New Weird Britain In Review For May By Noel Gardner

From spannered metallic dungeon durge to a crucial chute of rave sludge, your guide to the best from the fringes of New Weird Britain returns, courtesy of Noel Gardner

Susu Laroche

The last New Weird Britain column I wrote opened with a pledge to feature artists from the weird bits of Britain: that is, places other than the six or so cities whose residents feature in here with troubling regularity. I’m pleased to say I’ve frontloaded May’s dispatch with a few, and as a result we begin with the month’s two scrawliest bafflers.

Ryan Hooper makes sound art as Heavy Cloud somewhere in Cornwall, but in the case of Zennor, the project’s first vinyl LP, his exact coordinates are less important than the lore behind the title. Zennor, a tiny village near the southwesterly tip of the county, is the setting for this “lo-fi radio play” crafted from field recordings and interview dialogue.

The latter element, certainly, is subject to heavy manipulation, with little comprehensible speech intact. More often, Hooper reduces human tone and texture to a fragrant slurry of surreal sound. Cassette tape flutters and distorts; piano keys rise and fall in the mix. Heavy Cloud’s sizeable discography to date has many instances of droning ambient prettiness: Zennor is decidedly more gnarled and excoriating, veering from ‘no-audience underground’ concretism to full-on noise for a segment of side B (‘Fog Recital’ and part of ‘Smudged Songs’). Twelve pop song-length pieces are followed by ‘Tired Nothingness And The Last Days Of Emptiness’ and digital bonus ‘Zennor Sound Group Work Tapes’. Both coming in around seven minutes, they foreground the vocals, make the ‘radio play’ tag more tangible and conclude a very immersive album.

Andrew Fletcher, aka the inexplicably named Soloman Tump, currently lives in Devon, and again this has a bearing on his craft. Following 2022’s Dartmoor Electronics CDR, with “queen of pain electronics” Distraxi, comes Hatchet For Kindling, a tape collab between Fletcher and Paradox Encounter Group – a relatively new venture for Paul Harrison, who has over three decades’ standing in the UK noise scene alongside heads like Neil Campbell and Dylan Nyoukis. “In part, forged on Dartmoor, Devon, UK,” says label Tone Burst, and over 40 minutes you might well be spirited to somewhere desolate and windswept, but anyone claiming with certainty to identify which sounds are those of the English wilds is operating with unearned confidence.

Hatchet… begins with rhythms, or sounds tangentially resembling them at least – ‘Lime Green Felt Wand’ is spannered metallic dungeon dirge like Aaron Dilloway might hork up; there may be some programmed beats at the poisoned kernel of the title track – before electing to get still more obscure. Expect microphone feedback and similarly claustrophobic harsh fuzz; jolting, jarring loops of what could once have been a melody; a forbidding, ceaseless thud like the incoming march of a ragtag militia’s fuck-off boots; squirming serpent electronics and birdy squawks that, if you don’t find them actively unpleasant, might be ultimately exhilarating. Fletcher says that he and Harrison supply, respectively, the “dismal repetitions” and “harsh noises” on this tape, and again it all melts into one tasty plasma pool.

The second release by Hunteress is also the latest of a few dozen by East Anglian folk reanimator Laura Cannell, and this solo incarnation sits distinct from pretty much anything else bearing her name. Destruction Horizon (Brawl) is nine songs of idiosyncratic electronic pop which employs folklore, spirituality and environmentalism to create an evidently personal work. Hunteress began as a first wave lockdown gambit – a set of songs recorded at home and released as The Unshackling – and Destruction Horizon has itself been awaiting release since 2021.

Despite the circumstances of their creation, you could suggest that these songs – euphoric synth lines, programmed drums, vocals multi-layered and big-room prominent in the mix – are more obviously communal and extroverted than much of Cannell’s work, where violin and recorder effects a kind of medieval minimalism. They’re also a substantial advance on The Unshackling, full of psychedelic rushes and earnestly danceable moments: Gwenno strikes me as sharing Huntress’ headspace at times, Kelly Lee Owens or Caribou to a lesser extent, although to the best of my knowledge none of those acts have played a crumhorn on their records, as Cannell does here.

The extent to which she stays in touch with her folk grounding is crucial to Destruction Horizon’s strength. Not only are the vocals ecclesiastically ethereal, the outbreaks of church organ are very smart, almost witty in how they face off with the synth parts. On album closer ‘The Boneflower’, these solemn keys are joined by crisp, remarkably modish breakbeats: proof, were it needed, that there are more strings to Laura Cannell’s bow than the actual ones on her actual one.

