Office Politics

By my reckoning we now have  the fifth Monkeys In Love full length after “Death Jeans”, “Will Pet and Cuddle You”, “Take The Biscuit”, and “Live in Stoke Newington”. It’s called “Monkeys In Love Are Ready For The Mountain”.  First thing to say is that, as usual, it’s excellent, and, as usual, it’s markedly different from what went before, a hallmark of the “Monkeys” approach.

The difference this time around is that the melodic hooks are not so overt. They are constructed to work seamlessly within the whole of a song rather than being a defined part that implies a change within the construct of a piece. There are trademark Monkey earworms in play but they take their time to sink in and lodge in your mind on the second or third listen. Musically there is some continuity across the ten songs giving an overall conceptual mood to the album as Steve narrates the story. The groups love of library and advertisement music is perhaps more palpable in these songs. In considering this release in the body of work as a whole, and specifically the preceding album, a comparison would be the difference between “Selling England by the Pound” and “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”, or, “The Who Sell Out” and “Tommy”, in that there is a more theatrical feel to this album than its predecessors.

The band introduce the album as follows:

The album features ten new songs that trace the nervous breakdown and eventual quasi-spiritual rebirth of a beleaguered office worker. Musically speaking, there’s a kind of mid-80s college rock thing going on in our sound this time round and although we’d love to say it was a deliberate artistic choice owing to the alarmingly mid-80s political climate of late, we can’t honestly remember if it was a conscious choice or not.

The band admit that production/recording is  “ever so slightly slicker on this album. It’s still pretty lo-fi, but a lot less lo-fi than previous releases“. The lyrics also follow up on a couple of songs from the previous album ‘Monkeys In Love Live In New Stoke Newington’, but the listener is left to work out which those songs are and how they relate to this album.

The line up for this release is

Danielle McCullough: guitar, flute, recorder and melodica
Eamonn Murphy: guitar, bass and FX
Laura Simms-Luddington: singing
Steve Simms-Luddington: singing, keys, programming and FX

The plan is to re-release the whole back catalogue so comparisons can be made with previous material for those jumping on at this stage. Steve promised me an out-takes/rarities album for German Shepherd a couple of years back – still looking forward to that!

Any how – quality stuff, wrap your ears around it.

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LIVE at L’Ubu

In 2015, The Apartments released the album No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal in Europe and influential French Music magazine Magic made it the Number 1 Album of The Year, a feat never before been achieved by an Australian artist. This was not surprising given the huge popularity of the band in France, and also the excellent quality of said release.

To support the release of No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal, The Apartments toured France in September 2015 with a full band. Their show at Rennes’ legendary L’Ubu Club was recorded, resulting in this double album, LIVE at L’Ubu.

The live recording captures the dynamic line-up of a combination of Australian, French and English players in a seven-piece band. This format allows Peter Milton Walsh to, for the first time, drop the guitar and masterfully sing and perform a set of songs from the extant album along with others from The Apartments impressive back catalogue.

In the parallel universe that exists somewhere at the back of my subconscious Walsh is huge and Ed Sheeran doesn’t exist. His bitter sweet songs are the stuff of magic and he is someone that gets the “Grant McLennan” moment every time he constructs a tune. This collection of songs transcends criticism, it’s everything that popular music should be. Legitimate, honest and full of emotion. He has the tone and content of David McComb at his best. He is a master craftsman.

If you have not come across The Apartments before then start with this album and you’ll soon be reaching for the back catalogue. If you don’t like this music then I fear for your eternal soul. Personally I’d play this music to children at nursery school so they can get an early education on what good music is.

Available digitally and as a very limited double vinyl. Hopefully a CD version will emerge at some point for those of us who still like these things.

Full Upon Her Burning Lips

2019 seems to be a year where rock rears it’s head again and gains some ascendancy in a busy musical landscape.

