Author: Thomas Phelan

Writer and film-maker, and music lover.

Heads on Sticks 2019

When writing ‘end of year’ anythings, it’s hard to avoid the cliché line of ‘this year was better than the last’, but it honestly feels true. It never ceases to amaze me how cutting-edge, transformative and exciting music is right now, both in my hometown of Bristol and across the world.

After spending an agonising hour trying to write something profound about the year, I instead decided to save the yakkin’ for the upcoming end of decade playlist and instead let the music do the talkin’!

Shout-outs go to Wych Elm for their cracking E.P., Grace Ive’s bedroom brilliance on 2nd, the synth punk renaissance from bands like Isotope Soap, U-Bahn and Dress Forms, and the cutting edge output of the Avon Terror Corps gang.

I hope you dig as much as I did x

Glaciers Noods Radio #11

Frosty coldwave hit Noods Radio for the eleventh time, another hour of icy minimal-synth and its many shoegazey post-punk cousins. This’ll be the last for two months so tune back in in February! 🎹 ❄️ 👌

Dress Forms ‘We Don’t Dig Guitars’

Post-punk’s electro cousin is rearing its head once again, the fizzy synthpunk pioneered by bands like The Screamers and Nervous Gender channelled in a new crop of mutants from the glam infused POW! to Aussie misfits U-Bahn and Set-Top Box.

Joining the weirdo renaissance is art-punk trio Dress Forms. One of many projects featuring Portland punk veteran Jason Nickle (from Conditioner Disco Group and Collate), his live drum duties chopping against Jenny Logan and Izzy D’s primitive keyboards authentically capture that Units-like magic. We Don’t Dig Guitars, following prior mini-LP Display, is another slice of jumpy, lo-fi dissonance captured via analogue 8-track recordings.

For ten twisting minutes you race around tightly wound jams of nervous energy. ‘Ode to Crime’ transports straight to that glorious era of punk possibility without sounding derivative before the yearning for tactility and connection in the digital age ambushes you on the fuzzy ‘Attempt to Connect’. ‘Winter Shades’ veers between moody swagger and thrash fury all held together by Jenny’s shrieking vocals and we’re also treated to a cover of The Fall’s ‘Hey Student’ (Nickles adopting a nice faux Mark E. Smith singing style) and ‘Why Wait’ from Portland labelmates Way Worse.

Dress Forms have landed another cracker of a record, and sits with the best of ’em from Portland’s vibrant and growing music scene.

Holy Serpent ‘Endless’

Black Sabbath. Electric Wizard. Acid King. How is it that stoner rock can flirt so perilously close to prog-rock fantasy both musically and in visual identity, yet avoid its silly pitfalls. Two naked children of the earth gazing out across a scorched desert toward a bellowing volcano, holding each other as if awaiting some monstrous entity, strangely feels prescient. Perhaps that’s the secret, ground your surreal Sci-Fi concepts in a feeling all too real. Less Tolkien, more Jodorowsky.

Melbourne psych-rockers Holy Serpent has once again joined forces with RidingEasy Records for their third LP Endless, a record still heavy with earth-shattering doom metal but with their love of 70s hard rock given greater prominence. Clocking in at 40 minutes across six songs, the band achieve a smart sweet spot of allowing each track to breathe and ooze with sluggish tempos yet retaining a punk-like punch.

Album opener ‘Lord Deceptor’ is an absolute monster, a colossal metal summoning of pounding riffs and phantom keys nearly swallowing singer Scott Penberthy’s eerie vocals. It’s rolling power is so seismic and evocative that for six and a half minutes you’re whisked away from grey reality and into some psychedelic and stirring plane of existence. ‘Hourglass’ reaches similar heights of cinematic introspection, Lance Leembrugen’s drums crush against superb metal wrath recalling Tony Iommi’s sludgier cuts from Masters of Reality.

Strung-out grooves snakes throughout lending the record essential moments of cosmic intoxication. Thick Bass rattles against melodic fretwork on the slack ‘Daughter of the Light’, while trippy acoustic guitar triggers heady contemplation on album closer ‘Marijuana Trench’, ending the record on a note of hazy optimism.

Holy Serpent has touched the holy metal grail with Endless: an album which honours their metal heritage with some of the finest hard rock currently out there, yet it’s haunted sense of melody and stirring momentum achieve a strange sense of cerebral serenity.

Spit ‘n’ Static! 1020 Radio #8

Don your lead codpiece, fly-goggles, and whatever PPE you see fit. The Spit ‘n’ Static! signal was transmitted from the 1020 Radio studio LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! That’s right! Every synthpunk throb, quiver, and ooze to be enjoyed right as it was ‘appening! 👽 👌

Glaciers Noods Radio #10

The tenth Glaciers show hit Noods Radio once again, another hour of the usual minimal-synth coldwave vibez and some additional Belgian avant-pop, haunted choirs, and ice-cool electro from Berlin to boot!  🎹 ❄️ 👌

Robedoor ‘Negative Legacy’

Deep within the gruelling industrial working conditions of 19th century London, Dracula stalked the factories and workhouses in his thirst for blood like capital sucking the life from the proletariat, according to a Marxist interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For all the sweeping social change and technological advancement brought about by the industrial revolution, the toil of the labouring class still haunts the cities of Western Europe.

With the demands of late-stage capitalism as aggressive as ever, its resulting alienation and disconnect have created a new and special spectral residue for sonic alchemists to try and tap into. From Bristol’s Dark Alchemy nights, Manchester dungeon mage Primitive Knot, and the many witch house artists conjuring spooky electronica across the States, potent mystical energy seems to be growing underneath the urban sprawl. Spearheading the wave of arcane electronics is duo Robedoor, an industrial occult drone act from L.A. comprised of unrelated Alex and Britt (co-founder of Not Not Fun Records) Brown, and have built a heady discography together touching on stoner metal, psychedelic explorations and space rock.

Their latest offering via Deathbomb Arc comes Negative Legacy, a four track journey of synth sorcery and sonic hypnosis which feels less performed and more exorcised in some forbidden ritual. While the swampy murk as heard on previous records still engulf, traces of melody ooze within the mire. Album opener ‘Entity Undertow’ creeps in with monk chants and febrile winds before swelling with hissing beats seductive bass, as if one were under a trance at the hands of the encroaching vampire. Putrid electro palpitates on the ravaged ‘Execution Myth’, cavernous drums pounds like the awaiting of the condemned against the feverish hellscapes of squealing synths and alien effects followed by the most evil, nastiest keyboard throb in this life or hereafter. The drum machines penetrate the smog on penultimate track ‘So Unknown’ while album closer ‘Cauldrone’ is a stirring meander through old-world strings, octave pedal manipulations and Martin Hannet style spatial snares.

This is a dark record, but we live in dark times. As the cogs of neoliberalism continue to grind, the workers and city dwellers yearn to touch the beguiling and ethereal. Negative Legacy is both a successful channelling of ancient mysticism and an unholy trip of detachment all too contemporary in the exploitative and disillusioned world we’re subject to.

‘Paul is Dead Man…Miss Him…Miss Him…’

‘We’re not afraid of your gods!’ – Jean Smith

Could it be? A queasy hour of Lennon-McCartney (and Harrison) compositions featuring both idiosyncratic yet affectionate renditions of The Fab Four and irreverent efforts to dismantle their saintly loftiness? Some, such as The Residents 1977 collage ‘The Beatles Play The Residents and The Residents Play The Beatles’ (‘peppered’ throughout the mix in various interludes) do both.

There’s love in Daniel Johnston’s intimate home recording of ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’, martial deconstruction in Laibach’s rallying ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’, and an entire project of dripping sarcasm born from post-punk fatigue of the Quaalude generation in the form of the audaciously titled The Better Beatles. Luv ’em or loathe ’em, there’s plenty to revel in here!

28IF

‘uɐɯ pɐǝp uo ǝɯ uɹnʇ’

Lightning Bolt ‘Sonic Citadel’

It shouldn’t work. White hot, Raw Power punk urgency shouldn’t be able to be sustained across 25 years and seven albums, yet Providence noise duo Lightning Bolt’s latest album Sonic Citadel is another explosion of a record which delivers their signature thrash beat down but also shows new dimensions for the band behind the chaos.

Their reputation for guerrilla style spontaneity is channelled with visceral clarity throughout Brian Gibson’s heavy chug and the wild drumming of Brian Chippendale, the opening blast of ‘Blow to the Head’ transports you to the kind of gigs Hawkwind played during their Space Ritual era, frenzied, sweaty, and pupils very much dilated. ‘Hüsker Dön’t’s sharknado of Chrome warped vocals and furious riffing is an electric six minutes that swings you around the room, then just when you’re trying to figure out what hit ‘ya ‘Big Banger’ pummels with greater acid friend intensity.

Despite the aggression and the racket, there is a joyous affirmation of the power of wild abandon that bristles at the core. ‘Don Henley In The Park’ let’s sun soaked splashes of tripped out guitar picking allow for a moment of psychedelic respite, and the fuzzy strut of ‘All Insane’ shows the bands penchant for a good tune, latent in previous LP’s but now open with giddy enthusiasm.

The seventh strike of Lightning hits harder than ever, with greater primitive barbarity, but with new strung-out spaces of intrigue. Sonic Citadel is a glorious confirmation that the power of Lightning Bolt shows no sign of waning anytime soon.

Rue Oberkampf ‘Christophe-Philippe’

Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf was an 18th-century industrialist, born in Germany but eventually becoming a naturalised citizen of France. His pioneering production of printed cotton won him the mayoralty of the Parisian commune Jouy-en-Josas, and his legacy is celebrated in the many commemorative place names within the capital’s 11th arrondissement, including the street Rue Oberkampf.

‘Franco-German industrialists’ is an apt tag for the Munich based, Parisian affectionate, cold-wave trio. Formed in 2016 and comprising former DJs Michael Maier, Damien De-Vir, and Julia de Jouy, Rue Oberkampf have confidently established themselves swiftly as one of minimal-synths signature acts, their punchy studio output and thrilling audio/visual live sets praised in equal measure. De Jouy’s cool French vocals atop icy jagged synths struck a chord of subtle menace on last years Waveclash EP, but their penchant for club aggression has been fully explored on debut LP Christophe-Philippe, out via Young & Cold Records.

While chilly analogue production is still present, there’s a greater techno-driven kineticism that aims for dancefloor sweat. Pumped EBM beats pound with chunky sequencer thuds on the primed ‘Glycine’, a propulsive electro-banger which swells to momentous heights with waves of expertly twisting arpeggios and bass lines. Furious club pummeling hits even harder on second track ‘La Course’ (meaning ‘The Race’ in English), an electric six minutes of unrelenting tempos, frosty synth washes and hi-hat claps so lightening charged you could almost mistake it for a Blanck Mass production.

Rue Oberkampf’s minimal-wave shards still cut with satisfaction, but the EBM bite that lurks round the corner lends the record a greater dimension and urgency. Christophe-Philippe is a confident and bold debut statement that stands as one of the best examples of the cold wave scene.