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Noel's Straight Hedge

Noel's Foul House: Weird New Britain In Review
Noel Gardner , March 22nd, 2017 11:41

What is Noel's Foul House? Let Noel Gardner answer with his pre-emptive FAQs - Foul Assistance Questions - before tackling new music by Casual Nun, Shitmat, Kiran Leonard, Colin Webster and more...

The Evil Usses

It may have started as some frankly tenuous wordplay riffing on my first name and a popular yet demented Saturday evening light entertainment programme from the 1990s, but a picture of my Foul House has slowly taken shape as this debut column splutters into life. It has no fixed aesthetic and an approach to interior design that would cause those nice men Colin and Justin, also from the telly, to develop blood on the brain. There’s a rusted car engine on the front lawn with a sign next to it saying ART INSTALLATION, maybe as a sort of joke. The fridge is full of bathtub gin and vegetables rejected by the supermarkets for being too visually grotesque. No-one seems to have any means of paying to live there, but somehow they wheel and deal themselves to financial adequacy. The house might be driving down the price of others in the street, or the market might just be fucked anyway. Oh, and tied to the guttering is a big, tattered Union Jack with a bus stop cock painted on it.

Noel’s Foul House is intended to be a repository for music from the UK underground which doesn’t fit into any of The Quietus’ other thematic columns (although some of it might), is unlikely to be covered too widely elsewhere in the music press (although some of it might) and is connected in some way by a network of ideas, ideals, influences, promoters, labels and friends (although I daresay some of the people I’ll feature have never heard of some of the others). I described it to someone as Supernormal music, in reference to the small but beautiful annual festival of that name in Oxfordshire, and while I wouldn’t wish to latch on to their coattails for my own nefarious means, at least half the people featured in this column have played it previously.

Some questions which I have, perhaps optimistically, imagined you posing:

Q. Isn’t ‘the underground’ a dated and illusory concept when no-one apart from Ed Sheeran makes money from music nowadays?

A. I get where this is coming from but it’s not really about how many units someone shifts. There are loads of bands out there who fashion themselves with a view to becoming huge, but stay small because they’re crap or generic. They will not feature in here.

Q. What’s this ‘British music only’ policy about? It sounds like some Brexit thing.

A. Bite me. If anything it’s intended as an antidote – a showcase for decency, creativity, wisdom, art and love on an island which gets smaller, meaner and stupider each week. It’s also an attempt to streamline, if you will – obviously there’s tons of great music from all over the world with a comparable ethos, but I expect to have no problem finding enough hot new UK stuff to fill a column every other month. Hopefully, tQ’s overseas readers will be moved to buy some of it, if they’ve not spent all their money on delicious imported British jam.

Q. Are you actually doing this with the ulterior motive of having drinks bought and gratitude showered by featured artists as a thanks for the positive review?

A. Of course, but I’ve spoiled it now. Right, let’s crack on.

Casual Nun

That the second LP by five-strong London band Casual Nun arrives just six months after their first is not, as it happens, an indicator of a ferocious work rate. What is fairly remarkable is that Psychometric Testing (Box) was recorded during the same single-day session as Super Fancy Skeleton, their 2016 vinyl debut, and doesn’t sound like a pile of glued-together studio sweepings in any way. In fact, as pineal-poking punked-up psychedelic speedfreakery goes, I think the new one just edges it.

The bludgeoning doom touches which cropped up in Super Fancy Skeleton are less prevalent here. It begins in thuggish fashion regardless, ‘Tusk’ penning some sick fanfic along the lines of, ‘What if Les Rallizes Denudes were an Italian hardcore band?’ for 94 seconds, before ‘Everyman’s Folly’ locks into a riff with more than ample lumber and soaks it in Robert Hampson-out-of-Loop ether. ‘Truth Machines’ adopts multiple forms across eleven minutes, molten wah-wah morphing into a period of sombre reflection before building to an elegantly whipped peak. ‘Xiphoid Revolution’ pairs some spooked-sounding chat about “the centre of existence” and suchlike with some absolutely bruising drums (Casual Nun have two kit-sitters, Julia Owen and Phil Kaponis, and are a great advert for the double-drummer set-up, which I often find to be profligate in rock bands) and ‘Stripes’ feeds Vasili Shako’s oft-garbled vocals through a Satanic goblin talkbox in the midst of recalling Hüsker Dü’s intense LSD epic ‘Reoccurring Dreams’.

