Las Cobras - Selva

Fuzz Club

Released: 10th January 2020

 

Fuzz Club open up the year with the second album from Uruguayan duo Leandro Rebellato and Sofía Aguerre. Coming nearly three years after their debut Temporal, a rather eclectic collection that impressed despite lacking some cohesion, Selva (Jungle) offers up nine songs over forty-six minutes that look to build on those foundations. Having put a touring band together between albums one and two, Las Cobras wrote these songs in a rehearsal room the band built themselves with the other band members very much involved in the process. Working on developing songs out of jam sessions, Las Cobras have again ended up with a collection of tunes that approach from different directions, and again the whole sounds a little disconnected. However, it is a more cohesive project than its predecessor. Side two of the record certainly works well, everything coming together with a unified theme, and this ties in nicely with 'Down Low' from side one. Here the duo's competing yet lethargic male-female vocals are redolent of Mazzy Star, complete with swaying rhythms and crawling guitars. It's a comparison you can't fail to miss as, like Hope Sandoval, Aguerre's often languid vocals have the ability to become part of the song, yet stand apart from it at the same time, infused as they are with a life of their own. They are beautifully framed by the swaying, hypnotic sound that runs through the second half of the album, decorated with mild distortion, creepy organs and enough squealing in the background to make you wary of drifting away. The American sound here inevitably assumes Latin characteristics; title track 'Selva', recorded with Juju's Gioele Valenti, embraces an inner Morricone, while its dub rhythms contrast neatly with remarkably fluid vocals. Best of all is closer 'The Color Of Dawn', a gently broken ballad that tests fragiity to its limit. It's a stunner that utimately surrenders and is carried to its conclusion by a highly distorted lament. Of the more stand-alone tracks on the opening side, the throbbing 'Misterio' is the best, carrying some genuine weight and decent psych credentials. There may be a little picking to be done here, but the best bits are very good indeed. Well worth investigation.

 

Inca Babies - Live

Smash

Released: 11th January 2020

 

We will always love Smash Records in Greece for managing to uncover this recording of the Inca Babies playing live at the Hacienda, Manchester, on 18th January 1984. The band was in its infancy at the time, having only just released their debut single 'The Interior' and the show was captured on tape for the Hacienda's archive. Being an official recording the sound really isn't that bad as the Incas stumble through what would become single a- and b-sides, Peel Session tracks and songs that would only find their way on to obscure compilations. The Incas were the only answer this country ever had to The Birthday Party, their angular guitars and ramshackle rhythms augmented by howling vocals which provided the perfect platform for guitarist Harry Stafford's darkly entertaining lyrics. They were great times. The Incas looked fantastic, we looked fantastic, and their live sets were intense occasions where you could totally immerse yourself in the madness. They quickly became more proficient musicians but at this early stage it is fantastic to hear the big, raw bass of the great, late Bill Marten underscoring Stafford's taut guitars aided by (not a drummer) Alan Brown's pounding rhythms. Mike Keeble was the perfect vocalist for the band and it is a shame he did not stay around long enough to finish the job. As it is the band played the Hacienda three times in 1984 with Stafford commenting, "Before it became the centre of acid house and rave culture, the Hacienda was the coolest place to play, but with the worst sound." The first three singles are here, including 'Big Jugular' a song that was not played live for over thirty years until the band resurrected it last year in our dining room! There are four b-sides, 'Superior Spectre' that featured only in the John Peel Session of January 1984, and 'KO Cowboy' that only appeared on the State Of Affairs compilation cassette released the same year. An important band who are still fantastic live and who are still releasing remarkable albums. We could listen to this forever. Released in a run of only fifty lathe-cut, clear vinyl, ten-inch albums you may still be able to grab one on the label's Bandcamp page if you are quick.

