Cath Aubergine introduces us to two albums by the prolific experimental folk artist Mount Eerie, both of which were released in 2012 & both of which evaded much press attention then. Here’s Cath’s review of “two that got away”, Clear Moon & Ocean Roar.
IÂ wasn’t going to do any end of year stuff this year. Well, last year, as it is now. 2012. The year even half the people who make the lists generally seemed to agree there were too many lists. There were a lot of albums I liked in those lists, plenty I’d bought in a year where I probably bought more new albums than I ever have previously. Few, however, mentioned the albums which together sat at the top of the list in my head. It’s not like they were musically impenetrable, nor the work of an unknown artist. They were kind of hard to get hold of, but in these days where you can generally own any tune you like electronically in a matter of seconds or physically by 9am tomorrow on the premium delivery option, there was something rather nostalgic about the long wait. Anticipation. And it did not go unrewarded…
They made their way across the sea, six months apart, packaged like gifts from afar. Each box addressed by hand and bound with patterned tape bearing the name of the organisation from which they had originated: P.W.ELVERUM & SUN, LTD. ANACORTES . I looked it up on a map, and things started to make sense. Up there at the western end of the border between Washington State and Canada the coastline dissolves into a scatter of islands and outcrops; the small city of Anacortes is bounded on three sides by water, at the head of a strait that separates the two countries as they reach out into the North Pacific Ocean. It covers the northern third or so of Fidalgo Island where the oceanic crust lifts above sea level; a couple of miles south lies a mountain whose unique geological composition tells stories of uplift and submersion and glacial erosion. Its name is Mount Erie.
This year more than any before I have found fascination in coastlines, the fractal forms and geology and history on the edges of continents; the rift at Ãingvellir in Iceland where the North American and Eurasian continental plates meet blew my mind as much as any of the music I heard out there. Sometimes you can hear the landscape in the music; from sea-blasted folk laments to ambient echoes, dreampop atmospheres to the distant rolling thunder of black metal. And there, on the other side of the world, the other side of that continental plate, those same sounds permeate the work of Phil Elverum.
I’ll admit I’m a latecomer here; 2009’s “Wind’s Poem” was his fourth album under the Mount Eerie name (having previously recorded as Microphones, doing the sort of college radio lo-fi meets Beach Boys pop thatâs perenially popular with twentysomethings in shapeless jumpers) and even that was six months old by the time he brought its live performance to Manchester’s Ruby Lounge, and the cast-iron reliability of anything booked by local experimental music promoter Wotgodforgot took me there. It rushed from the speakers like the gathering storm, Elverum’s fragile voice sometimes lost in the sound, sometimes rising above. 2012’s twin albums (available, initially at least, only on vinyl and only from the old curiosity-shop built by Elverum’s imagination around his very real if rather less romantic mail-order business) appeared to continue the theme.
Wind, sky, water. The moon pulls those tides; the wind batters the coast; it’s all connected.
Loosely speaking, “Clear Moon” is the lighter of the two, though mortality is never far away and Allyson Foster’s guest vocals on “Through the Trees Pt. 2” seem to be coming from somewhere beyond that. This is not the easy listen it first pretends to be; the oft-cited black metal influence which permeated every noise on “Wind’s Poem” (in some senses an album equivalent of The Blair Witch Project, right down to the fact that you couldn’t really do it again) is here more of a threat than an overwhelming presence – though in some ways that’s more unsettling. Songs which could, in other hands, have been delicate and decent enough examples of backwoods folk with a psychedelic tinge are surrounded here by shadows and deep underlying menace. Lyrically there’s a fair amount of existentialism, though don’t be expecting lengthy wordy theses: often Elverum’s words feel more like a contents page, a list of general thoughts and themes as opposed to being overly specific It’s standard practice when writing about music with vocals to pull out a killer line or two, but it doesn’t feel right here: in a sense this is actually one long piece of largely blank verse.
In “Clear Moon” the theme centres around home and what that means: the twin titles of “The Place Lives” and its immediate successor “The Place I Live” say so much more than the few words that comprise them, whilst “Ocean Roar” is a walk outside in the dead of night. Elverum described his second album of 2012Â as “more challenging and weird and darker and heavier” – which it undoubtedly is – but again, if one considers them the remaining two thirds of a triptych then it’s a reminder that the weather may calm down for a while, but only ever for a while. There’s much more of a classic avant-psyche influence here; in the cover of Popol Vuh‘s “Engel Der Luft”; in the driving rhythms that surface from time to time; and in the untethered imagination which feels no need for easy genre labels. Fans of densely layered shoegaze may find something to love here, as might connoisseurs of the drawn-out doom of Earth (as support for whom Elverum played his only UK dates of the year) or anyone who thinks some of these sensitive girlfriend-left-me-so-I-retreated-to-a-cabin-in-the-woods types would benefit from listening to Sunn O))) at extreme volume.
Throughout, each layer of sound travels and echoes between the speakers, immersing you in something of the fog which crops up repeatedly in the words. Sometimes it’s like the very music itself is being buffeted around in the weather, Elverum’s voice half-heard against the wind that’s building up again. I wonder if my own affinity with these albums has been influenced not just by those experiences of travels but by the relentless rain that’s lashed our own little island this past year. I’m guessing Anacortes gets its fair share of that, too.
