The final tracks of the month for this year, so this one is slightly longer than usual as I try and crowbar in as many songs as possible to clear the decks. That’s because we’re just weeks away from starting to round-up the year in music, and there’s been so much good stuff this year that I’m already looking at the longlist with concern – this is going to take some time to write.
Tuesday Ten: 314
Tracks of the Month (October 2017)
2017 in Review
I Die: You Die noted yesterday just how backloaded this year has been, and I would entirely agree – I was really not sure I had much for the end of year roundups until about August, when everything began flooding through at once, and as my life away from writing about music has been pretty busy recently, trying to keep up has become very, very difficult indeed.
But still, I’m somehow hanging in there, and a number of posts catching up on a few things went up over the weekend. But Listen: 157 looked at recent albums from 11grams, Encephalon and LEGEND, Into the Pit: 201 covered the recent London show from The Birthday Massacre, and I talked to Rainbow and M. Falcore from the band on Talk Show Host: 041.
Now, onto the best of the new music that I’ve heard in recent weeks. It involves new bands, new sounds, and a good number of bands returning after quite the time away. The lure of the reunion has still not gone away…
Track of the Month
A track that comes from an album out early next year, this is a stomping monster of a track. The development of this band since their first, self-titled album has been striking. At first, it was a stark, harsh sound, everything louder than everything else, screaming synths and guitars, but with the vocals shrouded in mystery amid the mix. Over time, the sound has been refined and evolved, and there is a distinct industrial influence that has edged in. No more is this more clear than on the first track from the fourth album, which opens with a stomping electronic beat and a neat, cyclic riff that feels mechanized. I’ve seen some suggest Nine Inch Nails as an influence, I’m thinking in part more eighties industrial, particularly early eighties Clock DVA. Either way, this is perhaps the most accessible track from the band yet, and it also happens to be fantastic.
To The Moon and Back
The last time we heard from Karin Dreijer Andersson under her Fever Ray moniker, she was in the horrors of domestic drudgery, activities that were made to sound like the black hole of despair. Eight years on from that extraordinary album, she’s returned out of the blue with a new song – and concept, going on the teasers, that turned out to be a surprise new album Plunge – that sounds as neon-lit as the deeply odd video appeared. “Hey, Remember me?” goes the first line, as if it was ever possible to forget – and this deceptively bright song apparently about remembering and fantasising about the past is, in some ways, every bit as dark as what has come before. Like her old band The Knife, Karin’s work is very nearly unique, and steeped in a darkness and depth of spirit that I’m not sure any of us could possibly comprehend.
I realised over the weekend that I passed a significant milestone recently – when I (finally) saw dexy live a good few weeks back, it was the 1,000th live set I’d seen since I moved back to London at the end of 2009. And seeing dexy live was a long time coming, as I’d missed out on opportunities before. His interest in Americana and alt-rock of a certain stripe is clear from his album, too, and particularly in this rollicking opening track, a fast-paced, anthemic missive that is catchy, smart and an impressive entry point into an album that has few flaws.
Everything Will Work Out
Everything Will Work Out EP
It seems to have been an eternally long road, but Empathy Test are finally on the verge of releasing their debut album after a series of EPs, and indeed they’ve got so much material that they are releasing two albums at once. But before they do that, they have another single first, and that is Everything Will Work Out. It feels like a slight departure, move forward from where they were, too. Yes, it’s a little downbeat, synth-created strings drench part of the song as is the norm, and there is an affecting, soaring vocal performance from Isaac. But where it differs is that it picks up the pace somewhat in the chorus, and it’s also a positive, almost hopeful message coming from it (and then there is the disco-esque take on it by Furniteur here too, which works remarkably well). After all this time, and their rapid rise to prominence in the last year or so, it really does look like everything will work out. Also of note here – a lovely acoustic take on their greatest song Losing Touch.
Crossing the Road Material
Every Country’s Sun
Having passed two decades releasing music, Mogwai appear to have no intentions of slowing down. Their latest album is their best in a while, as far as I’m concerned, returning to a more guitar-based sound, not to mention with a few nods to their past, too. Particularly the precise guitars, and the ominous bass sound that characterised their best-known songs, but also the sense of sheer menace and malevolence that prevails. The best moment on the new album, for me, is the gathering storm of Crossing the Road Material, a track of repetition that makes it clear an explosion of noise is on the horizon, but what’s so brilliant about it is how they manage to hold back for so long. And when the burst comes, it’s a brighter, clearer hit than you might expect.
