New Weird Britain In Review For January By Noel Gardner

Your guide to the essential new releases from New Weird Britain returns, with jazz-into-techno impulsion sessions, feverish drone-doom and rickety synthpop in tow


This column would never make out, even in the service of the whole New Weird Britain idea, that ‘Britishness’ is or has an innate musical quality, but it is factually true to state that its first item of 2023, Long Drove by Simon Scott, could only have been recorded here. This is because it’s assembled from field recordings of two nature reserves in the Fens, located in Cambridgeshire like Scott himself, which by in-studio alchemy have been made into an album of delightfully blurred, aleatory ambience.

Scott features on most of the discography of Slowdive, the southern English shoegaze band who, though often maligned in their initial 90s existence, were later reassessed, and have since reformed. On the evidence of other members’ non-Slowdive music, it’s he who has the most pronounced experimental tendencies, and despite being their drummer, his solo work is pretty much rhythm-free. Long Drove is released through Room40, the label helmed by Australian drone architect Lawrence English, who is also credited with mixing one of the album’s six tracks, ‘Holme Fen Posts III’ – the percussion you hear on it is created by rain falling on steel posts, captured via contact mics.

Before this, and subsequent album closer ‘The Whistling Wires’ (referencing “the hum of the long telephone wires that stretch across the wide and flat Fens” – a nod of sorts to Ellen Fullman, perhaps), Scott’s sound design is more studio-fashioned. A modular synth picks out shifting tones, melodies you could even call them, on ‘The Black Fens’; ‘Whittlesea Mere’ gets deeply crepuscular, almost horror-soundtracky, precisely halfway in.

Does this specific landscape have its own sound, I wonder, and if so is this the most faithful representation of it available? Maybe a question for the psychogeographers out there – Waterstones display table favourite Robert Macfarlane seems to be a keen endorser of Scott’s music – but anyone wishing to be spirited into a hazy and bucolic netherworld should get satisfaction from this album.

Jazz-into-techno impulsion session Skynned (Accidental Meetings) is the first physical release by теплота, a London duo whose debut Heat / Work arrived via Cafe OTO’s Takuroku label and comprised some late-2019 jam sessions, later reconditioned in lockdown downtime. Grundik Kasyansky, a Muscovite presumably behind the band name (‘heat’ in Russian), also plays in Staraya Derevnya, and is credited with ‘feedback synthesiser’ here. Tom Wheatley, on ‘computer-acoustic bass’, has a varied index of jazz/improv/new music projects to his name, including playing alongside his dad Martin in Bryan Ferry’s live band.

Daniel Blumberg, previous cohort of Wheatley in another duo Hebronix, co-produced Skynned, and while the listener can only speculate over the exact nature of his input, the finished article uses sonic space judiciously. He, Kasyansky and Wheatley weave danceable electronics and the organic pluck’n’saw of double bass in a way that deviates from other, often overly tasteful meetings of jazz and electronica. The title track is all shapeless shiver-vibes, disembodied voices in underground tunnels; ‘Limit Cycle (Version Shell)’, which follows it, manipulates the bass strings so they have an essentially percussive role, while the actual beats rumble somewhere distant. When Kasyansky elects to crank the BPM, as on ‘Vicious Cycle’, теплота encroach on Mouse On Mars or Matmos territory, and make the idea of seeing this done live rather enticing. And it so happens their debut performance is on Mon 6 Feb, headlining an Accidental Meetings showcase at, yes, Cafe Oto.

Shit Hippies have existed in a loose form – their only possible form – for several years; a self-titled cassette, recorded on New Year’s Day 2022 and released on New Year’s Day 2023, is their first physical manifestation. It features some migratory birds from my bimonthly punk column in the shape of Andy Morgan and Dave Bevan, also of Bloody Head, rounded out by Ellis Blake who features in Krupps, with Bevan. This, it seems, is where they go to scratch their psychedelic freakout itch, with most of this live taping loud and gnarly save for ‘Scry’, a mid-album piece of unseemly fragility. Alastair Galbraith might work as a point of reference for it, and from there you might ponder Shit Hippies in the context of that wider New Zealand milieu encompassing The Dead C, Birchville Cat Motel and myriad others. I could equally believe they were gunning for a Les Rallizes Dénudés thing, or Bardo Pond or Ramleh or all or none of those things. Suffice to say, a generous spoon of tainted syrup.

A Wheel Of Burning Eyes, the second release by All The Heavens Were A Bell, is, again, their first hard-copy one, released by Cruel Nature with its two tracks each occupying one side of a cassette. A Newcastle-based duo, ATHWAB pairs James Watts – whose gambits I’ve covered in this column a few times – with Esmé Newman, also of splendid gauzy black metal unit Penance Stare and others. A commendably freezing 35 minutes awaits the curious and hardy, Watts and Newman creating a wall of textured, feverish rumble that shares cosmetic ground with drone doom’s major players but rarely if ever offers ‘riffs’ as they’re commonly defined.

“Voice, springs, strings and machines” is what AWOBE is made of, so claims the credits: intensive listening for the first of those elements reveals them on ‘Usurper, Destroyer’, sickly and wretched amidst the music’s oppressive industrial peasouper. ‘Glowing Light Of Ophanim’, which follows on side B, begins as an ebb and flow of tone, in time becoming more imposing and unerodable, though pockmarked by piercing feedback. Some fine fresh mindwipe bleakness, listening in uninterrupted solitude advised.

An angry red marker pen face in my margin for never having tackled Midnight Mines in NWB, what with their stumblebum DIY psych-dub steez being the distilled essence of its whole deal (I have probably written variations on this sentiment about loads of acts – and meant it each time). Scratching The Beat Surface, their latest cassette of several to date, comes via US label Trouble In Mind – it’s been out since October but copies reached the UK around two months ago, so just about new enough to mull. With two of the album’s five cuts reaching the quarter-hour mark, Baron Saturday and Private Sorrow are relaxing in a gentlemanly way through the medium of guitar/drum/synth/FX unit spacewiggin’.

In a previous life, Private Sorrow – Matthew Jones – went by Lemmy Caution in Black Time, London garage belligerents who Americans seemed to have a fondness for, and though Midnight Mines forego rocking of that direct-hit type, you can hear it’s in their DNA at times here. ‘Our Line To The Divine Is Dead’, the first of the 15-minuters, includes vocals that drawl like Ben Wallers in the Country Teasers, alongside music that approximates a primitivist Can. ‘Familiar Ugly vs. The Fighter Planes’, the other, is a bleached-out echo sesh whose elusiveness recalls another semi-anon London band, Mosquitoes. Even so, this duo aren’t fully removed from more ‘regular’ psych signifiers, by which I mean the Pink Floyd of, particularly, ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’.

Here’s a 7-inch single in comforting packaging (you get a pin badge and what I think is a segment of a larger painting) marking the debut of London Clay. Pat Daintith, who also plays in arch punk ensemble Hygiene and records solo as Harold Turgis – both repped in NWB columns of yore – is joined by his wife Gema Oliver. Not sure if she’s been in any bands previously, but her ceramic vessels and suchlike are really cool, and perhaps inspired this project’s name. London Clay is certainly closer to Harold Turgis than Hygiene stylistically, with a pronounced late 70s/early 80s private press synth vibe to these three songs, although the addition of Oliver’s vocals supplies a little 4AD dreamstatery at points. Programmed rhythms sputter, shy but determined, with ample space dust in the system on A-side tracks ‘Mirage’ and ‘Leaded Lights’. Turn over for ‘Chemosphere’, to which Canadian punk rocker in London Jonah Falco adds shimmery ambient guitar and makes matters slightly more contemporary, getting me thinking of 90s bands like Pram.

Half the awkward bastards featured in here don’t bother to put their actual names on their sleevenotes or social media, for whatever reason, but it’s normally kicking around somewhere. Admitting defeat on that front with Great Area – that is a link to an Instagram page, but there’s nothing on it – whose debut release billed it as the work of a solo artist from London. Second EP Follow Your Nature is released by Inga Copeland, formerly 50 per cent of Hype Williams, on her label Relaxin, so I’m prepared for misinformation. Any sort of information would be a start, really, but let’s concentrate on the music (what a square thing to say): six uniformly brief electronic pop songs which are urbane and wistful, and split the difference between unvarnished, relatable imperfection and a hitmaker in training’s nous for hooks.

‘Dust’ has a few things going on that comingle winningly: space disco keyboard arpeggios, blocky coldwave-revival drum sounds and painfully melancholic vocals. ‘Shipping’ is folky tweepop in its vocal melodies, but with a digital soundbed that collapses in its final seconds, and ‘Everytime’ briefly backmasks Great Area’s vocals before dropping a really great rickety synthpop riff (think the last Black Marble album) for the last 30 seconds. And that’s all we get, because we’re dealing with awkward bastard(s).

Though settled in London, where he works in sound engineering, Chris Penty’s debut LP as Alvarezz is thematically concerned with Latin America, particularly his familial nation of El Salvador. La Línea Imaginaria folds predominantly Spanish-language dialogue and the background detritus that comes with it into clever, if tricky to define, electronic beds. ‘Heliocentro’ begins with 30 seconds of crackling distortion, maybe an open fire, then loops what could be the scuff of boots on ground amidst a digital bassline and the dying embers of some MOR pop joint. The closing passage is a stern command, in English, for someone to walk through vomit.

Alvarezz’s original beats (some percussive elements derive from samples, I think) are crisp and modern, with trap or drill or footwork cadences inherent to them, though rarely programmed or mixed in a way that induces visions of the club, even a deconstructed one. There are lower-key, glitchy shifts of phase on ‘Domingo’ and ‘Bien’, marking the second time this month I’m reminded of Matmos, and a heat-hazed, pretty well beatless sequence taking up the 12-track album’s third quarter. ‘Scattered’ jolts us back into the room with twisty lo-fi house and a bizarre kind of metallic panpipe sound. I could envisage La Línea Imaginaria coming out on either PAN or Discrepant, but in fact Penty pressed this up on his own, new label Multibody, so kudos on that and a really interesting release.

Thirk noise label Industrial Coast, who I should probably feature more than I do, has just released The Birth Complete, a cassette by Monika Badly. Badly, aka Sam O’Connor, released it digitally nearly 18 months ago, but I was oblivious, although a non-EP track ‘Snakeroot’ featured on this Avon Terror Corps charity/memorial comp from 2022. Boldly claiming the title of “Bristol’s dirtiest noise goblin” for themselves, across these six tracks this mentality emerges in the form of scuzzy, big-kickdrum hardcore spliced with a lyrical tendency towards the emo.

Not one whose productions seem to have laurel-resting in mind for the listener, a Monika Badly track will usually whip your moods back and forth: ultradramatic, even tearful vocals treated to a range of FX, sudden dropouts ushering in a gabber gallop. Concessions to the idea of ‘a song’, as with the goth-rock leanings of the title cut, don’t land convincingly, but there’s plenty more chewable gristle on either side. ‘The Aftermath’ is billed as a bonus track, one which you have to buy the tape to own, but it’s my highpoint of The Birth Complete: mangled, discombobulating tornado rave that goes to similar places as some of Nkisi’s most punishing moments.

Also Bristol-based, Jen Hartley has released close on an album’s worth of tracks on wax as Yushh, all contributions to V/A 12-inch EPs. (When did dance labels start putting out so many of these mini-compilations?) That’s changing with Look Mum No Hands (Wisdom Teeth), four whole Yushh numbers which have an inquisitive DJ’s nose for room-readiness but are diverse, creative and far from businesslike.

The elision between electronic genres, from house to dubstep via IDM and techstep, occurs within Hartley’s productions as well as between them, and while a testament to her own chops before anything else does also speak to the proliferation of this tendency in UK club music. (By the same token, you could point to the small but well-formed catalogue of Pressure Dome, a label Hartley founded, instead of better known peers like Timedance.) ‘Look Mum…’ the track is equal parts aquatic pleasantry and scoopable bass, kinda like those late-00s Ikonika singles; ‘Same Same’ stays in the warm water and paddles towards melodic land, while its rhythms offer a bit of garage hopscotch. With ‘Close Fall’ it’s a jump to the darkside, chords ringing out in perpetuity as beats progress from icy-sparse to the busy switcheroos of latter-day jungle, and the moody atmos of ‘Self Couscous’ feels like a segue of sorts but finds Yushh taking her drum programming in a more bamboozling and not wholly un-Aphex-y direction.

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