These are not albums to be shoved on repeat, and especially not on shuffle. They are not background. You can use them as backgrounds, sure, and in that context you’ll get a couple of decent ones, although Elverum’s wonderful disdain for the modern fashion of overcompression means you may have some rather quiet spells. Listening, however, is richly rewarded; close your eyes and take a night walk around a small city on the edge of a continent, bounded by water, fog, wind, a mountain, moonlight and the inky blackness beyond.
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Ian Astbury is the last of the true believers he is still searching and still entranced by rock n roll.
He first appeared as the frontman of Southern Death Cult in the early eighties. The band briefly carried the flame for a version punk rock- a flame passed from the Pistols/Clash to Adam And The Ants to Southern Death Cult- a flame that burned bright in the eyes of young idealists who would travel up and down the country to see the band.
Astbury defined that youthful idealism and soul searching and had the perfect platform with the band’s tribal beats and melancholic power. A lost soul who had been brought up in Canada and Birkenhead, Astbury had found a home in punk rock- following Crass on the road and ending up in Bradford joining the Southern Death Cult.
He gave the band their wide eyed soul power and he became the pin up boy for positive punk that was soon erroneously labelled Goth and airbrushed from the musical narrative.
The band, like fellow travellers Bauhaus, were ground breaking musicians who have been written out of history by post punk historians who prefer the grey faced to the beautiful- both bands pushed the boundaries as much as the Fall or the Gang Of Four but have been edited out of the story.
A band like this could never last and they fell apart and Astbury called up the services of arch Mancunian guitar gun slinger Billy Duffy- who had once spent an afternoon writing songs with Morrissey in the legendary Ed Banger And the Nosebleeds before absconding to Theatre of Hate.
Duffy, who also taught Johnny Marr how to play guitar and remains firm friends with the fellow Wythenshawe guitar hero, was the Man City supporting, meat and potatoes, six string riff monster whose fractious relationship with his idealistic singer has been the source of the Cult’s creativity ever since. When it works like on the classic She Sells Sanctuary sparks fly in the perfect balance between terrace lad anthem and questing, yearning, other worldliness.
The Cult in their pomp were a fantastic rock band incorporating the groin exchange groove of AC/DC with the no nonsense production of Rick Rubin and Astbury’s rock trip- the yin and the yan of rock possibility. For a few years in the late eighties the Cult were million sellers and filling stadiums. They currently occupy the rock hinterland of big tours, interesting album releases and a position just beyond the big time. But that hasn’t stopped Astbury, he could have steeled into comfy slippers of rock veteran but the quest continues., he controversially filled in for Jim Morrison of the 21st century Doors tour , worked with UNKLE, travels the world seeking knowledge and working on experimental rock side projects with frontier bands like Boris.
It’s January 2011 and the Cult are on the road in the UK. Like all the best bands they are a contradictory beast- a hard rocking band who quote AC/DC and esoteric philosophy, rock hard and are still enthralled by Crass.
They are on the UK leg of a world tour. It’s not the big venues any more but still sold out comfortably large halls. They will play mixture of rabble rousing anthems, some new material and some off the wall moments. They are a rock band nearly three decades down the line. They don’t sell millions of records these days and should have slipped comfortably into the working band syndrome like most of their contemporaries. This would be the case of the didn’t have Ian Astbury as a frontman. Astbury grew up out of punk and has bounced around the edges of rock n roll ever since then- one part trad rock frontman, one part Crass fanatic and one part flailing shaman, Astbury talks a million ideas in an interview and is a seeker surrounded by the stale belch of rock n roll.
Here is a rocker who can talk about magik, punk rock, the counter culture, Led Zep and the Himalayas in one quote with an emotive conviction and a glint of mad genius in his eye.
Astbury’s itinerant seventies childhood, where he moved from Birkenhead to Canada and back to the UK was immersed in pop culture was made sense of by punk rock.
Following Crass on the road he fell in with like minded souls in Bradford and joined what would become Southern Death Cult- a band whose first album stands up to the test of time with its intense passion and inventive tribal/punk songs.
”ËWe were kids. We were young. I was 19. I hadn’t developed. I was reaching for myself and I hadn’t found myself so it was really earnest. If there is a criticism of me for being young and earnest then yeah! I’m guilty! I was young! and I was earnest! and I was going for it. I was exploring everything and I wasn’t afraid to put it into my music. The way I dressed and the way I looked was different, everyone else was following the pack.’
The punk flux changed lives. It was a savage discourse and the young Astbury, arriving back into the UK after spending his early teens in the USA, was captivated by the strands of intense pop culture all around him.
”ËI was year younger than most of my peers and I didn’t see the Pistols. I saw the Clash in ”Ë78 so I was a year behind. I was in Canada in ’77 so I just missed out on that wave. Year zero for me was Crass and Joy Division. More so than the Pistols it was second album Clash, Public Image, Joy Division. But also coming from north America- because I’d spent five years there growing up- I also had this FM radio upbringing, listening to the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and also David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith because you would hear these albums on the radio played in beautiful stereophonic sound- so I would be very familiar with this music as well.’
It keeps coming back to Crass though. The anarchist band’s beyond the fringe gigs were powerful affairs and the young Astbury would bunk round the country to see them play.
