Thursday, 28 September 2017

Review - John Foxx, Harold Budd & Ruben Garcia – Nighthawks/Translucence/Drift Music

John Foxx, Harold Budd & Ruben Garcia – Nighthawks/Translucence/Drift Music (Demon Records)

Deluxe 3 LP

Out Now

8 / 10

Esteemed artists are celebrated in lavish new vinyl boxset. 

Should you find yourself with a couple of hours to spare and needing the ultimate in relaxation then listening to this fascinating release will undoubtedly put you at ease.  Three albums from the pairing of John Foxx and Harold Budd (with Ruben Garcia contributing on Nighthawks) are nothing short of beautiful in the extreme.

Each album blends almost seamlessly into the next.  Ambience, abstract, seminal, whatever you want to call them, their sheer class cannot be ignored.  They will send you to another place, another time, one which you maybe didn’t think existed and, one which you will often want to revisit.  A moment where the World stops still and you are allowed to wallow in its beauty and awe, in its stillness and calm and more importantly, the near genius that has gone into creating it.

The clichés are drifting and weightlessness are all here because they are all relevant.  The maybe improvised and aimless wanderings continue to relax and sustain enough wonder and interest to keep you completely enthralled from one moment to the next.

Nighthawks (2011) is cold but gorgeous.  Dedicated to the memory of Ruben Garcia who sadly passed away in 2012 the album is crammed with masses of ethereal emptiness. It evokes images of freezing city skylines, the snow occasionally falling over an ice covered metropolis in the dead of night as the odd being walks around emitting intermittent breaths of air from their mouths and pulling their scarfs tightly around their faces and shoulders.  Somewhere there may be a midnight ice rink being used by a lonely couple whilst another walk hand in hand through the park.  The piano plays a major part in Nighthawks as it atmospherically wanders around the occasional synth swirls and echoes gently into the ether.

The double album Translucence/Drift Music (2003) adds a warmth to the line-up.  The cold tinge is taken away on Translucence and a rise is effectual, the sounds ebb and glide beautifully as the clinical pureness of the music extends far beyond anything you may have heard before.  Again, the expanses of minimalism create dream-like scenarios with the piano playing acting as a gliding bond between them.  Implicit and Raindust begin leave the piano sounds as ambient synth take their stage.

Drift Music continues down the electronic path as ambient notes replace the delicate sounds of ivories.  There is a magic and mysteriousness about the tracks here, open areas swirling and wandering around almost aimlessly but with a sheer beauty that has to be heard to be enjoyed.  The simplicity of Linger for instance is superb and Weather Patterns too is stunning.

As the collection ends with the ironic Arriving, a quite wonderful episode of music has been heard.  For fans of ambient this is a must, for enthusiasts of cinematic pieces a worthy addition to your music collection.  Simplicity is everything.

John Foxx

Harold Budd

Published on Louder Than War 21/09/17 - here

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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Friday, 22 September 2017

Review - Ceiling Demons - Nil

Ceiling Demons – Nil (Win Big Records)


22 September 2017

9 / 10

Experimental alternative rap act release their long awaited second album.

To quote the title of their single from earlier this year, Ceiling Demons continue to March Forwards.  Yorkshire’s very own alternative rappers have long been favourites of these pages and their progress has been slow but solid picking up fans and supporters along the way.

Their sound has progressed from the almost lo-fi sound of their debut album Dual Sides with several singles and EPs along the way and, with support from such luminaries as Tom Robinson at Radio 6, the band have slowly built up a reputation which is testament to their hard work and self-belief.

What sets Ceiling Demons apart from their contempories?  They are part of a new breed of British rap that also includes the mighty Outside Your House, who consciously or not believe in the regionalisation of their sound.  There is no attempt to sound mainstream nor to sound ‘old skool’ or as though they have come straight from the Bronx.  Their sound is honest and true to themselves and with it brings with it an authenticity that makes them stand out simply for not standing out.

