Are ‘Friends’ Eclectic?


A Column

Haram/Belus/Sanguine Relic/Hell/N.A.D.M.A./Laura Cannell/Bill Mackay and Ryley Walker/Bernard Parmegiani/Dmitry Evgrafov/Invenciones: La Otra Vanguardia Musical En Latinoamerica 1976-1988

“Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders. It is the conviction, moreover, that all attempts to surpass or ‘improve’ it have led and must lead to over-simplification, triviality and eclecticism” – György Lukács

Eclecticism is defined as a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or concepts. When I founded trakMARX, back in 2001, I was a practicing exhibition electrician. These days, I’m more of an eclectic exhibitionist. In 2001, we still bought records in shops; had a functional hard-copy music press; believed punk rock was a generational signifier worthy of continued relevance; and used mobile phones that required the wearing of a holster. Things change. Life is fluid. As some of you are doubtless aware, back in 2001, life for me was especially fluid, to the tune of around 280-units of alcohol a week. As I said, things change.

If you signed up to this zine sometime back in a distant decade when things almost mattered, you may well have been appalled at the outrageously not-really-punk-rock theories, styles or concepts we have foisted upon you in the ensuing years. You possibly ceased reading some time ago, when we stopped posting so many pictures of Debbie Harry, or parades of dusty old record sleeves. This is my truth: forty years after the fact, I’m still energised by music as an art form, and I find that irrascible punk rock (nee: counterculture) attitude in just about anything. Come with me then, as we dig through the virtual crates, to sample the giddy delights of an eclectic Marxist approach to consuming music in the twenty first century.

Haram – ‘When You Have Won, You Have Lost’ (LVEUM): One of a handful of punk rock combos to effectively engage with me in the past 12-months, NYC’s Haram follow their well-received demo and essential seven inch on Toxic State with a virulent 10-track LP on La Vida Es Un Mus in the UK/Europe (Toxic State is the US). Band-leader and front-man, Nadar, is of Lebanese origin, and his coruscating vocals are delivered entirely in Arabic, over tub-thumping drums and splenetic guitars, reminiscent (to these ears) of the work of East Bay Ray. It’s by no means all 1-2-3-4-rammalama, either: ‘The Voice Of The Hari’meen’, ‘What Is This Life?’ and ‘Road To Liberation’ quell the pace and stem the fury with intelligent use of spoken word, effective sampling, and a variable rhythmic approach that nods in the general direction of UK comrades, Bad Breeding. It’s all over in 21-radical-minutes, but it seems way longer than that in-situ, and that’s a mark of the quality of Haram’s art. In a year when dad’s, grandads and uncle punks all over what passes for mass media in 2017 remind you incessantly that its 40-years ago today since Malcolm taught the band to play, if I read one more essay claiming ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ was the only punk rock album ever made, I will hunt the authors down, and force them to listen to ‘When You Have Won, You Have Lost’, over and over again, until their ears bleed.

Belus – ‘Apophenia’ (Vendetta): Five years after their debut self-released cassette, Belus finally drop their debut long player. This New York horde have been keeping their powder dry, and ‘Apophenia’ is one hell of an opening statement. The band have grown further in stature since my entry point, their split with Anicon (2014), and this record finds them fully defining their sound betwixt the twin pillars of blackened doom and black metal. Drummer Jacques Johnson varies the attack with some decidedly unmetallic approaches, particularly on the angular standout, ‘Monolith’. Elsewhere Matt Newton (vocals/gtr) and Lesley Wolf (vocals/bass) trade gnarly licks, shifting shapes in the gloom, refusniks on the run from the genre police. Carefully constructed over the course of the last three years with assistance from the band’s engineer, Nolan Voss, ‘Apophenia’ kicks over the statues in its bid to establish a unique identity, an objective it achieves with room to spare.

Sanguine Relic – ‘Bitter Reflection In Luminous Shadows’ (Skjold): Originally released in stunningly limited numbers on Perverse Homage, this vinyl pressing on Skjold follows the label’s earlier vinyl pressing of the band’s ‘Vampiric Will’ (Defiled Light) cassette, back in 2015. Sanguine Relic are conspiratorially regarded as one of the most authentic US raw BM hordes in existence presently. Their tapes and vinyl pressings change hands on Discogs for frankly ridiculous amounts. Peruse the band’s below-the-line comments on their individual release listings on Discogs for a flavour of the discourse revolving around inclusivity/exclusivity in underground black metal. Kvltists karmically deride ‘flippers’ for their questionable ethics; Perverse Homage appear almost totalitarian in their approach to fulfilment (one copy per person; working in conjunction with the FBI counter-flipper team; trained team of handwriting experts; postcode recognition software). This begs the question: is it ok if I like your band? Obviously, as a relative fossil, I find all this parochialism faintly amusing, but remembering the protective instincts I once had as a younger man for bands I considered to be my personal property, I do appreciate the conundrum. The fine art of selling out is seemingly played out to the Nth degree in the 21st century. I’d imagine in certain dark circles the act of playing a gig could be viewed as heresy. Sonically, I’ve been developing an appreciative ear for the art of Sanguine Relic over the course of the last few months, but it has been fairly arduous work, I’m not going to lie to you. In terms of fidelity, they make Black Cilice sound like Black Veil Brides. One imagines the recording process to involve the careful etching of the songs onto a rusting chrome C60 with a 2B pencil, before some kind of primitive overdubbing, involving the use of condenser mics and broken boomboxes, allows the band to build their cacophony of dread by candlelight. Beneath the murk of the kind production values normally associated with underground noise bands (i.e. – makes ‘Raw Power’ sound over-produced), Sanguine Relic are actually way more melodic than my words may imply. The songwriting is impeccable throughout, punkish in its delivery, crammed with menacing riffs, decorated sparsely with fluid tremolo’d melody, punctuated by harrowing high-pitched screaming. Sanguine Relic are engaged in a relative spiritual war; struggling to cleanse their minds, their hearts and their spirits, striving to break the chains that shackle them to their futile existences.

Hell – ‘Full Length’ (Lower Your Head/Sentient Ruin): Salem, Oregon’s Hell have been quietly ruling the extreme doom underground since 2009. Over the course of a trilogy of long players and a host of splits, they’ve established a reputation as vile purveyors of blackened woe. Multiple issues across both cassette and vinyl formats have built a fertile catalogue, culminating in this cassette release, on the band’s own Lower Your Head, in conjunction with Sentient Ruin. M.S.W. and guest vocalist A.L.N. return to the fore once again with ‘Full Length’, collating various pieces assembled over the past three years. The album includes 2015’s ‘Sub Odin’/’Inscriptus’ seven inch; ‘Victus’ (previously released as a bonus track in 2014); alongside four brand new songs. Opener ‘Helmzmen’ sets the tone, with its blend of ultra-distorted/clean guitar interplay, interspersed with sickening rasps and spoken word samples. This is despotic doom, carved in heavy oak with a bloodied dagger. Precision music that crushes the breath from your lily livered lungs in spasms of humble consecration. Hell are equal opportunity oppressors, and you enter their subterranean world at your own peril. Their back catalogue has always been intriguing, if not a tad uneven, veering from ultra-doom to experimental doom opera, but ‘Full Length’ establishes a new paradigm of refined heaviness.

N.A.D.M.A. – ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ (Die Schachtel): Originally released back in 1973 on RCA Records, ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ is one of those records: one where the reality of the repress actually surpasses the myth of constructed memory. Long regarded as one of the most sought-after artefacts of the Italian avant-garde, ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ expands your mind, your spirit and your consciousness. As ecstatic as it is eclectic, it swerves joyously from free jazz liberation to modal folk traditionalism, and back again. Considering the staggering brilliance of the Die Schachtel roster, to suggest that this is one of the finest records in the label’s catalogue will give you some idea of the importance of this release. Steeped in mystery, the finer details of this recording are as scarce as the accolades draped across the original release back in 1973. We have the connoisseurs and historians of the Italian avant-garde to thank for any awareness in this regard. ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ cuts through time like an insect crawling up the walls, to plug us into the zeitgeist of a truly egalitarian movement, one that defined the possibility of radical sound so effectively that it still sounds like nothing else to this day. Such is the mark of innovation.

Laura Cannell – ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ (Brawl Records): Violinist Laura Cannell’s fourth solo release follows her acclaimed albums: ‘Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth’ (2014); ‘Beneath Swooping Talons’ (2015); ‘Simultaneous Flight Movement’ (2016). ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ captures the East Anglian fiddler over 11-improvisations recorded live in the semi-ruined church of Covehithe, perched atop the fast-eroding cliffs of the Suffolk coast. The material here was inspired by an art installation involving sound, light and a live stallion. Cannell explores daydreams, memories and perspectives, of both the horse, and the humans seeking to harness its power and strength for their own needs. Cannell’s fiddle and overbow fiddle conjure age-old visions of half-light and torch light; flitting shadows; the rhythmic cadence of hooves on sodden turf. There’s always been a medieval bent to Cannell’s work, and ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ duly echoes with the natural reverb of sanctity, befitting of the space in which it was recorded. I have cherished every one of Cannell’s albums thus far, but until now I have had nothing tangible to hold in my hands. ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ rectifies this with a limited cassette pressing, available through her Bandcamp page below. For the uninitiated, it’s a good place to begin your investigations. Highly recommended.

Bill Mackay and Ryley Walker – ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ (Drag City Records): I met Ryley Walker earlier this year, at a show in Wolverhampton, within spitting distance of the Molineux. He was charming, effusive and engaging, full of the veritable joys of being a respected travelling musician, abroad in a foreign land, posing for photographs with my companion and I. He talked briefly about the follow-up to ‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’ (Dead Oceans), set for release early next year, but conspicously failed to mention this second full-length outing with compadre-in-strings, Bill Mackay. The show that night was a revelation, bringing Walker’s songs to life off of the vinyl, breathing connectivity into my listening experiences moving forwards. It may have only been a slight meeting, but it brought his music alive to me, a shared moment that will forever connect me to the man and his songs. ‘SpiderBeetleBee’, then, is the successor to ‘Land Of Plenty’ (Whistler Records, 2015), a second rambling dual acoustic conversation in dialects as varied as you’d expect from such well-travelled men. Together, the duo swerve from Nick Drake-ist whimsey to Jim O’Rourke-ian gravitas with wit and verve, making their own path as they walk it. More than just ‘Land Of Plenty’ (revisited), ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ is a companion piece that compliments its predecessor perfectly. Ideal for long winter nights huddled round a one-bar fire in a tenement slum, wishing for all the world that it didn’t have to be this way, that you could be somewhere else, anywhere but here.

Bernard Parmegiani – ‘Rock (Original Soundtrack)’ (Transversales Disques): Recorded in 1982 as the soundtrack to Michel Treguero’s film, ‘Rock’ was created using a TR-808 drum-machine, a Synthi AKS, a Farfisa organ, and a Clavinet. Recorded entirely in Parmegiani’s home studio, ‘Rock’ uncannily laid the foundations for future records, such as Robert Aiki Aubery Lowe‘s ‘Two Orb Reel’ (More Than Human), reviewed in these pages a mere couple of columns ago. Splice ‘Rock’ with Jean Hoyoux‘s ‘Planètes’ (Cortizona), et voila! A member of the Groupe De Recherches Musicales, an electroacoustic composer in his own right, and a contemporary of Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari, François Bayle et al., Parmegiani’s reputation spent years languishing in the shadows cast by the success of his fellow musicians; decades of grubbing about in the margins. Paris-based label, Transversales Disques, are now set to challenge such isolationist narratives with their inaugural release of ‘Rock’. Ironically, Parmegiani began his creative life as a mime artist, before forging a career defined by the potential of recorded sound, largely in the arena of film and television. Bearing little resemblance to the bulk of Parmegiani’s work as a composer, ‘Rock’ instead owes more to the likes of Carpenter, de Roubaix and the Berlin School of 80s electronica. I originally stumbled across ‘Rock’ as a spiritual companion record to Pierre Mariétan‘s ‘Rose Des Vents’ (Mana Records), a vaguely contemporaneous Parisienne experimental sound artefact from 1981: the fine defined lines of the artwork, the similar yellow hue of the record’s sleeve, connectivity at play in an obsessive mind. ‘Rock’ unfolds over 19-short vignettes of effervescence: radical, modular, droning, pulsating, analogue dysfunction. Tonally captivating, nothing hangs around long enough to outstay its welcome. There’s something utterly fascinating about this record, it possesses that certain je ne sais quoi that’s also present in spades on ‘Rose De Vents’. An utterly essential purchase.

Dmitry Evgrafov – ‘Comprehension Of Light’ (130701): In a teeming genre pool as fertile as that of neo-classical electronica, it takes something extraordinary to overshadow relative veterans such as Max Richter or Jóhann Jóhannsson, but with ‘Comprehension Of Light’, that’s precisely what this inexplicably talented neophyte Moskvich pianist has achieved, in one fell swoop. If Richter is imagined as an electronic composer flirting with classicism, and Jóhannsson as a classical composer flirting with electronica, then Evgrafov must then be framed as a true hybrid, on a journey of expansion, undertaken within, not without. ‘Comprehension Of Light’ is thus defined as an inventory of self by the artist; a stock take of ethical and moral concerns; an internal audit, if you will. A vast swathe of emotional intelligence that serves as a juxtaposition to his previous piano-dominated lyricism: for an album composed by a pianist, the piano only makes four notable appearances throughout. Instead we are enveloped by a cosmos of resonating drones, punctuated by ecstatic string-led chamber interludes that rise from their sombre killing floor to soar like eagles atop the heady mix. I’ve been spinning this head-to-head with Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s ‘Luciferian Towers’ for the past few weeks, and despite my eternal love for GY!BE, I have to say Dmitry is edging ahead. When I was younger, adults used to tell me that I’d know when I’d finally grown up, because I’d start listening to classical music. ‘Comprehension Of Light’ turns that maxim on its head, inside out, and upside down.

V/A – ‘Invenciones: La Otra Vanguardia Musical En Latinoamerica 1976-1988′ (Munster): Featuring Manongo Mujica, Banda Dispersa De La Madre Selva, Miguel Flores, Amauta, Autoperro, Malalche, Decibel, Jorge Reyes, Grupo Um, Carlos Da Silveira, Musikautomatika, Quum, Vía Láctea, and Miguel Noya.

Thoroughly enticing compilation on the ever-reliable Munster Records, collating Latin America’s embracing of the DIY ethic. The sound of South America exploding through punk rock, and out the other side. History has applied cult status to many of the artists featured here, and as with the febrile movements in similar timeframes I’ve recently been exploring in both Italy and France, there is much here that connects intuitively to the bulk of the extraordinary exploration that’s filled these pages in 2017. The counterculture of the 60s, like the atom, has continued to expand ever since its detonation, and it could be argued that punk temporarily became an inadvertent straightjacket; that instead of liberating a staid and lumbering aristocracy of dinosaurs, as the myth insists, it instead merely halted the tide of progression temporarily, before misappropriating all its best ideas in the name of post-punk.

To conclude, those who cite ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ as the only punk rock LP ever made, will doubtless bore you senseless with their justification of ‘Metal Box’ as the epitome of experimentalism. It’s a bitter P/i/L to swallow, but some people just seem to revel in being cheated.

Jean Encoule - November 10th, 2017

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