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New Weird Britain

New Weird Britain In Review For July By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , July 12th, 2022 10:59

Noel Gardner travels the highroads and byroads of these fair and foul isles in search of sonic sustenance for summer

Lady Neptune by Marilena Vlachopoulou

This time it starts off on a foul one, carries on in that glowering way, gets perceptibly friendlier, fills itself with beans and by the end simply will not quit the dancefloor. Many will have had days like this! Representing, with that notion in mind, the cruddiest bleakest mouldering windowframe of a zero-hour eat-shit-and-be-thankful morning is Leadlined: the first long-playing record on the usually cassette-centric Brachliegen Tapes, and the first release by George Rayner-Law and D. O’Donoghue as Degradation.

An active concern of those musicians for less than two years, Brachliegen has etched out a broadly left-wing take on noise music; I reviewed the fine Like Weeds EP they released earlier this year, and other names before and since I’d also recommend without pause (Tasos Stamou, Left Hand Cuts Off The Right, Iker Ormazabal Martínez, Knifedoutofexistence). Leadlined consists predominantly of dense, livewire machine sludge, with dead-eyed spoken word on the two longest cuts, ‘Brainworm’ and the closing title track – none of which telegraphs its creators’ politics through sound alone. Many noise acts of a more dubious mindset have made music that sounds somewhat similar to this, and has often required a bit of background rooting to ascertain that mindset. Here, the cover image of a May-era ‘go home van’ parked on the Dover cliffs give a fair idea of (the Kent-based) Degradation’s view of the hostility and cryptofascism of contemporary England.

Rayner-Law and O’Donoghue can do lower-key, longer-form squealing-circuits creeptronics more than ably, but it’s the shorter shockers on this LP that really slosh my blood. ‘Rote Response’ is syrup-gloopy power electronics given psychedelic credentials through injudicious phaser abuse: there are vox in there somewhere, but best to treat ‘em as another layer of rot rather than hunting for hidden messages. On that note, ‘Dog Whistle’ is a superlative synth-speech scream contest underpinned by a chassis of blowout bass that punishes, while remaining kinda dreamy in a feverish way.

Replete with riffs, rhythms and things generally amounting to structure, the debut release by CromlechQuestionable Strategies, an album-length cassette on US noise label Deathbed Tapes – is the sort of heavy-machinery industrial that flourished in the late 1980s, from Swans and Neubauten through to Big Black and Godflesh. It’s an alias of Chris Williams, who also plays in Primitive Knot, a blackened postpunk unit from Manchester: Cromlech could be either/both (or neither in particular) a nod to Darkthrone or his own Welsh roots.

As that list of touchstones might suggest, this is not especially friendly or unassuming music, yet if Questionable Strategies sometimes gazes through its own navel into a buildup of bile, Williams often defaults to simple, undeniable, uptempo pummel-metal excellence. ‘Hammer Into Anvil’, for example, could be a right goth-club floorfiller given a perkier remix (there are two remixes by Salford Electronics at the end of this tape, as it goes, but neither are really on that tip), not least as the drum machines on this really are impeccably tweaked soundwise. One big factor that elevates Cromlech beyond rote industrial glower is Williams’ use of synths, which lend ‘Hateful’ and ‘The West Was Made Flesh’ a cinematic spacerock vibe not light years from the Rigorous Institution album I reviewed in my last punk column, thinking about it. Stoutly recommended any road!

Pound Land – a duo of Adam Stone and Nick Harris – also come from Manchester, offer bleak quasi-industrial dirge, and whack a bunch of remixes at the end of their Pound Land Plus tape (Cruel Nature). Actually they take up as much space as the album itself, are done by Harris under the name Reverends Of Destruction, and you can pretty much take or leave them, but I’m well taken with the first side of this (and late, too – CN are issuing a ‘deluxe’ version of an original release from December 2020).

Much as a surfeit of bass more than compensates for there being no guitar on these lengthy, irate throttles of song, Pound Land’s disinterest in fidelity becomes a virtue in itself. Stone’s voice sometimes echoes the appalled yodel of prime-PiL Lydon, or an anarcho Jason Williamson on ‘Bunker’; the music is heavy yet splendidly and stilted, lumbering awkwardly before putting a crack in the pavement. These songs invariably go on, rarely change up style or much more than a key or two, and may drive even hardy listeners to distraction like The Shadow Ring or Shit & Shine or The Rebel at their rottenest. You know I’m calling that a good thing!

