Categories
Britpop Indie Rock Music Song of the Day

Song of the Day (A-Z): Suede – Trash

Day 20 (T) & we’re listening to Trash by Suede. Trash was the first single from their ’96 album Coming Up. With it’s heroic depictions of the faded glamour of working class Britain & it’s soaring, reverb-drenched chorus it was a surefire hit for Suede at the absolute peak of Britpop’s chart success. It’s hard to imagine a song celebrating the underclass reaching number 3 in the charts in 2020.

Singer Brett Anderson describes Trash as being “about believing in the romance of the everyday.” He describes it as the soundtrack of is life & it’s about the ethos of Suede & about “being a Suede… person”.

Oh maybe, maybe it’s the clothes we wear
The tasteless bracelets and the dye in our hair
Maybe it’s our kookiness
Or maybe, maybe it’s our nowhere towns
Our nothing places and our cellophane sounds
Maybe it’s our looseness

But we’re trash, you and me
We’re the litter on the breeze
We’re the lovers on the streets
Just trash, me and you
It’s in everything we do
It’s in everything we do

Oh maybe, maybe it’s the things we say
The words we’ve heard and the music we play
Maybe it’s our cheapness
Or maybe, maybe it’s the times we’ve had
The lazy days and the crazes and the fads
Maybe it’s our sweetness

But we’re trash, you and me
We’re the litter on the breeze
We’re the lovers on the streets
Just trash, me and you
It’s in everything we do
It’s in everything we do

We’re trash, you and me
We’re the lovers on the streets
We’re the litter on the breeze
Just trash, me and you
It’s in everything we do
It’s in everything we do

Oh, you and me, yeah
You and me
(We’re the litter on the breeze)Oh, you and me, yeah
You and me
(It’s in everything we do)

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Indie Rock Overlooked Classics Punk

Overlooked Classics: Comets On Fire – Blue Cathedral

Image by Gary Smith

During my blogpost about Sub Pop’s Patient Zero sampler a few days ago, I discovered that I really enjoyed the track Antlers Of The Midnight Sun by Comets On Fire more than any of the other tracks. Strangely I had little memory of this track from when I used to listen to this compilation regularly in 2004/5-ish. As a result of my love of that track, I have since been checking out their catalogue. Blue Cathedral is the album which Antlers Of The Midnight Sun is taken from, so I thought that would be a good place to begin.

Blue Cathedral runs the gamut from psychedelic ’60’s Garage Rock to punishing Sludge Punk & takes in all manner of other genres in between. Think The Stooges or the MC5 temporally displaced into the mid-’80’s US Indie Underground.

Comets On Fire are well known for their use of the Echoplex tape delay. All of the tracks use it fairly liberally on singer, Ethan Miller’s vocals, which helps to turn his Iggy Pop-esque primal screams into thrilling & surprisingly deep sonic structures. Opening track, The Bee And The Cracking Egg has dub-siren-like delayed synth tones embedded deep in it’s psychedelic noise jams. A feature which resurfaces several times throughout the album, & which is as fun as it is chaotic.

Echoplex, image from wikipedia

Whiskey River & the short instrumental jam, Organs have that ’60’s Garage feel encoded deep in their DNA, the latter due to the heavily delayed Hammond Organ patterns. The former employs what sounds like (and I’m sure actually is) dial-up modem tones, distorted & mangled through their trademark Echoplex. Strangely enough, this ’90’s & early ’00’s specific sound doesn’t sound out of place among the screeching guitars & pounding rhythms of the otherwise retro sounds.

Antlers Of The Midnight Sun is the oddball Indie thrash-a-long I wrote about in the Patient Zero article &, if anything, sounds bigger & more exciting in the context of an album of similarly sonically structured songs. The heavily distorted lead guitars sound almost as if they are threading in and out of the crunchy rhythm guitar patterns.

Brotherhood Of The Harvest takes off with an extended noise jam of screeching guitar noise, clattering drums & early-Pink Floyd style organ drones which break down into a downtempo, Organ centred Psyche Rock jam. Definite Pink Floyd or Procol Harum vibes to the lead guitar parts & chord structures too.

Wild Whiskey features acoustic guitars & unusual percussion embedded in a wash of feedback-drenched guitar drones. It has an upbeat, spaghetti-western feel to it that I kind of wish they’d utilised a bit more on the album. It’s similarly off kilter to the Floydian previous track.

Epic 10minute closer, Blue Tomb begins with sludgy guitar drones which give way into downbeat Garage Rock drumming. There’s an improvisational looseness to the guitar playing which fits the lethargic rhythms beautifully. As well as the perceived looseness there is an almost hypnotic feel to the repetitive (in a good way) rhythms which propel the song forward through it’s noisy psychedelia & Echoplex-soaked vocals. Towards the end the Echoplex is truly put through it’s paces with some incredible delayed siren sounds which scream out dub.

On a tangentially related note, I had the opportunity to use a similar machine to the Echoplex while in the studio with my band, Nauseous Skies, & I can confirm that it is incredibly fun to use. It is also addictive & I can understand the temptation to record almost every instrument & sound effect through it.

Tape Delay used in my band’s recording sessions, photo by me

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Hip Hop Song of the Day

Song of the Day (A-Z): A Tribe Called Quest – Scenario (feat. Leaders Of The New School)

Day 19 (S). In Scenario, A Tribe Called Quest & Leaders Of The New School combine their powers to drop what is widely considered the best posse rap. Each rapper gives jaw-dropping performances & the Q-Tip production is excellent.

Some also credit Scenario as being the song which launched Busta Rhymes’ career. His verse here is ridiculously good & has passed into Hip-Hop culture & mythology to such an extent that other artists quote from it (“Raow, raow like a dungeon dragon”) in respect.

The music video, directed by Jim Swaffield, plays on an interactive desktop, and features cameo appearances by Spike LeeDe La SoulBrand NubianFab Five Freddy and Redman.

from Wikipedia

Here we go yo, here we go yo
So what so what so what’s the scenario
Here we go yo, here we go yo
So what so what so what’s the scenario

A-yo Bo knows this (what?) and Bo knows that (what?)
But Bo don’t know jack, cause Bo can’t rap
Well what do you know, the Di-Dawg, is first up to bat
No batteries included, and no strings attached
No holds barred, no time for move faking
Gots to get the loot so I can bring home the bacon
Brothers front, they say the Tribe can’t flow
But we’ve been known to do the impossible like Broadway Joe so
Sleep if you want NyQuil will help you get your Z’s, troop
But here’s the real scoop
I’m all that and then some, short dark and handsome
Bust a nut inside your eye, to show you where I come from
I’m vexed, fuming, I’ve had it up to here
My days of paying dues are over, acknowledge me as in there (yeah!)
Head for the border, go get a taco
Watch me wreck it from the jump street, meaning from the get-go
Sit back relax and let yourself go
Don’t sweat what you heard, but act like you know

Yes yes y’all (yes y’all!)
Who got the vibe it’s the Tribe y’all (Tribe y’all!)
Real live y’all (live y’all!)
Inside outside come around
(Who’s that?) Brown!
Some may, I say, call me Charlie
The word is the herb and I’m deep like Bob Marley
Lay back on the payback, evolve rotate the gates
(Contact!) Can I get a hit? (Hit!)
Boom bip with a brother named Tip and we’re ready to flip
East coast stomping, ripping and romping
New York, North Cak-a-laka, and Compton
Checka-checka-check it out
The loops for the troops, more bounce to the ounce
And wow how now wow how now Brown cow
We’re ill till the skill gets down
For the flex, next, it’s the textbook old to the new
But the rest are doo-doo
From radio, to the video, to Arsenio
Tell me! Yo, what’s the scenario

Scooby Doo, whoopie doo
Scenarios, radios, rates more than four
Scores for the smores that smother dance floors
Now I go for mine, shades of sea shore
Ship-shape plush Grape Apes to play tapes
Papes make drakes baked for the wakes
Of an L-AH, an E-ADER, simply just a leader
Bass innerspace means peace see ya later
Later (later!), later alligator
Pop blows the weasel and the herb’s the inflater
So yo the D what the O, incorporate I-N-C into a flow
Funk flipped flat back first this foul fight fight fight
Laugh yo, how’d that sound? (oh!)

It’s a Leader Quest mission and we got the goods here (here!)
Never on the left cause my right’s my good ear (ear!)
I could give a damn about a ill subliminal
Stay away from crime so I ain’t no criminal
I love my young nation, groovy sensation
No time for hibernation, only elation
Don’t ever try to test, the water little kid
Yo Mr. Busta Rhymes, tell him what I did

I heard you rushed and rushed, and attacked
Then they rebuked then you had to smack
Causing rambunction throughout the sphere
Raise the levels of the boom inside the ear

You know I did it
So don’t violate or you’ll get violated
The Hip Hop sound is well agitated
Won’t ever waste no time on the played out ego
So here’s Busta Rhymes with the scenario

Watch, as I combine all the juice from the mind
Heel up, wheel up, bring it back, come rewind
Powerful impact – boom! – from the cannon
Not bragging, try to read my mind just imagine
Vocabulary’s necessary
When digging into my library
Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!
Eating Ital Stew like the one Peter Tosh
Uh! Uh! Uh! All over the track man
Uh! Pardon me, uh! As I come back
As I did it yo I heard you beg your pardon
When I travel through the town I roll with the squadron
Raow, raow like a dungeon dragon
Change your little drawers cause your pants are sagging
Try to step to this, I will twist you in a turban
And have you smelling ripe like some old stale urine
Chickity-choco, the chocolate chicken
The rear cock diesel, buttcheeks they were kicking
Yo, bust it out before the Busta bust another rhyme
The rhythm is in sync (Uh!) the rhymes are on time (time!)
Rippin’ up the sound just like Horatio
Observe the vibe and check out the scenario

Here we go yo, here we go yo (yeah, my man, mothafucka)
So what so what so what’s the scenario
Here we go yo, here we go yo
So what so what so what’s the scenario

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Categories
Music Post Punk Synth Pop

Billy Nomates – No

I may not have verbalised it thus far, but the primary purpose & concern of Scruffy Theory is discovery and rediscovery. It’s about discovering new music, literature & art then attempting to share & spread my enthusiasm for those things as far & wide as possible. There may be some politics & respectful marking of certain anniversaries & holidays, but they’re not the primary focus.

So there are various ways that one can pick up new leads & ideas for new pathways to follow in the cause of discovery. This morning, for example, I was watching an interview on YouTube with Jason Williamson, vocalist with Sleaford Mods. One question he was asked was what new music was he currently enjoying. He answered with new English artist, Billy Nomates. He described Billy Nomates as like Sleaford Mods (but nost), Post-Punk, like early Madonna & ’80’s soul combined.

Rhythmically, No by Billy Nomates is quite similar to Sleaford Mods, with that driving beat & solid bass. Vocally there is an element of speak singing in the verses but the choruses definitely live up to Jason’s early Madonna comparison. It’s solid Post-Punk/Pop crossover music which will hopefully make an impact on the mainstream. & if it doesn’t, I’m sure the Indie scene will give Billy Nomates the love & respect they deserve.

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Indie Rock Music Song of the Day

Song of the Day (A-Z): Silver Jews – Random Rules

Day 18 (R). The late, great David Berman was as much a poet as he was a musician and “In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection” is generally considered to be one of the greatest lines to ever open an album. Random Rules opens Silver Jews’ (affectionately known as the “Joos”) third studio album, American Water, a key album in both Indie Rock mythology & a masterpiece by a truly unique artist. A truly unique artist who will be sorely missed.

In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection
Slowly screwing my way across Europe, they had to make a correction
Broken and smokin’ where the infrared deer plunge in the digital snake
I tell you, they make it so you can’t shake hands when they make your hands shake

I know you like to line dance, everything so democratic and cool
But baby there’s no guidance when random rules

I know that a lot of what I say has been lifted off of men’s room walls
Maybe I’ve crossed the wrong rivers and walked down all the wrong halls
But nothing can change the fact that we used to share a bed
And that’s why it scared me so when you turned to me and said”

Yeah, you look like someone
Yeah you look like someone who up and left me low
Boy, you look like someone I used to know”

I know you like to line dance, everything so democratic and cool
But baby there’s no guidance when random rules

I asked the painter why the roads are colored black
He said, “Steve, it’s because people leave
And no highway will bring them back”
So if you don’t want me I promise not to linger
But before I go I gotta ask you dear about the tan line on your ring finger

No one should have two lives
Now you know my middle names are wrong and right
Honey we’ve got two lives to give tonight
To give tonight
To give tonight, oh oh oh oh oh

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Indie Rock Music Punk

Tolerance To Lo-Fi (Part 1)

Part 1: The Velvet Underground & Nico, Raw Power & Spiral Scratch

It began, like most modern pop phenomena, with Punk. I’m tempted to go back further, maybe to Elvis. But pre-Punk music which bears a stylistic resemblance to what we now think of as Lo-Fi is generally a product of its time & the technology used at that time. Higher fidelity wasn’t an option when Robert Johnson recorded his music. The Velvet Underground & Elvis recorded in the fidelity they could financially afford to. The fidelity wasn’t used as an artistic choice. Nobody celebrated or enthused about the fuzzy, low quality recordings the Lomax’s made for the American Library of Congress. They just accepted the imperfections, which we celebrate & actively pursue in Lo-Fi music, as limitations in the medium.

The evolution of Lo-Fi music as a genre isn’t far removed from the evolution of the Indie Record Label as an entity. The first record to discuss is the legendary Spiral Scratch by Manchester Punk band, the Buzzcocks. Spiral Scratch is a four track EP recorded in 1997 by legendary producer Martin Hannett (credited as Martin Zero. Because Punk). It was recorded on 16-track tape. According to Buzzcocks singer Howard Devoto (who would leave the band after Spiral Scratch), “It took three hours [to record the tracks], with another two for mixing.” The recording is very rough. The term Lo-Fi hadn’t yet being coined. Perhaps rougher than necessary for a 16-track recording in a professional studio. This could be put down to the time spent mixing it or the fidelity required to squeeze four songs onto one 7” vinyl. Self-financed & released, Spiral Scratch is widely considered as ‘year zero’ of Indie music.

I personally believe that the low fidelity of Spiral Scratch was a production choice, possibly made by Hannett, possibly by the Buzzcocks. Many in the Punk scene were fans of records which already had a lower fidelity sound than the commercial Glam Rock flooding the radio in the mid ‘70’s. Both Hannett & the band would have been familiar with The Velvet Underground’s debut or The Stooges Bowie-produces Raw Power. These records, while sonically very different, both exhibit common features of Lo-Fi music.

The Velvet Underground & Nico was produced by Andy Warhol (not best known as a music producer). “The bulk of the songs that would become The Velvet Underground & Nico were recorded in mid-April 1966, during a four-day stint at Scepter Studios, a decrepit recording studio in Manhattan.” (wikipedia). The songs have a raw, overdriven feel & seem to revel in the hiss of the tape & distortion caused by audio clipping. This may partly be because of the decrepitude of the recording studio, but it would be unfair to not consider the possibility that either Lou Reed and/or John Cale asked for this sound. They were both visionary & forward-looking artists. Pre-Velvet Underground, John Cale already possessed avant-garde pedigree & was interested in noise & atmosphere. Later in his career, Lou Reed took guitar noise & clipping distortion to a whole new realm with his divisive but influential noise album, Metal Machine Music.

A few years later in 1973, Bowie’s production of The Stooges Raw Power was less about tape-hiss & clipping viola parts & more about drenching guitars & vocals in distortion to create abrasive & thrilling Rock and Roll. By modern standards, the distortion on Raw Power sounds wild & out of control. It sounds like a force of nature rather than the pedestrian effect used by pretty much every single guitarist today. It’s interesting to note that, despite a few exceptions like Hendrix & The Kinks, this level of distortion was very rare at the time. Guitar tones were either clean or slightly overdriven. Like The Velvet Underground & Nico, Raw Power went on to be a huge influence on the nascent Punk scene & early artists like Buzzcocks would have desired similar sonic effects to achieve similar atmosphere’s.

I think the key takeaway from Spiral Scratch, regarding what would later be known as Lo-Fi, is the DIY ethic. Inspired by seeing a Sex Pistols show in 1976, & with zero interest from any record labels, Buzzcocks reached out to their friends & families, cobbled a bit of cash together & booked some studio time. The Buzzcocks were obviously very ambitious & serious about starting their careers & willing to put the work in to make it happen. Spiral Scratch influenced many other bands, up and down the UK, to record their own music or set up their own small, independent record labels. Indie Music as we know it today, grew from this small, weird, noisy release by a nobody Punk band from the industrial North of England.

16-track tape recorder, similar to the one Spiral Scratch was recorded with

Throughout the Punk & Post-Punk era, there were a great number of bands who released records which they’d recorded themselves, financed themselves & distributed themselves. There was still a perception that music had to be recorded in a studio though. It wasn’t truly DIY as long as the artists were relying on engineers & producers to do the recording & production work for them. Luckily, the low fidelity of much of the Punk era would persuade artists to make music with whatever they had laying around. You could just set up your instruments, press Record on your tape deck & play the song through. This was an exciting time for Lo-Fi music & the newly formed Indie label industry was at the forefront of getting this music out to the public.

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Indie Rock Music Song of the Day

Song of the Day (A-Z): Garbage – Queer

Day 17 (Q). I was actually quite worried about the letter Q. I couldn’t think of anything for ages. When I sat down & started to look through my record collection though I actually found plenty.

Garbage were a great Indie Rock band from the mid-to-late ’90’s. Garbage featured Butch Vig, who produced Nirvana’s Nevermind, & seemed to have some crossover potential with the heavier Rock crowd. I remember their song Push It being on a free Kerrang! CD & their music in general being played at the Alternative Nights at local nightclubs (which mainly played Metal/Nu Metal at the time).

Queer, like much of their material, seems to draw liberally from a wealth of influences ranging from Trip-Hop to Industrial. I don’t really remember it’s release but I imagine the title probably caused a bit of a stir & generated some excellent publicity. Attitudes towards sexuality were still fairly underdeveloped (to put it diplomatically) in 1995.

Hey boy, take a look at me
Let me dirty up your mind
I’ll strip away your hard veneer
And see what I can find

The queerest of the queer
The strangest of the strange
The coldest of the cool
The lamest of the lame
The numbest of the dumb
I hate to see you here
You choke behind a smile
A fake behind the fear
The queerest of the queer

This is what he pays me for
I’ll show you how it’s done
You learn to love the pain you feel
Like father like son

The queerest of the queer
Hide inside your head
The blindest of the blind
The deadest of the dead
You’re hungry ’cause you starve
While holding back the tears
Choking on your smile
A fake behind the fear
The queerest of the queer

I know what’s good for you, you can touch me if you want
I know you’re dying to, you can touch me if you want
I know what’s good for you, you can touch me if you want
But you can’t stop

The queerest of the queer
The strangest of the strange
The coldest of the cool
The lamest of the lame
The numbest of the dumb
I hate to see you here
You choke behind a smile
A fake behind the fear
The queerest of the queer
The strangest of the strange
The coldest of the cool
You’re nothing special here
A fake behind the fear
The queerest of the queer

I know what’s good for you I know you’re dying to
I know what’s good for you
I bet you’re dying to
You can touch me if you want
You can touch me if you want
You can touch me
You can touch me
But you can’t stop

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Indie Rock Music Post-Rock Song of the Day

Song of the Day (A-Z): Mogwai – Party In The Dark

Day 16 (P). Predominately instrumental Post-Rock pioneers Mogwai trying their hand at psychedelic Dream-Pop. This is Mogwai at their most playful & seems to me to suggest shades of latter day Slowdive & (pretty much any period) New Order. Taken from their 2017 album, Every Country’s Sun, Party In The Dark came out just as my own band, Nauseous Skies, was forming & was a huge influence on our sound. We included it in our playlist of reference material we gave to the engineer when we recorded our debut singles, Only Shadows and Stay Young.

