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Staff reviews this week
Good or bad, here's what we think of this week's crop of new releases.
Please note: All views expressed are those of individual staff and not Norman Records as a whole.
9/10 according to our Clinton
8/10 according to our Clinton
7/10 according to our Clinton
As great a band as they are, the Beach Boys don’t cover well at all. Those odd chords and harmonies just don’t seem to translate to normal music.
I guess you have to do something completely different and not play it too straight which is what the Black Angels have done with ‘Good Vibrations’ by turning it into a slab of heavy, heavy psych. It’s good enough to make me turn a blind eye to the fact that it’s not actually on Pet Sounds. Indian Jewelry try the same tack with ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ with less success but it’s a big ask trying to re-work that complex thing. The She’s make a pretty decent fix of ‘You Still Believe In Me’ getting all the chord changes and that intro pretty spot on. Sweet female vocals hit the nail on the head too. The bands here obviously have a love for the material and (as the label name suggests) a love of reverb, I recently saw Brian Wilson stumble through Pet Sounds at the Manchester Apollo, the very threat of him falling apart at any moment kept you transfixed and Morgan Delt does a similar job with ‘Don’t Talk’ - it’s almost too reverential musically but the vocals just....just stay in tune and he retains its transcendental beauty.
I feel sorry for Christian Bland having to take on ‘God Only Knows’ but again the love of the material overtakes any lack of technicality and that seems to be true of most of the tracks here. Not there’s not the odd clunker - there’s certainly a few of them about but generally this an interesting psyched up, reverbed out take on the old classic.
7/10 according to our Clinton
7/10 according to our Clinton
5/10 according to our Clinton
The saddest thing is that he thinks he’s making us cry.
This is the sound of Mark Kozelek, late at night after offending everyone in the building, sitting by the piano (not actually playing it - that seems to be left to someone else) singing some of his favourite songs. Unfortunately his favourites are already much-covered standards and part of the enjoyment with this record is waiting to see which tired old song he’s going to schmaltz-ruin next.
The good news is that Kozelek is using his ‘old’ singing voice so we’re not getting the croaky rapping he’s been utilising for the last few albums and as a result we are reminded that he does indeed still have a lovely voice. Also good news is that as these are covers so we don’t have to be subjected to lyrics about the contents of his hotel room or his latest fan letter.
The bad news is pretty much everything else. I’m not convinced this album needed to happen and I’m not convinced by Kozelek’s sincerity. All his songs now sound like hapless middle aged golf guy attempts to seduce the latest pretty young thing to cross his wizened path. So we get ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, ‘Moon River’ and 10CC’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ (where the insane middle section is actually handled with aplomb). The funniest song is ‘Something Stupid’ where he changes the lyrics to “and then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like Get In Line Bitch”.
Actually, no he doesn’t.
I don’t like many songs on this record but in the interest of fairness I should mention that his take on David Bowie’s “Win” is lovely (and includes a surprise Mike Patton on backing vox) and I for one (not the rest of our office) enjoyed his re-work of Modest Mouse’s ‘Float On’ (marking his 4865th Modest Mouse cover to date). Elsewhere Roy Harper’s ‘Another Day’ is unruinable at the best of times even if you just spend it’s three and a bit minutes harking after the This Mortal Coil take. Thing is though, the entire record is piano and vocals so there's none of his expert guitar plucking and most of the songs are played pretty straight so none of his ‘What’s Next to the Moon’ style melody altering.
What we have instead a fairly dreary collection of standards with a few nice bits thrown in. The comic relief is provided by its resemblance to the medley sung by Tony De Wonderful on Police Squad (go to 2:05). Kozelek’s melancholy these days is too shot through with the sound of ringing cash registers to be anyway affecting. Still, this is probably better than ‘Benji’ (..........cue outrage alert).
9/10 according to our Jamie
Lovely, delicately strummed ambient guitar from yellow6. I’m a lucky guy to be listening to this, today, on a Tuesday with the sun filtering through the streaky, late-Spring skies over Holbeck. The rays percolate through the trees by the overpass, if I turn my neck just far enough without straining as my back is to the far-side office windows coated with Leeds ring road grime. Advantageously, yellow6 performs a similar feat with his dextrous fret manipulation and misty morning atmospherics.
Two long-form tracks then, with ‘springsun’ recorded in what I imagine are similar -- although perhaps greyer, damper and foggier -- conditions to these; to evoke, in me at this moment, feelings of melancholy mixed with joyful wonder at all things fragile and temporary. The track, having warped and skewed my sense of time so dramatically that it could have been playing either for three hours or two minutes, fades out at the fifteen minute mark or thereabouts.
