Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Music Reviews

Artist: Officer!
Title: Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes
Format: CD + Download
Label: Klanggalerie
The second album from Mick Hobbs’ Officer! (the punctuation’s part of the name) was released on vinyl in 1988. It’s been dusted off- or “remastered from the original reel-to-reel tapes” to give it the proper term- and released on CD by KlangGalerie with five bonus unreleased instrumental tracks from around the same time, as part of a rather prolific output.

It’s very 1988, in many ways- a lo-fi guitar-pop with a quirky, folky attitude and the occasional tilt towards the weird, backed up with a pleasant richness of guest string and wind instruments. The sound quality would have felt low-budget even then, and a bit of remastering doesn’t disguise the generally grungy feel. What carries it above that slight sonic problem is the fact it has a very strong ear for a catchy hook and a catchy riff, with elements like the chorus of “Coma” or the infectious opening riff of “Simone” undeniably strong pieces of song-writing.

Certain parts, like the Jethro Tull-ish flute of delightfully odd “r Tune” (a Simon Bates-sampling tune that Bates would never have played), feel both more eccentric and slightly older, harking back to a more experimental 60’s studio feel. “Remove Your Hat”’s first part has that barking mad avantgarde spaciousness, before the second part develops into a song that’s halfway to Madchester, while the Beatles-ripping riff of “Bright Star” seems like a more overt throwback.

“r Tune” is also an example of the unusual lyrical approach, which sits somewhere between straight-faced, wacky and ironic, without ever settling into overt comedy. “Simone, she leaves me accident prone, so I’d better leave her alone [...], keeping her body in tone, with food that’s organically grown” is poetry. The introverted but sweet love song parts, such as “(I’ve Got A) Nice Girlfriend”, never quite reaches Jilted John territory, but it’s not far off, while the simple and innocent approach stretches into wilful ironic pretend-dumbness in songs like “Hid It (‘Cos I Wanted You To Find It)”.

As quite a contrast, the five previously unreleased instrumental bonus tracks, rather than being the sparse pop-demo sound that I might have anticipated, are rich experimental pieces with analogue synths and complex time signatures that hint at a very different but equally interesting compositional approach. “Distal Interphalangeal”’s mesmerising counter-play of repeating plinky bell sounds with spontaneous growls is a particular highlight.

It’s oddly endearing from start to finish, and while the clanginess and sonic quality of the guitar does start grating over the course of an hour, it’s an interesting way to get introduced to Hobbs as an off-beat songwriter with some great tunes.

Artist: Thrillsville (@)
Title: Lockdown
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: No Comment Records (USA)
Distributor: The Orchard
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Try as we might, there is no escaping the fact that the current global pandemic has caused a lot of people to have to miss out on many of the things that normally keep them sane. Dancing to grinding and hypnotic music at excessive volumes is an outlet which allows many to transmute rage and frustration into something more positive. This escapism is not currently available.

Thrillsville is a darkwave / industrial solo project from LA-based composer and producer Rani Sharone, who has worked with such luminaries as Marilyn Manson and Puscifer, as well as running his own dark cabaret project Stolen Babies. The newly-released track Lockdown is a “Dark dance club song inspired by the unrelenting restlessness of being ‘stuck on lockdown’”, and it does indeed bring the listener immediately into the bleakly energising world of industrial club culture.

Sharone seems to have used Lockdown as a vessel in which to pour anxieties and suffering. “Tightness in my chest / Anxious and distressed” is one of the first lines, growled in a bitter whisper over a punishingly harsh beat. “That nervous twitch wasn’t there before” croons Sharone as blasts of all-powerfully huge metal guitars stamp over everything in their path. The groove is also sensual in a way that brings to mind “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, and the lyrics of the chorus reflect this: “I should be driving to your house / We should be under the lights / Instead of stuck here on lockdown / Losing my fucking mind / This is not a test”. As that last line is repeated the music soars to an enraged crescendo of turmoil. The whole thing is has an empowering energy which will undoubtedly inspire many to don the white makeup and dig out the glow-sticks. If they flash the living room lights on and off and allow Lockdown’s ultra-tight kick drum and pulsating synths to embody them they might even momentarily believe that they are right there in the grime and beauty, moving “under the lights” with hundreds of others.

The current global situation is so huge and all-encompassing that it can’t be entirely avoided by artists in their work. There is an ongoing debate about how directly the situation should be referred to in creative works, and I don’t have a correct answer to that. What I am sure of is that Rani Sharone, through Thrillsville’s Lockdown, tells his own truth and delivers it in catchy hook form atop an undeniably powerful blast of fury which will be of great appeal to fans of dark electronic and industrial music.

