DAVID BOWIE’S NUTS

FEBRUARY REWIND: BLACK-HELL INDUSTRIAL… PROGRESSIVE DEATH AND YES-CORE METALS… CAVERNOUS POST JAZZ… TRIP-HEAVY MINDMELTS AND POST-SCHLAGENHEIM COMEDOWNS. AND DAVID BOWIE.

Some mildly cheerless fare scattered throughout this Rewind – Sightless Pit, Blood Incantation, Pulled by Magnets – but then again, it is still winter. If that’s not your thing, there is at least some new David Bowie. And if new David Bowie leaves you cold …

best not even go there.

SIGHTLESS PIT – Kingscorpse

Grimmest first. Skitter beats carry disembodied harmonies, industrial noise buries them and a black-metal styled death voice burns through. The sound of humanity’s incineration? Nuclear winter? We have destroyed ourselves and are face to face with hell. That’s what this is. Lingua Ignota is in the band, corpse stench right this way.

BLOOD INCANTATION – Inner Paths (To Outer Space)

Nothing about this says death metal. The first four minutes are aggressive metallic prog, but then we get the escalation and then we get the DM hit – briefly. Like John Carpenter’s The Fog, the threat recedes. Much is hinted at, so it’s no wonder that Denver’s Blood Incantation are top 10 in Kerrang’s Top 50 Death Metal Bands Right Now list and in Metal Hammer’s New Noise feature. Death metal isn’t my thing, but have this lot got crossover appeal? Maybe. Hidden History of the Human Race is their second album.

HUNTSMEN – Ride Out

YES. Not the opposite of no, but Yes the band – because if that early vocal doesn’t remind you of Jon Anderson, you’ve never heard Jon Anderson. And if you have heard him, you’ve never heard him over a super dense prog thrash attack that’s Rush-taut (how tightly packed is that rhythm guitar?) but way heavier. Shit me, this feels good. Of course, Huntsmen’s Anderson is part-time and gets blown into next decade by a metalcore breakout, making this one of the most exhilarating tunes of the month. Mandala of Fear album is out in a couple of weeks.

PULLED BY MAGNETS – Those Among Us

We’re going wholly non-riff now, but this track has a heaviness that comes from metal’s fringes. Jazz drummer Seb Rochford – Polar Bear, Sons of Kemet, gazillions of others – pushes cavernous dubby slo-mo here which, for a non-jazzer like me, seems within sniffing distance of Metal Box and an avant Sunn O))) voyage. Check it here.

DODMEN – Drawn Circle

Stuart Maconie played this on his Freakzone this Feb. Turns out it’s not 2020-new, more a 2015 vintage, but when you chance on stuff this good, who’s counting?

Play this straight after Pulled By Magnets and it’s a pretty neat sequence – Drawn Circle has a similar pace, same drone backdrop, same massive sense of space and time. But Dodmen have guitars. And they use their loose, heavy slacker attack to hypnotic effect, piling on the layers and distortion to reach some sort of transcendent frenzoid. It’s nearly 11 minutes but everything is underplayed. Everything except the volume and the anticipation.

BLACK MIDI – Sweater

Another 11-minute sprawl, this time from musical eggheads black midi. Nothing like the instant mania of Schlagenheim, though it was part of the same sessions, Sweater just got released and is … calm. Deliberate. Possibly meditative. Possibly feeling around for a direction. But when those first, awkward guitar notes land, you know exactly who you’re cavorting with. Stick around for a midi life catharsis.

DAVID BOWIE – Nuts

The February Big One. Nuts is the fifth of six drip-feeds from the Is It Any Wonder? EP of Bowie rarities, and Nuts is the one that grabs. Why? Because it’s an Earthling extra, and 90s Bowie surely scores highest on the thrill-ometer for unreleased material (Black Tie, Buddha, Outside and Earthling unearthings? Yes please).

