Post-Cold Waves V, it’s been a time for getting things done and catching up.
Part of that has been listening to a whole lot of music – with this week’s ten stretched to fifteen songs to fit everything I wanted to mention in – and as I write this, I already have contenders for next month’s list (the conveyor belt never ends). Another part of that has been to begin considering what will make it into the year-end lists, as they will be written a bit earlier this year.
They will be posted at the same time (Tuesdays from the end of November, into December), but I will be on honeymoon in the US over that time, so needless to say I’m having to write them a bit before (as I don’t want to be slogging through the writing while I’m away – my wife would kill me for a start). I’m still keeping an open mind on what else to include for the moment, particularly as there are loads of releases to come over the next month.
Anyway, let’s get on with this – the tracks of the month for the past month.
Track of the Month
Fresh from his triumphant, extraordinary performance fronting his old band Cubanate at Cold Waves (by miles the band of the weekend), Marc Heal’s new single has followed in short order. Anyone expecting the pulverising power of Cubanate – or indeed the roar of last year’s The Compound Eye – may be disappointed, as this is far more introspective, but no less impressive.
This is Heal spreading his wings somewhat, with a slower-paced track that has perhaps unexpected melody and warmth, quite some distance from the snarling fury that characterised so much of his previous work. But then, a lot of time has passed, and Heal – like so many of us – has changed, lived and experienced. Heal has proven to be a great storyteller (his reminiscing of his Cubanate days online, the excellent book The Sussex Devils), and this song feels like a reflection of that.
In addition on the EP, Rhys Fulber and Leæther Strip both offer intriguing, and rather different, takes on the title track, while two more new songs stick with a similar, slower-paced template. The album The Hum is out in November, and should be well worth hearing on this evidence.
It’s finally here – a few months later than expected thanks to family issues within the band. kidneythieves have followed up their exceptional trypt0fanatic (and associated Invisible Plan EP) with The Mend, an album well-supported on Kickstarter, and a few weeks on from release, I’ve been able to start getting thoughts together on it. A full review is going to follow, so I’m not going to say too much here, but this sounds great, the usual great balance between shit-kicking industrial rock and more delicate ballads, but as a friend noted, there is a distinct lack of the knowing sexiness and related themes here, which strips down a dimension or two from some of the songs. But there are some absolutely fabulous moments. Codependent Song is one of them – a grinding, thundering roll-out of a song with a soaring snarl from Free Dominguez on the vocals.
Clear A Path [economically viable edit]
Cyanotic – now comparative veterans having been around for well over a decade – released the first taster of their forthcoming album Tech Noir over the Cold Waves V weekend. The blurb for the single is important: “our loving tribute to classic cyberpunk and industrial music culture”. Damned right – samples of Michael Douglas from early-nineties touchstone Falling Down, are entwined within a stately, stomping rhythm and Sean Payne’s treated-to-fuck vocals, and the result is an industrial groove that, like all Cyanotic material, manages to look both back and forward at the same time. Now we know the concept behind Tech Noir, I can’t wait to see where else this will be taken.
Defcon 3.5: War In Heaven
Tucked away on the additional download album that accompanied Armalyte’s new compilation Defcon 3.0, is KANGA’s exceptional nod to, presumably, one of her influences. Not exactly the first cover of this song – I’m aware of at least three, including the stellar NIN cover that is on Things Falling Apart (which I saw live in 2009) – but this is a dense, snarling take that adds a little more urgency and bite to the mix. The new album (I was lucky enough to pick up one of the few copies on sale in advance of release at Cold Waves) is outstanding, much as the live show was, and it should be on your “to buy” list when it is released in November.
While You Were Otherwise Engaged
The latest Null Device album is something of a hesitant one upon first listen, full of subtle, almost apologetic melodies that seem to want to remain in the shadows. But listen a little closer, and those subtle touches (the live strings that add texture and emotional heft, sparse electronics that ensure the arrangements are never cluttered) are part of what makes this album absolutely great. The most striking song, though, is The Desire.
This is a song of unflinching, and surprising honesty, where a small band admit to the struggles of touring and releasing, reaching an audience, but do it because they love it. This is pretty much a great summation of what our scene is – a whole lot of bands, promoters, DJs, writers, etc, that do a whole lot for not a lot of reward, that don’t necessarily want fame, but love what they do – and the result has been a surprisingly well-connected, close-knit “family” that keep in touch across a few continents and a whole lot of distance. It’s great to have a band speak out and remind us of this.
Fire Is The End Lesson
Fires Within Fires
One of the most enthralling, singular bands within metal, Neurosis are currently celebrating thirty years of making music (the latest part of the celebrations being two big shows in London in November), and this month has also seen their first new album in four years released (with no pre-release previews). They needn’t have worried about any early coverage, though – this album continues their exploration of both crushing, slow-burning metal and bluesy balladry. Only five songs and forty-one minutes long – almost EP length for Neurosis – the brevity means no second is wasted. My pick so far is the blazing Fire Is The End Lesson, with twin vocals and twin shredding guitar riffs that sound like icebergs collapsing into the sea from glacial formations, and a tornado of electronics that whip up the power of the song to extreme, jaw-dropping levels.
Finally What You Wanted
I first came across Panic Lift on an exceptional split EP with genCAB in 2008, and they have sporadically released material since – this new album being the first in four years. This new album, while perhaps a little overlong at points, is punchy, snapping industrial dancefloor music that uses a number of styles to make it’s point. There are an awful lot of vocal effects, but they are used well, and the production is a hell of a step up from before. Guitars barge in at points, and they appear to have gone to great lengths to avoid an album that simply plods along in 4/4, too – finally an artist that has noticed that many of their peers and influences got really boring, really quickly.
