A Dusted Review: Don’t Know, Just Walk by Mike Weis (August 11th, 2014)

The idea of America as a “new country” is so ingrained in most minds that it almost becomes easy to forget that it’s only white, “Western” society there that is relatively young. It also shortens the gap between the modern nation’s founding and the most recent century-and-a-half of rapid development, from rural ex-colony into the world’s premier industrial and technological nation of the world.

As such, the mythical, primeval history of what is now the USA only rarely trickles into modern life and culture. While there exists in Europe, notably the UK, a sense that music can be used to reconnect with primordial pre-modern societies and histories, whether real or imagined (sometimes referred to as hauntology), such a scene in the US is harder to pinpoint or even identify, maybe because of its size, or because Europeans only arrived in the 17th century and rather quickly went about reducing the numbers of the native population. Nonetheless, artists trying to probe the ancient hidden reverse under the concrete and bricks do exist in the USA, usually in the Midwest, Deep South or around the Great Lakes, and Mike Weis, drummer for hazy post-rockers Zelienople, has encapsulated this veiled territory with acute beauty on Don’t Know, Just Walk.

The album was created in the wake of Weis’ diagnosis with prostate cancer, and inspired by wooded areas and fields in Michigan and Indiana, where he recorded the delicately-applied field recordings that traverse Don’t Know, Just Walk’s three tracks. The title refers to a form of Korean zen buddhism, and Weis uses that faith’s teachings to muse on death and mortality in a way that is reflective, sombre and ultimately life-affirming.

The three compositions on Don’t Know, Just Walk form a sort of suite, with the track titles even combining to form an enigmatic sentence: “The Temple Bell Stops,” “But The Sound Keeps Coming,” “Out Of The Flowers.” The epic, twenty-minute opener releases the listener into the inner and outer worlds of Mike Weis instantly, as spooky, muted voices intone ominously over a sparse tapestry of electro-acoustic drones and crisp field recordings. The feeling is of being lost deep in a forest at dusk, surrounded by buzzing cicadas, crunching leaves and shades of something altogether more sinister. Weis takes his time to construct his music, slowly adding layers of instruments and electronics until, almost of a sudden, the air is filled with sound. Although percussion is used sparingly, as a drummer Weis not unexpectedly unleashes his kit about four minutes in, again methodically accumulating repetitive kicks and swathes of cymbal crashes until — blended with arch synth noise — they form a seamless ocean of unfettered drone.

At other times, Weis is content to leave wide-open spaces in his music, with only faint interruptions to break a heavy silence. These well-placed shifts in tempo and volume serve to enhance the atmospheric potency of “The Temple Bell Stops”, and a strange form of oneiric psychogeography seeps into the mind’s eye like a ruptured narrative. When Weis returns to the drum kit, first to hammer mercilessly on his cymbals before segueing into gamelan-like tribal percussion, it somehow feels perfectly logical. Mike Weis sucks you into his world entirely on this album, and in one track the spell is cast.

The rest of the album continues the motifs laid out on “The Temple Bell Stops”, with the 18-minute “But The Sound Keeps Coming” acting as a more docile mirror of its predecessor, with an emphasis on field recordings, notably bird calls. The broiling, contradictory emotions and innate darkness of “The Temple Bell Stops” give way to something more peaceful and relaxed, at least at first, before a strange ritual, embodied by more tribal percussion and crackling drones breaks apart the tranquility. The track carries the same sense of mysterious, untamed oddness as the first album by Britain’s The Haxan Cloak, as if this music is being generated in tandem with nature rather than in spite of it. If someone were to soundtrack the awakening of long dormant forest spirits in America’s heartlands, this is probably what it would sound like.

It’s not often that a musical artist will react to personal strife or difficulty by producing something universal, but Mike Weis has achieved just that. By braving his illness stoically and taking off into the wilds, he has reconnected with something arcane and mystical that resonates enduringly in the collective (sub)consciousness.