According to Mary Anne Hobbs, who played it first and is a Proper Insider for Earthling-era Bowie, Nuts was meant to be a bonus track on Earthling but then the idea was dropped. Would it have worked? Not as an album track, no, and Earthling definitely doesn’t need a bonus track to ruin the flow. This belongs on a bonus EP or mini album. Nuts is pretty much instrumental with spoken fragments (‘What would you rather be doing?’) – if you think of that break in Little Wonder where the whole track drops a bit and loses the voice, the piano and the big beats, Nuts motors along with that kind of vibe. Inner calm amid the superficially frantic. Drum ‘n’ bass, Bowie style. And that, obviously, is more than gift enough.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

COPE’S SELF CIVIL WAR

JANUARY REWIND: NEW JULIAN COPE. RAGING NEW PSYCHE/PROG/MATHCORE (and more) from SLIFT, ANIMAL SOCIETY, AZUSA (and more)

Decade of aggression? Art decade?

Whatever 2020 signals the start of, its first month has been fast. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs pushed Reducer out and promised a new album Viscerals in April. Algiers – a band who exist on a different plane of energy, intelligence and fury – put electro-powered gospel soul riot on the new year’s map with There is No Year.

And, beards ahoy, the Archdrude put a full-lengther out, so …

JULIAN COPE: Self Civil War

Like the Algiers album, Self Civil War is way too new to review – haven’t done the listening miles yet. But the first impressions are that Julian Cope is back.

Julian Cope Self Civil War

He’s back

He’s never been away, we know that, and he’ll always be a buy-immediately arteest for those of us who absolutely love the guy. But the recent Rites and Dopes and Skellingtons and John Balances have been less essential than Cope’s steam-hot streak from Jehovahkill through to Psychedelic Revolution, so it’s with a mix of hope and mild trepidation that you plug the new one in. Does another bunch of bass drum and chants beckon?

13 tracks and a way-generous 70-minute run time suggests not.

An untamed guitar break on That Ain’t No Way to Make a Million confirms not. Ladies and gents, we is entering into a Proper Cope Album. One with a bit of heft. It’s got the poetic roots, the too-catchy hooks, the uber smart lyrics, the Cope-class titles – My Facebook, Your Laptop is one, but even better is You Will Be Mist – but now, on this album, the return of some epic song-based sprawl (Requiem for a Dead Horse passes 11 minutes) and a questing, vibing six-string foil with Christopher Holman taking the Donald Ross Skinner/Doggen slot of Cope bands past.

As said above, these are just loose words and first impressions, but Self Civil War looks promising. Can’t wait to get stuck right in. JC gig review February 2020 if you fancy it.

Right, let’s pick off some other January ear manglers.

SLIFT: Ummon

How better to kick 2020 off than with a riotous jam that’s blastoid supernova? Set the guitar to the heart of the sun with Ummon’s six minutes of Earthless/Oh Sees frazzle and part-Motorhead depth charge. Is Toulouse known for its flame-throwing power trios? Doubt it, but that’ll change if Slift crack a new scene open. Until then, go air-guitar the shit out of this freewheeling space ripper.

ANIMAL SOCIETY: Rise

Instrumental heavy new prog. Slint-y post-rock creep. Drummer’s delight. Non-blues, high muso. With Rise, Animal Society grope a spidery route round the metallic jazz end of prog, luring you down any number of cracks and cave-holes, all of them dank. Something’s hidden and you skirt its presence. EP out now on bandcamp.

SQURL: Robbie’s Theme

Away from the psyche pyrotechnics and jazz-metallic fingerings of Slift and Animal House, we find Squrl, a.k.a. Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan. What play they? On this track it’s a beguiling strand of lush, melancholic Americana that distorts and bends with distortion. Notes ring, bleed, swell and cling. Beautiful heartbreak? Like recent Low, it’s one for the winter.

AZUSA: Memories of an Old Emotion

OM-FCKN-G. The award for Most Two-Faced Shred of the Month goes to Azusa, no question. Dillinger Escape Plan hostility one minute, Cocteau Twins sweet-pop dream-wooziness the next. And back. And back again. And converge the two … easily the most arresting sound of the month.