There are a good few dozen releases bearing the name of Worriedaboutsatan out there, too, and because a “fusion of diverse forms of electronica and post-rock” doesn’t appeal to me as a description at all, I’ve paid almost no attention to any of them. You might suppose the person behind the name, Bradford-based Gavin Miller, has zero reason to care what I think. Yet by pivoting to a mode of beatless cloudforming instrumental ambience for a half-hour cassette, releasing it through new age-adjacent label Golden Ratio Frequencies, and giving the finished article a tenuous theme of German domestic football, Miller has laser-targeted my tastes with a frankly suspicious precision.

I Hope You Like The Bundesliga is a live guitar record, in principle, but that guitar is processed in real time via a pedal which sustains chords to the point where they assimilate into a single, micro-mutating quasi-drone. On ‘Munich’, an undercurrent of reverb with faint dub techno ancestry emerges; the release’s most bliss-inducing and anxiety-sparking moments feature concurrently on ‘Berlin’ – watercolour sweeps of melody; harsher tones rendered headachey by cranked volume – and ‘Dresden’ stands out for occasionally featuring the identifiable sound of something solid connecting with a guitar string. So while …Bundesliga is highly unsuited to the eyebrow-singeing pyro and earsplitting chants of the eponymous league, if you need a soundtrack for a lunar desert expedition it’s up there with Stars Of The Lid, Labradford or Leila Abdul-Rauf.

This column’s middle section takes the opportunity to celebrate migration to and from Britain, via releases by musicians whose backstory involves such movement. Susu Laroche is London-born and based, with Franco-Egyptian parental heritage, and made visual art for several years before releasing any music. With her Closer To The Thing That Fled album (Accidental Meetings) she’s landed on something impressively unorthodox: I’ll put something like ‘ritualistic gothic electro-pop’ with a tacit understanding that it can’t be defined that conveniently.

Closer…’s drums are mainly acoustic in origin, I think, and Laroche repurposes vocal fragments so they become of a piece with the crepuscular, droning electronics. The title track packs a hefty bassline and bizarro-world trap beats; ‘It’s Only You That You Walk With’ is on headnod terms with 80s dub but slips into something more akin to a hip-hop break. Sung in English, Laroche having reverted to Arabic on a couple of previous EPs, the dual inspirations of Persian poetry and Ursula K. Le Guin are cited in relation to this release’s lyrics, although I suspect the “fuck around and find out” refrain (‘Find Out’) isn’t included in that.

Brotherly duo Athos grew up among London’s Greek Cypriot community, but maintain cultural and emotional ties to Cyprus which are tangible in To Know Where It’s Going (Abaju), their debut LP. A video for album track ‘Five Fingered Mountain’ depicts an unusually poignant bout of dad-dancing, with Anthony and Demetri Kastellani’s father George doing the zeibekiko to convey homesickness for his birthplace, just over that very mountain.

Before that – album opener ‘Seven Corners’, a rippling swoon of piano and something zithery – and also after, Athos retool their heritage in audio form and introduce it to some of the strangest interpretations of pop logged to date. ‘Whatever Beauty’ distinctly resembles undisco-mode Arthur Russell, and features the trombone of longterm Russell associate Peter Zummo; unclear if they fashioned it with him in mind or if his guiding hand moved it in that direction, though it probably doesn’t matter. (‘Radiator Boy’ reprises this keening elegance later on, sans Zummo, though flautist Clémentine March is a valuable presence here.) Their instrumental numbers tend to have slightly busier arrangements than the vocal ones, though ‘Lemon Tree’ runs counter to this, alluringly: a half-cut waltz across a ballroom that could soundtrack an arthouse movie about a milkmaid, filmed in 1962 and locked in a vault immediately after.

“All music written and recorded by The God In Hackney in Brighton, Chapel Hill, Düsseldorf, Los Angeles, New York and Odiham.” I wonder if this – from the sleevenotes to The God In Hackney’s third album The World In Air Quotes (Junior Aspirin) – is the first time a list of locations has ever placed ‘the city that never sleeps’ and the drowsy Hampshire village side by side. More broadly, it hints at the sort of erudite, cosmopolitan, unconventional prog-pop opus that TGIH have transatlantically assembled here.

