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New Weird Britain

New Weird Britain In Review For May By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , May 11th, 2022 09:05

More weird, wonderful and diverse sounds from the UK underground as described by Noel Gardner

Break Apart The Idea Of Separation (Bergpolder) is the first LP by Schisms, following a cassette debut in 2020, and provides New Weird Britain with content necessary and overdue. Its five instrumental trio recordings deliver punishing and dog-sick downer rock riffs otherwise largely absent from my chosen releases for May, and mark the debut appearance of UK underground guitarslinger Bridget Hayden herein.

The Schisms personnel of Hayden, Sam McLoughlin and Richard Chamberlain are not credited more specifically on the record’s insert, although McLoughlin (who you might have encountered as far back as the mid-00s in Samandtheplants, a handle he’s recently revived) is pictured playing drums.

The sound is so sludgy and fucked up it’s tough to proclaim with confidence what else is going on, but it’s certainly got the mark of Hayden, her death-rattle blues clang recontextualised with a particular type of rawk abandon previously found in High Rise, Royal Trux’s Twin Infinitives and The Dead C.

There are intermittent vocals, but ones so comprehensively absorbed into the mix/midden you’d be entitled to consider Break Apart effectively instrumental. ‘Vacuum Hesistancy’ spans a quarter-hour and is unrelenting, driven agony, like watching a double amputee drag their torso towards the last spaceship leaving a doomed Earth. ‘Phantom Travel’, which follows, has some meandering flute (again, no credits, though Hayden and McLoughlin are both known flautists) that feels like light pouring through a window after an especially dark sesh. Hot tip in general, especially if you’re keen to hear Bridget Hayden as part of a band again many years since her tenure in Vibracathedral Orchestra and The Telescopes.

Here’s another new three-piece housing some old favourites: David McLean and Lauren Bolger have recorded dually in various guises before, and as Burn Into Sleep – completed by drummer Johnny Hunter – sound alluringly in their element. Recorded in 2019, we find Bolger singing her poetry in a manner that’s simultaneously impassioned and listless, and consistently fascinating for that; McLean and Hunter zigzag-wander with jazzers’ angularity on guitar and drums, before McLean went on to add various in-studio parts he didn’t have enough limbs to play live.

The resulting album, Like A Strange Matador (Tombed Visions), touches territory of members’ other projects but stands out as its own animal. The inert torch-jazz minimalism of McLean’s Aging is echoed in the exacting shuffle of Hunter’s percussion style; at times, you might hear traces of Sonic Youth’s A Thousand Leaves/ NYC Ghosts & Flowers era, also audible (to these ears at least) in the avant-rock of another Bolger vocal vehicle, Locean. ‘Diseased Mind II’ combines Arabic-sounding tunings and a slowcore tempo, one of a few Burn Into Sleep numbers that cop that Low/ Codeine trick of deeply sparse arrangements gradually drowned in bleak amp fuzz.

Here’s 84 minutes and two LPs’ worth of lush, solemn ambience that actually came out almost a year ago, but as the tape in question escaped my attention until this new vinyl reissue by record shop/occasional label World Of Echo, let’s pick things up here. A Tension Of Opposites: Vol. 1 & 2 is by O Yuki Conjugate, a duo who formed amidst the UK industrial blossoming of the early 1980s while taking a less abrasive tack than many fellow travellers. Forty years and myriad incarnations/ side-projects later, they’re still single-minded in their sound and sometimes stark as bones in a desert, but with a cinematic sense of tension and drift.

As it happens, ‘duo’ is arguably a misnomer for this particular release: OYC’s Roger Horberry and Andrew Hulme recorded solo while locked down in 2020 and each get a disc to themselves. There are divergences in their craft, but not so much that you foresee a more definitive split in the ranks (although it says here they’re planning to continue with this format). Horberry’s contributions are roughly what you might call pop song length, veering from churchy swellers such as ‘Contra’ and ‘Inimical’ to ‘Antipode’ and ‘Anomic’, sprightlier, keyboard-led pieces not unlike Cluster. Hulme’s longer contributions, meanwhile, border on dark ambient, all approaching stormclouds and outbreaks of pseudo-ethno percussion.

