The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

New Weird Britain

Noel’s Foul House: Your New Weird Britain for November
Noel Gardner , November 27th, 2018 10:27

Roll up and scroll down for our every-two-months selection of the proper tasty stuff. This time: The Gasman is jaunty and creepy, Kayla Painter is glitchy and punchy, Shelley Parker is superb and surprising

Kayla Painter

It’s late November, the end of year charts are beginning to seep out of servers into the (slightly) wider world, and already this column can feel their flattening effect, where even music one likes has its lustre dulled by its status as another number on another list. Not in the Foul House, bub! For now. Instead, heavy respect for artists, like The Gasman, who make and release music in a headspace seemingly untouched by fashion’s vagaries or concerns over whether the market allows for their creativity to flourish untainted.

Perhaps The Gasman – Christopher Reeves, a resident of Portsmouth – is privileged in this respect; if so, it’s a privilege which deserves to be extended to all musicians of value. First emerging in 2003 with an album, Remedial, on a pre-dubstep, pre-footwork Planet Mu label, Reeves has released a daunting amount of music since then – Controlled Hallucination, his latest, is 76 minutes long. It suggests a producer content to tweak a style he’s settled on rather than encroach on others’ territory, and has enough gorgeous moments to justify this.

Controlled Hallucination is dedicated to Tim Smith, erstwhile mainman of crypto-prog cultists Cardiacs; Reeves’ fandom is such that he’s become part of that band’s extended universe, releasing albums on Cardiacs-adjacent labels Onomatopoeia (as this one is) and Believers Roast. Initially, you struggle to hear it in his compositions: tuneful IDM jams with the hyperactive plink-plink-fizz of late-90s Plaid or Cylob. Then the track ‘Wizards Sleeve’ hits, loopy-not-looped solo piano augmented by unlikely samples and an edgily ticking bassline, and it starts to become aurally apparent. ‘Sii 2’ is built around a church organ (or possibly a synthesized version of one) which manages to be jaunty and creepy in equal measure; ‘CTTE’ has almost baroque melodic flourishes and pick-a-number-any-number time signatures. IDM as a genre can be both more and less suitable for actual raving than its critics/stans would have you believe, but The Gasman sounds less interested than ever in making people dance – save for the rushing jungle breaks that spring into life on the penultimate title track. That’s fine, especially as he might well release an album of reet bangers in a few months’ time.

The second album by London quartet Art Trip And The Static Sound also takes a while to reveal certain subtleties. A Week Of Kindness (Fiasco) hoves into view as dirgey garage rock, not terrifically arty or trippy – yet its psychedelic qualities bubble to the surface in production touches like the vocal backmasking on ‘Dead Pigeon’, the La Dusseldorf-like keyboards on the full-steam-ahead ‘No Fly Zone’ and a general air-thickening, feedbacking soupiness inching through the whole thing.

If Art Trip were spring chickens, then you imagine reviews would attribute their vigour to the energy of youth and the intersectional politics of their lyrics to increased awareness of the same among millennials. In fact, they’re all pretty much into middle age: bassist Simon Holliday moonlighted in Stereolab (longer-term ’Lab member Andy Ramsay produced A Week Of Kindness) during the 90s, drummer Paddy Pulzer was in Anglo-Welsh indie literates Jack. Frontwoman Melodie Holliday is singing in her first band, as far as I know, but made visual art long before forming Art Trip and is also mother to two members of Skinny Girl Diet – themselves no strangers to a healthy feminist punk meander. Laudable as it is that such values are passed down and acted on, for my money it’s the oldies making the most interesting music here: signing off with ‘Bad Impression’, a Sonic Youth scrawler with Ari Up sass, and ‘Day-Trip To Haiti’, a percussion-led tension-builder like Magik Markers excelled at once.

One of the photographers credited on the inside gatefold of this split LP between Bellies! and EP/64 (Hammer-On Press) is called Simon Holliday, but does not play in the band above. What are the chances? Answer: more remote than that of these Bristol-based outfits’ respective debut vinyl appearances showcasing their invention, instrumental nous and self-sufficient spirit over half a vital hour. Which is what has transpired here. Bellies!, a guitar-drums duo of Nat Brown and D-M Withers, released their first cassette in 2010, and if the intervening years have certainly refined their practice, the approach seems essentially unchanged. Minimalist through choice before necessity, Brown plays riffs, sure, but nearly every sound on their side functions first as a rhythm. When the duo harmonise “HA-HA”s during ‘Marie Told Us’, a song inspired by Marie Hicks’ book Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists And Lost Its Edge In Computing, it hits with the bluntness of an otherwise absent bassline. What comparisons I’ve previously pondered regarding Bellies!, such as Deerhoof (certainly recalled in the guitar on ‘Herbaceous Border’) and The Ex, are now joined by Uzeda and Trash Kit: as rock-not-rock goes, these five bands make a stellar canon-not-canon.

On the flip, a 15-minute improvisation by EP/64, whose ever-changing lineup has Dali de St Paul as its sole constant, and is here augmented by Dan Johnson of neato punky jazzers Run Logan Run. His drumming, subtle in its progression towards to front and centre, spars with De St Paul’s distorted vocal loops and electronic distress signals, screams to near-silence seven minutes in and then reverses round the whole course. A sonic challenge, but not remotely dry or academic.

Really enamoured by Cannibals At Sea (Drawstring), the latest EP by Kayla Painter – not the first Bristol resident in this specific hellcolumn, nor the last. The producer’s last physical release, 2017’s Auriga, was a bucolic reading of the electronic, restitched folk fragments making me ponder Four Tet’s Pause (admittedly in the context of not having listened to it for probably 15 years). These five tracks are glitchier, punchier and more densely layered, yet with multi-angled beams of light: the jazzy brass streaming through ‘Sentimental Swagger’, what might be a harpsichord on ‘Sacrificial Magic’ after the EP’s one bout of untreated vocals has been and gone. ‘Eating Your Enemies’ (this title, like the aforementioned and that of the release, references Painter’s half-Fijian status and superstitions on the island) is a frothy curio of quickfire jumpcut percussion, kinda like an Errorsmith bit before it kicks into danceable gear. ‘Kenopsia’, which finishes matters, is built from piano, strings and even birdsong, and probably the go-to for anyone who wanted a redux of Auriga; the giddy unease that permeates this release continues until it’s faded out, mind.

Bridget Schurch, or Sunun when she’s behind the console, is yet another Bristol head. Ooid (Bokeh Versions), a five-track 12-inch, is the first Sunun release apart from a couple of tape comp contributions, and its infinitely inventive mutant dub fast-tracks her to exalted status. The first 30 seconds of ‘Ishe Roots’ indicates Schurch’s sound palette and headspace: dust-of-life surface crackle, women chanting and a singular, haunting dub chord. Elements fade in and out, what I assume is the producer’s own voice lending a little tenderness – a move repeated on ‘Untitled Lvlz’, sullen spoken word over midnight-clock-chime beats. At times the pace becomes almost inert, the mix practically fleshless, but there’s always something both happening and about to happen. It’s this approach that perhaps links Sunun most profoundly with classic dub, a term that otherwise wouldn’t fit Ooid, but she’s in good company: Bokeh Versions labelmates like Jay Glass Dubs and Duppy Gun, the various outreaches of Bristol’s Young Echo collective and former Foul House reviewee Kinlaw, who offers a belting bonus remix of EP track ‘Dark Just’ here. Record of the month!

Kinda wild that Shelley Parker has been a respected name in UK techno for well over a decade, without ever having a solo vinyl release – until this four-track EP, Red Cotton (Hessle Audio). Her artistic arc is fairly unusual though, drifting away from the more conventional, crowd-pleaser approach to clubbing and falling in with the wacky world of installation soundtracks, interpretative dance and noise/techno crossover merchants like Graham Dunning.

Red Cotton is demonstrably techno, but at the fringes of the form, and pretty out-there by Hessle’s standards. The title track, which opens the EP, interpolates recordings of Notting Hill Carnival as it passed chez Parker – the looped whistles are fairly obviously drawn from it, and a perpetual rumbling undercurrent might be timestretched crowds and traffic. Meanwhile, slow metallic screwface beats evoke a huge party tauntingly out of reach. ‘Angel Oak’ is still more slurred and sinister, a downer-damaged kickdrum releasing plumes of asbestos into the waveform with each thud, although London-via-Bristol cat Ploy gives it a coating of perkier dust via a staccato-y quasi-junglist remix. Finally, ‘Masonry Pier’ has percussion like horses’ hooves in a period drama and subbass like Death’s personalised ringtone, a suitable sign-off to a superb and surprising release.

Ensemble fodder of the least tethered and most onomatopoeic kind lurks on Roman Nose’s self-titled LP (Signing Knives/Humane Pyramid). While the personnel involved have serious improv pedigree, there’s nothing po-faced about this platter o’clatter. A rich spread of instruments both ‘Western’ and ‘non’ (the latter category including a hulusi, sheng and tulum) conspire in this tapestry of honks, creaks, cranks, shrieks, gurgles, fits’n’starts and micromoments of aural clarity, the overall sense being that (a) these four sods have learned enough technique to ensure they can wilfully avoid it and (b) all involved had a total hoot.

A midsection of harmonium-powered acid drone, titled ‘Brekekekex Koax Koax’ just cuz, is on a Vibracathedral Orchestra tip, and that’s about as linear as Roman Nose get. By most people’s yardstick – maybe even you, who has read nearly to the end of this column – Roman Nose is an inexplicable, horse-scaring cacophony… BUT it’s one assembled with care and intuition. That’s where that improv pedigree comes in: previously a solo project of Singing Knives label head Jon Marshall, he’s now joined by Leeds experimentalist Sarah McWatt, London free jazz bassist Otto Wilberg and Charlie Collins, early Sheffield industrial-pop pioneer turned freeform percussionist.

Finders Keepers Records, Manchester-based diggers of crates old and weird, rarely reissue local obscurities, but when they do it’s earworthy. Plenty of boss thud-rock on 70s-centric comp Man Chest Hair, for example, then there’s the Residents-y electroburble of Gerry & The Holograms, who FK compiled last year. That’s now been complemented with the first ever reissue of 70% Paranoid by 48 Chairs, a 1982 LP from the unlikely coupling of Gerry & The Holograms’ John Scott and CP Lee (who also features on Man Chest Hair in early 70s band Greasy Bear, fact fans) with British jazz geezer Lol Coxhill. Loosely connected to the Factory Records side of things in the city, but too genre-restless to fit its aesthetic, 70% Paranoid makes a great case for postpunk as a mindset, as opposed to a type of music.

‘Snap It Around’, also released as a single in 1979, is a jerky, chickenwire-guitar thing like the Glaxo Babies or someone, but with guitar chops that lift it out of UKDIY amateur hour (not that that’s a bad place to be). The conspiratorially muttered vocal, calculator bleeps and Coxhill’s reverb-treated sax whisks ‘Relentless’ into the territory of San Francisco’s Tuxedomoon. From there, 48 Chairs go all over the shop, albeit with Scott’s rockabilly guitar clank a near-constant feature: jazz-folk (‘Samurai Swords’), Afro-funk (‘Rhino Whip’) and something for which I have taken out a Music Review Cliche Permit so I can describe it as “Madness on ketamine” (‘Cob On’). Rarely abrasive, considering Coxhill’s rep on the free improv scene, and often grooving with the swagger of a commercially minded unit, 70% Paranoid is scattershot enough to explain its quick descent into the cracks. Thirty-six years on, it sounds like a textbook Finders Keepers find.