The masters of sensuous guitar led music are back, and, with their latest album “Full Upon Her Burning Lips”, Earth forego the additional instrumentation that embellished some of their previous records and reduce the team to the core duo of Dylan Carlson on guitar and bass and Adrienne Davies on drums and percussion.

Matters commence with  “Datura’s Crimson Veils”, a twelve-minute opus that reflects Earth’s new approach with Carlson’s sepia-toned Bakersfield Sound guitars lurching across a barren landscape while Davies punctuates the melodies with intent and a particularly effective cymbal roll adds an alien sound to the mix. Indeed her cymbal work throughout the album is exemplary.

The approach on this release in some part looks back to the riff-constructed approach of their “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light” albums, but stripped of their ornateness….

“It was definitely a very organically developed record,” Carlson says of the process. “I limited the number of effects I used. I always like the limiting of materials to force oneself to employ them more creatively. Previous Earth records were quite lush sounding, and I wanted a more upfront and drier sound, using very few studio effects.”

The stripped down approach had another advantage. “I really wanted the drums to be present,” Carlson says. “I felt with previous Earth records that other instrumentation took up so much of the sonic space that the drums were kind of pushed to the side.”

This methodology highlights Davies’ ability to elevate the drum kit beyond its rhythmic functions and allows it to serve as an expressive, nuanced, and tonally rich component to Earth’s sound without reverting to bombast.

Less is more.

 “In the past I’ve usually had a strong framework for an album,” Carlson says. “This one developed over the course of writing and recording. It just felt like ‘Earth’—like just the two players doing their best work at playing, serving the music.”

The absence of a pre-existing narrative guiding the compositions results in songs were more open and intuitive, often resulting in musical vignettes like “Exaltation of Larks” or  “Maidens Catafalque”.

“I wanted this to be a ‘sexy’ record, a record acknowledging the ‘witchy’ and ‘sensual’ aspects in the music… sort of a ‘witch’s garden’ kind of theme, with references to mind altering plants and animals that people have always held superstitious beliefs towards. A conjuror or root doctor’s herbarium of songs, as it were.”

The ten tracks on Full Upon Her Burning Lips came together in bits and pieces. Songs like “Cats on the Briar” and “Mandrake’s Hymn” emerged from a handful of musical phrases and repeating patterns concocted in moments of downtime during their 2017 tour schedule. The delightful “Descending Belladonna” came from a live soundtrack project. Other songs came from rehearsals in the months leading up to recording or in moments of inspiration in the studio.

The record was engineered, mixed, and mastered by longtime associate Mell Dettmer at Studio Soli. Knowing their process and their sound, Dettmer helped harness, shape, and document the songs in a manner that highlights the depth of Earth’s sparse components. For the patient listener, the cyclical nature of the songs “She Rides an Air of Malevolence” or “An Unnatural Carousel” reveal new elements with repeated listens, with the subtle variations between passes creating a kaleidoscope of sounds.

“I feel like this is the fullest expression and purest distillation of what Earth does since I re-started the band,” Carlson says in reflection of Full Upon Her Burning Lips.

As a long time Earth fan I found the new approach refreshing, there is a tendency in some rock circles to “over-egg the mix” in the search of something memorable, whereas this band manage to achieve that goal by simplifying their approach. Both restrained and adventurous in equal measure, this is instrumental music of the highest quality and a primer for how to use the guitar without fret worrying shredding, and the drums as more than mere percussion. I have to agree with Carlson, this is their best work to date and it immediately goes on the albums of the year list for 2019.

Sargent House releases the album to the world on May 24th, 2019 on 2xLP / CD / digital formats.

Life Metal

It has been four years since the last Sunn O))) album, their eighth studio full length “Life Metal” emerged in April (the discography is incredibly complex – see below).  Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson have brought on board Steve Albini for this release and whilst the core style of the duo is not lost there are some additions to the sound.

There are four lengthy tracks which are characterised by the usual deep and sonorous chord/riff/drone sequences, chamber metal if you will, that typify the Sunn O))) experience. However there are subtle changes to the soundscape through a combination of Albini’s engineering/mixing and the addition of several “guests” into the party.

