Noise

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.

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.

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.

I Know I’m An Alien ‘Chair of Cola’

It’s not just the dwindling economic opportunity, climate inaction and the greatest disparity of wealth in human history which makes late-stage capitalism the unrelenting black hole of hope it most definitely is. It’s the fucking mediocrity man. The inexorable descent into a hellscape of focus-grouped music and recycled film franchises wrung of every shred of creative potential and risk by the necrotic death grip of market research. Wading through a toxic miasma of a town infested with property developers, you pass the 17th Tesco Metro before enduring another pointless meeting in a pointless job in a boardroom of office middle-manager types so fucking vanilla and tepid you have an out of body experience, your soul screaming at you with condemnation: “THERE HAS TO BE A WAY OUT!!!” The only way out appears to be the one open window of the fifth floor you’re on. Just one jump, and it’s over…

“We live in a world where there is more and more information and less and less meaning,” wrote Jean Baudrillard in his seminal Simulacra and Simulation. The nagging feeling that culture and society is dictated by capital instead of ideas is a recurring theme in the string of releases by I Know I’m An Alien. An art-punk outfit from London with a keen socialist rigour in their synthpunk mischief, the dadaist trio have been taking a flamethrower to the bloated vacuum of neoliberalism with a fizzy mix of Residents surrealism and Devo subversion while sporting oversized, paper collage masks. Changing pace from their prior avant-pop offerings, new record Chair of Cola introduces Lumpy Gravy style tape collage experimentation to explore the modern day alienation of the overworked and underpaid.

Chair of Cola is the aural noise that lurks in the psyche of every confused millennial. A congealed slop of shit Saturday morning cartoons, the same fucking Boston song aggressively sold to you by a boring rock ‘heritage industry’, PlayStation start-up jingles, daytime commercial slime, smartphone interruptions, warbling 90s Disney VHS’s cynically vying for your nostalgia. A cudgel of media noise breaking your face and brutally reminding you that you ain’t no generation, you’re a target demographic. Is it any wonder that the opening track is called ‘Breathing Challenge’, cos we’re fucking suffocating.

“No apologies to the artists whose songs we ruined!” the band exclaim gleefully on their Instagram. Their puckish sense of fun keeps the album from being a draining endurance for the listener. Sudden goofy moments, like the Nokia Gran Vals tune chiming in or the sped-up desecration of Dolly Parten’s Jolene, tells you that their elongated, alien tongue is firmly in the cheek. The occasional detour into eerie lo-fi makes intriguing diversions from the otherwise busy record. ‘Wedding of the Anything’ is a weathered and muffled chiller of white noise and analogue tape decay, and the finale ‘Let’s Make a Living in Music!’ is the last word on biting self-deprecation: a track consisting of nearly two minutes of laughter. With the arts sector and creative industries facing great uncertainty in the face of Covid-19, the guffawing mirth stings with acidity.

When Alan Clarke began to tackle the issue of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland for his 1989 BBC short Elephant, he decided that instead of some trite, moralistic posturing or po-faced lecture on the enormity of the subject, he instead simply showed the violence, nothing more, nothing less, appealing to the gut and our visceral senses over intellectual pondering. Chair of Cola similarly presents to us a soundtrack to the troubled navigation of a world geared by untrammelled free-market dogma and shows us exactly how it is: mad, unrelenting, and seemingly impervious.

Lightning Bolt ‘Sonic Citadel’

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.