REVIEW: JAN ’21 LISTENING TRAIL

RECORD OF THE MONTH

DIVIDE & DISSOLVE – Gas Lit
[Drone Metal, Noise Rock – Australia – Invada]

Somehow Australian heavy noisy duo Divide & Dissolve have never crossed my radar until the release of this album which I’m glad to see everyone talking about, so I just had to find out for myself. What you hear on Gas Lit certainly fits into the doom and sludge mould, but really this is a unique and transcendent experience that stands alone. Upon hitting play you are first greeted with a beckoning, ethereal saxophone drone that pulls you in before unleashing ferocious riffing that is played loosely with so much noise and a garage-sounding distortion. ‘Prove It’ sounds like the metal answer to My Bloody Valentine, layering up sheets of decaying guitar fuzz, giving extra spice and flavour to the doom riff buried beneath the haze. ‘Denial’ is monumentally crushing, angrily stomping and thrashing about as a powerful mantric saxophone bookends the chaos, sounding reminiscent of Colin Stetson’s score for Hereditary. The punishing sonics of ‘It’s Really Complicated’ threaten to blow up my speakers with so much abrasive noise, sounding like a swarm of bees are buzzing in my brain. The only vocals on the album come in the form of a spoken word interlude that embellish Divide & Dissolves socio-political desires, “Gas Lit is our fight for Indigenous Sovereignty, Black and Indigenous Liberation, Water, Earth, and Indigenous land given back. Gas Lit is fighting against the dispossession of our people, land, water, and spirit. Gas Lit is a call to transformation and freedom. Gas Lit seeks to make a contribution to undermining and destroying the white supremacist colonial framework.” Divide & Dissolve take pinches of Big|Brave’s raw sprawling drone rock sound and Bohren & Der Club Of Gore’s dark mystery, yet the duo don’t really sound like anyone but themselves. Their version of doom is played with the mentality of a garage rock band and Gas Lit is a unique and enthralling record that captivates from start to finish.

BICEP – Isles
[Ambient Techno – UK – Ninja Tune]

The second record from Belfast based electronic duo Bicep follows an impressive debut that stood with one foot in commercial dance music and one with a deeper foot into a classic ambient techno sound. Bicep’s music could just as easily be heard in a TV advert for a tech company as it could be dropped into a warehouse rave DJ set. Isles hones in further on this balance and is a worthy follow up, boasting intricate and detailed production whilst keeping their compositions polished and bright. Bicep never quite feel like they are going to drop into noisy, glitch abstractions with wild time signatures like many Warp Records acts would do, but still bring an impressive array of synth sounds and production chops. In particular, their ear for varied percussion sounds and micro-rhythms is really astonishing across Isles. Opening track ‘Atlas’ is a certified banger with prickly, shifting beats, wobbling acid techno synths and an ethereal vocal sample that haunts the song like a banshee, sounding like the spiritual successor to FSOL’s ‘Papa New Guinea’. ‘X’ is cinematic and pulsing like a score to a spy thriller film with a lovely addition of shoegazy vocals, and an unlikely collab with cellist Julia Kent results in a Burial-esque atmospheric head-bopper. In a similar way to Bonobo before them, Bicep feel like they’ve got that broadness to impress electronic music geeks whilst also appealing to casual listeners or those who prefer other genres.

BIOSPHERE – Angel’s Flight
[Ambient – Norway – AD93]

The long running solo project of Norwegian ambient musician Geir Jenssen, Biosphere has now ranked up a mammoth discography and continues to be a notable figure for fans of ambient, drone and electronic music, with their 1997 album Substrata being a sought after landmark. The last five years or so have marked a very prolific run for Biosphere with plenty of new studio material as well as vinyl reissues coming out. Recent Biosphere releases have often been a bit too ambient for their own good and Angel’s Flight is no exception, sounding like treated orchestral film scores slowed down and warped. There are times when I zoned out so hard whilst listening that it took a few obnoxious Spotify adverts to remind me this album was still playing. Opening such a slow and vaporous record with a piece titled ‘The Sudden Rush’ makes me think that Jenssen must be self aware. At best, tracks ‘Faith & Reverence’ and ‘Scan Of Waves’ offer something more palatable, evoking the feeling of wandering through an empty ballroom at night; and at worst the album seems longer than its 45 minute runtime implies, sometimes feeling so much like wallpaper that it leaves no real impression. Angel’s Flight is decent music for playing in bed in complete solitude, but isn’t as thought provoking as peers Gas and William Basinski.

