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New Weird Britain In Review For May By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , May 11th, 2020 07:12

Cometh the weird hour, cometh the writer with (relatively) weird tastes. Noel Gardner is back with a clutch of reviews that run from exo-generational metallers Haq 123 to the monster truck psych out of The Domestiques

Haq 123

In the three years this column has been going, its objective has remained unchanged and uncomplicated, albeit with a bit of license to move the goalposts. New music (not necessarily by new artists) that’s a bit weird (by whose standards? Mine… or perhaps an imagined audience) and made in Britain (or outside of it, by Britons). Easy!

Nevertheless, every so often matters unravel in a way that makes it feel necessary (even with the understanding that this is all so much shouting into a void) to reaffirm the ethos behind New Weird Britain. Speaking for myself here, it’s consistently attempted to square a circle: identifying, and promoting, a strain of British culture while simultaneously harbouring a fervent desire to see about 98% of ‘British culture’ ground into dust.

The feeling that the artists written about here are living inside a failed state and moribund union, governed by psychopathic social murderers propped up by a media class of pathetic forelock-tugging stooges, is not at all new, merely intensifying weekly.

Similarly, the rest of the world’s contempt for us (‘us’) is already understood by anyone who isn’t a deluded moron, but when a country’s prime minister makes international news by nearly dying through flouting basic antiviral procedures in the name of laundering his self-image, everyone must do their patriotic duty – by which I mean using their bi-monthly column on a website to point out that we’re not all spoiled, arrogant pricks. Ten wizzo recordings across various formats is my preferred way of evidence.

Haq123, a three-piece from Birmingham, were included in my end-of-2019 roundup, and already have a new album out – their third – so I’m going to write about them at slightly greater length. Formed in 2017 and making their live debut shortly after at the Supersonic festival in their home city, Haq123’s curio factor derives from two members, vocalist Millie and drummer Zac, not yet being in their teens – although by my reckoning Zac can’t be far off that dread milestone now.

Could this account for the, and I don’t use these words idly, compositional maturation in evidence on Evil Spirits Who Prowl About The World Seeking The Ruin Of Souls, a four-song CD self-released by the band? To give this context, previous Haq123 releases combined fantastical metal mythmaking (in Birmingham’s storied tradition) with psychedelic dirge punk anti-finesse anchored by the basslines of third member Dave Kavanagh, also a member of Evil Blizzard and somewhat riper in age. This hasn’t been done away with here by any means: ‘Gravestone Robber’ accommodates Dale Crover-esque riffs, frankly flamboyant percussive extravagance and a sneeze-and-you’ll-miss-it Peter Gabriel reference into less than three minutes. Elsewhere, though, the sci-fi leanings accentuated by Millie’s electronics expand into exemplary DIY space rock, as per ‘Denis And Roger’, which closes the album over 20 remarkable minutes of ominous gong, fizzing gizmos and horror-jazz atmos.

Before listening to this album – or maybe after it too, I don’t know how your mind works – you might suppose that Haq123 is a setup where the token adult and seasoned musician assembles everything before getting the youths to add their… youthfulness. Certainly, this isn’t the case when they play live, and while one can only speculate on the division of labour behind the scenes, Evil Spirits comes off like the product of a fully functioning band with a unique musical and, especially, lyrical outlook. The premise of incredibly titled album opener ‘96% Warrior, 4% Barber’ is truly inspired and/or a direct appeal to my specific sense of humour: wobbly new age soundbaths, like Laraaji or someone, overlaid by encouraging phrases which turn out to be the motivational pablum shouted by (as I imagine to be the case here) parents on the touchlines of junior football matches. Which, on a release which also includes the lines “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips” and “Football, swingball, nerf, all the greats”, is but one of several highlights.

Extra good vibes postscript: a third of this album’s sales proceeds go to a group called Birmingham Community Solidarity, who are also benefitting from sales of Millie’s Masks, a coronavirus-specific project by Haq123’s singer and her mum.

