Author: Thomas Phelan

Writer and film-maker, and music lover.

Armitage Shanks ‘Casual Employment’

Does any other brand have greater ubiquity in the British cultural landscape than Armitage Shanks? Usually lost under a film of days old piss, green lime build-up and a sprinkling of old pubes for good measure, its flourish logo has an unrivalled corporate authority and near-monopoly on our most base needs. It’s fitting too. The capitalist pretence that market reward is there for the taking should you have sufficient tenacity and drive is a cruel joke to every overworked and underpaid worker expected to give maximum labour for minimal wage. We all feel it, that the world is broken and geared to serve billionaire wealth hoarders, and that society is slowly swirling down a toilet of creeping fascism, environmental catastrophe and grotesque wealth disparity. If Tory, austerity Britain has a sponsor, it’d be the U.K.’s leading bog manufacturer.

“I’d have a hard time caring on minimum wage so I certainly won’t do it for free!” yelps Maisie Gilchrist on the rallying ‘I’m Not Here For Small Talk (I’m Here For A Latte)’. Armed with Marxist resolve, Gen Z defiance and a cheap synthesizer, Aussie ‘Trotpop’ duo Armitage Shanks scores their yearning for class war with spoken-word style poetry and minimalist electronics attacking the miasma of neoliberal stagnation we’re all forced to participate in. The title of their debut tape Casual Employment states firmly where their solidarity lies and whose in the firing line of their cutting satire.

The bite that lurks within the observational jest across the 7 tracks (final track ‘School Boycott’ a bonus for fee-paying supporters) stings with familiarity. The choking busyness of the modern age, liberal hypocrisy, exploitative bosses, customer meltdowns, and the yearning for some basic fucking infrastructure all deeply felt and experienced symptoms of the failing social experiment which Gilchrist and fellow keyboardist Angus Clarke explore succinctly and savagely. Their lyrical attack is at their most hilarious and pugnacious on the piquant ‘I Hate Every Vegan Except Myself’, tearing apart the feeble futility of ‘green capitalism’ aided by Sleaford Mods style languid bass and hazy keys, Gilchrist’s sneering opine “if only you cared about refugees as much as vegan cheese” dripping with acidic accuracy. The aforementioned ‘I’m Not Here For Small Talk…’ is a paean to every stressed hospitality employee navigating a quagmire of low-pay, ‘low-skill’ attitudes and nearing explosion, the rising blood pressure spurred by punchy, tight drum machines.

Occasional detours into surreal eccentricity provide different avenues to explore their progressive musings. The politics of space and the questionable judgments of what is ‘problematic’ within it are explored on the contemplative ‘The Pigeon Song’, muffled, buoyant synths jump and dart against an account of a pigeon’s extermination due to the fickle criteria of ‘public nuisance’. Their catchiest track, ‘Bug Beat 02’, is also their most puzzling: a curious declaration of affection for ones pet stick insects atop cool drum breaks and a simple yet infectious synth melody. These beguiling diversions create moments of evocations that stimulate the cerebral side while still retaining their sharp humour.

Novara Media‘s Ash Sarkar lamented the ‘dour cultishness and pomposity’ that plagued the public perception of the left for years, and that the road to communism needn’t be dominated by Soviet-style authoritarianism and grey edifices of bureaucracy, but that liberating people from the material and psychological shackles of rabid capitalism can and should be ‘joyful and exuberant’. Armitage Shanks’s Casual Employment tape demonstrates this perfectly: that Marxist rigour and class struggle can be colourful, freeing, and most importantly, fun.

Sluggish Shady ‘Volume Ø “Siberian Dungeon Rap Mix” (Tape Rip)’

Legend has it that a team of Russian engineers led by ‘Mr. Azakov’ drilled a borehole over 8 miles deep in the Siberian wasteland and breaking through to an unforeseen cavity. Lowering a heat resistant microphone into the newly dug crater revealed audio of a terrifying wail of screams and howls that reverberated around the abyss with chilling intensity. Man’s supposed reach into the literal bowels of Hell has been an enduring piece of internet folklore since the nineties, even being attested on the American Christian Trinity Broadcasting Network as proof of the eternal inferno which awaits the sinners who have yet to ‘see the light’.

Hip hop, Scandinavian black metal and medieval aesthetic have been crushed together by dark forces creating the murky world of dungeon rap, a lo-fi swamp of muffled beats and fetid gangsta whine clotted with sludgy flow. Acts like AKABXS, Chemm Doggy Dogg and the many doom DJs and occultist MCs which make up the Manchester Natural Sciences label have pioneered the dungeon rap sound: dank and putrid corpses of old West Coast G-Funk tracks left to rot in the Compton sun.