A Quietus Live Report: Richard Skelton and the Elysian Quartet at St Luke’s, London (June 17th, 2014)

The lovely, intimate and acoustically-exquisite St Luke’s on Old Street could almost have been built with Richard Skelton in mind. His music shares some of the venue’s sparseness, and it is given extra dramatic potency as it fills the room, rebounding gracefully off the ceiling and walls.

Tonight’s show features three pieces inspired by Skelton’s residency at Snape Maltings in Suffolk last December. Throughout his stay in Snape, he explored the surrounding landscapes, drawing particular inspiration from the river Alde and the expansive marshlands surrounding it, which eventually lead to the sea. It’s a familiar approach from Skelton, whose numerous wonderful albums have all been imbued with a sense of location and landscape, often very specific ones. And rivers have long featured prominently in that equation, although perhaps not as much as at St Luke’s.

Most fascinating, perhaps, is the “recruitment” of the Elysian Quartet for the three pieces, which, before the actual show, seemed to be an attempt to flesh out Skelton’s music by adding a cello, viola and two violins. In fact -and this is testament to Richard Skelton’s talent as a composer- the addition of the Elysian Quartet takes his music much further than merely adding some instruments, and indeed, all three pieces are evocative of Skelton’s previous body of work, whilst also branching out into new territory.

The first piece, ‘EA’, sounds instantly familiar for any fan of Skelton, with low, mournful drones from all instruments, the man himself using a bowed bouzouki. “Ea” is an old Anglo-saxon word for “river”, and the slow-moving ebb and flow of the cello and bouzouki in particular sound like the effortless sea-wards drift of a body of water: patient, languid and eternal. As the piece progresses, one of the violinists starts a repeated series of short, almost pizzicato notes, as if we’re suddenly joined on this river journey by a fluttering bird. The bird theme returns on the second work, ‘Above/Below’, performed solely by the Elysian Quartet. The four players swirl and drift around one another, notes tumbling out in flurries or gracefully unfurled like opening flowers. Skelton’s intense relationship with nature is encapsulated on ‘Above/Below’, as he thoroughly researched the different species of bird he encountered whilst in Suffolk. The result is a piece that, whilst evidently performed on strings, manages to conjure up thoughts and images of birds in the mind’s eye. Even if he isn’t performing, Skelton’s alchemical touch is at the heart of this music.

Skelton returns for the final piece, ‘Mimesis’, which is by far the most dramatic of the three. Inspired by the flood warnings that dot the riverbanks of the Alde, Skelton has managed to crystallise the angst and distress of last winter’s dreadful floods in the west of the country by metastasizing them into a nightmare projection of a similar catastrophe hitting Suffolk. The drones are no longer mournful but angry and portentous, the instruments often pitched at odds with each other, tempo-wise. By the end of the piece, the strings of Skelton’s bow are hanging raggedly and a thrilled hush permeates the audience. This set transcends anything Richard Skelton has released on CD or record, and confirms him as a great modern composer with a rare talent for translating memories and dreams into musical reality.

A Quietus Review: Delta by Mai Mai Mai (June 9th, 2014)

Delta is one of those albums that feels like it has emerged, fully-formed and wonderfully weird, from a parallel universe or sickly secret society that we’ve never heard of but always suspected might be lying underneath our own. In reality, this mysterious world is the multi-faceted musical underground of Italian capital Rome, for which Toni Cutrone is one of the foremost poster boys as Mai Mai Mai and in noisy, psychedelic bands like Hiroshima Rocks Around, not to mention through his work as a venue owner, label boss and organiser of the Thalassa festival in the Eternal City. It makes sense, therefore, that Rome seems to inhabit Delta, an album that is as busy as its home city, and just as enigmatic.

