RIFFS AND RECORDS OF 2018

A SEASONAL LOOK BACK AT SOME HARD-HITTING FAVOURITES OF THE YEAR (100% subjectivity alert)
Feastive gratings, deer reader! How was your 2018? What were the chimney-top highs and reindeer-dropping lows in your world of rock?
In the spirit of seasonal listmania, as we await the clattering arrival of ol’ whitebeard, let’s share the gift of listening pleasures with the help of some wildly contrived categories, all in the name of musical goodwill and making our collective music collections EVEN BETTER.
Shall we?

Snowmania!

’tis the season to be chilled

PORCINE PSYCHE SLUDGING BASTARDS of the year

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs: King of Cowards. For my crummy penny’s worth, Feed the Rats didn’t match The Wizard and the Seven Swines’ basket-cased crash landing. Not quite. This new one does, though. Shockmaster’s Melvins-worthy riff sticks like wet tar, A66 ends with the heaviest moto-pulsing Hawkwind you’ll ever hear and vocalist Matt Baty doesn’t so much sing as expel, right down to the vein-throbbing last ounce. As usual. What do we call this music? Gut metal? Primal scream, howwwwl rock, slam and hurl? Don’t matter. All we need to know is, it’s physical.

70s SOUL POP STOMPING REMAKE of the year

Ty Segall: Every 1’s a Winner (from Freedom’s Goblin). A close one, this. Corrosion of Conformity bagged big 70s cover points with heavyweight Queen – Son and Daughter – dropping a bonus sphere on No Cross No Crown, but for addictive unruly garage pop splendour you gotta go for Ty’s sticky glam-funk fuzz pop. Hot Chocolate makes you feel good.

RUSSIO-FRANCO FALSETTO POST-PUNK ELECTRO-O-O of the year

Shortparis: Nacxa. Big thanks to Mary Anne Hobbs for introducing Shortparis on her 6Music Recommends programme. Worldly beats, goth paranoia, Joy Division shadow play, killer album. Check this review and find some links to the intoxicating Shortparis sound.

TIME-STOPPING TECTONIC PLATE-SHIFTING RIFF of the year

Sleep: The Botanist (from The Sciences). What. A. Statement. I mean, the album’s ace, surely the most cohesive thing they’ve done; Holy Mountain’s too in thrall to Sabbath, and Dopesmoker’s an untouchable one-off that exists in its own category. The Sciences, though, has songs and sequencing, a proper album structure, and the last of those tracks is definitive. Riff heroic, solos cosmic, wholly unshakeable and cool as fuck. Stuff it in your pocket and become invincible.

ODD-NAME OX-PROG of the year

Masiro: Geodesics. Very new from the Oxford band, but it’s made such an impression that it goes in as a best-of – let’s see if it stacks up after a few more months. Fits well with TesseracT and Cave In, like an instrumental partner in technical space rock. Mini write-up right here.

BRUTE-FORCE OX-FORGED METAL of the year

Desert Storm: Sentinels. In March, Judas Priest delivered Firepower and it was so steely – like, consummately metal, the old school way – that it the propelled the metal masters up to #3 on Metal Hammer’s end-of-year list. Rejuvenated Judas or what? But March also gave us Sentinels by Desert Storm outta Oxford, which is also metal but earthier of origin. Less escapist, less fantastical, less clean, a stone-solid riff stack. Eight months on and that Convulsion/Capsized ending still cuts it.

SHOCK LOSS of the year

Caleb Scofield. The serious bit … did Hydra Head dominate your musical discoveries in the early 2000s? It did mine. The Isis/Old Man Gloom/Cave In/Pelican scene felt like a family, and Scofield’s bass was a core member. If you haven’t checked Cave In’s Antenna for a while, do it now. Cue up Seafrost: prime Scofield bass in a track that disintegrates into whiteout, Arctic ambience and guitar wails that climb on chill winds. A fitting, wintry tribute.

INDUSTRIALISED PANEL-BEATING of the year

Gnod: Chapel Perilous. Aka the Album they Ignored at Ritual Union, but even that interminable live effort cannot detract from the overcast majesty trapped within the walls of this perilous factory. Donovan’s Daughter unlocks it with 15 minutes of relentless moto-pounding, Uncle Frank Says Turn It Down slams it shut with untamed Helmet riffage.The rest? Psyche warfare, corrosive effluence and Swans transcendence. A vital sprawl.