The Institute Of Ecoterrorism, the latest cassette from Glasgow label Greater Lanarkshire Auricular Research Council – known as GLARC on the streets and among people with limited time – is encased in an uneven film of latex, like a particularly large and malevolent spider tried to nab it for supper. Culprit Han Read (recording here as merely Han) certainly displays fringe sensibilities in her electronic pokery, but a pop heart thumps with equal vigour.

If the 22 minutes of music here doesn’t conform to a style one can boil down to any sort of concise phrase, there’s nevertheless a detectable theme running through these blips of crypto-dub, synthesised speech, equally synthesised ambience and unhinged punk electro. I don’t think actual ecoterrorism is a big part of it, even if Read mentions it now and again, but there’s a definite fixation on what people put in their bodies and the cultural implications of that. Thus ‘There’s Always Been Vegans In Ibrox’, the unhinged punk electro one, gives way to ‘Suppressed Huel Obsession’, which lasts 37 seconds and somehow has the cadence of a hardcore punk song despite being spoken by a text programme and featuring no music. ‘Tang Ping’, a fitting closer, is a sombre assembly of digital bells and drones bisecting dark ambient and dungeon synth: the most impressive thing here compositionally, but part of a choice package.

Pat Daintith’s solo electronic incarnation, Harold Turgis, is not a project gunning for high visibility: at the time of writing you won’t find its music anywhere other than the HT Bandcamp page, and on the cassettes sold through said page. His supposed label, Noble Lowndes Annuities, has a Twitter account, although it seems more interested in promoting modernist London architecture than its own releases. All fairly on brand both for the arch, stark punk rattle of Hygiene, the band I otherwise associate with Daintith, and the strung-out DIY synth instrumentals found on The Sentinels, Harold Turgis’ second album.

The five numbers on side one of this item – all segued together, so I’m mostly uncertain which track is which – average pop song-ish length but are austere, minimal things with scattered dub technique and the concrete-clad dread of earlyish Cabaret Voltaire. Daintith can and does arrange a lovely melody or two, lest you think this is entirely unforgiving sequenced gloom. ‘Xeethra’ concludes the tape, 16 minutes of watery ambient drift with a swirling undercurrent; if you were so sense-alteringly medicated you were randomly compelled to attend a church service, the organ might sound like this.

Swedish label Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox are similarly reticent about the cool cats who made this 12-inch EP as Soft Estate, but they’re credited in full on the insert. If you happen to already know lead vocalist Lauren Paige Dowling from Mr Ben & The Bens, or synth player Alan Outram from his mid-00s Woodcraft Folk project, or even auxiliary guitarist Oliver Cherer as alias Dollboy, that’s cool, but far from essential to crush on this quick fix of warped cosmic pop.

Soft Estate’s aura is pitch-perfect cool-but-not-too-cool: dreamy laboratory electronics blessed with Dowling’s romantically distracted croon. A Sarah Records version of French coldwave filtered through Silver Apples probably sounds wankier than this music warrants, but might give you an idea: ‘Cindy’ kicks off with the moodiest electro bass but blossoms into an impeccable twee-synth sigh of a song. The collected spectres of Young Marble Giants, Saint Etienne and Peaking Lights float around this highly recommended quarter-hour tease, too.

Bristol’s Will Yates, by no means averse to the folk tendency in his recent work as Memotone, nevertheless adopts the O.G. Jigg pseudonym for when he really wants to get rustic on yer ass. Dominion Window (Plaque) is the second release of 2022 under this name, and its specific synth textures betray Yates’ background in broadly club-bound sounds: these 12 instrumental oddities display both the lo-fi RPG players’ delight inherent to dungeon synth and the higher-gloss bouncy slurp-funk of, say, Rustie. Check ‘Missing On Return’, somewhere around the middle of this album, for the pleasingly muddleheaded apogee of this equation.