Deserta - Black Aura My Sun

Felte

Released: 17th January 2020

 

We still find it strange when people use 'Shoegaze' as a badge of honour, given that the term was invented as a put-down aimed at a collection of bands with considerably different musical approaches. Of course, when the expression is used today it only encompasses a small part of that musical landscape, namely the ethereal soundscaping of Slowdive and their ilk, so it works well as a frame of reference and, no doubt, as a form of religion. Deserta is the name Matthew Doty of Saxon Shore has used on this solo project, one that has been three years in the making and one influenced by both approaching fatherhood and the availability of studio space in which he could explore a new approach to his music. The result is certainly uplifting. Described as "Shoegaze done properly", you can't really argue with that epithet as the seven songs here (over forty minutes) paint the prettiest of pictures. Insistent backing tracks are draped in mellifluous layers of sound that shimmer and soar while gently whispered vocals add to the pleasing mix. If it wasn't for the fact our dreams usually revolve around huge, dark, empty buildings it would be easy to describe this music as dreamy; suffice it to say it is beautifully ornamental, carefully manicured and if you can't embrace its welcoming fluidity you are certainly tougher than us. Best of all it has plenty of those stretching Shoegaze guitars that appear to form sonic bridges, and when these begin to span keyboards lost in their their own ideas of melody it really does form a fascinating junction of aural delight. 'Hide' epitomises this successful experimentation, though it is difficult to pull this collection apart track by track as it is so overwhelmingly blended together in one intertwined whole. A delightful record, a great cover, and a fine start to the year. You will still find a few vinyl copies around if you are quick. with CD and vinyl available from the relevant Bandcamp page here. Don't miss out.

Helicon - This Will Only Lead To Chaos

Fuzz Club

Released: 24th January 2020

 

Glasgow five-piece Helicon are a band we like a lot, being edgy and pretty bloody pissed off with today's ludicrous society. This Can Only Lead to Chaos has emerged three years on from the band's 2017 self-titled debut though Helicon seem to have been around for ever now, roughing up the psych circuit with their intense live shows. Stretching to nine tracks over thirty-eight minutes, this is a nicely robust collection of songs which refrains from being overtly rude while carrying plenty of menace. What holds the songs together is the band's excellent rhythm section, especially the powerful bass of Mark McLure that keeps everything in check despite the obvious desire of the Hughes brothers to splash their acidic guitars in all directions. The mood is set early doors by opener 'Sound Of Confession' which is the soundtrack to pent-up frustration and makes you keep one eye looking over your shoulder with trepidation. The guitars here hurl themselves at all sides, smashing and crashing, but ultimately failing to break McLure's intense grip. It's a theme. The splendid 'Pure Filth' has guitars scratching at the walls to escape while encouraged by lovely Star Trek ghost-sounding keyboards. The vocals are delivered in classic style, just reaching above the maelstrom, and it's a simply stunning example of controlled aggression. It is only on 'What You Love Will Kill You' where the boundaries are breached, messy welters of guitar spilling over the edges of their prison, to burn everything they manage to touch. It's not just the faster moments that impress. 'In The End' is a measured hardening of the arteries, a process lamented by a nicely understated guitar solo, while drone and distortion decorate the contemptuous vocals of 'Glasgow Uni Accent' while sharp drumming punctuates its purpose. There are sitars and further instrumentals, the best of which, 'With Graceful Menace' sounds like light falling as rain. The year is young, but we haven't heard much to top this record so far. Get hold of a copy from Fuzz Club while you can.

Zeropolis - Zeropolis

Blank Editions

Released: 31st January 2020

 

