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Noel’s Foul House: 20 Hottest Hits of New Weird Britain 2018
Noel Gardner , December 13th, 2018 11:42

It’s been a terrible year, in many ways, but either the absolute bullshit of our political discourse actually feeds the beautiful triffids that are flourishing across the musical landscape of New Weird Britain, or else they simply cannot be destroyed. Either way, time to enjoy the finest foulest releases of 2018, from Aman!!!’s Greek rebetiko to Night Thoughts’ coldwave goth to an unnerving Whigfield rethink/remix by Rian Treanor

Two years of writing this column now, no sign of its self-styled New Weird Britain credo ceasing to bear fruit, no closer to figuring out what the musical essence of this whole thing is and no more anxious to do so. Sink, below, into the Noel’s Foul House Official And Scientifically Determined Top Ten Of 2018 – the one drawn from the year’s five bi-monthly review columns – into the live metallic breakcore and Whigfield superedits and nu-skool dub pressure and accordion drone-doom. Take any two names from it and there’ll be some identifiable facet of connectivity between them: a city, a label, a promoter, a festival. (Apart from the one who I understand lives in rural south Wales but otherwise doesn’t exist outside Bandcamp.)

In my mind, there’s always an imaginary reader of Foul House (aren’t they all, haw haw) asking, “But what, other than geographical circumstance, makes this music identifiably British?” and my equally imaginary response is to avoid the question by walking backwards through a hedge because I don’t usually feel there to be an answer. It’s not why the column exists, anyway. Some of it feels very clearly pastoral, some sharply urban, and some is named after marginal dots of regional Britain but would perhaps not be considered representative by those dots’ denizens. Either way it’s pleasing to note that across the two charts (the aforementioned top ten plus the same number of corkers not previously reviewed) ‘Britishness’ accommodates musicians from Brazil, Finland, Greece and the Congo.

A few albums fit the criteria but weren’t included because I covered them in my punk and hardcore column. A few more are boss (Big Joanie, Melting Hand, Guttersnipe – my actual god, the Guttersnipe album!) but are already in tQ’s overall top 100, meaning variety has prevailed over plaudit layering. And hundreds of hours of new, weird and British stuff quite frankly went unheard by me despite my best efforts (notwithstanding an inability to wean myself off listen-once-and-delete black metal promos), because rainy fascism seems to make this island creatively fertile. Or, at any rate, the racists, Tories, melts, cranks, nimbys, councillors, developers and wreckers can’t kill it.

10. Petbrick – Petbrick (self-released)

“Hinting at both the dancefloor and the arena-wide moshpit without ever allowing the succour of either.”

9. Bodies On Everest – A National Day Of Mourning (Third I/Cruel Nature)

“The tempo of funeral doom, the itch-inside-ya-skull tones of power electronics and thuddingly Neolithic anti-chops noiserock.”

8. The Declining Winter – Belmont Slope (Home Assembly)

“The possibility of relative indie convention is torpedoed by a post-production cloud of hauntological fuzz.”

7. Rian Treanor – Ravedits (The Death Of Rave)

“Four comprehensively retooled bootlegs of old pop songs, unexpected in its fundamental daftness.”

6. Aja – Aja (Opal Tapes)

“Astonishingly self-assured, a project at its zenith of development.”

5. Sunun – Ooid (Bokeh Versions)

“Infinitely inventive mutant dub.”

4. Soft Issues – Soft Issues (Concrete Block)

“They aren’t the only band attempting to bisect power electronics and powerviolence, but I’m struggling to think of any others who got so good so fast.”

3. White-Fawn – Faerie Girl / Spirit World (Bandcamp)

“Deft, pastoral flights of harp-based new age fancy.”

2. David Terry – Sorrow (Opal Tapes)

“Music as immersive as a sea burial and which sounds older than recorded time.”

Cucina Povera – Hilja (Night School)

“Cucina Povera is a Finn living in Glasgow by the name of Maria Rossi, and Hilja is the first in-earnest showcase for her exquisite and genuinely original practice.”

