Album Write-Ups

Rangers ‘Europe on TV’

In 1981s Heavy Metal, two alien space truckers too stoned to fly their space craft efficiently, extend their elongated noses and snort ridiculous amounts of space cocaine, becoming so blitzed they fly straight into some mad, electric stargate. Along their trip, you can imagine the ships antenna would pick up Europe on TV, a garbled signal of static ridden jingles, formerly sent out like the Voyager Golden Record.

Fusing together his two EP’s originally via As Above So Below Records , the titular 2009 cassette and Volvo Jungle Mist, Rangers man Joe Knight has presented a near two hour lo-fi, psychedelic behemoth. A dense collage of fuzzy guitar licks, unintelligible vocals, sci-fi whooshes and analogue scree, as daunting as Sandinista!, but taking no time to suck you in to its warped sonics.

Listening to each tracks contours and cosmic delineations over their respective near half hours are akin to a fucked up radio perpetually tuned in between channels, Dick Dale interfering with number stations before glam punk clashes with audio of dying Cosmonauts. These sketches and fragments of songs melt together in a bubbling goo, mangled teases of a disco tune or Italo-funk number amid the concrète.

Never for a moment does Knight’s abstractions meander. Underneath the psychedelic film is a keen ear for intoxicating rhythms, and pop sensibilities shine through the aural sludge. At the 9 minute mark on the title track, a gloriously proggy cut kicks in, mean bass and Moroder synths drive like a weird 80s cop show theme. 22 mins in a shiny euphoric keyboard strides anthemically, whereas 23 mins into ‘Volvo Jungle Mist’ treats us to a indie-jangle slacker tune, like a cut from the weirder end of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Each excursion into Knight’s respective genre explorations always tease with its sound understanding and competency, but flee before out staying it’s welcome.

Europe on TV is a shape-shifting, amorphous blob of a record, utterly alien yet strangely familiar. This compilation still sounds like a wormhole to the edges of the universe as it did in 2009, and will continue to do so in the next thousand years, picked up by aliens along their hedonistic travels.

New Haunts ‘Worlds Left Behind’

The inanimate, the dead. Everything here lives‘ Alice Sheridan croons on album closer ‘Ice’. The sparks which fly off these contradictions fuel New Haunts’s debut LP Worlds Left Behind both aurally and lyrically, the antagonism between light and dark, beauty and horror.

Worlds Left Behind, mastered and mixed at Bristol’s Free House Studios, is nine tracks of dark-wave, Gothic synth-pop which balances serene atmospherics with nightmarish infernos. Opener ‘Ingrained’ is stunningly cinematic, an electrifying showcase of ethereal sonics and rousing drums with thick synth stabs surrounding Sheridan’s exquisite, goose-pimple vocals. ‘Hymns’ is a gorgeous acclamation to the spiritual binding agent music and art can be, with celestial production reminiscent of Kate Bush’s The Sensual World. Self-titled ‘New Haunts’ is a funeral march, Death in June organs chill the air and further Sheridan’s juxtapositions: ‘Everyone a stranger, anyone a friend.’

Aggression is never too far away, lulled into a false sense of security, you can be smacked sideways with a track like ‘Waves’, a cavernous slab of crunchy electronics and subterranean drums close in on you, a chaotic howl of the visceral oppression of the external world invading our inner beings. Pornography keys swell and drone on the icy ‘Left Me Cold’, whereas ‘Safe out Here’ sees Sheridan adopt a more conversational vocal delivery, frosty reverb punctuated by stuttering drum machines all amount to a thrilling disquiet.

In a scene which can be wrought with uninspired derivatives and by-numbers goth, New Haunts has delivered a debut album demonstrating just how stirring and affecting the dark-wave genre can be, while also producing a piece of work utterly her own. Worlds Left Behind is a powerful artistic statement on the universal and eternal conflicts of life, that profound sadness and the giddy heights of joy are forever fighting each other.

Girl Pusher ‘911’

Blood, sweat, and clown grease paint frequently mulch Gabby Giuliano’s grimacing face towards the end of their punishing sets. Offering violence as catharsis, Girl Pusher provides sanctuary from a world growing uglier day by day, holding the agents of misogyny and prejudice to bloody account amid split lips, static screams, and digital venom.