(Turns out ex Dillinger Escape Plan bassist Liam Wilson is in there, which is a pretty fair explanation for half the sound)

ELEPHANT TREE: Sails

When going back to this track for a second listen, I wondered why I’d bookmarked it in the first place. Why put this on my tape? (Various Radio 57, since you ask). Pleasant enough heavy trance riffage with clean floater vox, sure, but too average to make the cut. Something must happen. Hang on, riff change, bit of a drop. Not bad. Oh shit, yes … THAT BIT. The rockist solo, the divergent mass below. Flying and drowning. Serene, liquid metal. A bit too clean? Nah, something about Sails really sticks its claws in. Give it a go.

Downer sign-off

It’s been a shit month for rock RIPs on the drum front.

Rush’s Neil Peart and Corrosion of Conformity‘s Reed Mullin both left, as did former Death and Cynic drummer Sean Reinart. So, it’s been a Rush-heavy month round here. Grace Under Pressure onwards, special warmth for Power Windows. Mystic Rhythms …. why not?

’til next time.

5 GREAT 2019 ALBUMS pt II

THE FESTIVE LIST THING CONTINUES (BUT IT’S SHORT, C’MON … )

Holly Herndon and Pelican starred in 5 Great 2019 Albums part I, but what else stormed our senses this year? Check these three, see if you agree.

RAKETKANON: RKTKN #3

Raketkanon 3

Appearing nowhere (why?) on any end-of-year lists are Belgian noise-art rock post-post punk ish provocateurs Raketkanon. More varied, catchy and moody than #2’s non-stick abrasions, RKTKN #3 inhabits a world all of its own where twisting riffs, carousel keyboards and Cold War espionage vibes co-habit with icy post-metal breaks, awkward discord and unplugged breakdowns. Vocals shift from whisper to hardcore and back. Really can’t place it.

The gentlest track – the addictive Melody – tiptoes through a post-grunge downer on an art-pop tip, while Hannibal is the exact opposite, a repetitive no-depth one-chord blare. Harry rides a killer machine-funk beat. Nothing sticks for long yet nothing’s twitchy either. RKTKN #3 is only 33 minutes but rides an ever-moving narrative through a weirdo urban/rural hinterland where anything goes … that’s Raketkanon.

 

KXM: Circle of Dolls

KXM Circle of Dolls

King’s X didn’t manage to release their new record this year – we’ll have to wait till 2020 for that – but the ever prolific Dug Pinnick did get an album’s worth of downtuned riffs and heavy melodics out with album #3 from the KXM groove machine. And there are no great changes from the first two KXM albums, thankfully. It’s just a bit harder, a bit richer.

What’s great about KXM is the adulterous kick you get from hearing Pinnick’s liquid, lived-in vocals and bass backed by tough Ray Luzier beats and the timeless George Lynch tone. It’s a metallic King’s X, though it’s not really fair to make out that King’s X are the parent band because it’s Lynch who kicks everyone into action. KXM don’t reinvent rock, but they do put their individual prints on it. Kinda like Rush do. And if you liked Dokken’s guitar sound but not the band, KXM is the right place because Lynch is all over it. He’s set up home in a place you actually want to visit.

Standout tracks? War of Words and Mind Swamp kick it off with aggression, but the softer, darker Lightning showcases everything – pure King’s X vocal lines while the deft solos and mood-setting percussion hint at voodoo. Class.

 

In the previous post, we said No Rankers. But the last album in this very short list is pretty damned special so if there was to be a favourite, it might just be this:

CAVE IN: Final Transmission

Cave In Final Transmission

Following the still-unbelievable death of Caleb Scofield in 2018, Cave In finished the in-progress tracks in tribute to their bass brother and as a fundraiser for his young family.

It’s an emotional listen. The usual Cave In spectrum of noise, hardcore, spacerock and loose acoustics is covered but, with the loss of an active musician top of mind, the bass parts are loaded with significance. Consciously or not, we notice them even more.

Final Transmission is a great Cave In album.

