We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!
Fire! are a Nordic psych-jazz power-trio, comprised of Mats Gustafsson (saxophones and Fender Rhodes), Johan Berthling (bass, electric guitar and Hammond organ), and Andreas Werliin (drums). Together, they weld free-jazz to post-rock with molten noise, soldering psychedelic flirtation to improvisational menace with freeform abandon.
Formed in 2009 in Stockholm, Fire! debuted on wax later that same year, with the five-track album, ‘You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago’ (Rune Grammofon). In 2010, Fire! collaborated with Jim O’Rourke, birthing ‘Fire! With Jim O’Rourke – Unreleased?’ (Rune Grammofon), twelve months later in 2011. 2012 saw further collaboration, this time with Australian multi-instrumentalist, Oren Ambarchi, resulting in the album ‘Fire! With Oren Ambarchi – In The Mouth – A Hand’ (Rune Grammofon). 2013 subsequently delivered ‘(Without Noticing)’ (Rune Grammofon), my current favourite Fire! LP, recorded and mixed at Summa, Stockholm, in the winter of 2012/2013, inspired by Bill Callahan‘s letters to Emma Bowlcut.
In 2013, Fire! were augmented by a further 28-mucicians from the Scandinavian jazz, improvisational, and avant-rock scenes, supplementing their core sound with vocals, trumpet, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, bass sax, baritone sax clarinet, bass clarinet, guimbri, guitar, synthesizer, harmonium, piano, organ, keyboards, electronics, electric bass, acoustic bass, and drums . . . Fire! Orchestra was born. This expansion has so far born two long-players, ‘Exit!’ (Rune Grammofon, 2013) and ‘Enter!’ (Rune Grammofon, 2014), with a third, ‘Ritual’, due on Rune Grammofon on 29/04/16.
My own entry came recently, via Fire!’s 2016 album, ‘She Sleeps, She Sleeps’ (Rune Grammofon), a four-theme excursion on the flexibility of free-jazz parameters, re-imagined as drone-core. Their sparsest work to date, ‘She Sleeps, She Sleeps’ is an intoxicating abstraction, one that acts as the perfect introduction to this criminally underrated outfit.
Further digging around in the metaphorical crates led me in turn to The Thing, Gustafsson’s main squeeze, and another power-trio, this time with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). Blatantly, I jumped straight in, immediately tracking down The Thing’s most recent two-disc set, ‘Shake’ (The Thing Records/TROST). Recorded in June 2015 by Jørgen Træen at Duper studios in Bergen, Norway, and mixed by Gustafsson’s Fire! compadres, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werlin, ‘Shake’ is The Thing’s most expansive and varied album to date: a veritable smorgasbord of experimental jazz toppings.
Further immersion in all things free-jazz finds me washed up on the northern shores of Swedish label, Omlott, home of Neutral, Anna Högberg Attack, Peeter Uuskyla, Konstrukt, Spjärnsvallet, Peter Brötzmann (he of ‘Machine Gun’ infamy) and Dog Life. My research into their roster is still in it’s infancy, admittedly, but I have already fallen for Anna Högberg Attack, whose s/t debut album is described by Mats Gustafsson thus:
“Attacking the now. The instant. The music. Attacking your image of what. Is. Music. Attacking the past. The history. What is now. Attack is all. Don’t hold back. Ever. Curiousness and initiative is all. And attack. The attack mode. 6-Swedes attacking it all, with a front of 3-sax players, not holding back. Attacking the mystery of it all. 6-defined personalities and creative voices with feet and minds in jazz, improvised music and related experimental matters. Togetherness. A real unit of creativity. Of poetic beauty. Anna Högberg as a modern free jazz standard bearer keeping it all together – her rich alto sax leading the ensemble into layers of high octane outbursts and sensational melodic variations. Her tone being able to cut landscapes open, to melt your brain as we know it. Check the two tenor sax axes out! Elin Forkelid Larsson and Malin Wättring knows how to attack matters – how to structure solos and ensemble work with intense warmth and melodic beauty. Seldom have I heard such warm and rich sounding tenors in Scandinavia. The time is here. The attack attack! Drummer Anna Lund punctuating the flow… attacking it all. Laying fundaments of possibilities for the others. The attack attack! Pianist Lisa Ullén adding her thorny, but detailed phrases to the picture. The picture of the attack attack.