Hackney's Blank Editions are doing a nice line in dead-eyed post-punk at the moment, often using the cassette format to release new sounds. As the label states, "The Blank Tapes hope to provide an informal space for development and experimentation, creating a platform for our associates to issue audio sessions normally not available to the general public." Much as we dislike the format, you cannot argue with their thinking and Zeropolis is another highly interesting release which follows hard on the heels of the excellent Ice Baths/Soft Cases joint venture. Zeropolis consists of two London-based French exiles (Salo and Coco) whose music is bleak but danceable, emotionless but enticing. Stretched vocals, oftened doubled up, struggle to make an impact on harsh electric post-punk backdrops, their failure creating an intense mood of isolation and alienation. The music ties in well with the lyrics, which depict a sick and sad world "where all characters wander aimlessly through the night looking for a place they'll never find." There are six songs here, over some twenty-two minutes, all fighting to outbleak each other and pretty much succeeding. Ironically, the temporary studio the duo created to record these songs was demolished to make way for a block of luxury flats; it's a fact that underlines the helplessness so obviously portrayed in the music. This isn't a cathartic record, it is one that leaves the artists' wounds as raw as when they began and it really is quite impressive. Rarely have we heard such strength in impotency or such a howl of rage so impressively smothered. Fascinating from the start, these songs seem to grow in urgency, with the see-saw rhythms of 'New World', the force of the title track and the almost mocking synths of 'Red Ocean' the highlights. Really worth investigation, though it may have to be digital as only fifty physical copies were released into the community.

Hackedepicciotto - The Current

Potomak

Released: 31st January 2020
The Current is the third album Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke have released under the name Hackedepicciotto, following on from 2017's Menetekel and 2018's Joy. Hacke, of course, is best known as a long-time member of Einstürzende Neubauten and guitarist with the brilliant Crime & The City Solution. His partner De Picciotto, who also contributed to Neubauten, joined him in the last gathering of the latter band from 2011 to 2013 that resulted in the fine American Twilight album. Since Simon Bonney disappeared back to the States following that release, the duo have ploughed a lonely furrow producing music they classify as 'cinematic-drone', very much sombre soundscapes that could grace any psychological thriller or mood pieces in need of added tension. With The Current, the duo have stepped up a gear, leaving behind the disembodied drones of their previous albums to provide structured pieces driven along by bass and percussion that still have a dreamlike resonance, but more power through added form and purpose. Opening track 'Defiance' oozes atmosphere to the slowest bass heartbeat, while 'Onwards' is the first song to be pushed by percussion; it rattles along in the background in defiance of the heavy keyboard drone that attempts to weigh it down. The joint vocals are reminiscent of Dead Can Dance, though the music is far more ponderous and weighty; it really is a lovely thing. 'Metal Hell' perhaps should have been the name of a Neubauten album, but here is an edgy electronic piece that builds in intensity without losing any of its nagging sharpness. The title track would flow smoothly but for the percussive interjections that drag it sideways, making the whole nicely off-balance. 'Petty Silver' sees De Picciotto narrating over a horror film backing track, while 'Third From The Sun' is sci-fi with primitive drums. The keyboards grind behind excellent ghostly wailing effects and it has you inventing film scripts in your head as the song unravels. It is the most powerful piece here as it resists particulary menacing planetary storms. 'Lorelei' is more of a narrative to strings by De Picciotto, 'The Seventh Day' defies its driven beat to wander round the edges, and 'Upon Departure' is again gently emotive, with some lovely, almost classical, violin reacting to a solid percussive backdrop to mirror the mood of a lonely goodbye. A real oddity is closing track 'The Black Pool', recorded in Blackpool, a blend of conversations, opening with some chat from John Robb, a son of that Lancashire seaside paradise. That one aside, this is a pleasingly evocative album, well worth losing yourself in.

SPC ECO - 2EP

Same

Released: 1st February 2020

 