More specifically than Rome as a whole, it’s the working class, socially and ethnically diverse district of Roma Est, the setting for many an iconic Italian film, that informs much of the capital’s underground scene, but Mai Mai Mai’s music feels more outward-looking. Cutrone is a well-travelled individual, born on an island in the Aegean sea, and, of course, the title itself hints at the other historical giant of the Mediterranean, Greece. Delta stretches back and forwards through time, reaching into the past to toy with Cutrone’s memories and the wider scope of history, before re-imagining these capsules of the past in a muddled, genre-less present and future. The memories are suggested by field recordings garnered from around the Mediterranean, echoing Cutrone’s childhood spent following his parents from country to country and dissolving distinct references into a pool of combined sound worlds. Instantly, the UK “hauntology” scene of Demdike Stare and others springs to mind, but there is a playfulness behind Mai Mai Mai that many a British act seem to lack. Tracks bubble with wobbly analogue synthesiser lines and drones, consistently disturbed and unsettled by bursts of gristly noise. Beats are dropped casually into tracks, deployed sparingly but with subtle rhythmic force. Delta feels alchemical, a smartly distilled collection of sounds brewed together into a heady cocktail of genre-less, arrhythmic post-everything.

There are nonetheless certain references points that emerge as signposts across the four tracks that make up the album. Second track ‘Βυζάντιον’ is a listless slice of electro/noise/drone, all moody sci-fi synths and muted post-dubstep micro-beats, but the presence of a Christian choir in the background unsettles the track’s dynamic, injecting a pall of unease. Italy is a country dominated by Catholicism, but Cutrone draws a curious parallel between the established church and an inchoate form of paganism, as if the churches of Italy had all been built on the smouldering ashes of wicker men. Equally, the sound lexicon of Italian giallo and gothic horror is forever close toDelta‘s shifting surface, imbuing the album with a distinct sense of unease and threat, and the Catholic references only seem to enhance this, echoing Goblin’s soundtrack for Dario Argento’s baroque masterpiece Suspiria. Elsewhere, modernity and the past collide viciously on ‘τετρακτύς’, which sounds like early Cabaret Voltaire recorded in an abandoned Fiat factory.

At 29 minutes, Delta doesn’t really deserve to be called an album, but Cutrone deserves admiration for how much he crams into such a short space of time, preventing the listener from ever locking the record into the straightjackets of genre and influence. Cutrone emerges as a wholly individual character, similar to the likes of Failing Light, Hacker Farm or 1612 Underture, but equally completely different. Delta is a weird object, and unlike anything else you are likely to hear in 2014. I can’t wait to hear what happens when he stretches things out a bit

A Dusted Review: d/evolution by LCC (May 8th, 2014)

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Spanish duo LCC — formerly LasCasiCasiotone — blur the lines between styles, sounds and emotion until the music on d/evolution becomes a haze out of which emerge sounds, hints of genre and textures in a grim, airtight approximation of electronica. For some reason, the title of a This Heat song, “Music Like Escaping Gas,” springs to mind. LCC’s music seems to be built around field recordings: gusts of wind, wheezing air vents, clanking machinery and crumbling surfaces (both natural and artificial), but these are so processed and re-configured that their exact nature is uncertain, imbuing the album with an abstract, intangible atmosphere. What remains is music, escaping wispily out of the speakers.The d/evolution reflects on the uneasy relationship between humankind and the natural world it has evolved out of. In this context, the uneasy sounds of technology that bubble out of an ambient haze and phantomatic wordless vocals on opener “Chróma” instantly create tension that intensifies as the track progresses, the dense background drones growing in intensity whilst the machine continues to crank repetitively and unsuccessfully against the impassive surface it’s abusing. This tension, however, is mostly muffled and diluted across d/evolution, as if perceived through dense fog, an approach that seems at odds somewhat with the overtly political and ecological message LCC appear to be straining towards. Even when things reach breaking point, the end result is generally a quiet recede into the increasingly opaque tapestry the duo creates.

