2019

Iona Fortune ‘Tao of I Volume 2’

‘Originating and penetrating, advantageous and firm’ is the first line to Zhōu Yì, the central core of the ancient Chinese text I Ching. Meaning to be open and upon receipt of divinity and further enlightenment, Qián 乾 and the 63 other units which comprise the archaic manual has profoundly influenced Eastern thought and provided the western world with spiritual guidance on art, literature, religion, and science.

Tao of I Volume 2 is the second entry in a planned eight-volume series of works which explore each of the 64 hexagons in it’s correct, King Wen order. Inspired by Jon Hassell’s ‘Fourth World’ theory, Glaswegian artist Iona Fortune fused her sound understanding of traditional Chinese instrumentation with deep synth washes to conjure the heady and brilliant 2017 debut Tao of I, winning her a support slot on Shellac’s U.K. tour of that year.

Expanding her palette of sounds with the addition of indigenous instruments such as the Zhong and Yanquin, Fortune avoids her sophomore effort feeling like a retread of her debut, but instead provides new hues and flavours to illustrate a sense of journey, or ‘Tao’. The thick rumbles of the EMS Synthi AKS cut and bristle once again, but you stumble into new territory on the nervy woodwind of closer ‘Yù 豫’, the flute-like Bawu creating skittish and troubled energy.

The zen balance of the synthetic and organic courses throughout, the meditative percussion and echoing strings on ‘Xiǎo chù 小畜’ recall Eduard Artemyev’s haunting score for the cerebral sci-fi classic Stalker, as well as Coil’s ambient explorations. The utterly exquisite ‘Tài 泰’ reaches extraordinary depths of arcane mysticism, beautiful singing Erhu strings glide and soar to sensual serenity, doing its hexagram meaning of ‘Peace’ or ‘greatness’ justice.

The world is busy, stifling, and choking itself. Spiritual nourishment has no value in the rapacious demands of the neoliberal age, and we’re sicker and alienated for it. Tao of I Volume 2 reminds you there was a world before it, a universe of curiosity you’re probably neglecting, and sincerely transports you to the ether.

䷈ ䷉ ䷊ ䷋ ䷌ ䷍ ䷎ ䷏

Kamikaze Palm Tree ‘good boy’

The psych cauldron currently bubbling away in the West Coast with acts like Goon and Spellling has belched forth another offering. Enter good boy, the second album of noise outfit Kamikaze Palm Tree, a sophomore effort which plays out like a jumbled ‘n’ jangled old jack-in-a-box, skewed pop and upside-down melodies turn the crank before the occasional jolt of frenzied drone rock and Avant-weird experiments.

Duo Dylan Hadley and Cole Berliner know how to fuse disparate, seemingly mutually exclusive arrangements and styles into a disjointed yet fascinating mess. The mangled ‘Sharpie Smile’ is a crooked house of cartoonish glockenspiels fighting with laser synths, punk thrash and eerie serenity congealed into a disquieting frenzy. No Wave incongruity scrapes and thuds on ‘Wants More’, intercut with brittle guitar textures that lift Hadley’s commanding, Nico like vocals.

Like The Velvet Underground, a sweet song is never far from the dissonance. The title track ‘Good Boy’ shows the bands penchant for sunny psych-meanders, a seemingly innocent and child-like meander of gentle acoustic strums and toybox percussion, before the twee deteriorates into an unsettling slew of atonal guitar, like flies caught in it’s cloying. Their psych inclinations and affection for unorthodox arrangements creep on the hazy dream of ‘You Talk’, surf guitar and Radiophonic Workshop effects mix to a languid fog surrounding Hadley’s sluggish delivery, and reach even headier heights on the various ‘Bongo’ interludes peppered throughout (replacing the ‘Clown’ from previous record The Ocean is the Solution).

Irregular, inside-out, and thoroughly unpredictable, good boy is an intriguing contortionist of a record, bending into impossible shapes and twisting itself into strange and brilliant forms.

Goon ‘Heaven is Humming’

Is that a wry smirk on the goblin? Or a grimace to be met with caution? Sporting the Poway City area code and a halo, Goon frontman and sleeve artist Kenny Becker presents us with an impressionist being that perfectly captures the hazy, textured indie-rock contained within.