THE BODY – I’ve Seen All I Need To See
[Noise, Drone – USA – Thrill Jockey]

Even as a keen fan of US experimental duo The Body, keeping up with their constant output can be a challenge, with seemingly as many collaborative projects coming out as their own canon records. The last few of their main albums have seen a shift away from their sludge metal origins, often abandoning metal instrumentation entirely. This ethos carried into recent live performances which has seen them play entire sets with hardware synths, drum machines and noise pedals. The only two constants being Chip King’s positively ridiculous squawking bird screams and the fact their music is always ungodly loud and abrasive. I’ve Seen All I Need To See continues the shift that started with their 2016 album No One Deserves Happiness, and whilst guitars and drums are present in the mix, this here album sonically and compositionally has more in common with power electronics and industrial noise. ‘Tied Up & Locked In’ (a sentiment that feels all too current) has an escalating current of distorted noise wash over the tracks, even burying Chip King’s crazy vocals. ‘A Pain Of Knowing’ emphasises walls of pulsing, skull rattling sub-bass with massive kick drums that will smash holes into your eardrums. If you like experimental and heavy music and aren’t listening to The Body then you should definitely hop aboard this train because it’s so great to see this band consistently putting out challenging and crushing music and ruling their own little kingdom of the metal and drone world.

LOW MODER – Low Moder
[Post-Hardcore, Noise Rock – UK – Self-Released]

A very confident debut recording from Lincolnshire based post-noise rockers Low Moder, honing a sound which takes influence from that wonderful era of ’80s and ’90s post-hardcore (think classic Dischord and/or Touch & Go Records sound). ‘Herding Cats’ laments the death of the British high street, working together twiddly math rock bass with vocals that channel Mark E Smith and Ian Mackaye simultaneously. ‘3 Times Hall Of Famer’ boasts a delightful opening riff that could easily have come off a Fugazi record. Low Moder have a great ability of working in small pinches of noise without them becoming too overbearing, allowing the clarity of the superb rhythm section to shine alongside a compelling vocalist and lyricist. The crown jewel of this self-titled, self-released EP is ‘Peace Prize’, a track wrought with anxiety that transitions from a plodding Slint-esque downtempo clean guitar section into the record’s most explosive chorus, punctuated with scatty distorted guitar freak-outs and raging screams. Low Moder’s sound is very nostalgic, and although they pay homage to a very American sound and era, there is just enough British sarcasm creeping through to make them stand out. A very, very impressive debut release from a band we should all be keeping our eyes and ears on. Go pick up the CD from their Bandcamp page because it’s dead cheap.

MADLIB – Sound Ancestors
[Hip-Hop – USA – Madlib Invazion]

Otis “MadLib” Jackson Jr is a producer and musician who just never stops working, and has one of the largest discography and credits lists in the entirety of hip-hop. With Kieran Hebden (AKA Four Tet) credited as the arranger of this album, my guess is that MadLib gave them access to a bunch of unreleased beats from the vault with the challenge of constructing them into a full length album. Sound Ancestors is an instrumental hip-hop beat-tape style album in the vein of some of MadLib’s previous wonders in their Beat Konducta series and sharing a similar blueprint to J Dilla’s legendary Donuts album (the late producer and collaborator is even tributed on ‘Two For 2’) . As the title implies, the beats here look to honour the greats with a lot of vintage soul samples on show. ‘Road Of The Lonely Ones’ is a real beauty; an uplifting head banger with heavenly falsetto vocal samples, whilst ‘The Call’ is a funky groove monster. Adding to MadLib’s wide sound pallet, ‘Hopprock’ draws in a focus on sorrowful strings and intricate percussion and ‘The New Normal’ has what sounds like a distorted organ lead. Hebden has done a great job pulling together such eclecticism into a cohesive album experience, but it’s MadLib who brings all their best tricks and signatures.

BUCK MEEK – Two Saviors
[Folk, Singer/Songwriter – USA – Keeled Scales]

The song-writing duo of Buck Meek and Adrianne Lenker is one of the most delightful pairings of recent years, truly finding their own unified voice, whether working together in their astonishing rock band Big Thief or helping each other out on their solo projects. In a similar spirit to Lenker’s own solo works, Buck Meek manages to capture a raggedy, free spirited and intimate sound on this indie-folk gem, sounding like it was made on an old 8-track recorder. Meek’s voice isn’t quite as alluring or diverse as their sparring partner, but still has an earthy charm that recalls the early Palace works of Will Oldham. Buck Meek has such a laid back and relatable quality that is especially comforting on the title track. The fragile and thin lo-fi recording of ‘Two Moons’ evokes the feeling of a campfire song, whilst on the flipside, ‘Cannonball! (Part Two)’ rocks things up with a full band to liven things up. If you like your indie folk more on the lo-fi and low key side, be sure to check out this little wonder of a record.