Lockdown by Thrillsville is available now from major digital outlets.

Artist: Liar, Flower (@)
Title: Geiger Counter
Format: CD & 12" & Download
Label: One Little Indian Records (@)
Rated: *****
If you remember British alt-rock glitter punk band Daisy Chainsaw, then you know KatieJane Garside, one-half of Liar, Flower. If you followed her career after Daisy Chainsaw, you may even know that she collaborated with the industrial band Test Department in 1995 on their album 'Totality.' After a couple years break from music and a move to England's bohemian Rigg Beck in the Lake District, she reunited with Daisy Chainsaw founder and guitarist Crispin Gray to form Queenadreena, an even heavier noise-rock band than Daisy Chainsaw. After four albums garnering plenty of critical acclaim but unspectacular commercial sales and charting action, KatieJane left to form Ruby Throat with guitarist Chris Whittingham. That project was nearly the polar opposite of Garside's previous efforts; a complete turnabout from the screaming riot-grrrl vocals she had been known for. Now her voice was soft, sylphlike and ethereal. If you haven't heard her, maybe you remember The Cranes' Alison Shaw as that's sort of a close comparison.

Liar, Flower is Garside and Whittingham bringing everything to the table from previous endeavors, then pulling off the tablecloth with contents in tow, and sweeping up the rubble melancholically to the dustbin. Okay, well what does all this have to do with the music we cover here you might ask. Punk, alternative noise-rock and even ethereal (without being goth or darkwave) aren't staple categories of Chain D.L.K. 'Geiger Counter' is just so weird, so impossible to categorize that it makes more sense to review it here than perhaps anyplace else in the mainstream. The album careens like a pinball in a demonic arcade machine from the moment the plunger is pulled - calm to chaotic, banging bumpers, heading down unexpected paths, kicked into holes by noisy flippers and scoring enough points along the way to guarantee a replay. Beginning with the elfin "I Am Sundress" (She of Infinite Flowers) with Katiejane singing alone (in Italian at first) sweetly and innocently in her little girl voice accompanied mostly by an autoharp, you'd think this was recorded in fairy tale forest. When she slides into "My Brain is Lit Like an Airport" (best song title on the album) you know you've got the old wild-child KatieJane back again. There's a muscular malevolence at work on this track that intentionally tears down any "nice girl" illusions you may have had previously going into 'Geiger Counter.' If that wasn't strange enough, there is the ambientesque "9N-AFE" where KatieJane's wordless vocals mix with processed guitar and electronics in a surreal stew of oblique dimensions. "Mud Stars" bubbles and boils in a hot mess of down and dirty bluesy, noisy filth. Back on cloud 9, KatieJane and her autoharp step sweetly into "Broken Light" which has one of the best lyric lines I've heard in a while - "i was in a band called where's my fucking phone, stranded on a hillside of spectacular bodies ..." It's almost expected you'd be diving back into the mosh pit with "Even The Darkest Clouds" that follows. And so the album continues vacillating from the quiet and contemplative to the belligerently boisterous with not a whiff of self-consciousness to spare. Sometimes both sides of KatieJane's vocal split personality emerge at once, such as her Banshee howling in the otherwise kind of placid "Baby Teeth." It all ends enigmatically enough with the instrumental "Doors Locked, Oven's Off" a little guitar and autoharp duet that sounds like a Pink Floyd acoustic outtake from their Umma Gumma days.

While often fascinating and inventively engaging, 'Geiger Counter' isn't a perfect album by any means. Opening track "I Am Sundress" is too long by at least half; the quieter moments of KatieJane singing with her autoharp tend to be too similar; and the self-indulgence is palpable. Be those things as they may, this is certainly unusual enough to warrant some serious attention, which I'm pretty sure it's getting. For serious collectors the album will be available on limited edition (500 copies) double 12" vinyl (with bonus songs) that includes two 12”x12” frameable prints (cover print signed) and a limited edition CD in glassine envelope with a pressed flower in glassine. For us mere mortals who can't afford half-a-hundred British pounds, there is always the digital download at substantially less.

Artist: Yonic South
Title: Twix & Dive
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: La Tempesta Dischi
Italian ‘garage punk agitators’ Yonic South are back after last year’s debut, offering up another four tracks of lo-fi, grungy but also experimental noisepunk with a classic homemade feel and vigour.

Tracks like “Tell Me Why” and “On” are bold clashing and strumming workouts, with distorted vocals, and everything turned up to 11 for a burst of slightly poppy punk energy that has to be admired even if you can’t keep up with it.

