New Weird Britain In Review For September By Noel Gardner

So much more than a microscopically small bolthole of distraction! Noel Gardner is back with more new and weird sounds

Alison Cotton

Life, whatever that is, has not at press time reverted to full normal, whatever that is, but microscopically small boltholes of distraction like this column now have little reason not to crack on as before. That means a healthily unfocused jumble of people previously given the New Weird Britain ‘treatment’ in a different guise or maybe just bigged up in passing, seasoned heads overdue their due, and acts new to me but which I’m all over at first blush.

Welsh duo Datblygu fall into the first of those categories: Cwm Gwagle (Ankstmusik) is their first album since 2015, but during the interim period mercurial lyricist David R Edwards has recorded a few spoken word/ poetry things, the first of which I reviewed in a 2017 column. First releasing music in the early 80s, Edwards and bandmate Patricia Morgan have done more than probably anyone else to convince a generation of Welsh-speaking musicians that it was plausible to release interesting, non-generic music in their own language. The result, while a net positive, has though meant that any such act taking the linguistic high road has virtually torpedoed any chance of popularity outside Wales. One rare exception, 2000’s Mwng album by the already-established Super Furry Animals, tasted the upper end of the grownup charts and included a Datblygu cover, ‘Y Teimlad’ (‘The Feeling’). Edwards mutters “y tiemlad” during Cwm Gwagle’s opening song, ‘Cariad Ceredigion’, which coming from a ferociously self-referential lyricist one has to imagine is an Easter egg of sorts.

Datblygu’s complete disinterest in refining their approach – disappearing for nearly 20 years and returning even more scabrous and clanking than before – is heroic, but these songs are not slapped together. ‘A i Z’ slashes fizzy noise through spaghetti western electro, a flirtation with danceability later made flesh through the glorious motorhearted synth pop of ‘Cymryd Y Cyfan’. ‘Y Purdeb Noeth’ has cold wave keys that envelop like a shroud and ‘Bwrlwm Bro’ is tumbling dubby post punk that by Datblygu’s standards is practically prog in its complexity. Other songs are little more than piano or hand drums or harmonium over which Edwards or Morgan beckons you into their bizarro world.

Cwm Gwagle is another crucial document of a brilliant band, yet it’s nailed on that some of its potential audience will waver, worrying that an album so rich in lyrics they don’t understand is beyond their remit. It is true that non-Welsh speakers such as this writer are listening to Datblygu in black and white, but not fatally so. If thus afflicted, then, drink in Edwards’ spluttering, vinous rasp and Morgan’s cooler, offhanded delivery, while grasping at references to Joyce Grenfell, Elton John (who also got the gas face on Porwr Trallod, the previous Datblygu album) and Bernie Taupin, Nico’s ‘Janitor Of Lunacy’, 20th century author Kate Roberts, and no fewer than three 1970s Welsh folkies in Edward H Dafis, Endaf Emlyn and Tecwyn Ifan.

Liverpool’s Luke Mawdsley was also reviewed in a 2017 edition of this thing, as 50% of Mésange alongside Agatha Max. Their Heliotrope LP, I apparently wrote, “wordlessly fashions heady, droney atmospheres that could soundtrack a film where a man walks through a monochrome desert”. The kernel of this vibe remains on Vulgar Display Of Affection (Maple Death), Mawdsley’s debut solo album, but the action takes place in a decidedly more unsettling environment, one with words in abundance.

Musically, these nine songs cover variable bases – glitchy minimal electronics, misty-moor filmic ambience, fearfully sparse For Carnation-ish guitar sketches – but the one constant is Mawdsley’s speaking voice, pitched down so he sounds like a sci-fi baddie auditioning to play Hamlet. It’s apparent that some of the imagery herein comes from a deeply personal place, which does not preclude lurid or ludicrous diversions: “When you were a child you thought your cock was the mouth of a hilarious stop motion penguin”, booms ‘Creep Factory’. I’d wholeheartedly recommend Vulgar Display to lovers of the Current 93/Coil axis, but for the vague feeling that Mawdsley might be taking the piss out of it on some level. Regardless, this album has really captivated me since my initial bafflement on first hearing it late last year, and while the guest musicians (saxophonist Andrew Hunt, also of Forest Swords, and pseudonymous Glaswegian bassist Waffle Burger) play valuable roles, Luke Mawdsley has offered up a vision about as singular as visions come.

