New Weird Britain In Review For September By Noel Gardner

Partially severe synth pop! Monster truck basslines! A chatbot tribute to John Coltrane! Your guide to the best of New Weird Britain returns, courtesy of Noel Gardner

Lou Venturini

They told us you guys liked to rock! But hopefully they were wrong, because this autumnal edition of New Weird Britain has very few instances of rocking. Not much in the way of guitars, even, and those which do appear serve to calm, rather than rouse – with Outside In, Jon Richards’ debut solo release under his own name under his own name, being a case in point.

Richards released a cassette (on the Wrong Speed label, as is this) last year as part of Goose Green, a duo, its vibe not unlike Outside In though perhaps gloomier. Before that, he played in Hey Colossus for some years, then made a solo album as Kreol Lovecall; if that was an outlet to express his soul leanings in his own rock guitar-grounded image, Outside In is introducing that sonic palette to ambient music. A case, it’s said, of Richards being unable to find examples of a sound he’d envisaged and so making it himself.

His playing style over these 40 instrumental minutes, then, is measured, almost drowsy and generally unencumbered by distortion. It hints at 80s new age and later underground rock corruptions of that aesthetic like Labradford – ‘Flat Banks’ and ‘Cave Within’ both have that group’s aura – but tonally, the callback to soul at its most elegant and fusion-y is audible.

Outside In is given further dimension, and intrigue, by the addition of field recordings on several tracks: globally sourced, yet playful in spiking inbuilt expectations. On ‘NXG’, bird calls meet police sirens in the distance of the mix, the expected sense of unease subverted as they function as a droning bed for Richards’ melodic clarity.

I’m mildly surprised I’ve not previously reviewed anything John Powell-Jones has played on, with his music and visual art practise both stemming from the ecosystem within Salford’s Islington Mill space. He now lives in Todmorden, as does Aliyah Hussain – a ceramicist most prominently, and another Mill resident of yore – and Web Wide World Game OST features each artist’s soundtrack to a computer game of that title, devised by Powell-Jones and downloadable from his website.

The cassette version also comes with a “playable campaign set” relating to the game, which made me think of the adventure module packaged with the most recent Powerplant album. I’m not any kind of RPG guy, but I appreciate the attention to detail. Musically, Hussain’s slow, undulating take on MIDI-fied melody is furthest up my alley. ‘East’, one of her six pieces, layers pulsing keyboard trill over babbling brooks and other such rural sonics to fine effect. Powell-Jones soundtracks the ‘beta version’ of Web Wide World, apparently, and his single half-hour composition is a more abstracted experience, with the rustling foliage and talkative beasts of some fictive animal kingdom more apparent than quote-unquote musicianship – with the caveat that a world of spontaneous music emerges over the duration.

Though a recognised recording artist for 25 years as of 2023, Matt Saunders’ name has more often featured in the small print rather than on the front cover, thanks to the mastering studio he set up in Yeovil after his Birmingham band Magnétophone finished. I did however enjoy (and review) a tape he made last year, as one third of R.E.E.L, and now he’s back with Outline Of Nature (Castles In Space), his first full album as Twilight Sequence.

There are two main things Saunders claims as inspirational to this seven-track LP, and sketches out parallels between them. Its titles are adapted from an old encyclopaedia on British flora and fauna, and serve as a love letter to its depthless beauty; the music is the result of his venture into building modular synths, whose systemic imprecision struck the musician as befitting an album about the natural world. These sorts of associations tend to be vibes-based and require good faith, but if Saunders told us this was an album about 1960s brutalist architecture I’d go with it, because I dig the groovy noises, man.

Splashing a running-in-place arpeggiated figure with Radiophonic glaze by way of introduction (‘In The Rural Pattern’), Twilight Sequence intensifies with wavey staccato proto-trancer ‘Birds In General: And The Rook’, descends into a cave network with the glass-blown melodies and heavy bottom end of ‘Moths That Rally To A Soundless Call’ – the best title among a strong suite – and re-peaks with the eight climactic minutes of ‘Rotating Seasons’, which goes furthest in emphasising its beats while exhibiting an acid techno harshness in its modulations.

A three-piece on this latest recording, Slow Knife first converged in Manchester and now live in, whaddayaknow, Todmorden. They released their debut album proper last year, are soon to release its followup and have bisected those with A Hymn Supreme (Fr33zehead), a cassette prompting us to mull techno-philosophy.

So the title’s a John Coltrane nod, as is the approach to the saxophone Alex Cook takes on the first of these two side-long pieces… and there’s more. Cook reads a poem which speaks of Coltrane’s work with a near-religious reverence – written, say Slow Knife, through a series of conversations with ChatGPT. If for you this reveal pours cold water on the exercise as an expression of feeling, then that’s the point, at least in part. I’ll also note that the tendency towards forced rhymes, and a slight inability to use terminology in its proper context, is a common factor of nearly all the AI-penned poetry I’ve yet seen.

A Hymn Supreme’s second part passes the mic to Eleanor Battle, dials down the sax’s prominence and allows large segments to be defined by Eddie Griffiths’ rumbling drums and his two bandmates’ aleatory synth work. Its soundworld is as close to psychedelia as jazz, but the reliance on improvisation evidently draws on the latter, and Slow Knife hold interest over lengthy stretches on this compelling release.

Until recently London-based and now down in Marseille by the looks of things, Lou Venturini is the second artist reviewed in New Weird Britain to teach yoga as a day job (that I know of). Enter Love (Accidental Meetings), his debut solo EP after two collaborative ones with Angel Hunt, feels highly unsuited to the yogic discipline – irregular and fidgety, three songs that give the impression their creator didn’t really know what style/s of music he was making as went. All of which are virtues, certainly in this case.

With loops and digital glitches apparent, you can suppose Enter Love was assembled on a computer: there are guitars in here too, albeit processed. Once its initial Rian Treanor-type rhythms have been dispatched, the title track works with a dragged-backwards funk that reminds me a bit of early-millennium UK dance oddities like Jamie Lidell and Si Begg, or even the proto-hyperpop of early Max Tundra. ‘Contradictions’ is a rhythmic tapestry with a complex weave, Venturini’s vocals singsongy and muttered in equal measure, something ‘Fruit Falls Naturally’ maintains.

If I’d reviewed any of Minor Science’s previous releases, rather than his latest – Absent Friends Vol. III, an LP on Balmat – I’d be talking a pretty different game, one involving wonky club hypertension and post-techno wormholes. As recently as May, he had a 12” out whose helium vox and titanium kicks made for a pretty clear nod to early 90s ‘ardkore: not so here. In fact, Minor Science – aka Angus Finlayson – views Absent Friends… as a sort of inversion of that 12-inch, and if you tune your ears to the voices in ‘Dread The Evening’, slowed down well past intelligibility and mulched into glimmering synth chords and digital detritus, you can get on his level.

As ambient releases go, this album is unsettling in its sound design, but maintains a strong affinity with melody. ‘Life Texture’ opens with a folky drone before building elements on it, subtly and profoundly, including organ keys which sustain and flower. ‘Contingency’, which follows, is a swerve, and more techno-adjacent, though its zippy, trance-curious climbing riff would need some drums added before being dancefloor-ready. And on ‘Gather Your Party (Dispersed Mix)’ – not at all dancey, should the parentheses have given that impression – the drones are, ultimately, turbid and doomladen; the melodies zither-like and impossibly bright.

Marina Zispin is not a person but a duo, neither member known for making music that lands on this side of the pop tracks – until Life & Death (The Five Chandeliers Of The Funereal Exorcisms), their debut 12” on Night School. If Marina exists conceptually as a person, she seems to be transmitted through the vocals of Bianca Scout, who lives in London and has released a few solo albums already; I think the programming is mostly handled by Martyn Reid, a Newcastle local whose various noise/dark ambient ventures include several cassettes with Lee Stokoe as Vampyres. A partially severe strain of synthpop results, over a quarter-hour or so, but fun is more than possible.

The duo’s arrangements are generally minimal, the better for a few hauntingly good melody lines to stand out, like the wobbly nocturnal one that leads in ‘Ski Resort’ (early Madonna via coldwave). Scout douses her voice in effects, which lend a shoegazey fug, though the vocoder on ‘Backworth Golf Club’ relocates it elsewhere again and its brasher progeny, autotune, catapults ‘Hymn’ into the realm of present-day experimental pop.

Professing to make your area of coverage ‘the underground’, as I have unwisely done, is to make a rod for your back, and rarely is that more apparent than when pondering the British techno scene and its slippery class mobility. A lot of people whose operations strike me as basically DIY in more ways than not play to four-figure crowds on the reg. Then there are those producers who keep one foot in a portal to the sub-basement, so they can say with conviction they never lost their hardcore, and all. Alan Fitzpatrick, a big room functional thumper from the Drumcode Records stable, is one of those, thanks in large part to Ravetrx, an alias he uses to make early-90s style junglist hardcore.

There’ve been two Ravetrx releases in the last two months or so. Final Fantasy (E-Beamz) is a four-strong 12-inch with a crisp, dust-free feel to its stacked breakbeats and spacey, Source Direct-y synth atmosphere – there’s no real attempt at pretending this is being banged out on an Amiga or something, and the extent to which these productions actually feel like Fitzpatrick’s is no bad thing. Ravetrk has also started a label, UT0P!A, with fellow raveivalist Minder – Alex Jones, who as one half of Dense & Pika is comparably placed in the chug-tech overground – and Move Reality, an EP by the pair as Mindtrx, is its debut release. Some top geezer magpie mentality tearouts result, with pitched-up pop/MOR vocal loops matched to monster truck basslines and some MCing (original, I think, but uncredited) whose moody outlook doesn’t drag down the full-scale partystarter atmos one iota.

Dark Entries Records, from San Francisco, probably have a better handle on cult weird Brit shit of decades past than most people who were at ground zero in the era. As such, there seems to be very little chat online about Ian Elms’ 1982 DIY synth LP Good Night that doesn’t pertain to this label’s reissue of it. When you’ve built a rep, you can make that chat happen.

Most of Good Night’s 15 songs feature a human drummer, Geoff Sears, who generally plays with a machinist rigidity; lyrics (on the parts of the album that have them) are reeled off in sullen London-accented monotone and giving the impression they were first written as poetry. Elms displays nous for melody, and pretences to cinematic grandeur, but to the extent we can assess his intentions, harboured ambitions to touch listeners emotionally rather than ape the trajectory of, say, Tubeway Army.

Curiously, Dark Entries don’t seem to have dredged up any further biographical info about Elms, or words from the man himself. Whether this is for want of trying, or they’re choosing to preserve the mystique, remains moot. Perhaps my desire to know if he was jamming Cluster, Klaus Schulze, Robert Rental or Throbbing Gristle – to name four acts Good Night reminds me of – is counterintuitive to its aura of free expression.

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