”ËI saw those guys 36 times. I used to follow them. I was a devotee of Crass and it had a huge, huge influence on me. I remember being at Dial house- the squat where they lived just outside London- and being given a book on the sacred rights of the Oglala Sioux called Black Elk Speaks by John Neinhardt to read while they were having a band meeting. I sat there and flicked through it as an 19 year old kid with a Mohawk sitting in their house. Steve Ignorant was sitting in the tepee outside- how can that not have an effect on you? It’s only now people understand them with articles in the media.’
Crass were, for many, the true spirit of punk and certainly for Astbury’s generation who arrived on the scene after the initial punk burst they were everything.
”ËPeople always said that if you were not there for those initial three months of punk then you weren’t there atall. Like the second summer of love in 1988 the summer of 77- if you were not there then you were not experiencing the real thing but to me they are just a get in the door moment that leads to a movement. The energy is always there- we are made of atoms and if you split the atom the energy is always there- of course the energy is always there. Unfortunately the culture has been appropriated by college-educated people who put themselves up as the custodians of the culture. They set themselves up with their blogs- ”ËI am now a cultural critic, here’s my blog- I am an authority.’ It’s got some nice black and white graphics. What I mean is that the people who are out there are really doing it are not reporting it. They are just getting on with it.’
The UK in the late seventies was a shocking place to arrive back in.
”ËWhen I came back to England there was this horrible Thatcherite cynicism and dystopia. I was coming out of a very optimistic culture in North America at a time when music had been very rich- the Stones were at their height, bands like Queen were touring and they were suddenly considered to be dinosaurs but they were still doing really good work. It’s interesting now that we have gone away from punk rock and people can be really objective about that period, bands like the Killers can be influenced by Bruce Springsteen or Queen.’
For Astbury the long and eclectic trip had started.
”ËYou put all that into my music and my love affair with the Doors and Jim Morrison and the psychedelic period and what people were doing in that period with ingesting psychedelics and exploring inward, emotive space and trying to get to the meaning of it all. Then, of course Spinal Tap comes along, and they put up Stonehenge on the stage and everyone has a really good laugh. I was probably the only person, who, when Spinal Tap came along- looked at everyone and said, you know what- we are fucked (laughs) because that film was funny but at the same token everybody is just going to look at the superficial elements of rock n roll and that’s just going to be it. It’s just going to be a big joke and it’s not a safe place any more to talk about those things, those things that made rock music more interesting, textured, layered and deeper.’
It’s this earnest love for the true heart of rock n roll that has left Ian Astbury open to ridicule- especially in these ironic times. But it’s also this quest that makes him more fascinating.
When Southern Death Cult burst onto the scene in a flurry of Mohawks, native American imagery and dressed up splendour they swiftly became the house band for the disaffected Ants fans and punks looking for an escape route from the increasingly narrow confines of punk itself. The scene was called post punk at the time before post punk itself has been re-written to not include the likes of the Cult.
John Peel loved them though and their music was challenging- breath taking even- that debut album really stands up as a highly original piece of music forged in Bradford and youthful idealism.
They were an exotic flurry emerging from the grey satanic mills of post industrial Bradford.
”ËI think in many ways you are forced to create something far more of a polar opposite of your surroundings and there’s certainly no exotic quality to Merseyside and West Yorkshire (laughs). I remember before I went to Bradford and I was living in Birkenhead and the same happened there. The punks were really exotic. I think Pete Burns is from Birkenhead, or from Port Sunlight strangely enough and he looked amazing, The punk bands came from the suburbs and it took someone like Malcolm Maclaren, who was an art student, to make it happen. He was educated to have a cultivated eye so that when there was a shift in the culture he could be smart enough to define it in some way. He could then guide it or chorale it. These wild animals were running around and there was this shift in the energy and a shift in the culture and it was not like he tamed it but he harnessed it. He gave it an identity and he coalesced it and finessed it.’
He gave it a space.
”ËPrecisely and it’s that space and energy that I work in a lot and so does someone like James Lavelle. He is always looking for a sentiment or a feeling and try and give it some kind of framework for presentation. We are always trying to present it in a way that engages an audience. Those elements are very important. People are returning to a ritual space and people are returning to the organic environments- guys are growing their hair a little bit more and get away from ”Ëlet’s get down Carnaby Street and buy a pair of Beatle boots!”Â I feel the energy is moving towards the organic in many ways. If Lady Ga Ga is as far as you can go with the manufactured machine then obviously there is going to be a balance of nature. It’s always the way- look out for where the light takes us.’
A true believer, Astbury is dumbfounded by the snickering hipster ironics of the big city.
”ËI saw that ”ËAnvil’ film in the cinema in Manhattan and all these hipsters came in their skinny jeans and their little beards laughing all the way through the film. I was five rows behind them and they were totally missing the point. These kids were also talking about this other film about the death metal bands in Norway- about the bands being alienated from Norwegian culture of Christianity and the conservatism which all of a sudden is now McDonalds and American culture and this globalised culture being thrust upon them and they were like, ”Ëno we don’t accept this. We don’t feel this. We feel something else. Look at where we live. We live with fjords and mountains. This is who we are and we react against it this way with our dark metal. A load of city kids, who were talking about the film and who are not surrounded by this were not getting it. I was thinking how can they understand this? what reference do they have? They are actually really thick. They have a very blinkered perspective. We are all very organic. We depend on the sun, cut off the water and they would get it pretty quick!’