Viewed differently, d’evolution represents a challenge, with Ana Quiroga and Uge Pañeda throwing the gauntlet down to the listener. Just as the found sounds they employ are hard to identify, so is the underlying statement blurred and left out of reach, as if the album’s creators are demanding we come to the same conclusions as them without their aid. For some, this refusal to make an overt declaration on such serious issues as climate change or ecological damage might represent a cop out, but alternatively, d/evolution can be seen as a personal and intimate rumination, one that would be poorly served by aggressive slogans or pap sound bytes. Or maybe LCC’s core sentiment is immaterial. Its pervasive mood of disquiet and coldness means that it’s clear something dark is at play, and whatever that may be is up to each individual listener. You decide, essentially.

With so much ambiguity and mystery at play, defining d/evolution in the context of modern electronic music is an exercise in futility. At times, its grim ambient synth drones and buzzing bass drones sound like an extension of Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land, at others, when Quiroga and Pañeda deploy spindly beats, they edge into the ambient dub landscape of Drexciya and Porter Ricks.  They even venture into dubstep territory, most successfully on the Raime-like “Calx” and the insistent, quasi-industrial, head-bobbing buzz-and-drone slice of excellence that is “Titan”, where, for a brief moment, the murk of previous tracks (and the opening bars of “Titan” itself) are swept aside in favour of a brutal slab of hypnotic, widescreen alt-dance.

Ultimately, messages mean little in the context of modern electronic music. Just as Demdike Stare’s glances back into myth and history only form a sketched climate for their take on hauntology and dub, so d/evolution is best savoured less as a statement than as a remarkable work of forward-looking electronica, one that moves beyond most barriers we scribes try to erect.

A Quietus Review: Fog Tapes/Gradual Requiem by Ingram Marshall (April 17th, 2014)

 

A lonely moor stretches out in all directions, barren grass mottled by craggy boulders and moss-covered outcrops, buffeted by ice-cold winds that sweeps down from a distant cluster of hills. The only features of this bleak landscape, appearing only as shadows beneath a damp wall of fog, are occasional lofty stone formations, either human made or natural. It’s impossible to tell. Is this a land long untouched by human presence, or one that resisted human presence, turning them away by its very harshness? Either way, the wind seems to carry the echo of ghostly voices, their cries inchoate, all meaning lost.

This is the world that Fog Tropes/Gradual Requiem, originally released in 1984, conjures up in the listener’s mind. Ingram Marshall distills a form of minimalism that eschews the austere formalism of the genre’s early landmarks (by the likes of LaMonte Young, Tony Conrad and Pauline Oliveros), instead focusing on using the barest of means to conjure music that is deep in atmosphere and emotional potency. ‘Fog Tropes’ is based on samples of fog horns recorded in San Francisco bay, but wrenched from any locational context by the injection of a ghostly voice lamenting sadly behind the distant sounds of intermittent brass interjections, birdsong and wind. In such a melancholic context San Francisco could not feel further away and we are pitched straight off the bat onto that shadowy landscape of barren moorland and fog-wreathed dolmens. The piece gradually unfolds with dramatic timing, the voice multiplied, the brass becoming more and more insistent, laden with dolorous portent.

‘Gradual Requiem’ is divided into five parts and, as its title suggests, there’s a funereal quality at play that means it fits neatly alongside ‘Fog Tropes’. Balinese percussion gongs are gently caressed or tapped, sending rippling tones back and forth whilst a haze of tape manipulations and electronic effects dampen the sense as if heard from under a mortuary shroud. Each part of ‘Gradual Requiem’ is distinct from the others, forming an emotional tapestry that follows the composer’s reactions to his father’s death. ‘Part 2’, for example, features almost ebullient, comforting piano, whilst ‘Part 3’ is dominated by jauntily plucked lute or guitar arpeggios, which slowly recede into a drifting, mournful duet between guitar and piano, somewhere between the sadder sections of Keith Jarret’s Köln Concert and the more wistful works of Sandy Bull. On ‘Part 4’, an echoing chorus of wordless vocalisations intone a melancholic lament, the voices multi-layered into they form a haunted eulogy. Gradual Requiem is an emotionally potent, even harrowing sonic voyage, and one of the most affecting pieces of modern minimalism I’ve ever heard.