And last but not least. The attack attack of deep sounding bass maestro Elsa Bergman. With an unusaul imagination of how to position her own language and bass lines into a collective
of attacking free jazz. Freeing the jazz. Attacking the jazz. The attack attack!”
Elsewhere, I’ve been banging away at Kamasi Washington‘s suitably titled ‘The Epic’ (Brainfeeder), the three-hour, triple-vinyl colossus I’ve been dipping in and out of ever since it dropped, back in May of 2015. Washington’s involvement with superstar MC Kendrick Lamar‘s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ unsurprisingly intensified the shower of ‘End-Of Year’ plaudits that rained down on ‘The Epic’ come close of play 2015, and it’s taken me the best part of 9-months to fully digest the depth and breadth of this monster of post-modern big band jazz. Encapsulating elements of the Coltranes (John and Alice), Miles Davis, and Pharaoh Sanders, ‘The Epic’ embraces choral embellishment, sweet soul music and R&B suss, at roughly the point in time where jazz first fucked funk, as it touches every base on the way to classicism.
Finally, I’m being released into the community again soon to witness Fire! live at Cafe Oto on 26/03/16. Maybe I’ll see you there. Maybe I won’t.
What Can’t You See?
Eighteen months ago, power duo Heavy Souls unleashed a raw, sprawling debut album that established their credentials as fat free, no-frills blues rock exponents of some merit. A testament to their creative fecundity, the sixteen track set crackled with enthusiasm and ideas. A year and a half down the line, those ideas have had time to mutate under the lambent glow of Guy Harandon (Guitar/Vocals) and Phillip Dolbear (Drums/Voodoo)’s dustbowl radiation.
A half dozen screaming mandrakes have taken root; the disc’s eponymous opener roars in like a barroom brawl between Blue Cheer and the Seeds, this kinesis producing a powerhouse garage rocker that snakes across the space between speaker and ear. Dark light flashes of dirty rock’n’roll are further illuminated by Guy’s eyeball-rotating vocal as the track slithers toward its climatic boiling lava instrumental break. ‘Addiction’ is equally serpentine, insinuating itself into the consciousness and creating a sense of encroaching claustrophobia by compressing space and time through a series of assured tempo changes. Any sense of restraint is abandoned as the track’s sonic attack lead break detonates ahead of the home straight.
By contrast, ‘Three Dog Night’ is an exercise in subtle shading. Supported on a propulsive bed of rhythmic mortar charges, the number uncoils as a loose-limbed boogeyman boogie that reaches periodic peaks of pulsar grade mass and impetus. Standout track ‘Haunted’ begins at the church of Dr Phibes, the organ giving way to a reflective groove, before the gas hits the flame and globs of white striped ectoplasm are ejected by the ghost in the drum/guitar machine.
Less of a blues, more of a sultry bump’n’grind, ‘Tuesday Blues’ is a voodoo rhythm shakedown that thunders, skitters, rocks and rolls its way toward a towering climax. Billed as a bonus cut, ‘Fun Loving Girl’ stands proud on its own merit. A sawdust floor twister that kicks up a dust storm of savage desire, the track pays testament to Phil’s witchcraft rhythms. The dust settles on our sweaty bodies…
Engorged by such sex beats, trakMARX cornered Phil and Guy at the crossroads to find out more:
For the uninitiated, tell us about the Secret Origin of Heavy Souls…
Phil: Like most modern romances we met online. We were both looking to start an original project but our influences and what we’re into are a bit odd for our age range. It’s tough to find a bunch of relatively young people that are into old school rhythm and blues. Went for a pint, had a jam, and recorded 26 tracks about a month and a half later. It was all weirdly easy.
That first album was something of an epic, how do you perceive it now?
Phil: We recorded the whole thing in two and a half days. It was a great experience but didn’t really reflect our sound at the time. Guy was playing through a monster bass cab called ‘Bertha’ and my kit was a lot more complicated than it is now. There was monstrous bottom end but it just didn’t come through on the recording. We were both still finding our sound. That’s something we’ve both worked really hard on. Listening back to it now it doesn’t really sound like us. We’ve moved on. Guy’s vocals have changed tremendously.
Have you kept much of that material in the set?