It’s been a good decade since breakcore, a bastard hybrid of jungle and gabber made by people raised on punk and metal, was a vogueish subgenre: by the late-00s, a lot of the artists and labels peddling it either moved on to something else or went quiet. Henry Collins, whose releases as Shitmat were ribald and sometimes inspired send-ups of rave culture, naff British celebrities and himself, eventually retired the pseudonym, and has been mostly busy with various low-key ambient and experimental projects of late. Until last year, when he started taking selected bookings again as Shitmat (including an hysterical late-night set at Supernormal which many uneducated rubes considered an inept mess, but was ACTUALLY a brilliant exercise in high concept bad taste comedy a la Neil Hamburger); he’s just finished a brief US tour with fellow breakcore survivors Bong-Ra and Enduser, and self-released Killababylonkutz 2 on his Bandcamp page just before Christmas.

The original Killababylonkutz came out in 2004 and consisted solely of tracks built around the vocal from ‘Babylon Bwoy’ by dancehall deejay Baby Cham. Its sequel is, reasonably, the exact same thing. So you get comparatively sensible, even logical takes like ‘Amen Babylon (2016 Mix)’ – the amen break, the ‘Babylon’ vocal and a bunch of thinly-sliced helium warbling – and ‘Angel Of Babylon’, an interpolation of the Slayer song suggested by the title; and then others that no-one else would have even allowed to venture outside their head. Some of these, such as violations of the Vengaboys and the Ghostbusters theme, are roughly the kind of goon behaviour that anyone familiar with Shitmat will expect. ‘NOFX Babylon’, where poor unwitting Cham gets roughly wedded to the Californian band’s compressed skatepunk, might be Collins’ most indefensible brainwrong ever. Killababylonkutz 2’s Bandcamp page, you may notice, includes a brief selection of made-up reviews from this and other music publications – the joke being that tQ would never touch an album like it in the first place. Or so Shitmat thought! As for you lot, you’re definitely not too sophisticated for a lethal injection of hyperspeed breakbeat vulgarity, no matter what airs you put on.

Resident in Bristol like Shitmat, The Evil Usses are of a slightly more serious disposition, though not so much on the surface. Amateur Pro Wrestling (Stolen Body), their second album, teems with mildly zany song titles like ‘Pre-Op Pop’ and ‘Buzz Gots Beef’, the wordless nature of their ebullient jazz/rock/punk a blank canvas for pish puns and probable injokes. They can be slotted, without it being overly simplistic, into a Bristolian lineage that also includes The Pop Group, Pigbag, Zun Zun Egui and Melt Yourself Down, and even if not quite as fierce or funky or inspired as those groups, these ten songs harbour some superlative moments.

Saxophonist Lorenzo Prati, who also plays in useful part-Japanese psych combo Yama Warashi, is The Evil Usses’ star man for my money. Lending ‘Somebody Loves Beastie’ a wistful air that rises to a dramatic denouement while a Can-like rhythm develops underneath him, Prati brings vital colour to the band’s more languid excursions, which might otherwise resemble some not hugely distinguished post-rock (‘Zimmer’, for example, or the pensive, Tortoise-y ‘Septopode’). Some might hear an innate Westcountry bumptiousness in these good-natured grooves, indeed I might be among them, but could easily imagine this coming from some mid-00s American band who toured with The Mae Shi or similar. I mean that as a compliment, albeit one weighted with nostalgia.