SHOEHORNED GNOD PUN of the year

Gnodley & Creme. Aaaah, sorry. Festive indulgence on my part. Then again, Sunn O)) and Scott Walker did Scott O))), so why not ponder a northwest summit of Salford and Stockport? Anyway, Godley & Creme’s Body of Work came out in 2017, but it’s 5 CDs vast so it became a 2018 listen. Still ploughing through to be honest, but it’s a showcase for dazzling pop invention. Why would you buy this? Probably because you’re curious for experimental pop and you’re three and a half decades late for Godley & Creme. Well, that’s my reason. The 80s childs among us will have Wedding Bells and Cry stuck in the unconscious, maybe even the murkier Under Your Thumb. Body of Work packs the whole G&C journey and it’s a precocious trip crammed with ideas, pop smarts and studio-muso innovation … Zappa de doo wop and kaleidoscopic adventures, a massive revelation to the G&C first-timer.

SKRONKY DISTORTED HAG of the year

Nine Inch Nails: Bad Witch. If you’ve ever wished for a more urgent, fired-up, experimental studio outing from Nine Inch Nails after years of brooding perfection, Bad Witch is it. Shit Mirror makes a classically violent start, but after that we get a new Reznor voice with vibrato (pure Chris Connelly), zombie sax, bass space and NIN-style destruction. Bad Witch: faith healer.

PROG MENTAL HEAVY SHREDDIES of the year

Between the Buried and Me: Automata I. ‘kin ‘ell. There is no rest in this 35-minute EP. Technical, progressive metal played with heart and scream, millions of mood and tempo shifts, and just enough scattershot hooks and solos to unleash your arena rock nerd. Pushing a fair few Mastodon/Voivod/Opeth/Porcupine Tree buttons, it’s a shiteload of music packed into half an hour.

PROG MENTAL HEAVY SHREDDIES #2 of the year

Between the Buried and Me: Automata II. Obvs. And although it’s wrong to say that II is less metal, because it is still totally metal, it is right to say that it’s more genre-eclectic. Remember Devin Townsend’s swinging Bad Devil from his Infinity album? That swing is all over Voice of Trespass, a track that spends 13 minutes going absolutely everywhere, as does the rest of Automata II. BTBAM have no limits.

RARE WORD AS ALBUM TITLE of the year

TesseracT: Sonder. Another one for the prog set, but no death growls and less of Between the Buried and Me’s rapid-fire switcheroos – Sonder turns out a clean heavy P-rog with spacey ambience and mid-tempo riffs that lurch, bend, stop and start. Perhaps not immediately striking, but the quality’s obvious and after a few plays, it pulls you right back.

NICE LYRIC BOOK SIGNED BY ARTIST of the year

Franklin Mint: Scrage. It’s been four years since the So….dinosaurs EP and Scrage follows exactly as you’d want – twisting tunes, knotty off kilter riffs and sideways lyricism. Nomeansno always come to mind with Franklin Mint – it’s the vocals, without the mania – but beyond that, they’re hard to pin. Just like Tool’s Opiate was.

RE-WRITING THE LIVE PERFORMANCE RULE BOOK of the year

King Crimson. Yep, them. The band that turns 50 next year. How so? Because they delivered a show so exceptional that the words are out of reach. Aware of the contradiction, here are some words from my unfinished notes: Seeing them live for the first time tells me two things: first, a healthy stack of studio albums is a frakction of the experience this band offers. And second, a live date sends you back to listen again to every bit of Crim you thought you knew, but to do it properly this time. Live Crimson clears the senses. King Crimson showed how intense rock music could be and really … they were just too good. Band of the year.
So, there goes a tiny snapshot of some big impressions in 2018. Time now to crack the shortcrust on some mince pies and hope Santa finds those live King Crimson CDs in time … and with that festive thought, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

REZNOR ON RECORDS

AUGUST REWIND: PHYSICS BAND PSYCHE, BARE-BONES CHAKA FUNK AND ODDBALL MINT ROCK, PLUS THE NIN VINYL MISSION STATEMENT

You can work on an album for two years and it’s judged, consumed, forgotten in an afternoon [laughs]. Then it’s onto the next Kanye West think piece. Which is, y’know, depressing for an artist. ‘Is anyone even listening out there?’”

That was Trent Reznor speaking to the Quietus and it’s an interview that’s well worth your time (though you’ll have to get past John Doran projecting his own narrative all over the shop and managing to diss Queens of the Stone Age as auto-piloting cash grabbers trading off past albums … what???? Odd example. In no sense do I hear Homme’s gang pushing out by-numbers records just so they can tour the old stuff. What is Doran on?)

Anyway, Reznor’s quote struck me because it’s something that’s crossed my mind before, and I say that as a music nut. Are we really listening to music? Not in terms of sound quality, because that’s a whole other issue, but in terms of time quality.

Do we give enough to music?

Most likely not, if we’re honest, no. We’re swirling in the tyranny of immediacy. I’m not even signed up with Spotify or anything and I still can’t keep up with the CDs I buy and the radio programmes I like.