Away from his prominent position working as part of iVardensphere nowadays, Jamie Blacker continues to perform and record solo under his ESA moniker, and – in something of a theme on this week’s post – his work has never quite remained the same. Sure, the undercurrent of the failings of the human condition are still the lyrical focus of his work – and that is not a well of inspiration that will run dry anytime soon – but musically it can remain difficult to pin down.
This new track, the first from his forthcoming album That Beast, out in the new year, though, is easier to work out – there are shades here of the pummelling grooves of Gesaffelstein, in the relentless barrage of sound and also the unstoppable momentum. Couple that with an intriguing video, and consider my interest piqued for the new album.
Sheffield’s In The Nursery remain the outliers in the wider church of industrial. Long since casting themselves away into a world of orchestral, martial experimentation and a unique path of their own, I’ve seen them both support VNV Nation and soundtrack silent films, and they felt equally at home doing both. It’s been a little while since their last album, and this new album sees them not breaking any new ground, but well into their fourth decade of making new music, why should they have to? The second track on their new album, though, is enthralling. The title’s broad meaning is of the fear of time running out, and what initially seems like a delicate, string-led track is suddenly taken into another orbit by a choral chanting of “Kruschev-Kennedy“, and a beat quickly gathers pace – and that album title starts to make sense. Not only was 1961 the year of the Humberstone brothers’ birth, but it was also a time of upheaval in the world – Kennedy was elected President in the US, and the clock was already ticking at that point on the need to pull back from the brink of nuclear war, and of course the Berlin Wall went up – and this song is apparently about that very subject. Like so much of their music, the distinct impression remains that multiple listens and further digging into the themes will be needed to fully appreciate it.
Sean Payne has been exploring his industrial past and influences with Cyanotic for some time (culminating in the excellent Tech Noir recently), and this latest side-project makes the old-school sound even more overt. This project brings in Chris Harris and Charles Levi, and it is an excellent, groovetastic industrial dancefloor throwback. No guitars, but clever samples and a sparse beat do the necessary to carry an excellent tune. The EP is also worth picking up for a bulldozing, fist-pumping take on RevCo’s Attack Ships on Fire, which nods to the original in samples of Richard23 from what I can tell, but vocals here are delivered with a snarl by Jim Marcus.
I was a big fan of the last Rabit album Communion – an experimental electronic album that contained awe-inspiring moments of sonic violence, and so a follow-up album was always going to be on my listening list. Interestingly, this apparently restless electronic artist has taken a different route this time, with a more soothing, relaxed sound that while much, much less intense is still rather unsettling. The chiming synths feel like a portent of doom, like vultures circling overhead waiting for their chance to swoop in on the carcass, and rather jar with the sun-kissed smiles of the video that accompanies it, at least until the track spirals in on itself to finish and the video quickly disintegrates into a black screen.
The story of Black continues with the new mind.in.a.box album, a concept so beautifully built that while it is rich in detail, it is still perfectly possible to enjoy and love their music without having to be fully engaged with the concepts. That said, this new material appears to pull the story forward some way, and also tie up some loose ends from previous instalments, so if you are into the web they are weaving, this will be richly satisfying on that front too. Back to the music, though, and if you liked previous MIAB releases, this will appeal. Best moment for me is the upbeat, dense sound of Don’t Sleep, the heaviest the band have been in a while, but that is countered by a glorious, melodic climax and a sense of desperate hope.
Something for your M.I.N.D.
Completely batshit indie-electro-lounge with members from about four countries, a young singer and a litany of samples (which is apparently the reason that it is on it’s second release, after being withdrawn first time around due to sampling issues) and found-sounds, cut-n-paste lyrics and somehow, just somehow, a super-catchy song rises out of the morass. This is something I might have expected to have heard on the Evening Session back in the nineties, which is ironic seeing as their singer wasn’t even born at that point. But what is amazing is how this holds together – and after their previous single Nobody Cares (which was just as good, actually), it is perhaps no surprise that Domino Records snapped them up pretty damned fast.