Shake Your Blood throws an absolute monster of a Cave In hook, but it’s bitter sweet – the lyrics knock you back, especially being clean-sung (screams and roars are absent). Lunar Day‘s soft burned drones and Strange Reflection‘s doom-heavy riff show the range on display, yet it’s the calamitous bone-rattler Led to the Wolves that ends the tribute. Chaotic perfection.

Bold, heavy, intense and defiant. And, through it all, THAT bass.

 

Festive rocks off to all, see you in 2020.

5 GREAT 2019 ALBUMS pt I

NO TOOL, NO CULT OF LUNA, NO DESERT SESSIONS – BUT FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS

Welcome to the end of the last December of the decade! Nothing different really, is it? But it is the end of the year and that means it’s best-of 2019 time.

YES. All those lists. Who listens to so many new albums in a year that they’ve got room to pare it down to a mere 20? Liars, surely.

So, here in Realistic Corner, we’ve got a top 5, but really it’s a great 5 – Five Great Albums From 2019 That We Know Well Enough To Review Briefly But Fairly And Recommend Absolutely And In No Particular Order (No Rankers).

But that’s probably not a catchy enough title for a list.

So we’ll call it 5 Great 2019 Albums with the caveat that Fear Inoculum, A Dawn to Fear and Desert Sessions Vol 11&12 are of course bloody immense albums, but time is a bit short to do them justice here.

Anyway. Five other goodies to scroll – two now, three more after a chunky mince pie break.

Happy Christmas!

HOLLY HERNDON: Proto

20191218_0939361309075085.jpg

If Frontier from this album doesn’t sweep you to a new dimension, something’s gone very wrong. Track of the year? Very very possibly.

Frontier is what happens when you get a cappella Artificial Intelligence rooted in Native American chants, finished off by a surround-sound electronic assimilation of The Human Voice.

It’s a wild, ceremonial symphony, an infinite digital choir bathed in shafts of light. If churches were the future, this is their sound. La Sagrada Familia of holy spaces.

And the rest of Proto? Equally without category and definitely beyond my scope, as you can tell from these fumbling words, but it pushes some avant, high concept Clipping/Bjork/Gazelle Twin electro buttons. Proto stuns. Like a new life-form stuttering into the world, Holly Herndon’s mind-blowing work is both techno futuristic and primal ancient. Dance and flight with vocal beats. Believe.

PELICAN: Nighttime Stories

Pelican Nighttime Stories

Like Mogwai, Pelican tend to refine rather than reinvent, and their first new album in six years does not threaten that approach one bit. Nighttime Stories might not have made it big in any end-of-year lists – only one of the army of Metal Hammer writers put it in their top 20 (and even then it was 18th or 19th) – but that’s no indicator of quality.

If you’re a long-time Pelican fan, you’ll not be disappointed.

Midnight and Mescaline flexes early metallic muscle with an un-Pelican esque pace injection, but Abyssal Plain outdoes it – not with its breezy alt-rock hook but with the black-metal-paced shred that burns it. Twice. What a moment(s). It Stared at Me wraps you in moonlit mellow while Full Moon, Black Water pulls metronomic metal from ground-splitting bass heaviness … it’s the Pelican you’ve always known and loved, but now a bit tougher.

5 Great 2019 Albums Part II coming soon.

GARGANTUAN METAL

NOVEMBER REWIND: GARGANJUA, PILE, SASSY 009 and FRAGILE SELF

Last of the monthly rewinds before we start mustering some words about 2019 music moments. What are the new tracks that have made big dents this past month? Try this little selection from Boston, Oslo … and Leicester.

Garganjua: The New Sun

Not heard this lot before and didn’t expect much after the very clean, very now melodic prog vocal opener … but that all changes when the very massive post-metal drop lands a minute later. Shit me, it’s huge. Like, Cult of Luna huge. And though there’s the same sense of CoL dynamics – waves and surges – throughout, The New Sun is more rockist with a shred of Old Man Gloom punched into its core. New album lands in January, check the lead-off track from these midlands heavyweights right here.