‘Conrad 2’ was born out of one of two single-take improvisations indirectly inspired following the death of Tony Conrad. It’s a work of delicate, gossamer spun-out fragility; elongated and tense dynamics underpinned by hypnotic playing and layers of translucent ambience of the highest order. An involving, slow-burning and emotional listen.
9/10 according to our Jamie
Gathering together a collection of musicians from within the broad and overlapping sound-worlds of leftfield electronics and electroacoustic experimentation, this rather fine and tasty compilation is in aid of a good cause, to boot: Alzheimer's Research. Never take your brain for granted, folks. I'm not just saying that because dementia touched my father's side of the family. I am just about taking advantage of what cells I have left, so I'm writing this while I can.
A lovely piece of twinkling ambience from Midori Hirano who kicks things off smoothly, with ‘Regrowth’. It’s a fine slice of electronica, leading us into the darker timbres and mallets of Makunouchi Bento’s shimmering elecroacoustic offering, ‘Anpre dans tanbou lou’. Band Ane get all metallic chimey and klanky with playful bleeps, on ‘Kakkelovnsgrod’. TLE’s ‘Piece for Ice Cube, Silence and Trumpet’ is just that: mainly the processed crunching of ice and electronic punctuation. Yaporigami gets all rhythmic with a propulsive drum and skittering breathy percussion driving the slightly more punishing and shock-outable 'Higher Tentative'. Closing out CD 1 are Fandensk Dolketerapi with the scrapey, rumbling 'Itureven' and the cavernous spaces explored by Matthew Collings, between the ominous rumbles and plinked/strummed electroacoustics of 'A World of Ruby All in Vain'.
The second disc starts with International Debris’ impressive spectral builder ‘Translucent Orb’, chopped and looped piano and found sounds interwoven, fragmented and pieced back together within its timeframe of three minutes to impressively dreamy and hypnotic effect. Cinesthesia contribute a piece performed at a gig in Hackney; those strings slice through the ambient fog to reveal something altogether more wondrous and ethereal. Katie English's Isnaj Dui project is always compelling; her mesmeric sound continues to enthral with flute, dulcimer and percussion combining in quite a mystical way, on 'Kiki and Bouba'. Just the thing to fire up the synapses.
Elsewhere, Zelionople take their cues from the most translucent exponents of post-rock; Glacis brings a beautiful, stripped-pack piano piece to the table, with the clear spring that is 'As Long As Water Flows' and Weith resonates pleasingly with 'Cognitive Enhancers'. I recommend you buy this record... did I mention the good cause?
7/10 according to our Jamie
As the days grow longer and the pigeons coo that much earlier, and you start to dream of your next weekend break in the Lake District, MYMK are here to bring us crashing back down to earth with their austere experimentations and ambient japes. And all goes swimmingly; tracks like ‘Young Team On Rampage’(!) rumble and micro-click along, well… ominously. And screechily, actually. And the whole thing trucks along and spins out to reveal itself as the disturbed and wearisome beast it is. The centre of this thing is not terrifying; it’s terrified. I can feel my mind imploding with every pulse. It plods on before exploding and showering us with ambient dust.
The dust is the bed for ensuing gambit ‘Among The Living’. Just what is it afraid of? Brexit campaigners? Probably not, as this guy is from Brasilia. Sunkissed gangs stealing his Mivvi? Any road up, the beast is now shivering. ‘Darn Lights’ lets slip the secret that MYMK’s preferred mode d’emploi is under cover of darkness and labyrinthine dwelling. This revelation is ensued by a particularly twitching and agoraphobic sounding ‘Body Issues’. I kid you not. This one becomes an angry buzzing with hints at delicate melody trying to seep into its hardened heart.
The whole thing is pretty absorbing, in fact. And not a little noisy. An overall win.
9/10 according to our Laurie
Thunderous kick barrages and flashy white noise hihats adorn Lee Gamble’s new 12” on his new label UIQ with some new music on. Big news. Lets just clarify this right now: this is some hard stuff. The privileged A1 position is filled by a track called ‘004’ that launches straight into ~145bpm leftfield hardcore techno that’s like Clark on steroids. Some dusky, ghostly sort of chords throb into view halfway through providing a nice respite, before a mangled vox sample ushers the distortion back in. A2 is the creepy little brother of that one.
Over to the B side and the thump eases off a little, allowing some weird little playful synth lines to rise through. Once again that dusky atmospheric chordplay comes in again and it suddenly sounds like some ancient Aphex. B2 ‘Cnull’ is an experimental whirlwind of a banger. Hats and percs lathered with phasor FX decorate the muted 150bpm kick while various other sounds try to escape but crumble into noise. Chopped breaks imply jungle in the second half, but instead the track washes away noisily downstream. Noise.
8/10 according to our Laurie
So here’s another group that like to dismember then remember the Sun’s name. I know, ‘remember’ doesn’t mean ‘to put one’s head back on’, but it should. Anyway, it’s a partnership formed from marvellous synthman Luke Abbott, Laurence Pike of the PVT band (not PTV, mind) and Jack Wyllie from Portico. Luke Abbott’s been collaborating and doing split releases with all of his earthly friends at the moment, all pretty decent quality, so that’s a good sign. Not sure who Laurence Pike is, but I’m sure he’s fine. Definitely not as much of a problem as the Portico one ‘Jack Wyllie’. What did you do to that band, you monster.
He seems to have redeemed himself here, with a little help from his friends. His sax carefully glides atop the synth-drone / drum bedrock of Abbott / Pike, the whole thing melding into an organic, slightly freeform dream jam. And that’s just the opener ‘Further’, in all its 11-minute glory. Gotta say, the rhythms here are pretty complex, similar in a way to that the guy from Rocketnumbernine plays the kit. Loose and jammy but solid when needed. They wander off the grid during ‘Adrift’ (haa ha h) taking it in turns to play a little phrase while Abbott’s machines trundle quietly underneath.
It’s definitely psychedelic, so will appeal to fans of Border Community’s stuff and all sorts of kosmische fans too. But those who have tired of the typical wall-of-guitar-noise-with-one-chord thing that’s all the rage right now might still enjoy this too, no guitars in sight, just a sort of obscure form of unfurling drone noise. Who knew that sax and synth mixed so well? George Michael?
7/10 according to our Laurie
A techno record usually has a spiel to accompany it that rambles on about the seclusion and weather of living in Berlin or some sadistic rant. Not Molecule. His spiel is that he went fishing in the middle of the Atlantic ocean in a big ship, jumped overboard with a few mics, and returned to the deck with this album. Now that’s techno.
Sadly, it probably didn’t quite go down that way, but these are Atlantic ship hull beats, just take a look at the press release if you don’t believe me. You can hardly tell though, apart from select moments when he’s dropped in the splashy recordings for atmospheric effect (see 1st track Abysses). Those hats are probably whale spout squirts, but it’s the synths that are piled on that stand out the most. Lots of thick bouncy synth-basses and alien pads swell out from the bilges. It’s more on the Chemical Brothers side of techno, the raw gnarled cousin of electro featuring big, slamming snare drums that you can feel in your pancreas. And I never feel my pancreas.
3rd track ‘Hebrides’ promises muted dub techno, but the dubbed-out watery chords are evaporated slightly by a hard kick drum and hi-definition clap samples making me wonder where this track would fit. I guess the club at 4am?? ‘Shannon’ picks it back up by committing more fully to the dub side of things as the spiky elements ease off; Deepchord would be happy with this one. OK so it’s more of a dub-techno album than a Chemical Brothers-inspired frenzy.
I’m slightly underwhelmed by the more hypey tracks on the record (‘Bailey’ inclusive), but after hearing the delightful hazy brilliance of ‘Le Jardin’, I’m certain that there’s some great stuff to be found on here.
For all the nautically inclined beatsters out there.
9/10 according to our Robin
Alto saxophonist Idris Ackamoor has a CV that reads something like “I learned music from Cecil Taylor and now I lead a jazz group”, which has me way, way beat. The amazing Ackamoor has here released one of the year’s most compelling records, leading his Pyramids in taut, revolving-door rhythms that segue into separate melodic side-quests and lyrical observations about a greater African identity. ‘We Be All Africans’ also shows the musical range Ackamoor can both perform and direct -- just listen to that skronking solo that closes out the record’s opening title track, which moves from smooth breathing to furious over-blowing, and eventually into a gorgeous string-arranged segment that suddenly reroutes timbre without us even noticing. This record is spacey and earthy, conversational and solitary, all the time bridging phenomenally large gaps.
Ackamoor is in truly inventive form, here, weaving electronic fusion into the heart of his performance on “Epiphany” before injecting proceedings with an urgent tempo that strips back their supposed space jazz tendencies. “Silent Days” does the same thing with lyrical passages, exchanging certain strands of thought and having them interact as if they were merely moving parallel to one another, linked in the universe by happy coincidence. It interlinks so casually, to the point at which it’s a surprise when you notice the rhythm section: their role feels almost subliminal, so that when the drum fills push their way in it brings reality hurtling back to you.
It’s short, but ‘We Be All Africans’ covers so much ground -- it feels active and involving while making true on its press releases suggestions of space and futurism. Most of all, it’s gorgeous: if it’s spacey, it’s because it drifts, forever seamlessly, through an endless suites of ideas.
8/10 according to our Robin
Oh shit it’s Holy Fuck. Watch out they’re coming this way and they’ve got synths and illegal fireworks and one of them is juggling snares. This might be it for us, it’s been an honour reviewing with you, and wait, what’s one of them carrying, is… that’s a diploma. Happy graduation, dude, congrats. Nice one. Intro to Poli Synth really paid off.
‘Congrats’ being like, a new record by a band in hiding for six years, there’s some cause for celebration, and here they sort of lurk gloomily in the background while their ferocious dance-rock dirge does most of the talking. The vocals panned way out back on opener “Chimes Broken” as the song slowly bows its head towards an eruption of synth melodies and blustery, Lightning Bolt-lite drums, they sound like a more bombastic Cloudland Canyon -- energetic, but somewhat ghostly. The buzzsaw bass grooves and that feeling of a distant, nauseous noise rock happening elsewhere on “Tom Tom” makes me realise how pivotal Holy Fuck have been -- you can trace a lineage between bands like themselves, Liars, and Vision Fortune, all using electronics to subdue an otherwise heady rock broth.
And it’s kinda pretty, no? Maybe that’s not the word I’m looking for, but after the lovely “Tom Tom”, with its kosmische segue and marching drum climax, the band go on to make fun, almost inviting rhythms and often relax their frantic tempos. On “Xed Eyes”, their vocals melt into their synths alongside joyous screams and tinkering percussion, while “House of Glass” uses shimmering textures to demarcate the gloopier, more pounding stuff with an almost skygazing approach to synth. It’s like EDM fighting Tangerine Dream for a little respect.
8/10 according to our Robin
Herein you are listening to me talk about the 7" by two bands of the Leeds Chunk contingent, who happily complement each other on their race to the peak of non-league indie rock greatness. My sources inform me that ZoZo feature local personalities Kang Clinton and Tom Trobbler, both playing in a furiously frantic but rhythmically tight indie rock band that they're pretending is pretty hardcore. They have been called many things in this office: "Zoo Zoo" by a confused and overworked Clinton, "a nice little bit of indie [this is]" by the seminally out-of-touch Phil, and "that band that supported Melt Yourself Down" (true!) by the extremely wise Kim. "International Waters" has got blustery sax groaning through its backdrop, riffs that sound scattered like acorns (only because you can hear them being excitedly gathered up) and a lightning-fast way of doing things that basically just assumes a party even if nobody's having one. The track's cut up into several different musical hotspots, be they a cappella shout-offs or sudden grooves, and all in all it is a good time. They are truly the Kangs of rock and roll.
Flip it over (please) for Esper Scout, who shoot for quality rather than quantity in the distortion department, and whose sound is a more straightforward, plaintive indie rock. A muted chord sequence lets 'em build from nothing into a bracing climax, which is contained by a lo-fi production, holding the tension in as the guitars blurt out the next riff in line. The track eventually descends into a sort of shoegaze showdown, riffs hurling their way towards the peak, though the band take a couple of steps back before closing things down for good. It's nice to hear indie rock being thoughtfully prepared is basically how I feel about "Gaps In The Border Fence", and the two tunes on this 7" complement each other by basically sound nothing alike one another.
7/10 according to our Robin
Here’s that band who for all intents and purposes have spent their career in sanitation, cleaning their [most mysterious] noise music ‘til it was wiped clean and became mere psych pop. Are you not slightly less entertained?!
With its sideways guitar twang, lethargically hummed lyrics, twisted hand percussion and fair-measure flute, “I Sing In Silence” sounds like Lantern escorting King Gizzard away from a potential bar fight with the Heads after they called ‘em posers, calmly asserting “they’re not worth it, psychpals, they’re not worth it”. If you liked old Goat, you already knew they were moving far afield from your best wishes on “It’s Time For Fun”, but here, you’ll find them being twee in the arse-end of nowhere, the song wishing itself away after a brief lyrical segue for a forgetful, sleepy outro jam.
There is also “The Snake of Addis Ababa”, whose bass groove goes autopilot as the band strive for something like old-school psych hauntology: trembling, vampiric piano joins little flicks of hand percussion and fret-movements. This one is the jam: if Goat are going down this route, they may as well submit to the acoustic trance full-on.
7/10 according to our Robin
This year, Chris Abrahams has been treating us to his very own episode of ambient Cribs, showing us around his house and each of the nooks and crannies he drones into. ‘Fluid To The Influence’, a record of tinkering field sounds and accidental melodies, sounded like kitchen minimalism prepared for piano and tupperware; his collaborations in improv supergroup the Still was a traditional living-room ambience modelled like a rock band tributing Erik Satie. On this effort, he works with Burkhard Beins, a percussionist with a penchant for the leftfield (check: railing rattling and skittering cricket sounds) to create the sounds his garden makes when he’s tucked away upstairs.
‘Instead of the Sun’ continues Abrahams’ year by sucking all the light out of his lovely compositions and going pitch black: his and Bein’s tones are fuzzy and distorted, wobbling and nauseous, and they’re joined with gentle flickers of noise boards and the kind of rhythmic, muffled half-techno that wears your ears down. Thomas Brinkmann made a record like this in ‘What You Hear (Is What You Hear)’, but where his was a manifestation of pure tone, Abrahams and Beings consistently disrupt proceedings, as on “Second-Hand Ecstasy”, which is a textural calamity of hissing train sounds and flatlining electronic malfunctions -- certain things are scoped loudly in the distance, others act quietly in the foreground, confusing your senses ‘til they’re all worn out.
Listening to this record of crackling electronics is a one-sitting deal: you aren’t gonna be picking out pieces for a quick lunch-break or an ambient mix. Rather, this record is one that kindles and rekindles noise, keeping a constant palette of static and dissonance for more to visit upon. Musique concrete, eh? Sounds like good material to build a patio with.
7/10 according to our Robin
My general rule of thumb is that if you name your record ‘Masterpiece’ or something with the connotations of that word, then I deduct five points. Let’s see if Big Thief can get that all-important 7! To get specific, Big Thief is Adrianne Lenker, fronting a band of coat-wearing boyze who lend her fine songwriting a rhythm section here, a swell chorus there. ‘Masterpiece’ begins with a solo artist’s admission, though -- buried in lo-fi raindrop production, bristled against with acoustic strums, it recalls Angel Olsen opening up ‘Burn Your Fire’ or Mount Eerie on any number of nimble records, putting one artist at the epicentre and almost forgetting completely about the world around it.
It’s not much, and it’s nothing big, but it perfectly describes this patchwork record, sewn from acoustic bedroom tunes, pop-punk bangers and the spots in-between. The tape cuts out after the recording and we go straight into the pretty fuzz pop of “Masterpiece”, whose warm blanket of distortion recalls a twanging the Thermals or cosied Weakerthans, with silly, noisy solos that never feel anything but lovely. Things get cleaned up like a building abandoned in out-of-work hours on “Vegas”, whose guitars are lucid and light like Daughter perfecting the art of string bends. A hundred uses for an electric guitar, please.
I like this record: it’s smooth, then not so much. It has speed-bumps like the chorus to “Vegas”; it has still acoustic mumblings like “Lorraine”. It’s serious but never overwrought, and you’re likely to be left with some lasting pop memories -- like the excellent, tumbling guitarwork in “Velvet Ring”, a song I actually want to recommend to you, the reader, who I am usually just endlessly talking to about music with little more than a grimace on my face. This, here, isn't quite a masterpiece, but it knows that, and for that I present it the esteemed accolade of Record Of Today.
7/10 according to our Robin
Here, Grumbling Fur do the right thing and release a succinct seventeen minutes of music (who could listen to this damn "music" stuff a minute longer?) made for a film installation called Rose. Directed by Mark Titchner, watching it is akin to what would happen if the guy who runs the dual-screen Godspeed visuals gained a sincere love of psychedelia. Grumbling Fur are the right sonic nerds for the job: a Quietus house band, their interest seems to lie in clouding harmonies and chamber pop with kosmische electronic flair. This is cinematic, but ever so busy, moulding together fluorescent noise that's every bit as bubbly and simmering as Titchner's visual. Same goes for the words: in his piece and Grumbling Fur's alike, they have an illusory, glitching effect that lets them buzz around the environment like another one of its tiny insects.
A fine seventeen minutes of music, all in all: it sees Grumbling Fur shed any inhibitions and go full on pop noise, creating the kind of lovely chaos that feels harsh while straining neither of your ears -- rather, it feels quite ecstatic, hearing all of this at once.
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Timestamp: Thursday 26th May, 03:41:09