‘Meridiana: Lines Toward A Non-Local Alchemy’ (Escho)
Conceptualised during Søren Kjærgaard’s residency at the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco in 2011, and recorded by The Norman Conquest at New, Improved Recording in Oakland, ‘Meridiana: Lines Toward A Non-Local Alchemy’, comprises a four-approach exploration of Daoist-alchemical and geo-navigational concepts from Eastern and Western perspectives, respectively, interrogating the interplay between lines, minding the gaps: sonically, textually and graphically.
Featuring spoken-word contributions, scripted and delivered by Torben Ulrich, set to musical compositions by Søren Kjærgaard, utilizing voice, ball bearings, marble rolls, hose horn, plunger, bags of tricks, piano, prepared piano, organ, keyboards, digital processing, and percussion, augmented by Andrea Rebekka Alsted and John Chan on violins, Katarzyna Bugala on viola, and Therese Åstrand Radev on cello, the project has now been released by Escho Records as 300-copy, limited edition, double vinyl pressing, with unique art work by both Søren Kjærgaard and Torben Ulrich (each sleeve being totally individual), including an expansive booklet of extensive liner notes and texts:
“Still, here we are, inside two LPs, with what we have called four approaches, four sides of vinyl, four voices, a string quartet, four times three, the twelve meridians, sometimes called postnatal or acquired or tidal; four times two, the eight meridians named extraordinary or congenital; the two of us, in what David Bohm has called the explicate and implicate orders . . . Four approaches, four sides of vinyl. Approaches will refer to process, play, passage, part, piece. Compositionally, musically, maybe a little different from the traditional word “movement” pointing to a tempo, andante, largo, presto, since we’re not doing symphony. Maybe it’s closer to a suite in the sense that it was conceived as a sequence, first side before the third (on our previous recordings the order would not have been that orderly). The sides are definitely related, linked, the lines run through, but more in the sense of four possibilities out of a manifold: when we went into the studio, we had no idea, no grip on, what we would end up with (if anything).”
Tuscan garage queens The Cleopatras first seized control of the household radiogram with their storming 2010 debut album ‘Things Get Better’. A fat-free feast of stripped-down, turbo charged hully-gully, the ten tracks (nine original compositions and a cover of ‘Wild Child’, which demonstrated that you can polish a turd) applied Ramonic brevity to the garage template – tracks showed up, tore up the rug, and left, leaving little but the lingering smell of female in their wake.
However, the group’s provenance can be traced back to the late 1990’s, where upon the germinal incarnation of the group cut a swath across northern Italy and beyond, releasing a pair of EPs; ‘The Time Has Come’ ; and ‘Let’s Run With…’  – which are both well worth tracking down. After what the group describe as a ‘meditation break’ they returned as a quintet at the end of the noughties. Their collective meditations appear to have proven apocryphal, as with the new line up of Darleen (vocals); guitar duo Marla and Rossana; Alice (bass); and Camilla (drums), they look to have assumed their ultimate manifestation.
Now they are back with a second album – the mighty ‘La Maledizione del Farone’ [that’s Curse of the Pharaoh, John] – available from Italian label Ammonia, or as a cassette via Wiener Records in the US. A disc that surpasses expectations raised by its predecessor and raises hope that they will return to these shores to play, as they did to popular acclaim in 2009. This time around, the split between covers and originals runs close to even, with a rip-roaring transformation of the Bangles’ ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ providing this edition’s demonstration of how to kick some life into a well-forked corpse.
Kicking off with the reverb-laden, organ infused introductory chant of ‘Heavy Bananas’ ‘La Maledizione…’powers along its tracks like a bullet train. There’s no shortage of highlights along this particular route – ‘Apple Pie’ twists the spoon into a rich confection of sweet harmonies and chewy guitar; ‘Here Come The Martians’ creates sonic fusion via elements of Wray and Eddy to achieve a shuddering blast off and mesmeric re-entry; and the sultry/infectious ‘Casanova’ roots tripped-out bubblegum tropes in powerhouse foundations.