Pile: Firewood

Not noise but noise rock. You know the sort. Loose, lumbering, loud yet fragile and vulnerably off key at times. More lurch and stagger than groove and swing, every instrument packs a percussive clatter. A bruised, wounded beast of Boston that needs your TLC. Pile this way.

Sassy 009: Thrasher

No guitars in this paranoid rush of electro-pop from Norway, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock. Masked vocals usher in an early spook and after that, we’re swept along by jitter-hammer beats, iced synth rushes, dark storm landings and oddly euphoric uplifts.

Fragile Self: Bertha

Definitely less rock is this high energy strutter from Fragile Self. If you wondered what a remix of Frankie’s Relax might sound like if hammered out in the uncertain climes of 2019, this taut, neck-jerking funk of robotic vox and semi-sleaze beats from Bowie’s Blackstar designers might just be it. Coolly addictive.

And that’s it for November – short, yes, but we’ve got to make head/ear space for those 2019 biggies.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

TOOL: NO FEAR?

AUGUST REWIND: TOOL MUSINGS, BURIAL’S NEW FLAME … AND AN ELK HORN

Tool. Four-letter word of the month, event of the year, band of all time and all that, but even though Fear Inoculum is finally out, it remains untouched by many devout followers because it’s not available physically – even if you could shell out 75 quid plus for the deluxe version, there’s no stock. So, it’s a waiting game. I don’t want to blow a new Tool audio sensation by rushing it through crappy digi mobile tech that won’t do it justice. I’m putting faith in old-school formats appearing because I don’t believe that Tool, one of the most meticulous and attentive rock bands of all time, will deny millions of fans the chance to hear the album that way. It’s been 13 years, a bit longer won’t hurt.

(it does hurt. #whereisaffordablefearinoculumcd)

Because of all the Tool build-up, 10,000 Days has been on rotation a fair bit and Right in Two‘s eventual intense pummel has crept in as a new Tool-worm. Class. But some BTL comments (Guardian Fear Inoculum review) shows that some people in this crazy world express mild disappointment with 10,000 Days …

que? How is that even a thing? And doesn’t it break some natural law?

Even weirder is the fact that August threw up ace new tunes despite Adam Jones, Justin Chancellor, Danny Carey and Maynard James Keenan having nothing to do with them.

Insane, I know. But true. Check a couple of these non-Tool sonics.

FLAME 2 – Dive

Flame 2 is the second collaboration between Burial and The Bug. DIVE is the dark hour, the pitch black business end of the day/night. Beat-less heavy ambience on a full burn. Controlled tension. Without knowing anything about The Bug bar the name, I can’t comment on its merit as a collaboration, but the potent whiff of Burial’s urban nocturnal is more than enough.

ELKHORN – To See Darkness

Rootsy psych-folk with a cosmic sprawl. TO SEE DARKNESS picks out a rich John Fahey-like tapestry until an electrified late scorch fires it up Six Organs of Admittance style, aka spiritual trip magic.

Other shorter bites: Black Midi‘s album has been out a wee while but 953‘s collision of mangled riffs and scattered beats is a welcome shot of intellectualised noisy rock. And for something non-rock but wholly gutsy and compelling, Tenesha the WordsmithWHY WHITE FOLKS CAN’T CALL ME … – packs race politics and civil wrongs into a jazz-feel trancey pulse ‘n’ flow. Searing stuff.

KING’S X CANCEL

The news we never wanted to hear – King’s X have cancelled their European tour. Gutted not to be seeing them in Cardiff in September but, more importantly, let’s hope their family emergency is sorted and everyone is OK. As we know, King’s X have a lot of love, warmth and affection flowing their way. We can’t help it.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

WELLINGTON FUZZ

JUNE REWIND: EARTH TONGUE, SHOW ME THE BODY AND STALE STORLOKKEN

A fragmented Rewind, this – just three tracks from the past month, that’s it. Why so little?

Because time ran away.

Because the ace new Raketkanon, Cave In and Ifriqiyya Electrique albums haven’t been played enough to write up YET.