Rock culture has become an ironic T shirt slogan- Ian Astbury disagrees. Violently.
”ËIt’s like catch 22. It’s like the serpent catching its tail. It’s personified by people like Anna Wintour at Vogue magazine who observed that celebrity culture was going to happen and she put celebrity on the cover and everybody followed suit. Everybody from the bank manager to the editors, everybody follows suit to be part of it. There is this amazing book about New York called the Warhol Economy written by Elizabeth Currid who was an art professor. She talks about how New York became New York because of the abstract impressionists like Pollock, Rothko and then Warhol/CBGBs and then Basquiat and the Lower East Side crowd and that became modern New York and that’s why everyone went there. Everyone from the bank managers just wanted to put a Warhol on their wall and it’s turned into Zurich and all the real artists have basically left. Gone back to where they have come from- infact they are more likely to stay where they came from instead of going to New York. They are more likely to stay in Portland or Poughkeepsie because they know that it’s not happening in these urban environments- in fact it’s more likely to be pastiche. I just spent three years living in New York and explored it thoroughly and I know. I lived in Manhattan. I was always in galleries and art shows, it’s very similar to London in that way. You pay for your bohemian experience- like in Starbucks where there’s a sort of Norah Jones record on in the background and it’s kind of a bit Bohemian. You go up to the counter and you can have an exotic drink from South America- it’s all about surface- not depth. I’m more for revamping the Stonehenge festival than that- that would be amazing!’
But there are, according to Ian Astbury, pockets of resistance.
”ËThat’s what I love about groups like Sunn O))) and that’s what I love about Boris. That’s what I love about that new movement of drone and psyche and metal and hard rock. It’s not even hard rock- its avant garde. In many ways it’s a ritual space. It’s not one dimensional. It’s not a band standing up there playing three chords for an hour and half and there’s no release like if you go to see Metallica. It’s a performance and with respect to Metallica- they are very masculine and very one dimensional. There’s no real sexual release. It’s all about sexual tension. It’s very aggressive. It’s very angry but when you go and see Boris it’s like an opera- it’s operatic- it’s a complete spectrum of emotion. You go on a journey when you see Boris perform. When you walk out of their concert it feels like you’ve left the earth plane in some ways. For sure I like to be at the front at a three chord rock concert as well and have that kind of really urban, angst energy and we get plenty of that from rock and hip hop as well but I think it’s a real blessing that Greg Anderson is doing the Southern Lord label releasing bands like Boris and Sunn O))) . With the label there is a real place for them and it would be really nice if college educated journalists could get off their fucking asses and get out of their very small, myopic environments like Brooklyn or whatever small enclaves they live in and get out and experience more than some sort of hipster perspective which is very limited.’
Getting out of limited environments is something that Astbury himself does quite literally with his jaunts up the Himalayas.
”ËI’ve not been there recently. There’s been another crash at the airport at the gateway to the Khumbu Trek to Everest. It’s the second one in two years. It gets hairy up there (laughs). The Himalayas are unforgiving and the weather systems up there chop and change. You have to have your wits about you up there and I love that and I feel really grounded there. I need nature. I just moved back to California from New York because I was missing the mountains and the desert and the ocean. The desert is going to be a very important part of the next part of the story for myself and my music and creativity. I’m excited about that. I couldn’t access that in New York. I had a HD projector and I would project films against the wall by Jodorowky and Auosky, a lot of very kind of languid organic films, a lot of Kenneth Anger films as well and I thought why don’t you just go back the mountains because I’m not getting it in New York. In New York you are in man made canyons, the city is an amorphous thing and it has its own energy. Infact the city is part of everbody’s daily conversation. It’s a living, breathing entity but having said that- it’s also this machinery of culture and commerce. The people who made New York into New York came from elsewhere. You ask these artists who they are and where they come from and Warhol came from Pittsburg and before that he came from Poland and Jackson Pollock was from Wyoming. Patti Smith came from deep New Jersey, Jean-Michel Basquiet came from Haiti. They were refugees. New York was where the refuges came into. It was where people came in the first place but then the people like the Rothschild’s, the Vanderbilt’s, the Guggenheims and all the families would capture these immigrants and these visions of the future and then take it and stick it in a gallery and then sell it and the next thing the artist is dead and they are sitting on top of a lot of expensive art that they didn’t create themselves. New York is a machine. It just absorbs humans. It’s amazing- you see people just get spat out by the city. If you’re looking for spiritual awakening then New York is not the place to go. Well maybe it is- I had a spiritual awakening in New York and it made me want to go back to the mountains (laughs). I went to New York because I was looking for a more intellectually stimulating climate than California but it is really about what laces you have in your sneakers and how your hair is cut.’
Ever want to come back to the UK?
”ËI’ve actually spent more time in North America than in the UK and it breaks my heart to see so much cynicism and self loathing in the UK. I think the Brits are hard on ourselves and that really breaks my heart when I come back and see that and it’s difficult to come with a very open heart and a very earnest intention. The Cult have never been embraced by the British music industry. We have never been asked to an awards show and never been considered to be a part of any of that world. We have not been asked to the Queen tribute or the Mojo awards or the NME awards or any of that. We have never been embraced by the British music community ever, so in that way I feel like an exile. The only people I go back for is our fans and the barren places like Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.’
The Celtic fringes.
