2020

Aigue Morte ‘Aigue Morte’

The historic commune of Aigues-Mortes in the Occitanie region of Southern France has inspired writers from Boccaccio to Hemingway, its centuries-old fortifications circling the city and the towers still standing from the days of Charlemagne relics of medieval heritage imbued with a special, arcane energy. The original fortress entrance, the Carbonnière Tower, is surrounded by salt marshes and swampland, ‘Aquae Mortuae’ Latin for ‘dead water’ and the etymological source of the city’s name.

Taking her name from the quagmires of the region is French ’emo pop’ artist Marie Barat. One half of ‘triste’ duo Palavas, Barat has been crafting a hazy and introspective string of swamp-pop cuts as Aigue Morte on SoundCloud before finally releasing her debut EP with Metz label Le Syndicat Des Scorpions, an intriguing eponymous tape of lo-fi synths and bedroom production which feel drifted ashore along the stagnant canals of the Rhône à Sète.

Aigue Morte harmonizes the dreamy and warm electronica of acts like Group Rhoda with an air of melancholy contemplation that injects a subtle trepidation to her sonic enrapture. ‘Carrément’ is a perfect example of this enveloping traverse, muffled drum machines and weathered bass ripple around Molly Nilsson like xylophone that softy lulls into you to a meditative state, its reflective mood serving the ‘mirror’ theme aptly. Barat’s flair for post-punk adds a touch of grit to the vaporous, instrumental ‘Bermuda’ wouldn’t feel out of place as an early Cure instrumental on Faith or Seventeen Seconds, whereas ‘Fantoir’ takes melodic cues from Joy Division’s ‘Decades’. Moments of drama pull you out of the languid fog in thrilling detours, ‘Fruit Show / Waiting Room’ a choral reach for divinity powered by propulsive electro before the EP finale of ‘Choco Pie Shy’ soaks up some of the mystical residues of the namesake town with ethereal strings and haunting keys to a stirring conclusion.

Every one of Aigue Morte‘s eight songs are expert exercises in celestial expanse yet refined with a pop rigour that anchors the tracks and avoids floating off into a pointless meander which can befall her bedroom peers. Enchanting and pensive with a sombre wistfulness at its heart, Barat has delivered a promising debut which soundtracks the collective rumination and uncertainty that plagues the confused contemporary.

Greathumour ‘Choose the Obsolete’

Will the internet ever die? It seems impossible to even contemplate the web’s hypothetical demise, its impact on every facet of humanity so profound that the emerging digital age it ushered is considered as fundamental a turning point as the Industrial Revolution. Evolving and growing in ways light-years beyond what was originally envisioned at the birth of the World Wide Web in 1990, the Internet’s eventual obsoletion seems as distant as Earth’s destruction during the Sun’s red giant violent fatal expansion.

“Flash Player will no longer be supported after December 2020” didn’t you know? Are we so distracted in our slavish worship of Silicon Valley and the great social media deity sat atop the data cloud that the malignant necrosis killing off parts of our beloved Internet eat away in plain, pop-upped sight? This Cronenberg style mortality is a concept viscerally explored by North Carolina noise artist Max Eastman. Curator of Tribe Tapes and the culprit behind power electronics act Körperlich in addition to joining Lasse Jensen in avant-pop duo LongSatanInViolence, Eastman has been busy cutting an uncompromising blast of harsh sound collages under the moniker Greathumour. The third in his ‘Choose’ series, following Forceps and Speculum, Choose the Obsolete is a paranoid implosion of computer grindcore and digital mutilation.

“You’ll be amazed at the unexpected dangers” gurgles a corrupted speech synthesizer at the end of tape finale ‘var Stay = 0; // Number of seconds to keep window open function index1(){ setTimeout(“openFull(‘index1.html’,’_blank’,0);”,Stay * 1000); }’, to give its full name. Each title a dense string of defected embeds and dead URLs, the baffling bewilder of impenetrable code perfectly reflects the glitched mania within the degraded tape. A four and a half minute assault of bit-crushed samples and virus ravaged electronica, Eastman takes a dose of musique concrète as pioneered by Stockhausen, speeds things up by 1000000000000%, processed via a dodgy DAW crack and spiked with hellish evocations of 4chan nightmares, Pepe the Frog swastikas and meme nihilism. This unrelenting act of cyber terror is mercifully brief, each track a ‘microsound’ of bursting electrical fire which keeps the exercise in sonic affliction from losing its punch, but also touches on our collective attention spans dulled by the soup of infinite and instantaneous content, yellow tongue firmly in rancid cheek.

Long after man has blown himself up or the last corner of land finally lost under the rising ocean, the artefacts left behind studied by the evolved entities that follow probably won’t be The Mona Lisa or David, it’ll be The Golden Arches laid ruined on the beach à la Planet of the Apes, and frankly, it’s what we deserve. Choose the Obsolete captures this doomed farce with stinging precision, a time-capsule of the confused and uncertain milieu that hangs in the air and a potent document of the current end of history destined to be discovered in the next millennia underneath a rubble of Bee Movie DVDs, right-wing bumper stickers and MAGA caps.

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.

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.

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.

Gee Tee ‘Atomic’

“Irreverent monsters in muscle cars” is how Odd Rods describe themselves. A series of trading cards by National Lampoon’s B. K. Taylor depicting various cartoonish creatures in oversized hot rods in the vein of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Rat Fink. #3 in the initial ’69 set is Gee-Tee-O, an über cool green goblin with buck teeth and shades sporting a straggly beard of coarse, rodent-hair, impishly pushing his skull gear stick into full throttle, smirking as he risks death in the chase of the acceleration high.