Go to the Nine Inch Nails website and you’ll see a statement that you can’t really dispute, even if the idea of ‘a vinyl mission statement’ first sounds like a pomp-ass thing to do. Reznor doesn’t dismiss digital or the convenience of non-physical format listening. He just articulates a preference and a hope and, coming from the artist, it’s a worthy notion, I reckon. Makes us reflect on our relationship with music, and whether we consume and judge too quickly because the Now Culture is what we are. The very existence of that statement, and the quote at the top of this page, are reminders that there are creators at the other end of the music.

And they care a fucking lot.

All of which is a roundabout way of acknowledging NIN’s awesome Bad Witch EP and telling you there’s no review.

Not listened to it enough. Let’s meet later for that one.

OTHER NEW STUFF
Right then, here’s how to undermine the above point – throw out a few new earcatchers from recent weeks.

The Physics House Band – Surrogate Head

Play this power trio loud as hell.” So said Julian Cope on the sleeves of his Brain Donor albums and it’s top advice for this Brighton instrumental three-o too, especially on this 2017 track – a muscular, space-scraping trip that’s packed with muso prowess yet still beholden to the bludgeoning power of a gutsy riff ‘neath a prog manifesto. Other tracks might take in more moods, musicality and Battles quirk, but Surrogate Head is not afraid to rock.

Chaka Khan – Like Sugar

Sparse, lean and stripped-to-the-trunk funk, Like Sugar is as clean or filthy as you want it to be. Is there a more addictive big-name bass line out there this summer? Comes off like one of those futuristic late-‘70s deep cuts that’s been unearthed to reveal its timeless self because it’s straight from The Source. Maximum groove from minimal moves. Sweet.

Forktail – Beast ’82

Play this straight after Like Sugar and you get a neat flow going. It’s funky but it’s not funk, built instead on metronomic beats topped off by creeper atmos creak-and-haunt that takes you to the fringe of the unknown without hurling you in … this time. Rhythm and dance for the witching hour. The Forked one is right here.

Lark – John Berger’s Wild Shirt

If a less hinged Karl Hyde stabbing lyrics over big beats and dissonant bursts of sticky, beaten bent guitar fancies your tickle, artist Karl Bielik and Lark might be your next stop. Turmoil rock? A track this ragged could never be played the same way twice. Lark about this way.

Franklin Mint – Animal Balloons

Where have you been, Franklin Mint? Four years since the so…dinosaurs EP and it’s pretty fr*nkl*n exciting to hear there’s now an album of oddster rock twists. Hailing from Bristol but feeling like a lost band from the alt-rock underground before it broke bigger, Animal Balloons is a first scratching of Scrage, whatever the fuck that means, and it’s wholly Mint-y. CD ordered, cannot wait, not cheating with further online listens.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

Earth, Godflesh and a mint skirmish

REWIND NOVEMBER

After all the live action and new discoveries from Audioscope, here’s a swift round-up of some new-ish listening from a couple of genre heavyweights.

When you find that Justin Broadrick and BC Green have revived Godflesh after more than 10 years apart and finally got some tunes to gift to the world, all you really wanna know is whether these morsels of new ‘flesh – a pre-album EP – are true to the big G’s legacy.

And, of course, they are. Decline & Fall is as Godflesh as you’d dare hope: four tracks of mechanised yet human heavy-industry beats, deep-stained by social decay, dereliction and absence – at least, that’s what comes to my mind (the true heirs to Sabbath?). Playing with Fire is an especially hope-less highlight in an EP that’s reassuringly stark and Godflesh pure, and all bodes well for A World Lit Only By Fire (in my tape deck – yep, cassette it is, why the bloody hell not? – awaiting a grim grey day for a first play).

Dylan Carlson’s posse seem to switch modes with almost every Earth record these days and they’ve done it again on Primitive and Deadly. Cello is out, big rock action is in, and it’s a beaut. Reviews have made reference to Pentastar: In the Style of Demons, and you can see why, but this record is way bigger. While Pentastar came out only three years after the radically insular Earth 2, Primitive comes off the back of all that AND Earth mk II – Hex, Bees, geophysical Americana, wilderness spirit, Angels I and II, drcarlsonalbion – and the five tracks swell to bursting with full-bodied rings, elemental drones and life-affirming amplification. Makes you feel good to be alive.

Right then. Who’s heard of Franklin Mint?

No, me neither, but a track of theirs (Emperor of Everything) got aired on 6 Music’s Freakzone the other week and I swear it coulda been fired out of the 90s on an Alternative Tentacle. Less hyper-maniacal than Nomeansno but channelling some of that restless post-hardcore prog-ness, these Bristol Misters impressed and could well be a name to check.

No such anonymity for David Bowie and the music world is a better place with him back in it. Bowie’s resurgence continues with new track Sue (or In a Season of Crime) – seven minutes of wired skittery jazz being chased down the lost highway to his boldest-sounding stuff since Outside and Earthling … and that is very much a Good Thing. More please, Mr Jones.