Thomas House has made spindly, subtly tough, sometimes eccentric rock music as Sweet Williams since the early 2010s; it’s a solo project which developed into a band and at this juncture is a solo project again. Latest album That What You Hit is the second release on Wrong Speed Records, founded by Joe Thompson of Hey Colossus, and had sold out of its whole (first?) pressing in advance by the time the last NWB column was published. That’s what it’s like running perhaps the best label in Shepton Mallet or the surrounding area. Late passes are available with the perfectly enjoyable Bandcamp stream, as ever.

House, located in Brighton for most of his musical existence (he played in Charlottefield and doomy Riot Season signings Sloath, plus more recently guested with NWB favourites Haress), currently lives in Zaragoza; That What You Hit began to take shape there and was finished in France. Embracing equipment austerity with a keenness, his guitar and singing style don’t deviate much from previous Sweet Williams releases, but are given a little fresh context by the drum machine backing. ‘It’s Them’, for example, hits a weirdly addictive bleached-out Liquid Liquid groove, but is graced by a gnomic, vaguely Daniel Higgs-like vocal, and ‘Hit Me’ toys with a sprightly disco-punk thing too. The essential formula for a good half of this record – clang-rock guitar heroics, defiantly Stuckist digital rhythms – is a transatlantic cousin of Flour, a Minneapolis act which had two thirds of a pre-Shellac Shellac in its orbit but seems to have largely been lost to the ages. That’s an injustice, though, so play your part in not letting the same happen to Sweet Williams!

Emma Davies first put the moniker E.M.M.A. out there around 2012, and seems to have kept fairly busy since, although in relatively circumspect manner. Her second album, Indigo Dream (Local Action), arrives seven years after her first, with a 12-inch and a couple of digi-EPs somewhere in the middle – in which time Davies has also founded Producergirls, a London-based, UK-wide electronic music workshop aimed at women and non-binary people, and soundtracked a bunch of short films and an ad campaign for a fashion company I daresay you would have heard of. That’s all nice, and this album is very nice indeed: as meditative and synth-lush as 2013 debut Blue Gardens, but moving away from the 8-bit melodies and grime-adjacent arrangements towards a kind of aural purity.

Basslines stay robust throughout this half-hour-and-change, drums remain pointillist-sharp, but there’s an almost new age air to some of these clusters of arpeggios and spotless, trilling keyboards. ‘Ryan Gosling In Space’ (a title made more amusing for all the others being called boring things like ‘Echo’ and ‘Gold’) has possibly artificial wave sounds overlaying low-BPM trance riffs, which I guess might have been a hipper gambit four or so years ago but what kind of way is that to judge a record’s merit? Similarly, the quasi-classical plastic piano tinkling through ‘Shell’ is almost gauche when nestled among bursts of drill-like beats, but there’s an innate panache to E.M.M.A.’s productions that wins out. You may have again missed the hard copy version of Indigo Dream, which comes with a free guitar plectrum despite there being no guitars on here as far as I can tell.

One of the most consistently interesting things to ‘shroom out of UK club culture’s mulch in the last half-decade is the Timedance label from Bristol: a new 12 every two or three months, invariably crucial listening if you dig darkside moods hoisted onto joyously pneumatic chassis by producers with very short names. Timedance boss Batu has brought back Callum Ross, Laksa to you, for his second EP on the label, and the four-track Sen On One is a slippery, non-conforming treat.

