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New Weird Britain This September Reviewed By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , September 24th, 2019 08:11

Noel Gardner returns with more music from the British fringes and notes from the UK underground

Iona Fortune portrait by Marc Wieland

This month’s New Weird Britain has one band making rock music with guitars, and then several singletons and double acts making music that will not ease the struggles of insufferable Rateyourmusic trainspotters who insist on categorising the contents of the world by genre, but is definitely not ‘rock’. The releases marked for potential inclusion but not ultimately included were, equally, not ‘rock’. If I were more needy, and desirous of riling some imagined conservative foe, I would say this was indicative of guitar music being a dying artform, but I don’t consider this to be true, and furthermore suspect that when people do say this, they usually mean something like “there should be more inescapably huge bands out there who play music that I enjoy”.

And so to September’s rock tokens, Repo Man from Bristol, whose I Can Live With It If You Can, Son (Stolen Body) is their third album and first since 2015. The quartet add violin and saxophone to their guitarbassdrumsvox orthodoxy betimes, the two interloper instruments being played by vocalist Bojak (always just Bojak) – though through his larynx alone, he’s intent on upsetting the rhythm, eNUNCiating syllables at points you don’t exPECT and sometimes descending into a marble-gobbed grizzly grumble that flags up two of Repo Man’s likely touchstones, Captain Beefheart and US Maple.

Arrangements, while not fully shy of Midwestern noiserock clang mode on ‘Shallow Matthews’ and others, are slippery and inventive. Liam McConaghy, who also makes ambient music as Microdeform and runs the Aphelion Editions label (featured in here a few times before), is a guitarist with a pre-internet Yellow Pages’ worth of tunings; Jesse Webb, also of Gnod and Anthroprophh, is a fleet-fisted foil on drums. A zenith is delivered with the LP-closing transition between the title track - Slint-y pensiveness overwhelmed to choking point by shrill no wave abrasion - and ‘Moaty’, which lasts for 12 minutes and for most of that staggers brutishly around like a bear locked in a stately home.

I first encountered Iona Fortune in Bristol, at a noisy rock gig – specifically Shellac, whom she toured with in 2017 as part of the Chicago group’s creditable efforts to choose support acts who sound nothing like them. All told, even had this been in front of an audience who’d actually come to see her, it would have been hard to achieve the solitude and concentration required to get the maximum from the Glasgow composer’s music. Tao Of I Volume 2 (Ecstatic) follows up a similarly-titled debut, also from two years ago, with the note that six further volumes are planned, each based on symbols from the I Ching. I for one hope she completes the series – partly because this delicate, meditative electroacoustic approach is clearly not the only game in Iona’s town (she co-founded a club night called So Low that plays obscure Euro coldwave and EBM bangers and that), so it would demonstrate impressive commitment.

More importantly, Tao 2 is great: eight pieces which marry the ancient and organic (gamelan and dulcimer-type instruments) to the contemporary and digital (studio edits of the aforementioned, given deep, droning bass backdrops). ‘Tài’ is driven by the keening sound of the erhu, or Chinese violin, one of the most widely recognisable signifiers of the culture’s quote-unquote traditional music. Elsewhere, notes are introduced with deathless precision (‘Pǐ’, ‘Qiān’) or grouped into an array of melody-as-rhythm chimes that come off like the pacifist sibling of Wiley’s early eski productions (‘Tóng Rén’). Iona Fortune has shouldered an association with the revival of ‘fourth world music’, featuring on Optimo’s decade-spanning compilation addressing it, but is surely skilled and bold enough not to be bound by it.

Rachael Finney, or R. Elizabeth in solo musician mode used to play in an indie band from Brighton called La La Vazquez who did a single on Captured Tracks. One of the features of R. Elizabeth seems to be the use of magnetic tape: dicey, vulnerable, and prominent on Every And All We Voyage On (Night School), her debut album.

Its seven tracks are quasi-palindromic, beginning with ‘Cut Piano’ and finishing with ‘Piano Cut’ – plangent ivory-tinkles distorted, unspooled, physically stretched as opposed to timestretched. In between, comparative accessibility, songcraft even. ‘Spiritual To Symphony’ has an aqueous, lightly oriental-sounding melody and stops mid-line, puzzlingly (maybe the tape ran out), ‘An Image Is Different’ brings a dubby ambient sound palette to lo-fi synth pop, and on ‘Back From Ten’ she sounds even more listless, sighing over organ and a basic beat on a slo-mo Young Marble Giants tip before the title track pits that 80s proto-ambience against curiously croaking cassette FX. EAAWVO sounds, and I mean only positive things from this, very much like a Night School joint. In fact, if you liked the label’s last release, Ta Da by J McFarlane’s Reality Guest, and also like getting stoned, I reckon you’ve found your bag.