It looks like SPC ECO are intent on releasing music on the first of every month this year, and why not? New Year's Day saw the seven-and-a-half-minute single track 'Wish You Were Near' trying not to impinge too heavily on our aching heads, while the five-track 3EP is lined up for 1st March. 2EP stretches to four tracks over twenty minutes and follows very much in the same vein as January's offering, a more ambient musical backdrop nudging at Rose Berlin's barely breathing vocals. 'All In Time' sounds like a tuning fork dropped into a fish tank as time itself begins to fail. The pace is almost too slow for Berlin who loses her words as a funeral bell chimes and the whole is like a vague memory of a moment you think might have been worth remembering. 'Such A Fucking Cunt' is the odd one out here, like Lily Allen rapping about the vicissitudes of life from inside a thick, polystyrene box, though normal service is resumed on 'Out Of Touch' which throbs ominously while Berlin narrates. At times her voice reflects a beauty alien from the environment in which it is held; it's unsettling and quite moving. Closer 'Murphy's Law' clocks in at over seven minutes and again only nudges at the periphery of your conciousness. There's some jazz intonation from Berlin that teases the glutinous hum that sits behind her voice. The beat is slow and intermittant; the voice is soft but never enervated; there is vitality but clearly nothing that warrants urgency. This is great late night music: post-gig and pre-coital, or just enough to carry you away after a bastard of a day. We like SPC ECO, Jarek Leskiewicz adding guitar to former Curve man Dean Garcia's instrumentation, though we are not sure they ever go out, and certainly not in the daylight. We definitely can't imagine them hoovering a carpet or washing their pants. And that's how it really should be. Pick this up at Bandcamp only.

Dead Sea Apes - Night Lands

Cardinal Fuzz

Released: 7th February 2020

 

The latest release from Manchester's "four person instrumental leviathan" Dead Sea Apes comes courtesy of Cardinal Fuzz and captures a live rehearsal room session recorded in December 2019 with The Myrrors' main man Nik Rayne. The label describes the three jams thus, "As darkness falls, once familiar territory is rendered alien and foreboding; full of weird and terrifying possibilities. These are Night Lands." It's a fitting description as the three tunes on offer (stretching to some forty-four minutes) start melodically and calmly but surrender to an increasing mood of apprehension. The twenty-one minutes of 'No Friends But The Mountains' builds in such a beautifully measured way you would struggle to believe this was a jam; before it is halfway through you are seeing ghosts blocking your path and anticipating monsters round every corner. Rayne's guitar work is nothing but harmonious as you would expect, but his teasing refrains certainly tug at your mind as Jack Toker's unsettling bass lines and Chris Hardman's punctuated drumming refuse to travel in any one direction with any certainty. Alistair Reid's sensitive keyboards remain hidden on the horizon, seeping though just enough to blur your perception even more. If the opener fades away leaving the night more defined, the thirteen-minute 'Night Lands', pushes you back into confusion. Rayne and Brett Savage conjure up the most unsettling repetitive barrage of guitars that grow in intensity before effortlessly sweeping you away. If you are still out of doors at its conclusion, the closing nine minutes of 'A Slow Heart Beats Hard' will send you running home in a panic as Reid comes to the forefront with crashing waves of sound that knock you about ruthlessly. The barrage is unrelenting and only deepens in intensity when the guitars throw their weight behind it. With the Day Lands terrifying enough at the moment, you may as well enjoy the nights so give this album a spin and battle with some imagined horrors. Physical releases by Cardinal Fuzz generally sell out quickly, but this is currently available on download at NYP so check out the Bandcamp page here.

SPC ECO - 3EP

Same

Released: 1st March 2020

The third release of the year from SPC ECO sees the band offering up half an hour's music over five tracks on download only. There is a definite shift from the previous two releases as the dreampop is relegated and replaced by more of a darkwave approach. Rose Berlin's vocals are often distorted which robs them of their humanity and instead of floating on top of minimal instrumentation they tend to be weighed down by dominant beats. Even on the somnambulant opening track 'By The Rules' where they have most play, they still sound encumbered. 'Maybe You're Insane' is the best moment here as Mark Wallbridge's extra guitars give the song a nice dirty edge which complements Berlin's half-whispered narration beautifully. Further guitars by Wallbridge and Jarek Leskiewicz feature on 'If You Like' but here they are more submerged in a more aggressive, tunnelling beat. The grey mood deprives the song of the prettiness of most of the band's other offerings; Berlin's voice is hemmed in and everything sounds oppressive and bleak. Fourth track 'Pretty Little Birds' is ten and a half minutes of heavy bass and a suffocating beat over which Berlin fails to make much of an impact. It's very dense, and has you clinging to every new note as you search for some relief. Closer 'Connection To You' chimes gently but is again slave to a beat which buries the very quiet, muttered vocal. There's some nice moments here but 3EP is too detached from a human interface to make a lasting emotional impression.