”ËYes! The Celtic fringes. Actually that is what I’m drawn towards and that quality in the island is still apparent and can be tapped into at any moment. That’s something that is really exciting and perhaps, if we can start a movement to get Stonehenge going again, it will make that difference. Billy was really funny. He said to me, you want to start doing these folk festivals now don’t you? and I’m like, ah uh! Of course! Reading and Leeds, T In The Park, I mean, really! come on! Please! No! enough”Â¦no more crap hamburgers, crap toilets, people pissing all over eachother in the rain, come on! (laughs). All coked up, no! ugh! There’s a lot more different festivals now. You can find a different culture there. For us the right place is not the conveyer belt- where people don’t even know what band are playing. They don’t even care.’
Why don’t you put on your own festival again.
”ËI attempted that once with the Gathering Of The Tribes. It was an altruistic, heartfelt vibe. I thought the musical community had to represent itself. It was getting very corporate at the time and labels were taking over. There were the super companies, the super signature- using the leverage of Michael Jackson’s contract which affected everybody. So my reaction was, because I was a big fan of hip hop at the time- my idea was to see Guns n Roses and then NWA on the same bill. The journalist response was, ”ËI don’t really understand this and we don’t get it’. And I was saying you don’t have to get it- just experience it. It could be a good experience or a bad experience- it depends on how you feel. The festival I put on became Lollapalooza and other people got the trophies of mine that end up in their trophy cabinets but again that’s just the way it rolls. I have to get beyond that or be a bitter old man (laughs).’
And the music scene itself? It’s changed massivly since the Southern Death Cult emerged in a time of confusion and idealistic hope.
”ËThere is a lot of getting caught up in facades. The sad thing is that a majority of people out there are not even watching anymore. There’s a massive video game industry, an 80 billion dollar a year industry. I read that in the Financial Times- that’s my latest banding about figure and my other one is when people asked what happened to the music industry- I say the bottom came up. Everybody and their dog is now an artist- it’s the people who really want to do it. If you can hang in there past three albums then you have made it. It’s not just a boy having a haircut and being cute or being the actual son and daughter of celebrity. That period from ”Ë68 to ”Ë73 there was so much music getting made, it was so eclectic from Pink Floyd, Can, Stooges, Doors to Bowie, Parliament, Sly Stone- so much going on, wow! I was lucky to go to Detroit for Rob Tyner’s benefit and a lot of these people came out. It was incredible evening. Things like that are few and far between. butI don’t want to sound like the old boy going on about the past. I’m interested in the future.’
And it’s this endless quest for whatever is at the heart of rock n roll and the future that keeps the Cult alive. On one level a great rock n roll band with the simplistic bump and grind of rock nailed down and on the other this idealistic twist and the thirst for more knowledge. In short, the quest.
Navigating soundscapes from the atmospheric to the psychedelic in this skilfully crafted noise pop album of dream-gaze and blazing textures. Says the press release. Beyond categorisation says Ged Babey, but a serious, progressive benchmark in female-lead alt-rock/dream-pop.
Shoegaze aka Dream-pop is one of those genres that really never was -but is having quite a healthy afterlife as an often-used descriptor.
Hurtling are a dream-gaze band who want to rock like bastards and every now and then they do. At the same time they are a very listenable ‘commercial’ proposition. They have carved out their own niche already and arrive pretty much fully-formed.
Hurtling are a band who’s sound is difficult to describe without resorting to ‘purple prose’… and because it doesn’t stay in one place long enough.
They are head and shoulders above almost everything (in guitar, bass, drums, voice, three-piece band circles in the UK) yet completely beyond and aside from the mainstream. (They remind me of how Radiohead were when they released Pablo Honey – seemingly out of nowhere.. and out on their own.)
Future From Here is sonically perfect. Technically faultless. The guitar sound(s) and playing are things of sheer beauty.
Not that it’s too clean, the bass has a lovely gnawing sound and a rattle like an old wooden speaker-case. Don’t Know Us has little moments of ‘Pretty Vacant’ type James Dean Bradfield guitar which cut in unexpectedly. like a tourettes tick.
This is an album by-musicians, for-musicians in a way. Persons with countless effects-pedals and pre-amps: gear-heads…(How do they get that sound?)
Although they are a ‘new band’, Hurtling are a band of professional musicians…. yet it is guitarist/vocalist/lyricist Jen Macro’s vehicle to prove that she is much more than a side-person…
Lead singer/guitarist Jen Macro has played live with a number of respected artists including My Bloody Valentine, Charlotte Hatherley and Graham Coxon. Drummer Jon Clayton has run One Cat Studio in Brixton for over 10 years. Simon Kobayashi (Bass) is founding member of Smallgang (Damnably records) and has lent his musical talents to Shonen Knife, Crumbling Ghost, Kath Bloom and is currently working with Jon Fine (Bitch Magnet).
Jen’s voice is subtle and on a level where the voice and guitar blend, rather than one dominate. Her lyricism is excellent though: Ghost… Write… My… Life.
Each song as a couplet which stays with you…. the Faith Healers-like opener ‘Start’ has the one above. Memory Cassette – the next single and a joyous Manics meets Lush via the Breeders amalgam and a guaranteed ‘hit’ in any sensible universe has…
I set my heart on fire for reasons I now know you abhor So I’m the charred remains of a girl that we both knew before
Hurling play either dream-pop that rocks – or rock that dreams of being something more transcendental.