Hildur Guðnadóttir renowned film music composer, and former member of the bands Múm, Pan Sonic and Angel, brings a unique contribution through vocals and electric cello, and the “new” instrument, the cello like haldorophone, to the proceedings. The main contribution comes via the albums mammoth closing composition/concerto “Novæ”.

Tim Midyett, a close friend of Greg and Stephen since the Seattle days of the early 90s, (and member of Silkworm, Bottomless Pit and Mint Mile) plays aluminium neck bass and baritone guitars.

New music composer Anthony Pateras arranged and recorded  pipe organ for track two “Troubled Air” (titled after an essay by author Aliza Shvarts, who also penned the liner notes for last release Kannon).

Impossibly long slow notes, sustain, feedback, and intensity are the key elements and you shouldn’t expect anything radically new.  However the analogue direct to tape/vinyl techniques appear to have added a more dense and visceral feel to the recording. The middle two tracks add to the canon without too much refinement. However the opening and closing tracks, the latter reaching a mind numbing 25 minutes, take on a sort of imperious in your face attitude that compels listening. Both break from the tradition of just riffs and chords with some “lighter” moments.

This is not music for people who like the conventions of a nice melody, a beginning, a middle and an end. It is brutal for the most part, and strips back the genre to it’s basics, you could argue they are the L.S. Lowry of heavy metal, reducing forms and processes to fundamentals of riff and noise. There is no percussion, just layers of guitars at maximum gain with other instruments occasionally fighting their way to the forefront. I find it fascinating, I don’t know why I like it, but it gets to me. I find the simplicity quite cathartic.

A second album recorded at the same sessions is due later in the year. A tour is underway also

The discography is something like this…..in reverse order

  • Life Metal (CD 2xLP 2019)
  • Downtown LA Rehearsal / Rifftape March 1998 (LP, 2018)
  • Нежить (Live in Moscow 3xLP, 2016)
  • ⻘青⽊木ヶ原 // 樹海海 (packaged with initial copies of Kannon album, flexi 7″, 2015)
  • Kannon (CD & LP 2015)
  • LA Reh 012 (LP, 2014)
  • Soused (collaboration with Scott Walker, CD & 2xLP 2014)
  • Terrestrials (collaboration with Ulver, CD & LP 2014)
  • Rehearsal Demo Nov 11 2011 (LP, 2012)
  • The Iron Soul of Nothing (collaboration with Nurse With Wound, 2xLP 2011)
  • Agharthi Live 09-10 (Live in Europe LP + 7″ 2011)
  • Monoliths & Dimensions (CD & 2xLP 2009)
  • GrimmRobes Live 101008 (Cassette 2009)
  • Che (with Pan Sonic) (10″ 2009)
  • O))) Presents… Pentemple (LP & CD 2008)
  • Dømkirke (live in Bergen 2xLP 2008)
  • Oracle (12″ 2007)
  • Altar (collaboration with Boris, 3xLP & CD 2006)
  • WHITEbox (4xLP Box 2006)
  • La Mort Noir dans Esch/Alzette (CD 2006)
  • AngelComa (split with Earth, LP 2006)
  • Black One (CD 2005, 2xLP 2006)
  • Solstitium Fulminate (packaged with initial copies of Back One album, CD 2005)
  • Cro-Monolithic Remixes for an Iron Age (12″ 2004)
  • Candlewolf of the Golden Chalice (12″ 2005)
  • White2 (CD & 2xLP 2004, remaster 2xLP 2018)
  • Live White (live 2xCD 2004)
  • Live Action Sampler (promotional mix 2xCD 2004)
  • The Libations of Samhain (live CD 2003)
  • Veils It White (12″ 2003)
  • White1 (CD & 2xLP 2003, remaster 2xLP 2018)
  • Flight of the Behemoth (CD & 2xLP 2002)
  • The Grimmrobe Demos (demo 1998, CD 2000, 2xPLP 2003, 2xLP 2004, 3xPLP 2008)
  • ØØ Void (CD 2000, 2xLP 2003, CD & 2LP 2011)

