Archive for the ‘Sounds Like Hell’ Category

Sounds Like Hell: Have a Nice Life

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

As New York’s costs of living rose in the late 80s and gentrification swept through the one-time punk strongholds of Greenwich Village and its surrounds, the exodus drive punk kids north. Connecticut – a longtime option for New York exiles – became punk and hardcore’s new east coast stomping grounds. Plenty of bands stuck with the guitar-drums-vocals-aggression formula, but new generations took cues from emotional hardcore and post-punk, finding room for experimentation in synths, effects and slowing down the metronome.

Have a Nice Life might have their roots in Connecticut’s hardcore history, but that influence is filtered through a synth-infused existential dread that owes more to Joy Division than Black Flag. On their 2008 debut Deathconsciousness – recently reissued by venerable San Francisco label The Flenser – HANL are at once full of hope and utterly hopeless. “Music Will Untune The Sky” recalls the uplifting neo-folk of Akron/Family, but it’s followed by “Cropsey”, an unsettling sample of a reporter’s discussion with a child at a mental facility that explodes into a rapid-fire assault of hammering synthetic percussion and vocalist Dan Barrett’s anguished utterances.

There’s this persistent sense of drowning across these two records – reverb is so overused that it completely destroys any sense of space or acoustics. Album closer “Emptiness Will Eat The Witch” is the closest thing minimalism on the whole record, but it’s one of the most emotionally loaded tracks I’ve ever heard – the short piano riff gives way to layers upon layers of vocal howls, to the point of complete devastation. It’s an ugly and depressing but painfully beautiful way to close an emotional gut-punch of an album.

Sounds Like Hell: Facemeat

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Like the bastard love-child of Devo and Mr. Bungle, Facemeat are an unpredictable, many-armed force of nature. Armed with a military-grade horn section, the seven-piece eschew any and all expectations of structure and genre, making their 13-track debut, Questions for Men, an unpredictable and wildly exciting hour of uneasy listening.

Behind all the gimmickry and anti-conventionality of song structure and instrumentation, Facemeat are formidable musicians. From the wandering bassline of “My Wife and Children” that recalls a more unhinged Gerald Casele, to the apocalyptic brass of Hanging From A Line — and who thought horns could signal the end of the world? — there’s an intricate method in all the madness, even if it’s almost impossible to pick apart. Adam Moses’ is an expert of vocal nuance, his sardonic delivery walking a narrow line between macho bravado, mental breakdown and uproarious laughter — the perfect balance for a record exploring the failings of modern masculinity. If Hell needs a house band, this is it.

Questions for Men is out now through Art as Catharsis.

Sounds Like Hell: Prisons

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

I spent months thinking Prisons were a post-rock band. When I stumbled across their Bandcamp page under the tag “noise rock” back in March, all that existed was one track, and a link to a disused Facebook page with under 50 likes. Bandcamp is full of these anomalies: long-defunct bands uploading old records, new bands from unheard of corners of the world (in this case: Underjord, Sweden, a town that Google Maps can’t find) who fizzle out after one release. That one track, Sun Factory, was addictive, bathed in nuance, flirting with post-rock tendencies yet steering clear of its banality. It was simple: a four-bar, five-note guitar refrain maintaining rhythm, while a flurry of layers segue in and out. In the background, reverbed radio interference cut in and out, and the whole song bleeds out before you realize the crescendo already hit.

The follow-up released earlier this month is anything but post-rock. On EP, Prisons’ sound is steeped in dread and unresolved tension, an industrial dirge underpinning riffs that float in and out of dissonance. On Electric Sleep, the reveal comes two minutes in as an uncomfortable build-up gives way to violent screams heavy-as-fuck-riffage. There are flourishes here that recall the criminally underappreciated Suffocate for Fuck Sake, another short-lived Swedish act who married post-rock sentiment with agonizing heaviness and attracted a small but dedicated following with pretentiously titled but admirably ambitious debut album. But who’s to say these guys ever heard of them. In any case, the URL group’s Bandcamp URL does them justice: Prisons hurt.

Sounds Like Hell: A Film in Color

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Sounds Like Hell is an irregular column on doom, noise and sludge.

Sometimes an artist creates a sound so unto itself, they monopolize an aesthetic. How many post-rock bands are burdened by comparisons to Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky or Godspeed, whether deserving or not? How many noir-influenced acts find themselves permanently linked to Bohren & Der Club of Gore?

Even if New Jersey trio A Film in Color find themselves lumped with those comparisons, they do a tremendous job of marrying those sounds together in their immense eight-minute track “A Study in Terror”. I’ve said it before, but the most powerful bands are almost invariably power trios — think Russian Circles’ vibrant dynamism, Boris’ droning noisescapes, Young Widows’ dissonant meditations or Sleep’s smoke-filled epics. And while “A Study in Terror” opens with a sombre passage that suggests darkened rooms and chiaroscuro lighting, that’s merely a lead-in for the enveloping wave of gargantuan noise that follows. There’s something to be said for bands that play the wrong notes, and here, the bass neither complements nor conflicts with the dreamy guitars or the massive drums, settling somewhere in between for a sound that’s both uplifting and unsettling.

This is the kind of music surround sound was made for: cinematic, immersive and completely all-encompassing.