You can hear the dynamics of Nirvana/Pixies, and the influence of a whole host of others American rockers (the all but forgotten except by me and their producer (John Robb) Bandit Queen…but that is probably just some cosmic coincidence) yet overall, Hurtling have a sound which is as fresh as you can get in 2019. Introspective one second and soaring the next, with a muscular kind of effortlessness.
‘Future From Here’ was written by Jen Macro as an ‘exploration of loss and hope’ while in downtime on tour with My Bloody Valentine. The concept started sonically and grew from there, adding song structures and lyrics that fitted phonetically, creating a soundtrack to music Macro wanted to hear.
The album kicks-off at the ‘Start’, a beginning of sweet melodies and a love song from ‘me to you’, crunching straight into ‘Memory Cassette’, a sun-drenched medicine for melancholy. ‘Feel It’, bold and courageous dives deeper into darker spheres, while ‘Summer’ paints beautiful melodious colours over the top of your sunscreen, lifting you out of your melancholy gently and purposefully.
That is the purple prose I mentioned.
I saw Hurtling at the Loud Women Fest 4, where their unassuming stage presence and technical excellence set them apart from most of the other bands. The ebb and flow and peaks and troughs of the music kept the audience enraptured. This album does the same.
The name Hurling is clever; the trajectory of an object, like a comet, blazing thru the sky – or in a Yoda-like adaptation (youngling) – one who has been hurt whilst young.
So lets all head to the ‘Future From Here’ and look after each other.
Simply, a great album. A stunning debut and a future classic.
Thurs Oct 17 – The Islington, album launch party Thu Oct 24 – The Half Moon, Bishop’s Stortford Nov 01 – JT Soar, Nottingham w/Hellebore Nov 16 – The Pipeline, Brighton 10 Jan 2020 – Get In Her Ears at The Finsbury, London w/Personal Best
Second album by noisy Greek post punk duo Hand & Leg, a follow up to their eponymous debut from 2017. The CD version features extra track Omonoia…LTW’s Ian Canty gets an ear bashing and seems to like it…
I knew precisely nothing about Hand & Leg on receiving this album, but on balance I really rather glad to have made their acquaintance now. Hailing from Athens in Greece, the pair of Iro Sofoulaki (bass and vocals) and Stelios Papagrigoriou (drums, vocals and some synths) make a colossal noise which sounds like there are far more than just the two of them. If the female/male drum and guitar pairing had you expecting some kind of lame and outdated White Stripes-style Led Zep homage, think again bucko! Because Hand & Leg don’t deal in anything so loser friendly, instead sending one head-first into a macabre, eerie world of fear, sex and noise.
The Hand & Leg world is very much the stuff of black comic nightmares. The only comparisons I can make lyrically are with weirdo early 80s Attrix Records act Birds With Ears or Stump circa Mud On A Colon, fleeting visions of extraordinary life viewed through misted up windows. Not so much songs, more a constant train of bizarre images. But H & L don’t sound like those bands at all.They bash out tribal rhythms on the drums, pile on bass heaviness and fuzz, plus the occasionally synth line or treated vocal to add to Iro and Stelios’ own voices.
Lulling the listener into a false sense of security on the cannily titled Faux with a cheesy synth line, soon the song crystallises into a grungy, grimy rhythm with buzzing bass feedback. The repeated refrain “wanna see my dirty teeth?” becomes a chant as Hand & Leg accelerate forward into something you could call industrial post punk, but really the contents of Lust In Peace are much harder to pin down.
The brutal march of Softyhead broods in an hypnotic fashion and the thud of L.I.P. goes onto a fuzzy, mud-caked climax, intoning that “I like to suck old people, cause they’re smelling of death”. Spit In My Eye hints at a seedy sexuality, a bad acid trip with dreamy vocals above the clamorous percussion. Both scary and seductive, there’s a Metal Box PIL-style to the bass and drums overload here.
Next we find Bahamas, full of feedback, bass riffs and an almost jolly male vocal. It’s a bit like a sea shanty gone very wrong. Grave Gravy goes back to Spit In My Eye’s subject matter, all about death and sex, this one starts with just a couple of distorted bass notes and a plaintive, pensive vocal. Then business begins to pick up, with shouting, screams and mayhem, before returning back to the static, eternal-sounding figure of the drums and bass.
Rooftop Spell sets off with a chant of “Want to meet me on the rooftop”, not an invitation I would want to take given the unhinged delivery. An unnerving verse takes in human failings/rigor mortis as positives – or though I’m still not entirely sure that was what was meant. The puzzles that Hand & Leg set are a big part of the appeal – information is distilled in short bursts on a “need to know” basis. Anyway a treated voice heralds the start of Shoplift, this one is almost a singalong, very catchy in fact if you ignore the all-round cacophony.
They do kind of resemble Neu! on Peter Pancake (with a bit of early Hawkwind added in), but not that motorik beat that is template for every other lazy indie band trying desperately to be interesting. No this is the upbeat Neu! of Super, which everyone has forgotten about, the Neu! that predicted the style DAF would adopt many year later. Lush Throw is even a little like toytown pop music (well up to the last line “It’s not fucked up it never fails you”), an organ/synth line and a real hook-line. They’re playing with us, but I like it
Last track Omonoia is the most fully formed “song”, in that featuring five stanzas, but the mismatch of ideas makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions. Which is as it should be and the music’s sense of dread pushes the thing along in a relentless style.