‘Ardhall’ saunters along at relatively unhurried pace – despite what the abrupt rewind, along with anon MC calling proceedings to a halt, halfway through might imply – but its snares are forged from junglist steel, its vocal edits a match for classic UK garage and its gurgling synth like some mid-80s proto-techno oddity. ‘Fwd Ghosts’ is looser-limbed in its percussion, cribbing from late-00s funky house maybe but with all manner of nocturnal drones and semi-audible voices spiking the punch. “I’m always frank,” repeats Samuel L Jackson throughout ‘Bane’, levity of sorts if you recognise the sample although this concoction of shuddering bass and squealing electronics is, I would think, nigh on undanceable. Finally, Sen On One’s title cut is arguably quintessential Laksa, sitting at a point where UKG, techstep d&b and mid-00s dubstep flow inexorably into each other.

Brendan Opoku Ware aka Anglo-Ghanaian producer Hagan has also been kicking around since 2015 or so, and the Waves EP is his first for Gobstopper, the label helmed by instrumental grime fave Mr Mitch. Wouldn’t describe these three tracks as grime per se, but you sense it’s present in the mixer – one in an endless panoply of perma-upfront club styles, not to mention the deeper history of music from his ancestral country. A documentary he presented in 2017 took Ware to Ghana, where he spoke to contemporary producers and worked with trad percussionists: the impetus, he says at the beginning, was clocking the similarities between his beloved UK funky sound and his relatives’ old highlife records. A sensibility that seems to have remained in place as ‘Waves’ the track snakes in with richly rattling, part-digi-part-organic drums and swish deep house keys, and is only ramped up on ‘Ultra’ – a carnival-worthy power tool whose jelly-wobbly acid FX are absorbed into its broad rhythmic clatter. You hear someone chuckling about once a minute, as aptly as closing track ‘On Sight’s title – this one’s another drums-first heater with scrapey rave sounds that are (I’m pretty sure) older than Hagan himself, stylistically speaking.

The second new and summer-fresh record label this month is a Mancunian affair named Grey Meta, and its debut release is a 12-inch by Technoist, one of the people behind it. If you already know this geezer, real name Mike Hayward, it may be by his alternate spelling, The Teknoist. Equally, you may not normally be minded to drill down into his regular stomping ground, the irrepressibly vulgar UK gabber scene maintained since the 90s by heads like Hellfish, Producer and Hayward’s frequent collaborator Dolphin, in which case you probably won’t know him by any spelling. Mesmerism For The Masses takes something of a different tack, though, so as much as I’d have been happy to promote evil kickdrums and BPMs higher than a darts inning’s maximum score, enjoy this sterling punt down other Britrave tributaries.

All three tracks here have a stated inspiration, and again anyone with a working knowledge of industrial techno big dogs should be able to figure out that of ‘British Murda, Boii’, although the sullen tech-funk thud of the first two minutes evolves beyond plain Surgeon/Regis homage. ‘Hurr’ is named after the adenoidal grunt peppered throughout this hardcore-meets-acid jam’s high-octane duration, and apparently functions as a response to Shaun Gillon’s sleeve art for this EP, which is multicoloured and possibly headache-inducing. To finish, and my personal pick, ‘Back Room North Vibes’ pays tribute to a former Stoke club night by intersecting its two main genres, trance and hardcore, so you no longer have to choose between ambrosial synth lines and thunderbastard breakbeats.

Simon Proffitt and Owen Martell’s first release as Taw – they’ve collabbed for a good 15 years under various other names – is a home recording of the most on-the-nose kind, although if you’re anticipating another postcard from lockdown life in NWB, it was in fact taped in October 2017. How does it feel to be wrong, huh? Anyone seeking social commentary is directed to Proffitt’s (usually) solo work as The Master Musicians Of Dyffryn Moor, which in the last 18 months has spawned albums themed around handwashing, Brexit, the NHS and Tories; Truce Terms, meanwhile, stemmed from Proffitt nicking his toddler son’s toys for an evening, inviting Martell over to his house in Llangollen, north Wales, improvising with the bounty and, eventually, putting most of it on this cassette.

