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New Weird Britain: 2022 In Review By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , December 12th, 2022 09:52

Noel Gardner reflects on another year of bold and boundary-breaking sound from New Weird Britain, and rounds up his ten favourite releases plus ten great albums that flew under his radar

The Ephemeron Loop

After assembling New Weird Britain columns every other month for the last six years, I’m comfortable in the belief that the culture in question will never die, even if or when everything around it does. This can be partly explained by it really being lots of small cultures rather than a single large one. The music highlighted in this end-of-year summary, for example, encompasses noise, rave, psychedelia, ambient, drone, folk, even a little metal smuggled in. I would not actively expect the people behind the releases placed at number ten and number nine to have heard of each other. Yet they both fulfil each of NWB’s three component parts and stand as an example of independent creativity.

All of this takes place in the shadow of 2022 itself, another dreadful and miserable time to exist in this grubby little failure of a country. It is, for now, true that no definitive public catastrophe relevant to the purview of this column has occurred, but like in most other pockets of British society, there is every reason to fear one in 2023. Everything is either increasingly unaffordable or cheap enough to create economic problems elsewhere in the chain. Art of the non-profitable type, which is to say most of it, is not only less assured of funding or other support than ever, but is liable to be implicit cannon fodder in a culture war propagated by, truly, the worst people in the kingdom.

And yet I still expect the next 12 months to be a year-long cavalcade of great music made by mad fuckers in their mouldy overpriced bedrooms, because you can’t totally kill this sort of spirit. ‘Adversity as breeding ground for artistic triumph’ is a wildly overstated trope which should always be scrutinised if not rejected entirely – also, in most cases I don’t know too much about the daily lives of the musicians I review – but making strange sounds with no commercial agenda can certainly function as respite. With that in mind, here’s a couple of top tens, starting with a guy from Scotland who releases noise tapes in the character of a snail from space.

10. Tombsnail – Cosmic Dreamquest
(Cloaked Order)

A single 37-minute track of excellently relentless blackened drone with no melodies at all, or stylistic progressions, or strong evidence that this might have been composed in the sense one’d normally think of that.

9. Soft Estate – The Painted Ship
(Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox)

A Sarah Records version of French coldwave filtered through Silver Apples probably sounds wankier than this music warrants, but might give you an idea.

8. Degradation – Leadlined
(Brachliegen Tapes)

Dense, livewire machine sludge with dead-eyed spoken word. The cover image of a May-era ‘go home van’ parked on the Dover cliffs gives a fair idea of Degradation’s view of the hostility and cryptofascism of contemporary England.

7. Lady Neptune – Noz
(Night School)

Foam-mouthed foam-party hardcore ragers… hoovers, gabber kicks, early wave jungle breaks, even the odd beatific refrain sung over a dropout before the onset of hyperspeed mayhem.

6. Jake Healy & Alfie Grieve – Eggs In Purgatory
(Liquid Library)

Thirty minutes or so of delicious strung-out plains drifter ambience. The concluding ‘Carpenters’, with its trip-hoppable vocal sample throughout, is probably the most pleasant-sounding thing Liquid Library have ever released.

5. Cromlech – Questionable Strategies
(Deathbed Tapes)

Replete with riffs, rhythms and things generally amounting to structure, the debut release by Cromlech is the sort of heavy-machinery industrial that flourished in the late 1980s, from Swans and Neubauten through to Big Black and Godflesh.

4. Ultimate Thunder – Ultimate Thunder

This eight-headed unit bring a downpour of garage, postpunk, prog, dub, Afropsych and Krautrock that will refresh, leave you laffin’, and ultimately make you change your shirt.

3. Kleistwahr – In The Guts Of A Year
(Fourth Dimension)

Kleistwahr doesn’t exactly ‘rock’, accessibly or otherwise, but there are riffs embedded in ITGOAY’s substrata, occasions of billowing crescendo, gonzo psych churn…

2. Schisms – Break Apart The Idea Of Separation

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 Bridget 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.

1. Robert Stillman – What Does It Mean To Be American?

Stillman lives in Margate, has been settled in England since the early 2010s, and while quietly operating outside commercial constraints creates rather extraordinary things.

Ten That Got Away

The Ephemeron Loop – Psychonautic Escapism
(Heat Crimes)

This one, the work of Leeds-based avant savant Vymethoxy Redspiders, is riding high in the main tQ Albums Of The Year poll, so didn’t get away too disastrously, but I insist on repping it now because it really is one of the best albums of 2022. It’s certainly its finest 97-minute cassette: if I were to home-tape it onto a C90 for a pal I’d have to choose what to leave off. Maybe the mutating machine shoegaze of ‘Acetoxyhexorchid 1 (Cluster Phase)’? The implosion of galloping acid trance, florid spacerock and goth metal, ‘Lattice Dysmorphism Of Lysomythic Oneiroid’? Aqueous dawn-chorus ambi-dub bubbler and album closer ‘Sun Shimmer Repeater’? Just as well I don’t have any blank tapes really.

Psychonautic Escapism is the first full release from The Ephemeron Loop, a project dating back to the 00s, but Vymethoxy kicked on in myriad other forms this year too. When recording as Petronn Sphene, she becomes Xapheena Q.Q. Utslekk; I reviewed Exit The Species here and whooped up its barrage of hard techno and Load Records-style noiserock with a counterintuitive pop kernel. For Tristwch Y Fenywod, Xapheena is Gwretsien Ferch Lisbeth, and is joined by Layla Legard of Hawthonn and Sydney Koke, aka Slaylor Moon. On the project’s sole release to date, a live recording from Leeds venue Wharf Chambers – sings in Welsh over something like industrial free folk, to dazzling effect. And not forgetting duo of distinction Guttersnipe, where Gwretsien becomes Urocerus Gigas: they didn’t release anything this year, but got back in the live saddle after a timeout, and still absolutely tear it up.

Goose Green – Goose Green
(Wrong Speed)

The debut Goose Green tape on the other hand really did get away – not through any fault of the two members, and definitely not because of Joe Thompson from Wrong Speed Records, who delivered it on the email-based equivalent of a silver platter. Nope, just got lost in the inbox while I was probably listening to a load of other shite out of politeness. Time to break that habit in ‘23, folks! Anyway, Goose Green is Jon Richards and Leon Marks, both former members of Joe from Wrong Speed’s band Hey Colossus, with a 40-minute piece of exceedingly calming and beatific ambient/kosmische/new age swell. Richards plays guitar and Marks synths, it says here, and absent these credits I’d have assumed Goose Green is an entirely keyboard-derived sound. Get a decidedly dungeon synth vibe from some of the more foreboding passages, actually, though I’m less sure that’s what Richards or Marks were aiming for.

Jem Finer – Hrdy-Grdy
(Thanet Tape Centre)

The man on the Clapham omnibus most likely knows Jem Finer as a founding member of The Pogues, indeed the one who wrote the rough draft of ‘Fairytale Of New York’, so he probably has his phone turned off all this month in anticipation of tabloid knobheads ringing him up about some confected argument. Away from that, he has a fantastic CV of mad scientist sound art projects and releases solo music now and again, including this cassette of instrumental pieces for hurdy gurdy, with a bit of unspecified electronic tweaking (on ‘Black Hole Blue’, notably, the expected folky tones are replaced by a bowel-troubling growl). It’s a sound to disappear into, its drones unvarnished and bucolic; going on Finer’s credit as writer, I’m assuming there’s little or no improvisation here, but a sense of freedom and spontaneity pervades, as befits the artist’s post-Pogues musical life.

Lambda Sond – Waglands 1921

Released, in point of fact, on New Year’s Eve 2021, so apologies for ignoring the set parameters if you’re some sort of freak who thinks that one day either way for a 100-run tape you can still buy from the label makes any difference. Waglands 1921 was billed as a precursor to a 2022 LP which has not emerged at the time of writing, but it captivates on its own terms – certainly if you like funereal, organ-based, quasi-classical minimalism crafted via electronic means. Describing this album as a midpoint between Ellen Arkbro and Labradford would be a little conveniently simplistic for its own good, but might give you an idea of the heavy, solemn vibes at play. As for Lambda Sond, who take their name from a metal gizmo fitted to old Volvos, they’re an enigma: from Kent, and around since the early 2000s, but it’s far from clear who is actually performing on this release. Which is probably the way they like it, as do I, kinda.

The Lloyd Pack – I Bet You’ve Got Some Good Stories
(Low Company)

The calendar year’s only produce by Russell Walker, celebrated ‘in these parts’ for releases as (part of) The Pheromoans, Bomber Jackets and Charcoal Owls among others, is this inscrutable long player from The Lloyd Pack. A transatlantic collaboration with Dan Melchior, English garage-wonk oddity living in the US, I Bet You’ve Got Some Good Stories is outsider rock to the point of often being comprehensively outside ‘rock’. There are bits you might liken to early 80s UKDIY, minimal synth, postpunk, blues (albeit played in a way indicating suitable disrespect for the basic tenets), self-deconstructing poetry… oh, and it begins with a sample of Sharon from Eastenders berating someone about pepperoni. Walker handles vocal duties and I would be confident in pinning most of the guitars on Melchior, but large parts of the sound design doesn’t have an obvious culprit; certainly, though, I Bet… is the duo’s idiosyncrasies in full effect.

Primitive Knot – Ur Metal
(Phage Tapes/Deathbed Tapes)

Chris Williams, a north Walian living in Manchester, has had a great year of releases. One of them, as Cromlech, is in the preceding chart, and a few months after that release we got a new album by Primitive Knot, Williams’ most established alias. Ur Metal flies out the gate with its four-song side A, comprising monolithic Godflesh/Ministry riffage and man-looking-over-the-edge-of-the-world vocals, but it’s the 21 minute title track that really begs discussion. “What did you do in the metal wars?” a desiccated voice repeatedly asks us, over a ceaseless bass riff and astral-battle guitar pyro. Think Circle and Kawabata Makoto gone stadium dub techno. Go on! Think it!

Skuul, which released an EP and an album this year, is two humans (Williams with Primitive Knot live band member Jack Reid) and a drum machine, making shaggy, quasi-psychedelic rawk. The album, The Status Of Machines (Deathbed Tapes), sounds dug up from the late 80s era (yep, again) of Loop, Head Of David and the Walking Seeds: pallid skin, big amps, bastardised rockabilly and shades worn indoors. Finally, another Williams solo joint as Uxmal, whose debut tape from spring Serpent Wisdom disappeared sharpish but is a snazzy half-hour wormhole of slithery hypno-techno, the sort of thing Opal Tapes released a lot of in its first few years.

Sarahsson – The Horgenaith
(Illegal Data)

As someone who identified as a fan of Sarahsson’s Instagram account (seriously, peep it, it’s like a parallel world) for some time before actually getting round to her music, debut album The Horgenaith bolsters that maximal, eyeball-burning aesthetic and then some. An emotional and stylistic rollercoaster, using the potential of modern digital production to full effect while retaining profound influence from choral music and medieval folk, beats judder and morph in shatteringly crisp post-post-Autechre (or, I suspect more relevantly, post-SOPHIE) fashion. Then, without warning, a self-designed string instrument named a daxophone has its unmistakably real-world plucking added to the fray. Metal bombast is leaned on if not precisely replicated; someone with the pleasing name Buoys Buoys Buoys reads a poem, ‘Swallow’. ‘Cladonia Hymnal’, which closes this album, is ecclesiastical and moving, more so for the blanket of distortion afforded it by Sarahsson – a producer who has peers (not least in the Bristolian queer-rave scene that encompasses label and clubnight Illegal Data) but, to my mind, no parallels.

Shovel Dance Collective – The Water Is The Shovel Of The Shore
(Memorials Of Distinction/Double Dare)

As the essay bundled with this hour-long cassette illuminates, The Water Is The Shovel Of The Shore is a conceptual release – its thematic thread London’s rivers and docks, and the social geography and cultural legacy thereof. (You might not be especially interested in London, but it’s where Shovel Dance Collective live; any British city near the coast will have at least some shared history.) Split into four segments, each consisting of interspersed songs and field recordings (akin to Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s Lift Your Skinny Fists… album), The Water… is in one sense a very modern work, utilising sounds of this nonet’s urban environment as it currently exists; equally, the bulk of its instrumentation and vocals is folk music as Cecil Sharp would recognise it. Moreover, if you’ve seen the collective playing live, a crescent of performers ebbing and flowing, it’s evident they really know and love the foundations of their chosen artform.

Staraya Derevnya – Boulder Blues

More of that ‘bend the rules so I can rabbit about shit I like’ behaviour now, with an album by an Israeli-originated group now split roughly between Tel Aviv and London; Boulder Blues’ component parts were recorded in those two cities, on the Tex-Mex border (guest guitarist Miguel Pérez) and in Germany. Not sure who or what accounts for the latter location, but from LP opener ‘Scythian Nest’ on I catch an essence of Can or Faust at their most unrock, so maybe there’s something there. Canonically a band with jamming at its core (not to be confused with a ‘jam band’), this remotely-constructed tangle of string drone, unorthodox percussion and post-language vocals fully sounds like the Staraya Derevnya personnel were vibing off one another in meatspace: ayo technology, I guess! And, moreso, ayo glorious exploratory free-psych with the sonic courage and peculiar emotional resonance of Vibracathedral Orchestra, Sun City Girls and Jackie-O Motherfucker.

Thugwidow – Seventh Circle Of Litness
(Western Lore)

As Thugwidow, Alex Lowther-Harris makes elastic-rhythmed drum & bass from space and he makes it at a prodigious rate, cranking out albums and EPs with the sort of frequency I associate with noise artists. ‘Conduct Yourself With Some Fucking Dignity’, which appears on the middle disc of summer’s Seventh Circle Of Litness triple LP, would be a good noise-artist title but is actually a wicked concoction of gutpunch bass, layers of sampled patois and snares crackling with tension. More than anything, and sufficiently to elevate Thugwidow above ‘neat homage to golden-age jungle’ territory (even though the album was in part conceived as just that), Lowther-Harris is a blisteringly good drum programmer – certain segments are hard to their core, others blossom with jazzy syncopation, others still receive pensive dub treatment. It’ll make you want to step into a basement with one lightbulb, no fire exit and air like treacle and stick your head in a throbbing speaker stack. Although if you have anywhere suitable nearby, you probably won’t see Thugwidow there because he moved to [Welsh tourist board voice] Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch a while back. Anglesey, twenty-twenty-three, the place to be!