Laurie Tompkins makes sterling contributions to NWB as the founder of the Slip label among other things, but April and May has seen him release two collaborative albums on different, if likeminded, imprints. (A third, Sharp Love Slow Faint, is also scheduled for June.) Fatty, a CD on 33-33, contains seven fizzy pieces made with six cohorts – Gwilly Edmondez of Slip stalwarts Yeah You is the only one to appear twice – and, in feeding presumably-once-refined stringed instrumentation and piano parts through a digital mincer, exists in the orbit of plunderphonics and post-Cage avant-classical as well as the sort of deconstructivist detritus you might find on labels like Fractal Meat Cuts. Jess Hickie-Kallenbach, of Glasgow’s Still House Plants, is a formidable vocal addition to ‘Gaz’, Manc jazzer Otto Willberg thrusts grotty double bass into the torso of ‘Kelly’, and the slurring barroom stumbler ‘Dreams’, abetted by pianist Eliza McCarthy, is compositionally linked to Tompkins’ other new release.

That last-mentioned piece is presented in different form as ‘These Dreams Make My Heart Hurt’, on Tompkins and McCarthy's duet album Years Went By (Entr’acte): more demonstrative of the pianist’s chops, such as on ‘Blind Man Dead Plants’, though Tompkins wrote the music she’s playing and at every turn sabotages any lingering prettiness with a prankish production aesthetic. (The jump-scare heel turn of ‘This Is What I Thought Yesterday’ is perhaps the most extreme iteration of this.) Both performers contribute vocals, which again many would hesitate to term ‘singing’, and if the spectre of serious-minded musicians going about their business with beaming frivolity is a vote-winner for you, then this CD might sit in a sweet spot.

Further descents into the abyss of sound art now with (II)nTolerance (Kohlhaas) – the latest album by Simon Whetham, a field recording specialist currently based near Edinburgh. His beat, as it were, is the minute details concealed in sounds of the everyday environment, that which might otherwise pass us by: the term for zooming in on such content is ‘active listening’, and in the last decade-and-change Whetham has hosted active listening workshops on five continents.

Brexit, it seems, made his globetrotting slightly harder before COVID made it temporarily impossible, and (II)nTolerance is a reaction to that (as well as a previous album of Whetham’s, InTolerance, recorded while travelling and released in 2017). Its 14 tracks, most of which have multiple titles of varying literalness (e.g. ‘Other Portals / Angry Earth Seething 5 / Potted Plants / Kinetic Readymade (Tyre)’), harbour passages of bucolic calm, but many more flareups and moments of discord. Metal vessels are rendered eerily resonant by, presumably, the weather; Whetham’s edits bounce from glitching static to stark industrial scraping, betraying the rhythms and melodies generated perpetually by non-musical sources. Not a soothing release, exactly, but you might take away a certain comforting familiarity.

Somerset trio R.E.E.L., or Rapid Eye Electronics Ltd., formed specifically for a set at 2017’s Supernormal festival – so, in terms of gestation and location, have a bit in common with this column. Unlike me, they also have a respectable past, following on from infamous Yeovil circuit benders Hacker Farm; Stephen Ives of that collective is joined here by Saxon Roach, who’s also recorded as IX Tab, and Matt Saunders, whose adventures in DIY dreamery date back to the 90s and Birmingham’s Magnétophone.

Musick For Psychedelic Duelling Volume 2, a cassette on Catalan label Zona Watusa, bounces hazily from Coldcut collage to Terry Riley-adjacent trance keys to rural acid house to the sort of austere minimal synth you find reissued on Vinyl-On-Demand. Each side can be thought of as one 20-plus-minute track or four to five shorter ones ran together, and from moments of wilfully twiggy wonk comes ‘The Man Eats More Men’, a most high grade slo-mo 9am beach party chugger. “Music for anyone who’s ever waded through the mud and drugs at Treworgey Tree Festival,” is how R.E.E.L. have described themselves: a very specific Westcountry munters’ reference point, that. “The Orb if they’d been obliged to stick to an Enterprise Allowance Scheme budget” is my comparably dated, also complimentary one.

Neato slice of death-stare electronic bodypop music from Kevin Hendrick, a fellow from Middlesex who lives in London but goes by Middex for his solo recordings. He, too, has a pre-millennial past and I bet some of you were there for it, playing in Seafood (one of those loosely Pixies-like bands who filled the schedules at the various regional Barfly venues) for most of their career before doing time in Pre and Male Bonding. An old bandmate, Akiko from Pre and Comanechi, makes a brief vocal appearance on Middex’s Perpetual Skip (Outer Reaches): specifically ‘Sent To Work’, their spoken word parts meshed with bird calls, aquatic synth gloop and what might be an argument on a building site.