With the eleven-song Hooha Hubbub, Reading’s Revbjelde chalk up their second album proper, but their past lives conceal large seams of work. Most of it is outside my immediate frame of knowledge: the Discogs paper trail of Alan Gubby, who orchestrates the Revbjelde project, reveals a 90s spent making noodly drum & bass and jazz-funk. Later on, his tastes pivoted to library music and proto-electronica, some of which he’s reissued on his label Buried Treasure, and which makes its presence felt on a record whose occasional twee or cornball leanings are outweighed by the rich and rangy.

Flighty flute and building-block bass coalesce on exotic instrumentals ‘Flusterclux’ and ‘The Forks’, respectively a KPM label vision of krautrock and glitchy grooveriding that got me thinking positive Luke Vibert thoughts. Lounge-y jazz is spiked on more than one occasion, ‘Voix De La Plage’ slurping Tim Hill’s oily sax over wave-lapping ambient and ‘Verdant Green’ recalibrating surf music for slow dancing – whose sonic sibling ‘Severance’ decamps to the desert to rub its chin in plausible homage to Bill Frisell. Generally speaking, here, the downer the tempo the winning-er the formula, so contra those cited highlights, there’s makeweight Zappa flub ‘Geistig’ and single ‘Swamp Gas’, which aspires to Beefheart (vocalist Peter Hope, once part of Sheffield’s 80s leftfield alongside Cabaret Voltaire etc, certainly gives that impression) but sounds like Alabama 3. Yet I’m charmed by the thrust of the Revbjelde operation as a whole, and to invite myself along for the ride is to allow for lapses in taste, be they Alan Gubby’s or mine.

London-based composer Emma-Jean Thackray’s jazz bona fides have been established in fairly swift process since her debut, Walrus, in 2016. She’s part of the loose collective located in Hackney studio/venue the Total Refreshment Centre, and hooked up with Chicago label International Anthem last year for a split record with US drummer Makaya McCraven. In that respect, she ticks a couple of the same boxes as Alabaster DePlume, whose To Cy & Lee album I reviewed in March’s column, but Rain Dance, a 12-inch EP that’s the first release on Thackray’s Movementt label, tilts at a markedly different sound.

A live band are assembled for three of the four cuts here, but an impression is consistently given that the multi-instrumentalist, who started out performing in Yorkshire brass bands, is or has been a denizen of the rave. While ‘Rain Dance / Wisdom’, which spans side A, is pushed on by Dougal Taylor’s drums, it ramps up from a simmering showcase for funky Rhodes into a lithe, brassy workout one could envisage in a Theo Parrish set. ‘Open’ is a shorter number with Thackray’s alternately spoken and sang vocals; this one is fashioned from samples of her band, rather than a directly live performance, and is reprised in the form of the sub-two-minute ‘Open (again)’. ‘Movementt’, the track, is Thackray on her tod and delivering gorgeous jazzy house, swinging hi-hats and ecstatic trumpet dropping out at the last for a crisply minimal conclusion.

Also minting a new label, Do You Have Peace?, this self-titled cassette from Bristolians Jabu & Daniela Dyson has entered the world quietly, but beauty lurks in its depths. Two untitled sides weighing in at just over 50 minutes, with distinct sections but no pauses, is this a full artist album, mixtape or something else? Inevitably, I’m deeming it unimportant, although it would be a shame if taxonomy (and/or its low-key release) caused this to go unheralded.

Jabu’s Sleep Heavy album, released about two and a half years ago, was an intentionally soporific crack at tearjerker soul with a blanket of muggy dub static. This time out, they’ve dialled down the mean tempo yet further, the result more in line with the hallmarks of their production/DJ clique Young Echo, and enlisted Dyson to intone English and Spanish poetry intermittently. Jabu vocalist Jasmine Butt is again a crucial component, sigh-singing over smeared-glass synths and broken-clock beats; angelically polished harpsichord and clanking jungle breaks enter and depart. Avon-region peers Vessel and Sunun chip in unspecified production, and if you dig the latter’s dreamy crackle especially, this is strongly recommended.