Lust In Peace is 32 minutes of off-centre mayhem, a sound and place all of its own, confusing in a beguiling way. The songs are more nightmare images that flash past, leaving just a vague but very unsettling impression. Kind of like things sighted from the corner of your eye you aren’t entirely sure were really there, but spooked you out anyway. Looking for something not like anything else? Hand & Leg can give you a footstep into the future and a foothold in their weird but great world.
Fat White Family | Shame | O’Connell’ & Love’s Lorry Love The Railway Tulse Hill, London October 5th 2019
A secret with a legendary line-up, Phil Ross reports from an electric night in South London’s vibrant music scene, with photos courtesy of Viola Spanu.
Tonight is about family, yes just like the Sister Sledge song, ‘I’ve got all my sisters with me’! It’s all about family; brothers, sisters, mothers, lovers, fathers, sons and daughters. Everyone is here to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of South London’s best loved and much missed pub landlords, Simon Tickler the former owner of The Queens Head in Stockwell Road.
The Queens Head was both the breeding ground and birthplace of cutting edge acts like The Fat White Family and Shame, and the scene of some of the wildest and most hedonistic parties.
Famously the Fat Whites lived and wrote in the rooms above the bar, playing regularly to hone their skills and pay their way. Shame also practiced and performed while many others, including the Alabama 3 in various forms were a frequent fixture.
But if we’re perfectly honest, most people here tonight have travelled from far and wide to see The Fat White Family, Shame, O’Connell & Love and the many other special guests, who have agreed to play at Simon’s party. The rumor is that the proceeds from this sold out show are being donated to help a mate who is unfortunately being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
As people stream in via the side entrance to the Secret Garden, Shame sit nearby supping Guinness and smoking roll-ups, and quietly the tension and the excitement build. They played here a couple of years ago before they hit the big time, and the pub was rammed then as it is tonight.
There’s no stage at The Railway and that’s kinda fine for a normal band night.
But if you’ve seen a front-man with the energy and attack-charimsa of Charlie Steen raging at you full face on, with the ferocity of Henry Rollins and Malcolm Owen combined, then you know this won’t be no normal night cos this ain’t no normal band.
On that 2017 gig, the band and the audience merged into one heaving mass. The band, the audience and the pub floor merged, the walls merged, Shame and The Railway Tavern roared and ached like some huge beast raging against the machine.
Already tonight there is little room for movement as the opening chords of I’ll Sing Hallelujah To You are rung out and the crowd chant the chorus.
O’Connell & Love, the Alabama 3 singer’s side-project with collaborator Brendan O’Connell are playing an acoustic set tonight, joined by vocalist Stephanie Clift. The wall of song elevates them as the packed room sings along loud and proud, seamlessly swaying into The Pirate Radio Station. Outside the queue to get in streams endlessly past the window next to the stage.
They play a perfectly formed set, highlighting their sublime songwriting with beauties such as It Was the Sweetest Thing from their second album Minesweeping, and appropriately after nine or so numbers, they finish with the very catchy Hangover Me. Appropriate because the video for this single was actually shot in The Queens Head. Tickler, the publican who made so much possible is here in the room, hands in the air singing with the audience as Larry Love’s gruff Welsh baritone blends beautifully with Clift’s bluesy but angelic vocal. But like Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl’s fairytale duet, it’s all over far too soon.
The beer garden and smoking area are packed now too, as Shame prepare to go on. Twenty one year old Sophie has bunked off Uni and come down from Glasgow to see Shame and Hannah has does the same, coming from Leeds. The excitement is palpable and neither the teenage girls, nor the balding punks are prepared to give way in their bid to be at the front. The band can hardly get to their instruments and climb along the benching at the side, jumping down into the gap where they have to play.
If you haven’t seen Shame, you must, there is no other way to say it, you must! If you’ve heard their Songs of Praise album on Spotify or somewhere, you might think they sound like Black Grape or as The Guardian’s Dave Simpson described them, like Fugazi or Gang of Four. But if you haven’t seen them live, quite simply you must!
It’s quite possible that no machine has yet been invented that can record the combination of power, energy, rage and relentless rhythm that these boys exude.
Charlie Forbes counts 1-2-3-4 on his drum sticks, Steen shouts “Huh” and motions the crowd to come close with a beckoning right hand. There’s no-where to come and he knows it, so he struts and frets around this tiny space like a caged beast before unleashing his torrential raging vocal of Another onto the wall of fans up close face to face.
It’s the unique joy of live music, when it’s done right. It can’t be captured, not on iPhone or on YouTube or in a recording studio. Nothing can replicate the feeling of the air being forced at you through a huge speaker system, the overwhelming power of noise and the sweat and adrenalin of the band and the crowd. Nothing can replicate the energy you see before you. The energy that you experience around you and which you becomes part of you.
Josh dashes across the polished floor we could call the stage, brandishing his bass like a lethal weapon, leaping high, Eddie thrashes rhythm on his Telecaster and Sean assaults us repeatedly with stabbing guitar lines. Nigel Hitter is the next number before the distinctive shout and reply vocal of Finerty and Steen on Concrete. There’s no way Steen can make his way through the mob and after the third track his shirt is soaked, he is topless, crowd surfing over the heads of young and old.
