New Weird Britain In Review For April By Noel Gardner

From a read along sci-fi Italo/prog epic to rebooted darkside rave and juke via earthy Cornish analogue electronics, Noel Gardner is back once again with more tantalising sounds from the UK sonic fringes


I should probably draw up some sort of officially worded disclaimer for each intro to these columns, a kind of inverted pledge of allegiance, but to reaffirm: while it is fun and nice to write, every other month, about a pile of music whose ‘Britishness’ is its main common factor, I would erase every word of it from existence if that could somehow be a tradeoff for ‘Britain’ also ceasing to exist, conceptually. Shit, they can take me full stop if necessary.

Until that day, however, why not undermine things from all sides, in the best way, by celebrating the long-awaited full release of ‘The Kingdom Of Scotland’ by Romeo Taylor?

Circulating for close on two years already – the Lost Map label released it digitally in 2019 – ‘The Kingdom Of Scotland’ is now the lead track (of five) on a 12-inch EP thanks to rave specialists Acid Waxa. Romeo, or Taylor Stewart to use his given name, has played in various indie and punk bands in the greater Glasgow region, but a very sharp sense of humour and the acquisition of some form of production software has, in essence, been building to this point, the song he was born to sing. Generations of national identity are hereby condensed into less than four minutes, by putting a sort of Celtic-flavoured patriotic refrain over some wicked bounce/ donk/ happy hardcore. It feels like a janky bootleg of some folk song that only gets sung at 11.30pm on Burns Night, except it’s not, but that feel is maybe its greatest attribute.

The upgrade to vinyl is made more than worthwhile by ‘The Kingdom Of Scotland (English Version)’, which replaces the bosh with the solemnly narrated tale of how England was vanquished in a cross-border battle either fictional or in the future; a remix by Acid Waxa’s own Roy Of The Ravers; and two more Romeo Taylor originals, one of which is Christmas-themed. This guy truly puts the ‘king’ in ‘kingdom’! Maybe the ‘dom’ too, for all I know.

The latest, self-released album by Kemper Norton professes to be inspired by “Cornish dances [and] Scottish children’s songs”; its title, Troillia, references the first of those things, as most of its eleven track titles also seem to. Scots nursery rhyme ‘Three Craws’ is recited with its dialect excised, to what end I’m not fully certain, but in the main this album is more diffuse in its inspirations, and its twig-bundles of analogue electronics, formed as if from incomplete memories, has proved a real charmer. Norton, Cornish himself but settled on England’s south coast, undertook research with the aid of folk archivists for Troillia, but don’t expect to be the toast of the barnyard cutting a rug to much of this. Earthy drones, submerged quasi-percussion and uneasily layered synths are typical motifs, though ‘Lattapuch’, one of two tracks over nine minutes, brings in some crisp hoof-clacking rhythms and ‘Corwedhen’ makes itself known via some trilling wind instrument before descending into the occult ‘tronics. It, like the following ‘Hand In Hand’ and a few others, aren’t a galaxy away from Boards Of Canada, but with way less concession to headnodders. You could reasonably call Troillia post-Coil too, I think, but what I appreciate about Kemper Norton is that he doesn’t bray your noggin about how creepy his music is, and instead just… achieves that.

Betwixt & Between, Jacken Elswyth’s laudable folk-and-folklore tape series, reaches its seventh chapter with a side each for Cambridgeshire guitarist C Joynes, who’s been wildin’ out for a good decade and a half; and the Shovel Dance Collective, who are newer but – with their stated intention to locate experimental, queer and feminist contexts in folk standards – very much up the alley of my wheelhouse. The nine-strong lineup, who include Elswyth, open with sinkhole-deep harmonium and harmonising on ‘My Husband’s Got No Courage In Him’, and in the accompanying notes observe that the song’s “bawdy” reputation can overshadow its function as a bulwark against the patriarchy of centuries past – and now, for that matter. Can one, mindful of this, still enjoy it as a jam about wishing your spouse dead because he can’t get a bonk-on? I hope so! In between ‘Courage’ and a mournful expression of ballad ‘The Foggy Dew’ comes an uptempo medley of two tunes from the morris and Irish trad caches, where the SDC show they can assuredly play this stuff. C Joynes’ side was taped at a gig in mid-Wales about 18 months ago, and while his three pieces don’t spirit me away quite as readily as The Borametz Tree, his most recent LP, I could lose swathes of my days listening to that particular, thickly bucolic guitar tone he gets, and his dextrous dancing from American Primitive tinkling to Middle Eastern-inflected shuffles.

This self-titled album by Mike Schlitz fell in my lap just before I filed this column, and as I was looking to swap out a release whose backstory was really interesting but whose actual music is – I eventually conceded – pretty dull. A set of home-recorded downer country with songs running as long as eight minutes might not be what everyone’s seeking either, but its eccentric charm hooked me sharpish.

Mike Seiltz, to use his actual name, is a London-based American who sings in one of my favourite no-context blues-punk combos, Business Dudes. Their lo-fi ethos is upheld here, opening number ‘Animals’ sounding like a release on Shrimper Records or something in its wincing rawness, but in time Seiltz smooths his roll, dropping in the odd keyboard, harmonica or double-tracked vocal and hitting a sweet spot of wordy post-Dylan folk-rock. Neither Silver Jews (early) or Michael Hurley are perfect analogues, but both tumble through my head at times here. A solitary ambient instrumental, ‘Bad Time’, follows the comparatively more rollicking ‘Good Time’ – talk about your duality of man.

The Naughty Cool LP (Alter) finds London’s Ravioli Me Away rebranding as H.M.S. RMA and creating a sort of disco mix from some choice parts of their 2019 rock opera (!), The View From Behind The Futuristic Rose Trellis. Despite not selecting any of the parts with lyrics written by Ben Wallers, certainly the easiest way to curry my favour, Naughty Cool is RMA’s most replayable release yet for my money. It emphasises the ‘dance element’ in the trio’s mode of operation and turns it into something you could imagine large gatherings earnestly/unselfconsciously throwing shapes to.

The breakbeats added to ‘The Vanilla Alternative’ give it a, hitherto most unlikely, ambient jungle air; ‘Birth Time’ has wriggly synths right out of that post-electro/pre-acid timezone and ‘Chaos In The Pigsty’ busts out some delightfully textured jazz trumpet and feels like some marginal On-U release from the mid-80s. A few of Rose Trellis’ guest musicians have been retained, with Dean Rodney Jnr of Fish Police one crucial presence, notably riding the boogie keys of ‘Chalice Of Sugar’. It’s prompted me to look afresh at his band, likewise Ravioli Me Away in general – leaning into the dance beat suits ‘em peachily.

Another case of weighty concepts and lavish arrangements, while avoiding bloated run times and maintaining a light, synth-powered touch, the Church Of The Second Sun LP (Death Waltz) brings together Anta, a heavy prog quartet from Bristol, and Antoni Maiovvi, who I believe lives in Connecticut at present but whose grounding was in the same post-millennial noisy Avon scene. And that’s just the music, which is complemented by a short (40-page) sci-fi story written by graphic novelist John Reppion with the aim of musical synchronicity: edgy arpeggios when something’s about to happen, big riffs when it actually does, kind of thing. Providing you read at the intended pace, I guess.

Maiovvi’s speciality, although he’s fairly versatile, is dramatic horror-soaked synth bangers gifted dancing shoes – he co-runs a label called Giallo Disco – and, with Anta already expressing a taste for the likes of Goblin through Alex Bertram-Powell’s keyboards, I couldn’t assuredly say who’s contributing what on this album. The likes of ‘March Of The Black Knights’ are slicker than Anta have ever sounded, though, while the rhythm section of Joe Garcia and James King flit between locked-in repetitious grooves and more extravagant outbursts (‘As Above, So Below’ a prime example). Church Of The Second Sun has been several years in the making, apparently, but at just over half an hour still upholds the ‘less is more’ maxim – sure, prog albums can do that, why not – and is fun to listen to, too.

The first collaborative recording between Blackhaine and Richie Culver is available either as a video or a two-track 12-inch, released on Culver’s label Participant and priced at £25. I can’t see any obvious reason for it being that expensive other than Culver being an Artist, which permits you to double the RRP of any merchandise you sell. It also purports to be self-referential, titled ‘DID U CUM YET’ (upper case theirs) after a piece of his – one of those “the real art was people’s reactions to it” kinda deals. All that being said, this is a terrific release, which is where Blackhaine – Tom Heyes, a musician and dancer from Salford – comes in, as all the sound on here is by him and Michael-Jon Mizra, another visual artist. Hyperskeletal juddering electronic tones provide a backdrop for Heyes’ half-shouted-half-rapped lyrics: he has a great voice, with an innate sense of rhythm but rough edges judiciously preserved. ‘I’M NOT GONNA CUM’, the B-side, is even more minimal, long periods essentially just a monologue with distant industrial drones. A release drawing equally on drill and power electronics could be pretty cringe on paper, I’ll admit, but Blackhaine makes it sound legit.

The scourge of the limited release reaches its logical conclusion with Dolmen Dweller’s latest tape, Daily Intoning, which conceptually speaking has to be one of the coolest things I’ve covered in here. James Watts, a Newcastle musician with several projects under his belt – Lovely Wife, Shrimp, Möbius and Forest Dwelling can all be found in past New Weird Britain columns – records himself doing vocal drone exercises, with assistance from a loop pedal, then listens to it while drawing and records that too. Everyone who orders a cassette gets their own bespoke recording, whose sleeve art is the actual, corresponding illustration. Six quid plus postage!

I suppose that, by definition, this gambit can only work if not too many people are interested in it, but fortunately I don’t expect me writing about it to make any difference. The daily intonation Watts sent me, recorded in the afternoons of 11 and 12 March, is actually pretty different to the example on the Bandcamp page – going big on the fathoms-deep Tuvan-style throat singing, which he’s also been known to do in Möbius and which might call to mind ritualistic Russians Phurpa. Then the flipside is a ghostlier take on that, adding up to 70-plus minutes of really immersive listening as well as being a dead neat artefact.

Some people might suggest it’s a nonsense to pick a ‘record of the month’ when the content goes from Dolmen Dweller into the pandemonium of this Yazzus 12-inch. I would urge them to zip it because I’ve got a good thing going here, writing about music I love, and I don’t want its premise to crumble under scrutiny. Anyhoo, Steel City Dance Discs Volume 21 is my record of the month! Coming via the eponymous label from Newcastle – the Australian one this time – it’s Londoner Yasmine Heinel’s debut on vinyl, third EP overall discounting Bandcamp bootleg bits, and pure hardcore continuum thrills with all manner of genre-free retromodern influences suggesting themselves.

The synths in something like ‘Beef Lo Mein’ riff so hard it almost feels more garage punk than speed garage, although the latter is more plausibly in the mixer; her drum programming has the precision whip of Chicago juke, though might even snake back further to someone like DJ Rush. ‘Sleazy’, the EP’s first and best track, is frankly crawling with proto-junglist obscenity: ‘ardkore kicks and distorted bass gunning for the darkside but only intimidating if you’ve never known joy in the rave.

To conclude, a time capsule from the kingdom of Scotland – although Michael Kasparis was, to be technical, living in south London when he recorded these seven slices of sludgy electronics a decade ago, with a view to releasing it as VVV. It’s lain dormant until now, with the Sensory Leakage label knocking up some tapes, but in the interim Kasparis has settled in Glasgow, established Night School Records and made music solo as Apostille and in various ripper punk ensembles.

Zener_30 (like the last reviewed item, everything on this label is titled after its catalogue number) bears little resemblance to anything else he’s done, but if you dig wired-sounding crypto-techno hardware rotters like Container or Prostitutes, this EP has high-tempo manna for you; elsewhere, beats melt slowly into feedback and midrange, Black Dicey in its horrid euphoria perhaps. The first four tracks are titled as if part of a suite, ‘The Loneliest Man In The World’, but don’t appear obviously related to the common listener a decade hence. A worthwhile link to the past of a hi-energy guy.

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