Author: Thomas Phelan

Writer and film-maker, and music lover.

Liquid Face “Crumbling Structure”

“…Indulgence, anger, impending doom, confusion, finding your place in the world…” lists Aussie weirdo rocker Cal Donald as to his recurring themes. Easily cataloguing the arduous struggle universally felt by humanity wading through a quagmire of rampant authoritarianism and societal implosion, Donald’s casual ticking off of motifs touches a natural and perhaps accidental profundity that belies his irreverent front.

Originally in garage-pysch band Draggs along with fellow scuzz thrasher Kel Mason, Donald has been cutting a similarly warped slice of lo-fi synthpunk with new project Liquid Face, unleashing a string of fuzzed-out minimal dreg choked with rubbery keyboards, murky vocals and acerbic snot. Dropping new EP off the back of pandemic turmoil and isolated rumination via trusty Italian label Goodbye Boozy Records, Crumbling Structure, as the title suggests, soundtracks the rotting orthodoxy that’s inching towards collapse.

“Is this the Police? Fuck you!!!” yelps a cartoon Adolf Hitler from martial arts comedy Kung Fury, opening the album on first track ‘Power Trip’, a seething diatribe against fascistic police and the tiny little men intoxicated with their unearned authority, Donald’s lyrical spits of SS door knocks and WWIII giving disorientating charge with fizzy drum machines and warbling synthlines. The polluted congeal of abrasive guitar attack and acrid sonics doesn’t let up across any of its four songs, buzzing its way violently through ‘Lobotomy’ and ‘Impending Doom’ before the final poisoned invective against the apathetic wealth hoarders in ‘2083’, Donald’s tirade puncturing through the fetid, lo-fi broth with the repeated split-lip of “money, power, less by the hour” stinging with queasy familiarity to any overworked and underpaid millennial/Gen Z.

Saturated with all the punk swagger and derisive humour one expects from the distinct Aussie eggpunk scene, Liquid Face hides an affecting and personal exposure beneath the grime which sets him apart from his freaky contemporaries singing about mutant rats and alien game shows (as great as it is). Crumbling Structure is a gloriously corroded ten minutes of caustic feculence smouldering with radiation burns that perfectly scores the current disintegration of Western Civilisation.

RRS ‘Tonight’

Cardboard is not immediately what comes to mind when seeking inspiration. Perhaps the heavy-duty, paper-based material is unfairly forgotten, a major resource for many budding creative, be it a primary school nativity play to the avant-garde peaks of Hugo Ball’s Cubist costume worn while delivering his Dadaist poem ‘Karawane’.

It’s also a perennially a recurring motif for Bristol artist Robert Ridley-Shackleton. Spending the last decade releasing an exhausting amount of tapes under Cardboard Club and the now-defunct Hissing Frames, RRS has been unleashing a deeply offbeat mesh of idiosyncratic performance art, surreal stand-up and lo-fi tape experiments. Describing himself as “the cardboard simulacrum of the artist formerly alive and known as Prince”, RRS takes the brittle and primitive minimalism of Suicide but infuses the frangible vibe with warped humour and a thoroughly weird take on pop.

Tonight, being the soundtrack to his titular film exhibited at Tusk Virtual Festival, is another fuzzy collection of atonal synths, crude drum machines and stream of consciousness lyrical oddities. RRS’s affection for funk plays out on the title track and EP opener, a skewed and muffled murk of ‘Being Boiled’ style basslines and preset beats which sputters along to the Cardboard Prince’s proclamations of looming stardom, his repeated line “tonight I’m going to be” like a particularly warped episode of Stars in Their Eyes. This congealed slop of bedroom DIY production and RRS’s jocular incongruity never lets up, the roiled pop twisting and turning throughout save album centrepiece ‘Dusty Feeling Vs TJ Laser Face’, a commentary on a wrestling match between the two aforementioned prizefighters strewn with witty musings. RRS is smart enough to keep the EP at a lean length, never allowing the unorthodox nature of the music and delivery ever becoming stretched or testing to the listener.

With RRS being an ‘outsider’ artist in the truest sense of the word, Tonight further cements his reputation as one of Bristol’s most radical and hilarious dilettantes, a gloriously misshapen and absurd piece of work that enthralls with its precarious improvisation, hissing decrepitude and upside-down humour.