Three years in the making, Goons debut LP Heaven is Humming has had a tumultuous gestation, Becker embracing an engagement while battling a chronic sinus condition which dulls the senses. The sparks which fly off the antagonism between light and dark were present on prior EPs Dusk of Punk and Happy Omen, but as art imitates life (or the other way round), the tension that bristles underneath has been afforded a wider palette of moods and styles.

Who would have thought shoegaze slack and big monster riffs could get along so well? Goon know how to make an exquisite racket, dreamy vocals strut alongside Drew Eccleston’s hard rock crunch on the thrilling ‘Northern Saturn’, interjected with sunny jangle guitar. Punk energy burns on banger ‘Datura’, Source Tags & Codes style heavy with Pixies vocals explodes into a thrasher so exciting you nearly quit your job to form a band. Lethargy rears its head when it needs to, never deteriorating to a bland drone which can befall their slacker contemporaries, most notably on opener ‘F Jam’, a gloriously sludgy wade through crashing drums and wailing, pained vocals.

The album shines in it’s moments of pause. The beautiful introspection of ‘Snoqualmie’ (named after the City much of Twin Peaks was shot) appears like a mirage, expert acoustic fingerpicking with all its intimate blemishes and string scratches soar with aching strings and subtle surreal sonics. Things end with an anthemic air on closer ‘CCLL’, a stirring and nostalgic plume haunts the finale with gorgeous synths and tripped-out psychedelia, before drifting away like the waning of an LSD trip.

We needn’t fear the goblin of Poway. In just 11 tracks, Goon has delivered an exceptional debut record of electrifying melodic, shoegaze soaked with sun and the occasional menace. Heaven is Humming has the power to trigger memories you forgot you had, and illicit emotions long suppressed.

Elizium ‘ELIZIUM’

Subtly operating off the L.A. radar is lo-fi post-punk outfit Elizium, consisting of rather obliquely named duo WL and SM. With little social media presence and scant information of the band, Elizium quietly slipped their self-titled demo EP to little fanfare, although one could mistake its demo production with characteristic tape hiss. The quiet release of ELIZIUM and the semi-anonymous nature of the band belie just how fantastic the EP is.

The urgent snap of steady snares and grooving bass swirl against WL’s muffled vocals and synth lines on opener ‘Monotonie’, the motorik drive given greater acceleration with tight punk riffing. ‘Reflection’ is a wistful and slightly sombre wander through foggy keyboards and damp drum machines held together by rich synth-strings before the cavernous crunch of ‘Promises’ takes the EP into more menacing electro territory. EP closer ‘EZ’ ends on a note of dreamy shoegaze punctuated with the industrial chug of abrasive percussion, the whispers that percolate within vying for attention.

WL and SM have hinted at an intriguing and infectious future of psychedelic punk with ‘ELIZIUM’, a promise of an exciting path ahead of tripped-out grooves which bites as well as soars.

Cyberplasm ‘The Psychic Hologram’

The closest thing to an official online presence, besides their Bandcamp, is a manifesto of sorts on ‘Thee Cyberplasm Institute’, a cryptic page extolling the hidden powers that lie in the psyche and consciousness. A mini-panic ensues when a strange MIDI file starts downloading as if accidentally stumbling upon some dank, dark web illegality. This is Videodrome for the social media age.

Cyberplasm are an industrial noise-thrash trio from Olympia, Washington, dosed up on William Gibson and 2000 AD Comics spitting caustic punk declarations of war on the socially constructed peripheries of the body amid buzzing ‘Nag Nag Nag’ guitars and acrid drum machines. The electrical smoulder first hinted at on last years EP What Is Flesh? is given more scope to burn with greater ferocity on their debut LP, out via Iron Lung Records.

At just under half an hour, The Psychic Hologram packs hardcore punk, EBM aggro-synths and even a touch of NWOBHM heavy metal into a volatile mix of ephemeral fury. Mötorhead speed filtered through a computer screams with indignant rage on ‘Dopamine Machinery’, before the tekno D.C. pummel of ‘Beyond the Mind’ tears you limb from limb while imploring you to seek beyond the physical realm.

Punchy arpeggios pulse and hiss on the febrile title track, a moment of tense and taut respite amid the electro discord, while the dystopic synths creep again with stinging minimalism on ‘Perfect Body Pt. II’. Sticky residue clings from the two tracks, both terse warnings of the fascist threat on bodily autonomy.

With the cyberpunk themes and imagery potentially looking silly in a lesser artists hands, Cyberplasm has utilised succinctly what makes sci-fi the societal anxiety exorcising and cerebral force it can be, while delivering some of the harshest and exhilarating punk rock that’s out there.

Visit Thee Cyberplasm Institute here.

SUCK ‘Frog’

Germany has witnessed a renaissance in garage rock over the last few years, the proto-punk sounds of Nervous Eaters and The Dictators well and truly alive amid the roster of bands under the wings of labels like Alien Snatch! and La Pochette Surprise.

Shoving Hamburg and Berlin out the way for the title of most thriving punk scene is Kassel, home to lo-fi psych-rockers Sick Teeth. With members of scuzzy contemporaries Catch as Catch Can and Counts on Crack teaming up with comic zine artist Isabell Rutz, ‘Casselfornia’ has a new and fuzzy mutant lurking in it’s Fulda waters…

SUCK’s debut EP Frog is 6 jabs of superb, synth-laden garage-punk, and hits ‘ya instantaneously like an intracardiac injection with opener ‘Gimme Your Number, an insanely catchy blast of beat-up keyboards and call and response shrieks which rubs shoulders with the best of the class of ’77. Filthy psych works its way into ‘Bulletproof’, frantic guitar chops corroded with nasty analogue keys clogging the thrash with Moogy murk. Double denim hard-rock changes pace on the Sabbath inspired ‘Mama’s Got a Backpatch’, riffs veering between nice and doomy and urgent punk crackle, all held together with Rutz’s commanding vocals, before final track ‘SUK’ ends the EP on a note of pure hot-rod acceleration.

SUCK may well be the most exciting thing in Germany right now, and with Frog, have delivered 16 minutes of exemplary punk rock, full of hooks, spit, and swagger.

SANS ‘Misophonic Songs’

Misophonia literally means ‘hatred of sound’, the phenomena whereby specific sounds can trigger negative physical and emotional reactions. The cover of last years single Limbo features what looks like a tormented call centre worker driven to the edge, just one more crushing and useless phone call away from a profound spiritual chaos. Misophonic Songs, like Fear of Music, is an apt signal of the unease contained within…

SANS are a post-punk trio steadily making a name for themselves with their energised and cacophonous live shows in Bristol. Stirring a noxious brew of ‘Naomi Punk’ like time signatures, gargantuan metal wrath and throat shredding screams, the intensity of their sets has been exorcised all too well for their debut album.

Shellac riffing opens the record on ‘Meaningless’, a noise-rock pendulum veering with awesome force between seething punk venom and nimble indie introspection. The cosmic savagery of Swans dominates the eerie ‘Wipe Dread’, crashing, rolling drums pummel your soul amid a cold, static wind, before deteriorating into a febrile ruin of whispers.

(What sound like) double drum pedals are most welcome on the furious ‘OK’, a touch of Sepultura’s ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ explode into a twisted and disorientating whirl of volatility. The thickest, nastiest, bass you’ve ever heard churn and scrape on the sinister chug of ‘It’s Your Party Priscilla…I’m Just Dancing on the Tables’, their more psychedelic inclinations fighting against the ravaged guitar scratching wail that closes the track.

At just 28 mins, SANS impressively take the weighty cohesion of a Swans record and distill it into a taut and punchy mini-album, both epic yet burning with white hot urgency.

Lynks Afrikka ‘Str8 Acting’

So why should anyone be ‘straight acting’? Scroll through Grindr and every third profile will be seeking ‘Masc4Masc’, as if repressed anger and cargo shorts are appealing to anybody.

The simultaneous message of embracing ones queerness yet fetishising heteronormativity is a contradiction mused by Bristol’s Elliot Brett, producer and ‘father’ of electro-punk/drag/grenade Lynks Afrikka. Armed with a healthy dose of disregard for genre or even format (their first release being a ‘fragrance for the mind’), The Church of Lynks Afrikka has been converting with their outrageous and provocative live shows, a subversive force even within the queer community.

Moving away from the downbeat industrial pop of last years ‘Don’t Take It Personal’ second single ‘Str8 Acting’ is an off-kilter, Patrick Cowley NRG, club donk banger, nightmarish yet fun all at once. Big fat synths bounce and boing like an MDMA come-up, the potent stench of sweat and Joop! hangs in the air while the chatter of drunk students outside the Lizard Lounge thrusts you into the dankest and perhaps most boring corners of perfunctory Bristol night-life.

Drawing from the influences of the LGBTQ+ scene while being mischievous and daring enough to poke fun at it’s foibles, Str8 Acting is another gleeful tearing down of the stagnant homogeneity that dominates club culture. All hail Lynks Afrikka!!!

POW! ‘Shift’

Neu! Snap! Wah! Monosyllabic onomatopoeia with exclamation punches are telling statements of intent. POW!, named after an L.A. festival called Party Out West where band members Byron Blum and Melissa Blue met, is confidently adorned across the cover of their fourth album Shift, making quite clear that this is a record about impact and hittin’ ya. Hard.

Fleeing the death rattle of gentrified San-Fran, but taking its art punk heritage of The Screamers, The Units, and Chrome with them, POW! decamped to the fringes of L.A. to soak up the grit and broken glass that was arguably missing from 2017’s Crack an Egg. With their fangs sharper and beat-up synths ever more fizzier, POW! bring a heady brew of punk rock, avant-garde spit and the occasional LSD soaked freak out.

When POW! wanna swagger, they swagger with the best of ’em. Second track ‘Disobey’ is a static ridden garage rock banger, Blue’s oscillations tangle with Blum’s corrosive guitar, yet still tightly held together with a god given hook. The snarl of Helios Creed bears a grin on the discordant ‘Machine Animal’, Blum’s growling vocals penetrated with alien vocoders and Cameron Allen’s motorik percussion. Thick slabs of atonal analogues and electronic trash exhale and gurgle on mood pieces ‘Peter’ and ‘No World’, downbeat wanders through the wrong end of POW! town.

Shift isn’t a mere dystopic exercise however. Chant along glam-disco rises from the septic murk on ‘Free the Floor’, an irresistibly catchy number with a big, fat groove and perfectly placed hand-claps. Echoes of ‘London Calling’ haunt the fervid ‘Metal & Glue’, a straight up rock and roll tune and thrilling demonstration of Blum’s solo skills.

Fizzing, throbbing, buoyant, and electric. Shift is a glam-infused garage rock gem, left to corrode and mutate in nuclear radiation, a glorious punk assault slicked with electronic toxicity.

The Pinheads ‘Is This Real’

Rock & Roll’s in crisis apparently, not that you’d know it when surviving any one of The Pinheads’s legendary sets. Wollongong garage-rock wildfire is sprayed onto the audience like a flamethrower with front man Jez Player bouncing off every wall in a sweaty mania, all that’s missing is the peanut butter à la Iggy, but there’s still time.

Having stormed Europe and set SXSW alight since their 2017 eponymous debut, The Pinnies have teamed up with Bristol’s Stolen Body Records for their second effort Is This Real, a further dose of acid fried surf punk with Rat Fink hot-rod acceleration intercut with sunny splashes of desert psychedelia.

The expanded palletes of sound is evident on opener ‘Pure Hate’, an 8 minute living, breathing monster which builds from Roky Erickson riffing to anthemic power rock, a confident and bold distinction from previous LP’s opening thrasher ‘Second Coming’. The druggy and dreamy ‘Innocent Crime’ belies it’s bitter core, a plea of solidarity among the fringe and socially excluded, whereas the title track is an unabashedly wistful sing-a-long, deftly demonstrating Player’s vocal strength. The daze of album closer ‘Outro’ (curiously called ‘Spread Your Love’ on their Spotify) is a twisted and strung-out trip, under the influence of Dinosaur Jr.’s ‘Poledo’, with muffled whining guitars that drift off like the waning effects of a hallucinogenic.

Don’t think for a moment that the band have lost their nitro Raw Power however. Face melting punk rock explodes in your face on ‘Satisfied’, a wild mania leaps out of your speakers like an animal, chews your face off for 3 minutes before you hit repeat for another savage. ‘No Time’ is a Nuggets stomper with tight grooving bass and screeching solos, with simmering anxiety regarding the ever polarising world tapped into on the biting ‘Not Like You’.

The Pinheads wildfire burns with the same intensity as their debut, but has the aplomb to dare punctuate the rock and roll flame with moments of introspective respite. Is This Real is a bold and electrifying confirmation of their reputation as one of down under’s greatest new acts.