PORTRAYAL OF GUILT – We Are Always Alone
[Blackened Screamo – USA – Closed Casket Activities]

Another helping of pure savagery from Texan blackened screamo band Portrayal Of Guilt, hitting you like a brick to the face from the second you hit play. We Are Always Alone builds on the awesomeness of their debut, delivering more confidence in their craft. Though their songs are sharp and fierce, with blistering and energetic drumming throughout, the album is really well structured allowing post-metal atmospheres and textures to work their way into the compositions, expertly shown on ‘Anaesthetized’, which ends in an ominous dark ambient drone. The track sequencing is top notch throughout, enhanced by adding electronic touches into the excellent sound design. I have to give special props to vocalist Matt King who turns in one of the most harrowing and animalistic performances I’ve heard lately, the tone and intensity of the screams are just so satisfying. The true wonder of We Are Always Alone is that the slower and moodier moments of the record bring just as much to the experience as the intense and crushing parts. ‘Masochistic Oath’ has some really eerie clean guitar work that weaves in and out of some of the albums most angular riffs and oppressive atmospheres. The record really changes up the pacing well towards the final stretch with ‘Garden Of Despair’ and ‘My Immolation’ fleshing out their compositions and dynamics further, even adding in clean vocals before leaving us with the magnificent misery of the title track. We Are Always Alone is a bleak, suffocating and claustrophobic experience that will leave you breathless.

WEEZER – OK Human
[Baroque Pop, Alternative Rock – USA – Crush Music]

When Weezer announce they are releasing a new record it always brings about nervous feelings because their discography probably has more misses than hits. Rivers Cuomo and company really delivered and surprised fans, critics and music snobs alike with 2016’s The White Album, which was easily their best album since the legendary Pinkerton; but then they followed it up with Pacific Daydream, one of their blandest and most forgettable offerings yet. Even though Weezer have been promoting a classic hair metal worshipping album titled Van Weezer, that album has been postponed a few times and instead they’ve dropped a lesser talked about project named OK Human to the confusion of everyone. OK Human offers a fresh new take on the familiar Weezer formula, pushing those power-pop guitars to near inaudible levels and replacing them with an astonishing 38-piece orchestra instead, recorded at London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios. Weezer make very deliberate nods to the classic baroque-pop sound of the ’60s, citing The Beatles’ Revolver and Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds as strong influences. I’ll get flack for it, but ‘Aloo Gobi’ and ‘Mirror Image’ even remind me just a pinch of Elliott Smith’s incredible Figure 8 album. Fortunately the songs are here to match the magnitude of the orchestra, with opener and lead single ‘All My Favourite Songs’ being one of the most outrageously catchy songs Weezer have ever made. OK Human is concise, consistent and sounds incredible; though it may not quite bring out a mature or experimental side of Weezer, these songs sound both comfortably familiar and remarkably refreshing at the same time, offering a positive twist on a band in danger of stagnating.

WOWOD – Yarost’ I Proshchenie
[Post-Metal – Russia – Church Road]

The debut full-length from Russian outfit WOWOD encompasses many styles that fit into the post-metal umbrella with sludge, grindcore, industrial and black metal influences all tying together through an emphasis on texture and a dark, cavernous atmosphere. Opening twelve minute epic ‘Rekviem’ shows a nod to the likes of Isis and Cult Of Luna, slowly building into crushing sludge riffs. The vocals offer a surprising switch up, coming through at first with powerful guttural low end barks in the vein of Neurosis, but later drawing in spacey clean vocals in the style of Jesu. What surprises even more is immediately following up this lumbering beast with a two minute onslaught of grinding hardcore, now with savage shrieks and near constant blast-beats. This track is pretty awesome but also goes a step too far in varying vocal styles. Throughout the record these switch ups between mid-tempo paced material and ripping hardcore punishers duck and dive around each other in a way that makes the album feel rather lopsided. WOWOD wear their broad influences too closely on their sleeves, and although this debut full length offers impressive soundplay and muscular performances, there is a lack of cohesion throughout that sometimes leads to their attempts at fusion to instead butt heads. Going forward, WOWOD could benefit from boiling down their sound a bit tighter and listening closer to what makes Converge and Cult Leader’s balance of fast hardcore and atmospheric sludge work so many wonders.

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