“The Norfolk and Cambridgeshire Fens in the east of England are a land of aqueous magic, verdant and enchanted.” Now that’s the sort of chat that fast tracks you into this column, folks – in principle, at least, except I don’t recall covering much misty rural psychogeographical type stuff in practise. Dean Ramsay hereby alters this with The Kingdom Of The Eel (Focused Silence), an album inspired by and sometimes created from the sounds of Upwell, his Norfolk village of residence. The titles suggest fragments of local mythology or folklore, sometimes with magical overtones, and while Ramsay’s way with analogue synth/field recording beatlessness doesn’t rival, say, Coil for Anglocentric creep (‘Awaiting A Message On The Isle Of Ely’ isn’t acres off, actually), neither is The Kingdom ambient wallpaper. Birdsong ripples through the diaphragmatic swell of ‘Two Nightingales Foretell Of Rebirth On The Heath’, while ‘Exaltation Amongst The Sedge’s Berlin School sweep teems with a surface noise-type crackle that I think is actually the sound of pissing rain. ‘Becoming The Hare’, synthwave if it was aiming to evoke milkfloats trundling through hamlets instead of Lamborghinis on eight-lane freeways, is the closest approach to a pop sensibility. As far as I can tell, and unusually for acts featured here, this album is the first music Ramsay’s ever released, and it sits in a very agreeable niche, or nook.

Maintaining the sanctuary of the hedgerow, a split cassette of strange folk on Betwixt & Between featuring Jacken Elswyth, whose label this is, and Alula Down. The latter, a duo of Mark Waters and Kate Gathercole, are from Hereford; Elswyth lives in London but seems to hold some kind of link to the region, recording the previous instalment of this series (all Betwixt & Between releases to date feature Elswyth on one side) in a Herefordshire field and using imagery from the medieval Mappa Mundi as sleeve art. The two sets each include a take on 19th century ballad ‘Sweet Lemeny’, Elswyth’s recorded live at Cafe Oto last year and notable for being done instrumentally on banjo when, if anything, it’s canonically sung unaccompanied. Her other two numbers here, also taped at the Dalston venue, are respectively improvised and Appalachian, and I could listen to this quicksilver picking all day.

Alula Down’s ‘Lemeny’ features our old (new) friend, the sampled bird calls, Gathercole singing of turtledoves and glimmering suns over slowcore guitar clang and intertwined vocal loops. Drones are used ably here and on other trad.arr. interpretations – ‘Spring Of Thyme’, ‘Three Ravens’ – albeit supplementary in the mix, rather than its driving force. Knowing near-nowt about Alula Down, I peg ‘em as folkies who’ve branched out sonically, rather than psych heads getting their Shirley Collins on, but happy to be mistaken. Also, I only found out about this release as a result of fellow tQ writer Jude Rogers booking a gig for Alula Down in Hay-On-Wye, this Friday at publication time, so here’s a plug for it.

To the city – Newcastle – once more, but still putting the human voice through a mess o’pedals in blissout fashion, this is Möbius, two members of bands reviewed here last year, Lovely Wife and Snakes Don’t Belong In Alaska. Big riffs through big amps are certainly off the menu for Time Is What We Ride, a self-released cassette with two songs in 33 minutes. In fact, there’s no instruments per se, just Skylar Gill and James Watts ululating and omming before getting their gizmos to make hay. These pieces, titled ‘Hope’ and ‘Loss’, deal with bereavement and convey an appropriately solemn aura, Watts adding some guttural throat singing on side A as Gill reaches balefully for high notes and the last seven or so of its twenty minutes drones spectrally and envelops. ‘Loss’ is a little more strident and bombastic, although I use those adjectives very relatively, and finds common ground with The Caretaker in subjecting an operatic vocal, or something which could pass for one, to a heavy layer of sonic dust. I saw Möbius perform twice over summer, and they were great, but again solitude will benefit here.

