Category Archives: Releases 2010

Digging: Heirs – Fowl

Heirs: Fowl
Denovali Records (2010)

Here’s one of those records that I find myself wanting to dislike yet continue to push play in an attempt to figure out why. Perhaps it’s the production, which is a little too polished for its blackened, ominous tone. Maybe the problem is that I often feel like instrumental rock has only one trick up its sleeve – loud/soft dynamics. More likely it’s tracks two and three (Burrow and Tyrant respectively) that bug me. Both owe a debt to Mogwai the size of Ireland and Greece’s financial crises combined, and could easily slip into any Mogwai album since Happy Songs for Happy People.

In an effort to understand my conundrum I listened to Pelican’s Australis today. The whole post-metal thing is a genre I haven’t been able to fully appreciate yet (does anyone else think that Neurosis are a bloated mess?) and I was thinking that Fowl might bear some of the genre’s trademarks. But Heirs don’t have any of the bombastic riffery found in the post-metal world. When the distortion pedals are stamped on, their guitars billow into a cloudy murk much more akin to Grey Daturas. This is especially the case on the record’s closer Drain, starting with a ringing guitar drone that builds and builds into a frantic Animal-from-the-Muppets style drum explosion beaten out in a time signature twice as fast as the blackened and buzzing guitars. Drain forgoes catharsis by fading into silence instead of reaching any foregone conclusions and for that it’s a fucking riot of a ride.

Heirs play a similar game on Dust, where five minutes of slinky bass and restrained drumming unfolds into a dizzying array of guitar melodies and then deconstructs itself back into silence. Men offers up bubbling electronics and tribal rhythms that eventually merge into the shifting sands of Daydream Nation era Sonic Youth. It’s these more precarious tracks that keep me coming back.

I like the doomy, charred ambience of Fowl, which reminds me of Grails minus the dusty psychedelia. And something has to be said about the cover art, which is completely at odds with the heavy sludge made by the band. Cruising the interwebs I found plenty of people ripping into Heirs for the artwork on the album, but the art school kid in me actually applauds them for not succumbing to the stoner, skull n bones image that so many of these bands parade.

Coming back to my opening point, I guess it’s Heirs’ unwillingness to identify themselves with any particular scene and its signifiers that makes Fowl an intriguing listen. I mean, one of their guitarists looks like he’s stepped out from a Tom of Finland drawing for chrissake. I don’t have a problem with their mysteriousness, lets just hope they don’t cross the border into contrived.

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New Release: My Disco – Little Joy

My Disco: Little Joy
Shock (2010)

When My Disco’s first effort, Cancer was released a couple of years back I wasn’t quite sure what the hype was about. The band has long been disciples of Albini and his harsh minimalism (which is great inspiration as far as I’m concerned), in fact their name comes from a Big Black tune. This first long player was even produced by Neil Marshall of Ricaine, another absolutely awesome, but long defunct Albini-esque band from the 90s. The My Disco sound is all about taught rhythms, sharp guitars, spoken word vocals and DIY ethics. The Mark of Cain come to mind as well.

But when Cancer’s follow up, Paradise hit the shelves I was instantly curious about the music hiding behind that way-out cover art; the trio dressed in shiny black capes and leggings, perched birdlike on a rocky peak in the Cooper Pedy desert, which looks distinctly like Mars. It sounds comedic but the scene is actually bizarre enough to work.  It was instantly obvious this was a different band, and with Steve Albini on production duties the music itself had become sharp, minimal, cold and alien. Some songs revolved around little more than two notes, a kick drum and a spoken phrase; tranquillity in repetition.

My Disco have made that same leap on Little Joy. This time around, Albini has guided the band into a sound less abrasive but no less minimal. The guitars don’t stab any more; instead they chime discordantly, hypnotising the listener with subtle nuances like the best of harsh noise. Rhythmically everything is much more loose and Jazz infused, in fact the drums have become the main character on Little Joy, with a number of tracks reducing themselves down to extended passages of rolling rhythm. Guitars and bass take a back seat here, which is a natural step in the evolution of My Disco; Cancer concentrated on rubbery, post punk bass lines and Paradise was all about Ben Andrews tearing glassy splinters of feedback and distortion from his guitar. It’s only logical that the drums are given free reign on Little Joy, but don’t expect stadium rock drum solos. Rohan Rebiero takes a minimalist approach to his kit, creating atmosphere, tension and release. Dude is amazing on the skins.

Little Joy is My Disco’s most confident release to-date and a great example of a band constantly willing to evolve. Each release has seen them take the essence of Albini’s sound world and move further and further away from it. They’re no longer his disciples they’re his fucking peers now, and that’s a big call, I know. The album as a whole never feels like it’s 51 minutes long, nor do its longest tracks, some of which stretch out past the ten minute mark (and rarely stray from one or two core concepts). There are few other Australian bands making music this exciting right now.