 

 

 

Payola

Attempts to finally get to see the reformed Vee VV this year have failed miserably. A combination of factors including guitarists with poorly hands and other matters have left me wondering what they could be like live after all this time. Never mind  I can console myself with the remastered CD collection/compilation of their work called “Payola” released by Edils Recording in a marvellously eco friendly digipac (cork and paper). 19 tracks from across their career involves four different line-ups.

The bulk of their recordings are included and the collection provides a rich history of post punk North West UK in the 1980s. Bass and riff driven in the most part with a combination of that early 80s guitar tremor/flange/phase/jangle and incisive vocals with politically astute words. The music provides an impressive bridge between what bands like The Fall and The Moodists were doing at this time, and the emerging pre-goth epic sound that would start with The Birthday Party, get captured by Bauhaus and Killing Joke, and then get lost in it’s own eyeliner. Comparisons with Gang of Four have been made elsewhere, I guess there’s some read over but Vee VV feel less mannered and more organic. There’s a relentless hypnotic feel to the music.  It wipes the floor with most of the current insipid indie crap that gets forced into my in-box on a daily basis.

You get 67 minutes of marvellous music – if you want to know what was happening on the Fylde coast in the 80s this is a good place to go, if you want a primer in exciting music creation then this is the one to check. With contemporaries The Membranes about to release a remarkable album this feels like a good time for the Blackpool sound to be back and challenging the music scene to up its game.

I’ll be featuring tracks on the Aural Delights show during May and June. I hope I get to see them soon.

The Free Territory

Cardinal Fuzz (UK) and Feeding Tube Records (USA) release Dead Sea Apes – ‘The Free Territory’ on May 17th as vinyl only via 500 Pressing – presented in a 350gsm Card Sleeve with download code.

It has been a genre hopping roller coaster of a ride for Manchester’s finest purveyors of epic guitar music recently. The last three albums the dub-inspired ‘Sixth Side Of The Pentagon’, the  retrospective ‘Recondite’ and the stunning Adam Stone collaboration ‘Warheads’ were all unique in their own way and demonstrated the bands’ capacity for variety and also a willingness to explore new areas.

This new album is described as follows-

“their darkest, moodiest work to date, their characteristic unfolding instrumentals now cast in lonesome drones and haunted atmospherics”. 

“The Free Territory” is Dead Sea Apes’ in more experimental territory characterised by more introspective/darker feel. Repetition is the key word, with loops, evolving textures and improvisation developing over lengthy pieces.  The usual line-up of  guitar, bass and drums is not the focal point, there are side steps to more laminal synthesized passages. Early Cabaret Voltaire, german electronica and something close to frippertronics, can be heard in some of the tracks. Conversely nods to Earth, notably Dylan Carlson’s solo work, and Sunn 0))) seep through the walls of sound in others. At the heart though is the trade mark DSA mix of riff based music, hypnotic and meditative in parts, and progressive in others, this is a welcome addition of to an already impressive canon of work.

The new release also represents a transitional phase for the group, having been partly recorded with departing bassist Nick Harris.  Nik Rayne of The Myrrors dropped in on a winter visit to the UK, not only guesting on two tracks but also creating the beautifully detailed copier collage sleeve art.

 

Highly recommended.

Suggested parallel listening

  • Cabaret Voltaire – Mix-Up and The Voice of America
  • Miles Davis – Black Beauty
  • Spirit – Future Games : A Magical Kahauna Dream
  • Tangerine Dream – Zeit
  • Robert Fripp – Exposure
  • Earth – Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars
  • Dylan Carlson – Conquistador

ZIPPA DEEDOO WHAT IS/WAS THAT/THIS?