With Nil descends a darkness, themes of male suicide, of loneliness, and lost hope prevail but with a sense of positivity that everything will and can be overcome.  Of ongoing strength building to overcome the demons and the blackness and album opener The Rose perhaps typifies the theme and feel of the whole album in just two and a half minutes.  Sounding, bizarrely, like a song that could have been recorded by Johnny Cash for his Man In Black series, it consists of just vocal and simply strummed guitar pervading gloom and self-destruction whilst offering “life within the rose”.  The Rose is a masterstroke in terms of album beginnings and if nothing else, engages the listener to stick around.

Behind the vocals of twins Psy Ceiling and Dan Demon are clever loops and backing tracks courtesy of producer and mixer George Rushton (Beat Demon) and, this time round the addition of live guitar, drums and bass adds to the empowering sound.  March Forward is nothing short of genius, echoing sounds of a certain wholemeal bread advert from yesteryear, it bravely uses little else than the sound of a colliery band with brass instruments plodding alongside the biting vocals.  It is refreshing, engaging and in a peculiar sort of way, exciting.

The Dark Mountain hits hard, the vocals border anger and are swiftly following by an almost monastery sounding chant evoking further sounds of darkness and introducing the backing vocals of Rosey Purkiss-McEndoo adding yet another dimension to the upward spiralling sound and including a delicate trip-hop beat to close.

The subject to depression sensitively dealt with on Dust.  It conveys desperation and anger in a respectfully executed piece of work with a hypnotic vocal loop to close and, succinct minimal backing as does the following track Closeness, an addictive sample weaving its way into your head.
With current album teaser Capture Karma comes multiple vocals and simple melodies that intertwine to create a cacophony of sound.  Its base lies in an uncomplicated background allowing both music and voices to stand out in equal proportion.  It stands as a strong track on the album, waving the flag for the Demon sound and standing out as the albums best track.

Nil is a brilliant album and well worth the four year wait since the Ceiling Demons debut.  It weaves its way through darkness into light via hope and positivity.  It moves from black nights to bright sunrises and it is a cleverly thought out project.  Ceiling Demons continue their journey and a long one it could well be.


Published on Louder Than War 16/09/17 - here

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Listen! MIS+RESS - The History Of Fishes

Somewherecold Records has announced the latest addition to its blossoming collection of dreampop, nugaze and ambient offerings with the forthcoming debut album from MIS+RESS. This self-titled 10-track offering is quite remarkable, oscillating between the atmospheric opaque reverie of such bands as Land Observations, the mysterious edge of Michael Brook and Daniel Lanois, and fantastic imagined music boxes for grown-ups.
MIS+RESS is the solo project of musician, artist, mixing and mastering engineer, father and educator Brian Wenckebach, who is perhaps best known as a member of Brooklyn shoegaze darlings Elika and experimental electronica outfit Thee Koukouvaya. He has worked with a number of established artists and labels including Showtime Television Networks, Polyvinyl Records, Ulrich Schnauss, Asobi Seksu, Noveller, Thisquietarmy, Dead Leaf Echo and Nadja, and also re-mastered Blind Mr. Jones' classic album 'Tatooine'. 

Wenckebach first began recording music to analog tape in 1995 and, by the end of the decade, had started to move towards computer sequencing.  The Durutti Column, Land Observations, Daniel Lanois and Harold Budd number among his musical influences, along with Loscil, Nils Frahm, William Basinski, Noveller, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Susumu Yokota, and Tim Hecker.
A long-term professional used to the comforts of his work with Electric Blue Studios in Brooklyn, this album marks a departure from the studio setting. It was recorded in Toms River, New Jersey with an electric guitar and four effects pedals in a make-shift studio he set up in his sister-in-law's abandoned childhood bedroom. 
Rather than relying solely on atmosphere and texture, MIS+RESS creates songs with genuine emotional content. They are clever and intricate, dreamy yet broken. They paint a sonic canvas full of gorgeous landscapes, littered with machines languishing in obsolescence. This debut album evokes memories of a past/future you didn’t/won’t have. This is post ambient, instrumental guitar. No frills and no hiding.
"This is much simpler and more direct in the sense that I utilized a very limited palette (simply guitar with a few effects). My other projects have emphasized vocals and electronics and had hundreds of layers," explains Brian Wenckebach. "Electronics used to feel rebellious to superimpose on shoegaze/dreampop.  Now, it is commonplace.  The danger is gone.  I figured I would go in the opposite direction."