Titling this tape’s opening track ‘Softly Approach The Castle’ suggests that the first part of that equation is being lovingly acknowledged here. A jazzier angle is worked on the snaky exotica of ‘Jesus Is My Jam’ (whose – I think digital – woodwind parts sound decidedly Middle Eastern, which may be the point of its title), and while there aren’t a great many drums on this release, Yates has them going at a fair clip for ‘Floating Market’. The track following it, ‘The Ice House’, does all its portentous bidding on an electric organ, or a computerised simulacrum of one; ‘Pitch The Tents’ seems to be banjo-led, in case you thought O.G. Jigg couldn’t jam this stuff out for real.

Noz, a six-track 12-inch by Moema Meade as Lady Neptune, hit tQ’s half-year chart earlier this month, at number 81 with a bullet. I’d already set my heart on writing about it by then, and will hereby do so, in longer and more pedestrian style than the blurb on that there link.

The Glasgow-located Meade has a band-based background in the mid-00s DIY/queer indie/punk scene, and was live bassist for Michael Kasparis’ techno-pop hoedown Apostille a few years back (Noz is released on Kasparis’ label Night School), but as Lady Neptune is fully committed to foam-mouthed foam-party hardcore ragers. The PC Music-adjacent helium pop tones of her last physical product, 2020’s New Gorbals Gabber, have predominantly been shelved, with a proper rude mid-90s Kniteforce Records whistle-posse vibe prevailing. Hoovers, gabber kicks, early wave jungle breaks (‘Oh’), even the odd beatific refrain sung over a dropout before the onset of hyperspeed mayhem (‘Tell Me’)… if Lady Neptune’s previous output didn’t necessarily give the impression she was BORN to make these kinda tracks, Noz not only knows hardcore’s tropes inside out but manages to twist ‘em up without sacrificing the essence of the form.

Woof, check that centre label art on Space Beams (Sneaker Social Club), the new release by London’s Leo Johnson-Davies as Filter Dread – couldn’t be much more ‘1994 jungle night flyer’ if it tried, could it. The music surrounding it, again six cuts on a 12-inch, isn’t exactly junglist revivalism, although that vibe is certainly in the mix.

Johnson-Davies has been producing under this name for a decade now, with useful UK labels including No Corner and the once-thriving-now-mothballed Ramp getting in on his action over time. Here, he’s in sterling magpie mood, opener ‘Talk All Low’ borrowing bellringer rave riffs from Millsian techno and wobbly basslines from mid-00s dubstep. ‘Underwave’ is iceboxed Yorkshire bleep meets the most sullen early grime instrumental (and are those dogs barking in the background?); the title track brings melody, of the rather sweet music-box type, back and has it tagteaming with darkhearted early 00s breakbeat.

‘Asid 888’ is like when you get paranoid about your heart beating way too fast and your heart rate increases as a result. “Rinsin’ it for REAL,” goes the MC sample on ‘Ghost Square’ over a volley of midrange synth and offtime drums, before ‘Data Temple’ closes out by cycling through all of Space Beams’ previously expressed moods and modes inside five minutes.

Steven ‘Funkineven’ Julien’s label, Apron, has been doing great things for years now at the trippy nexus of house, hip hop and boogie, and I’ve meant to find some hairbrained excuse to get a release of theirs in here. The Algorithm Don’t Like My Freek, the new album by London’s clandestine Quaid (aka, um, J. Quaid – eh, let him have his anonymity, it’s hard out there), provides that opportunity with a sweet suite of oilslicked synth strangeness.

You could reasonably lasso Quaid’s method of computer groovin’ up with Dâm-Funk and similar retromodern producers, but our guy is substantially less lavish – his guest vocalist is someone named Shepherd, equally mysterious to me, as opposed to Snoop Dogg – and gestures towards the blinking lights of Detroit techno. I’d be surprised, based on selections like ‘The Lovers’, ‘HyperReal’ and lissom electro standout ‘irememberufromtomorrow’ if Quaid wasn’t at least a part-time Drexciya acolyte. Conversely, ‘Future Attractions’ and ‘Secret Colors’ are criminally cokey Keytar Hero pigouts for your next one-person disco in the penthouse of your imagination and ‘Untitled Freek’, one of the two Shepherd features, is some top-hole oversexed lo-fi impromptu funk, like Blake Baxter meets bizarro Prince. The Algorithm is pushing all my ‘how mint would this music be in a pokey basement full of perspiration and other people’s infections’ buttons as I type, I can tell you.