It’s an enterprising gambit, albeit one helped by Proffitt junior having a healthy collection of kid-friendly instruments: drums, tambourines, xylophones, recorders and what looks like a thumb piano, among others. As such, melody and rhythm do play their part, but are more subverted than adhered to, bouts of closed-mic’d shuffle and scrape fizzing in all directions and none to the point where a kind of trance takes hold. Throwing out supposed soundalikes feels a bit pointless, but I guess Truce Terms has something of The Bohman Brothers or early Nurse With Wound’s spirit, and you may come to find it oddly enchanting. (Full disclosure: Bezirk, the label who’ve released this, is part-run by tQ’s currently away on study leave cassette reviews guy Tristan Bath.)

Always a pleasure to get new music from Alison Cotton, whose last studio recording tripped all my drone-folk switches and was included in my ‘New Weird Britain: ones that got away’ roundup for 2019. Only Darkness Now has not evaded my paws, although the initial cassette release on Bloxham Tapes has – again, sorry – already sold out, with a vinyl pressing via Cardinal Fuzz come autumn. This is spectral, superlative stuff that moves at the refreshingly near-inert pace of the pre-industrial countryside, with Cotton notching up several instruments across these five songs but usually only accompanying one at any given point. (Exception: the archly titled ‘How My Heart Bled In Bleeding Heart Yard’, where she ululates over viola and harmonium and comes about as close to the qawwali form as one can in the Western secular folk idiom.)

‘Behind The Spiderweb Gate’, at 20 minutes plus, occupies nearly half the album’s length and was released digitally as part of the Longform Editions project a year ago – no quarrel, you understand, as it’s an immense, resonant piece that looks simultaneously to John Cale’s pre-Velvets carry-on (that viola again) and a rural folk session with unusual levels of stamina. Alehouse Lock-in Of Eternal Music, kind of thing. The other big beast on Only Darkness Now, though a mere 12 minutes, is a cover of ‘Shirt Of Lace’ by American avant-folkie Dorothy Carter: sustained, appropriately delicate for its title and the heaviest thing featured this month without question.

The stiffest competition for which arrives at the last in the form of Votive Offerings, a compilation from the At War With False Noise label which could be summarised glibly as Glaswegian goth but has a wider scope than that might infer. It features five acts, two of whom I’ve reviewed in past columns (Vom, whose last release Initiation was my number! one! NWBish release of 2017, and Matt Cooper from Vom’s solo project Schalken), one releasing her first music in four years (Hausfrau) and two making their recorded debut (Cursed Image and Charity Murder, which again is one of Cursed Image flying solo). Would be stretching a point to call this a scene, as most people involved appear to keep to themselves at the best of times, but taken individually or as a whole this LP is consistently belter.

Vom’s two Offerings offerings do away with most of Initiation’s noise guitar heft, instead being feverish, minimalist scrawls of DIY post punk paranoia powered by bass and drum machine respectively; ‘Mirage’ sounds like a Wierd Records release from ten years ago, which is a good thing. Schalken’s ‘Ottonian Manuscript’ employs guitar alone to achieve death ambient/early 90s underground American space rock inverse bliss and Hausfrau’s ‘tronics get uncharacteristically cosmic on ‘Visions Of Love’, one of her two contributions. Charity Murder is Josh Longton on everything but sounds like a full band, specifically one who might have trod the boards with Play Dead or someone in 1983. ‘Games For Remembering’ by Cursed Image, a duo of Longton and Darren McNeil, sets clean guitar chimes and discreet synth against lyrics adapted from a 1978 book by film director Jane Arden, purportedly a manifesto against rationality. It borders neofolk with its mirthless intensity, but mercifully does not give the impression anyone involved was wearing lederhosen during the recording. To complete a month of me being extra annoying and reviewing stuff it’s too late to buy physically, the ultra-limited boxed edition AWWFN did of this is gorgeous, and the multiple objects – votive offerings – included in the box has led to the discovery that my cat is mad for incense.

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