This MIS+RESS album will be exclusively made available as limited editions through Somewherecold Records, with only 100 copies available on CD and 50 on cassette. They are available for pre-order now via the label's Bandcamp.

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Listen! - ECKOES - Pieces


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Watch! - Red Eye - Soho


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Listen! - The Bordellos underground tape vol 8

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Watch! - ALKA - Melancholy Lasts


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Thursday, 21 September 2017

Review - Blancmange – Unfurnished Rooms

Blancmange – Unfurnished Rooms (Blanc Check Records)

LP / CD / DL

29 September 2017

8.5 / 10

Legendary synth act releases brand new album. 

It’s been quite  a year for Neil Arthur, the now sole permanent member of Blancmange, the act with its origins in the early 80s now firmly established in its second coming.  Re-releases of the first three Blancmange albums in superb deluxe form and a collaboration with Benge as Fader for their excellent First Light album preceded this latest release, Unfurnished Rooms.

Benge once more appears, this time as co-producer and one could quite easily assume that a more permanent fixture with Blancmange might be on the cards.  There’s clearly been an influence on the direction taken by Arthur, last year’s Commuter 23 album saw him carry on down a darker path and that journey has continued with this new ten track collection where Benge has added percussion and analogue synths.

The black humour is still an ever present, sometimes gelling itself to a wicked perspective whereby Arthur’s lyrics fall somewhere between fun and serious, and often struggle to separate.  It’s an interesting form and one which suits him extremely well.  This new album is often sparse in presentation, allowing the textures of both voice and melody to carry each track along.  The album opener and title track explores a house waiting to be inhabited, emptiness prevails and a blackness descends.

Share It Out is a near instrumental, as ever with Blancmange, a risky one with no obvious catchiness, it drifts along until the line ‘I could be your ocean wave’ softly sings before the sounds of an electro Bolan come into view with the spoken word What’s The Time?  It’s brilliant, simplicity personified and sits as a wonderful entrée to Wiping The Chair a song themed around long last friends and, Anna Dine continues the dark theme amidst a spiralling backdrop of synth lushness and characteristic bass lines.

Old Friends has a Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane feel to it.  A song written in a traditional style with classic twists and turns allowing it to sound almost like a cover of some 70s standard with that undeniable Arthur effect.  It could quite easily have a sweeping bank of strings behind it as it approaches its close.  Conversely, when long-time friend and collaborator David Rhodes rips his guitar open on Gratitude, the Blancmange party is in full swing.   Once more a Glam influence meets a punkesque anarchism with some delightfully inserted reverb.  It screeches and screams as Arthur too becomes electro punk for a while.

Album closer, Don’t Get Me Wrong is the predictably unpredictable Blancmange.  John Grant guests on piano and backing vocals and Arthur keeps a beautiful resistance by allowing the track to drift in and out seamlessly and in a dreamlike state.  It touches on the preceding tracks too, cleverly intertwining themes of secrecy, loneliness and lost friendships and at over eight minutes long is a wonderful finale.

Unfurnished Rooms is a clever album.  It sees Neil Arthur on top form and putting together a listening experience that has taken thought, passion and a great deal of bravery.  This is mature music for the inquisitive mind and an album that marks a milestone in modern Blancmange whilst also delving confidently into the past. 


Published on Louder Than War 13/09/17 - here

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Monday, 18 September 2017

Review - John Foxx And The Maths – The Machine

John Foxx And The Maths – The Machine (Metamatic Records)


22 September 2017

8 / 10

Singer, artist, photographer and teacher releases his new album. 

Often revered, John Foxx is an undisputed legend in electronic music.  With every critically acclaimed release comes a flurry of interest and a highly deserved reception as the man, often bordering on genius presents new and exciting collections.