New release – The Body: All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood

The Body: All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood
At a Loss (2010)

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for a band’s image. Fuck you. And the way Lee Buford and Chip King portray themselves on the world wide interwebz had me intrigued. These bearded, tubby, in-need-of-a-scrub lads spend a lot of their time brandishing shotguns and rifles in a calm and collected manner. They remind me of Glenn Benton, except they aren’t funny. I’m sure they’re lovely boys but something says they might draw inspiration from the Unabomber, and this is backed up by the cover art for this record. They look like Pumpkinhead on the way to the prom.

Anywho, The Body are originally from Arkansas, although they reside in Rhode Island now, and their sound is partly what you’d expect – down-tuned, swampy and sludgey – but experimental enough to let them get away with such a highfalutin image. I suspect that fans of Australia’s Portal will be into this.

All the Waters of the Earth turn to Blood is an amazing collage of chillingly sad choral choir passages, slowly cascading riffs a la Earth, big, big drums in the vein of Black Boned Angel and the most tortured vocals ever. Love them or hate them, there’s no denying the originality of this tuneless screaming, somewhere between pigs squealing and the last shrieks of a burn victim. Buried deep in the mix, the vocals add a Black Metal quality to this cacophony, a nihilistic and bleak feeling like early Swans butt fucking Xasthur.

At first listen you could easily pigeon hole The Body as a run of the mill doom band. Don’t be fooled though. Apparently 32 musicians contributed to the making of this record. Pay attention. Empty Hearth is underpinned by some seriously possessed yodelling, occasionally interrupted by electronic stutter. On Song of Sarin, The Brave they spend five minutes jamming on a dizzying drone awash with noise and chopped voices, and then 55 seconds punching you in the face with guitar sludge and more of that horrible, horrible screaming. Ruiner features flashes of Kahnate, while Even The Saints Knew Their Hour of Failure and Loss replaces the guitars with a repetitive chime and hollow drums…..and the screaming that makes my hair stand on end.

Apologies for the potty mouth today, but this record is fucking great. All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood is a rare kind of weird, its ingredients should not work together they way that they do. It’s certainly crept under my skin, and at oddest moments I find a riff, a shriek or lonely choir section ringing around in my brain. It’s ugly but I keep coming back for more. There’s something fun about letting these two hicks raise a rusty shotgun to your face.

New release: Failing Lights – self titled

Failing Lights: Failing Lights
Intransitive Recordings (2010)

The guys in Wolf Eyes are fucking prolific; they put the Yellow Swans boys to shame. These guys eat, drink, sleep and smoke noise both as part of the Wolf Eyes monster and under dozens of solo guises.

Failing Lights is one of many side projects attributed to Mike Connelly, whose best-known work outside of Wolf Eyes is probably the death-march trio Hair Police. I’m no Hair Police expert but this record shits all over anything I’ve heard him produce under that name. It’s spooky, cinematic, and spacious and depends more on atmosphere than noise. A lot like Wolf Eye’s pivotal Human Animal record.

Second track, Revealing Scene carries a haunting hum erratically shattered by bolts of fuzz. It’s horrific and otherworldly, like demons trying to claw their way through from the ‘other side’. Eventually the hum slips into a rattle that builds into a spooky squall of electronic rain, sheets of wobbly noise that rumble like thunder and lightening. Probably a rain of fire in the pits of hell.

This fades into Serve in Silence where Connelly dawdles tunelessly on an acoustic guitar. The Asiatic twang he creates has been cut and pasted into multiple layers and then rinsed in reverb and delay so that everything sounds seasick and dreamy like a feverish hallucination.

Four of these five tracks fall under five-minutes in length, and come across like H’orderves before the epic closing party that is The Comfort Zone. It kicks off with microphone FX which sound like distant storms, then drifts into some more menacing guitar jangle before electronic squeaks and zaps start whirring around like flies. A wobbly bass drone lurks out of the shadows, and then, in a classic ode to some of Kevin Drumm’s finer moments, an accordion style drone emerges from the din, layer upon layer upon layer building a cathartic sense of release to what has previously been a dark listening experience. It ends with a machine like whir, almost like a film projector, nodding to the entire record’s cinematic scope.

You won’t ‘get’ this record if you don’t listen to it from start to finish because the transition from unease to bliss is mesmerising and what makes Failing Lights a fucking classic in the genre. I  love the way Connelly has created an actual album, a journey and this is fast becoming my record of 2010. No shit.

New release: Wolf Parade – Expo 86

Wolf Parade: Expo 86
Sub Pop (2010)

After a shaky start I’ve tried, for the most part to keep Evol Kween: The Musical focused on music’s fringes. The trouble is, at the moment my state of mind is far more attuned to the melodrama of rock n’ roll. The theatrics, earnestness and volts of electrified guitars. Vocals. Lyrics.

Bubbling up out of this is the latest Wolf Parade record, Expo 86. These guys are never gonna’ break big, they’re too awkward and ragged around the edges but I guarantee that in ten years time a new generation of indie rock kids will be banging on about how influential Wolf Parade’s lazy guitar licks, playful keyboards and live-in-the-room drums have been on their sound. Fuck Arcade Fire’s bombast and fuck Of Montreal’s pretentiousness. When it comes to Canada, Wolf Parade is where it’s at.