Cloc (Kift Disgo) is the debut album by Mwstard, whose core lineup is a trio based in west Wales. They are no greenhorns, however, with members’ history in UK hardcore and anarcho punk stretching back to the early 90s – Alec and Sarah MacHenry, bassist and drummer respectively, were both in bands on Newcastle label Flat Earth. Mwstard’s approach to punk, and this is certainly that, is rhythmically restless and possible, even intended, to dance to. The Ex can be safely assumed an inspiration for their hulking, rusting jerry-built guitar sound and lithe, tom-heavy drumming; Fugazi too, perhaps, in certain tempos and punching basslines, or PiL when Alec’s voice soars Lydon-like above the organised chaos of, say, ‘Lichen’, or Bilge Pump in moments where the rock overwhelms the funk. Most of those are intended as handy signposts to point you in the direction of a group you might not have encountered before (hey, if you’re already up on your Pembrokeshire postpunk, more power to ya), as while Mwstard are not what you’d call a ‘scene’ band, they embody what I see as the spirit of this fledgling column. Oh, and the mention of their ‘core lineup’ refers to the appearance on some songs here by Jer Reid, once of Scottish jazzcore wildmen Dawson, and Lianne Hall, an ex-bandmate of Sarah’s in Witchknot who now makes folktronica kinda gear.

As someone who has been recording and releasing music since he was an actual no-foolin’ child, much of it on self-distributed CDrs, and squirreling away moments of inspired crypto-prog eccentricity therein, Kiran Leonard is another textbook Foul House tenant. The Moshi Moshi label picked him up for last year’s Grapefruit, his second ‘proper’ album, and readers of multiple organs were informed of its quality, but it’s been a long time since that was much help in making you big. As such, he’s still willing and able to release limited edition curios like Monarchs Of The Crescent Pail, a tape which Edwin Stevens (Irma Vep, Sex Hands, various other crazy crud) is about to release on his Very Bon label.

Monarchs... is eight pieces of improvised solo guitar, likely aiming for the American Primitive sound John Fahey pioneered. Close-miced enough for the crunch of fingertip on string to be audible, a combination of sustained notes and seemingly detuned thud give off a legitimately isolationist air – Leonard may well have been cribbing from the anti-technique technique of Richard Dawson, going on ‘I Thought Of Home’ and other scattered moments of enthralling acoustic clang. Mainly an instrumental suite, Leonard sings on ‘Cracked Globe’ and ‘River In The Valley’; his taste for vocal drama, compared to Jeff Buckley by admirers and detractors alike, is dialled down a shade here, ending up in a toasty English folk-rock nook on the latter song. For all I know, the dude just tried his hand at this style on a whim and has no intentions of returning to it, so if precocious polymath dilettantes piss you off, then it’ll majorly irk you how good this release is.

Similarly, although not that similarly, Robbie Judkins is a dude who alternates several hats. You might find him gumming up the airwaves as a Resonance FM DJ, or blessing this very site with captivating articles like this. Then you’ve got Casual Sect, the conspiracy theory-obsessed noisepunk band he formed a few years back – and Left Hand Cuts Off The Right, the catch-all name for Judkins’ solo ventures. Sometimes these are noisy and bracing – like Menuthias, an old recording which just came out on tape – sometimes low-key, shrouded funereal ambience like Axing Body, a new EP which Box Records are about to issue, again on cassette.

Just north of half an hour and with a tempo rarely rising much above ‘inert’, Judkins’ piano parts sit centrally in the mix, chords seeping into one another with the help of a very natural-sounding room tone. ‘Void Of Heaven’ fades into the title track, unidentifiable buzzes and creaks giving way to the gaunt timbre of what might be a viola. The heartbeat of ‘Craved’ is electronic, if irregular – remember when Burial was ‘nightbus’ music? This is for the passengers who never alighted and got locked in the depot – and ‘Lead Cloud’ turns out to be a most fitting title for eight minutes of skin-prickle drone and sublow shudder. Conceived, it says here, as a kind of sonic therapy in the interests of Judkins’ own self-care, Axing Body is a deeply affecting release even before one becomes aware of this background info.