The Machine performed by John and Benge is no exception, beginning with the sound of wind or maybe the breaths of the machine, The Ghost In The Machine is a dark and atmospheric piece.  It progresses from a soothing beginning to a gentle rumble before leading seamlessly into The Other Mother which echoes Roy Budd’s theme for 1971s Get Carter, another translucent and calming listen.

The album was written during 2015 and 2016 as the soundtrack to The Machine Stops, a theatre presentation of E.M. Forster’s short story which tells of an apocalyptic vision, a planet unable to contain life with its inhabitants living underground.  Controlled by the machine, it gives a frightening insight into the future, our present, with communication via screen and mobile devices, a prediction of text messaging and a culling of the eco-system.  With added tracks and mixes the album is complete.

Concentrating largely on minimal sounds for the first five tracks, presumably as a delicate backdrop to the stage production, on Hive Frequency, the pace is lifted with a beating bass sound and a mechanical breath insinuating that the machine is waking from its slumber before retreating and sleeping once more.  Transworld Travelogue once more increases the beat with an almost deafening intro and a short retreat before steaming along once again.

As you’d expect, it’s a largely instrumental album with the occasional vocal from Elizabeth Bernholz on Genetic Hymnal, a track with some clinically perform field recordings and a choral persistence which makes it very special indeed.  Foxx himself sings on Memory Oxide again, an almost monesterial feel which moves from beauty to awe.

With Benge, who seems to have become the new second member of Blancmange of late, completing the partnership with Foxx, The Machine is a clean and precise piece of work many times a quite beautiful collection concluding with the serene Orphan Waltz.


Published on Louder Than War 10/09/17 - here

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Friday, 15 September 2017

Review - Festival No.6 2017

Review by Matt.

Now in its sixth year, Festival No.6 has steadily garnered a reputation for bringing the summer festival season to a close with the controls set firmly for quirk and charm. Taking place in and around the slightly surreal setting of Portmeirion, a tiny faux-Italian village perched on the scenic North Wales coastline at the foot of Snowdonia, the festival makes maximum use of the colourful nooks and crannies on offer. It’s been a festival I’ve long had an eye on and the excuse to use it as a celebration for my brother’s 40th birthday meant scant persuasion was needed to get me on board.

Obsessive weather app checking in the days leading up to the festival suggests that waterproofs and warm clothes will be the order of the day – a consequence of the inevitable gamble of holding an outdoor event in the emerging autumn (although let’s face it, no festival taking place in the UK is in any way guaranteed wall-to-wall sunshine). I’m only recently back from the Kendal Calling festival, this year beset by bad weather and ensuing site-wide ankle-deep mud, leading to an energy, and at times mood-sapping weekend. I’m thus intrigued to know how a festival charging £75 a ticket more per head deals with the elements. We’ll come to that…


Having arrived teatime Thursday and set up camp, Friday morning and afternoon leave us free to start exploring and catching the early acts before the rest of our group arrive later in the day. Music in the main festival arena doesn’t seem to get going until mid-afternoon so we amble aimlessly around the village venues, sitting off on the side of a small ornamental paddling pool in blazing sun with a beer (Morretti, £5.50 a pint, yowzers) taking in the gypsy jazz cover versions of The Gypsies of Bohemia. Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ via Django Rheinhart anyone? Actually, it’s much more palatable than that looks in black and white.

Kooky out-of-context cover versions seem to be a bit of a theme through the weekend. The brass band playing their version of Donna Summer’s “No More Tears” – chorus: “Enough is enough is enough” – win prizes for their timing as the rain slaughters down on Saturday lunchtime.

Our first foray into the main arena comes with some gasps at just how visually stunning this festival really is – the backdrop of the Snowdonian hills against the main stage is genuinely gorgeous, a real spectacle. Whilst here, we stay for PINS, which turns out to be a wise, wise move. They spin up a riotous and righteous post-punk groove, heavy on repeated slogans (“You say I’m bad like it’s a bad thing!”, “I’m only here to serve the rich!”, “If I was an ape, if I was an ape, if I was an APE!”). Their half hour passes in lightning fashion, always a good sign.