Otherwise, this LP is all Kev as far as I can tell, and he has a heckuva way with 80s tape-culture industrial. ‘Palm Is Alive In A Hand That Can Crush’ has a wobbly sci-fi vibe, a bit like Solid Space maybe; the razorwire sequencers and distorted underbelly of ‘Genuflection’ harks back further, to Suicide, and in a few other places the primitive danceability lands somewhere around Spanish noise icons Esplendor Geometrico. Combined, on ‘Esper Knell: Pain Of Being Right’ with a wee-small-hours Estuary English vocal croon, the results are alluring.

Christelle Atenstaedt’s own grunge roots, in Bristolian band Vena Cava, are now a fair while in the past – although until her new solo tape as Orryx showed up, I figured she’d knocked that venture on the head too. Her last release, Hverir, was delectably droning goth pop, but it was also six years ago under a different name, Twin.

Ifera’s four songs, plus a remix of the title track by Avon Terror Corps affiliates Fever 103°, are released through Zamzam as Hverir was, and don’t offer a total musical reinvention to go with the new alias, but find Atenstaedt venturing into more cosmic, less obviously rock-rooted instrumental space. ‘Eldritch’, one of those no-mucking-about songtitles, has slashing horrorwave synths, dubsteppy bass parts and a vocal style you’d be kidding yourself if you avoided using the word ‘ethereal’ to describe. Glitches are run backwards and rendered as rhythms on ‘Au’ before the EP’s title track comes on like trance for smokers: keyboards saw and soar alike, Atenstaedt’s wail hinting at Beth Gibbons but plausibly suited to one of those modern-day doomgaze bands (King Woman, maybe). ‘Gliese 581’ goes biggest on the drones, its ominous low end countered by watery ambience and digitally plucked strings midway between grime and new age.

Much as these columns are lacking something if there are no grotesquely distorted guitars at any point, a dose of rumbustious hardcore/ jungle breakbeats also makes everything better. That’s where Re4mat (Ritual Poison), the second 12-inch by London rave maven Sadie Haque aka Angel D’lite, comes in. Three originals plus a remix of ‘Werk My Body’ by Local Group, one of whom is behind Ritual Poison, and no duff stuff anywhere near, assuming you rock to early 90s-styled laser-reaching euphoric clatter.

Haque’s original mix of ‘Werk’ captures that sweet uncodified moment where acid, Detroit techno, early trance and piano house were all up for being appropriated (and sped up) by singular, magpie-like producers. Local Group rearrange it pretty comprehensively, marking their territory with ragga loops and the sort of basslines you can hear on pretty much every 1991-era Top Of The Pops repeat. ‘R U Ready?’ is a right beast on the snares though throws plenty more in the mix – darkside warehouse techno, more sampled ragga and a brief synth line that sounds as much like electropop as anything – and we finish with a terrifically energetic title track that sits in that rave/ trance nexus but which I fancy you could square-dance to if so minded (apart from when the Angela Davis sample drops).

The overdue return to NWB of Crow Versus Crow – northern England tape label and no-audience underground ambassador – brings a solo debutante in Sophie Sleigh-Johnson. Another onetime mover in borderline-overground indienormative circles who weirdened with age, Sleigh-Johnson was a member of These New Puritans up to and including their first album before getting ahead as a multimedia artist. One way or other, this has resulted in Nuncio Ref!, 25 minutes of drily hootworthy collaged bombardment which Crow Versus Crow main brain Andy describes as a radio play.

Thinking back to other, previously featured releases that could be described thusly, such as Russell Walker’s last Charcoal Owls cassette and that one Luke Haines and Jim Fry did for Industrial Coast, it seems this sort of goofin’ is my bag! And so it is with Nuncio Ref!, which encompasses Dictaphonic rumbling, more tangible found sound, found (sounding) poetry where Sleigh-Johnson’s reading is infrequently spiked by echo and other FX, sub-dungeon synth MIDI flute enlivened by someone justifiably muttering “fuck off”, and more references to Holsten Pils and Leonard Rossiter than you will have pre-emptively prepared for, because why would you have prepared for any.