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New Weird Britain This March Reviewed By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , March 2nd, 2020 12:12

Noel Gardner writes in praise of sticking together, plus new releases from Slum Of Legs, Noods and Handle

Alabaster dePlume

The three years I have now been writing this column has proved enough time for births, deaths and respawnings of some of its subjects. As someone who admires longevity in bands, especially ones which make fuck all money, this saddens me. As someone who has committed to writing about ten NEW New Weird Britain things every other month… keep on not keepin’ on!

Handle, a trio from Manchester, feature two members of Duds, whose fine debut album I reviewed in 2017 but who disbanded quietly after releasing a second. Handle have been active for 18 months or so, with ex-Duds Giulio Erasmus and Nirvana Heire joined on vocals and keys by Leo Hermitt, an artist resident in Salford’s Islington Mill.

Upset The Rhythm, who’ve released Handle’s debut LP In Threes, call Hermitt’s practise “multidisciplinary”, and I rather fancy it for my spiel about their euphoric, frenetic, surreal music too. As in, it’s highly disciplined, but in many distinct ways. So using it wrongly, I suppose.

There’s a ton going on in these eleven songs, but it never feels overstuffed – it’s more rhythmically bamboozling than your post punk average, unless you bring the likes of This Heat into the convo (and I will), packing a funk that’s more akin to Ze Records than No New York.

Heire is credited with mere ‘drums’ by UTR, yet from the off sounds like he’s retrieved a samba band’s kit halfway through it being melted down for scrap. Erasmus’ basslines can be stoic and slinky as required; Hermitt’s synth parts assert themselves through shrillness, and border on tweepop at points (‘Punctured Time’, ‘Mhmm’) but never break the spell. The lyrical phrasing of songs like ‘Coagulate’, oft-offbeat and repeating words like the title to savour their cadences, work in much the same way. Fans of Duds should thrill to In Threes, but fans of The Ex, Huggy Bear and Malaria! may do so more so.

Since emerging with a three-song tape in 2013, Brighton’s Slum Of Legs have maintained the same six-strong lineup, and do you have any idea how hard that is? (In this specific instance, neither do I, but statistically speaking one expects a limb or two to drop off now and then.) Their self-titled debut album, on Nottingham/Bristol label Spurge, is their first release since 2015, but Slum Of Legs’ component parts circa singles ‘Doll Like’ and ‘Begin To Dissolve’ – Krauty/proggy discord, post punk jags, indie pop froth, feminist rhetoric equally exaltatory and condemnatory – remain in place on these ten numbers.

Hell, they’ve re-recorded all of their debut cassette for Slum Of Legs, and this listener has no beef with a reprisal which comprises seven minutes of Stereolabish grooveriding with chamber folk violin (‘Benetint & Malevolence’), a self-titled and perhaps self-celebrating song which is like Mary Timony joining The Ex (them again) and one that’s equal parts spacefunk keyboard blobs and quote-unquote heart-rending vocal melodies, called ‘Sasha Fierce’ so presumably about Beyoncé but not obviously, lyrically.

From Tamsin Chapman’s blithely delivered line “I hope your death is painful” (‘In Your Face’) to a song dissecting self-image titled ‘The Baader-Meinhof Always Look So Good In Photos’, Slum Of Legs are dab hands at subverting their pleasantly folky tendencies with inky black humour. The good-indie acts they remind me of, mid-90s Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci (q.v. Maria Marzaioli’s violin parts here) and late-90s Delgados, are both sorely missed, and so were these six during their half-decade out the studio.

Nape Neck, from Leeds, number three: guitarist Bobby Glew, who you may have seen in Guttersnipe playing drums with the wildest style around, and rhythm section (a misnomer, by virtue of implying the guitarist is on melody duty) Claire Adams and Kathy Grey. The latter pair were in a band called Beards who I reviewed for tQ nearly a decade ago and said reminded me of The Ex. More mentions of The Ex than a Heat magazine audience with Katie Price this month, folks!

The eight songs on this release find Glew throttling his instrument in gleefully grating ceremonial sword-sharpener fashion, hacking into the seam of the groove or setting off micro-eruptions of metallic slide guitar. While sounding less like Guttersnipe than the two ex-Beards sound like Beards, I’m tempted to suggest he brings the American skronk/US Maple/Chinese Stars element to Nape Neck; Adams and Grey the Gang Of Four/Delta 5/Leeds postpunk canon – but I doubt things are that linear, even if I’ve correctly identified their ingredients. (Probably not.) You could take the vocals off this and still know this band are tight, as in musically adept, but the egalitarian sharing of the vocals makes Nape Neck sound tight, like buddies in a gang, and that counts for a lot of the radness here too.

Danny Hyde, whose second album as Electric Sewer Age has just come out, became in-house producer and unofficial extra member of uber-esoteric industrialists Coil in the early 80s. Electric Sewer Age began as a duo of Hyde and Peter Christopherson, debut EP Moon’s Milk In Final Phase released after the latter’s death and initially conceived as a Coil release. While Hyde has maintained a low enough profile, relative to Christopherson and Coil founder John Balance, to be less associated with the project’s aura of drug-crazed ritualism, by his own account he wasn’t shy of getting involved, and the six tracks on Contemplating Nothingness (Old Europa Cafe/Hallow Ground) revisit some of that old third-eye wisdom.

More upfront than the dark ambient of previous ESA LP, 2016’s Bad White Corpuscule, like a few Coil forays into dance(able) music its textures sometimes border the corny. ‘Still Too Far To Go’, the opener, may have a voiceover that talks of a “profound … mushroom trip” but its pensive strings and midpaced beats are no more lysergic than any given rejected Mo’Wax demo. Things pick up with ‘Whose Gonna Save My Soul’ (sic), dub techno blues studded with Arabic-sounding bows and plucks, while the matchup of slurred vocal processing, nauseous drone and cough syrup drums renders ‘Chebo’ headturning. ‘Surrender To The Crags’ is heavy on that Muslimgauze/Vatican Shadow ethno-techno tip, and the sampled dialogue this time – a northern fella’s abridged musings on alcohol – parked Errant Monks in my noggin. ‘Self Doubting Trip’ is a heavy quasi-poetic monologue over airy proto-trance and ‘Dekotur’ shuffles glassy synth tones back and forth to middling effect. Not a release of uninterrupted highs, but the best bits of Contemplating Nothingness show why the Coil legacy still lingers.

Prompted to work backwards with the oeuvre of Alabaster DePlume by To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1, a compilation of wordless cuts from three of his previous albums. Maybe you, unlike me, already know him through his associates: Brit-jazzers The Comet Is Coming, who like DePlume record at London’s Total Refreshment Centre studios, hairy-costumed mathrockers Snapped Ankles, two of whom appear here, and Scottish folkie The Pictish Trail, whose Lost Map label co-released this with extremely cool Chicagoans International Anthem. No idea where this character fits, really, but more important is this strange, exquisite folk-jazz that feels like it could be spirited away by the merest breeze.

Aside from his whimsical poeticisms, DePlume is a saxophonist, and the breathing space afforded by keeping things instrumental showcases the pocketwatch-innards intricacy of his playing. It’s evidently tuned in part-tribute to Japanese folk, and rarely rises above a murmur, ‘Whisky Story Time’ and ‘If You’re Sure You Want To’ especially pretty standouts. ‘Visit Croatia’, which bears no sonic evidence of having visited Croatia, is aided by Ríoghnach Connolly on flute – there’s a couple of dozen musicians across this release, reflective of DePlume’s origins in Manchester and subsequent decamping to London. Two new pieces both feature Sarathay Korwar and The Comet Is Coming’s Dan Leavers; ‘The Lucky Ones’ builds towards a sort of squalling freeness but reverts to a folky ambience even sparser than this album’s average.

Brighton’s Dylan Henner is another who puts non-Western horizons to good effect on new cassette Flues Of Disappearing Sand (Dauw), his second of three tapes released inside a six-month period. (The third is due out just after this is published.) His basic modus operandi involves making field recordings while travelling abroad for work and incorporating these into flights of rhythmic fancy formed of vibraphone and electronics. The two lengthy tracks here started life in southern India, says Henner, when witnessing the power of a regular tide turned into a private lament for manmade ecological catastrophe – so ‘The Sun Made The Sea Look Gold’ sounding like a soundtrack to naive optimism, with its beatific percussive figures and dapples of ambient synth, is oddly inappropriate. Or is it? Side B, ‘We Turned Off The TV So We Could Hear The Birds’, taps out a more measured rhythm over the sort of keyboard melody that gets called “crystalline” by people like me, who also add “Dolphins Into The Future if he’d been on Rising High Records in the early 90s” or words to that effect.

Lucy Johnson is someone who connects to many of this column’s nodes, an often busy experimental artist from the often busy Newcastle scene. Her discography includes short-run/shortlived gambits with Alex Macarte of Gnod (Aufklärung) and Mike Vest of, most recently, Ozo (Space Victim), but she’s slowed her roll somewhat in the last few years. However, Opal Tapes’ release of Soundtracks 2013-2019 Vol.1 comprises nearly an hour of music created for art exhibitions or installations, so effectively new work if you’re not a denizen of northern English gallery spaces.

While Johnson, under pseudonyms, has often leaned into primitive black metal or grotty noise, these compositions appear set on tilting out the listener in slightly more subtle fashion. ‘Stage’, the earliest of the five Soundtracks here and my favourite, is a solo violin drone in the Tony Conrad mould; ‘Piano’, a rippling contemporary classical piece on one of Johnson’s more favoured instruments, follows it, while the remaining three tracks are more plural in their component parts. ‘Argos’ (recorded for a mixed media show of that name by Ellen Burroughs, whose doubly referential title is my kinda jam) is again piano-based, but with the animal sounds of an extremely depressed forest overlaid, and ‘Mirror’ returns to planet drone with both spacey soothe and vexing high pitch apparent. ‘Vehicle’, which fulfils the 2019 part of the title, is 14 minutes of murky industrial synth and murkier voice recordings, and feels most like something which might have appeared on one of Johnson’s earlier solo releases.

Discogs also lists Lucy Johnson as having done two bands with Lee Stokoe before, and I’ve put the onus of knowledge on them because Stokoe has amassed what is surely an unmanageably huge body of work over a quarter century. It’s perfectly possible a grisly sound was captured but not yet catalogued. Another Tyne & Wear citizen, he records most often – and often! – as Culver, and the latest release to bear that name is a split tape with Schalken on At War With False Noise. Schalken is Matt Cooper, also of noise rockin’ goth Scots Vom, and unlike Culver (who wants you to buy his music instead of just streaming it) you can listen to it via the embed above, so let’s do him first.

Six untitled tracks of extremely gloomy solo guitar peppered with delay and decay, chords hang and trudge, the ghastly minimalism of Jandek or Loren Connors further reduced by Cooper to a sound that’s less death blues than a soundtrack to your corpse attaining official skeleton status. On the flip, Culver’s three contributions start as utterly abyssic early-industrial fuzz before the 20-minute ‘No Way In’ pivots, quite unexpectedly for Stokoe, to electric loner folk. When it dons a coat of space shimmer, it feels to me like a band who would have done a split 7-inch with Windy & Carl in the late 90s. Which would be a laughably marginal reference, except we’re dealing with Culver, and a tape limited to 30 units.

Stokoe also spent six years playing bass for Marzuraan, a band who trod boards (or pub carpets) around the time the likes of Isis, Boris and Sunn O))) started to realign sludge metal’s demographic/pay eBay flippers’ household bills. The four-piece were too bloodyminded for a shot at that kind of popularity, but Marzuraan’s wretched drag had its contemporary admirers. Ten Years Too Late, a cassette on Cruel Nature, features their last six songs recorded before dissolving in 2008, and offers no evidence that Marzuraan were edging towards finesse. Holding up metal values with a hairy, bubo’ed and slow-moving hand, ‘Morphine Waterfall’ and the immense ‘Moneybox’ tout riff-based wrongness akin to 90s-era Harvey Milk. Members, who also included Rob Woodcock later of Marzuraan spiritual heirs Lovely Wife, clearly knew their gas station shirt-wearing noise rock too, ‘Blowin’ Cool Breeze’ comin’ on like a lower-fi Cherubs. Couldn’t promise myself that all the evolution-paced crypto-doom bands of Marzuraan’s era would still hold up now, but this is a crucial vault raid.

Just when you thought I’d done a whole column without something from Bristol… nuh uh! Here’s a compilation from Noods, a smashing digital radio station which since 2015 has expanded in tandem with the city’s subterranean club-and-beyond scene. All eleven acts on the Hypha cassette are either Noods residents or maintain an active association with it, none more prominently than Sunun who opens the comp with a typically rad assemblage of dulcimer, backwards kicks and the voice of Siri (or Rob Halford with a cold) insisting, “You don’t know what it’s like.”

Her overriding dub sensibility holds for much of Hypha, in fact, whether located in acid-spitting industrial rap (Kinlaw & Franco Franco, whose ‘Militante Del Niente’ is as good as anything on their 2019 LP), swish Arkestral jazz (Tara Clerkin Trio), sludged-out instrumental grime (Mars89) – heck, even the almost comically morose minimal synth of the hitherto unknown Glas Gesture. Like that last Avon Terror Corps sampler reviewed a few columns back, an intriguing muddle of faces with an active rep and randos who might not be randos in two months’ time.

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