Monday, 29 October 2012

Minor Update (Mute Branches)


I haven't updated this as much in recent weeks as I had planned to, but rest assured there'll be some more stuff on its way (including some 'Hallo Halloween' stuff that'll probably end up coming after the 31st, unfortunately).

But here's a quick update in the meantime to promote that my two Mute Branches releases - So Remote + So Alien - previously only on Bandcamp, are now also on -- again for totally free... so please have a gander at them if you're interested and haven't already!

Mute Branches - So Remote
Free MP3s on

Mute Branches - So Alien
Free MP3s on

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Hallo Halloween - Album Recommendation 3

Sonic Youth - Bad Moon Rising (1985, Homestead)

The most typically "Halloween" cover in the history of time?

Sonic Youth are a band renowned for their experimentation with the guitar – making use of unorthodox tunings and the technique, borrowed from avant-garde composition, of ‘prepared guitar’ to produce unique tones and strange timbres.

Of their ‘main albums’ (i.e. excluding rarer and more esoteric material like the SYR EPs and curios like Silver Session for Jason Knuth), it’s probably safe to say that 1985’s Bad Moon Rising is the album where such textural experimentation is most pushed to the forefront: unlike the noisy avant-punk that came before it on Confusion is Sex, and the increasing flirtations with more traditional structure that would come after it – much of Bad Moon Rising can almost be described as ‘ambient’ music, designed for establishing a mood and atmosphere through subtle instrumentation.

 In fact, when looking for which Sonic Youth album would be most appropriate for Halloween-listening, it’s hard to come up with an argument for why that album wouldn’t be Bad Moon Rising: for one, the cover of the album is a scarecrow with a flaming carved pumpkin for a head and as images go, you can’t really get much Halloweenier than that. And additionally, of course, that mood and atmosphere mentioned earlier can also be described as “pretty Halloweeny” – the band pull out all the stops on this album to make it sound as unsettling, violent, and tense as possible: we hear the whole host of Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore’s guitar trickery – discordant chiming, noisy squalls, feedback quietly humming in a way that always sort of reminds me of the atmospheres of a John Carpenter soundtrack; Kim Gordon’s bass creeps in and out through the album’s duration, providing an effective rhythmic backdrop alongside Steve Shelley’s drums, which – when they come in – pulse mechanically in a way that, if Gordon’s bass is creeping towards you, then Shelley’s drums are chasing you relentlessly and showing no sign of exhaustion.

The lyrical content is appropriate to what Bad Moon Rising’s visual and aural aesthetics bring to mind: the legendary Death Valley ’69, for example, is a terrifically aggressive track whose title and vague lyrics (“She started to holler, so I had to hit it”) allude to the Charles Manson murders; and the lyrics to I’m Insane show a fascination with trashy pulp fiction novels as Thurston Moore sings fragments of the titles and back-cover descriptions of such novels in lines like “twisted passions, flesh parade...” and “one step more, he’ll stir your senses, scratch your surface and nail your head...” against the backdrop of hypnotically droning noise and industrial-sounding rhythms.

So, this year, why not play this album loud and terrify yr neighbours to the point that they won’t be able to file a noise complaint? Or make their day if they’re big Sonic Youth fans... whatever, I don’t know your neighbours. Just listen to it anyway.

(a wicked live video of I'm Insane, courtesy of Staffan Sladik)

A couple of other recommendations...

Public Image, Ltd. - Swan Lake

(courtesy of BonzoGoesToMexico)

On the subject of unsettling post-punk / noise-rock, it'd be foolish not to mention Metal Box and, in particular, this track from it; on which dub-influenced basslines and vaguely disco-esque drumming serves as the backdrop to chaotically noisy guitar work and the aggressive hyperactivity of John Lydon's vocals.

Akira Yamaoka - Pyramid Head (from the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack)

(courtesy of PeyserConley)

Playing Silent Hill 2 for the first time (with the lights on, of course, even though it was still daytime), I remember thinking that some of the noisier, more industrial tracks from Akira Yamaoka's soundtrack to the game (which, by the way, is great - especially if you're into trip-hop and moody ambient music) sounded very similar to a lot of what Sonic Youth are doing here, on Bad Moon Rising.