The founding quartet of Andy Cooke, Dan Fox, Ashley Marlowe and Nathaniel Mellors are augmented on parts of TWIAQ by two Americans: Eve Essex and indie rock session trumpeter Kelly Pratt. The latter adds considerable value to ‘In The Face Of A New Science’, which combine with Fox’s insouciant treated vocals and Marlowe’s glorious clattering drums to make something equal parts Hood and Van Der Graaf Generator – if you can imagine that. ‘Bardo!’, Pratt’s other feature, permits him some skronkier runs, indeed the chopped-up breaks on this and ‘Interstate 5’ amount to what might have been called ‘jazztronica’ in less shamefaced times than these. Essex grabs the mic, and a saxophone, for ‘Red Star’, which splits the difference between Annette Peacock and Dory Previn (these claims read outlandish to me too; I can only request your trust).

Bristol producer Hamish ‘Kinlaw’ Trevis has been reviewed in two past editions of NWB: first solo, then backing up Italian MC Franco Franco. With Weld (Drowned By Locals), he’s touting a 17-song cassette album with 15 guest vocalists from almost as many countries. (The exact tally is up for debate – Wales can claim Elvin Brandhi and Max Kelan, for example.) The result, a multifaceted meltdown of industrialised fire-spit international rap, is sufficiently fresh that I’m highly relaxed about featuring Kinlaw for a third time.

Weld is packaged with three sets of cards which purport to be reconstructions of ones “discovered in the flooded basement of Barclays House in Poole”. Trevis likes to disseminate such fictive concepts via his Ceramics label, which is to say I doubt anyone else featured is properly in on the bit. An early four-strong run featuring local lions Danny Nedelko, Dali de Saint Paul, Birthmark and Kelan offers tenderness and belligerence, grace and havoc, and induces a dizzying array of emotional responses.

Kinlaw’s production aesthetic is rangy, to that end, but he seems eager to push the sound of his two albums with Franco Franco (also present, on ‘E Gli Fanno’) into the red, or the abyss. Dungeon doors slam shut, feedback is machine-derived and merciless; when light slivers through, like Flow Tha Key’s feature ‘Kinchasa’, its jazzy hip-hop genesis gets comprehensively scrambled… and yet it’s never less than a barrel of fun. The cross-continental connections that’ve formed in the last half-decade or so to enable Weld’s existence are pretty incredible – maybe taken for granted – when you think about it.

Rezzett just released their second album Meant Like This, and it’s a bewildering and crucial chute of rave sludge. It’s already been reviewed on this site, though, so instead I’ll hitch a ride on the two releases Rezzett – Jackson ‘Tapes’ Bailey and Luke ‘Lukid’ Blair – unveiled directly after.

Boshly, a 12-inch EP released via The Trilogy Tapes like the album, is the obvious pick for anyone whose only problem with Meant Like This was that it ended. Skewing darker on average, with the title track almost cackling at you as it thuds forth and a 1993 jungle patina forming on ‘Kermit’ and ‘Dots’, the duo’s production choices are divisive by design, sometimes feeling like you’re at a club listening to the main room act from the corridor outside. Or ‘what Burial sounds like to people who haven’t heard anything else that sounds like Burial’, maybe.

The Live At Stand By tape immortalises “a one-off performance as part of the ADDPMP [501-999] installation by Ill-Studio and General_Index, in partnership with Slam Jam”, and instead of potentially marring my enjoyment by finding out what any of that is, I’m cocooning myself inside this patchwork quilt of morphine-blitzed deep house, demonic toasting, angel hair breakbeats meeting ambrosial melodies, real grot/grit/grease leaching into the hardware and consequently my mind. Really does feel like some early 90s live bootleg taped on a soundboard at 6am.

The debut 12-inch by Gynoid74 offers a more linear take on that addictive Chicago house chug, but is still swervy and trippy for that. The Shroom EP? I should coco! It’s another transatlantic hookup, producer Isobel Hughes having met T4T LUV NRG label heads Octo Octa and Eris Drew when all three were DJing in Hughes’ locale of Glasgow. By luck or design, these four tracks sound precision-engineered for the American power couple’s taste, and when taste is as tasteful as their taste gratitude is mandatory.

‘Shroom’ the track is, well, tracky, pingponging rhythmic peculiarities added to melodies with their own Midwest sigh. ‘Rain’ is first wave rave of the type Octo Octa caught and bottled on her Resonant Body album. ‘Approaching’ has a post-acid, pre-jungle UK techno glow and the insistent PHEEPs of the proverbial whistle posse or Referees’ Association Christmas party. Finally, ‘Chromatic’ is the most joyously elemental segment of a joyously elemental EP, broken down to naught but drily metallic drums for various mixable stretches. You bet I want to hear it utilised in a club! But just being made aware of Gynoid74 has given me life tonight.

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