Phil: Our set is pretty much a lottery every time. We try to play the new stuff and the odd older song like ‘Tea’ or ‘No.7’, but often jam out something new on the spot or play something only one of us knows. It meeps us both on our toes. We do have printed set lists – but we don’t read them. Fun Loving Girl is kind of a staple though. It’s a good warm up.
How do you feel you’re developing in terms of the live show?
Phil: Anything can happen on the night really. We don’t think through what we’re going to do: who takes a solo and when etc. It just sort of happens. We should probably start considering pyrotechnics and dancers though. Possibly more orange as well.
Do you feel that the gigs have contributed to the development from the album to the new EP, or has that primarily been achieved through rehearsals?
Phil: We gigged tons last year though so we’re really comfortable live. It’s the whole point really. We only record what we can do live. Not big fans of overproduced stuff.
Guy: Especially with vocals. Live I would say; practicing live – trial-by-fire style.
How did the recording process for the EP play out?
Guy: Literally, we turned up at John Cornfields place, set up and started playing. Everything on the EP as you hear it was recorded live in one day. It was awesome, John’s a legend, although we got lost trying to find his place.
Phil: John was able to do everything we wanted with almost zero prompting. Nice and raw. No effects or overdubs. Just a quality live recording.
The new EP seems to have more garage influences, was this a conscious thing?
Phil: I was just having fun hitting stuff, though the new EP is much more reflective of the pace we play at live. We tend to go flat out a lot of the time. Sometimes it gets hazardous.
Guy: I don’t know if it was a conscious thing or not. With me, when it comes to writing I have no genre in mind, it just flows – as arrogant as that sounds.
What kind of reactions to the EP have you been getting?
Phil: EP reactions have been universally good. I’m waiting for the savage mauling. We just need as much feedback as possible. It’s good to get peer review and comments to work with. People love the cat. We should definitely have a greater cat focus.
Guy: The reactions are uplifting, to say the least. I had a dream the other night that we had to change the artwork so we just changed it to a portrait of my cat.
What’s up next?
Phil: I’m trying to arrange a mini tour of the Midlands via Bristol. It’s a way off yet though. We’ve kind of missed the festival boat this year. Our talents aren’t in sales and promotion unfortunately. We need a Patrick Bateman to do that stuff for us.
Headstrung / Seaside Resort to Violence
In the three-and-a-half-decades or so since ‘Realities Of War’ essentially ushered in the subgenre, hardcore has mutated into a panoloply of forms. This post-millennial corpus represents a vast spectrum of opprobrium, encompassing that which is imaginative and/or innovative, through to the cliché-ridden or just plan laughable. Rash Decision know their history – They’ve been around a fair old while. They come from where the wall is cracked and they know how to defenestrate a good thing when they see it.
The dozen tracks that make up their latest release (limited numbers available in delicious red vinyl that also includes 2014’s ‘Seaside Resort to Violence’) is indicative of a band that have mastered their discipline. A taut exercise in restraint and release, ‘Headstrung’ is a lean beast – Free of the glutinous fats of wailing lead solos and Cookie Monster vocals. It hits the fast lane early, ‘Rumble Strip’ accelerating past its opening drum solos, then jack-knifing into strafing guitar crossfire, twitching and twisting as it spasms through death trip tempo changes.
The literal viscera of ‘Frenulum’ is made corporal, fists are raised amid its jackhammer kinesis, savage intent a metaphorical skin bridle linking the opening track to the high-octane sonic tornado of ‘Dogsbody’. Again, gears shift, and between the changes momentary bass detonations achieve impacts far outweighing their brief timespans.
Among the disc’s standout tracks, ‘Iago’s Labours’ machine guns its call and response etiquettes, before a dreadnaught dredge provides ‘Empty The Pits’ with its brutalist launch platform. A manic panic of power and fury, the track is suffused with subtleties, effortless transuranic sparks that glisten and vanish amid the firestorm. After the brief shrapnel burst of ‘Learning 4’, ‘Sunburst’ erupts like a black supergiant. A force of nature, relentless and uncompromising, its superheated energies deliquesce exotic transient guitar motifs.
As the nova fades, the darkness encroaches. A twisted wah-wah riffmare worthy of Rudimentary Peni, ‘Inanimate’ searches and destroys all light in its path. ‘Blinded By Leaves’ is the aftershock, jerking with percussive trepanation, before the stratospheric vapour trails of ‘Cunt’ are ejected. In turn, these compact into a superdense forced death march. The ballistic ‘Gloryhole’ slingshots us around the rim of desolation, gaining speed and mass. ‘Chin Chin’ is the lightspeed climax; a bass driven mutation wherein all components display their devastating power. Something has been lain waste to here.