The productions of Cocktail Party Effect have a decidedly neo-Bristolian whomp to them, rugged junglisms sent tailspinning by claustrophobic noise touches – although the producer, one Eric Baldwin, is actually a Londoner who moved to Berlin, a biographical detail I for one never tire of reading or indeed mentioning. Early musical movements as a drummer for louche comedian Matt Berry’s live band were superseded by a move to airy IDM production as Kasket, then darker excursions under his current pseudonym.

Baldwin’s self-titled debut album on Pinch’s Tectonic label is a triumph of drum programming: obscene thunderclaps like mid-00s grime guzzling creatine (‘Talking To Bricks’ featuring MC Redders, who actually is from Bristol), steely mathematical electro judder that I’d have expected to emanate from PAN Records before Tectonic (‘War On Codex’, ‘Deerhorn’) and a braindancin’ marriage of the mental and the melancholy on a par with Squarepusher’s ‘I Wish You Could Talk’ (‘Cause For Bad Shelving’). The final stretch of the album swings moods like Olympic hammer-throwers, glitchcore bedlam followed by time-stretched punk jungle bass pressure and a salvo of sadface chord-plinking appropriately titled ‘Loner’. An example of deconstr*cted cl*b m*sic which succeeds by showing an understanding and appreciation of the thing it’s attempting to deconstr*ct.

On that note, here’s the first release in a couple of years by Acolytes – Denesh Shan, from and indeed still living in London. Stress II is a cassette EP on Italian label Haunter, and represents Shan’s densest descent yet into 5D rhythmic chess: 2018’s Rupture LP on Alter may prepare you somewhat, more so than the Acolytes releases before that prepared one for Rupture, but this is a headspinner as soon as the introductory handdrums get usurped by vicious cut-up breaks. This is ‘கொந்தளிப்பை’, which the internet’s translation sausage machines tell me is Tamil for ‘turmoil’ or something synonymous and which crams spacious acid techno, vocal samples that sound like someone arguing with themselves, and an icebath of an ambient coda into 12 beguiling minutes. Both other tracks, the title number and ‘Itch Loop’, take Middle Eastern musical samples – or things which sound like that, tonally speaking; there’s no realistic way of knowing the source of any given sound here – as their starting point but fly off in very different directions. An early 80s proto-industrial vibe gets spliced with the late-night sounds of the railway the letting agent forgot to tell you about; a snaky melody gets sliced to smithereens, comparable to RP Boo at his most rhythmically challenging.

The self-issued Ear Of The Heart tape is A’Bear’s debut release, although you might have caught the artist – Janine A’Bear, her government name no less and one I can only imagine is fun to shout in enclosed spaces – performing her cosmically wobbly synth jams in London, where she too lives. She’s also played auxiliary roles in the big-concept live shows of friends Lia Mice and Natalie Sharp, the latter in both her Lone Taxidermist and Body/Vice productions. The songs here feel multi-functional: low-key, in their DIY technospacepop finery, but studded with soaring melodies that could fit a lavish setting and hush a big audience.

Ear Of The Heart begins at its most gentle, perhaps slightly oddly but delivering two of its high points: ‘Very Important Portal’, folkily droning like an electronic hurdy-gurdy, and the shakers and crystal keyboard wash of ‘Light Up My Gloom’. ‘I Used To’ graduates to blank-eyed minimal synth and ‘Tears And Eyes’ peps up a shuffling beat with daydreamy vocals that make the whole sound a bit like Pram. Notwithstanding a bit of digital production jiggery betraying its contemporary gestation, this has much of the spirit and sound of the early 80s UK bedroom-electronica underground, and that’s how (and why) I like it.

Got the wonky waverings of Shit Creek pushed on me last summer, to be precise his collaboration with underground godfather Neil Campbell, but didn’t review it for whatever reason. Since then this multi-instrumentalist Scot, name of Lewis Duffy, has birthed another CDR, Spilt Moon, and there’s been a general election. I mention that because of the blurb accompanying The Land Of The Remember, his latest offering via the Crow Versus Crow label: “an attempt to forge an alternative … free from the restrictions of stifling oppression [and] the dismal sham masquerading as political discourse.” Mr Creek, this is my shit!