Cars, racing and speed were initially the sole subject matter for Gee Tee when forming in 2016. A lo-fi scuzzy garage rock project fronted by Aussie Kal Mason as former band Draggs ground to a halt, Mason decamped from his native Gold Coast to dive head-first in the weirdopunk revolution happening in Sydney spearheaded by kindred mutants Research Reactor Corp. and Set-Top Box. After a string of fantastically polluted rock ‘n’ roll releases and side projects with the aforementioned R.R.C. and Drunk Mums, Gee Tee show no sign of slowing down as they drop latest EP Atomic via Italian label Goodbye Boozy Records.

An infectiously corroded little Wurlitzer melody surrounded by strutting indie riffing opens the EP on the buoyant ‘Kombat Kitchen’ a fuzzed-out flaunt of garage murk that touches on the organ-driven sounds of ? and the Mysterians. Second track “Mutant World” shoves a straw up your nose and fills your mind with coke, blood and slug pellets, a feverish and electric synthpunk stomper that Gee-Tee-O would proudly exit this world in a fiery crash to. ‘Atomic’ is a beguiling beast, some no-nonsense pub-rock chug with a scratchy vocal delivery akin to War’s Low Rider. It shouldn’t work, perhaps it doesn’t, but you’re too taken with the warbling theremin to care. Things ends on a note of pure rock ‘n’ roll zest were it soaked in sewage and radiation, a bright and upbeat bopper with a killer chainsaw solo piercing through the noxious film.

Atomic is another gloriously rancid little fucker that further cements Mason’s reputation as one of the leading figures in Aussie scuzzpunk but skilled enough to allow sharp pop-hooks in his lo-fi murk. Messy, greasy, weird, and all the better for it.

Syzygy ‘The Pendulum’

“Any two related things, either alike or opposite”. Amid an aggressive socio-economic homogeneity, where any slight deviation of rabid capitalism’s ever closing peripheries of permissible discourse is crushed by a compliant media, the yearning for some elemental, binary pull only grows greater. The political pendulum which conventional wisdom tells us is forever swinging across the spectrum is currently stuck on Right, and perhaps the vital forces of syzygy need to be conjured to haul the lever back down, crashing through the dull certainty of the modern age.

Structures and balance are explored in Rebecca Maher and Gus Kenny’s new synth project Syzygy. Swapping the cyberpunk confrontation of prior band Spotting for shimmering electropop, the Melbourne duo injects the genre’s chilly aesthetics with a warm beating heart of rich melodies and bright analogue production. Preceding their debut EP with an inclusion on the excellent Blow Blood Records compilation A Long Time Alone, new release The Pendulum sees Syzygy’s search for duality in the form of four expert synthpop tracks.

The urgent title track opens the EP with dramatic heft, a great joyous hammering of jabbing basslines and glossy keys that strikes together radiantly, Maher maintaining a strong yet understated vocal delivery throughout. The crunchy ‘Social Fence’ retains their former punk snarl, a climactic frenzy of John Foxx style synth leads and punchy drum machines, while ‘Memory Distortion’ drops the tempo to a glacial groove, Maher’s icy detailing of blurred recollections and fragmented thoughts given an ethereal edge. Finale ‘(I’ll Just Be) Unfulfilled’ is an utterly infectious slice of euphoric heady dance which belies its lyrical resignations to a life of rigid, societal claustrophobia, the song takes off halfway in soaring and rousing lift of twinkling arpeggios and celestial sequencers to a thrilling, conclusive ascension.

The energy that fuels The Pendulum is effervescent and electric, an EP of bristling pop vigour bursting with life and a wonderful precariousness that hides underneath the assured front, the subtle forces that tantalisingly threaten life’s cohesion and harmony baring its teeth if you look close enough.

Belle Royals ‘FTBAASBVSREP’

Geordie noise rock trio Belle Royals are full of intrigue. Is there self-coined ‘9wave’ genre a sincere reference to Ivan Aivazovsky’s Ninth Wave or a deprecating jibe at new age, ‘third eye’ dross? What does their latest EP title FTBAASBVSREP stand for? Is the ‘Battle of Black And Red’ graffitied across their Rage Against the Machine pastiche of a cover a historic, Tyneside skirmish, or merely referencing the Tyne-Wear football derby? With their Bandcamp info statements short bursts of inscrutable jocularity, frontman Duane Eggers pushes the band’s idiosyncratic humour to the fore which creates their own irreverent brand of mystique.

Following from the electronica slicked post-punk of prior release SCPPFTBAASEP, latest EP FTBAASBVSREP is another blast of crunchy, mutoid cacophony. First track ‘Recourse to Pile’ is a soldierly collage of martial drums and Gang of Four groove that marches together with earnest propulsion, Eggers vocal delivery reminiscent of Ian MacKaye and Al Jourgensen’s Pailhead project. Expert garage rock saturated with polluted buzz shows the band’s guile for a good tune on the electric ‘Four Foot Big Foot’, a sparky guitar solo soars irresistibly amid choppy punk riffs. Third and final track ‘BVSR’ ends things on a chaotic note, industrial clangour and atonal synths wrestle belligerently in a cavernous swirl of erratic tempo and juddering beats.

Held together by a cohesive slop of abrasive, lo-fi production yet allowing distinct characteristic hues among the three tracks, FTBAASBVSREP firmly confirms that Belle Royals are ones to watch out for in the ‘9wave’ underground of both the Toon and Mackem.