Aware that we are long overdue a Rash Decision feature, trakMARX ambled into action and loomed up at of founding Mainstay Dave Decision to get the lowdown:
Rash Decision have been going for some time – How has it all evolved?
I started the first incarnation of the band sometime between 2004 and 2005, while I was studying. We put out first EP ‘Hey Shithead Brush Your Teeth!’ in 2006. We changed line-up numerous times and gradually just got more and more experienced and toured more and more. I think we’ve probably done something like 600 gigs at this point. I’m the only original member left from the initial gang but our current line-up is great. Simon also plays in Monolithian, Swansong and The Mishits. I also play in F.Emasculata and The Mishits, me and Tom used to play in Distortion UK and Kev also plays in Goatorcycle. We’re all pretty experienced now and I think that’s reflected in the music. Back in 2006, I just wanted to play in a grotty punk band and we’ve evolved from there. Musically I’m still fairly illiterate but I got better and faster at playing punk rock and that’s kind of dictated the pace that we do things.
Has this longevity surprised you?
I’d hoped for us to achieve certain small scale things, but I never realistically expected our run to be this long. Personally, I keep moving the goalposts so there’s always a new goal to focus on. At one point I thought I’d strangled the fun out of the band by pushing too hard, and we took a 6 month break or so in 2009/2010 before recruiting new blood and it re-energized us – That’s when we started touring more seriously. We did 90 gigs in 2010!
What have been the highlights?
I think every time we play somewhere new, a new town or a new country, or any time we get to play one of the UK’s best underground DIY Festivals. European tours. The fact that we have made so many friends through this band is a massive highlight, the fact that labels like us enough to help us out with pressing costs and distro for our records, it’s all massively humbling. We’re lucky. It sounds cheesy but genuinely every day we get to do this feels like a highlight. Not everyone gets to travel, party, and create with their best friends and have it all justified with the excuse of a punk band.
You’ve got a fearsome hardcore sound, has it been that way since the start?
I think the hardcore element has become more distinctive with the line-up changes. When Simon first joined the band, his influences were more thrash metal than thrashy punk. I think over the years we’ve settled into our groove. It took a while for us to get the thrash/punk/hardcore ingredients in the right quantities. There are three song writers and vocalists in the band now, which is great. It adds variety to the new records and keeps anything from feeling stale. I think we have a good grasp on what type of song we’re good at now. I think vocal melodies and nuances often get overlooked in hardcore and we like to try and keep those bits as interesting as the rest of the instruments.
Are you drawing upon any particular individual / collective influences?
I don’t know, really – We listen to a lot of both old and newer hardcore; some nineties skate punk, some melodic punk rock, a fair amount of crossover thrash. Iron Reagan are a pretty big influence. I’d cite The Casualties, Zeke, Municipal Waste, Assholeparade, Iron Reagan, Black Flag. I grew up on a lot of old school punk rock – Chaos UK, Crass, Subhmans, the Misfits, Bad Brains, Nirvana. Kev was more into the eighties thrash scene as he was there to see it all. Simon listens to bits of everything, so does Tom. It just kind of gets spewed out a certain way with us – Some influences are more obvious than others though.
Are there any recurrent lyrical themes?
Yeah, ‘Seaside Resort to Violence’ is about the perception of Cornwall by tourists, versus what it’s like living here all year round. The picture postcard of Cornwall only comes to life for a couple of months every year. People don’t see the illiteracy, the drug addicts, the homeless, the victims of extreme poverty – These are all things that are very much part of Cornwall, but they’re missed out of most people’s holiday experiences down here. They don’t see the struggling businesses during the winter rain and the pissing rain when they come down for a few weeks in August. That album is about that juxtaposition – the way Cornwall sells itself to holidaymakers, versus how down-trodden and hopeless this place can be.
‘Headstrung’ is more about our own personal health issues. Some physical, but mostly mental. Some of us have struggled with some severe mental health issues – I’d say we’ve all been affected by it individually over the last year or so. I don’t want to give too much away about the other guys, but I was in a bad place for about five months myself and it did shape the recording process. I think you can hear it in the vocal takes. It’s a cathartic record. Having said that we did some less serious ones on the album too, to stop it sounding too heavy and personal: ‘Gloryhole’ is about a true story involving the public toilets in Camborne, ‘Blinded By Leaves’ is about Tom’s eye injury, ‘Chin Chin’ is about drinking Somerset cider, and ‘Iago’s Labours’ is inspired by a short story my brother wrote, he’s an author.
Did you go into record ‘Headstrung’ with any kind of agenda?
The only real aim we had in mind was to make the best record we could, in a more relaxed atmosphere than before. We recorded Seaside in Batter St Studio in Plymouth – It was a great experience, but time is money in the studio and there was a lot of pressure to get everything done very quickly. Technically, I think ‘Seaside’ is a bit trickier to play as a whole body of work as well. With ‘Headstrung’, we recorded in a home studio with a friend of ours after he did some amazing work with Monolithian. We didn’t feel as pressured for time, so the process was pretty stress-free, for once. We knew we wanted to put these two releases out as a double LP, Seaside had gotten a great response but we had only released it on CD-R, we knew both would fit onto a twelve-inch record and we hadn’t put anything out on vinyl before – It seemed like the logical thing to do!
Are you pleased with the end result? Where would you place it in the Rash Decision pantheon?
We’re all really happy with the record. Particularly the ‘Headstrung’ side, I feel like we’ve learnt to play to our strengths while also making measured steps with each record to become better players and songwriters. We’ve let some of new songs breathe a little bit, we’re not strangling them with guitar work like we used to. It just feels like our most focused effort, and we’ve pushed all three vocalists on this album a bit more; it makes for better variety and better quality of takes, too. In the past I used to scream for hours on end to get the right takes and would end up having to settle for a record that featured half blown-out vocal takes. On this record, I couldn’t be happier with everyone’s vocals, or any of the instrument sounds or the takes. I usually start to hate a new recording after about a week of it coming out, all I hear is minor mistakes that ruin it for me. This hasn’t happened with the new album – that’s got to be a positive sign!
What’s up next?
We’ve got a run of gigs next week; including a day of double-duty in both Manchester and Leeds. 4/3 Nottingham, 5/3 Manchester (afternoon) + Leeds (evening), 6/3 Basingstoke. We’ve got another weekender in April, 23/4 Southsea, 24/4 Hastings, 25/4 London, and we also get to play Europe’s Biggest free entry festival which Is in France at Frenchtek 2016, on 30/4. It looks absolutely nuts!
In October we’ll be doing a Scottish run of gigs with our buddies Boycott The Baptist, as well as some one-off dates in Bournemouth, Ipswich, Plymouth etc. It’s all go really! It would be nice to get a new recording session done by the end of the year as well. We’re trying to focus on playing newer towns and cities and varying our tour route this year, so far it seems to all be falling into place!
From the moment Maquina Muerta‘s debut 6-track EP (Metadona) arrived in the post, back in early 2014, I was immediately gripped by the primal energy of their art. The sleeve had me before I’d even slapped the platter on the deck: executed corpses, rivers of blood, earnest black and white images of narco-state violence. Pure rage informs the radikal hardcore of Maquina Muerta: in the rabid howl of Rafael’s vocals; the rusted disintegration of Bernat’s guitar; the faux-naive d-beating of Eduardo’s drumming; the falling masonry of Argéniz’s bass. I also like the urban myth that Bernat (Orden Mundial) joined Maquina Muerta whilst on holiday in Mexico: he possibly wasn’t on vacation; he probably didn’t wander into their rehearsal room with his guitar, after hearing them randomly from the street sans guitarist, but I rather like to think he did.
Mexico is a beautiful country, with a distinct and vibrant culture, but it’s riddled with poverty, corruption and greed, at every level. It is a country, like many others, on its knees, cowering from the divide and conquer tactics of uber capitalism. Mexican media is flooded with gory images: the constant impression of extreme violence pervades. The police act mainly with impunity, this adds to the insecurity. Narcoviolence, repercussions of the so-called war on drugs, affect the lives of just about everyone. Fear is a constant: cartels burn out the family homes of their enemies. Meanwhile, the money and the drugs continue to change hands on the streets. Oppositional activists and journalists just disappear: kidnapped, raped, executed. Maquina Muerta’s radikal hardcore reflects this reality.
The two year wait between Maquina Muerta’s debut seven and their recent split twelve with DHK (Metadona) was punctuated by the contribution of a brace of tracks to the ‘La Muerte Gobierna’ compilation on Grabaciones Pinche Engender. ‘Reformas’ and ‘Espejos’ duly represented a transition in fidelity that is realised here fully through the voices of ‘Veneno Letal’, ‘Atentar’, ‘Destino Controlado’, ‘Tormento De Hastio’, and ‘Descargas De Energia’. Backed by six of DHK’s best songs to date, this split is manifest destiny (and I employ that phrase knowingly) for the state of radikal hardcore circa 2016.
Alongside Maquina Muerta and Piñén, Mallorcans Trau form a triad of radikal hardcore straddling the globe from Mexico to Barcelona, via the Balearic Isles. Featuring members of Orden Mundial, Pou, I.S.D. Wasted, Frakas Absolut, Usura, Iron Merda, F.E.M.S., 13/14 and Riot Cats, Trau forge mid-paced, mid-80s hardcore a la Anti DogmatikSS that shapes a future out of the past by projecting it onto the mannerist canvas of the present with passion and conviction: be here now. Their 12-track EP has been pressed up by Berlin’s Static Age Music/Static Shock, an album in seven inch format.
Up the road in Brest, France, in league with LVEUM Paris-based stompers, Rixe, are Syndrome 81. Alongside Outreau and Traitre, this nascent milieu has been capturing the zeitgeist, reinvigorating the role of the French language in hardcore punk rock for a new generation, as evidenced by the compilation EP, ‘La Force Dans La Oi! Volume 2′ (Une Vie Pour Rien?). This loose collective has been steadily gaining ground, building a growing reputation over the last couple of years. Rixe have a new seven, ‘Les Nerfs A Vif’, imminent on LVEUM, whilst Syndrome 81 have seen their debut seven, ‘Desert Urbain’, picked up Stateside by Our Way Of Life: “Brest was the base of the French Navy in the 1600s, and the city’s prime location as a military outpost continued into the 20th century when the German’s occupation turned the city into a U-Boat base. After the Allies invaded France, a fierce battle took place in Brest that almost completely destroyed their city, leaving only a few relics of its storied past. The city was hastily rebuilt after the war in a hyper-modern and utilitarian style that lent very little to its classic architectural aesthetic. Growing up in Brest is to be torn between two distinct worlds, one in which you can walk through the past and one in which your history has been stolen from you”. If you enjoyed Rixe’s ‘Coups & Blessures’ (LVEUM) seven, then ‘Desert Urbain’ (Destructive Records/Our Way Of Life) will fill your twelve-hole boots in a similarly satisfying fashion.
Meanwhile, out of LA, US of A, courtesy of Iron Lung Records, the brilliance of City Of Angles’ trio Behavior is not difficult to learn. Their debut long-player for the label, ‘375 Images Of Angels’, takes punk left as the rest of America maintains its inevitable march to the right. No whiff of conformity here, Behavior are whatevercore refuseniks with their finger firmly up the arse of ‘who-gives-a-flying-fuck-what-you-think?’. Coming on like Rank Xerox‘s s/t debut stuffed with the corpse of Iceage‘s ‘New Brigade’, ‘375 Images Of Angels’ reveals itself slowly, with investment, and so on and so on.
Opening with a minute-ish of unaccompanied drum kit, a la Shellac et al., ‘Dry Swift Horse’ sets the tone laconically, verging on ambivalence. This rampant nonchalance is immediately appealing, however, drawing the listener back repeatedly for further exposure. For this soldier, the first listen registers interest; successive listens garner admiration, moving swiftly to wonderment, and through the gears to obsession, in just under a week. Trailer track, ’78’, deploys Behavior’s signature sound: this is a band revelling in the space their triumvirate status engenders. Not content to merely repeat this formula, instrumentals intersperse proceedings: ‘North’ dresses a hi-hat-mic-check with rhythmic harmonics and random blasts of subdued scree in an impressive exercise in minimalism, whilst ‘Use (Organ Build Up)’ drives a disco beat all the way to a sustained organ register. These intermissions grant ‘375 Images Of Angels’ width and depth in a similar manner to which ‘Intro’ and ‘Interlude’ did for both ‘New Brigade’ and ‘You’re Nothing’ respectively.
‘–‘ sees Behavior at their most Iceage, and those of you who’ve been less than enamoured with the Copenhagen punks’ recent artistic development will doubtless welcome such reductivism with shouldered arms. Elsewhere, ‘For Contempt’ crawls as it drawls: “all the cops are criminals and all us boys are too”; meanwhile ‘Outfit’ asks “what if we dressed like cops?”; in conclusion, ‘For Other People’ offers an explanation of sorts with: “all the money’s gone”. We could be so clever.
Dressed all in red, echoing The Gang Of Four’s ‘Entertainment’, demanding to be raised at half-mast like a flag mourning a dead art from, ‘375 Images Of Angels’ is an early-doors statement of intent that sets the bar for 2016. Behavior is to blame for everything. There ain’t half been some clever bastards.
Finally, back home in the old country, 2016 is already theoretically conspiring to thrust greatness upon us at every turn, delivering the sophomore album from another trio, the West Midlands’ very own Human Hands. Following the magisterial heights of their s/t 2014 debut album was always going to be difficult, but instead of resting on their laurels, Human Hands have somehow eclipsed it with ‘Morning Sun’ (Strictly No Capital Letters/Time As A Colour). Vaulting out of their comfort zone with a display of emotional intelligence that would impress Daniel Goleman himself, the three-piece have expanded the more traditional elements of their game this time out, refining their approach to forge a new variant Black Country-rock. Arpeggios glisten on the back porch, melodies swoop and dive through the post-industrial miasma, fidelity blossoms in the abandoned orchards of semi-rurality, as maturity seeps from these lonesome chords.
As with their debut, there’s a significant section of dead air (20 seconds) before ‘Cell’ arrives to start a viscous and unfounded rumour that Human Hands have had their rehearsal space redecorated by Red House Painters. The twin vocals of bassist Chaz and guitarist Clyde shine through the curtain haze of the album’s title track, as drummer Rob underpins the underlay with studied dexterity. ‘Never An After’ shimmers with smouldering intent, like justified and ancient folk music injected with electricity. Undulating circuitously, ‘Map’ rolls around on a descending chord progression that tugs at the heartstrings as it fills the ears. ‘Hollow’ suggests an admiration for the work of Neil Young in a modest and unassuming fashion, laying down the reference point for posterity, nonetheless. ‘Morning Sun’ draws to a close with the climactic ‘Mind’, building from a lone picked guitar line to a crescendo of resonating strings, nine minutes and nineteen seconds of exponential tension, built from the floor up, to tower above the diseased countryside.
Over the course of the last 48-months, I have often wondered whether we would be lucky enough to be granted a second Human Hands album. Now, here we are, exactly two years to the day, blessed with the rising of ‘Morning Sun’. Human Hands have rewarded our faith and delivered a work worthy of the wait.
Basically, TinnedFruit have hit their groove. Hard. Almost exactly a year ago, they demonstrated manifest potential with a set at the Studio Bar and later reinforced this with a stalwart contribution to the initial ‘Cornwall Calling’ compilation. The comparison of ‘Like It, Want It’ as it appears on the Easy Action collection, set against the version gracing the trio’s debut album, describes the paradigm shift from lava to butterfly.
This near vertical developmental curve is evident from the moment that opening track ‘Living Room’ blasts off from its orbit of the outer limits. A cold blue heat, it skates, bass-propelled, across a frigid sonic meniscus. The ice cracks to reveal crystalline refractions of frosted psych, before developing a glacial muscularity that meanders ahead of a triumphant re-entry. ‘Like It, Want It’ is another janus-faced schizoid that initiates a submarine mission of desire, fuelled by the raw energy of Howlin’ Wolf savagery. What distinguishes it from its germinal state as portrayed on ‘Cornwall Calling’ is that the depth and breadth of ideas has increased exponentially. Here it is a sonic laboratory, within which all is possible and nothing is forbidden.
The impetus pauses to allow ‘Good’ to conduct a shakedown for the soul. Feelin’ groovy, it circles the black hole of agreeable ennui, stretching to a point of eruption, then separating into its components before jack-knifing into a superdense home straight. In turn, the palace of excess is reached, as dwarf matter garage stormer ‘Yours Is Mine’ evokes a psychedelic chapel ultra mass; a totality in which all is one and we are all together.
A vertex is achieved; ‘All My Friends Are Packaged’ is a standout among an album of the outstanding. Bolan’s vocal swagger is evoked, underpinned by a tectonic trepanation, which assumes a perfect singularity as a glacial glam racket. Peak becomes plateau; ‘All’ sets out along the junction adjoining the two-lane blacktop to the motorik autobahn. A frictionless motion mantra, it progresses effortlessly through its gears, hitting escape velocity and accelerating past its vanishing point.
This acceleration reveals the Hadron velocity, postmodern collision, ‘Doctor’. All particles are grains of god, colliding and combining to produce mauve flashes of rock action plasma. Simultaneously, space opens up and becomes compressed, ‘Spitchoul’ coalesces as jagged shards of effects pierce a superconductive rock’n’roll resistor. A pocket dimension of primality forms; van der graaf generating the new. In the vacuum, sirens sing.
Touchdown. ‘Racecar’ reasserts the temporal. A death car cage roll, piloted by Peter Gunn on goofballs, it spreads dustclouds cross the highway as a heat haze shimmers in its wake. It moves beneath the radar at speed, a terminal ultraglide, leaving only the tail lights of ‘Michael Down Your Vincents’ – then it is gone.
After spending some time retrieving our socks from the distant point they had blown off to, trakMARX duly cornered Dan Ledley in an attempt to discover exactly what just happened:
Let’s start at the beginning: What’s the secret origin of TinnedFruit?
TinnedFruit began as a few guys getting together to be as loud as possible. We liked the fuzzy spirits that visited us and decided to do as much as we could with the music we were making. After a few gigs in some kitchens we felt solid in our shoes.
Did you set out with any kind of game plan?
We didn’t really have a game plan; other than play as much as we could. Direction-wise we had always had a love for DIY, sixties pop and independent garage rock, so we follow that musically and physically as much as we can.
How did your initial gigs go?
The first few were in the backs of pubs, they went alright but it was when we played our first super-fast, super-packed kitchen gig that we fell in love with more erratic vibes and that buzz of playing became full on and then we started playing more independent/DIY venues like the Studio Bar, which was great.
Did you get out and play pretty quickly after getting together?
Yeah, we played pretty quickly, we had a few rehearsals and some really early tracks, (most of which haven’t survived) and just went for it.
Were there any elements that crept into the sonic mix organically that surprised you?
We’ve more or less honed our sound and our understanding of it. We’ve got better at understanding the tones we had and aim to create. Our writing style’s pretty organic, it all grows from itself, but there’s certain sections and moments that have taken us by surprise and worked really well – Such as the more ‘Psyche-y’ parts.
Was the ‘Cornwall Calling’ track the first thing you recorded?
No, we’ve got a load of stuff backed up from before then, some old EP’s and singles that were either not released or around for a little while. The early days were such a learning curve with how we write and record That era of psych/garage has a had a big influence on the way we write, Really into the old ‘Nuggets’ compilations!
There’s a wealth of difference between the two versions of ‘Like It, Want It’…
The version recorded on the album is more mature in the way that we performed it as it was a lot more ‘played-in’ after gigging it vigorously. We have also gotten a lot better at recording and mixing.
How was the album recorded, did you do it all in one go, or spread over a period of time?
We got all the recording done within in the space of a few days. All the drums one day, where we all played together live, then overdubbing guitars and vocals the days after. The mixing took a good few weeks after a break, just to step away from it for a while and get some fresh ears.
Who handled the production?
Me and Danny, and then our friend Empire, Alive (Fred Bailey) helped us Master and tighten everything up.
Where there any aspects that you particularly wanted to enhance in the mix?
We just really wanted the sound of the record to convey us being ‘there’. When mixing, I wanted the actual sound world to be somewhere between My Bloody Valentine and T. Rex. ‘All My Friends Are Packaged’, ‘Good’, and ‘All’ are songs that stand out most to us as favourites.
What lyrical themes do you find surfacing most often?
A lot of songs are lyrically built around narratives, telling stories that are loosely tied to personal events. Lyrics usually come later on in the way we write, we really like obscure lyrics and trying to say a lot with a little. Also, interpretation is important; we want people to interpret meanings in their own way.
So what’s in the immediate future?
Play shows and write a bunch more stuff. Aiming for an album/EP by the summer.
- 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