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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.’ C. S. Lewis
The terrible wrench of grief grips us all at some point in our lives, and if you’re lucky enough to have evaded its cold clasp it’s only a matter of time. In the throes of deep, profound loss, we desperately cling onto the fantasies whereby the bereavement that befell us had been averted, the gnawing pain of conversations never had finally granted in imaginary scenarios with the deceased. Humanity can get lost in its desperate need to wander in a world they want it to be, and this wounded escapism is understood all too well on the cover of Ghosteen, a picturesque yet artificial fairy tale landscape of white horses and a surrounding natural harmony of kitschy proportions. We know it’s a gaudy depiction, but maybe that’s what we want.
Casually announced last week in a response to a fan question, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 18th studio album Ghosteen (their second double album since 2004’s Abbatoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus) continues with the synth atmospheres first heard on 2013’s Push the Sky Away, but rids further of prominent melodies or rhythms to an even purer state of sonic reductionism. The first eight songs being ‘the children’ and the final, lengthier three songs ‘the parents’, the abstract minimalism that swirls throughout is a softer, more gentle listen than its arguably discordant predecessor Skeleton Tree, erroneously considered to be his ‘grief’ album despite the songs written before the death of his son Arthur.
For a record consisting of mainly keys and strings, the Bad Seeds perform an astonishing act of imbuing each track with a subtle distinct flavour, from the enchanted mourn of ‘Bright Houses’ to the ethereal gospel of ‘Leviathan’, every song creates a winding, twisting traverse of the full spectrum of manifest grief. Its quiet moments are often its most rich, the eerie production that begins ‘Galleon Ship’ masters affecting simplicity as well as any of Nigel Godrich’s work on Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. Cave stretches himself vocally too, reaching aching high notes on album opener ‘Spinning Song’, a far cry from the baritone he established on early Bad Seeds output.
Lyrically Cave is as strong as ever, but his poetry shines as well as pangs on the final act. The title track ‘Ghosteen”s devastating fourth verse utilises the childlike picture of ‘mama, papa, and baby bear’, mirroring the fantasy of the album’s artwork, an essential part of storytelling bonding between parent and child. What could have been cloying in a lesser songwriter’s hands, is an acutely painful consolidation of the joy observed in a child’s playing, to its sudden stinging absence. The wisdom displayed throughout the record and the insight into the universal psychology of grief is distilled on the final musing of ‘Fireflies’: “we are here, and you are where you are”.
Few artists of Nick Cave’s generation are in his league, proving time and again the consummate artist he is. On the Bad Seeds’ 18th album, they have truly delivered an indispensable entry in their towering body of work, a deeply moving and stirring statement that turns deep pain into something honest, knowing, and beautiful.
‘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 its 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.
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.
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.
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.