When so much modern music is described as being “haunting” or “liminal”, it’s easy to become a bit blasé at such terms, but these two compositions resonate with intangible, phantomatic grace and unease, conjuring up emotions and visions that seem to reach beyond time and location into something that swirls beneath the collective consciousness. It will have different meaning for different listeners, but few will come away from Fog Tropes/Gradual Requiem unmoved.

A Quietus Review: Ett by Klara Lewis (April 9th, 2014)

There is something almost scientific at play on this, one of the most startling albums to have seen the light in this first half of 2014. Klara Lewis may be a newcomer to Editions Mego’s much-vaunted stable of electronic craftspeople, but Ett is the work of a gifted and thoughtful sound sculptress, who combines found sounds, field recordings and electronic textures to create beguiling and resonant works that operate on all manner of levels, and in which individual sounds are dissolved of context to create a fresh subliminal narrative.

On first hearing, the first comparison that sweeps to mind is with London-based sonic construction artist Luke Younger, aka Helm, who similarly twists and rearranges his source material to create tracks that dissolve the boundaries between song formats and abstract reflections of landscapes – in his case, evoking urban London. In Klara Lewis’ case, however, the resultant tracks are more intimate, delicate and therefore even more esoteric. Rather than creating a reflection of our reality – albeit a distorted one, as Helm does – Lewis’ collection evolves discreetly, its references veiled as textures shift, as if she is allowing the listener fleeting glimpses into her perspective on the world.

One of the album’s standout creations (the word ‘tracks’ seems somehow unsatisfying), ‘Shine’ encapsulates the nebulous reality of Ett. Lewis entwines gossamer samples that sound like gasping air vents around a rumbling background drone and the faintest hint of a synth melody, creating a form of ambient music that is simply too tenacious to count as background music, its emotional heft a constant attention draw, much like the work of Boards of Canada or Ezekiel Hönig.

Elsewhere, as on opener ‘c a t t’, Lewis displays a rhythmic balance that edges towards ambient dub, as crackling synth pulsations are allied to deep bass grooves through which weave dreamlike piano notes. There’s a jocular flexibility at play on Ett, as Lewis nudges her music in various directions before pulling back into a track’s original structure.

‘Muezzin’ starts unsurprisingly with a distant echo of a call to prayer, before pitching away from any formal recognition into an abstract sonic realm of oppressive rumbles and jangles, which sound like Lewis is recording from inside a piano that is itself locked within an empty warehouse.

The lengthy ‘Altered’, meanwhile, is a slow-burning exercise in restraint and near-silence, with individual sounds creeping out of a quiet, hazy ether before receding almost as quickly, much like the material on Robert Rich and Lustmord’s Stalker. As with the rest of Ett, it achieves the remarkable in combining minimalism with evocative atmospherics, destabilising the listener along the way to creating a wide-reaching and haunting sonic universe.

A Quietus Review: Into the Failing Light by Lost Harbours (March 13th, 2014)

Aside from being perhaps the best album released in 2012, Southend duo Lost Harbours’ Hymns & Ghosts was also perfectly titled. Despite ostensibly being a folk album drawing from the rich British tradition of the late sixties and early seventies, the presence of droning violins and hushed, spectral vocals lent a deeply unsettling atmosphere to the album’s six tracks, one that felt both heretically devotional and eerily phantasmagorical. It was a stirring and confident “full” debut, at times echoing Comus and Natural Snow Buildings, but somehow existing in a world of its own primordial making.

Hymns & Ghosts should have been a tough act to follow, but the aptly-named (for folkies) Richard Thompson (vocals, guitar, noises) and his violin and reeds wielding cohort Emma Reed have surpassed themselves with Into The Failing Light. This album takes the foundations laid by its predecessor, then upends them before spiralling off into a new direction. Only a few signposts lead back to Hymns & Ghosts, a mostly folk-oriented affair bar the foaming, two-part title track, with its intoxicatingly rural nods to bands like Forest And Trees.