Time for a new album from Dave Graney and Clare Moore

The opening slinky blues pop of “Baby I Wish I’d Been A Pop Star” marks another leap forward in the Dave Graney and Clare Moore canon. This time with the two Stu’s – Perera and Thomas – collectively as The MistLy – they have produced a classic album for the end of the second decade of the 21st century. An album of eight songs in thirteen versions takes elements of the previous album and run of digital singles and develops them into something recognisable, but also uniquely modern, and, of course “Graney”.

The autobiographical “Near Death Experience” (in joke) of “Song Of Life” gives you the typically gnomic album title as you drift into Graney lounge jazz territory, an effortless “velvet fog” performance, with intricate guitar patterns. The omnipresent cowbell of “Ultrakeef” with more “fucks” than Malcolm Tucker on a bad day (beating “Death by A Thousand Sucks” by a long way) is a mini-biography of Mr Richards in typical Dave story-telling mode, picking key elements from a complex life history, over a Stones-like blues romp which wouldn’t have been out of place on “Eat A Peach”, and which makes Lofgren’s “Keith Don’t Go” feel a little anodyne in comparison.

The remake of last years “Gloria Grahame” single is a triumph. Morphed into a loping languorous blues it becomes even more sexy/sultry/sweaty than the original version, little additional sound forms skitter across the cinematic landscape, slide guitar in full effect, sprinkles of keyboards from Robin Casinader, a little like the subject matter it is both alluring and dangerous. The track is built up from a live track recorded at Smiths in Canberra in October 2018.

The remake of “Your Masters” (originally on The Dave Graney Show album) is a necessary action in the context of the political world we find ourselves in 2019. As relevant lyrically now as it was twenty one years ago – which probably indicates that either nothing changes or we are in some sort of Groundhog Day/Matrix loop. Perera provides a searing guitar line as a bridge and the song is refreshed and refreshing.

As trailed on various You Tube/Facebook live recordings last year the dreamy psychedelia of “Is That What You Did” is all about interlocking guitars as Clare and Stu hold the rhythm whilst Dave and t’other Stu trade licks, many pushed through various digital delays and other such things, to create a rich tapestry of sound which echoes Micky Jones and Tweke Lewis trading licks on “Back to the Future”. The sound is taken down to a simple rhythm pattern as bottle necks scrape lower strings and then builds into louder passages as chittering bridge noises echo into the night. Exceptional.

“Where’s My Buzz” – another lengthy track, has that effortless dreamy vibe of  parts of “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” – those chord changes! Probably the most “Dave” track on the album but incorporating many of the elements present in other parts of the set, the delicate filigrees of guitars dancing around in the background.

The slight revision of “You’re All Wrong” – a single from 2018 – extends the song slightly and gives it more body/space….another lounge blues  – ends the formal part of the album after that there are five alternate versions of some of the preceding.

“Pop Star” is delivered as a slow blues, Graney a laconic narrator, some tasteful guitar tones underlying a dreamy, almost sad, reflection. The melody line from “Is That What You Did” subliminally making it’s way into the closing section makes for some sort of conceptual continuity.  The revised “Song Of Life” is a remix and longer with occasional little synth motifs and slightly busier percussion which is more to the fore. The alternative of Gloria Grahame is the “original electro glitch” which is essentially a metronomic snare and cymbal rhythm from a drum machine underpinned by various synth sounds and was a released as a single in 2018.

The album concludes with alternate versions of “Is That What You Did” and “Where’s My Buzz” which will require further examination from this listener to compare and contrast, suffice to say after a couple of listens they add to the overall enjoyment of the album.

This is described as a “rock and roll” album and in that it reflects music from the late 60s/early 70s (pre-punk if you will) that is a reasonable description but i’d say it goes beyond that basic description as there are modern elements, nods to jazz, the use of current technique, and of course the unique Graney/Moore stylings all present. It adds to and enhances a formidable body of work.

I commend it to you without reservation.

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