Sounds Like Hell: King Woman

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Doubt is the new(-ish) EP from King Woman, the Bay Area quartet founded by ex-Whirr frontwoman Kristina Esfandiari, and it’s one of the most powerful four-song collections I’ve ever listened to. Maybe brevity works in their favour – this is ostensibly shoegaze, a style ripe with repetition – but at 19 minutes in length, it’s a concentrated dose unsettling and otherworldly drone.

There’s an almost funereal reverence to music played this slowly and deliberately. It’s not hard to imagine these songs reverberating around the walls of a cathedral, shaking its aged foundations. Esfandiari’s vocals are at once buried and apart from the mix – on opener “Wrong” it feels like her voice is struggling to escape from the caving noise around her, while on “King of Swords” it’s as though she’s singing from another room – but in both instances her breathy incantations imbue the gargantuan guitars and the punishing authority of the drums with a celestial strength. This is music best heard in dark rooms at full volume, over and over again.

Doubt is out now on Flenser Records.

Sounds Like Hell: SWAMP-DOG

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Sounds Like Hell is an irregular column on noise rock, doom and sludge.

There’s a sound that pervades the action/sci-fi flicks of the mid-1980s. It’s paranoid, chugging and pulsating, like some kind of futurist marching band of a technophobe’s nanotech nightmare. You hear it in the first Terminator when Kyle Reese is on the run — which is pretty much the entire movie — and in the street scenes of Blade Runner’s decrepit vision of 2019 Los Angeles. It’s the ringing of the open E on a barely distorted guitar and the oppressive howl of an cold and hollow synthesizer.

That’s the feeling I’m reminded of on “Internet Friendship,” a droning sound collage from north Washington duo SWAMP-DOG. It’s the kind of music that Bandcamp trawling is made for: unassuming and mysterious from a far-flung place, heavy on semi-coherent spoken samples, meditative and hypnotic and quietly brilliant.

Sounds Like Hell: Super Luxury

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Sounds Like Hell is a regular feature on noise rock, doom and sludge.

The sounds of Super Luxury creep up on you like an attractive stranger offering their hand in a gesture of friendship only to pull you closer and thrust a plant a knee of your babymakers. At least that’s the feeling I get from ‘Constant Delicious’, the first of two cuts currently streamable from their forthcoming debut LP Ten Solid Years of Applause. Though the opening drums bear more than a passing resemblance to Future of the Left’s ‘Sheena is a T-shirt Salesman’, there are no welcoming notes or hooks to sink your teeth into here. Instead the fivesome offer a healthy barrage of snarling noise rock sprinkled with punk rock braggacio and a let’s-finish-this-fucking-song-already urgency. With snarling, reptilian guitars and fondness for enunciating every word with maximum gusto, this is music for party-crashers fleeing the scene of the crime.

Ten Years of Solid Applause is out on March 21.

Sounds Like Hell: Atriarch

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Sounds Like Hell is an irregular feature on new and old noise rock, doom and sludge.

On An Unending Path – Atriarch’s third record and their first for the venerable Relapse Records, the Portland quartet sound as though they’re channeling the apocalypse. That’s obviously well-chartered territory for any artist with doom tendencies, but Atriarch deliver their end times prophecy with an otherworldly weight, like the psychic burden of Neurosis filtered through the gloomy and gothic textures of Peter Murphy oeuvre to craft a record that’s ruthlessly nihilistic.

These are sounds not of this realm. Flurries of noise, black metal and sludge rise and fall, underpinned by a constant sense of dread. This is not for the faint of heart: it’s hard not to fall into a paranoid tailspin listening to the hypnotic incantations of vocalist Lenny Smith over the thorny bed of down-tuned atonal guitars and syncopated rhythms. For fans of Lovecraft and psychosis.

Sounds Like Hell: Zorch

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Sounds Like Hell is an irregular feature on new and old noise rock oddities.

If Brooklyn psych-cultists Akron/Family got together with the dudes from El Ten Eleven and tripped really hard on a ranch somewhere in rural Texas, the resulting collaboration might sound a little something like this. Austin duo Zorch, part of the ever-growing and always excellent Sargent House family, employ drums, an array of synthesizers and a little singing to create kaleidoscopic flourishes of head-spinning noise, forsaking melody and structure in favour of blissful chaos.

It’s hard to simply listen to Zorch. Tracks like ‘Mutwa’ from their 2013 sort-of-eponymous LP demand are so dense that they conjure phantasmic imagery of the decadent light shows, meteor showers or the aurora borealis. If there’s ever a remake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, these guys are a lock to score the film’s climactic interspecies symphony. For fans of psychedelics and insomnia.

Sounds Like Hell: Anatomy of Habit

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Sounds Like Hell is an irregular feature on noise rock.

Anatomy of Habit carry themselves with the same seriousness as Neurosis, which is to say that this is a group of people who do not fuck around when it comes to their craft. When I first saw them supporting Pelican in their native Chicago two years ago, that was what stood out: the religiosity of their musical expression, as though the music was part of a larger, unspoken ritual.

So it’s fitting that ‘Radiate and Recede’, the first of two tracks from their forthcoming LP Ciphers + Axioms, proceeds with like a netherworld hymn. While Neurosis flourish on catharsis and release, Anatomy of Habit prefer to let tension bubble to the point of listener discomfort. Mark Solotoroff’s doesn’t so much sing or speak as he delivers emotionless incantations over snarling guitars and dual percussionists who sound like they’re shattering glass with every beat. This is uneasy listening, equal parts beautiful and distressing, meticulous and psychologically draining, the way challenging art should be.