Listening to this now, I can definitely see where my young, terrified-of-weird-mannequin-legs-and-pyramid-headed-cleaver-wielding-manifestations-of-guilt self was coming from. The mechanical clattering of this track is especially reminiscent of the noisy chaos on show on a number of Bad Moon Rising's tracks, in particular something like Ghost Bitch.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Hallo Halloween - Album Recommendation 2

Grouper - A. I. A. (Alien Observer / Dream Loss) (2011, Kranky)

Listening to A. I. A, the double album released by Liz Harris’ project Grouper in 2011, there’s a lot about it that brings to my mind a whole host of Halloween-related themes: the supernatural and unknown, the subconscious and the world of dreams, and the question of what exists in outer space, amongst a bunch of others.

This can be seen and heard in the most minute details of the album’s two parts (Alien Observer and Dream Loss): the indecipherable reverb-drenched vocals that are commonplace to much ‘shoegaze’ / ‘dream pop’ here are used to create the sense of a lonesome ghostly cooing, which is emphasised by the often minimal instrumental accompaniment of guitar and organ; and the weathered, lo-fi sound that is Harris’ calling card here creates the sense that you’re listening to a newly-discovered and previously forgotten artefact in a way that can be said to place the album in a canon of works that build mystery and raise questions around this conceit – a canon that spans from gothic literary works like The Castle of Otranto and Dracula to modern horror film franchises like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.

As well as these connections to ghost stories and to the gothic, we can also draw parallels with science-fiction – through allusions to the cosmic and outer space in track titles like Alien Observer and Moon is Sharp, and through the fact that Harris has stated her admiration for science-fiction writers like Octavia Butler and Stanislaw Lem in interviews. What A. I. A. most brings to mind, in these terms, though is the work of H. P. Lovecraft, whose works like the 1927 short story ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ were sometimes described as “cosmic horror”, due to how they often applied tropes like gothic mystery and the fear of the unknown to the unknowable expanse of outer space and to the extraterrestrial beings existing within that expanse. What makes Liz Harris’ music here seem so Lovecraftian is how the haziness and ghostliness of her sound make her allusions to space seem to view it similarly as a space that is eerily vast and unknowable – incidentally juxtaposing the relative ‘smallness’ of Grouper’s lo-fi sound in a way that’s sort of reminiscent of how Lovecraft’s protagonists tend to be totally dwarfed by the unimaginable things occurring around them.

And last but not least, there are also very Halloween-relevant parallels to be drawn with your whole family’s favourite post-modern surrealist film director, David Lynch. For example, the video for Alien Observer (directed by Hamish Parkinson), brings to mind Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks in how the video and that series both share a fascination with the darkness and mystery within natural space of the woods*. Of course, it goes without saying as well that Harris has proven herself to be highly capable of constructing atmosphere in a way that brings to mind the work of Lynch’s frequent musical collaborator Angelo Badalamenti (in this respect, it’s probably no coincidence that Come Softly sounds remarkably similar to the theme tune to Twin Peaks), to the point that it wouldn’t take a huge imaginative leap to imagine Liz Harris’s darkly dreamlike music filling the hyperreal space of Mulholland Drive’s Club Silencio**. 

(courtesy of DeezCowz)
* This is not the only reason. If you watch it, you'll see that it's as Lynchian as Jack Nance having a backwards conversation with a weird-looking rabbit voiced by Naomi Watts to the accompaniment of some seriously ominous jazz drums.
** And, on a similar (i.e. the exact same) note -- the bit at 11 seconds into the Inland Empire trailer is Grouper-y as hell (

A couple of other recommendations...

Mirrorring - Fell Sound

(courtesy of TheNenad2)

Grouper's collaboration with Jesy Fortino (a.k.a. Tiny Vipers) - Mirrorring's Foreign Body - is definitely worth a listen for more of this sort of sound (I reviewed it here -- The opening track to the album is similarly nocturnal and spacey, with Fortino's acoustic guitar adding a more pastoral, earthy edge that works perfectly with the contrasting otherworldliness of the ambient drones.

Slowdive - Cello

(courtesy of Lacunan87)

From Slowdive's criminally underrated third and final album, 1995's Pygmalion, I wouldn't be surprised if this track influenced Grouper in some way. The most hauntingly minimal track on what is generally quite a hauntingly minimal album, this track makes the most of out of the melancholy double-act of cello and Rachel Goswell's wordless vocals.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Hallo Halloween - Album Recommendation 1

Slint - Spiderland (1991, Touch & Go)

Slint’s classic 1991 album Spiderland is frequently cited as being one of the first “post-rock” albums. Without a doubt, its quiet-loud dynamics, unorthodox time signatures, complex instrumentation, and straying from traditional verse-chorus-verse song structures has certainly proved highly influential in the work of many of the crescendo-laden and largely purely instrumental bands that are described with that term these days.

However, unlike Mono and Explosions in the Sky and many of these other bands following in Slint’s footsteps – who tend to use the now-common tropes of ‘post-rock’ to produce lengthy, emotionally overblown, cinematic instrumentals – Slint, on Spiderland, can be heard using such techniques primarily to unsettle the listener. Take a track like ‘For Dinner...’, for example, in which guitars, bass and drums frequently swell gradually from a state of near inaudibility to an intense loudness in a way that suggests the approach of creeping footsteps or an unexpected (and presumably unwanted) knock at the door; or a track like the now-legendary ‘Good Morning, Captain’, which builds up through creeping ‘spidery’ guitar lines and hushed, reedy spoken word vocals to end in a squall of thrashing guitars, crashing drums, and aggressively angst-ridden screams of “I miss you”.

In fact, we could say that almost everything about this album is designed to unsettle the listener... Brian McMahon’s mumbling / shouting of vague lyrics that allude to fortune tellers, depression, and Rime of the Ancient Mariner; the mystery behind the album’s recording, and the oft-repeated rumour that all the members of Slint were temporarily institutionalised because of the emotional intensity of the recording sessions; the ominous cover, a strange black-and-white photograph (taken by Will Oldham) of the four members of Slint in a lake staring oddly and grinning at the camera.

It’s a shame that Slint never released another LP again under that name, and that their previous album Tweez – despite being a decent post-hardcore / noise-rock curio in its own right – pales somewhat in comparison to Spiderland. But this album, nevertheless, stands to this day as a brilliantly dark and thrillingly ambitious masterpiece from a band that has influenced countless followers, but has never been really replicated or matched since.

(courtesy of YouTube user, TheVoiceAndTheSnake)

A couple of other related recommendations...

PJ Harvey - The Wind

(courtesy of PJHarveyVevo)

Somewhere on the sleeve of Spiderland is an advertisement with regards to 'interested female vocalists'. Another oft-repeated rumour about this album states that PJ Harvey responded to this advert.
As is known, nothing came of this -- but The Wind - from Harvey's album Is This Desire? - is one of many great PJ Harvey songs that certainly bears the influence of Slint: as can be heard in the track's whispered vocals and the minimalistic, moody guitar work, albeit with the addition of some more accessible elements of trip-hop.

The For Carnation - Emp. Man's Blues

(courtesy of YouTube user caudlerock)

This track - Emp. Man's Blues - is by Brian McMahon's post-Slint project, The For Carnation. It's noticeably more subdued than much of Slint's work, as the influence of the Louisville, Kentucky post-hardcore / math rock scene is eschewed in favour of more overt influences from jazz, blues, and ambient music.

Nevertheless, McMahon's hushed mumbling vocal style remains and, as the arrangement becomes gradually richer with the introduction of more guitars and strings, it's clear to see that McMahon's carried on from his Slint days the talent for crafting an evocative and sombre atmosphere through the intelligent use of dynamics and space.

Hallo Halloween Introduction

(or 'Hallo, Hallo Halloween')

Here marks the introductory post of 'Hallo Halloween', in which - as I mentioned in the introductory words of the last 'Foundcloud', is going to consist of albums and films and whatnot to provide accompaniment to this here Halloween.

Expect more recommendations than Pyramid Head can shake his oversized cleaver at*, and I leave you with a scene from one of the films I plan to write about for 'Hallo Halloween' in future...