Into The Failing Light sees Lost Harbours dare to strike out into the wind-buffeted wilderness that lies at the core of Thompson and Reed’s music, one where even the delicately plucked acoustic guitars on ‘Whispers In The Night’ and ‘Evening Vessel – Into The Gloom’ feel austere and sepulchral, as if recorded in the depths of a millennia-old neolithic barrow. Thompson’s subdued fingerpicking evokes more recent purveyors of arcane folk such as Matt Baldwin and Richard Youngs, whilst a more fleshed-out palette that includes raging electric guitar on the twelve-minute ‘Portal’ as well as dashes of organ, samples, clarinet and flute on other tracks, somehow contributes to an atmosphere that is brooding, remote and melancholic all at once.

Both ‘Portal’ and the equally (but differently) portentous opener ‘Winter Shall Reign’ perhaps best represent the radical shift in Lost Harbours’ focus in the two years since Hymns & Ghosts. The latter sees Thompson’s morose vocals subsumed in layers of crepuscular violin drones, like a sea-shanty gone haywire. The former meanwhile, starts off with a languid folk melody before gradually metamorphosing into a seething miasma of electrified guitar and violin noise halfway through, bursting at the seams by the close in a wave of feedback and fuzz, as if West Country weirdo Urthona dropped in unannounced on the sessions.

In both cases, Lost Harbours feel like they’re channeling the spirit of doom into more acoustic-friendly territory, putting them on the same plane of metal-infused pagan folk as Ulver and Wolfmangler, except more firmly connected to the devotional heart of paganism. The tempos across Into The Failing Light are slovenly and thoughtful, some tracks more ritual than song.

As with much folk, this is music that is tied to locations, and with titles such as ‘Evening Vessel – Into the Gloom’ and ‘The Undulating Sea’, Britain’s maritime geography hoves acutely into view. We’re not really a nation of sandy beaches and blue seas, more of windswept cliff tops and broiling black waters, and Lost Harbours, perhaps due to their Essex coast origins, channel these vistas on Into The Failing Light, much as Sandy Denny did with different, but equally untethered, results on The North Star Grassman & The RavensInto The Failing Light feels anchored to this bizarre island of homogenous cities, wild moors and ragged coastlines, even as it drifts out of time altogether.

A Quietus Interview – Nature Eclipses Culture: An Interview With Richard Skelton (March 12th, 2014)

Richard Skelton distills music that reflects both landscapes and the human heart. For many years, he has been exploring the countrysides of Britain and Ireland, pausing when inspiration takes him to record aching, heart-rending string drones in a manner that is as intuitive as it is arresting. His Landings album, initially self-released but later delivered to the wider world via a 2009 reissue on Type, revealed an musician whose musical explorations of the wild landscapes of Britain’s north-west somehow resonated with deep-felt emotions inherent in every man or woman listening to them. With his wife Autumn Richardson, Skelton later formed *AR, enmeshing her beguiling, exquisite wordless vocals with melancholic guitar and string drones to elevate the aura of Landings to new heights – most recently on their latest *AR album, Succession. The Quietus caught up with Skelton via e-mail to discuss his unique relationship with landscapes, the emotional impact of his music and how *AR differs from his previous work.

You are perhaps best known as a musician, but are also a writer and – if this is the correct term – printer. How would you define yourself?

Richard Skelton: I make music, but don’t think of myself as a musician; I write, but don’t think of myself as a writer. This is possibly because I haven’t followed the conventional path of ‘formal study’ to either of those professions, and therefore don’t conform to the stereotype. I don’t consider this a deficiency, in fact, for myself, I would consider self-study the only path to personal discovery. Nevertheless, definitions are useful. On my last tax-return, I think I put ‘publisher’, as I run a small press with my wife. Most of our output is our own work; words, music, pictures, but in 2013 we began to publish the work of others for the first time. It feels good to champion the work of others…

How did you come to form *AR?