Lorelle Meets The Obsolete - Re-Facto

Sonic Cathedral

Released: 13th March 2020

A year on from the release of their excellent De Facto album (number six in our albums of the year for 2019) comes this new, brightly coloured vinyl EP from Lorelle Meets The Obsolete featuring two new tracks as well as two remixes of tracks from that album, hence the title Re-Facto. 'Fosas Limitadas' and 'El Olivo' are the new tracks here, presumably recorded at the same time as the album back in May 2018 with the accompaniment of LMTO's touring band: Fernando Nuti (bass), Andrea Davi (drums) and José Orozco (synths). It's clear why these tracks were not included in the original release; neither would really have fitted in with De Facto's gentle, psychedelic dreamscapes, both being about the beat and dancing on the edges of darkwave. The CC Crain remix of 'Lux, Lumina' dubs one of the most powerful songs on the album into a barely recognisable heap of twisted and broken parts, while the Pye Corner Audio remix of 'Unificado', a nine-minute savage guitar wipe-out, snips off over a minute of the song and irons out all of its aggression. If you like trance-like dance music then you may well enjoy these outings but it's not really for us. It's always good to see experimentation though.

TBWNIAS - Beserkir

Cardinal Fuzz

Released: 13th March 2020

The Band Whose Name Is A Symbol have been making music for over a decade now, absorbing the vibes from all comers and leaning in no particular direction when it comes to inspiration or influence. Their latest collection Beserkir Volume 1, Improvisations 27/10/2019 was recorded in a one-take jam session and is released without any overdubs. The sound, captured by David Sarazin at Raven Street, Ottawa, is quite simply terrific and again it is great to see musicians so in tune with each other that their playing is seamless, powerful and uplifting. Apparently a sister LP from the same recordings is due later in the year from Cardinal Fuzz and if it is anything like this outing, you should be bracing yourself for it now. Beserkir is of course the plural form for the legendary Scandinavian Beserker, the famed bear-warriors who were subject to incredible fits of frenzy. They would howl like beasts, foam at the mouth and gnaw the iron rims of their shields as they went into battle. It was told these warriors were immune to steel and fire, and their reputation alone gave them a huge psychological advantage over their enemies. The music here mirrors that power and confidence as it builds layers of complexity and muscle. Where the excellent Dead Sea Apes' session (reviewed above) is intentionally edgy and full of foreboding, TBWNIAS confront their ghosts head on and laugh in their faces. Everything is about power and the abiliy to overwhelm any challenge. This is laid down by the opening track 'Gabbro' which begins by reaching out tentatively, seeping across the landscape and building up pressure before it finally gains the confidence to lay down its authority. The music changes its mood from questioning to supporting and finally hailing the rhythm track that has assumed total control. As the music journeys on from 'Dusseldorf To Cologne' it already has an assurance of its victory; an inexorable if not dominant beat is decorated from all sides by eager guitars which bubble, froth and complain, none willing to miss out or be shaken away by any major step out of turn. It makes for a fascinating ride, not perhaps Kether to Malkuth, but one less esoteric and more affirmingly muscular. 'With Respect To The Golden Rule' grinds and hums while dancing guitars flicker around like tongues of an all-consuming bonfire and closer 'Le Dilemme De Fermier' ('The Farmer's Dilemma') strikes out for nearly ten minutes in a confident mood, picking and hacking its way through your conciousness with a pronounced swagger. It's powerful stuff and seventy-eight minutes of digital bonus sessions just serve to make this an incredibly good value package. Grab a copy from Bandcamp here.