We’re back at the main stage soon after for one of the few acts on the bill we really have any vested interest in, Steve Mason. A long-time favourite since the early Beta Band days in the late 90’s, we find ourselves at the barrier in front of the main stage, part of a disappointingly sparse crowd as Mason takes the stage (although it does thicken as the set wears on). The set is largely drawn from last year’s “Meet The Humans” album and its predecessor, 2013’s “Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time.” In a sense, that’s a disappointment – Mason rarely breaks out in a frenzy of Beta Band nostalgia but it would have been good to have heard a few songs from his solo debut, “Boys Outside”. All that said, it’s great to see him on this form – he mentions how much he loves this festival and in as much as I’ve ever seen Steve Mason look like he’s enjoying himself, he does seem to be revelling in things here. Can’t help but feel that not playing “Dry The Rain” from The Beta Band’s first EP (one of the few he does roll out from time to time) is a bit churlish though given the squalls of rain that abound through his set.

As we stroll back to the tent for a pit stop, Charlotte Church and her Late Night Pop Dungeon are halfway through a cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”, and as we head up to the camping field, strains of her version of Robyn’s “With Every Heartbeat” suggest it might have been worth staying round for a closer look. And as we perch on camping chairs, sipping Strongbow (cos, y’know, classy) and refuelling on as culinary a delight as one can muster on a one ring camping stove, there’s a fairly crystal-clear soundtrack of Toy’s motorik psychedelia that says we might have been better just hanging out down there. Ah well.

Post-pitstop, and with the birthday celebration personnel complete, we head back to the main arena as The Cinematic Orchestra are leaving the stage, leaving us to kick heels until headliners Mogwai take the stage. Curious business, this band. I’m asked more than once what they’re like and each time struggle to verbalise anything much. Perhaps more than any other band, they defy description or category. So, it irks me that the only description that recurs time and again whilst watching them is that, for all their ebbing, flowing, swelling and swooning ambient artiness, they frequently recall instrumental interludes in Coldplay songs. In my heart, I know that’s not right or fair or in any way befitting of a band of Mogwai’s stature and status. But then I learn a couple of days later that my 10-year-old nephew (watching with us) has plastered them with the self-same comparison. Out of the mouths of babes and all that. The other thing that strikes me is that, given the often somnambulant nature of a fair chunk of their material, accompanying visuals are almost entirely absent. This isn’t music that necessarily speaks for itself so it feels odd that at least something in the way of a lightshow or backdrop isn’t on offer.


It’s fair to say no-one rises refreshed on Saturday morning thanks to the lively young man who has kept a sizable proportion of General Camping awake with his voluble gibberish and shrieking laugh (a little too chained to the mirror and the razor blade for his own good it would seem). In dribs and drabs, we make our way to the village to see what’s going on there. And what is going on is a monsoon of truly epic scale; sod quirk and charm, it’s a race just to keep in some way dry. Seeking solace, first in a craft workshop for the kids, then in an overpriced restaurant serving burgers that scream food poisoning, we decide the only thing for it is to take to the tent for a bit more Strongbow, the free Guardians being doled out and to wait out the rain.

And having waited it out, the reward for that is a four-band run of pure joy and exhilaration. I make an executive decision that the rest of the group can do what they want – I’m going to please myself tonight. Informing them to largely blank expressions that I’m off to see a band called Cabbage, I walk into the mud bath that is the Grand Pavilion (a rather grandiose title for the swampy marquee that makes up the festival’s de facto second stage). Screw what’s underfoot, oh god, these lads are incredible. Incredible. Joint lead singers Lee and Joe are perfect foils; one losing himself in furious assertion, the other more studiously focussed, both immense. It’s incredibly heartening to see a band this young still kicking up this kind of raw energy; I’m conversely dismayed to realise that the sum of the ages of those joint frontmen probably adds up to my own creeping years – a rite of passage I guess fortysomething music fans all go through. Anyway. Here’s another band who could eventually but rightly take their place in the (Greater) Manchester band roll of honour. That name might just turn out to be the only albatross round their collective necks.