Despite being a Manc by birth, I hate Oasis music, always have, so any cover version of an Oasis song has to do something amazing to impress me. “Rock & Roll Star” nails the whiny Liam Gallagher voice too well- and maybe nails it as more Scouse than you realised before- and the noise and chaos being infused here is nicely irreverent, in its way, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite work as an under-cut of the original. It’s the weak point for me.

As I write this review, Liverpool FC’s status as Premier League champions in the UK is waiting to be confirmed, and in the meantime the band have sampled legendary player Steven Gerrard’s departure speech and set it to slightly more subdued instrumental work that suggests that once this trio have got the anger out of their system, there’s more assured and controlled experimental stuff to follow.

The promo material for this EP describes the band’s love of gabber and hardcore techno, but it’s nowhere to be heard here- maybe they’re keeping that in their back pocket. It’s a band clearly still in their early days and still evolving, but who could be heading in interesting directions.

Artist: Liar, Flower
Title: Geiger Counter
Format: CD & 12"
Label: One Little Indian Records
Rated: ***** BUY from HERE
Many of us are in search of duende, whether we know it or not. This internal, “spirit of evocation” is the ultimate aspiration for both creator and witness. When music makes us feel a communion with something higher than ourselves, we “get out of our own way” and we forget who we are. Or maybe we remember who we really are.

“Get out of my own way” is what KatieJane Garside says she seeks to do. Liar, Flower is her new project with partner, collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Chris Whittingham. This is their “reincarnation” of the folk-influenced Ruby Throat and this time they are “ready to make some noise”.

Garside’s history speaks for itself. The facts that she has been venerated by Courtney Love and was courted for Madonna’s label, and that she created history with bands including Daisy Chainsaw, Test Dept and Queenadreena, can be taken or left in the face of Geiger Counter, which speaks with such calmly forceful conviction that it demands all preconceptions be dropped.

This record is magical. Garside says “I use so many words to say ‘I will not speak’”. As I am reading back this last sentence I realise that I am participating in the idea being alluded to here. She doesn’t even need words sometimes. I enquired about a translation of the non-English introduction to the first song “I am Sundress (She of Infinite Flowers)”, and the response I received indirectly from Garside was that “this is an essentially unknowable language from ‘my’ translation available”. This gets to the heart of why the whole album is so wonderful and why this review is so difficult to write. It seems churlish to talk about the technicalities of something so pure and direct. “No translation is available.”

Nevertheless. The music really flows. It effortlessly navigates myriad styles (from pastoral autoharp folk to punishingly abrasive punk) and in stepping forth never puts so much as a little toe wrong. Even the dissonance is somehow perfectly placed - welcome. The songs seem designed to both soothe and energise, from the tempos to the lush yet raw production. It transfers a certain kind of empowerment - terrifying yet comforting, like a freezing cold night in an empty forest. With an insane house party just around the corner. And screaming. Lots of screaming.

The primal-scream-of-consciousness lyrics bridge the gap between dry-humoured musings on the everyday (“I was in a band called where’s my fucking phone”) and far-reaching spiritual proclamations (“daughter of nebula sing with me / cos I’m already sky / cos I’m already sky”). We are the “housefly called God” (thanks, Nick Cave) on the wall of KatieJane Garside’ soul. She is also God and she is also the housefly. She screams, she moans, and she whispers. She lulls us to sleep, safe in the arms of her all-powerful voice. “My Brain Is An Airport” is New York noise rock , all scuzzy bass and growling guitars. “9N-AFE” sounds like Jarboe via the Cocteau Twins. The Western-soundtrack guitars on “Blood Berries” just hang there, pregnant with violence, swelling but never bursting. The smouldering “Little Brown Shoe” seems to always be slowing down, but finishes at the exact same pace it began. There is no “genre” here. The sounds are a mere vehicle to communicate unknowing universal truth.

Album closer “Door’s Locked, Oven’s Off” grounds us. Garside’s desperate bleating has faded away to silence. This is folk guitar and dissonance as an embodiment of worry and reassurance - the cyclical and ever-unquenched thirst for closure. It is human nature shutting its eye to the force of nature. Locking the door. Saying goodbye. Saying hello again to “reality”, whatever that is.

Geiger Counter is as close to the true essence of art as anything you’ll witness. When I stepped off this ride I felt physically lighter. Cleansed. I found myself uttering these words out loud to nobody: “I need more”. More of this feeling. This duende.

Truly exceptional.

Geiger Counter is available now on One Little Indian Records to pre-order as a special package (limited to 500 copies) with a release date of 8th June 2020.


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