Days Fade, Nights Grow is named in reference to a My Chemical Romance lyric, and to that end might be the musical project bearing the least resemblance to its nominative inspiration I’ve ever heard. This self-titled tape is the solo work of Camille Rearden (of Towel and Scrap Brain, both of whom I’ve reviewed in my Straight Hedge punk column) and is the second release by Nervous Energy (the first, by Mea Culpa, was also reviewed in the last Straight Hedge). Less than six minutes of dramatic, doomy organ – one of the four songs is titled ‘Organ’; another ‘Wotever’ and the other two are popular internet-era acronyms – manipulated vocals and things which bear distant relation to a beat, one thing I especially enjoy about DF, NG is that I have no idea what it’s trying to sound like, or how its components were assembled. You won’t find a better soundtrack for a very quick visit to a haunted house though, I can tell you.

Free-honking London saxophonist Colin Webster is – I will knock this rhetoric on the head in due course – absolutely the essence of what this column is all about. He tips up in a zillion different British avant-ensembles, as well as moonlighting in Quietus-bankrolled noiserockers Sex Swing and Dutch jazz brutes Dead Neanderthals. One of his latest appearances is on one side of a tape titled Viol Of Acetate (The Lumen Lake) as part of a trio with Sam Underwood and Graham Dunning, on tuba and turntables respectively.

Recorded at Cafe Oto last year, as was the flipside by Rutger Hauser, it does in all fairness sound like the platonic ideal/common stereotype of a Cafe Oto gig: waxen crackle and contact mic grubbing usurped by some excoriating reed abuse and soul-troublingly deep notes from Underwood (who’s also a member of ‘doom tuba’ band Ore). If I was informed that Dunning, Webster and Underwood were engaged in an effort to take on insectoid, bovine and elephantine forms through their playing, I could well believe it. Rutger Hauser, who played as a quintet on this occasion if live photos on The Lumen Lake website are an accurate indicator, deliver a chaotic, inscrutable yet weirdly rocking dollop of deep bass, squealing cello and turntable squonk. ‘Ladders Over Ladders’ has something of Faust about its anarchic patchwork; the more circus-y leanings of Nurse With Wound worm into ‘The Hundred And Fifty Or So Dogs’ and ‘N-N-N-N’ is, unlike its title, utterly maximalist no wave insania that’s got me wistfully recalling Chicago’s fabulous Coughs.

The no wave of London’s Housewives is regimented rather than chaotic, more sinew sweating under spotlights than audiences fearing imminent flying object attack, but every time I’ve seen them play live they’ve metaphorically knocked me on my literal ass. Their debut LP Work came out just over a year ago, and no news of new noise is forthcoming – HOWEVER, American label Ever/Never have just reissued the debut Housewives tape, which Brighton’s Faux Discx put out in early 2014 in a limited edition of not enough for many of you to own it. It’s a twelve-inch now, and fully deserves the upgrade: audaciously balanced yet robust arrangements where every element seems to be talking past each other while still amounting to a litany of finely observed points. Joe Rafferty and David Moran’s guitars clang in sweet harmony, often bringing Glenn Branca and Mark Shippy (US Maple, Shorty); ‘In Camera’ ducks into an ‘87 Sonic Youth wind tunnel, making it cute to read that Thurston Moore repped this tape on release. The granular noise sinkhole in the middle of the closing ‘64246’ is as gnarly as anything they’ve done since, and a fair substitute for the way in which a Housewives set clubs you over the head, intelligently and gracefully of course.

By the time the next Foul House lands, Housewives will have played the laudable Fat Out Fest, at Salford’s Islington Mill on April’s second weekend. It features an unending list of bands who fall within the perv-view of this column, and if you read this far you’ve effectively promised God you’ll attend.