving all at once, all total dumb noise overkill] you cant help but think that this approach has its merits. A certain punk-ness that a lot of todays noise orientated labels lack. Now its all 200gsm screen printed J-card inserts using four colour natural vegetable dyes and an instant link to the labels Discogs page. Mind you, all those shitty old Smell the Stench cassettes have long since gone the way of all flesh [except the Emil Beaulieau one] and the cassettes I get now have a certain uniform appeal. You can line them up on your shelf and in some instance you can even read the bands/project name on the spine. There’s something to be said for the clean lines of a bog standard two piece cassette box.

Vampyres are all lo-fi noise. Either that or the medical grade olive oil running around inside my head is ruining things. I doubt that Vampyres would benefit from higher fidelity. This works just fine. Old Skool Noise with a bit of drone thrown in for good measure. Four tracks, some of which are of the polar storm variety, some of which are of the screeching gadget box variety. I have no idea who Vampyres are but I’d stand in front of their table at one of their gigs with my thumbs in my belt loops and nod my head vigorously with no thought for my hearing at all.

Death in Scarsdale is the perfect moniker for a band/project making no-fi murk where nothing much happens in two times twenty minute bites. I imagine Scarsdale to be like it sounds; taps dripping, people talking in a barely audible mutter over murky crumbling drones that, on one side at least, appear as if they’re continually on the brink of collapsing into a mess of magnetic cassette crumbs. Birds are heard on side two, or a budgie in a cage, the domestic living room rendered dying room. Everything dead, breaking twigs, the crackle of a bonfire, damp leaf mulch underfoot. I swear I felt an involuntary shudder across my shoulders once each side. Perfect for that soggy October evening when the thought occurs to you that the weathers going to be shit for the next six months at least.

Those two releases were from Invisible City Records which is based in Newcastle and has given us the likes of Culver and Stuart Chalmers and Anla Courtis. All cassettes too if I’m not mistaken. Crow Versus Crow are based in Sowerby Bridge which isn’t too far from where I type this, its also the same place where Smell & Quim used to live and record. Must be something in the air round these parts. Crow Versus Crow is also a radio show and a podcast and a design studio and a place where you go to buy a dog on a string. Or maybe not. Some of their releases take time to put together are not of the Smell the Stench xeroxed bit of paper with rubber band around them variety. Its the reason I don’t see any of them. I cant blame them. Instead I listen to the download which as you know, is not my preferred mode of listening pleasure but with these ears will it make any difference? A lo-fi cassette tape, a download through dodgy ears? Whats the difference?

So we have Alocasia Gardens which is leaning towards electronic compositions with one track full of portentous keyboard swirl and dramatic noise bursts like the end credits of an Italian horror film. Best track is also the last and one like nothing thats gone before, ‘Last Light’ is something out of the Froese songbook, a two chord ebbing and flowing synth movement. Suitably drift like and all too short.   

Deaf ears are good for improv too. Three Eyed Makara come on down. With your scraping and frotting and fiddling you make scratchy sounds and take an age to get going but when you do its not too bad at all in a lets hit everything at once kind of way. I have to admit that I don’t know that many people who get anything out of this kind of music. They must have beards though, long beards and they probably live in holes and wear odd hand knitted jumpers and mismatched shoes, they must eat nothing but mushrooms and live in houses with grass on the roof. Its my least favourite kind of music when its in this mode. I’m not improv averse per se but there’s nothing happening here to make me want to listen to it again. I don’t want my ears to get better. I like it like this. Track one eventually picks itself up off the floor but I’d already gone looking for the olive oil by then.

Stef Ketteringham’s ‘More Guitar Arrangements’ is nine tracks of improv guitar with an odd track of guitar noise stuck on its end. Its not all Derek Bailey grumpy Yorkshireman fingers stuck in f holes crap either. Ketteringham moves in sweeter arcs especially on tracks like ‘Killing Flaw’ which have more in common with Jim O’Rourke’s guitar work than Baileys. There’s more melody than Keith Rowe too but not its still not quite straightforward enough to ring like Leo Kottke. His improvisations around melody are where he works best and not having listened to any guitar improv for quite a while I found myself coming back to this. There’s something within these ten shortish tracks [30 minutes running time] that lifts them from the ordinary. Kreffting uses a battered Stratocaster, bits dropping off it, bridge built up high, busted strings, his guitars aren’t objects to be polished or worshipped, they’re there to be played and knocked about and even with these mutton ears it sounds like something rather special.

Invisible City Records


Crow Versus Crow