From L.A. to the icy desolation of Siberia comes Sluggish Shady. As the name suggests, a potent mixture of languorous breaks and a possible affinity with Eminem’s darker alter-ego hangs over his smoggy contribution to the dungeon rap underworld. Allegedly recorded in 1999, Shady’s new album Volume Ø “Siberian Dungeon Rap Mix” (Tape Rip) takes thematic guidance from the local ‘well to hell’ legends to conjure an inspired dirge of demonic possession in da hood.

The seven tracks across the tape all prowl down the back streets of broken needles and used rubbers like the gangs hunting for blood sport in Rockstar’s controversial video-game nasty Manhunt. An earnest warning from a concerned televangelist or Pentecostal pastor introduces Volume Ø…, the Siberian mouth of hell opens to a brief foray in the martial pomp of dungeon synth mired with tape hiss and analogue decrepitude. Second track ‘Dungeon Selection’ stalks along like a seedy curb crawler with acidic menace, foggy synths and stretched vocals bleed together like rancid horrorcore. The ubiquity of police sirens and gunshots as heard on Old School N.W.A is given a nod on the eerie ‘Tha Devil Sees Us’, expert drum machines snap and groove around creepy keys with the ramblings of a hypeman taken over by evil forces at its centre. A shade of Afrika Bambaataa electro percolates against gloomy vocal choirs on the morass of ‘Falling Castle’ before ending the album with the final descent into hell: stinging wind and evil incantations twisting with Wurlitzer organs into a whirling crescendo of torment.

Deftly balancing the arcane introspection of dungeon synth with a sound understanding of hip hop production, Sluggish Shady proves as much as any of his peers the unique way in which the genre’s best examples simultaneously has it’s cold, death grip in the streets of a world spiralling into poverty and violence, and the spectral residue of our corrupted forefathers that fester in the ground as the underworld hits, deals, and shoots-up on top of it.

Spit ‘n’ Static! 1020 Radio #14

‘Sexual freedoms turned into corporate schemes!! Viruses plaguing your thoughts, plaguing your souls!!!’⠀⠀⠀⠀

The acrid, stinging fuzz of Spit ‘n’ Static! corrupted the 1020 Radio studio today, the usual synthpunk splatter we all know and love knotted and twisted with a little alien sleeeeeeze for good measure! Careful…this one bites! 🦠📡👽👌⠀⠀⠀⠀

Electro-spectral entities by Paloma Kop

I Know I’m An Alien ‘Chair of Cola’

It’s not just the dwindling economic opportunity, climate inaction and the greatest disparity of wealth in human history which makes late-stage capitalism the unrelenting black hole of hope it most definitely is. It’s the fucking mediocrity man. The inexorable descent into a hellscape of focus-grouped music and recycled film franchises wrung of every shred of creative potential and risk by the necrotic death grip of market research. Wading through a toxic miasma of a town infested with property developers, you pass the 17th Tesco Metro before enduring another pointless meeting in a pointless job in a boardroom of office middle-manager types so fucking vanilla and tepid you have an out of body experience, your soul screaming at you with condemnation: “THERE HAS TO BE A WAY OUT!!!” The only way out appears to be the one open window of the fifth floor you’re on. Just one jump, and it’s over…

“We live in a world where there is more and more information and less and less meaning,” wrote Jean Baudrillard in his seminal Simulacra and Simulation. The nagging feeling that culture and society is dictated by capital instead of ideas is a recurring theme in the string of releases by I Know I’m An Alien. An art-punk outfit from London with a keen socialist rigour in their synthpunk mischief, the dadaist trio have been taking a flamethrower to the bloated vacuum of neoliberalism with a fizzy mix of Residents surrealism and Devo subversion while sporting oversized, paper collage masks. Changing pace from their prior avant-pop offerings, new record Chair of Cola introduces Lumpy Gravy style tape collage experimentation to explore the modern day alienation of the overworked and underpaid.

Chair of Cola is the aural noise that lurks in the psyche of every confused millennial. A congealed slop of shit Saturday morning cartoons, the same fucking Boston song aggressively sold to you by a boring rock ‘heritage industry’, PlayStation start-up jingles, daytime commercial slime, smartphone interruptions, warbling 90s Disney VHS’s cynically vying for your nostalgia. A cudgel of media noise breaking your face and brutally reminding you that you ain’t no generation, you’re a target demographic. Is it any wonder that the opening track is called ‘Breathing Challenge’, cos we’re fucking suffocating.

“No apologies to the artists whose songs we ruined!” the band exclaim gleefully on their Instagram. Their puckish sense of fun keeps the album from being a draining endurance for the listener. Sudden goofy moments, like the Nokia Gran Vals tune chiming in or the sped-up desecration of Dolly Parten’s Jolene, tells you that their elongated, alien tongue is firmly in the cheek. The occasional detour into eerie lo-fi makes intriguing diversions from the otherwise busy record. ‘Wedding of the Anything’ is a weathered and muffled chiller of white noise and analogue tape decay, and the finale ‘Let’s Make a Living in Music!’ is the last word on biting self-deprecation: a track consisting of nearly two minutes of laughter. With the arts sector and creative industries facing great uncertainty in the face of Covid-19, the guffawing mirth stings with acidity.

When Alan Clarke began to tackle the issue of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland for his 1989 BBC short Elephant, he decided that instead of some trite, moralistic posturing or po-faced lecture on the enormity of the subject, he instead simply showed the violence, nothing more, nothing less, appealing to the gut and our visceral senses over intellectual pondering. Chair of Cola similarly presents to us a soundtrack to the troubled navigation of a world geared by untrammelled free-market dogma and shows us exactly how it is: mad, unrelenting, and seemingly impervious.

Ysbrydion Castell Rhaglan

Deep within the centuries old foundations of Castell Rhaglan lies the spectral residue of battles fought and kings slain. It’s cold, stone ruins a grave for the sodden ghosts of old Wēalas… ⠀
Arcane energy has been conjured with ‘Ysbrydion Castell Rhaglan’, a desolate traverse through the echoing bowels and caverns of a fallen dominion.

Glaciers Noods Radio #15

Noods Radio was hit with the 15th Glaciers last Wednesday, another chilly blast of synth vibez and a smattering of shoegaze and Scouse post-punk for good measure! Wrap up warm! 🎹 ❄️ 👌

Horrid Red ‘Radiant Life’

Listening to anyone of Horrid Red’s releases across their decade long existence strikes you with a rarity in music: a clash of disparate styles that don’t mesh yet is to the band’s strength. This confliction of tangles and knots, of psychedelic washes, synth-pop, Neue Deutsche Welle clangour, and indie jangle scraping together with some friction is a unique and consistent trait of the Horrid Red mood.

An offshoot of the more raucous Teenage Panzerkorps, Edmund Xavier and German frontman Bunker Wolf (Glenn Donaldson and Karsten Scholl respectively) enlisted the help of Burial Hex‘s Clay Ruby and together have been creating a post-punk sound that’s rich, decadent, and deeply exotic. Their latest LP Radiant Life is another cerebral beast, 12 tracks that are both hardy yet introspective.

An electric balancing act of dreamy textures and weighty industrial heft permeates throughout the record. The urgent ‘Omitted Prophets’ is an infectious and rousing mix of acoustic strumming with twisting keys and strings that lift with its buoyant ear for pop hooks. This sense of drama arises frequently, especially on the first track ‘Brazen Altars’ with its deep piano melody and driving bass, and the delicate psych splashes on ‘Fountains of Clouds’ have a touch of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me romance.

The moments of brooding bite are just as exciting. The smouldering ‘Still Suffering’ has echoes of Nick Cave’s Tender Prey, cavernous chants and a beguiling mesh of Eastern Asian scales with bluesy twang all evoke a dusky, ethereal stir. Hazy wanders of reverb and muffled drum machines envelop and fog like Martin Dupont on the title track, exemplifying Xavier’s creative guitar technique, while the tight ‘Divine Names’ sees Wolf adopt a growling, demonic snarl in its chorus atop an otherwise sunny and upbeat pop number. It shouldn’t work, yet feels wholly necessary when listening for the first or 100th time.

The creative fire that fuels Horrid Red still burns white hot even after a decade. Radiant Life is another glorious addition to a heady body of work which manages to excavate meditative soothe within violent discord.

Noods Radio Spotify Playlist


Here’s a little playlist I collated back in January for the Noods Radio mob, a smattering of tunes that fall outside the chilly tundra of Glaciers and generally where my head woz at back a few months ago. Hope you dig! 📺 👁 👌

Macula Dog ‘Breezy’

Witnessing any one of New York visual artist Ben Mendelewicz‘s music videos and record covers is like two alien fingers plunged into your eyeballs, twisting around several times to ensure maximum brain jabbing before extending its slimy, elongated tongue to lick the grey matter and ocular fluid off its many digits. Garish, gooey, gross, Mendelewicz’s warped style found itself right at home among the kindred mutants that make up the weird and brilliant Haord Records.

Not content just corrupting the visual arts, Mendelewicz teamed up with Mark Matthews in 2015 to unleash Macula Dog, a congealed splatter of performance art, fucked-up electronics and eye-popping multi-media theatrics. Like some little bastard brother of The Residents kept locked in the attic for being even weirder than they, Macula Dog have steadily released a string of aggressively strange albums and E.P.s which established the Macula Dog sound: cartoonish donk and kids game show candy saturated with vocoder gunge and synth ooze. Jumping from Haord Records to Wharf Cat Records and inviting Paul D. Millar (from Aerial Pink’s band) to lend his engineering chops, Macula Dog has dared to inject a little pop into their latest offering, Breezy.

Recorded completely live to a 16 track tape, Breezy‘s four pieces are satisfyingly blemished and imperfect, each warble and atonal convulse captured organically. E.P. opener ‘Popping Hot Balloons’ is an urgent flurry of an 8-bit percussion and disjointed keyboards that rub, stretch, and squeak against each other like chewing flat balloons. Vocal slime gunks on the baffling title track, an expert display of keen sequencing skills that play out in a jumbled fashion, each bass throb teetering on the edge of collapsing into a mess of bleeps and screeches. The sonic stretching, inflation, and pulling-apart continue on the taut ‘Red’s Corvette’ before the animated ‘Lissajous’ (named after Jules Antoine Lissajous’s famous curve equation) bring the E.P. to a sludgy resolve of swamped synth gurgles and brittle vocal croaks curdling together with pleasing melodies and psych guitar licks under the electronic soup.

Alien, gelatinous, absurd, Macula Dog’s latest conjuring Breezy is another beguiling slice of strange which hasn’t been compromised by their embrace of pop sensibilities and outside production.

Old Tower ‘The Last Eidolon’

The concept of the eidola has its roots in Greek mythology. Spirit entities which temporarily occupy mortal beings to influence and dictate their decision making for desired outcomes before their eternal rest in the underworld. Ambiguous both morally and by nature, legends tell of Helen of Troy being kept prisoner in Egypt while her eidolon mimic was at the centre of the Trojan War, according to the writings of Herodotus.

The arcane energy which lies neglected under the castle ruins and centuries-old sediment of haunted Europe is a source of fascination and inspiration for Netherlands mage Old Tower. A dark ambient project born from the quasi-orchestral pieces featured in black metal, the sole creative force behind Old Tower mysteriously known as ‘The Specter’ has been crafting a series of deeply evocative and eerie synth pieces utterly immersed in the spectral reverberations of empires fallen and battles past fought, both thematically and in texture. While the murky throb of dungeon-synth certainly courses throughout, Old Tower avoids the PC loops and MIDI Renaissance silliness that can befall his/her contemporaries but instead reaches for deeper, alluring, and richer sonic alchemy.

In contrast to the weathered monochrome of previous artwork, Old Tower’s third and latest L.P. glares with a velutinous blood red, a hint of the exotic traverse of mood and space within. Comprised of three chapters, The Last Eidolon tells a story of a kingdom lain to waste by misuse of black magic and the futile reaching for past glory. Faded memories and desolate introspection pervade the entire record, ‘The Specter’ utilising subtle shifts in tone and instrumentation to convey the haunted echoes of the former dominion.

The first chapter ‘Loremaster’ opens with a ritualistic hammer of a gong crashing through the cavernous expanse. Recurring throughout as a motif albeit in differing levels of reverb and dank, shadowy drones and Gothic vocal choirs percolate deep within the stone fortifications before a sharp interruption of unearthly organs and martial drumming, the ghosts of old warning you not to tread further. ‘Shadow Over Thy Kingdom’ has an industrial clangour in its bowels, the distant pomp of ceremonial might and the metallic resonance of the swordsmith striking together around a mid-section of celestial choral intonations like the conjuring of a once great power. Final chapter ‘The Fallen One’ is a more subdued affair, a meander around collapsed archways and decrepit stone of atmospheric strings and funereal advance, the king wearily resigning himself and his empire to the slow, certain erosion of time. The track is sodden with the hissing fall of rain, the inevitable reclamation of nature that awaits all kingdoms.

Instead of merely presenting an album which provides fantastical escapism, Old Tower instead delivers a record which invites you to reconnect with the fertile aura that inspired centuries of storytelling and lore. The Trojan War, King Arthur, Norse mythology, all legends that stir man’s yearning for meaning and purpose in the short, terrible passion of life. The Last Eidolon is an authentic and beguiling soundtrack to the phantom trauma of the sins of our fathers and the buried empires they once ruled.