Of course, just as it is true to state that experimental music’s history is one of fiercely expressed politics, often the casual listener has required some explanation by the artist(s) to be able to appreciate this. These inscrutable psychedelic throwdowns, would-be soothing ‘scapes long since warped through heat, indicate no obvious ideology in the listening. For practical purposes instrumental – Duffy attributes some sounds here to ‘voice’, but they’re thoroughly folded into the batter – The Land touches on Charalambides-ish freak blues (‘This Is The Trap’), audibly degrading budget keyboard drone (‘Meatspace Infinity’) and the kinda cosmic/kitsch confluence Blues Control specialised in some years back (‘A Raga For Cherie’), as well as shorter, interlude-ier squirts of intent. Feels like something that might have burbled into existence in late 00s/early 10s USA, when labels like Night People were thriving and James Ferraro hadn’t been completely swallowed by his own archness – which is chill with me, although the sort of thing some might consider a retreat from politics-in-music rather than an example of it.

Vol.1 (Glass Modern), the understandably titled debut CDR by The Domestiques from Glasgow, fair bursts from the speakers with ‘Remissa’, an opening wound of Afflicted Man shit-fi blooze guitar peacocking. A whole album just like this might have been a bit much even for those of us who generally believe a good idea can’t be repeated enough, so while the duo scale the riff factor back a hair on the remaining five tracks, this disc is still manna if yer hunting for roomy, shroomy freeform psych.

‘Bare, Marked Bodies’, at 12 minutes the epic here, meanders atop monster truck tyres like prime (90s) Bardo Pond, and a migration into curdled, post punk-dappled electronics comes in two parts: the rockier ‘Mannequin Love’ and ‘According To His Circuits’, which pushes the bloops to the fore. The relatively brief ‘Unto The North’ pits improv-sesh scrawl against plodding doom-rock bass and ‘Winter Divides’ guides us out in even slower and more aurally moribund style. This one cleansed my palate and reset every clock in the house for no extra charge! No great shock given the heads responsible: Andrew Paine, longtime collaborator with Richard Youngs (among many others) and man behind the Sonic Oyster label, with Kevin McCarvel of long gone freerockers Smoke Jaguar.

New Weird Britain’s last pairing of spring comes from Eye Spirit & Matt Finney, whose epic Haunt Me cassette arrives via the Industrial Coast label/distro. The duo have one previous track to their name, ‘Rust’ on Opal Tapes’ Amateur Vampires compilation; both pieces here, ‘Sun’ and ‘Moon’, approach the 50-minute mark and underline both artists’ yen for spiritually intense drone zen. Eye Spirit, also known as Conny Prantera, has orchestrated rad audiovisual eldritch happenings in The Seer and made a glorious album, The White Horse Of The Sun, with Bong’s Dave Terry; Finney is a poet from Alabama who’s lent bleak narration to a couple of releases with Siavash Amini, again through Opal Tapes.

Here, his gravely gravelly intonations arrive, leave and return as Prantera’s bleak, indistinct quavering while electrically charged hums and deathmarch accordion mesh with Ouija-amplified woodwind fragments and radio interference. Things which could be reasonably be termed beats or basslines poke through sporadically, yet they serve only to unsettle further. Discharge once spoke of an “enormous door slamming in the depths of hell”: during the final quarter of ‘Moon’ we get the sound of Satan’s dungeon master trying out all of his keys.

To conclude, another reaffirmation, concerning how music made transatlantically by one Italian émigré and one American can be eligible for this thing. Well firstly, Eye Spirit is an unquestioned New Weird Britain lynchpin, and I suspect has the most to do with how Haunt Me sounds; for another, I’d rather be overly liberal with the parameters than overly insular; for a third, a combination of fibreoptic technology and global travel restrictions mean that for the moment, it’s of negligible practical relevance which bit of rock most musicians find themselves moored on. Safe to assume that’ll still be true in July, when this column’s next due, but by then there might be some fresh muck that’s both noteworthy, and created remotely. Stay tuned!

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