RS: I met Autumn in 2008. We discovered a shared love of poetry, music and landscape. Given these sympathies, it was perhaps inevitable that we would end up working together. We initially collaborated in 2009 on a collection of place-poetry entitled ‘Typography of the Shore’, and later she lent her voice to ‘The Clearing’ on my Black Swallow & Other Songs album. Autumn then asked me to add strings and piano to her album Stray Birds. During this time ideas for a larger collaborative work began to take shape. We wanted to create a multi- layered response to landscape; a distillation of ‘place’ through texts, music and artefacts. The resulting Wolf Notes comprised a sequence of place-poems and essays, an album of music and a series of found objects.

From this initial, not-for-sale, work we derived a small ‘folio edition’, which we sold through Corbel Stone Press. Each exemplar was named after a toponym in the landscape, and included the music, texts and a small glass phial of incense. On the subject of toponyms, the root ‘*ar’ is an ancient river-name element, thought to mean ‘starting up, springing up, setting in motion’ – we thought this was an appropriate pseudonym for our collaboration, especially as it also spelled out our initials.

Succession is the second album by *AR. Apart from the fact that Autumn is a stunning singer, what made you want to start using vocals in your music?

RS: I don’t consider *AR ‘my’ music, nor Autumn’s voice as simply an added element to an existing formula, although I can understand how it might be perceived as such. Wolf Notes began with her wordless vocal refrain, which itself was a form of call-and-response; hearing the contours of the landscape and transposing them into song. As such, she would never claim the melody as her own. The music then gradually accumulated around it – a long, slow process of deposition. The strings are therefore embellishments of an initial theme, and the work itself is a collaboration, between her and I, but also with the landscape. This may seem rather fanciful, as simply a metaphor, but we spent many months living in that landscape, experiencing it in all weathers, followed its tracks and frequently losing our way – so there cannot help but be something of it distilled in what we made.

 

Read the rest here.

Richard Skelton plays in collaboration with the Elysian Quartet at Aldeburgh Music’s Faster Than Sound on Friday March 21st (click here for info and tickets), and again at the North East’s AV Festival on 23rd March (information and tickets here).

Much of Richard Skelton and *AR’s back catalogue is available to listen and buy at the Aeolian Editions site, and to keep track of Skelton and Richardson’s activities, click here to visit the Corbel Stone Press site.

A Dusted Review – A Daylight Blessing by Claypipe (February 27th, 2014)

Antony Milton and Clayton Noone don’t so much play songs as strenuously interlink ghosts of melody and tempo. The duo hails from New Zealand and they are immediate descendants of that remote country’s underground heroes: The Dead C, Alastair Galbraith, Surface of the Earth.

But where their elders distorted songwriting norms into maelstroms of noise and avant-rock, the wispy, fragmented compositions on A Daylight Blessing are more tantalisingly lo-fi, fuzzy bedroom-born soundscapes where brittle textures are melded to delicate acoustic guitars and vocals subsumed by layers of haze. If rock and pop are woven into Claypipe’s DNA, they have been stripped of immediacy in favour of the intangible, bringing Noone and Milton closer to the hauntology/hypnagogic scenes of the UK and US than their homeland’s alternative scene (with the possible exception of Galbraith).

A Daylight Blessing is an album blanketed by a poignant sense of loneliness and isolation. Although drone and noise are frequent leitmotifs, the acoustic guitar dominates: subtle, low-key finger-picked melodies dip and swirl at the heart of nearly every track, sometimes bolstered by insistent strumming, notably on the gorgeous nine-minute “Change Course”; but mostly left to flutter meekly as Milton and Noone add on layers of feedback and waves of synthesizer drone. “A Daylight Blessing” feels like a sketch for a Neil Young song (maybe “Pocahontas” or “Penny Arcade”), but one left open-ended as fragile vocals quiver and billow wordlessly (or with the words drowned in effects) and the song drifts melancholically to an unresolved finish.