The Cravats - Hoorahland

Overground

Released: 13th March 2020

 

The Cravats are in danger of becoming prolific. Having just managed to squeeze two albums into their first foray between 1978 and 1983, Hoorahland marks the second new album in just three years from the resurrected outfit, and this twelve-track collection (spanning some thirty-nine minutes) shows a band very much with a renewed sense of drive and purpose. Hoorahland is a heavy record, the music is dense and clouded, and it is certainly takes a few plays before it begins to reveal its hidden treasures. Rhythmically, there is not a lot of straying from the Cravat's anarcho-punk roots. Joe 91's bass is crushingly heavy and Rampton Garstang's drumming offers little in the way of compromise. This can be incredibly affecting. They steam through the hilarious 'Morris Marina', a song that drives far harder than the car in question ever did, and you can just imagine a live audience erupting as Viscount Biscuits' guitar rakes at all sides and the exasperated Shend relays the deficiencies of British Leyland saloon cars of the 1970s. This is part of what makes The Cravats so special; they are one of the most British of institutions, their music rooted not only in the idiosyncrasies of this nation but also powered with exasperation at the same thing. They are what they hate. If The Shend's angular mind gives unlimited scope for the band's lyrical approach, it is Svor Naan's equally tangental saxophone that often drags the songs into completely new arenas, providing the backdrop for the dirtiest sounds you will ever hear. 'Good For You' is grubby beyond measure; lounge music for the terminally degenerate. Managing to remain listenable, even soulful, Naan's sax is resolutely disdainful and judgmental, spurning the stickiness through which it has to crawl. Biscuits' guitar shudders and Shend takes a back seat as the miasma sweeps over you. It is truly magical. Hoorahland is at his best when Naan is centre stage and thankfully he has plenty to say. A guest appearance from Dead Kennedys' mainman Jello Biafra is another highlight, 'Now The Magic Has Gone' a nightmare tale from the poisoned funfair that is Hoorahland, the symbolic representation of the state of the nation. These songs are snapshots of absurdity, not dressed up in finery, but exposed in harsh light to allow the listener to make their own judgements. "Time to put the picture book away now. Goodbye. Until next time." We can't wait.

The Slow Readers Club - The Joy Of The Return

Modern Sky

Released: 20th March 2020

 

The Joy Of The Return is the fourth album from Manchester's The Slow Readers Club, three years after Build A Tower burst into the UK Top 20 albums chart. Whether that meant it sold a hundred copies or ten thousand we have no clue these days, suffice it to say it still registers as something of an achievement and one the band would be looking to improve upon with this new collection. TSRC appear to live on the edge of glory, selling out decent sized venues wherever they play yet not quite making the national breakthrough that would see them as permanent fixtures on dreadful daytime radio. Whether that's a thing these days we're again not quite sure as these are not paths that cross our territory, though The Joy Of The Return appears to be a record very much aimed at making the grade. With eleven songs over thirty-five minutes, almost all of them checking in at the three minute mark, there seems very much to be a plan here and that some of the songs appear unduly neutered gives the impression of the whole being over-considered or at the very least meticulous in its construction. It is difficult to tell whether the band offer up a light post-punk sound or dark power-pop, but there is something very 1980s about their music with dreamy layers spread over punctuated rhythms and addictive guitars thrown over danceable beats and climbing choruses. 'Problem Child', the best number here, is built over a Spandau Ballet riff though Aaron Starkie's bleak vocals draw more parallels with Editors or Interpol. It actually works well with the band at their most effective when they are at their most disconnected from the more obvious melodic journeys. In 'No Surprise' the guitars almost grate and its (surprising) roughness gives the music added strength, while 'All The Idols' is attractively brusque and sits in its three-minute time slot nicely. There's plenty here to enjoy, though the trimming-to-measure cuts out some welcome variety. Whether it will carry the band over the threshold into bigger things we will have to wait and see but there's little doubt it is hitting the target it is aimed at. One down side, in this day and age there really is no excuse for not including a download code with a vinyl record, so a mark off for that.

