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Noel’s Foul House: Best Of 2017
Noel Gardner , December 7th, 2017 12:24

New, weird and British-ish, these are the best releases of 2017 from Noel’s Foul House. Make way for Ansome, Duds, Vom, Golden Teacher and more.

Ansome - British Steel

“Something is happening / And you don’t know what it is / Do you?” sang Bob Dylan, patron saint of the Old Weird America. It’s also an apt lyric to describe New Weird Britain, a patented anti-genre genre which looms, cloudlike, over the music featured in Noel’s Foul House. The difference is in intent: it’s okay to notice that something is happening on Great Britain’s noisy musical undercarriage, while still not knowing what it is.

As amusing as it is how huffy people get when music writers invent genre names, you probably shouldn’t get too hung up about ‘New Weird Britain’. It was coined by tQ’s John Doran, who muses on it here; none of the acts he highlights feature in this overview, albeit most of them didn’t release any records in 2017. His working idea of it might be different to mine, which is basically: independent musicians with no obvious pretences towards commercial success, identified with the UK’s current underground music culture but not inseparably tied to one scene or style. ‘Weird’ is in the third eye of the beholder and I’m not going to try and nail people to it, either as positive or pejorative. Some might be thinking that this isn’t especially New, and that there has been a rich sump of low-selling Brit eccentrics at any given time for decades. They are correct, and to give this knotweed-style historical spread its full due would take a whole book. If there’s anything that changed in the last five years or so, it’s the collapse of stylistic factionalism in the underground – way less people just listening to one type of music and having done with it – which I associate with small-scale, perfectly formed festivals like Fat Out and Supernormal. (My introductory column went so far as to hold Supernormal up as the model for what gets reviewed in Foul House, which inevitably led to them announcing a year off for the festival, returning in 2019.)

Also, ‘British’: in the event of any ambiguity in terms of national status, I’d prefer to be as inclusive as large parts of actual Britain isn’t. The pair of top tens I’ve assembled – one from stuff reviewed in my 2017 columns, one from stuff I failed to cover, both using what I must tell you are very non-rigorous methods – feature people from Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, the USA, Greece and Portugal (that’s just the ones I’m aware of), as well as some German émigrés and American record labels. This is an entirely good thing that lends weight to my positivity about New Weird Britain, rather than detracting from it. It may even be, and I wouldn’t wish to speak for any musicians featured, that the buoyancy of the underground is the only thing keeping them manacled to this squalid little island. It certainly feels like a glowworm in the manure to me.

10. Sly & The Family Drone & Dead Neanderthals – Molar Wrench (Hominid Sounds)

9. The Bomber Jackets – Kudos To The Bomber Jackets (Alter)

8. Casual Nun –Psychometric Testing (Box)

7. Dtub – MIDI-Drum Compositions-2 (self-released)

6. Duds – Of A Nature Or Degree (Castle Face)

5. JFK – Nganga (Chondritic Sound)

4. Ansome – British Steel (Perc Trax)

3. Vanishing – Vanishing(Tombed Visions)

2. Elodie – Vieux Silence(Ideologic Organ)

1. Vom – Initiation(At War With False Noise)



Foul House Releases Of 2017 – The Ones That (Almost) Got Away

Amor – ‘Paradise’ / ‘In Love An Arc’
& ‘Higher Moment’ / ‘Amnesia’
(Night School)

Four lengthy ventures into disco’s left field by some Glaswegian cats with zero collective grounding in disco. Unless Amor drummer Paul Thomson has laid down some parts that would qualify for his other band, Franz Ferdinand – the hell I’m gonna spend my time ascertaining that, though, when I could slip inside these two beautiful 12-inches instead. In addition to Thomson, Amor feature vocalist Richard Youngs, a prolific experimentalist who appeared on several other recordings this year and croons over Luke Fowler’s euphoric keys with a sweetness that rivals Antony on Hercules & Love Affair’s ‘Blind’. Meanwhile, jazz bassist Michael Francis Duch adds a springy, tactile resonance that recalls – wilfully, I would imagine – the cello Arthur Russell played on many of his own tracks. Both A-sides, especially, evoke the musical excess of classic disco, in that they last 14 and 11 minutes respectively and could reasonably be spun out for longer.

Days Fade, Nights Grow – Amelioration(Nervous Energy)

The first tape by Days Fade, Nights Grow – Camille Rearden, who also plays in Scrap Brain and Towel among other groups – was reviewed in the first Foul House, back in March. “You won’t find a better soundtrack for a very quick visit to a haunted house,” I wrote of its organ-and-vocal-crafted creaks and groans; those things still feature prominently on this 25-minute album, but are fleshed out with treated guitar, field recordings and Rearden’s part-sung, part-read poetry (printed in an A5 booklet bundled with the cassette). Apart from ‘Epidermal Betrayal’, an unexpected deviation into bizarro sludge metal that’s like Amplifier Worship-era Boris with a negative recording budget, DF,NG still seems to transcend scenes and styles: neither noise, drone, punk or indie, but droning noisily while independent in its thinking and punk in its attitude.

Dodge Meteor – Real Soon Now(Swap Meat)

A relatively quiet discographical year by the standards of Newcastle’s Mike Vest, with a mere five albums released featuring his skybending guitar zazzle. One had been in the can for years (Drunk In Hell, Drunk In Hell), one was a gig recording (Melting Hand, Live In Europe 2016), one was an all-guitar solo blowout (Lush Worker, Impervium / Reformer), one actually was Blown Out (Superior Venus) and one was the second tape by Dodge Meteor, his slyly hooky power trio with Italians Matteo Dainese and Marco Zuccolo. The latter two are a punchy, foursquare rhythm section, and a canvas for Vest to indulge himself in psych-freak-sludge heroics, which he basically does for all 33 minutes of Real Soon Now. A curveball of sorts arrives with the closing title track, which tries a Joy Division beat and Krist Novoselic bass sound on for size and makes this mismatched set of signifiers totally work.

EMEI – EMEI(Aphelion Editions)

Bristol harbours a smallish but consistently creative experimental music culture which balances out nicely between older heads (including members of The Heads) and newer sorts developing their sound on the fly. Experimenting, you might also call it. EMEI, aka Louise Brady, is in the latter camp, and her debut release – on short-run cassette and shorter-run CDr – is primarily synth-based, and ostensibly ambient, but of the more tonally unsettling type. The chief motif of ‘Can’t Remember’ is a racing-heartbeat bass pulse; on ‘Agoraphobia’ it’s a recording of what sounds like a stream in the woods. A throbbing rumble, like the onset of a ghostly motorcycle gang, streaks through ‘Safe From The Storm’, whose droning top notes carry a human/machine eeriness loosely similar to Aidan Baker or Fennesz. Highly worthwhile as debut offerings go.

Gnod – Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine (Rocket)

Gnod are many people’s idea of a Quietus Band™, one who often feature on the non-balkanised parts of this website and who local bookmaker Tight-Mouthed Larry is offering tasty odds on placing strongly in the overall EOY list. I nevertheless wish to salute the Salford group’s pissiest and vinegariest album to date in here, because without occasionally being party to how Gnod operate (and party), I’m not certain I’d be sufficiently inspired to write this column. Just Say No... upholds and draws from the legacy of their last two albums for Rocket, out-of-body jazz odyssey Infinity Machines and skullcracking Swans-punker Mirror, via loose-limbed dub-heavy noise rock, withering Fall/Birthday Party character sketches and outstanding 12-minute kissoff ‘Stick In The Wheel’ – half Skingraft Records austere clang, half snakecharmer ambient tinkle. Also noticed a few people who I’m fairly sure have no interest in Gnod’s music use the album sleeve as their Facebook profile pic: the true mark of a successful release.

Golden Teacher – No Luscious Life (self-released)

A lot of the illest sounds forming in Glasgow right now either seem to involve members of Golden Teacher or be a degree of separation from them, and their debut album proper affirms their greatest assets: breadth of vision and intuitive understanding of how dancefloors work. So there’s room on No Luscious Life for a rash of funky percussive Liquid Liquid shakedowns, a purported tribute to brilliant Senegalese tassukat Aby Ngana Diop (this has been personally timely, in that I’ve spent much of 2017 honing a belief that her Liital album is one of the best records ever made), late-90s electro sauce inna Den Haag or Chicago style and ultra-skeletal Crammed Discs ethnodub. Hey, someone! Book this mob to play a basement near where I live at 3am and switch all the lights off.

The Great White Males – Are GREAT White Males(self-released)

You won’t have seen this band sharing bills or label release schedules with anyone else in these columns, on account of The Great White Males not being a ‘real’ or at least conventionally functioning group. They were formed by performance artist Rachael Clerke to be the ‘house band’ in her architecture-and-patriarchy satirical play, Cuncrete, which had its last ever showing in November. TGWM – Clerke plus three other women, presenting as male as part of the play’s conceit – do however have a CD EP for sale (“get that early noughties feeling,” as their Bandcamp page says), which is a defiantly shambolic UKDIY style kneeslapper with lyrics about mortgages and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. If you were into that early/mid-00s queer punk/Ladyfest/Irrk Records/Humousexual/whatever kinda scene, you might be into this as well.

Karen Gwyer – Rembo(Don’t Be Afraid)

Karen Gwyer was brought up in Michigan, lived in the UK for a decade – starting out as a techno producer in the process – and recently decided to fuck it off before Brexit kicks in and move to Berlin. If, then, Rembo is her final flourish as part of Britain’s anti-finesse techno underground resistance, it’s one of fiery force. An eight-track double LP, with each side’s titles forming a peculiar Q&A (‘Why Does Your Father Look So Nervous?’; ‘He’s Been Teaching Me To Drive’), Gwyer skips between heavy-duty analogue rockets like ‘The Workers Are On Strike’ and more blissed-out crypto-ambient undulators such as ‘Yes, But I Didn’t Know They Were Owls’. There’s a distinct 90s UK vibe to much of Rembo – to be completely specific, I’m thinking of undervalued Weatherall buddies Conemelt above all – but Gwyer’s approach to hardware still sounds plenty fresh, and perhaps better for not fitting neatly with any techno microscenes.

Lower Slaughter – What Big Eyes(Box)

The first incarnation of Brightonians Lower Slaughter recorded one EP and were fronted by Max Levy, a fellow so uniquely skilled in the art of rock & roll anti-showmanship you’d be forgiven to assume him irreplaceable. At least, I assumed that when he left in 2016, and am requesting forgiveness from Sinead Young, his replacement, and the rest of the band. Young, a Scot formerly of neo-no-wavers Divorce, sounds nothing like Levy (and would be ill-advised to try) but her hard rock yowl and punk rock snap and sardonic eyeroll drawl amount to a dead-on fit for Lower Slaughter’s hook-studded proto-metal lumber. If I were to note that Part Chimp also returned with an album this year, and that What Big Eyes is a better Part Chimp album than the Part Chimp one, it’d be a tad reductive of me but would hopefully get across how hard this LP goes.

Thank – Sexghost Hellscape(Cruel Nature)

By the time I stumbled upon Sexghost Hellscape, the debut cassette EP by Leeds’ Thank, it had sold out of its physical run. This means this dance-party noiserock fivesome have at least 60 fans worldwide, or 61 including me. Made up of members of bands I’m going to assume you have to live in Yorkshire to have heard of, Thank trade in groovily abrasive riffs, burbling synths, disco-punk drum patterns and high level ranter vocals that might prove a dealbreaker with some listeners. On occasion, it’s not a galaxy away from parts of the Gnod album lauded above; more often Thank seem to thank Les Savy Fav for their eccentric groove, The Chinese Stars for services to queasy sleaze and Future Of The Left for subtly poppy British invective.

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