Spit ‘n’ Static! 1020 Radio #19

“Healthy livestock so we can eat, human flesh is porky meat HEE HEE HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE…”

Alien visitations descended upon the 1020 Radio studio today, the Spit ‘n’ Static! signal taking a brief detour away from acrid synthpunk toward cosmos exploring psych! So shave your head, slip on your Nike Decades and ‘graduate’ with a bag round your head, barbiturates in your blood chasing the great Hale-Bopp comet just as Do told yer too!!! ❤️ ✝️ 🧪 📡 🧃 👽 👌

Loyal disciple ‘graduating’ by Glitched Memories

Angry Blackmen ‘Headshots!’

“I’m the minstrel man, cleaning man, pole man, shoeshine man, I’m a n****r man” sang Scatman Crothers on the opening to Ralph Bakshi’s controversial Coonskin. A cult satire on race politics in 1970’s America subverting the rose-tinted nostalgia of Songs of the South, its stark use of ‘darky’ iconography and plethora of ethnic stereotypes still prompt fierce debate as to the merits of its social commentary. Perhaps the films most zealous castigators are pearl-clutching liberals mired in performative politics and self-satisfied moral sanctimony. Beloved by many in the African-American community, (including Spike Lee and Wu-Tang Clan, the group even wanting to produce a sequel) Baskhi quipped “Everybody loves the film except for the white guy in the street, but that’s always been the case”.

A grimacing blackface inked on Caucasian skin burns potently on the cover of Angry Blackmen‘s latest EP Headshots!. An experimental hip-hop duo formed in Chicago by Quentin Branch and Brian Warren, their very name a provocative exercise in confronting White America with its crafted tropes and archetypes deployed to justify its continued supremacy. Fusing the city’s alternative hip-hop heritage of Kanye West and Chance the Rapper with the industrial volatility of noise mutants from Chicago Research, Angry Blackmen continue the caustic and bruising production as heard on last year’s Talkshit! with even greater fiery resolve.

Coonskin, Oppenheimer’s ‘destroyer of world’s’ speech and Spongebob Squarepants is a queasy, atypical choice of samples for any rap group but illustrate the confrontation and stinging irreverence that courses throughout Headshots! After the narrative introduction to the ‘post-apocalyptic, racially divided’ hellscape in EP opener ‘Dreams!’, an expert slice of taut drum machines and razor synths pound urgently against the duo’s rapid-fire lyrical spit of hopes, fears and braggadocio in the confusing miasma of the Trump era, the media soundbites that litter the track reminiscent of labelmate’s THX1312 synthpunk collages. The title track delves deeper in the sonic cacophony, discordant electronics and digital scree scrape and grind against diatribes of failed late-stage capitalism and its resulting festering resentment.

While the acerbic front never lets up, there are enough shifts in style to provide respite from the programmed assault, albeit an unnerving one. ‘Dance!’ is a skulking trip of hypnotic beats and whining synth that struts along with infectious corrosion, and the crunchy mechanics of ‘Caligula!’ recall Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Reptile’ with its cold, toxic resonance. ‘Rage!’ sees the duo at their most coolly laconic, a terse and brittle beat snaps with biting minimalism, hiding the EP’s most scathing line: “trapped in America, about to go insane!”.

Angry Blackmen have built upon the adroit exercises in primal beats and combative lyrical delivery with an EP that sees their reach into the deeper recesses of noise rap yield a work of greater bite and focus. With an uncompromising admonishment of an imploding society of right-wing ascendancy and liberal hypocrisy stated with great insight and sharp humour, Branch and Warren join the ranks of BLACKHANDPATH and Bob Vylan in making hip-hop that’s inventive, pertinent, and vital.

Hen Ogledd ‘Free Humans’

“Good evening, radio audience…” spoke the world’s first voice synthesizer. Pioneered by acoustics engineer Homer Dudley, the primitive artificial speech machine wowed the crowd at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, despite its cumbersome operation and often unintelligible sentences. For all its technological marvel, the ‘Voder’ was meticulously controlled behind the scenes by Helen Harper, needing to press an array of keys and pedals to create the desired vocals. Every great leap forward in scientific progress, like the Sputnik 1 or the birth of cinema, that truly captures the imagination and points to exciting possibilities are always endeavours that tap into a certain magic, the ‘sense of wonder’ found in any great piece of science-fiction.

