New Weird Britain In Review For April By Noel Gardner

Disassembled slowcore! Spandex-stretchy heroic jamming! Grubbily shimmering disco-techno! Your guide to the best of New Weird Britain returns, courtesy of Noel Gardner

Ruth Goller, photo by Zak Watson

DIY music and its interactions with the cultural establishment through choice, accident or necessity… something that could spark discussion, isn’t it? Subject to the moment being right, that is, and the setting. Rest assured you’ve come to the right place to self-centredly mull ethics in art, but while it’s a topic that could generate another 2,000 words without much strain, I’m sure, then there’d be no room left to review records.

I cued up the Penumbra album by Dali de St Paul and Maxwell Sterling first, though, on account of it being an hour and change of improvisations laid down in Broadcasting House for BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction show. The two musicians, who live in Bristol and London respectively, got paired up by a LJ producer and – without any prior knowledge of one another – recorded 28 minutes of music which got aired and plenty more deemed hot enough for release by Dali, Maxwell and label Accidental Meetings.

This was/is a scorching session too, immersive and multi-directional tradeoffs of practice for voice and double bass. In terms of how she uses said voice here, it feels crudely inadequate to describe de St Paul as ‘a vocalist’. She’ll sample herself on the fly, run a couple of pitch/tempo-adjusted loops over each other and render all this into the soundbed. Are her inflections, glottal stops etc de facto rhythms? Or melodies (for example the blithe whistling that features in the fifth of Penumbra’s six untitled sections)? Could not the same be said for the string work of Sterling, whose bass style is by no means anti-melody but often heavily textural, and perhaps echoing the free improv continuum? Certainly, this cleaves closer to an avant-chamber style than Sterling’s last collaborative release, with conceptual artist Tai Shani, and another project of de St Paul’s, Viridian Ensemble, shares some aesthetic ground with this album.

Ruth Goller is a jazz bassist, most notably in Melt Yourself Down since their inception. Whichever multinational now owns Decca, their label, I think it places them beyond this column, but then you’ve got all the neo-spiritual jazz/Total Refreshment Centre stuff just to the side of MYD, and suddenly we’re talking again. Skyllumina, Goller’s second album, arrives via Chicago’s International Anthem label, and the disassembled slowcore proffered is far from either party’s expected output.

Compositionally speaking a solo album, Goller enlists a revolving cast of percussionists to spar with her bass and voice: two Skyllumina numbers feature two extra players, the rest only one. These include Seb Rochford (whose featherweight cymbals on ‘From Breaks To Shreds, It’s A Short Path’ make gawky interjections between the vocal interplay of Goller and Lauren Kinsella), Sons Of Kemet’s Tom Skinner (‘Below My Skin’: flurrying drum rolls, like the lion-tamers being introduced at the free jazz circus, followed by concentrated bouts of nothing) and Bex Burch, Goller’s bandmate in Vula Viel (‘She Was My Own She Was Myself’, positively two-toned as Burch’s fluid, florid sanza and llimba reckons with lowing double bass and what seems like lyrical heartache).

Goller’s playing, though evidently jazz-informed, often has an agreeably unvarnished electric tone on speaking terms with fringe bands of early mathrock – Gastr Del Sol, say – and her vocals can move from soprano-high to ethereally quavery, with clever use of layering to boot. Like the new Still House Plants album, and indeed the old ones, Skyllumina is a triumph of anti-technique technique with a very singular vision.

Laurie Tompkins and Otto Willberg, busy Lizzies both, have been featured in NWB once before in each other’s company: Fatty, Tompkins’ duets set from 2022. Yes Indeed is their own duo, King Of Blue, a six-song 7-inch on Belgian label Meakusma, their second release. Some abstract funk theorising thus takes place in a compact space, sketch-like at times but never stuffy or hifalutin.

Willberg is a double bassist – our third in as many reviews – and Tompkins a man for the electronics by reputation, though there certainly seems to be some frazzly guitar clamouring for position here on ‘Double Doors’ (Brian May goes funk, alarmingly) and the title track, whose four minutes is also marked by gaseous spaceshimmer and keyboard chords which are possibly being played by nature, like windchimes. Great release all round for fans of synths getting put through the wrongness mangle, what with the haunted-house vaporwave stylings of ‘Dream Spot’ and the spandex-stretchy heroic jamming of EP closer ‘Fudge Sun’.

Accidental Meetings’ second appearance this month is with 4 A.M., by Bristol’s Yokel and another 7-inch. Yokel – Matt Light – is someone who does a bit of everything: I reviewed the Salac tape his Plaque label put out a few years back, and have probably been in the vicinity of a DJ set of his at some point. Production-wise, this is his fourth EP and it’s got a different feel to the others – comparably lo fi, but less itchy unease and more upfront aggro-fun. Getting stared out in the club, but with the most beaming of smiles.

‘One 4 Zee’ is an industrial hip-hop prototype, smack in that Cabaret Voltaire/Steinski shared locker, and ‘Seitan BBQ Junt’ rides a sub-DAF beat with bedroom-bound derangement, punk crudity (think Factrix or the Screamers) and suggestions of a half-audible conversation in the mix somewhere. ‘M3D’ is an uncaringly doom-paced opener and ‘Pill Creek’ runs on the spot for three minutes 15 seconds of grubbily shimmering disco-techno.

The Aphelion Editions label’s latest, L.A. Crab by Bryn Wyrd, is the first thing of theirs I’ve featured since a wicked (tech)no wave album by Harpoon five years ago. Aron Ward, half of Harpoon, is also half of Bryn Wyrd, who are completed by Anthony Brown, both members also playing in the jazzpunkish Repo Man. If you squint your ears, you can hear how Ward and Brown’s other projects filter into L.A. Crab, but this album (one of several hour-plus beasts for April!) lands somewhere pretty fresh and, by my reckoning, largely unoccupied.

In Brown, we have yet another standup bassist thumbing their nose at learned convention – in this case by throwing sinewy lines at Ward, who spins them into a web where early techno meets early industrial and are eavesdropped on by newer upstarts. When Bryn Wyrd hit a linear groove and maintain the distortion, it’s got the spirit of someone like Container; when it’s at its slurpiest and most leave-this-sound-as-you-find-it, we’re closer to heads like Territorial Gobbing. Track lengths range from 30 seconds to eight minutes, the latter example (‘1978 I Guess’) themed around Phil Collins in some way. Not certain how easy this stuff would be to perform live, but if doable I think there’s a perfect sloshed slot, probably somewhere in Bristol where Brown and Ward live, pencilled in the stars.

Lisa McKendrick has exhibited a varied musical palette, with her first solo alias Listen Lisse bearing country and folk influences, but at some point the noise insect fully deposited its venom; the majority of her output in the last eight years has been as half of Isn’tses, with Tim Drage. Nnja Riot has been running parallel during this period, with mangled field recordings and bizarro readings of dance music often appearing, but on new tape Violet Fields (Cruel Nature) McKendrick circles back to something approaching conventional song structure, its seven pieces of electronic avant-pop equally ethereal and pulsing.

There’s a pop sensibility at the heart of Isn’tses, I’d say, but also effort required should you wish to find it. Violet Fields, on the other hand, feels like a born people-pleaser, even if McKendrick’s vocals can affect a darkwavey glower (‘The Evolve’) and immersion in these songs’ various layers reveals moments of wholly unpop distortion. ‘Dark Assassination’ is as murky as this collection gets, powered by shuddering drums and droning violin, and the 90s trance synths that wax and wane through ‘Shimmer Zero’ perk its clandestine murmur up a treat.

Harry Górski-Brown plays several instruments on his debut tape, Durt Dronemaker After Dreamboats (GLARC), but leaves the songwriting to others: its first seven tracks are from the Scottish Gaelic folksong canon and the eighth and last is a live cover of ‘I Wanna Fight Your Father’ by Irish viral rap duo the Rubberbandits. In this, and by sprinkling moments of text-to-speech voice offering metacommentary on the album as it progresses, the Glasgow-based musician seems intent on having the ancient and the modern confront each other, with buoyant and bibulous results.

A former student of the violin at music school, on Durt Dronemaker… Górski-Brown refers to it as the fiddle, more appropriate for this form of alehouse balladry. Add to this the small pipes, electric organ, unspecified electronic elements and tender vocals and we have an album where drones are indeed made often. The pipes-forward ‘Dhùthaich MhicAoidh’ buzzes like a cloud of midges but is far more pleasant to encounter; ‘Tha Sìor Chòineadh Am Beinn Dobhrain’ is misty, almost bombastic, but in a manner blessedly distinct from your Runrig-type Scotfolk patriots. One of the best things this (fine) label has released, for my money, and a good opportunity to accrue greater knowledge of mother-tongue Scottish trad.

Rurality both reaches a peak and descends into a trough as we encounter Structures (Where It’s At Is Where You Are), Mark Williamson’s latest album as Spaceship. It completes a trilogy of LPs began by Outcrops and Ravines, and whose collective subject is West Yorkshire’s Upper Calder Valley, where Williamson lives. Its four tracks were recorded in old farms, mills and churches, their grid reference codes listed on the rear sleeve should you be swinging that way, and Williamson’s own brand of timelapse ambient is augmented by acoustic contributions by Dan Bridgwood-Hill, Sophie Cooper and Sam Mcloughlin.

Like its two predecessors, Structures offers four tracks each in the ten-to-12-minute zone, and is by no means a jarring departure – wordless, regionally-themed and tonally unobtrusive – but feels fleshier and more developed thanks to its helping hands. Cooper, notably, adds trombone to ‘Staups Mill’ which points us towards the desert minimalism of Labradford, or maybe Arve Henriksen’s frostier offerings; the harmonium Mcloughlin caresses throughout ‘Shore Baptist Church’ seems to inhale and exhale, as if attempting an audio interpretation of the old adage that trees are the lungs of the world. Various physical editions available for this one, though if you just grab the digital files there’s an extra half hour of music tacked on.

I Wish I Was Special (World Of Echo), the debut release by Guests, often sounds insouciant, almost distracted, as if your attention is incidental to their practise. Naturally I admire this sort of attitude, but whether despite or because of it this album has burrowed under my skin in recent weeks. A Glasgow-located duo of Jessica Higgins and Matthew Walkerdine, you may have encountered their previous bands Mordwaffe and Vital Idles, but Guests represents quite a departure from the relative orthodoxy of their postpunk and indiepop jaunt.

Guitars and drums seem to have been jettisoned, with tumbledown analogue synths, watery dub bass and obscurely sourced field recordings ruling the school. ‘(something romantic)’, one of five tracks with parenthetic lower-case titles, is enlivened by what sounds like someone eating a pub lunch as someone plays the accordion nearby. At times, you may conclude that Guests are not only retaining minor flubs and in-studio flotsam for the finished recording, but placing it front and centre: in this, they have strong precedents in the musical canon of knowing outsider surrealists, The Shadow Ring being an obvious name to drop. I Wish… is warmer and more approachable overall, though, Higgins’ singing style sometimes lending a Young Marble Giants air.

A brace of UK rave compilations to see out April, sporting different concepts and mining different eras but pulling at the same primal thread. As Acrelid, John Lee Richardson has been releasing music for a decade, but if the title of Illegal Rave Tapes Selektion – 1999-2012 is to be believed began recording these haphazard concoctions of jungle, hardcore and acid 15 years prior. True mashheads can go for the full 133-track collection, released on Bandcamp in 2019, but the 15 selected by NYC label Dance Data for their double LP might be plenty ‘nuff of a rush. Young Acrelid could programme a tasty snare-crack breakbeat or imbue a wriggling synth line with added sinister atmosphere; in a 2020s context you could view Illegal Rave Tapes as a higher-BPM equivalent of the ‘lo-fi house’ mini-boom of a few years back.

Meanwhile, London label Blank Mind deliver us another double set – this time from the golden era itself, by eight different producers (or teams of them) and titled Lost Paradise: Blissed Out Breakbeat Hardcore 1991-94. Mining loosely similar ground to Richard Sen’s Dream The Dream comp from 2023, though with way more amens, none of Sam Purcell and Tammo Hesselink’s choices are obvious and all of them underline what a frighteningly creative time this was for dance music. DJ Mayhem’s ‘Inesse’, cited as the track that began Lost Paradise’s assembly, is rhythmically haywire for its time or any since, and a self-titled track by Escape splices Juan Atkins depth with junglist programming. Bliss, though obviously a concept in the ear of the beholder, perhaps reaches a zenith in the piano that frames Skanna’s ‘This Way’: my hands are in the air because I’m surrendering to it, duh!

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