Because King Crimson dominated the month by having the cheek-faced bare to celebrate 50 years in music with a Royal Albert Hall stint and so instigate a last-minute decision to go and witness another visceral KC performance.

Because the Basic Dicks tape hasn’t arrived yet.

Because because because ….

Time, dammit. Here are those new chunks.

EARTH TONGUE: Microscopic God

Packing thick new-jazz busy beats and non-4/4 signatures under fuzzy metallic riffs and semi robotic male-female vocalising, New Zealand duo Earth Tongue are a few steps removed from the blues roots of many a guitar-drum two-piece we’ve come to know. It’s a bit alien, a bit one-off, like a not-yet-realised Melvins collaboration or even a cyborg Crystal Fairy. Warm and cold and sexy and so Very Very Now. Check the Microscopic one here.

SHOW ME THE BODY: Forks and Knives

New York hardcore with electro noise abrasion and Dalek-heavy hip-hop distortions thrown in. Unrelenting in a Gnod kinda way, but urgent and fleeting and almost unfinished. Don’t know why it made me want to revisit Protomartyr’s Relatives in Descent, but it did. Urban anger? Maybe, though this lot crank it way more. Forks and Knives this way.

STALE STORLOKKEN: Skyrocket Hotel

No vocals here, just arcing surging drones and buried lo-tech electronics with a 70s filmscore vibe, forged by Norwegian jazz player Stale Storlokken who counts Supersilent and Motorpsycho among his gigs. I know nothing. But if drone done the Urthona or To Blacken The Pages way is your thing, this’ll grab you where it feels good. It did me.

Right then, that’s it. Live action soon with Algiers in Oxford next week.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

URTHONA MEETS THE OTHER WITHOUT: calm meditations

APRIL REWIND: ALBUM #2 FROM URTHONA/OTHER PROJECT, BLACKENED BEATS BY GHOSTS AND TEMPLE, AND NEW RACKET FROM RAKETKANON

April kicked arse in terms of gigs. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs bulldozered the Bullingdon and then, just two days later on the same stage, Jim Jones let us into his headspace. Of those two bands there’s no question that Pigsx7 have got more going on, but a sharp-dressed Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind made a rollicking Friday night. With tracks like Sex Robot and Satan’s Got a Hard-On for You, knocked out with righteous holler, how can they not entertain? They do. Right on.

OK, on with the show with new sounds.

THE OTHER WITHOUT: 2

If you’re partial to Urthona‘s heavy rural distortions then you probably already know about an Urthona-related project that’s on album #2 already, but I didn’t. It’s The Other Without.

Who they? Neil Mortimer and Michael J York. What they do? Penetrate your head with space – an hour and five minutes of it, to be exact-ish. Four long trips of quiet motion, field recordings, keyboard swells and guitar arcs. Birdsong. Waves. Motifs tinkling, slow planetary turns, not a shred of Urthona-styled violence. A Novel Method for Determining Galaxy Orbits serves a hushed ambience for outer space cinematics, while Albion Light Vessel strips all mass from its electronics. Galactic or not, everything is earthbound. Beat-less but pulsing. The nature of things? The things of nature. Tune in for a transporting shimmer.

The Other Without

Reel calm

That was the light. Now for the dark – a trio of lo-viz highlights.

SNOW GHOSTS: Rip

Industrialised beats push Hannah Cartwright’s vocal haunt into a dense, dark, edge-land trip that tips a nod to JK Broadrick’s heavyweight grim. Rip is a dream going wrong, the kind you definitely want to wake from. Run. Away. It all drags downwards.

PAULA TEMPLE: Post-Scarcity Anarchism

Hi-energy electronic DOOOOM …. you know how Underworld’s King of Snake has that white-hot scrape of a subway train hurling past at full tilt? Take that vibe, pound it heavier and pack those unstopping carriages with no-soul people-oids, aka the bodysnatched. Now you’re in the Post-Scarcity Anarchism zone. And no, the wonk euphoria ending does not lift the tension. Temple, next stop.