Hollywood cyber punk duo continue their electronic cacophony via DEFACE records with 911, six corrosive tracks of fuzzing assaults that disorientate as much as excite. Opener ‘Where the Fuck is My Ambulance’ creeps in with 911 sirens over audio from the ‘Marcy tapes’ (previously sampled by My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and The Orb) detailing a runaway hippie’s want for platonic love, before burbling guttural synths and pummeling beats leave you picking your teeth from the floor. A lyrical diatribe of ‘long snakes in tall grass’, less written and more spewed up like bile, raw and abrasive condemnations of indignity at the hands of male entitlement. ‘Reformed Hellraiser’ is a haunting trip into masochism, Jarrod Hine’s drums spasm and stutter against Giuliano’s glitched, whispered confessions of self-perpetuating pain. Pulsing bass synths throb aggressively on ‘Red Was the Color of the Candle’ an acidic paean to utilising one’s burning anger for empowerment, ‘Gentle Marcy’ returning halfway through creating a vulnerable interplay with the intimidating rage. Things speed up on ‘Runaway’, an EBM punk thrasher showcasing Hine’s drumming prowess, before the abrasive ‘Did U Think of Me Last Night’ oozes in with analogue toxicity, a visceral slop of dissonant percussion and bowel churning aural hellscapes. You can scarcely believe that only ten minutes have passed by when finale ‘Out of Breath’ hits you, a fizzing, boiling, stream of consciousness attacking the ‘fucking creatures’ that prey on insecurities, Giuliano ending with the sentiment ‘You deserve starvation, overdose, and best of all, DEATH!!!’

We’re all wounded and scarred by a hostile society, seemingly set to implode before it affords us a modicum of compassion or acceptance. In a messy, divided world, Girl Pusher have created an EP which has exorcised the trauma of Trump’s America, reaches a hand out and offers solidarity, validating your anger and confusion. 911 is a visceral, primal confrontation of a sick society, brutal yet liberating.

audiobooks ‘Now! (in a minute)’

Britain is in a strange place right now, and there’s no lacking in a unique weirdness to mine and plunder. Now! (in a minute) is a glorious conduit of the surrealism and eccentricity which lies unassuming in the heart of our collective everyday routine and ‘normality’.

Electronic duo and aptly named audiobooks was conceived almost without trying. Meeting at a party, Goldsmiths art student Evangeline Ling and in-demand mixer David Wrench (working with FKA Twigs, Frank Ocean, and David Byrne) were already creating sparks before his new studio was even wired in, Ling announcing her arrival the morning after they met with a simple text. Armed with Ling’s sketches and story ideas, and Wrench’s array of analogue synthesisers, a frenzied pace of work followed, taking little more then an hour to complete a track.

audiobooks’s laconic approach to writing and recording has yielded a debut album that’s bristling with new ideas and covers a range of colours and flavours, cohesively held together by Ling’s mordant reportings. Ling’s storytelling acumen is brilliantly demonstrated on the tracks ‘Grandma Jimmy’ and ‘Call of Duty Free’, two tales of hilarious disquiet behind the facade of middle class pretense, backed by dub bass on the former and disorientating modular squeals and skwarks on the latter. ‘Hot Salt’ leaps out of the speakers, a shimmering pop number with expert fat synths and sitar-like licks, and a healthy nod to The Human League. Manic energy is tapped into on ‘Dance Your Life Away’, Ling’s vocals whipped into a screaming frenzy and Michael Jackson hiccups and yelps, the unhinge returning on ‘Dealing With Hoarders’ complete with proggy fuzz like Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein (whom Wrench bears an uncanny resemblance to). Stirring closer ‘Pebbles’ (first heard on their Gothenburg EP) is a truly affecting stirrer, 80s Tangerine Dream swallows you in walls of electronic sheen, surrounding Ling’s commanding vocals.

Spontaneous, urgent, and effortless, Now! (in a minute) is a truly original piece of work, dripping with wit, ingenuity, and one of the finest marriages of pop and story telling.

KOKOKO! ‘Liboso’

Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo, is where the party is right now. Protest and post-punk soundtrack the streets of Lingwala, recalling the no-wave iconoclasm from the ruins of late 70s New York.

Spearheading the new Congolese agit-punk movement is KOKOKO!, fronted by ‘Zagué’ force of nature Makara Bianko and production from French synth explorer débruit. Backed by DIY musicians from the Ngwaka neighbourhood, political tension and urban decay are channeled into a twisted concoction of off-kilter rhythms, found-junk instrumentation and gritty grooves.

Liboso, their first release with Transgressive Records, is another slice of psych-funk with fire in it’s belly. Opener ‘Blvd Lumumba’ is a slow creeper, an auditory finger beckoning you into their world, enticing you hypnotically against an urban aural landscape of clanging pots and broken glass. The fattest synth bass you’ve ever heard warbles aggressively on ‘Azo Toke’, cymbal claps and Arabic flavoured guitar picking builds to a minimalist and primal frenzy. ESG funk sets the tone on ‘Affaire A Mbongo’, a percussive stomper holding up Bianko’s powerful vocals. Kinshasa partner in crime Rachel Nyangombe features on ‘L.O.V.E’ (first heard on 2017’s Tokoliana), synths squeak and squeal against a fuzzy thud of  Nyangombe’s thumb on a live cable, with mysterious garbled voices instilling a touch of menace. Finale ‘Longola Ye Kupe’ ends on a punch of pure kinetics, a driving storm forcing you to dance into a fever.

Tearing down the old order needn’t be nihilistic. Art and music is a formidable asset in the revolutionaries arsenal, and with Liboso, KOKOKO! have delivered an EP that’s so exciting and full of ingenuity, it makes your soul dance, and challenges the consensus deeper than mere didactics ever could.

Plastic Ivy ‘The Glass Horizon’

Plastic Ivy has one sole figure listed as her influence: Marcel Duchamp. Taking inspiration from Duchamp’s philosophy of art serving the mind over the eye, Philadelphia artist Lira Marie Landes has utilised this cerebral approach to explore her search for self-knowledge and actualisation, in the midst of a gender transition during the writing and recording of the album.

The Glass Horizon is six songs of exemplary minimal-synth pop, taking cues from the rich crop of contemporary icy synthesist’s (Xeno & Oaklander, Void Vision, Speaking Parts) and authentic electronic sonics being attributed to her primary use of analogue Roland keyboards. ‘Exit Strategy’ is a frenetic chiller, chunky arpreggiators drive against discordant sinewaves, echoing the aggression heard on Martial Canterel’s Gyors Lassú. Landes’s Residents-like vocals come to the fore on lead single (video shot by Liz Wendelbo) ‘Never Caught in Amber’, a jubilant BPM pop-banger espousing the liberation of embracing your true self. Epiphany turns to playful with instrumental ‘Sticky Fears of Inner Néant’, complete with melodica played by Landes herself, before the post-punk ‘Anaphora’ details the blank canvas our bodies are, backed by Frank (Just Frank) indie guitars and a glorious big synth lead right at home with The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. Menace follows with the cavernous funk of ‘Usury’, then cinematic closer ‘Love on the Floor’ drops us into a sea of reverb and delay, held together by steady drum machines and bass throbs, culminating to a thrilling end to the atmospheric tundra.

Plastic Ivy’s sophomore effort is a dynamic first entry to a proposed series of thematic works, and her balancing of pop immediacy and the weighty quest to promote communication and questioning have been well and truly realised. 

Pleasure Venom ‘Pleasure Venom’

Singer and film-maker Audrey Campbell strikes an imposing presence in the video for ‘These Days’, off the bands second EP Seize. Advancing to a rusted out car, tiki-torch in hand, amid a collage of Soul Train footage, burning infernos, BLM marches, KKK rallies, and alt-right hatred, this is a band confronting the political chaos and ‘white’ hot anger that is Trump’s America head on. Pleasure Venom are here out of sheer fucking necessity.

After two EP’s and a string of high energy live shows, Pleasure Venom are setting the Austin music scene on fire, and their new self-titled release shows no sign of slowing down. Opener ‘Hive’ is a no prisoners punk rock assault, shining a spotlight on fascistic homogeneity, be it brown shirts or red caps. ‘Deth’ hits that sweet spot between punk and garage rock, Campbells powerhouse vocals bursting through the growing cacophony. Ominous piano teases on ‘I Can’t Find my Black Lipstick’, before breaking into jerky, Wilko Johnson style guitar chops, displaying a dexterity and eclecticism keeping the band from being one-note. Their post-punk inclinations are at the forefront on ‘Gunt’, jagged guitar jabs scrape against dub-lite bass, and EP closer ‘Eddy’ has a Nirvana ‘Dive’ riff with theremin like keys percolating amid the thrash, punctuated with the ivory waltz heard on ‘I Can’t Find my Black Lipstick’ returning like a haunted, recurring motif.

Pleasure Venom is an unapologetic assault on musical and political conservatism, and a grenade thrown in the face of the institutes and forces of oppression and white-supremacy.

Mamuthones ‘Fear on the Corner’

A slimy, eyeless alien bares its teeth in a ghoulish grimace, all sickly pink clashing against an electric blue background, colourful yet disturbing. Fear on the Corner is an acid trip that could go ‘bad’ at any moment. What’s not to like?

Mamuthones, named after the mysterious creatures featured in an obscure Sardinian festival, is a freaky Italian psychedelic project fronted by Alessio Gastaldello, former drummer for Sub Pop’s Jennifer Gentle. With line-up changes, an appearance at Liverpool’s Psych-Fest, and a split 12″ with masked Prestonians Evil Blizzard, the unholy spawn that is their debut LP has had a slow gestation.

Opener ‘Cars’ is a feverish ball of nervous energy, skittering drums and glockenspiels, reaching a manic collage of Remain in Light Eno synth boings and jitters. ‘Cars, people in the cars’ Gestaldello squeals, like an alien observer watching our bizarre routines in the silly little worlds we’ve made. ‘Show Me’ is a krautrock burner, steady motorik beats attacked by dissonant guitar jabs and static blasts before unnerving electronic Paul Lanksy keys ooze in, a cold unease fighting against the Nuggets freak-out. ‘The Wrong Side’ is a funky frenzy, boggy bass and scratchy guitar which takes over you, forcing you to dance in a sweaty possessed mania. The swaggering menace of  ‘Simone Choule’ changes pace toward the end, a strutting stomp behind Damo Suzuki whispers and murmurs interrupted by atonal synth noodles and soft piano drops. Things take a turn for the truly weird in finale ‘Here We Are’, a nightmarish soundscape of buzzing electronics wash over each other, building to a hellish brontide of impending peril. Primal and tribal percussion loop against the screaming vocals, bearing witness to some ritualistic conjuring of evil. It’s like Apocalypse Now in space, and you’re the caribou.

Mysterious and curious, yet utterly direct and accessible, Fear on the Corner is a fascinating and original marriage of the peripheries of imagination that psych music can take you to, with a determined urgency to make you move like you’ve never moved before. 

Bob Vylan ‘Vylan’

Elvis didn’t mean shit to Chuck D, and Bob Vylan don’t give a fuck about your middle class, liberal homogeneity.

Bob Vylan are a punk/grime/rap hydra from London fronted by Bobby Vylan and backed by drummer Bobb13 Vylan, with a growing reputation for tearing apart all who come to their wild and raucous live shows. Last years EP Vylan, issued by Ghost Theatre, sees the band taking punk DIY to its logical conclusion, confidently handling all recording, producing and mixing. There is to be no compromise in their pursuit of volatility.

Opener ‘Church of Vylan’ is a mission statement, a call to arms against the state and its forces that seek to divide, possessed voices beckon us like The Evil Dead, before sanctuary arrives with thrashing guitar and merciless drum pounding. Your heads still spinning when eerie interlude ‘Dirt Nap’ creeps in, then the acid rain drizzle of ‘Dying Hell’ forces you to wake up to the illusions of your perceived free will and happiness, a grime rap number with corrosive synths and 808 drums that bleed all over you. ‘Wake Up’ is straight up D.C hardcore and up there with the best of ’em, before closing with a reprise of ‘Dirt Nap’, a 49 second pummeler ending the EP on a note of pure chaos.

Vylan is a kerosene soaked Molotov cocktail, seizing you out of your complacency and forces you to witness their scathing document of divided and gentrified Britain.

Mitski ‘Be the Cowboy’

One look at the cover and you’re struck with a subtle scowl, a look of quiet contempt at your intrusion. Mitski made no secret of how punishing and isolating her heavy touring schedule was, and this weariness is channeled in the glare of an artist undergoing another tired make-up routine, for another performance she hasn’t the energy to muster. Her piercing stare warns us to approach this album with caution.

Mitski Miyawaki has gained a cult following since before even graduating from New York’s Purchase College’s Conservatory of Music, her first two records piano-driven student projects, before introducing fuzzed-out arresting guitar on 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek and to even greater effect on her critically acclaimed Puberty 2, having supported Lorde and Pixies along the way.

Be the Cowboy, off indie label Dead Oceans, continues her emotionally wrought obsessions via the guise of a quasi alter-ego, that of a lone singer under a spotlight in a dark room, with which to explore her new conceptual explorations in narrative and fiction, and giving her tales of love, lust and longing a thematic cohesion.

Each track is on average two and a half minutes, 14 vignettes that never outstay their welcome, hopping from one style to the next with ease, much like Frank Black’s Teenager of the Year. First track and lead single, ‘Geyser’, is a stirring up-swell of organs and strings, deceptively appearing like a love song before reaching a thrilling affirmation of pursuing one’s true calling at all costs. Things take a more playful turn on ‘Why Didn’t you Stop Me?’, electronic bass throbs against brass synths, detailing the dangers of confusing nostalgia with reality. There’s a touch of slacker-grunge to ‘A Pearl’, a thoroughly unsettling anthem with effortless guitar melodies disguising the disquiet at its core, the desire to chase what you know will damage you. The Beatlesesque ‘Me and My Husband’ is a two minute sketch of a married couple, where passion and electricity has been replaced with resignation of each other’s company, the line ‘me and my husband, we are doing better’ delivered with a pained wince behind the loving artifice. Your heart skips a beat on the breath-taking sensuality of ‘Pink in the night’, an intimate universe of infatuation, and the existential relish in the privilege of experiencing such passion, amid rousing reverb-laden delicate guitar work and keys. ‘Washing Machine Heart’ is as catchy as it gets, a feverish pop-stomper with Wurlitzer twee, and album closer ‘Two Slow Dancers’ ends on two ex- high school sweethearts relieving a less complicated youth in one last dance,  a dazzling yet sparse finale.

Be the Cowboy is another insightful examination of human relationships in all its messy complexity, and a confident statement by one of the fast becoming great song writers of the era.