Darleen’s vocals are delivered in Italian and English, and evoke flicknife femininity across the disc’s closing track ‘La Mondana’ – an urgent Brecht/Weil gone voodoo trip that gathers impetus via ‘Peter Gunn’ rhythms. These are the devils daughters of Dick Dale – they are worth risking the Pharaoh’s wrath to sit before.
Labels are the beating heart at the functionalist epicenter of any throbbing underground. The following twelve labels have created some of 2014’s most memorable moments. They are not alone. The underground is awash with quality labels, making art for art’s sake, for the benefit of you, the discerning patron. It may only take seconds to blag a ZIP or a RAR file, and feel you’ve gotten something for nothing, but somewhere there’s a physical release that needs your dollar to perpetuate its existence, and the viability of further releases; equipment; transport; merch; accommodation; whatever. Don’t just exploit good will and smug it up like you got something for nothing, seek out the records you love by the bands you rate, and mail order their products direct from the label, or a reputable distro. That way, there will always be a tomorrow.
Twelve images. Twelve Links.
It’s that time of the year (again!) that lists break out like a rash all over the vanity projects of the global underground’s self-appointed arbiters of taste. With a top ten here, and a top ten there, suddenly there’re top tens everywhere. In keeping with trakMARX innate desire to fit in, we ambivalently present: Encoule’s Top Twelve Sevens Of 2014.
The first thing I’d like to say is: mandate my arse. The second thing I’d like to say is: the twelve sevens above are in no order of preference. That’s just how they came out of the box. So, from the top: from the left to right, we all fall down (following the trail of S.H.I.T., from right to left along the bottom row):
Croatian Amor/Lust For Youth – ‘Sister’/’Strike Gently’ (Posh Isolation)
Two titans of Danish electronic noire join forces, once again, to upgrade, revive and generally rewind a brace of cuts from their 2013 2 x c/s, ‘Pomegranate’ (Posh Isolation). ‘Sister’ grows bonus percussion, beats and an undercarriage, over-laid with a disconnected, bored female voice, to effect a euro-bounce that’s vaguely in keeping with the direction explored on Lust For Youth’s 2014 breakthrough LP, ‘International’. On the flip, ‘Strike Gently’ remains closer in spirit to Croatian Amor’s half of the equation, being a moody little number aching with the promise of a better future.
Damien Dubrovnik – ‘Penis Corset’/’Pattern Of Penetration’ (Alter)
Not content with dominating a bass guitar in The Lowest Form and creating grating atmospheres to challenge the imaginations of the nation’s youth with Helm, Luke Younger also runs Alter Records. Packed with gristle, throbbing with intent, shot through with the spirit of early Cabaret Voltaire, Damien Dubrovnik released their most accessible material to date in a fit of near-pop-pique. ‘Penis Corset’, in particular, is a barely controlled slab of analogue rage, underpinned by a filthy bottom end, drenched in feedback and spite. ‘Pattern Of Penetration’, meanwhile, is sadly not one of Pauline Murray’s knitting designs, but is, in fact, a brooding stalker of malevolent intent more in keeping with the duo’s ‘First Burning Attraction’ long player.
Flesh World – ‘A Line In Wet Grass’ (Iron Lung)
Flesh World kicked a hole in 2014 early doors with their memorable twelve for LVEUM, rich with an abundance of treasure in the shape of gems such as ‘Sturdy Swiss Hiker’ and ‘Reckon And Know’, ably delivering spiky reverb-soaked melodies dressed in post-punk Sunday best, stickered with bright and beautiful guitar hooks like a touring guitar case. ‘A Line In The Wet Grass’ built on all that jazz with the band’s most assured effort yet.
Men Oh Pause – ‘Pulse Check EP’ (Riots Not Diets)
Brighton’s Men Oh Pause turned my ear and captured my heart with this spooky 4-track EP. Mining a fresh seam of influence to the obvious recycling of The Slits ad nauseam, Men Oh Pause dig deep into 90s insurrectionism and the ghost of Huggy Bear for their inspiration. ‘Tight Chest’, ‘Sapphire And Steel’, ‘Concrete Lady’ and ‘Scarf Lady’ don greasepaint and command footlights to capture a vaudevillian sense of the absurd with just drums, bass, organ and massed voices. There’s an otherworldly, spectral, welcome-to-the-cheap-seats-vibe to ‘Pulse Check’ you won’t find anywhere else in 2014. A local band for local people. Utterly unique.
Personnel – s/t EP (Double Dot Dash)
Nods to fashionable influences such as Desperate Bicycles and O-Level notwithstanding, Personnel (members of No, The Love Triangle, Frau, Good Throb and Toddlers) evoke, for me, a shoulder of ‘All Mod Cons’-era Jam, stuffed with oblique Wire-referencing lyrical content, marinaded in mustard and ennui. Released way back when the year was young, this EP has hung around and grown in stature, despite the best intentions of burlier releases. Every aspect of this record screams: ‘keeper’.
Plough Lines – s/t EP (Barely Regal/Wolf Town DIY)
Saw this Manchester four-piece supporting Human Hands at the height of summer, it was swoon at first sight, and I subsequently waited patiently for this EP to arrive in the late autumn. It’s been haunting my turntable ever since. Recycling 90s emo stalwarts such as Cross My Heart and Camber, Plough Lines add regional texture and post-everything sensibilities of their own to create a mannerist canvas of contemporary mores. ‘Henry Make Good’ is the real winner here, but ‘Dialtones’ and ‘Further Still’ are hardly slouches by comparison.
Primetime – s/t EP (LVEUM)
Up there with Germany’s Levitations, Primetime reinvigorated my faith in guitar touting females, following a rash of painting-by-numbers elsewhere in the nation’s capital. ‘Tied Down’ is worth the admission alone: “I want your body not your mind/don’t wanna see you all the time/let me spit into your face/and you can spit back in mine”. Essentially, Primetime succeeded where others failed in their ability to transcend influence beyond pastiche to establish something positive and individual that captures the zeitgeist of being alive in 2014 without the need for a Tardis.
S.H.I.T – ‘Collective Unconsciousness’ (Iron Lung)/’Generation Shit’ (Lengua Armada Discos)/’Feeding Time’ (Static Shock)
Canada’s S.H.I.T. score not once, but thrice. Fresh from reportedly storming the UK at the Static Shock Weekend, Sexual Humans In Transit/Skin Heads In Tuxedos or what ever you want to call them this week are the kings of the HC punk seven inch in 2014, in various colours of wax. The ten songs spread across this triumvirate of singles are of a similar intensity and a universal quality. S.H.I.T. have taken 2014 by the scruff of the neck and doused it in excrement. Their Bandcamp URL references their shared love of Germs: ‘what we do is secrete’. There’s little arguing with that.
Rakta – ‘Tudo Que é Sólido’/’Serpente’ (LVEUM)
It’s been a breathtaking year for Brazil’s Rakta. Following the release of their debut twelve on Nada Nada Discos at the death of 2013, 2014 has pretty much belonged to them, as the record has slow-burned it’s way towards a reissue from 540 Records in the US, and their world tour has slithered its way to the shores of Europe like the ‘Serpente ‘of the b-side to this, their debut seven on LVEUM. Expect big things from Rakta in 2015.
Umbilical Chord – s/t EP (Video Disease)
Technically, this crept out at the end of 2013, but this USHC-shaped platter has stayed with me for the entire year, so it’s duly won it’s place. The total killer on board this here baby is ‘Two Seconds’, which is ever-so-slightly out of sync with the rest of this off-kilter EP, with its dependency forming guitar lick and its frantic drumming: 1:29 of deranged behaviours. Unhinged and unorthodox.
There will be an Encoule’s Top Twelve Twelves Of 2014 along in due course, and, we understand, a repeat of last year’s Festive Fifty shenanigans from Dr Dick Porter). Don’t touch that smile.
In the spirit of our ever-changing moods, in combination with variations on a theme, we bring you our weekly peek at someone you may not have previously offered due consideration in terms of musical companionship, this week labelled: Troubadour Of The Week.
Resident local hero of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Richard Dawson, has been releasing death and disaster focussed music in various guises since his 2005 debut, ‘Sings Songs And Plays Guitar’ (Downbeat Records). Beginning his recording life on said debut in a fairly traditionalist bent, he has made a habit of veering ever-leftward in search of pastures unfettered ever since. Whether droning through his Eyeballs, or making audio/visual statements by installation or soundtrack, Dawson is a renaissance man of some repute, and an arch collaborator.
A return to the practice of singing songs and playing guitar with 2011’s ‘The Magic Bridge’ (Pink Triangle) exposed Dawson’s dulcet tones and fretboard manipulation to a wider audience, subsequently throwing them off his trail again with the 2013 collaboration with anti-harpist, Rhodri Davies, on ‘The Glass Trunk’ (Alt.Vinyl), an exploration of traditional themes excavated from the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. With the advent of 2014’s ‘Nothing Important’ (Weird World), Dawson’s profile is more prominent than ever: appearances on the front cover of The Wire; recommendations from Sleaford Mods; exposez dans trakMARX.
‘Nothing Important’, then, is essentially two expansive rags, bookended by a brace of biblically referencing instrumentals, ‘Judas Iscariot and ‘Doubting Thomas’. The first of these lengthy dissertations, the titular ‘Nothing Important’, expands on a theme of ‘I am nothing, we are nothing, nothing important’, through a series of exhibited behaviors, accompanied only by Dawson’s virtuoso nylon-stringed guitar, amplified to the edge of a rabid distortion to match the ragged timbre of his evocative vocal assault. Reminiscent in places of Robert Wyatt, Dawson’s lilting voice rises and falls with the flow-of-consciousness vibe of the composition. Around the 7:08 mark, a new riff emerges that twists and turns in on itself, wheezing to keep up with the iambic rhythms, meandering round the houses, stretching the song towards its second third with wondrous melodic invention. At 13:34 the song returns to the main theme for one more ride on the waltzers.
The second apparent epic, ‘The Vile Stuff’, slides in on a bed of broken strings to oscillate wildly around the theme of a hallucinatory school trip with tragic consequences. At 3:31 the main stomp is laid down, all handclaps and hobnail boots on stripped oak floors, as Dawson’s fretboard wizardry and vocal dexterity wrap themselves around this tall tale like creeping vines around a diseased Dutch Elm: “I only drunk a few little droplets, I only drank a tiny dram”. The accompanying video only enhance the maelstrom of images, ramping up the dread to Wicker Man proportions, as Dawson wails and picks, and picks and wails.
‘Nothing Important’ gets under your skin, invades by osmosis, launches dreams you instinctively know won’t end well, dreams that some would call nightmares. Twice in the last week alone, I’ve played this record in the space between first and second sleeps, that twilight world betwixt night and day, when we are at our most reflective, at our most vulnerable. Richard Dawson is an evocative dream weaver, a fashioner of folk law fables fit for the most overactive of minds, consider him one of the family.
- trakMARX: ROCK AND ROLL, GARAGE PUNK, PSYCHE, HEAVY METAL, PROTO PUNK, KRAUTROCK, JAP ROCK, PUNK ROCK, POST PUNK, INDUSTRIAL, BLACK METAL, DOOM/DRONE, POST ROCK, NOISE, AVANT ET L'ART DE L'ETRANGER