Back once again for the renegade master, Norman Records, New Music Friday!
It’s been a juicy old week of records, this. I know we say that a lot, but once again it really is the case. New stuff from Blanck Mass *and* The Magnetic Fields, you say? Plus returns from Mancunian post-punk favourites PINS, techno innovator SØS Gunver Ryberg and local legends Thee MVPs? And you’ll even throw in some unanticipated delights by a chap from Orkney and a couple of members of Fucked Up? Well then, don’t mind if we do.
‘Calm’ is not a word you often associate with the music of Benjamin Power, commonly known by his moniker Blanck Mass. ‘Ferocious’, ‘unrelenting’, ‘torrid’ - those are terms more generally found in appraisals of Power’s music. The ‘calm’ in the title of the new Blanck Mass LP ‘Calm With Horses’ proves another misnomer. A score for Nick Rowland’s film of the same name, ‘Calm With Horses’ features synthscapes which churn and roil with ominous intent. There may not be anything here quite as feral as the monolithic power electronics of ‘Animated Violence Mild’ (though death-disco highlight ‘Different Breed’ comes close), but these creeping dark ambiences have their own raw dynamism.
The Scottish Orkney Islands isn’t a location that gets much wider representation in the broad span of modern music. However, Erland Cooper is determined to change that - new LP ‘Hether Blether’ is the third in a trilogy of records Cooper has made about the isles on which he grew up. This is a delightful collection that’s full of light and good-health. Contemporary classical vistas rub up against local histories spoken by residents, while some songs lean into a warm chamber-pop style. Also, ‘Hether Blether’ is a great name for a record.
You know these two guys are also in Fucked Up? Could have fooled me! Sure, some of the songs on Jade Hairpins’ ‘Harmony Avenue’ display a similarly sparky punk energy - see opener ‘J Terrapin’ on this count - but such numbers have more of a gleeful, almost skater-rock vibe about them that’s closer to, say, WAVVES. What’s more, tracks like ‘J Terrapin’ are outliers, with Jade Hairpins leaning into styles such as buoyant alt-disco ala Confidence Man (‘(Don't Break My) Devotion’) and groovy indie (‘Dolly Dream’). It’s great fun, is ‘Harmony Avenue’.
People often talk about hip-hop being raw, but rarely do records warrant the term as much as model home’s ‘One Year’. Collating tracks from the many mixtapes and semi-albums that the Washington, DC outfit have thrown online over the past few years, ‘One Year’ is a murky beat chronicle, one in which static and tape hiss often reduce tracks into distant transmissions. When the tunes do clear up - ‘Faultfinder’, for instance, is relatively clear-cut - the sense of strange, leftfield energy is maintained. ‘One Year’ can be filed next to clipping. and JPEGMAFIA.
No Trend were a band from Maryland who intentionally positioned themselves against Washington, DC’s puritanical hardcore punk scene - you know, the one with Minor Threat and Dischord and all the straight-edge stuff. New Drag City boxset collates the sneering, knowingly feckless, ultra-gritted tunes of the band’s 1983 debut LP ‘Too Many Humans ……’ and the two versions of the ‘Teen Love’ EP they released around the same time. Also included are a bunch of intriguing tidbits spawned by No Trend in the related period - books, little bonus live CDs, that kind of thing. Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth almost certainly learned something from this lot.
‘Hot Slick’, the first new LP from Mancunian band PINS in half a decade, is a fab album. The combination of the gutsy post-punk style that PINS have displayed on previous records with a sleek electro-disco sensibility derived from classic Giorgio Moroder is inspired. Numbers like ‘Ghosting’ and ‘Hot Slick’s title-track are eminently danceable, but the heavy crunch of the guitars proves a delightful shock when it comes in. There’s also something of St. Vincent’s ‘MASSEDUCATION’ to slower and more sly numbers such as ‘Ponytail’.
It’s Servo, and it’s on Fuzz Club Records, so even before you drop the needle on ‘Alien’ you know this thing isn’t going to be for the faint-hearted. If you thought the modern-day Sabbath-isms of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs were heavy then just wait until you get a load of this. The band go further into deep-psych territory than the aforementioned swine, with many of the tracks dealing in a potent and hypnotic brand of motorik freakiness. And remember how we were talking about death-disco in relation to the Blanck Mass album? Servo hit the same heights, albeit through different means, on ‘Alien’ opener ‘I’.
SØS Gunver Ryberg wows on her Whities debut. Some of ‘Whities 030’ slots in neatly alongside the more experimental, IDM-inflected electronics that the label has been fronting of late, releases like Minor Science’s ‘Second Language’ and Quirke’s ‘Steal A Golden Hail’. However, sometimes SØS Gunver Ryberg pulls out the drums to leave the listener drifting in a landscape of foreboding synth atmospherics - a track like ‘Solar Flare’ is intimidating enough to be mistaken for something on Posh Isolation.
Never one to do things the conventional way, Stephin Merritt’s latest trick is to release an album of intentionally short songs across a boxset of 7-inch singles (or, for those of you without a record player/storage space, a single CD). These really are ‘Quickies’ - the longest track here barely beats two-and-a-half minutes, and some last just seconds - but Merritt has always been a master of cramming whole worlds into miniature forms. Sonically ‘Quickies’ trades in that brand of ersatz, kitchen-sink modern music-hall that so many people have tried to copy off The Magnetic Fields but no-one has been as good at as they are.
Twiddly-diddly-dee, it’s a garage-rock life for me. Thee MVPs (Most Valuable Players? My Varying Productivity?) hail from our fair Leeds and deal in straight-up, heavy-lifting, plug-in-and-play hard garage-rock. The tracks of ‘Science Fiction’ rip out the speakers with the energy of your old pals Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall, and plenty of the tunes display some of the hot-fingered fretwork one tends to associate with the latter. Crank 'Science Fiction' loud and proud.