Pretty Lightning - Jangle Bowls

Fuzz Club

Released: 20th March 2020

 

Jangle Bowls is the fourth album from German duo Christian Berghoff and Sebastian Haasfourth, it being three years since their last offering, The Rhythm of Ooze, and it is a collection brimming over with self-assurance. It is no easy thing to capture classic sounds and make them appear contemporary, but Pretty Lightning take everything in their stride – from country-tinged melodies, to gently fuzzed-up pop, to blues rockers, to out and out garage romps – and make it sound like they invented all of this last week. This is not just accomplished music, but attractive and addictive as well. Opener 'Swamp Ritual' is hypnotic, guitars gently protesting as they fight a losing battle not to fall into the trap. 'Greyhound' is a gem, a melodic slow rocker with gorgeous guitars that draw out memories of Mick Ralphs. It's a lovely thing, one of the highlights here, and its beauty is emphasised by the song being sandwiched between two garage rockers, the juddering 'Jangle Bowls' and the throbbing '123 Eternity'. These are smart enough but it's when Pretty Lightning drive outside they make the most impact. Blues rocker 'Voo Doo Boo' is simply audacious and perfectly conceived; it makes all of the right poses without falling into bombast and it's a delight. Side two opens with the pure psychedelia of 'Boogie At The Shrine' where the vocals bump into each other and fall off cliffs without really noticing what is happening. 'Rarara' sounds like a Danielle Dax song, while 'Hum' is the best garage number here, pushed along by a contagious grinding guitar riff. 'There Is Ooze On Our Shooze' (really?) is another repetitive lullaby, while the album ends with the softly wavering psychedelic gem, 'Shovel Blues', which manages to fuse blues roots with eastern guitars and a trippy edge. There is so much thrown at you by this record it is a credit to the band that the whole sounds so rounded and original despite the images of a myriad ghosts of music past raising their heads to say hello. This is really worth a listen, with the record available from the Fuzz Club shop on vinyl or CD.

Harry Stafford - Gothic Urban Blues

Black Lagoon

Released: 27th March 2020

 

Some two years on from his first solo outing, Guitar Shaped Hammers, Inca Babies' mainman Harry Stafford returns with the follow-up, Gothic Urban Blues. Again recorded with drummer Rob Haynes, guitarist Vincent O’Brien and trumpeter Kevin Davy, Stafford also recruited Membrane Nick Brown to his band (on guitar and bass) which he has now named after the title of the first album. "It was important to reassemble these musicians as there was a lot of ground we hadn’t covered. I had about fourteen songs and selected ten to be on the record. They were songs I had been playing around the bars of Manchester in order to hone neat arrangements," Stafford revealed to Jammerzine. "I rehearsed with Rob and Vincent and we laid down a foundation, allowing Nick and Kevin to add their unique elements. Their parts were there to compete and yet complement each other. Kevin is a hugely in-demand jazz musician. I wanted him to radiate his love of Miles Davis and send a wave of goosebumps and steely soul through the spine of this sound. Nick, with a guitar born of jagged punk and sinister drones, was to create a brittle edge to balance the beauty." Though Stafford may have developed these songs by tinkling the ivories in city bars, they are not dominated by his piano and neither are they all strictly blues numbers. Many of the faster numbers could be borderline Inca Babies' songs, yet the most effective are those that really are steeped in the blues tradition, despite the fusion of the pure swamp sounds of Lightnin' Hopkins with the grungier take of more recent exponents such as Tom Waits and Nick Cave. 'She Just Blew Me Away' takes the prize, being one of the grubbiest songs you will ever hear, with Davy's trumpet straining in the background while malevolent guitars punctuate Stafford's wordy narrative which is relayed with slightly disturbing pleasure. Nobody is able to tell a seedy tale like Stafford who can make the underbelly of society sound both appealing and repulsive at the same time. 'Cruel Set Of Shades' is lit by some lovely guitar, 'Sideways Shuffle' offers some delicious jazz, while closer 'Into The Storm' sees Davy make his trumpet bleed. Great stuff. Limited CD and Clockwork Orange vinyl editions are available from Bandcamp.