Finerty leaps untamed through Lampoon, Forbes flails wildly. The energy continues to build and build until they finish off with the driving, pounding climactic Tasteless, this too feels like its over far too soon.
It seems like a long time before for the Fat White Family come on. The main bar is packed, waiting patiently, and when they finally do, there is an eruption, the crowd go crazy, dancing, jumping.
The space where the bands play has shrunk even further, but people continue to encroach inch by inch until the audience and band are virtually singing together, sharing the space, it’s almost uncontrollable.
Nathan struggles to keep people at bay through the relentless driving Whitest Boy on the Beach. Lias, shirtless with oversized Ski-type glasses teases and whips the crowd further to fevered frenzy with the sleazy drawl of Touch the Leather.
Climbing the hypnotic Tinfoil Deathstar, sheer joy is in the room with more than just a hint of danger, the band and the crowd love it. At one point the Fats are so completely mobbed, it’s a little concerning. They turn their backs conspiratorially to the audience and play the middle chunk of Fringe Runner facing the drummer before erupting outward again into the creshendo.
Is It Raining In Your Mouth is just wild, this is old school. The few and far between moments in life like this must be savoured when they arise, and that’s exactly what has happened tonight. The bands, the guests, the audience, they’ve seen it for what it is – something special that they might never experience again and they grabbed it with both hands. They grabbed the family jewels.
Dublin duo, Molly and Kaz, aka Vulpynes, recently released their second EP, Dye Me Red. What is on offer is four skull crushingly heavy slabs of compelling melodic grunge rock. The formidable twosome commanding your attention entirely with their shadowy nefarious manifesto.
They start off as they mean to go on. Can’t Sit Still kicks things off in style with a driving beat and crunching riffing guitars. The vigorous unstoppable juggernaut of a tune a perfect representation of the songs title.
The head rush and vibrant intensity continues with menacing guitar and tight lively drums sound-tracking the simmering undercurrents, before the vitriolic venomous spitting of lyrics in the refrain, “Bitches are Like Waves, throw themselves at you”.
The continuous driving crunching guitars and drums change pace and style slightly on the final two tracks, which are perhaps the highlights of the EP
It Washes Out, which gives the EP its title from the Dye Me Red refrain, crackles with a barely restrained intense electrical charge, bursting into life revealing incessant pounding drums, the track breaks and rises and falls to great effect giving relief from the full on driving riffs but losing none of its vibrancy or energy.
Everything preceding the EPs closing track has led to this moment. The intimidation and threat levels are cranked up as drum rolls and thunderous distorted bass soundtrack the sinister delivey of the lyrics in The Hunt, the addition of crashing cymbals and cowbells layering this dark track as it builds to its foreboding crescendo.
Rotterdam’s Iguana Death Cult spread their wings into new territories on their second album, Nude Casino.
Two years ago, on their debut album, Rotterdam’s Iguana Death Cult raced from the blocks with giddy psychedelic garage rhythms that galloped and spun. On their second album, Nude Casino, they’ve stretched their psychotic psilocybin-laced wings further afield to drop in elements of krautrock and a heavy dose of new wave and post-punk. The result is an album that whips in spiky riffs and jutting rhythms alongside more swirling melodies, altogether producing a great ride through their minds.
They open the album with Prelube, a sweet fifty-second lullaby that leads you gently by the hand before they throw you headlong into the country-rock hoedown of the title track. From there the album starts to really gather pace. Without stopping for breath they’re flying through Bright Lights with its wiry psych riffs and lyrics about escaping the routine in which the once romantic and exciting becomes habitual and boring. Elsewhere, such as on Lorraine and the aptly-titled spasms, the band are on fire with jagged art-rock guitars and pulsating rhythms. They jettison you back to the sound of Scotland in the early 80s, the time when Orange Juice and Fire Engines were taking references from the likes of Subway Sect and moulding the sound that the country would take to their heart right through to groups like Franz Ferdinand and Mother & The Addicts.
When the band step away from this style they are capable of producing something more lush and welcoming. Tuesday’s Lament is the perfect example. The use of acoustic guitars and a more subtle melody works incredibly well set within the other more angular sounds. The vocal inflections call to mind Roxy Music with its semi-tone drops, almost verging on a crooning style. It’s also this song that drives home the lyrical change of direction in the band as they deliver a five verse monologue on mortality and belief, the upbeat rhythm somewhat belying the lyrical content. But it is the lyrical shift running through much of Nude Casino that really marks the difference from their previous work, as they explore the more absurdist in nature, the search for meaning in the meaningless. Liquify, which employs an almost calypso rhythm, flying close to A Certain Ratio territory, deals with the search for transcendence, a change of state, to release oneself from demoralising monotony, a theme that almost dominates the album. In many ways the band are honing in on one of modern society’s most common laments and twisting it through their own kaleidoscopic looking glass. But that’s not to say in any way that the record is a downer. Far from it. When they drop songs such as the Rapture-like disco-infused Carnel Beat Machine it’s impossible not to move.
Nude Casino is a denser and much more rounded record than its predecessor, dealing in more claustrophobic rhythms and themes, but it is still one that oozes with hooks aplenty that propel it along from start to finish. As their first label-released album, it should hopefully send them to new heights from which their dizzyingly hypnotic grooves can fall.
Listen to Bright Lights, Liquify and Tuesday’s Lament below: