Archive for October, 2014

Sounds Like Hell: Volunteer

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Sounds Like Hell is an irregular feature on noise rock.

When Robert Christgau pioneered the term pigfuck to describe the harsh sounds of Sonic Youth and their peers, he probably had no idea he’d inadvertedly coined the name of a subgenre based around plodding, subterranean and frankly ugly guitar-driven noise rock that was far more offensive than anything the no wave scene ever produced.

Midwestern pigfuckers Volunteer don’t cite Christgau’s colourful term on their Bandcamp page. They do list the usual suspects in their sonic goals – The Jesus Lizard, Unsane, Helmet – but they don’t need to. Most bands who say they sound like The Jesus Lizard sound like they’re covering lost demo tapes of The Jesus Lizard, but on Goner, Volunteer’s four-track EP released earlier this month, the Milwaukee trio bear little resemblance to the David Yow-fronted outfit, instead dealing a punishing 15 minute collection of defiant, unsubtle and powerful noise rock anthems.

It’s not all angry machismo though; closing out the collection is a cover of Jawbreaker’s confessional ‘I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both.’ Volunteer’s version is slowed down and the half-sung, half-spoken lyrics are mired in almost as much distortion as the guitars add an even more strained dimension to an already emotionally strained song. When Jawbreaker’s Blake Schwarzenbach sings “This lullably is blue/Lie and say we’re through,” he sounds mournful, but Volunteer vocalist Francisco Ramirez slurs those words like he’s speaking with the stomach full of a Vicodin and the barrel of a shotgun placed firmly in the his mouth.

Menace Ruin — Venus Armata

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Canadians Menace Ruine have been living up to their name for the past seven years or so across five releases of wonderfully solemn droning gloom. With two members, Menace Ruine, like the Italians OvO, construct the overpowering from the spartan, with distorted keys and relentless martial-industrial rhythms of death marches swirling around the ominous beauty of Geneviève Beaulieu’s vocals. 2012’s Alight in Ashes was an exceptional monolithic landmark, now followed up with aplomb through Profound Lore Records with the album Venus Armata.

Production on the band’s work has improved with each release. On the earlier releases, the volume and dynamics of so much distortion had a tendency at times to bury the vocals in the mix. Now, with Venus Armata, the freedom Geneviève’s delightful voice began to find on Alight in Ashes is now fully realized. The vocals are now subtly elevated and with clarity within the mix, without any negative impact on the intensity of the rest of Menace Ruine’s sound. The other half of the band, S. de la Moth, has triumphed with his production; and, the mastering by James Plotkin has allowed the group to fully realize their potential for both beguiling and abrasive intensity.

There is a growing wave of feeling that Menace Ruine are far ahead of their peers blending the medieval with darker and heavier sounds. Venus Armata has an emotional heaviness, relying on the feeling in voice and instrumental phrasing to achieve this, rather than what one traditionally thinks of as “heavy”. And yet, it’s heavier than the vast majority of albums wrought from over-compressed guitars and Lego-like lulls and explosions. Alongside Menace Ruin, many who labored to blend the medieval with heavy genres fall into a laughable heap. It’s harsh, maybe. But true.

The sonic character of Venus Armata is reflected perfectly in the package. The surreal, primitive, haematochromatic images accompanying the music share a succinct relationship with the sound of each piece. Alongside ‘Red Sulphur’, a bird in flight appears to prepare to alight alongside another of its kind, talons upturned in death upon the ground.

Hence, the record is full of these elegant symbiotic contrasts, swinging from the beautiful and uplifting to transfixing horror effortlessly. Even in major keys, Venus Armata manages something fugue-like in nature, like a witch knowingly cursing the idiotic throng around her in defiance as she burns. There are moments where brilliant melodies take hold of the fabric of distortion, a vague tether to the earthly. But there is always something inhuman and monstrous nearby, ready to sweep aside everything in amorphous eruptions of drone.

On this album, Geneviève is phenomenal. Her invocations of the dark and medieval are a signature; but, they are not so typically referential and derivative. She is miles away from being another tired emulation of Lisa Gerard. If a comparison was to be made, she delivers like a modern-day Grace Slick, but with far more of a haunting and soul-shaking edge to her tone. She is the quintessence of the simultaneous contradictions that Menace Ruine pulls off. ‘Soothing But Cruel’ is as beautiful a work as they come, like being serenaded as you are whipped with a flail of barbed wire in an act of profound love.

Venus Armata was released on October 14 and is available in CD and digital format. For something distinctive and with great depth that will stay with you long after you have long finished listening, you could not do much better.

Photos: Ball PArk Music at Astor Theatre

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Ball Park Music Astor Theatre-30Ball PArk Music at Astor Theatre, Perth on Friday October 24, 2014. Photos by Chris Kerr.

Live Review: Ball Park Music at The Astor Theatre

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Ball Park Music Astor Theatre-3Friday 24th October, Review by Sophie Dunsford. As the sun started to set, Perth’s triple j listeners formed a line along the shop windows of Beaufort Street, ready to stake prime floor positions inside The Astor Theatre. The line began […]

Interview: Wil Wagner from The Smith Street Band

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

The Smith Street BandFor the past two years Melbourne-based, The Smith Street Band have been on overdrive: touring nationally and internationally with acts from the likes of Frank Turner to The Menzingers; touring non-stop in bum-fuck towns across Europe; selling out shows nationally […]

Antennas to Heaven: Dorval & Devereaux

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Your weekly submersion into new and experimental music.

It seems to be the year of the collaboration in experimental music circles with stellar releases from Scott Walker + Sunn O))), Battle Trance, Jenny Hval & Susanna as well as drumming collective Man Forever. Heading towards the end of the year, another interesting partnership rears head: the self-titled debut from Dorval & Devereaux courtesy of Moon Glyph Records.

The sounds on display here all exist as if conjured from some dream-like stasis. Electronic waves are omnipresent, floating languidly over the top of the barest of percussive rhythms accompanied by hover craft vocals. It’s sort of shoe gaze but kind of new wave, an osmotic combination of the most ambient elements from both genres that invites escapism and a sense of wide-eyed wonder. ‘Heavy Hands’ flirts with joyous melody but never ventures into full blown euphoria, retaining a touch of menace through spooky synth and electronics. Boards of Canada played this game too; Dorval & Devereaux just do it in a different context.

Anger Management: Devin Townsend

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Every fortnight, we check in with all things heavy on RTRFM’s Critical Mass show.

Ziltoid is back! The coffee-loving alien hell bent on world domination has returned in this sequel of sorts, titled Z2 (Ziltoid Squared). Devin Townsend originally formed the concept of Ziltoid as a bit of an in-joke with himself in 2007, and also to prove that he could write, record and mix an album completely by himself on a shoestring budget. The end result was an entertaining sci-fi metal extravaganza, reminiscent of his earlier work in Strapping Young Lad. Nowadays you rarely see one of his sets without an appearance by Ziltoid (via video screens) and one or two songs from that album.

Z2 is comprised of two full-length albums. The first disc is titled Sky Blue and is more akin to Devin Townsed Project material complete with guest vocals from Anneke van Giersbergen (similar to Epicloud and Addicted). There is no clear thread linking this album to the Ziltoid storyline; the 12 uplifting tracks symbolise a celebration of life in Townsend’s pop-metal style soaked in layered melodies and synth. Highlights include ‘Fallout’, ‘Warrior’ and ‘Rain City’ (which could have easily been lifted from Ocean Machine).

The second disc is titled Dark Matters and is a narrated War of the Worlds–style epic tale of humans against their extra-terrestrial invaders. Musically it is very similar to the first Ziltoid album – heavy mechanized metal with an avant-garde twist, interspersed with voiceovers to tell the main story. The difference between this album and the last is that Ziltoid arrives on Earth first as a celebrity instead of an invader. The antagonist in this tale is the War Princess from the planet Titan, who pursues Ziltoid to Earth after she finds out he stole one of her beloved ‘Poozers’. The stolen ‘Poozer’ makes his/her way back to the War Princess and tells of the existence of coffee on Earth, which holds a mysterious power…

It all sounds a bit ridiculous – and it is, but Townsend is totally self-aware which makes it even more fun. Due to the overwhelming success of his crowd-funding campaign for his ambient folk-rock outing ‘Casualties of Cool’, he was able to stretch the budget to fund this release, as well as build better puppets! The Ziltoid tale will also be told live on stage next year at the historic Royal Albert Hall (!).

Critical Mass airs every Wednesday from 9PM on RTR FM 92.1.

Craig’s List: Ike Release

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Every fortnight, RTRFM’s Craig Hollywood will bring us a little taste of what to expect from Tuesday’s Full Frequency…

MOS Recordings presents its next album project, namely a debut solo full length from Chicago’s Ike Release, which has been aptly titled Noir. Ike is an accomplished solo producer as well as being one half of acclaimed duo Innerspace Halflife with Hakim Murphy and has a long and fruitful relationship with MOS Recordings.

Across ten tracks, Ike unleashes his array of machines (Microkorgs, a machinedrum, MPCs, iPad Apps, cracked soft synths, borrowed Nord Leads, field recordings) and explores deep, textural house, ramshackle percussive grooves, the darkest corners of the galaxy and lots more besides. Opener ‘Lost Cities’ is an underwater rhythm with gloopy synths and stiff drum hits that eases you into the ride. From there, there’s the raw, deep jack of ‘Precipiate’ with its soft acid line, the disheveled house of ‘Vapor’ and the gluey synth layers and dreamy pads of ‘Solace’.

Check the link for an exclusive listen to ‘Vapor’, which is one of the stand out inclusions from the album.

Noir will be released on MOS Recordings on November 17.

Full Frequency with Craig Hollywood airs every Tuesday from 3PM on RTRFM.

Antennas to Heaven: Steve Palmer

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Your weekly submersion into new and experimental music.

Steve Palmer isn’t the first musician to invoke the spirit of the late and great John Fahey (see faithful troubadours Jack Rose and William Tyler), but his ability to mold rural guitar stylings with a sunny and psychedelic disposition sets him apart from simply being a modern interpretation of his idol.

‘Cassini’ begins with a cascading wash of crystal clear delay as it dances amongst a strict rhythmic drum beat, later flourished by the sun soaked crunch of chords and multiple layers of wah and country tinged guitar. Palmer doesn’t just abide mountainous terrain and downtrodden blues but also the free spirited landscape of the coastline.

Apart from a Fahey cover at the end of the album, his most obvious referential nods comes in the stripped down mediations of ‘Six Dollar Sunglasses’ and ‘Banjo Burner,’ where Palmer uses both his acoustic and electric guitars to negotiate calming pathways adorned by tastefully placed interceptions of ambient background textures.

Kayo Dat — Coffins on Io

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Kayo Dot will be a name quite familiar to those fond of avant garde music. Formed just over ten years ago around the creative axis of Toby Driver and out of the ashes of another brazenly experimental act, Maudlin of the Well, Kayo Dot has established a catalogue that has been lavished with both acclaim and complaint related to their seemingly indefinable nature. The latter would appear to emanate from those who feel that creativity should take place within clearly defined boundaries, with the great density of the band’s work proving too much to digest for some, even leading to the misguided claim in some instances that Kayo Dot are a meandering “jam band.” Perhaps those naysayers will be placated by the illusions on Kayo Dot’s most recent release through The Flenser, Coffins on Io. It may go against the grain to suggest that there have always been clear themes and purpose to the band’s expression across entire albums. It just takes greater concentration to figure out, rather than in the case of something that is presented so relatively sparsely. The nuances, shifts, and ideas are quite often just more plentiful than what one might be accustomed to. Deriding something simply because it isn’t “easy” speaks more to the writer than of anything (supposedly) transgressive wrought by the artist.

In trying to bring so many things together in a cohesive form, Kayo Dot enters a slipstream of smoothness unlike ever before on Coffins on Io. Departing the earthbound nature of the album’s predecessor, Hubardo, Coffins aims for an astral and futuristic feel via a languid bloodstream of synthesis. Samplers, keys, and synthetic beats course throughout each song, providing the atmospheric foundation for the other instruments to play their roles upon with great skill. The performances melt with beauty and sinister undertones into one another, like spectacular emissions of toxic lava and plumes of unearthly humours. Amongst them all, one element stands out to define the album with its greatness.

Driver’s vocals are resplendent, rife with darkness and detail, shifting with deft subtlety through the sensual and mournful emotion that defines the album’s visions of bloody murder and destructive behavior in a dystopian future. A tortured hybrid of suave neuromantics, 80s darkwave, and Overlord Svithjod on In The Woods… Omnio, Driver enmeshes the psychological isolation of a killer within cosmic reflection. The lyrics express thoughts of journeys through solitude, the destruction of oneself and others, across vast and expansive space. It is as compelling a vocal performance as this reviewer has heard in years.

Instrumentally, the density remains high yet with Kayo Dot’s clearest direction to date. Even the shorter tracks feel epic, with their polyrhythmic shifts, metamorphosing from rapid gear changes into lengthy hypnotic loops, then back again. A marriage of science fiction and film noir, futuristic and cavernous ambience transforms into hazy moments of eroticism and abrasive and demented outbursts of brutality. The influences of 80s darkwave are, as with the vocals, very strong amidst the myriad other influences that one should expect from any record by Kayo Dot.

The bar is set incredibly high by the opener, ‘The Mortality of Doves’ (the longest track of the album), with all of the aforementioned themes and elements established and building to a glassy black obsidian climax. “My cries are the echoes of a long-lost suicide, an angel bleeding out, a dove that has died.” Each following track explores different musical territory whilst maintaining devotion to the album’s overarching atmosphere and concept, before closing with the idyllically gloomy ‘Spirit Photography.’ Driver’s vocals close the album at their peak, each line sung with an emotion, character, and distinctive detail and technique that are astonishing.

Coffins on Io is an outstanding work by a daring and divisive musical treasure. It demands being listened to in its entirety, continuously revealing details and emotions within the densely packed compositions with each play. Even with their best record yet, it is simply too much to expect near unanimous love. Thankfully for those who are exhilarated by music that keeps the listener on their toes, it’s not in Kayo Dot’s nature to seek out those types of dreams. The ones they share with us are far, far superior.