Even the meatier tracks, such as the robust, chugging “Cloud Shaper” with its brooding electric riffs and punkish DIY feel, or the cavernous industrial creaks of “Tried to Believe,” seem to evolve organically, Claypipe allowing each note or surge of feedback to breathe and stretch to the max. Where Surface of the Earth’s music evokes ruined cities and blackened slag heaps, Claypipe’s, whilst no less morose, is the sound of damp forests and desolate sea fronts, at times sounding as if heard through a dense fog. It’s no surprise to learn that A Daylight Blessing was mastered by James Plotkin, whose work in (post-)metal bands such as Khanate and Khlyst has always been earthy and primordial.

“Forlorn Hope” is even more haunting, an echo-laden wordless mantra drifting listlessly over plucked guitar notes, surrounded by a cloud of ever-shifting haze. Acts like Grouper, Belong and even Philip Skelton spring to mind, but, as with the tracks themselves, never stay long enough to take root. Claypipe’s songs are like scraps of paper swirling in the wind: you can only experience them fleetingly, as they seem to disappear even as they hover into view.

A Dusted Review – Sings II by Suzuki Junzo (February 22nd, 2014)

The heavy psych/rock scene in Japan is streaking ahead of any other, with acts like Fushitsusha and Acid Mothers Temple producing music of effortlessly visceral — not to mention loud — weirdness. Julian Cope once dedicated an entire compilation to the scene, appropriately titled Nihon Nihilist, which grouped together luminaries past and present such as J.A. Caesar, Les Rallizes Dénudés and Kousokuya. Add to that the resurgence of Mainliner and the ongoing vitality of the Land of the Rising Sun’s noise scene, as well as a seemingly innate ability to meld and blend genres such as folk, drone and the avant-garde, and it’s clear that Japan is the place to go if you like your sounds hard, trippy or unfathomable, sometimes all three at once.

Suzuki Junzo is a lesser-known Japanese artist who nonetheless seems to encapsulate all of the above on Sings II: Sings Ballads of Contemporary Sadness, Point of Views and General Love and Depression, a strange hybrid of an album that takes in just about every form of music imaginable that isn’t electronic or hip-hop. The album’s core crosses American blues and folk, refracting both through an arcane spirit that recalls Loren Connors and Bill Orcutt. “In the Eyes of Naze” opens the album with bizarre choked hiccups, inhalations and gasps from Junzo over prickly, close-miked finger-picking. It’s as if he’s popping out a ballad whilst dragging on a joint. The track’s sweet central melody is intermittently subsumed by the strange ululations of its creator, building a potent tension. Again, Bill Orcutt’s primitivist approach to the blues springs to mind. Elsewhere, however, Junzo is more straight-forward. “Missummer’s End” and “A Tree of Night’” are charming if unsurprising acoustic ballads in the style of Jackson C. Clark.

Sings II turns meatiest in three central workouts, two of them placed back-to-back in the running order. “Eclipse IV” swamps Junzo’s subdued, morose vocals in screaming electric guitar lines. The cut nudges into Rallizes territory with piercing feedback and open-ended solos, and Connors’ Long Nights is a probable reference point. The wonderfully-named “Crying Out Double Suicide Blues” is more circumspect, the guitars moaning wistfully in the background and Junzo’s vocals reduced to sparse interjections around bleak moments of introspection. If any track inhabits the album’s morose subtitle, it’s “Crying Out Double Suicide Blues.”

At double those two tracks’ length, and arriving after a handful that feel a bit like filler, “Chi No Mure” towers over the rest of Sings II. It condenses into 12 minutes everything that Suzuki Junzo has been trying to express on the nine previous pieces. It starts nondescriptly. A chugging riff repeats for several minutes before being joined by unsettling vocal eructations that sound like black metal samples.  A guitar drone builds slowly to subsume the track in baleful noise. Again, one thinks of Loren Connors and Acid Mothers Temple, and Junzo expertly balances trippy psychedelia with abstract noise. “Chi No Mure” ends in a blissful climax, from which the calm, acoustic waters of closer “The Man with the Golden Arm” are the only possible respite.