When…? (album, Overground Records)
Having been initiated with last year’s well intentioned but patchy ‘Escape from The Austerity Complex’, Steve Ignorant’s recorded relationship with Dublin collective Paranoid Visions is extended by this latest full length set. Given the ideological scrutiny to which the anarcho scene has historically subjected itself, the band could be said to be setting themselves up for a welter of nit-picking analyses and doctrinaire criticism, as not only are they tip-toeing through a minefield of subjective dogma, but also their liaisons with the subgenre’s most effective and respected frontman will inevitably lead to comparisons being made with his earlier corpus of work.
As you might expect, Steve’s vocal contributions to ‘When…?’ exude far more passion and sincerity than those provided from the band – however, the album is a significant improvement upon its predecessor and far more than just a vehicle for Ignorant’s stirring delivery. Although much of the lyrical content is general rather than specific, the political intent is not gestural – it is evident that Paranoid Visions believe in their convictions and it is when they tackle unambiguous, individual issues that this becomes most apparent. This is an album that gains resonance as it progresses, with the cumulative weight of momentum and passion developing a palpable sense of gravitas by the disc’s conclusion.
Bookended by dual title tracks that achieve impact through repetition, ‘When…?’ picks up steam through the catchy, vocal led ‘Join The Dots’, the Conflict-esque ‘Brain Dance’, and the furious ‘United Left Annoyance’. After ‘Log On/Bog Off’s detour into folky territory – whereby a well-meant broadside aimed at consumer conditioning is delivered as a somewhat toe-curling ballad – the album starts to hit stride with ‘No Contrition’, which emerges as a progressive statement of independence that transcends its orthodox rock backing and hackneyed lead guitar to develop genuine impetus.
‘Charity Begins At Home’ marks the point at which the collective trains their sights upon specific targets, and as such enables the group to display their strength. Benefitting also from less rock orthodoxy, this polemic directed at Bono’s ONE charity is among ‘When…?’s standout tracks – a convincing howl of outrage rendered all the more powerful by Steve’s impassioned vocal. Although the subsequent ‘Changing Times’ dips back into lyrical cliché to extend the ‘100 Punks’ mythos, the track also develops a genuine momentum as it progresses. The group mesh most effectively for ‘Independence Day’, evoking a throbbing sense of genuine anger at the abuses enacted upon its adherents by the Catholic Church.
‘Sex Kills’ finds the guitars veering close to heavy metal, which (unintentionally or not) juxtaposes against a lyrical lambasting of the pervasive exploitation of the sex industry, while simultaneously referencing Crass via a knowing couplet. More arch Crassism can be found in the subsequent ‘Rock’n’Roll Revolution’, which updates ‘Punk Is Dead’ to encompass today’s pre-packaged forms of rebellion.
Taken as a whole, ‘When..?’ represents a significant step forward for Paranoid Visions. The emphasis on individual issues and a gradual move away from the guitar clichés that undermined ‘Escape From The Austerity Complex’ has served the group well and points the way forward. More power to them.
‘When…?’ is being launched with a special show at the Dome in Tufnell Park on Saturday 9 November, with support from the legendary Zounds and the mighty Cravats, as well as Moral Dilemma and Craig Temple – Further details can be found HERE
Holograms – ‘Forever’ (Captured Tracks)
Let me tell you about Sweden: only country where the clouds are interesting. The thing about listening to Holograms with Big Brother ears is you can’t help but hear the past. To young ears, alternatively, this must all sound revelatory. After all, in comparison to the seemingly uniform copycat culture exuding from the also-rans of the global DIY punk scene circa 2013, Holograms are doing oh-so-much-more than simply aping their favourite old school hardcore outfit. Thus, to these ears, there are swathes of the Stranglers, XTC’s ‘White Music’, Wire’s ‘Chairs Missing’, and Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ permeating through Holograms sound. If their eponymous debut was to be seen as a re-imagining of ‘Rattus Norvegicus’, for instance, with ‘Forever’, Holograms have leapfrogged ‘No More Heroes’ and progressed directly to ‘Black And White’, without going straight to jail or returning directly to ‘go’.
When gauged against fellow Scandinavian exponents of Punk Noire, Iceage, meanwhile, Holograms have expanded at a comparable rate on ‘Forever’ to that achieved by the former on ‘You’re Nothing’. It’s not that quiet on the eastern front after all: an exponential rise in ambient volume levels is the first shared signifier in this particular comparison exercise. Where many first wave UK punk combos failed spectacularly to improve on their debuts back in the late 1970s, the second shared signifier here is that both Iceage and Holograms have achieved the exact opposite: ‘Forever’, like ‘You’re Nothing’ before it, takes everything that was engaging about its predecessor, and simply wacks up the faders to stun.
Fluctuations, then, are distinctly at a minimum. ‘Forever’ is indeed very much ‘Holograms’ with knobs on. The terrace choir vocals are gangier, snottier, yet more soulful, warmer, more adeptly harmonised: better dressed, if you will. The keyboards have been upgraded, new soundcards oscillate wildly – some have said softer, rounder – I would say grander, more eloquent. The guitars have grown in stature too, the solos have multiplied, intensified, yet there’s nary a whiff of rock’n’roll cliché. The song writing has grown in stature accordingly, ‘Wolves’ and ‘Lay Us Down’ in particular exhibiting maturity beyond Holograms age.
In keeping with the innovative packaging of the band’s debut, ‘Holograms’, Captured Tracks have again produced a stunning artefact for ‘Forever’ in its limited vinyl edition. This time out, the wax is chocolate brown, with a thick card embossed print reminiscent of the artwork to Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ that slips inside the poly bag as an alternative to the William Bouguereau inspired artwork of the standard edition.
‘Forever’ takes Holograms above and beyond. What Iceage may have lost in terms of momentum in 2013, Holograms have stolen a march on. Holograms are the underdogs who have conquered adversity to snatch sophomore victory from the jaws of defeat. Don’t believe all they tell you about Sweden, Big Brother says it’s the place to go. Don’t take too much time to think about it.
Belgrado/Bellicose Minds/The Mob – The Island, Bristol
Once upon a time, in another century, music journalists liked to see themselves as arbiters of taste, self-appointed cultural gatekeepers, somehow more relevant even than the art forms they described for a living (yup, hard to believe, I know, but people did once get paid for writing about music). Sub-genres were identified, constructed, defined and duly installed in the collective mindset on a weekly basis, via the medium of inkies such as the NME, Sounds and Melody Maker. A hack could build a career on the coining of a genre descriptor/tribal signifier: anarcho-syndicalists, greebos, shamblers, ranters, grungers, goths, crusties, rudies, riot grrrls, psychobillies, C86ers, New Wave of New Wavers, NWOBHMers, repeat to fade. Are you positive, punk? Positively. Absolutely. Go join your tribe: C30, C60, C90, go!
In the interests of tradition, therefore, I hereby identify Belgrado as the definitive purveyors of what I (and only I) am calling ‘Punk Noire’. Sonically, Belgrado have been likened to whole host of dead groups: Siouxsie & the Banshees, Penetration, Blood & Roses, Brigandage, Skeletal Family, Siekiera, Musta Paaratti, Paralisis Permanente. In terms of contemporary stripe, Belgrado share a sub-genre pool with the likes of Sect, Moral Hex, Kuudes Silma, Tanzkommando Untergang, Wieze Fabryk, Anasazi, Survival, the solo output of Dave Rata, Arctic Flowers, Spectres, Crimson Scarlet, Lost Tribe and Bellicose Minds. Of these fellow contemporary genre compadres, Belgrado share members with the former (Venezulean invasion: Sect/Belgrado feature ex-members of Dromdead – Belgrado vocalist Pat drums for Sect), and, tonight, share a stage with Bellicose Minds.
The venue is a wonder in itself. The Island is situated in the bowels of the Old Bridewell Police Station in Bristol, located deep in the warren of holding cells that once held Bristol’s miscreants with or without charge. We arrive early doors because we’ve come to see Belgrado, because they are rumoured to be on first, because we’ve traveled down from the Midlands, because we’ve got children in the care of baby sitters, because these children have to go to school the next day, because we have work in the morning. The days when none of the above were applicable and the night may well have ended with a room in the New Bridewell Police Station across the road are long behind us: take a walk on the mild side. Mineral water in hand, we wonder at the suitability of the surroundings, the non-threatening atmosphere, and we wait.
Belgrado hit the stage first. A quick, no-nonsense ‘sound-check’, and they launch into a note perfect rendition of much of recent 21st century triumph, ‘Siglo XXI’ (a nod to Belgian 80s cold wavers, Siglo XX?). Vocalist Pat shakes her bleached hair, it arcs as it rises and falls, cutting a swathe through the pinkish/purple hue of the minimal stage lighting. Fergu’s distinctive guitar lines cut the mix like a Stanley knife, Jonathan’s drums fill the void beneath like an artillery barrage, new bassist Rezno’s role in Belgrado’s progression cannot be understated, together they create majestic waves of sonic perfection on which Pat’s reverb-drenched tones surf. No dry ice, no strobe lights, yet the intensity of Belgrado’s performance surpasses that of both their forebearers and their contemporaries to dominate their genre pantheon. The 100-strong audience respond in accordance with my passion for Belgrado, and the 100-mile journey it has taken to witness this performance becomes a trifling insignificance with immediate effect.
Sadly, due to the constraints of parenthood, we were only able to catch a few songs by Bellicose Minds. I have been spanking their recent ‘The Spine’ long player with regularity chez Encoule, and enjoy the band on record enormously – however, in a live setting, that brilliance failed to materialise, and the constraints of a muddy mix and absence of the luxury of guitar overdubs left The Bellicose Minds looking and sounding more passive than aggressive. I believe I am not alone in this particular observation.
We headed home long before The Mob hit the stage, but, to be honest, I’m not a big fan of resurrecting the past, I’m a 21st century boy! Having said that, I’m still a big admirer of what The Mob achieved back in the day, and with that in mind:
Born of Barcelona’s anarchist squat scene in September 2010, Belgrado’s second full-length expands the monochrome promise of their debut to reinvent the gothic wheel.
Nostalgia: sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. The word is derived from the Greek word, ‘nóstos’, meaning ‘homecoming’:
“Sometimes there’s a song in my brain/And I feel that my heart knows the refrain/I guess it’s just nostalgia for an age yet to come” – Pete Shelley
If Belgrado’s eponymous 2011 debut signalled a game of ‘spot-the-influence’, with its raid on the drum patterns, bass lines and guitar figures of the UK’s DIY underground circa 1978-84, it nonetheless registered significant praise for doing so from many quarters. Inevitably, the words ‘post’ and ‘punk’ are often bandied about when Belgrado come up for assessment, yet this says more about the inappropriate vernacular of this hackneyed genre descriptor as it does about Belgrado.
Let’s tackle that issue first: Post-punk itself has long been a contentious genre bunker in which academics, artists, journalists and the wider cultural industries have placed punk and its progeny for the nefarious purposes of inter-disciplinary investigation. In reality, the bands/artists that constitute this period of DIY’s developmental underground merely outgrew what came before them, rather than forging exploration of any rich or influential topics, either historically, critically or theoretically. In layman’s terms, “spirit is life, it flows through the death of me, endlessly, like a river, unafraid of becoming the sea” (G. Corso). The future inevitably outgrows the past – we can’t be anything other than post-something. Post-punk, then, is punk by other means.
‘Siglo XXI’ thus continues the theme of eternal cultural development, stretching the template established in 2011 by injecting it with space. If their debut sounded like a patchwork quilt of crimped black and white picture sleeves held in place by an entire can of Silvikrin hairspray, ‘Siglo XXI’ forges its own identity from the first notes of ‘Sombra De La Cruz’. Drummer Jonathon underpins proceedings with deference to the work of Stephen Morris circa ‘Closer’, whilst Fergu’s guitar breaks new ground, dropping back into the mix rhythmically, loosing some distortion accordingly, expanding exponentially for the solo passages. Renzo’s bass plays perfect counterfoil to this tactical shift, gathering harmonious resonance and newfound solidity in the process. Over this highly defined blanket of sound, vocalist Pat soars and yelps, punctuating with authority.
There isn’t a wasted moment on ‘Siglo XXI’, the record flows seamlessly from beginning to end. The guitar figures worm their way inside your consciousness, bass lines flow through your veins, hi-hats trigger will to power, melodies haunt beyond each sitting. As side one closes, the title track brings us down, empowering ‘Nie’ to launch side two in stratospheric fashion. Virtual instrumental ‘The End’ breaks the trance-induction temporarily towards the end of the record, seemingly to announce finale ‘Automatyczny Swiat’, the epitome of every trick in ‘Siglo XXI’s book.
In many ways, this record does take me back to somewhere I was happy. To call it a ‘homecoming’ that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with ‘The Scream’ or ‘Moving Targets’ is not outlandish. No one era has a monopoly on greatness. Meanwhile, back at the plot, there have been many quality LPs released in 2013, yet somehow ‘Siglo XXI’ straddles them all like a colossus of noire. This record will appeal in equal measure to students of the past, lovers of today, and advocates of a future for punk by any means necessary.
‘The Black Tambourines’
(album, Art Is Hard Records)
It’s been a fair old while since the Black Tambourines’ monumental 2011 EP ‘Chica’ first melted my radiogram, and a series of impressive live showings (most notably in support of the Fall, whereupon the Falmouth quartet dismissed technical hassles and the necessity of performing a greatly extended set to leave Mark E and his employees looking a bit wan by comparison) have only served to heighten anticipation for their full length debut. Wild eyed talk of whole albums being scrapped may be little more than rumour, but this eponymous debut adds to an already impressive corpus of recorded material to provide empirical proof of the band’s prolific songwriting abilities.
Live, the Black Tambourine’s kick out the jams with us much force as anyone – however, the opportunity to demonstrate their range across an album has been fully realised here as more reflective tracks such as ‘Crosseyed’ and ‘Bodies’ are juxtaposed with a host of 24 carat garage stormers. Opener, ‘Out Cold’ ushers in the sunshine with successive waves of ultraviolet ecstasy that unfold amid a glorious tumult of sound and energy before ‘Ghost At A Party’ showcases their twin guitar fuzz/twang interplay, topping the heady mixture with wide-eyed lysergic vocals.
If the Undertones had eaten California Sunshine rather than Mars Bars they may have served up something like ‘High Fives’. By degrees serrated and exultant, the track is a whirlpool trip graced by another perfectly realised vocal. This is a lean album, stripped of flab – a sense underlined by the pell mell urgency and proto-punk Nuggetisms of ‘Elsewhere’. Before the nervous system can fully assimilate its short sharp sensory shockwave, the BTs pitch us into ‘Black Out’ – A chorus and fuzz laden journey to the centre of the brain that stretches synapses into new forms via churning gravity wells of escape velocity sonics.
The aforementioned ‘Bodies’ sets aside the wall of sound to demonstrate that silence is a rhythm too. Rolling and laconic, it at times evokes (of all unexpected things) Josef K. ‘What I’ve Done’ shows another facet of the band’s kaleidoscope of Technicolor sonics by easing the faders back up some to carve lazy vapour trails across the consciousness as the group’s devastating power is restrained with impressive precision.
Catchier than Chlamydia, ‘Crosseyed’ unfurls its peyote petals to reveal a bittersweet evocation of longing and regret that succeeds in being uplifting rather than self-indulgent. With little warning ‘Lemon’ propels the Black back to their garage (with their bullshit detectors) for 80 seconds of high octane, nervous, transcendence ahead of ‘Far Out Boy’ – A dizzying descent through successive circles of rough hewn psych that is comparable with the Revellions at their best. The track hammers onward like an unstoppable drug train and is crowned by some suitably demented lead.
Closer ‘Back There Again’ shakes the dope out as shades of the Velvets are projected through prisms of the band’s own making to achieve a blessed out valediction. ‘The Black Tambourines’ has been well worth the wait – this is a special album from a special band. Go get it. Then go see them live.
- 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