I see everything
All their suffering
Tiny vehicles
Space-age miracles

All our hearts were sore
No fight left in this war
Before the ghostly chase
All those that rearrange

I, taken from those spirals be both kind
Hungry for another piece of mind
Silent and impatient without time
Directionless and innocent

Wards are ours to keep
Definition free
Unkind and alone
End of the idea

I, taken from those spirals be both kind
Hungry for another piece of mind
Silent and impatient without time
Directionless and innocent

I, taken from those spirals be both kind
Hungry for another piece of mind
Silent and impatient without time
Directionless and innocent

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Indie Rock Music

Patient Zero (A Sub Pop Sampler, 2004)

I’ve just received a new copy of this excellent Sub Pop compilation. This one is from 2004. Unfortunately, the first thing I notice (& which I’d forgotten from years ago) is that it features a song in common with it’s 2003 predecessor, Infecting The Galaxy One Planet At A Time, The District Sleeps Alone Tonight by The Postal Service. I have to say that I find this dissapointing.

However, like Infecting The Galaxy One Planet At A Time, Patient Zero is a wonderful collection of songs from the time.

Patient Zero opens with Kissing The Lipless by The Shins (at the time pretty much unknown). An upbeat Indie Pop anthem with acoustic guitars & handclaps. Fairly straightforward Indie-by-numbers but enjoyable nonetheless.

A personal favourite, The Thermals return with a track from their second album, Fucking A, How We Know. It’s lo-fi post Grunge with quiet, repetitive verses & loud, explosive choruses. Definitely a great band & you have to admire the commercial suicide of naming their second album Fucking A.

The Constantines deliver some atmospheric & anthemic Indie Rock with roots in Gargage Rock. Possibly rode in on the coattails of the Garage Rock revival which was, in 2004, giving way to the Post-Punk revival. It’s an upbeat tune, loaded with positivity & some decent noise guitar playing which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Sonic Youth record.

Classic Blues inspired Rock n Roll, dripping in noisy guitars, pounding rhythm section & soaring chorus, The Catheters return with the song No Natural Law. It’s exhilarating stuff & you could hear a lot of this kind of music around 2003-4. Bands like The Von Bondies & The D4 spring to mind.

Rogue Wave’s Endless Shovel is upbeat & sunny sounding Psychedelic Pop. Despite the ’60’s vibes, the bass & drums give Endless Shovel a level of heaviness that was practically unheard of back then. Definite Kinks vibes. The outro, which to me is the highlight, is heavier & noisier than the rest of the song.

Frausdots deliver Soft Light, an enjoyable enough Interpol-esque exploration of ’80’s dark Indie (Joy Division, The Cure etc.). Kind of what The Killers would sound like if they were more sonically adventurous & their lyrics weren’t meaningless drivel. The chorus lifts up into radio friendly, soaring Power-Pop.

The Helio Sequence bring some smooth, soulful Synthpop & robotic drum machine rhythms with Blood Bleeds. Delayed guitar patterns build up into squalls of friendly sounding noise.

Naked As We Came by Iron & Wine is soft voiced, fingerpicked lo-fi Folk music. Pretty vocal melodies float gracefully over the minimalistic track & the warm hissing of analogue tape.

The Elected’s Greetings In Braille is soft, sunny Folk Pop with upbeat guitar strumming & pretty melancholic melodies. It feels like there’s a whistling solo missing to me.

Rosie Thomas’s Red Rover is a lush Folk arrangement with warm vocal harmonies & pretty fingerpicking.

On Your Way by The Album Leaf is lush Indie Pop with downbeat glockenspiel & keyboard melodies floating dreamlike over drum machine rhythms & clean guitar sounds.

I’m not going to discuss The Postal Service’s The District Sleeps Alone Tonight as it also featured on the 2003 sampler, Infecting The Galaxy One Planet At A Time.

Daylight Til Dawn, All Night Radio’s contribution is widescreen cinematic pop with lush string arrangements & bouncy ’60’s Pop melodies & Beach Boys style group harmonies.

Comets On Fire’s Antlers Of The Midnight Sun brings squealing, scraping guitar abuse, art Rock arrangements & Psyche Punk vocals to create some truly exciting oddball Indie Rock. Pitched somewhere between original wave Punk bands & the fuzzy Indie of Pavement, I can barely believe I forgot about this absolute gem of a tune. Definitely a surprise standout tune for me (note to self: investigate Comets On Fire further).

Finally, to round out the compilation, my first introduction to the wonderful noise band, Wolf Eyes. Stabbed In The Face (an amazing title, I’m sure you’ll agree) is a hot mess of pounding electronic kick drums, synthesised bass, squealing guitar feedback & abrasive amp noise. Not long after I heard this, and while John Peel still lived, I remember taping their Peel Session off the radio & playing it until it was chewed up & destroyed. That’s right people, I was still using cassette tapes as recently as 2004 (hell, I distinctly remember making tapes for people as recently as 2007). Wolf Eyes were probably the first noise band I got into.

MVP:

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Folk Music

Clara Engel – Hatching Under The Stars

Clara Engel is independent Folk artist who has been recording & performing since the early ’00’s. A quick glance at their Bandcamp page will tell you that they are extremely prolific, with multiple releases most years.

Their latest release, Hatching Under The Stars is a minimal folk album built around live session recordings of voice, guitar & drums. From this minimal foundation, Engel has built up an atmospheric & dark collection of haunting, cinematic ballads.

photo by Ilyse Krivel

The instrumentation is extremely sparse & carves out cavernous spaces with room ambience & reverb. Guitar notes are left to hang in the abyss & the drums seem to reach us from deep underground. Accordions & celtic harps are woven through this spacious soundscape. Electric guitars are utilised as ambient noise generators, adding whale sounds & swelling dissonance to the compositions, creating uneasy atmospheres. Violins & cellos bring their own unique brand of tension & sadness.

Rhythmically, Hatching Under The Stars has a solemn, marching feel to it, lending a spiritual & essence which mirrors the stark & cover art, painted by Engel. The way they threads their vocal melodies through these rhythms almost lends the songs a sermonising, chant-like quality. Fittingly, Engel sometimes describes their music as “minimalist holy blues”, & you can certainly feel that in the spiritual atmospherics of the quieter, moments.

photo by Ilyse Krivel

Popmatters writer Justin Vellucci, in his review, compares the compositions on Hatching Under The Stars to Andy Warhol’s 1964 film Empire, a static shot, slow motion film of an unchanging view of the Empire State Building. The minor things which break the monotony, like a bird passing or a light turning on in an office window provide a sense of fleeting, ephemeral drama which Vellucci likens to Engel’s repetitive guitar figures & the emergence of minor variations within them after several minutes or of new instrumentation arising, unexpected from the deep atmospheres.

Engel’s breathy vocals seem to possess a sense of almost confessional intimacy. This propels the songs forward & takes your hand, gently leading you into the dark, folkloric worlds the soundscapes conjure. There is a sense of the music moving past you as you press on in a kind of journey through a near mythical landscape.

photo by Ilyse Krivel

There is a warmth to Engel’s music which is extremely comforting in these cold & fear filled days. There is always a desire to be led by someone else, for someone to make the difficult decisions for you, when you feel you have no control over your life, & I suspect record numbers of people are feeling like that at the moment. The sense of free fall is almost arrested by the stillness of the compositions & the sense of claustrophobic isolation is almost escaped through their spaciousness. To complete & even continue the sense of immersion which these soundscapes produce, the final sung line on the album is “the mystery will go on without me”. You feel that the universe it both becomes & inhabits, & through which you have been led by the hand, will continue to exist long after you’ve completed your journey.

Hatching Under The Stars is available now from Clara Engel’s Bandcamp.

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