RAKETKANON: Ricky

RKTKN #2 was and is a non-sticky album – noise rock shot through with quiet-loud spaces and a bad-tripping carnival gothic. Short on hooks, big on stubborn twists, these Belgians are very much their own thing and now we’ve got a new album, RKTKN #3. From it, here’s Ricky doing what Raketkanon do but thickened by a synth underlay. Somewhere near Shortparis and New York art noise, perhaps?

And if you never knew you needed desert trance, electronics and guitar distortion from south Tunisia, wrap your e-holes round Moola Nefta by Ifriqiyya Electrique. Intense.

til next time!

NO FOPP, NO BROWSE

FEBRUARY REWIND: INTENSE AMBIENCE AND U-BAHN PSYCHE FROM GERMANY … BUT NO FUTURE FOR FOPP

This time last year it was the beast from the east that struck us cold. This year, it’s … the loss of Fopp in Oxford.

HMV was saved by a buyout which keeps the name and livelihoods alive, but there were always going to be casualties. The flagship HMV store on London’s Oxford Street was one. Fopp stores were another. And, of those, Fopp in Oxford went.

This looks like the end of high street music retail in this place. Fopp’s compact nature meant that, in a post-megastore world, it was the only chain contender for city centre presence, but this is the second time it’s closed down now. Sad days. Independent shops are always number 1, but of the big names, HMV has been a long-time favourite and I bet it’s the same for a lot of music buyers. HMV’s massive divergence into entertainment felt wrong for those of us not seduced by accessories, games and tech, but in the better shops the music section was still pretty good. Oxford’s HMV had a small basement. Down there, at its best, it felt like a high street haven.

And Fopp was even better. Was it a threat to a local independent like Truck Store? I don’t think so. To keep physical-format music shops alive, you need both a high street presence and an independent presence. Where they once competed, they now complement. You gotta support the bigger thing: music. To buy. In shops.

Where Fopp really excelled, though, was back catalogue titles and the volume of choice within genres. The week before it shut, I had a Thin Lizzy compulsion. I worked out what I was after, knowing that Fopp had a fair few Lizzy items in stock. Of course, I couldn’t get them. Fopp closed in haste, four days after my previous visit and three days before the planned Lizzy binge. But my purchase wasn’t transferred to Truck Store – it went online. Sorry? No, not for that. Truck doesn’t hold a lot of back catalogue and it didn’t have any of my Lizzy most-wanteds anyway. For all its brilliance, Truck Store’s increased emphasis on vinyl pushes CD buyers elsewhere for some things. And Truck’s metal section is non-existent these days, down to just two CD widths on the racks.

This is why Fopp scored big points: browsability. It also had some great promos where you could sample stuff for a bargain, like last year’s Rocket Recordings special. That one got some Gnod, Teeth of the Sea and Hey Colossus albums into my hands and ears. Gold.

So yeah, gutted to see Fopp go. It was the best of the high street groups/chains from recent years. Best of luck to the staff who kept it going.

FEBRUARY NEW RELEASES

Apart from a late-80s Black Sabbath fixation and, sadly, an unexpected Talk Talk rewind – RIP Mark Hollis – what’s caught the ear of late? Here’s a trio of new tunes that made a mark.

BLACK TO COMM – Lethe

Grainy ambience, looped on a glitch. Part of this rolling instrumental sounds backwards, the rest of it is a persistent rumble. Stop-motion storm clouds churning over an abandoned industrial estate. Got rhythm but no dance. Check it here, file under dark intrigue.

GUNTER SCHICKERT – Ceiling

Schickert has just released a new solo album, Nachtfalter, 40-odd years after his first. I didn’t know that. Then I again, I don’t know this guy. It’s why I stole that fact. You can get his kosmische credentials and his role in Germany’s music scene from people who know their stuff, but this track, Ceiling? To a Schickert newcomer like wot I is, it makes a hypnotic pull. With the kind of ultra simple backbeat that informs many a Julian Cope Rite project, Schickert lays guitars that pass like underground trains, vanishing round bends. Extra percussion ticks away. Clock work. Seven minutes of subterranean movement.