A cassette by Territorial Gobbing has not long slithered out on Panurus, James from Möbius’ microlabel. This is a solo alias of Theo Gowans from Leeds, for when he heeds the call of the no-audience underground – you might still be able to get hard copies of his releases on Liquid Library and Luxury Bucket. Here, meanwhile, is five tracks of dictaphone improv, caveman turntablism and pocket-dialled found sound titled Sausage Chain. Gowans certainly has, what’s the word, technique: a dub selector’s zeal for panning, echo and delay, albeit undertaken with rather less delicacy, on ‘Machine Learning To Scowl’. ‘Painted Teeth’ gibbers and feeds back for 121 exciting seconds, the tape’s one proper dalliance with Angry Young Man type noise, while ‘Unusual Achievements In Human Rights’ is nearly twelve minutes of fizzing bin juice and concrète backwash, enlivened at certain times by someone screaming unintelligibly within the mix. Angered or anguished? You may well ask yourself the same.

Neil Landstrumm and Tobias Schmidt, Scottish wonky techno royalty both, have been recording as Sugar Experiment Station for over twenty years on/off, and longer again individually. The Saboteur 12-inch, on US label Blueberry, is a useful reminder of why both producers are so rated – yet also underrated, when one considers the breadth and history of techno’s canon. ‘Sounds Like’, first of four tracks, scoots along on a punishingly distorted bassline and rodent-robot electro chirps before ‘Europa’ locks down some Jeff Millsian steel. All cold, machinelike stabs and chuntering hi-hats, for Landstrumm and Schmidt it’s cleaner than their average but a slice of power-techno as lethal as it is timeless. ‘Hijack’ brings back the fuzz for a speedy, springy shuffle through a deck of synth riffs, delivered at a pitch that’d tilt you out on a big club system, and ‘Flesh-Tone’ is a carbolic cleansing of Miami bass as only these Brit-tech big dogs could deliver. Infodump: Landstrumm has another new 12, Hell Is Other People out about now, its crunchy vocodered-up title track a collab with Si Begg… whose equally fresh 400 Million Pieces Of You has many of its own twisty charms.

A productive summer for Brighton’s Tom Burland has included reaching the final of a competition to remix a 1950s Balinese gamelan field recording – David Attenborough, who recorded it, will be on the panel picking the winner – and releasing his debut EP as Burland, Tell Me Why You Worry (Mawimbi). The genesis of these five deft tracks was an in-studio encounter with a Ghanaian drumming project, after which Burland decamped to Ghana himself to hang/jam/record with musicians there. I guess it’s a comparable setup to the Nihiloxica EP I reviewed a few columns back, although the music isn’t especially similar. The two collaborators on here both have previous, as it goes. Zongo Abongo, from Accra, is in Anglo-Ghanaian trio The Busy Twist, and drapes a lovely soul-pop vocal over zingy rhythms on the title track; ‘Me So Love Ya’ is an Afrobeat interpolation of head-nod hip-hop, pieced together with the partly London-based Kakatsitsi Drummers. In between, ‘Agbekor’ is apparently based on some kinda trad composition but is a wholly NOW-sounding techno shakedown, and ‘Riffin’ On The Bow’ tries early 90s acid and moody, pre-grime garage on for size.

The second cassette sampler from Bristol’s Avon Terror Corps collective covers nearly all of the stylistic ground raked in this month’s other nine reviews. Hey, there’s a lot of them and they like a lot of music! No Sleep ‘Til Avon fits 21 tracks into 85 minutes, including the good folks who graced their two LP releases in the spring, Harrga and Kinlaw & Franco Franco (Kinlaw opens the tape with a ruff solo cut; Franco guest MCs for sonic artist sorts Copper Sounds). Bad Tracking, Spiritflesh and Ekoplekz, an ATC forefather in a sense, have all ‘enjoyed’ past appraisal in here.

New and/or previously unreviewed names: Narcissist Holocaust’s ‘I Love You But I’ve Chosen Dankness’ (hur) is industrial horrortronica with a stoic postpunk bassline. ‘Spit Dub’ by SRS brings aggropressure both reminiscent and worthy of Kevin Martin, Salaċ’s ‘The Poison’ likewise. Fever 103° go for the ‘angelic choir vox over rocky techno’ gambit, MissterSpoon does 7am warehouse tek, Neurosyphilis Spazmodik Duo do gabber. Less ventricle-popping, if scarcely more accessible, are Dead Space Chamber Music’s ritualistic goth ambient and Child, whose ‘Weakness’ is a dirgey piano ditty home-invaded by industrial breakbeat hooliganism. Ungoogleable for now, Child are one of many entities on No Sleep ‘Til Avon who I expect to strongarm their way into my head, ergo future New Weird Britain columns.