10 THAT GOT AWAY

Acid Cannibals – Why Not Every Night? (At War With False Noise)
& Horny For Tomorrow (Hominid Sounds)

Party-inducing pancreas-poppers across 19 inches of petroleum from a two-piece who love primal rock enough to nail its enduring absurdity. Acid Cannibals live in Glasgow and also have psych, goth, grind and crust bands on their dual rap sheet; this venture, featuring guitar, drums and rather ample amplification, is where they slake their thirst for hectic stoner/metal/punk riffs banged out at freak speed. Why Not Every Night?, a 7-inch released in March, begins with a song called ‘Are We Metal?’ and proceeds to, in effect, mock anyone thinking the answer matters when matters are this marv. Recent follow-up Horny For Tomorrow, luxuriating across a 12-inch, ramps up the Karp triumphalism and includes a song titled ‘50,000 Nos Cans Can’t Be Wrong’ whose seemingly ad-libbed lyrics turn into a karaoke rendition of Megadeth’s ‘Sweating Bullets’.

Aman!!! – Aman!!! (Sucata Tapes)

Pre-war Greek rebetiko is one of those musical styles that’s impossible to stop listening to once you start, even when its mournful flourishes reduce you to a lachrymose blob. So it proves with this contemporary effort to channel and contextualise it by Aman!!!, a London-based duo of Tasos Stamou and Thodoris Ziarkas. A spartan recording employing acoustic guitar, bouzouki and occasional drums and vocals, often the pair approach rebetiko with their improvisers’ ear – someone who dug what Richard Bishop did with Middle Eastern melodies on The Freak Of Araby may well go for Aman!!! too – while there are a brace of takes on songs by old timey Greek songwriter Giorgios Batis. ‘Zoula Se Mia Varka’, the second of those, lasts nearly 13 minutes and journeys from keening string work to a meditative jangle with something of the Robbie Basho about it. Very much hope this cassette isn’t a one-off.

Bad Tracking – Clanger (FuckPunk)

Bristol, dismissed in certain parts of the popular mind for being too bohemian and docile in its mentality, has had a recent run on the sort of rough-arsed leftfield techno that suggests the very opposite. Clanger, the second 12-inch from Bad Tracking, is a prime exhibit of the city’s tendency, not just because of the two originals on side A – industrialised temple-throbbers rocketing past, say, Container or Karen Gwyer and approaching Wolf Eyes territory – but the brace of regional remixers on the B, both who’ve distorted beats to great effect in 2018. Jules Smith, reviewed in Foul House as part of Spiritflesh, lends electro doom to ‘May Day’ in his solo guise, October; Giant Swan, authors of two boss EPs this year, scour the skin from ‘Clanger’ in deeply disorienting fashion.

Captain Maurice Seddon – The Seddon Tapes (Paradigm Discs)

This is an archival compilation of telephone conversations spanning 20 years or so by a gentleman who died in 2014, and as such I am utterly flouting parameters to wangle it into this list. Why? Well, Captain Maurice Seddon was unmistakably British – English, to be precise, with a 1930s BBC radio voice touted as proudly as his German ancestry; and deeply weird – an eccentric of a type now almost extinct, he came from upper class stock but relinquished nearly all his monetary privilege in favour of becoming a philanthropic inventor. He lived, by all accounts (including that of William English, sleevenote writer for The Seddon Tapes), in a truly foul house full of decades-old junk and, uh, dead dogs, and as this house was in the same Berkshire village my mum used to live in, Seddon and the infant me may have briefly been neighbours of sorts. Anyway, his habit of recording all his phone calls has given us this LP, which is frequently hilarious in a Beckettian or Chris Morris-ish way and whose existence is as improbable as Seddon himself.

Nkisi – The Dark Orchestra (Arcola)

A 12-inch EP which not only forms part of the revival of long-dormant Warp Records subsublabel Arcola, but also upholds Warp’s maxim “if it sounds good it’s at the right speed”. Melika ‘Nkisi’ Ngombe was born in the Congo but began to make music after moving to the UK. Now part of a collective named NON Worldwide which advances radical African sonic art, her productions are nevertheless genuinely singular: extremity presented with sculpted elegance, eyepopping BPMs that don’t knock a hair outta place. These four tracks might call to mind glassy trance synths, panelbeating techno as crystallised in the early 90s by Jeff Mills, the hypermodern hoedowns of Portugese kuduro and nigh-on Dutch gabber tempos – but are never satisfied to be pinned as another’s style. There’s an Nkisi album on PAN early next year and I reckon it might be epochal.

Lucy Railton – Paradise 94 (Modern Love)

Debut solo album from a London composer whose previous recording credits, largely as a session cellist, don’t hint greatly at the aural reach of Paradise 94. Lucy Railton’s position as founder of the London Contemporary Music Festival is more useful in this respect: an unusually, indeed refreshingly brief 33 minutes, it’s a bold piece of modern composition which explores the limits of solo cello while subjecting it to swathes of studio reassembly. Lest you think this is an odd fit for the Modern Love label – well, you’re still somewhat correct, but Railton’s interest in bleeding-edge electronic music is evident across Paradise 94, with avant-techno fave Beatrice Dillon guesting at one point, ‘Critical Rush’ turning near-danceable and lengthy LP closer ‘Fortified Up’ consisting of a single, undulating synth drone.

Matthew Shaw – Among The Never Setting Stars (Blackest Rainbow)

This is Matthew Shaw’s first vinyl album, a stat which belies the healthy quickness of his CDr and tape release rate beforehand. You’ll find him on neato micro imprints like Richard Youngs’ Sonic Oyster and Susan Matthews’ Siren Wire; full disclosure/no more bluffing, his music has passed me by until Among The Never Setting Stars, but it’s stunning, beatless, ecclesiastical ambience which feels like slowly losing consciousness inside an igloo. Unobtrusive ripples of piano on ‘Cyclic Song’ are about as close as these six pieces get to ‘structure’ as your reactionary old music teacher would’ve had it; otherwise Shaw specialises in misty layers of drone, occasional deep bass rumbles and a synthesised solemnity that measures up to Popul Vuh, Stars Of The Lid, the most gaseous Gas passages and Ocean Floor. Great, too, to get fresh produce from Blackest Rainbow, once a dauntingly prolific label but recently pared down to one or two releases a year.

Night Thoughts – The Complaint (Funeral Party)

Five songs of dead-on drum-machined coldwave goth glower from a Welsh duo who slung this out on a few cassettes and had it picked up by an American label who reissued it on a slightly greater number of 12-inches. Suspect that few reading have heard of Night Thoughts until now, anyway, but you definitely should investigate if you dig that early-80s-onwards confluence of Joy Division and synthpop that was taken up particularly keenly in France and has been unearthed by labels like Minimal Wave. Members feature, or have featured, in the dreampunky Chain Of Flowers and impossibly glum slowcore project Mars To Stay, who are recalled on – respectively – the brisk ‘Century Eyes’ and funereal ‘Bitter Beach’.

SNRRM And VARM / Chips For The Poor – Eccentric Women in Oswestry / The Handshake Exchange (Invisible Spies)

A coming together of sore British thumbs who drove a lorry through what passed for my expectations. SNRRM And VARM are John Jasnoch, a Sheffield guitarist who’s been involved with this island’s free improv underground since the 70s, and wonky hip-hop purveyor Supreme Vagabond Craftsman. Their side of this 100-copies LP, released on Kid Acne’s label Invisible Spies, is 21 minutes of free-scrawlin’ electric guitar froth a la Derek Bailey. Over the way, six songs by Chips For The Poor, a one-man electropunk rant repository who could, if he chose, credibly claim proto-Sleaford Mods status (his debut single was released in 2005). On The Handshake Exchange, which seems to have been composed with Supreme Vagabond Craftsman, he grouses and garbles lyrical gems which sometimes develop a coherent narrative, sometimes say their piece within a word or two. The music is wonky, minimal and Dadaist, the imagery parochial and scattershot (Stan Collymore, Spike Island, “I just got a text off Ryanair”). Fans of Russell Walker’s more antagonistic modes might like this; as a whole, this album has to be one of the strangest things anyone involved has chalked up to date.

Stephen Grew & Adam Fairhall – Free Piano From The English North (Tombed Visions)

As per the album title, its 11 tracks are each named after a different place name or landmark in the Lancashire/Cheshire/Derbyshire region, where both Grew and Fairhall live. Charming (and inadvertently on-brand for this column), but it would be hard to make the case (which, in fairness, no-one does) that this enrapturing bag of puzzle pieces for twin grand pianos is demonstrably evocative of, say, the rural Lancastrian village of Nether Kellet. Both members are embedded in the UK’s improv community, and their playing consistently telegraphs their avant-garde leanings. If not stepping outside the instrument’s common conventions, like when Fairhall coaxes a bizarre tinkling sound from what I suspect are its innards during ‘Bailrigg’, their approach to the keyboard is dizzying and virtuosic, passages sounding like they’re played by some eight-armed deity then pivoting to eerie minimalism. Free Piano From The English North is, I think, the first all-piano recording released by Manchester’s consistently interesting Tombed Visions, but chimes with the panoply of their outlook.

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