Rowland S. Howard - Teenage Snuff Film

Mute

Released: 27th March 2020

 

The worst thing about re-pressing records that have become hard to find is that it knocks the value of the originals and we certainly have the original versions of Rowland S. Howard's solo albums. In fact, if there is a record that Mr Howard has even breathed on it is holding a treasured place in our collection. Having been twenty years (good grief) since the man's debut album, Teenage Snuff Film, was released in the UK, Mute have taken upon themselves to remaster, re-press and reissue this record as a limited edition double album in blue vinyl (with the fourth side etched) and we can't really blame them for it is an important release that has been hiding in obscurity for far too long. For those not in the know, Rowland Howard was the guitarist in The Birthday Party, the dangerous and groundbreaking Australian post-punk band, the like of whom the world has not seen since. Howard's broken razor guitars were a trademark sound of the band and, on his death in 2009, his former bandmate and friend, Nick Cave, was moved to comment, "Rowland Howard’s guitar sound defined a generation. He was the best of us all. His influence continues to reverberate, down the years, to this day. Truly one of the greats." That feels right to us. It has to be said the sound on this new remaster is absolutely stunning, as is the package as a whole, and obviously great care has been taken in its preparation. There is no gatefold sleeve, but a lyric sheet and a download, and a gatefold would have meant introducing new artwork that never featured on the original album anyway. As for highlights, where do we begin? Howard always had an immaculate grasp on the dark side of life and his lyrics are simply brilliant, "You left me to choke on a heart up in smoke, smiling through your tears and your tetracycline overdose." Or, "Girl child, your daddy's got a chain nine miles long. From every inch of that chain hangs a heart he has wronged." All of these are announced slowly in Howard's poisoned baritone while former Birthday Party bandmate Mick Harvey lays down drums and organ and Howard's guitar stabs, shrieks and mocks. This is a dark and intoxicating record that moves from the ominous crawl of 'Breakdown (And Then...)' to the detonation of closer 'Sleep Alone' which is simply astonishing. He even makes Billy Idol's 'White Wedding' sound like a disease of the soul. If you can still get a copy, grab one quick.

Rowland S. Howard - Pop Crimes

Mute

Released: 27th March 2020

 

It took nearly ten years for Howard to follow up the well-received Teenage Snuff Film (and we'll always love him for not using "movie"), as the guitarist was hit with major health problems. Whilst recording Pop Crimes Howard stated in an interview that he was working quickly as, "I contracted liver disease a while back and I've basically got liver cancer, I'm waiting for a transplant. If I don't get it things might not go so well..." Unfortunately, the guitarist died on 30th December 2009, just a few weeks after the album was released. Mute's re-release is pressed to just a single disc in limited edition red vinyl; with the album consisting of only eight tracks no doubt a double disc set would have been an unnecessary extravagance, though the sound on the 180g pressing is excellent. Former Birthday Party bandmate Mick Harvey again features on drums and organ, with J.P. Shilo on bass. Shilo's playing throughout is hugely important as Howard dashes in and out of songs with his guitar, throwing down broken shards rather than filling all of the space. This approach simply enhances the power of his work, the apparent sparseness of his effort contrasting with the amazing sounds he produces which rip right through you. You cannot mistake Howard's playing: it is unique and potent. He stretches himself on the title track and it is simply magnificent, his salient chords decorating more fantastic lyrics, "The Catholic church cannot verify that there's a single soul in hell. It's just a wasteland of adversity devoid of all but the peal of wedding bells." Another highlight of Howard's work is his treatment of cover versions. Here he takes on Talk Talk's 'Life's What You Make It' to stunning effect and, given the circumstances, it is not a little poignant. Howard's usually unemotional voice wavers a touch here and it is hard to take. No doubt due to the nature of the recording sessions, Pop Crimes is not quite as fully rounded as Teenage Snuff Film, but there is still an awful lot here to love and not a little that will move you. The last offering of a sadly-missed genius.
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