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SLOATH — Sloath (LP, Riot Season)

Posted: May 30th, 2010, by Simon Minter

Sloath exist in an ever-more-crowded, and increasingly tiresome corner of the musical world. They play crushing, sludgy heavy rock with the tempo turned down to a snail’s pace. As do many other bands. Crushing, sludgy, slow-tempo heavy rock is becoming the alternative band’s modus operandi du jour, because perhaps it’s the kind of music that’s often misconstrued as easy to make. It’s not, which is why so many bands fail at this stuff. Anybody can play a slow riff over and over, but not all can make doing so engaging, powerful and effective.

Sloath get things pretty right on their self-titled debut album. Three tracks only, none less than ten minutes long, the last almost twenty. What they seem to have grasped is that when you’re making this kind of noise, it starkly exposes every element, and demands of the listener an appreciation of repetition that had damned well better get rewarded. So when writing about this it’s difficult to do much beyond pointing out some of the important turning points in each track: overall, this is an album of hard riffs, slow speeds and a seemingly non-shifting sensibility, but it’s surprisingly rich and crafted when pulled apart.

‘Black Hole’ blasts in with a full frequency wall of sound. Feedback curls and meaningless vocal wails are swallowed into long howls of guitar before a glass-shattering six-string scream cuts things to an abrupt end. ‘Cane Trader’ seems almost traditional at first – a circling riff with skittering drum patterns. Five minutes in, it begins to break things apart, with the introduction of dive-bombing guitar lines which drag the tune down into a deeper circle of noise. ‘Please Maintain’ begins as almost tender, with a sweet melody turning, through three notes, into a dark place. Echoes of plucked notes are warm and comforting. Around nine minutes in, the rug is pulled and things get ramped up, get more serious. Speakers can barely contain the squall of layers that are repeatedly added (one of which is almost a guitar solo, unwound to a tenth of normal playing speed). After seventeen minutes, we reach the other side of the storm, with shimmering echoes of cymbal gradually bringing the album to a close. The in-the-red fuzz sounds of a recording that can’t really handle the volume in the studio adds a certain physicality to the album – like it’s angrily contained within the silver disc, but bursting at its edge.

Sloath on MySpace
Riot Season website


Posted: May 4th, 2010, by Simon Minter

Hey Colossus certainly know how to churn out the misanthropic, churning noise, don’t they? This is their sixth album (at least), coming along shortly after the previous one. I’m convinced that Hey Colossus were, in the past, some kind of joke and/or irony band, but now they sound totally serious. Can anybody sustain this amount of relentlessness and intensity, and not mean it?

There are eight tracks here. The two longest bookend the rest, suggesting a palindrome of a collection with the title track hovering around the centre. ‘Question’ is one long, hellish intro, with abstract guitar in the background, the occasional bass drone, and a Sunn o)))-style two-note riff chiming in to set the tone. This all seeps into a general miasma of noise in which distorted screams seem to float, everything rushing back and forward on the stereo channels. It really is somewhat full-on, and sets the tone perfectly. ’13 Millers Court’ next solidifies the two-note riff into chugging, da-da-da repetition. Then come the vocals – like Aphex Twin’s ‘Come to Daddy’ gone further south. There’s a song in here, but it’s piled underneath a metric ton of noise and derangement. It’s like Can if they’d grown up in 1970s Birmingham. After ‘Shithouse’, a random noise collage, comes ‘Pope Long Haul III’, picking up the pace to something approximating Big Business/Melvins/Karp style thunking noise, which is then slammed repeatedly into a wall. It has some sort of groove, but buried underneath wailing screams, feedback and odd tinkles of what sound like electronic noise. This finally begins to expose itself, as the track disintegrates into something similar to Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising connecting sound passages, before dropping into some kind of musique concrete weirdness.

At the album’s centre is ‘Eurogrumble’, which heads freefalling into a downward spiral. It’s got upbeat rhythm, dissonant noise, screaming and wailing, wound into a never-ending roll of energy. Out of this comes ‘Dredges’, a well-named shifting tectonic plate of a tune, with vocals become distorted to a point of disintegration. ‘King Come’ then reflects the earlier ’13 Millers Court’ – (superb) riffs and structure, but played as if from the inside of Hawkwind’s broken speakers. Finally, ‘Wait Your Turn’ echoes ‘Question’ with a strident, portentous feel: slowly, heavily played notes tracing a path through the endless feedback and reverb, eventually collapsing into the intense and repeated hammering of a single note, voices burbling in the background, squelches and electronic squeaks gasping for air, as an insistent drumbeat attempts to tie it all together. Finally, it stutters to a halt, with no extended outro, no long fade, just silence.

So are Hey Colossus a joke band? I really don’t think so, and this album makes me think even more that perhaps they never were. There’s a moment about four minutes into ‘Eurogrumble’ where a guitar line peeps out of the noise – this proves effortlessly that the band are in full control, and have crafted this stuff very carefully. It’s pretty magnificent.

Hey Colossus website
Riot Season website

TODDLERS – 2 (CD-R, self-released)

Posted: April 24th, 2010, by Simon Minter

Toddlers are based in the glorious Berkshire hellhole that is Reading: in the past, my home for over a decade, fact fans. This is their second self-released set of songs, and if you can get past the patchy, fuzzy recording quality you might find yourself with a band that at least hints at being capable of interesting things. They have five songs here, each of which approximates a buzzing, gloomy take on angled post-grunge-rock from a slightly different perspective. Largely instrumental, their songs are constructed around the repeated deployment of a bluesy riff, augmented by some pretty fine drum rolls and flutters and an interest in experimenting with odd sounds and timing. They could perhaps benefit from laying off on even the scant vocal intrusions that are displayed here – ‘I didn’t get where I am today’ particularly suffers from being dragged into an amateurish sound that seems half joke and half noncommittal box-ticking. However, when Toddlers decide to more confidently go in a direction that could become their own, it can really work. ‘Preston’ falls into a Krautrockesque repetition of a single melodic line (à la Quickspace), and ‘World of men’ takes the blueprint of Nirvana’s angry, buzzing Bleach and slows it down to a creepy, threatening Melvins pace. These two songs hint at some kind of grunge-gone-weird sound that could one day see Toddlers contributing to a line of bands like, or at least influenced by, Melvins, Butthole Surfers or Karp. At present they’re not displaying the chops or focus to do that, but one never knows…

Toddlers on Myspace

John ‘Drumbo’ French: Through The Eyes Of Magic

Posted: March 27th, 2010, by Simon Minter

John ‘Drumbo’ French: Through The Eyes Of Magic review and interview

Here’s a review of John French’s recent Beefheart history opus Through The Eyes Of Magic and, what’s more, an exclusive interview with the man himself. Thanks to our guest contributor Stephen Toman for this!

HEY COLOSSUS/DETHSCALATOR — Hey Colossus Vs Dethscalator (LP, Black Labs)

Posted: January 24th, 2010, by Simon Minter

Hey Colossus have just one track on this, the latest in their growing line of full-length releases. And full-length it certainly is: their ‘Eyes For An Eye / Unlive Wire / Ain’t No Love In The Mallet’ medley is over twenty-one minutes in length, and it’s pretty gruelling stuff. I’m sure that this band started out as something of a joke, or a fun side project – and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, just that I’m not sure at what point in their career they became this brutal. This isn’t twenty-plus minutes of screaming and noise, however; it’s more unsettling than that. They create a whirling, miasmic confusion of echoing sound and muttering, distant voices, that’s as frightening as it is compelling and, frankly, weird. Dethscalator pitch in with five tracks of – in this context – far more normal music. Extract these tracks into their own release however, and they’d be pretty surreal in themselves: strangled, urgent vocals sputtered over growling pseudo-black metal riffing and moody, stalking rhythms. They’re at their most effective when they warp things out a bit, especially on the fantastically-named ‘You Know Nothing About Cars Or Martial Arts’, on which the vocals are special-effected into all kinds of weird places, over a never-ending repetition of riff that pounds the listener into the kind of delirious, happy dark place that Circle manage to do when at their most rockingest. This is the first release from Riot Season offshoot Black Labs, and it’s set the bar pretty high. More!

Hey Colossus website
Dethscalator website
Black Labs on Myspace

TODD — Big Ripper (CD, Riot Season)

Posted: January 17th, 2010, by Simon Minter

Todd’s first release in a couple of years is a giant sludgy beast, a collapsing timber mill of a record that the jaunty lumberjack on its sleeve can’t even hope to prepare you for. They’ve always been fearsomely loud, and sleazily proud, but this might just be the album on which they really got it together. It’s got the noise, distortion, mayhem and feedback that’ll be all too frighteningly familiar to any previous listeners, but on Big Ripper it’s wrapped up in an unexpectedly new and thoughtful package.

The album spends much of its time screaming into your brain and piling up freakish glimpses into a selection of dark places, but there is real structure and, dare I say it, artistry at work here. First track ‘Track Side Fire’ has an actual middle eight, and an almost conventional song structure, for example. ‘The (R)web’, as another case study, adds real texture and breaks down into a weird, random set of echoed notes, like honest-to-goodness proper experimental music. By the time we reach ‘French and in France’, a strange, slow-paced lurch of a song, echoed guitars and feedback squalls dropping in before disappearing away into a hallucinogenic struggle against noise, it suddenly becomes clear what’s going on here. Todd are traditional hard rock filtered through today’s post-everything musical landscape, slammed up against a wall of alcohol, drugs and unhealthy interests. They crunch and rock like violent thugs, but they’ve got hearts of black gold and dangerous, sharp brains ticking over on their collective back burner. Final track ‘French and out of France’ is the flipside to mayhem – a creepy, relentless, distorted stalker’s presence, that burrows into the floor as a final, belching digital pulse leading into silence. It’s a fittingly intense and confusing end to an album that refuses to ever do what you’d expect.

Todd on Myspace
Riot Season

SUTUREE – Suturee (CD, self-released)

Posted: September 14th, 2009, by Simon Minter

Okay, okay, so this album came out way back in the distant past – well, 2008 at least – and it’s totally remiss of me to have taken until now to get around to writing even these bare few words about it. In all honesty though, that’s one aspect of ‘being a reviewer’ that I can never get my head around: the need to act hastily and be constantly at the mercy of release schedules and whatnot. Nuts to all that, I say, music’s supposed to be timeless, isn’t it? Surely that should stand for reviews, too. Especially in these days of digital downloads and blah blah blah. Anyway. Suturee – ie ‘one who has been sutured’ – have put together a lovely album here. It’s sleepy and slightly blurred in the way that Galaxie 500 once were – soft rhythm tracks with clear guitar lines ringing through, and almost whispered dual male/female vocals. A sense of relaxation and bliss permeates. It’s a really clean production, too, with lots of space left open by the dulled drums, allowing for echo and reverb to ring out on the vocal and guitar lines. There’s something of the Low about Suturee, but without being so dramatically sparse. This is more lush (with a lower-case l), with some of that post-MBV subtle strummed-chords-being-bent guitar stuff going on. What sets it apart from being yet another nu-shoegaze recording, though, is a sense of exploration and differentness that comes through from time to time. The banjo that ramps up the emotion on ‘Afraid Of Hands’, or the piano-led sad whimsy of ‘Wait Less’, suggest more than simple copycatting going on here. It’s also beautifully compact – nine tracks in just over half an hour. Yep, it took me maybe a year to listen to just over half an hour of music. Luckily, it was very much worth the wait.

Suturee website

Joe Gideon & The Shark – check ’em out

Posted: June 21st, 2009, by Simon Minter

Over the course of today’s listening I’ve had the debut album by Joe Gideon & The Shark, Harum Scarum, on quite a few times. It’s scratching an itch I didn’t know needed scratching, by fulfilling my desires for a band that sounds like a combination of Nick Cave, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Sonic Youth. Or a beat poet freestyling over PJ Harvey’s music. Or something. Anyway: buy the album. It’s a goodun.

Here’s a rather cool video for ‘DOL’ from the album:

Here’s a Myspace page. Joe Gideon used to be in Bikini Atoll, which cannot be a bad thing.

CHEVAL SOMBRE – Cheval Sombre (CD, Double Feature CD-DBL-0003)

Posted: June 20th, 2009, by Simon Minter

It’s going to be difficult not to mention the influence of Sonic Boom on this album. There’s a clear line that can be traced from Spacemen 3’s more somnambulant and hazy output, through the electronic recreations of psychedelic states of Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research, to arrive at a collection of songs here that uncannily refers to and builds on the feelings of drug-damaged bliss that Sonic Boom has been wandering through for years. Indeed, the Rugbyite ex-Spaceman himself has his fingers entwined with those of Cheval Sombre here – playing organ and ‘effects’ and contributing his formidable production skills to create a crystal-clear sound where every guitar twang and electronic throb has its own space to exist.
Cheval Sombre seem to have friends in high places. There’s not only the Sonic Boom connection, but also the guest musicianship of Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips – aka Luna, and the man who started Galaxie 500 – on several tracks. Double Feature, who released the album, is the label of Wareham and Phillips. So there it is; a close-knit unit of musicians with a pretty impressive heritage.
The question is, does it work? Is this album the beautiful, lost offspring of a union between Spacemen 3, Spectrum, Galaxie 500 and Luna? To some extent, yes it is. The whole album exists at a slow pace, with blissfully soft guitar strum floating gracefully above an almost constant hum of electronic tones, and long arcs of feedback forming a sitar-like background to much of the work. At times – ‘Troubled Mind’ and Doors cover ‘Hyacinth House’ for example – the drone core to the music is lost, giving the music a lift into the stratosphere to add a further layer of dreaminess. There’s a careful maintaining of ‘feel’ at play here; the result, as a whole, is as if the band are collectively winding down after a previous heavy night. With a vocal style very much like the small, reedy, blues tones used by Spacemen 3, there is sometimes a fear that the music is so light that it might fall apart. It just about holds it together, capturing the listener in the eye of a very gentle storm, but it might be good to hear some of the chaos that surely existed before this type of bliss can have been attained. That was always one of the attractions of Spacemen 3 – their ability to dive headlong into mayhem – and so perhaps Cheval Sombre could expand their sound into these more heady areas. As it is though, I’m satisfied enough to drift away for a while with this album.

Cheval Sombre live in New York:

Cheval Sombre at Myspace
Double Feature at Myspace

Merchandise – Lies Like These

Posted: June 7th, 2009, by Simon Minter

I’ve spoken favourably of Merchandise on these internet pages before, so here’s a fun, cute video they’ve just put out there to go with their ‘Lies Like These’ ditty. Nice.