I collect a beer and re-join the gang in front of the main stage as James Vincent McMorrow begins his set. Let’s just say he’s not part of the joyous four-band run and it would be doing dishwater a disservice to call it as dull. So, I inform everyone, to equally blank looks, that I’m off to watch a band called Jagwar Ma. Here’s a band, you suspect, that would be honoured to join that Manchester band roll of honour were it not for the fact that they were very much Australian. They do stir up hazy memories of Manchester music circa 1989/90 – musically speaking Happy Mondays are an obvious reference point – but the seamless joins of the set, the lighting which avoids picking out any individuals and the sea of bobbing heads gives things much more of a club feel. As does the lady beside me, in her late-fifties if she’s a day, who is throwing all the shapes of a kid in the Hacienda back in 1988. Which I guess, if she was an old-ish kid, she might well have been. There’s plenty of soul to be had in Jagwar Ma; no nasal flat vowels here, the full-throated vocals are the real deal throughout. They finish out on “The Throw” which comes with a trance-y reminder of “Wrote For Luck”, were it kissed by the beaches of South Sydney. Terrific. Really terrific.

Back then to base camp, left of the main stage. Wild Beasts are easing into their electro-poppish-male-angsty set and, again, they’re not part of the four-band run but I stick around as the kids gleefully muck around with glowsticks. I mean, the guitar player is playing his guitar with a bow and, y’know, unless your name’s Jimmy Page and all that. Anyway, I’ve promised myself half an hour of The Cribs back at the Grand Pavilion before tonight’s headliners. I’m intrigued to see what they’re like. Last time I saw them was a good few years back when they had Johnny Marr in their ranks and I might have been a little too in thrall to seeing a Smith in the flesh to really take in them in properly. They’re as raw and vital as I could have hoped, but I’m a little disheartened to notice a second guitar player just off stage filling out the sound. Jesus lads, let’s take Nirvana as an example, even they bunged Pat Smear on stage towards the end; nothing’s that sacrosanct. Nonetheless it’s a fabulous noise. I’m sort of sorry I’ve promised myself I’ll leave to see an acrobat on a large helium balloon – to be fair, it’s a lovely spectacle but when I’m informed that The Cribs end on “Mens’ Needs”, feelings are wrenched a little.

Saturday ends with Bloc Party and their taut, intense angst. It’s nominally a career-spanning set but the earlier, more traditionally indie-guitar-pop material is largely eschewed for the more evolved electronica of recent years. Kele Okereke’s yelped delivery provides the referenced angst but the musical backdrop frequently reaches euphoric crescendos, illuminated by a whirling neon lightshow. Indeed, by the time they play ‘Banquet’, well into the encore, it feels like a quaint anachronism, albeit a warmly familiar one. I swig the last of my Moretti and we trudge back to the tent to be lulled to sleep by an oddly vocal Jarvis Cocker DJ-ing at the stage just the other side of the campsite fence. A wonderful Saturday night. Wonderful.


Sunday came with grand designs. Oh such grand, grand designs. The Bootleg Beatles and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Cherry Ghost’s Simon Aldred with Joe Duddell’s No. 6 Orchestra, Public Service Broadcasting, all capped off by the headlining Flaming Lips. I mean, pick the bones out of that. We’ve already revised that. Certain amongst our number have decided they’ve had enough and the plan is to watch the Bootleg/Phil set and then pack and go. That’s then revised to packing up, taking the gear back to the car, catching the fake fab four then scooting.

And then. Ladies and gentlemen. The sodden and windswept experience of the packing up, the carting to the coach, the carting from the coach to the car means we have Officially Had Enough. Salt is rubbed into wounds by the glorious sound of The Flaming Lips soundchecking ‘Race For The Prize’, but the damage is done and we take our leave. There’s no two ways about it – my other half is so irked by the weekend, she’s vowing not to go to another festival ever. For my part, there’s been enough good music here to pull me back, but the way it teeters on autumn means I’d think twice; the camping areas are left to disintegrate into a swamp when some simple tracking or bark chippings would have made the going much more simple and the state of some of the arena areas feels downright unsafe. The premium price tag makes all that all the more irritating. “Be seeing you…” goes the Festival No.6 strapline. We’ll see…

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