Probably the highlight of the album, though, is single Finally What You Wanted. A stomping, rip-the-wires-from-the-wall dancefloor tune, with some interesting synth hooks, a surprisingly restrained chorus, and perhaps a feeling that this is kinda the brilliance that a few of their peers should have been aiming for, rather than trying to say that they were “not industrial”.
You Want It Darker
You Want It Darker
Cohen turned 82 just recently, and unleashed the title track from his forthcoming album to celebrate. And what a song. The title is perhaps a sly dig at his reputation, but the song is frankly classic Cohen. His deep, gravelly baritone has got even deeper with age, but suits this doom-laden, gorgeous song so well. Just maybe, too, the recent publication of his letter to Marianne upon her death should have prepared us. Cohen appears to be preparing himself mentally for death, never mind his fans, so I can’t imagine the rest of the album is going to be barrel of laughs, either…
Everything Must Change (Extended Version)
Everything Must Change EP
Their second EP of 2016, and rather than the lush balladry of the first (LINK), this is ISC returning to the dancefloor with impressive results. As is usual for this band, there is an “extended” mix on the EP, as well as the “single” version, the extended version here stretching to beyond eight minutes without ever feeling overlong. Indeed the single version, less than half the length, seems rather abrupt.
Anyway, this song is just Denis Ostermann on vocals again, but it is yet another full-blooded performance from this industrial-darkwave veteran, containing all of the elements that ISC have made their own for so long. Now, about that album…
Call The Dawn
A song that reminds me why I’ve happily bought every A23 album on spec since the first. Tom Shear, even seventeen years on since his first album, still has something to say on the subjects of human nature and dealing with conflicting emotions, and still too has a way with an affecting tune, too. Shear has, of course, dealt first hand with some extraordinarily difficult events in his life, and part of the appeal of his music to me, at least, is that the emotional highs and lows that he reaches feel real.
One notable thing about this song – and to a lesser extent this album – is that his voice sounds a tiny-bit ragged, as if mentally and physically exhausted, ground down by whatever life has thrown at him. I don’t want to know whether this is true or not – it’s not my business to ask, I can only surmise from what I hear – whatever the cause, this is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard Shear put his name to.
The Infernal Paramour
The Negative Space
16Volt return – again – from hiatus with a crowd-funded album (also, interestingly, self-released) that, like other recent 16Volt albums, is kinda up and down. There are a few songs I’ll be skipping in future (not least the cover of The Man Comes Around), but the first few tracks are great. Especially The Infernal Paramour – one of those songs where Eric Powell dials back the intensity for a more melodic, mid-paced sound, and an absolutely killer chorus.
The first single from their forthcoming This Feels Like Living EP, the sound of this appears to push Ganser’s credentials as an essential post-punk band of the now even further to the forefront. It seems to begin with to be a collection of disparate parts, none of which quite fit together – but listen closer and all of the parts do fit together, and by the time the vocals arrive, it is a fully functioning, stark song. Where lyrics and vocals are less important than the pulsating drum rhythms, howling guitars and that bass core. They are also an exceptional live band, as their appearance at Cold Waves V last week proved.
Cifer (Phase 1)
Defcon Three: Dirty World
The main Armalyte compilation Defcon Three, released last month, has much to offer on the subject of “underground” industrial music right now. There are a good mix of artists from the UK and US, in the main, with some intriguing new finds and songs from old hands, too. Other things have rather got in the way of getting into the detail of this album (and a few others) over the past month, but one song that leapt out was this, the first new recorded track from JLA in a little while (other life events, I suspect, have rather got in the way there too!). This song – like others from the band – has actually been in their live sets for a few years, but it is an impressive song. The rhythm is near elastic, bouncing across synth hooks and Paddy’s vocals are buried into the mix, allowing other elements to the fore.
Sever the Signal
Pitch Black Mirror
One of those artists I’ve only ever dabbled in before (and missed on the various occasions they’ve played in the UK), perhaps on the evidence of their new single I’ve been missing out. Straddling – as has been the fashion of late, but Orphx have been at this longer than most – the oft-blurred line between techno and industrial, this is a classy, hard-edged track that plays around with various effects, synths and even the odd vocal while keeping the quite wonderful beat structure on the straight-and-narrow. The new album Pitch Black Mirror comes out at the beginning of November (one of many that week).
A band that got caught in a hell of a backlash over their original name, I do have to wonder how far exactly this might go. Why was Viet Cong a problem, when Joy Division and New Order (to name just two) had Nazi origins? Not causing a fight, just really, really curious. And does it mean that there now cannot be controversial names for bands in future?
Either way, the band seemed rather surprised by the fuss, but complied, changed their name, and now they are back, under the name Preoccupations, and you know what? It seems an apt name. This album broods and glowers, perhaps under the weight of the title, as if there are many things to consider in every single song.
Album centrepiece Memory – well beyond eleven minutes that is really one (great) post-punk snarl followed by a five minute drone marathon – is worthy of note, but the best song here is single Degraded. A pulsing bassline provides unstoppable momentum, while vocalist Matt Flegel strains every sinew to deliver a vocal that is absolutely wracked with emotion (and dominates a cracking song).
Finally this week, the return of an elusive artist. Hope Sandoval has teamed up with Colm Ó Cíosóig of MBV again for a second Warm Inventions albums, some years now since the fourth Mazzy Star album arrived. Like the first Warm Inventions album, this has a slightly more country-ish feel, and perhaps a slightly more robust groove (Mazzy Star songs always sounded like they were held together with little more than gossamer thread, and that they might vanish in front of your eyes if you look too hard). In addition, Kurt Vile’s rich, deep vocals add another dimension here to great effect. But at the core, this is all about Sandoval’s gorgeous voice.