Dudley’s famous electronic speech also opens ‘Remains’, the sixth track from Hen Ogledd‘s latest album Free Humans. A quaint celebration of the human voice and its many harmonic components leading to a stirring climax attesting to the eternal ripples of vibration from every word ever uttered. This mesh of scientific rigour and curious alchemy was well evident sonically and thematically in 2018’s Mogic, an intriguing portmanteau of ‘magic’ and ‘logic’. Initially conceived by Geordie folk artist Richard Dawson and Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies as a more free-form outfit, the addition of members Sally Pilkington and Dawn Bothwell yielded a more focused approach to their avant-garde, retaining the amorphous electronic experimentation but injected with expert pop hooks. Mogic‘s balance of the ‘technical and mystical’ and its imbued fascination with the arcane British Isles (Hen Ogledd meaning ‘Old North’ in Welsh) serves as an appetiser for Free Humans, an album which is nearly double in length than its predecessor and affords the band a greater scope with which to explore a wider breadth of sounds, styles and ideas.

The evocative power of sci-fi at its best weaves in and out of Free Humans, but especially shines on the radiant ‘Crimson Star’, detailing a voyage around the mysterious carbon star that glows red in the Lepus constellation. Davies’s sublime harp plucking glimmers over strident keyboards that all coalesce together joyously, Dawson’s falsetto depictions of eternal sunsets and translucent flowers reminiscent of Roy Batty’s recounting of glittering C-beams and attack ships on fire from Blade Runner. Subtle detours into dystopia bring warnings such as ‘Space Golf’, a cautionary anticipation of the greed and wealth disparity that plagues Earth being brought along our space travels to blight the next planet, countering the bleak observation of flawed humanity with a piece of absurdist truth: no matter your wealth and power, the rich boys can’t play golf in space.

Celery bites, crisp packets, and gargled ‘cooncil juice’ (that’s Scottish slang for tap water didnae ye ken?) are all legitimate instruments in the band’s pursuit of strange textures and skewed composition. The sinister turn of ‘Paul is 9ft Tall (Marsh Gas)’ features thrillingly spooky vocals from Bothwell, witchy vocals whispered with malevolent relish hiss amid a bubbling cauldron of disorientating synths and cavernous post-punk bass. Songs like ‘Earworm’ and ‘Bwganod’ (Welsh for scarecrow) are almost stream-of-conscious lyrical rantings, the former a volatile slurry of nuclear anxiety and choking earth urgency with the thoroughly unambiguous ‘tick-tocking’ of impending doom while the latter is an art-club dance banger from hell cursing the algorithm invasions of the Spotify world. The eccentricity reaches its apex on the bizarre cover of ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’, originally from Scottish poet Edwin Morgan, the frenetic percussion and warped vocals breathe strange new life to the piece, Bothwell singing lines like “Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgabrlgabrl fok splfok” with gusto.

The band know when to throw in a perfect pop song to counter the weird. The lead single ‘Trouble’ is a gorgeously infectious and catchy number with irresistibly groovy bass and shimmering lead synth, the whole song glows with life and threatens to be one of the ‘earworms’ so fretted over in the namesake track. ‘Time Party’ struts along with swaggering pomp, Dawson contributing some fantastic Eurodance style interjections, and the ostensibly meandering ‘Feral’ hides a hypnotic beat underneath its subterranean stomp. Their self-described ‘wonky pop’ bob up and down throughout the record, shining a moment of unifying pop even at their most idiosyncratic.

The ‘mogic’ of their last record has been expanded and mutated in a gloriously beguiling and strange album, a kaleidoscopic trip that twists and turns through pop accessibility and uncharted sonic territory. Showing how full of ideas Hen Ogledd still is, Free Humans is a fascinating and utterly unique piece of work which points to the stars and triggers our deepest ‘sense of wonder’.

EXWHITE ‘Stalker’

Ever heard of hyperdust? Legend has it that those tired of mere cocaine would add chewing tobacco, amphetamines, ground-up candy and PCP to create a brown slurry which would get you absolutely off your face. The adrenaline rush of sugar ‘n’ speed hittin’ your brain like 2,000 volts of acid-soaked lightning can be experienced with one blast of EXWHITE’s latest album Stalker. It’s easier to get hold of than angel dust anyways.

Hailing from Halle, the ‘Kings of Saxony’ EXWHITE join the ranks of BikesSuck, and Lassie as the scuzzy face of the German garage-rock revolution, spitting the rawest and sleaziest R ‘n’ R with a potent spike of hardcore. Following a split release with Lassie in May, EXWHITE has scooped up tracks as featured on their joint EP and unleashed an explosive sophomore effort of punk bawdiness at its most electric and brilliant.

The 12 tracks leap out of the speakers, at times reaching Raw Power levels of intensity. Songs like ‘Kings of Saxony’ and the title track are wild blasts of furious energy given urgent life with its expertly lo-fi production, you can almost taste the sweat and B.O. pumping out of your speakers. That essential obnoxious snot oozes out of frontman ‘Fry’s every pore, his screeching vocals spewing with snarling acidity and occasional eggpunk nasal atonality, particularly heard on the possible ode to everyone’s favourite wonderdrug ‘Hyperdust’. Intermittent shifts in pace demonstrate the band’s scope beyond crude swagger. ‘High Society Punk’ is an intriguingly weird strut of anthemic indie jangle which wouldn’t feel out of place on Cheap Trick’s debut record, before the stomp of ‘Cancer’ shows a penchant for glam brash.

Like a mouthfulla’ that mythic, fizzy sludge, Stalker is a wildly raucous and gloriously abrasive animal of a tape which excites the soul with its cool irreverence and frenzied energy.

Spit ‘n’ Static! 1020 Radio #18

“我爱北京天安门, 天安门上太阳升!”

Everyone’s favourite synthpunk invasion smashed into the 1020 Radio studio like Deng Xiaoping’s disembodied head today, another acrid hour of garbled alien interference glitched out with 16bit HappySoft viruses!! ☭ 🎮 📡 👽 👌

Martial Canterel ‘Horizon Ltd.’

Algorithms are only reflective of the society which creates it. The nations biases and presumptions of class aptitude revealed dramatically in the U.K. school results fiasco, whereby the flawed predictive model used by the examinations regulator Ofqual to assign grades to students unable to take their exams due to COVID scored pupils from public school higher than the majority in state comprehensives. Similarly, the plethora of data-dictated playlists vying for attention on streaming sites like Spotify are, as consistent with the increasingly marketised world, pushing for perennial consumption over the authentic discovery of underrepresented artists. There is no risk in the world of voracious capital, and as the ubiquity of automated culture grows greater, our scope for a truly alternative community or movement fades into further artifice.

“…the dissolution of space and time, the emptying out of the future – the narrowing of our collective Horizon.” There’s always been a cerebral rigour to Martial Canterel‘s work. Initially studying philosophy before being taken by the synthesizer in his college music lab, Brooklyn based artist Sean McBride began crafting a thoroughly chilly take on synthpop anchored by a veneration for live analogue hardware and heady examinations of existentialist themes. Finding greater fame as one half of Xeno & Oaklander, McBride has steadily been releasing a string of work under the Martial Canterel moniker which continues his immersion of the coldwave heritage and provides a crunchier, industrial menace in contrary to the more glacial and ethereal electronics of his collaboration with Liz Wendelbo. Latest EP Horizon Ltd. sees McBride explore the eroding space and vision for the mistakes and variables which encourage art and the creative process.

EP opener ‘Remake the World’ establishes the mission statement succinctly and with dramatic urgency. A call to arms against the forces of passivity and the derivative with harsh drum beats and foreboding melody bristle against McBride’s distinct mastery of cascading sequencers and volatile frequencies. Caustic grooves slither with a weird carnal strut on the robotic swagger of ‘Melegseg’ (meaning ‘warmth’ in Hungarian), an irresistible blend of abrasive but funky percussion and cutting synths that slink and glide like the singing keys on Depeche Mode’s ‘Leave in Silence’Excavating his back-catalogue to rework 2007’s Other Half, the austere sting of the original is given greater sonic expanse of frenetic angst which recalls the aggressive dissonance as heard on Gyors Lassú, before the title track hits you with expert punchy basslines and metallic clangour which demonstrate McBride’s masterful ability to fuse seemingly difficult textures with dancefloor energy.

The corporate death grip of our collective horizon has been expertly articulated in another fantastic entry to a body of work which has been establishing itself as one of the most forward-thinking and pioneering in contemporary electronic music. Cutting the iciest and most fascinating examples of minimal-synth, Horizon Ltd. shows clearly that Martial Canterel is still full of ideas and retains a clear voice in the crowded synth scene filled with ‘imitations of imitations’ he no doubt inspired.

Glaciers Noods Radio #19

The 19th Glaciers show hit Noods Radio last Wednesday, another hour of the usual chilly post-punk and ice-wave vibez but spiked with a little arcane magick for good measure! Check it!