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Noel’s Foul House: Your New Weird Britain Roundup For September
Noel Gardner , September 26th, 2018 07:31

Getting older, getting weirder, getting down with Ana Da Silva & Phew, Blood Claat Orange, Spike & Debbie, Graham Dunning and Family Buckets

Whatever accusations you might throw at the stuff covered in this column – New Weird Britain, if you like, though it applies to weird music and the avant-garde generally – it is rarely ageist. Many souls down here get weirder the older they get, for one thing, perhaps in tacit recognition of having chosen an artistic path which inoculates them against success. People respect that anti-hustle. The myth of the young! thrusting! truthtellers! never quite took hold in weird music like it did in punk, for example, and while it’s clearly not a dead cert that a new release by someone who first tipped up 30, 40, 50 years ago will be top drawer, its audience will, I think, engage with it in the hope it could be.

A couple of new releases, by two diamonds of the early-80s Rough Trade Records postpunk dawn plus relevant and similarly aged cohorts, are just what I’m yakkin’ about. Ana Da Silva was a founding member of The Raincoats, a bold and important London group who stood in punk’s epicentre and demolished its orthodoxy. Having drifted away from music after The Raincoats split in 1984 (infamously, in that it’s recalled gushingly in Nirvana’s Incesticide sleevenotes, Kurt Cobain tracked down Da Silva at her antique shop dayjob in his quest to score a Raincoats LP), she’s been more visible in the last decade or so, both solo and with the band. This month sees the release of Island (on Shouting Out Loud!), a collaborative album with Phew – Japanese artist Hiromi Moritani, whose origins are also in late-70s punk but who swiftly escaped its stylistic confines.

Island was created digitally and distantly, the two musicians pinging files between Europe and Japan and building up a strange opus of swirling, abstract electronics into which twin vocal incantations enter and leave (Da Silva uses Portuguese, her first language, here). Beats, when they feature, are on nodding terms at most with the dancefloor, as with the bracing industrial clanker ‘Strong Winds’; the moody bass scowl of ‘Stay Away’ builds with a teasing momentum that makes me want to type “WHERE’S THE DROP?” on the Soundcloud stream (or it would if I was listening on Soundcloud). Often, matters are subtler, bouts of eldritch glitch and machine crackle combining with one or more larynxes to make something that feels part of the Coil legacy, unwittingly or otherwise, with ‘Konichiwa!’ coming off like early-80s tape trader synthpop. Certainly, and cosmetically, this resembles Phew’s recent, keenly received Voice Hardcore album more than The Raincoats, but it would be unseemly of me to assume anything of Island other than that both musicians were as vital as the results sound.

Alison Statton is most closely associated with her first band, minimal postpunk heartstoppers Young Marble Giants; after they disbanded in 1980 she remained musically active, if perhaps rudderless, and now works as a chiropractor in south Wales. However, Statton and her frequent collaborator Alun ‘Spike’ Williams have just released Bimini Twist (Tiny Global), the fourth Alison Statton & Spike album and the first new music by either since the 90s. It retains plenty of the jazzy swish the pair employed from the off in early-80s Rough Trade outfit Weekend, but is more wilfully lo-fi and insular. The back end of the album, ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Sleepless’, are starkly moving examples of such – loner folk with Statton’s vocal sounding dead on for someone who’s only done scattered YMG reunion gigs in the last two decades. Moments of kitchen-sink despondency (‘Open Portal’, the alluringly icy ‘Alone Together’) are squared with suave bubblers like ‘Distraction’, which is closer than science could predict two middle-aged Welsh UKDIY survivors might get to an Astrud Gilberto vibe.

Williams’ recordings across the 1980s and 90s with Debbie Pritchard, another player on Cardiff’s musical margins, are also collected on a new Tiny Global CD, Spike & Debbie’s Always Sunshine, Always Rain. Most of it has never been heard outside of members’ inner circles, but is well worth hearing for acolytes of the Young Marble Giants sound – Table Table, the earliest project featured here, recorded demos with YMG’s Stuart Moxham at the controls and is very much in their choppy, snaky, woodblocky quasi-dub style. Bomb & Dagger also maintained YMG links in its membership, and combined highlife influences with socialist and anti-apartheid rhetoric; the band, says Pritchard in the liner notes, “ended almost simultaneously with Nelson Mandela’s release”. Finally, in the mid 90s, the duo recorded six songs as The Pepper Trees; the songwriting was strong as ever, but the climate of the period allowed little provision for downbeat, skeletal synth ballads, and it was unreleased until now.