These are pop songs dressed up in Pavement’s slacker aesthetic and the beautiful beginning of Grunge’s 1970’s Rock Eisteddfod. Ziggy Stardust is wigging out on stage and dare I say that Fleetwood Mac is dipping their toes in there too. I may have just described Smashing pumpkins (minus the Pavement reference) but that’s absolutely not what this is about. The lack of bass stops Expo 86 from bloated rock revivalism, and the dippy keyboards steer well clear of ironic 80s references. Angst is replaced with Springsteen’s knack for singing tales of towns that don’t change, dirty graduation gowns and kids singing along with the radio in their bedrooms.

Wolf Parade keep things quirky enough to sound fresh but comforting; for every uneasy melodic interplay between keys and guitar, there’s a familiar chord progression to soothe your nerves. It’s apparent they don’t believe that rock is dead, dying, ironic or hip and listening to Expo 86 I have to agree.

New release: Psychic Baggage – Psychic Baggage

Psychic Baggage: Psychic Baggage
Endless Melt (2010)

I’m a fan of random guitar noodling….when it’s done well. And when the guy at Missing Link Records with the waist length hair, scraggly beard and endless wardrobe of Grindcore band t-shirts says that this particular noodly guitar record is a good listen, well than it must be worth checking out.

I picked up Psychic Baggage based on an interesting review on Cyclic Defrost and the cool stoner cover art. The band itself is actually one man, Duncan Blachford formerly of Tasmania but more recently of Melbourne based bands Witch Hats, Snawklor and Rubbish Throwers. I’ve heard all these names before but am totally unfamiliar with their music. Apparently Psychic Baggage sits somewhere just to the left of all those bands. Oh, and Blachford plays pretty much every instrument under the Psychic Baggage moniker.

This is smoky, improvised music for late nights in lamp lit rooms. Echoey guitar, sparse drumming and the occasional saxaphone make up the entire palette here. It’s like the last four or five of those SYR ‘records’ that Sonic Youth self released, but far less discordant or challenging. Kind of Mogwai-ish without the distortion and lots of free-jazz drumming. Bohren and der Club of Gore come to mind as well.  There’s little in the way of resolution on these tracks, instead they drift along in a dream-like fashion, blowing smoke rings around one or two motifs per ‘song’.

Free Sunshine kicks things off on an abstract note, with clashing guitar licks and nonsense drum patterns that create an uneasy atmosphere. Drums Meet Guitar has a slinky quality about it where loping guitar lines and suave, jazz infused rhythms come across like a piece of film noir rinsed in Ketamine. But my personal favourite is Sick in Memphis, which opens with a dusty, Western sounding guitar that is slowly consumed by a torrential drone that rattles around angrily before receding back into the opening six-string lick. It’s an absolute corker that track, and worth the $15 bucks for this disc alone.

I can’t gush and ooh and ahh about Psychic Baggage because over all it isn’t mind blowing. However, it isn’t without its charms. There’s something pleasant about its unobtrusiveness, and its ability to be experimental without being brash. If, like me, you can handle a little guitar noodling from time to time, you could do far worse than listen to this.

New release: Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal

Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal
Editions Mego (2010)

Returnal lacks the sci fi weirdness of its predecessor Rifts, but makes up for that by playing out as a smoother journey into the unknown. You might put this cohesion down to Rifts being a compilation of limited edition tapes and CDRs, but those notions go out the window the moment opening track Nil Admirari gently releases itself into the phosphorescent Describing Bodies. Daniel Lopatin is in control of his sound.

The record opens like a standard Merzbow number; instant chaos and white noise that slowly reveals a masterfully balanced combination of droning keyboards, static, chopped up rhythms and random bleeps. Lopatin has thrown everything he has into the mix for this track, demanding your attention and proving himself other than a one trick pony, before winding down the noise into a tranquil synthesised drone.

As I said, what follows is far less cinematic than his previous stuff. – less cheesy, less dark, less B grade. On Returnal Lopatin’s world is dreamier and far more romantic. I think of bodies floating through water, rather than space. The sounds shimmer. The album’s title track even features vocals, albeit a stuttering chipmunk vibrato like Tyondi Braxton of Battles, that becomes yet another synthesised instrument in the Oneohtrix Point Never galaxy.

He bookends the record with Preyoundai, a spacious closer that situates a handful of notes amongst percussive clutter that occasionally spews up drum n’ bass breaks before fizzling into reverb and echo. It’s almost Autechre-ish and this newer side of Oneohtrix is what excites me. Preyoundai, and the album opener are fresh additions to the Noise oeuvre and I hope Lopatin continues to explore this territory further. Returnal might not be quite as exciting as Rifts but it’s still a lush listening experience. And cover art by Stephen O’Malley? Fuck yes.