(courtesy of YouTube user Christopher Nathan Lee (and to Ti West, obviously, director of House of the Devil, from which this scene is taken)
* or considerably less, if I end up getting overly immersed in Dishonored - which is HIGHLY PROBABLE

Monday, 8 October 2012

Foundcloud #2

The second edition of 'Foundcloud' is upon us, and all bodes well as all three tracks I've looked at this time are still all available on Soundcloud (though I'm all too aware that, as I'm typing this, Soundcloud could be suddenly brought down by hackers or an ancient curse or something).

Also, welcome to October -- throughout this month, I plan to sporadically post with regards to music and films and stuff to soundtrack Halloween (as well as possibly some stuff about the new Flying Lotus, and Radiohead's incredible show in Manchester two days ago), as it's pretty much one of the best times for music-listening and film-watching due in part to needing something to do while hiding from the children / teenagers / thirty-something management types who'll be 'trick-or-treating' this October's 31st.

But, back to the point...

Tennis - Guiding Light (Television cover)

When trawling Soundcloud in search of things to write about for this second Foundcloud, I was delighted to come across this cover of one of my favourite tracks from Marquee Moon, the famed debut of proto-punk / punk / post-punk icons Television, by Tennis, the band who were behind two of my favourite songs of this year (Petition and Deep in the Woods

In many ways, Tennis keep their interpretation of the song relatively close to the original material (and do a good job of it, I should add) – with the only real alterations made being, in keeping with the band’s aesthetic, a heightened focus on the ‘60s pop influences that are present, yet less overt, in Television’s original, which – along with the addition of some carefree flutes towards the end – leave us with a great, wonderfully summery reinterpretation of a classic song.

Twigs & Yarn - Marigold Ride

In my YouTube Recommendation of Tricot’s ‘G.N.S.’ video, I made a brief allusion to my recent interest in Flau Records. I’m happy to say that their Soundcloud page has offered up another treat this week in the form of this – a track by Texan artists, Twigs & Yarn.

In a way not dissimilar to the work of other Flau artists like Cokiyu and Cuushe, as well as veterans of this style of folk-inflected electronic music like Boards of Canada and Múm, Twigs & Yarn can be seen in Marigold Ride to have crafted a song that can be described as pastoral and nostalgic, yet somewhat mysterious. This is accomplished not only through aesthetic details such as degraded synth textures, rickety percussion, and field recordings, but also through Lauren McMurray’s lo-fi, distorted, vocals – as lyrics like “We’re going round the merry-go-round” imply the freedom and innocence of childhood in a way that contrasts with the sadness of McMurray’s delivery of them, and that thus bears a multitude of interpretations. In this one line, you can hear a melancholic lamenting of the lost past, or perhaps even of remembering a past that is in itself characterised by darkness and melancholy.

The Holocene - Ahwahwee, pt. 2: Miocene

On his Soundcloud page, the Holecene describes his music as an attempt to “channel John Coltrane listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor through Merzbow’s machines chopped up by DJ Shadow... whilst watching nature programmes... in space”. As if that description wasn’t impressive enough, The Holocene continues to impress with music that does actually fit it quite well.

In Ahwahwee, pt. 2: Miocene, we can hear – as implied in that description – the improvisational nature of jazz combined with the sonic adventurousness of post-rock and the modern developments of digital noise and sampling. What this track brought to my mind instantly, though, was the short-lived ‘90s experimental rock band Disco Inferno; as a dub-esque bassline rolls on beneath layers of processed noise, field recordings of strong wind, and swirling detuned electronics, I couldn’t help but think of that band’s uniquely rock and hip-hop influenced reinterpretation of musique concrete. The track ends brilliantly, too, as its second half consists of two minutes of blissed-out noise that kind of brings to mind Odd Nosdam remixing the classic “THX” sound.

I realise that much of this little review has consisted of comparing the track to the work of other artists, but that’s quite relevant given that the track itself feels like a well-made audio collage: both in its cut-up and fragmentary style, and, more interestingly, in how it brings together a diverse array of influences and uses them to make something that sounds futuristic, unique and refreshingly chaotic.