Richard Adams is a significant, if understated, figure in UK rock subterranea, his aesthetic most notably showcased in cult Yorkshire group Hood for a decade and a bit. Somewhat adjacent to tweepop, shoegaze and psychedelia, without any of those terms really seeming suitable, the sense of moor-and-dale expansiveness and duvet-submerged intimacy that Hood paradoxically conjured has lived on in Adams’ current vehicle, The Declining Winter. A solo project bolstered by various guest musician pals, Belmont Slope (Home Assembly) is I think the fifth TDW album proper, and is a gorgeous, deep-layered missive which, band name notwithstanding, feels like the last word in autumnal vibes (speaking as someone who considers ‘seasonal music’ to be an overwhelmingly bunk notion).

Its nine songs are mostly – though, crucially, not entirely – familiar territory for Adams, his vocal lachrymose, romantic and, well, off-key over twinkling guitar-bass interaction with a consistent scraped-fret sound that’s been a facet of his playing since Hood. There are pianos, trumpet parts (‘Break The Elder’), ghostly backing vox and songs where the possibility of relative indie convention is torpedoed by a post-production cloud of hauntological fuzz (‘Near Garden’). The dub techniques and wonky rhythms that helped to make Hood albums like Cold House so great are less centred here, but certainly present. Perhaps the LP’s boldest moment is ‘Twilight Rating’, powered by epic ambient synth riffs and a widescreen techno backbeat; it resembles early 90s German trance more than anything Adams has previously done.

Had my eye on Tyneside’s Lovely Wife since last year, when they released a cassette titled Problem Rock. Gruelling dirge doom with a 17-minute opening track, they had northeastern noise scene staple Rob Woodcock on drums for a bit, and came off like a continuation of his great 2000s-era band Marzuraan. Now, Lovely Wife have recorded a split EP (Panarus/Inverted Grim-Mill) with their heavy psych Geordie buds Snakes Don’t Belong In Alaska, and are going on tour to promote it (or maybe they recorded the EP to promote the tour).

Lovely Wife’s ‘Deafening Soup’ again tops the quarter-hour mark, beginning as creaky improv biz and coagulating into a spiked chowder of gurgle-FXed vocals, amusement arcade noises and driving drystonewall riffs. Excepting an odd if effective deviation some 11 minutes in, where it sounds like a Pavement song or something trying to escape the maelstrom, this sounds of a piece with the Pigsx7/Terminal Cheesecake/Gnod collective-but-different way of thinking, and Lovely Wife might be due kudos of that sort soon. Snakes Don’t Belong In Alaska supply two songs, the longest and best being ‘Eat Your Salad’ – 12 minutes of jellified feedback and wah-whacked guitar which, if not a wilful salute to Bardo Pond, has arrived there by blissfully happy accident.

For all that Foul House exists to champion the UK underground network (and the unlikely points where different elements connect), the creative impulses that sustain it and the friendships forged from that, it’s also neat to come across something which, while audibly a weird and marginal practice, appears to operate outside that network. Family Buckets are a duo from London who recently released their second, self-titled CDr in highly limited numbers and handglued sleeves, and not only were they thoughtful enough to bung me a copy, I’m rather fond of its dank spacerock mooch. Not sure what Gareth John and Matt Lindley, respectively, are playing here, but Family Buckets is a shifty melange of synth, guitar, drum machine, live drums and disembodied voices which elects to worm into your brain rather than club you on the skull. It kinda sounds like something that might have trickled from that hyperproductive Neil Campbell/Richard Youngs/Phil Todd (etc) Anglo-Scottish axis of peculiar – the ‘no- audience underground’ practitioners who actually did accrue an audience – and while its 50-minute runtime could be usefully trimmed by junking ‘Himalayan Melt’, whose endless, jarring vocal loop is too much even for me, the Steve Hillage-via-Solid Space ‘Signs Of Life’ is most def my bag.

Limited to even less copies in its physical form, and the debut release for County Durham label The Crystal Cabinet, is a cassette by Adlington D’Silva which I think is titled Church Sessions, having been taped in one. Not previously acquainted with Lucy Adlington, who plays guitar on these three untitled pieces, but her CV includes a live appearance as an auxiliary member of Gnod alongside saxophonist Karl D’Silva, who featured in this column’s last edition as part of the Crime Scene Ensemble.

A heady session was had in the Lord’s gaff, Adlington entering a raga-doom drone wormhole over which D’Silva blows in sustained, triumphalist manner. There are probably more relevant reference points than Sunn O))) and Ulver’s Terrestrials, but that’s what the first piece got me thinking of, and I intend only praise. Later on there’s some neat sonic jumpcuts, slapping the listener from one mood to another – wriggly ambient sketching upended by fiery Euro free jazz blare – and, on the third and shortest piece, both musicians playing in such a deconstructive way I’m not wholly certain which bits are guitar and which are sax. Respect due, really.

ALSO limited to a UNREASONABLY small amount of copies – column by column the numbers are falling faster than a daily newspaper’s readership; by this time next year I will be reviewing music that was never released, recorded or conceived – is Sweets 3D by Blood Claat Orange, a tape on Sunk, a Sheffield label associated with The Audacious Art Experiment who prmote very underground acts from the north of England, whose faux-vaporwave artwork is printed on those lightweight cassingle-style card sleeves. Blood Claat Orange are a trio of Urocerus Gigas, mad genius lab technician in Guttersnipe; Hilary Knott, keyboardist and motivational totem in hi-NRG synthpunx Cowtown; and Algernon Cornelius, a hip-hop producer who I am going to assume is actually called Algernon Cornelius until told otherwise.

Blood Claat Orange’s music is maximalist, extroverted and exhilarating: the tape’s first side (recorded live, not that you’d realise, when the band supported John Maus last June) hurls bongripped witchy chants, digital hardcore drum rolls, computerised dubby processing and strobing synth squeal at the canvas with a punky lack of exact. Could throw around Flossie & The Unicorns, White Mice and very early Fuck Buttons, but with no expectation of those names having been on the BCO crib sheet. ‘Dummy Maudlin’ meanwhile, a studio-captured 11-minuter on side B has a touch of the comedown terrors to it – slow, snaking and shivery, with stabbing electronics giving yer head that Hellraiser mask sensation. Very early days for this project yet, but I’m confident they could get juke joints jumping anywhere Guttersnipe fans already collect in number.

Notwithstanding a cameo role in the first Foul House column last year, it’s high time there was some Graham Dunning appreciation here. A London-based savant of the soldering iron, he runs the Fractal Meat Cuts tape label and releases music at a rapid rate, but is best known for his Mechanical Techno live sets, where he spins several records at once while sensor-triggering various effects on a single self-built device. Its science-fair imprecision is its appeal both for Dunning, who works trial and error into his live praxis, and the audience, who will likely be watching in anticipation of the whole precarious contraption falling over.

Dunning’s latest release, Tentation, is an LP on White Denim (Pissed Jeans singer Matt Korvette’s label) and comprises two side-long tracks of dub techno, created live on his demonic gizmo. More cynical review columns would demand video evidence. I would rather point to the way that notionally repeated elements sound subtly different on each go-around; the way the Basic Channel-like chord running through ‘Another Rhythem’ (sic) rings out slightly longer or shorter each time; what sounds like a disc slowing to a halt at about 10:30. Surface crackle, such as that looped throughout ‘Ping Pong Rhythem’, is used as an effect with both the deep reverie of the great dub selectors and the stoic solemnity of Philip Jeck. If Dunning’s arrangements don’t quite measure up to modern dub techno greats like Deepchord or Voices From The Lake, he’s still got a steady hand for stark atmospherics, and a process that has you wanting to know how your sausages are made.

The Cruel Nature label has been operating out of Whitley Bay for five years, although I’ll confess to only becoming aware of it last year; spanning everything from harsh noise wall to wonky postpunk, its catalogue lacks a thread, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Lovely Wife and Snakes Don’t… have both issued tapes via Cruel Nature, likewise previous Foul House subjects Bodies On Everest and Thank, and Frag’s Controlled Coma sees them expand into archive editions. Frag was a solo project by Stephen Burroughs, briefly extant during 1994 after his previous band – partway brilliant proto-Godflesh industrial pigfuck Midlanders known as Head Of David – had been defunct for a few years.

The hour of music on Controlled Coma (“a project never intended to be seen or heard,” the label proclaim) is entirely, defiantly divorced from Burroughs’ rock origins: grinding, murky low-tech noise laid down in the spirit of the early 80s Broken Flag label, or other anti-music militants of the era like the New Blockaders. Minute hints of melody occasionally dapple through the slats – if the faint folky motif buried in the static snowdrifts of ‘Mouth’ was accentuated, the result might even resemble Flying Saucer Attack – and, in time, Frag reveals its inert, ambient qualities. Why, you could probably get a baby to nod off by playing it at low volume, something I doubt has been said of, for example, Sutcliffe Jugend’s We Spit On Their Graves.