I really rather liked the last Odonis Odonis album, a kinda cross of noise-rock-meets-industrial-electronics that had an astonishing level of malevolence threading through it, as if it was going to jump out of the speakers at you and bark the words directly in your face. Quite the achievement in the mix, that. Their new album doesn’t quite follow what they’ve done before, in that rather than building on that, they’ve stripped back. This is an album of economy, but not by skimping on things, but by stripping away anything extraneous that means that what remains must have impact. And that it does, particularly on the evil, spiralling techno-industrial punch of Eraser, whose trance-like build and rhythms provide a base for the best track on the album by some distance.
Toadcrucifier – R.I.P.per
That said, while Odonis Odonis mainly seem to imply their threat, there was one band that for a time seemed ready to go through with anything suggested. A band so extreme in their heyday that they seemed to be unmatched, at least in the UK, for just how heavy and violent they could sound (particularly live, where they were something else), they left quite a hole when they disbanded and Johnny Morrow passed away. (You can read more on an excellent piece by VICE about them a couple of years back). I have to say that I was very surprised indeed to see them resurrected with a new vocalist – particularly as Morrow’s inhuman vocals were always going to be difficult to replace – but remarkably, their comeback album sees the spirit of Johnny Morrow rise again, that’s for sure. Yeah, so some might not be able to get past the fact that it isn’t quite as extreme or demented, but get to the oddly titled fourth track, and fuck me if that doesn’t sound like the Iron Monkey of old. Like slavering beasts straining at heavy chains, the opening feedback stretches out a bit longer than you might expect, and then the whole band comes rushing into the void and starts stamping on your head. For five minutes. I feel better for that.
Wait In The Car
Yes, this is comeback corner. The Breeders are back with their “classic” (i.e. Last Splash) line-up intact, and this time with new material rather than relying on their past, and while it’s just the one song for now, a new album is due in the new year. After their resurgence in popularity again – finally Last Splash in particular getting the recognition it deserved, and those exceptional album gigs (Into the Pit: 174) – it seems that they may well do well this time around. The returning single starts with a sunny “Good Morning!” from Kim, and is otherwise an oh-so-slightly-random pop-fuzz blast that is everything I love about the band condensed into just one-hundred and twenty three seconds.
Now here’s a comeback I was not expecting. One of the more underappreciated hardcore bands of the early-nineties, their more melodic – but no less heavy – sound was perhaps lost in the alt-rock explosion of the time. But there was a lot to like in their sound, and of course members went onto better-known things, such as Rival Schools or, indeed, Sergio Vega’s time helping out his friends in Deftones in more recent times. But, to my honest amazement, they are back together, and have a new album coming soon (and play live in London at the end of the month, something I must think about getting a ticket for). Of the two songs released in advance of the album, perhaps don’t expect any thrashabouts like Thorn In My Side, though – both Illuminant and Cosmonauts are slower, more measured songs. The former, especially, though, is excellent. A heavy bottom end and squalling guitars provide an expansive space for Walter Schreifels to provide his as-ever striking, emotional vocals. It’s a joy to have them back.
And yes, a fourth comeback this month, and it is the return of A Perfect Circle. It’s been a long time since substantive new material was released – yeah, there’s been covers and the odd new song, but the last new album proper was a decade and more ago. So, it is perhaps reassuring that the first taste of a “new album coming in 2018” sees APC return to their teeth-clenched best. This is an intriguing track that is all tension-and-release, anger and power, with Maynard James Keenan giving us the full range of his extraordinary voice. Live dates in the UK – their first for a great many years – went onsale last week, but the £50+ cost, and the immediate appearance of an awful lot of tickets on “official” resale sites for rather more than that, has left a very bitter taste indeed.
Punk Drunk and Trembling
Punk Drunk and Trembling EP
I’ll be sad to see this band go, one I clearly discovered too late, as I really liked their last album Boy King. An intriguing alternative band who were happy to dig into electronic influences too, but most interesting about their sound was their examination of male attitudes and expectations, shining a light on the ugly side of male desire and relationships that was made clear that they were not impressed with what they saw. Before they go, though, they have one last EP, from tracks recorded around the same time as the last album, and the lead track is this exceptional, biting track that has a strange atmosphere that reminds me of something that I just can’t put my finger on.