MOTORPSYCHO – Psychotzar

From the tiny DAB radio in the kitchen, Psychotzar‘s opening riff channeled prime time non-downer Sabbath … who the holy Iommi is this???? Aaaaaah yes, the non-psycho’s psycho. Delicious. And not too Sabbath really, because Motorpsycho really really aren’t, but Psychotzar rocks its prog-ness with a hard 70s crunch. New album The Crucible is out now on Rune Grammofon.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

DOES THIS MUSIC SMELL FUNNY?

JANUARY REWIND: NEW EXPOSURES FROM NORWAY AND SOUTHERN LORD, AND A BRACE OF WINTER SOUNDTRACKS

If wild instrumentals are the way to blast those Jan-Feb blues, check this trio of wordless other-worldlies and set your radar to stun, scorch and shift. Verse-chorus-verse they are not. Don’t know anything about the bands (yet) so excuse mon ignorance and lack of detail, just feel the buzz instead. Much to trip on.

HEDVIG MOLLESTAD TRIO – First Thing to Pop is the Eye

STUN. Heavyweight new-jazz post/prog artillery from Norway. Dazzling. HM3’s First Thing… fairly fires up a wintry night with urgent, hypnotic bass loops and guitars that strike with small-hours cool. Musicianship absolutely not in question, neither is the r.o.k. attitude, and that’s more than enough to keep us happy BUT… check the drumming. Is that a player or what? New album Smells Funny is out now on Rune Grammofon.

CASPER BROTZMANN MASSAKER – The Call

SCORCH. OK, not new – 31 years not new, since you ask – but reissued right now on Southern Lord and, of course, Casper packs the same ferocious intensity on guitar as dad Peter does on sax. What comes to mind? A splatter of King Crimson Red to start maybe, but mostly a Killing Joke wall of fury roughed up by free-forming six-stringer squall. Primal psssyche out.

SONAR – Vortex

SHIFT. Why? Because of the mood. Because of the tension lurking from the opening Tortoise lope. Because of the pristine dark urban space conjured by metronomic polyrhythms, slow-rising urgency and part-glitch percussive energy. Get a shift on – enter the vortex with Sonar right here.

WINTER AMBIENCE FROM 2018 LEFTOVERS

By leftovers, we mean the 2018 music bought late last year – like ace albums by Clutch, Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood, Donny McCaslin and Pijn – that have fed the new year and which we’re only just digesting. And for some moody atmos on grey-day hibernations like these, you can do a lot worse than sink into these two highly-recommendeds. First, https://annavonhausswolffmusic.bandcamp.com/album/dead-magic Magic by Anna Von Hausswolff. Drones, possession (spiritual) and pipe organs (massive) from Sweden make for a gothic mood piece that signals a storm’s arrival, though it never does. The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra comes close, but its rock-solid haunt is more of a summoning. File next to your Sunn O)))/Ulver crossovers. Or Myrkur. Or your pipe organ collection. Or maybe even this lot …

.Low. Can’t get enough of critics’ favourite Double Negative at the moment. Even when you flick your hype-alert switch on after the gushing reviews, all that talk of noise, crackle and avant is just too seductive … can Low really be pushing it that far out, this far into their career? So you give it a go. And nothing prepares you for just how outside Double Negative is. Something very special, disorienting and rare at work here … semi lucid states, heavy distortion and fractured warps, cloaked by unshakable Low-floating harmonies. In and out of focus. One for dark nights, immersion and submission. The beauty is buried deep.

BULLY FOR DRORE AND DESERT STORM

Friday 1 February, 2019 – Drore and Desert Storm at the Bullingdon, who needs a headliner? Not them, but there is one anyway: Conjurer, on the Holy Roar label. Metal Hammer have said good stuff about their Mire album, let’s see what they’re all about.

’til next time!

P.S. Desert Storm and Drore review done, see next post

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind