Friday, 19 August 2016

Tombs- All Empires Fall


Image Credit: Samantha Marble Flickr


Artist: Tombs
Albums: All Empires Fall
Record Label: Relapse Records
Release Date: April 1st 2016


Amongst the plethora of bands in any given genre there are always those who seem to constantly have an understanding of quality control. Brooklyn's black/sludge/post-metallers Tombs have just three full-lengths to their moniker, but their driving ambition and staunch lust for experimentation mean that they've already grasped the art of pushing the boundaries without ever really sounding uncomfortable. 

All Empires Fall, a five-track EP which succeeds 2014's frankly stunning Savage Gold sees them pushing the boat out further into electronic, dystopian atmospheres and waters, finding them caught in the cross-hairs between Darkthrone and Vertical- era Cult Of Luna. In 'Obsidian' they've produced one of the finest, most scathing Black Metal assaults of the year. Furiously bleak and cascading, Mike Hill's hoarse shrieks cut right to the bone. 'Last Days of Sunlight' slows the tempo to a hypnotic, tribal crawl soaked in cavernous reverb. 

'Deceiver' starts life as a pulsating, singly-note synth-driven slice of dark futurism before evolving into a rollicking, mid-paced death 'n' roll banger, and closer 'V' reaches celestial heights as it progresses. 

Evolution and progression in BM, although vibrant, has been lauded and propositioned to the heavens at this point. Bands like Tombs, who get their heads down and are unique on their own terms, and the ones who we can trust with said evolution. All Empires Fall may not be as coherent as, say, 2011's Paths of Totality, but its expansive vision and brutal, tangible song-writing make it a fully engrossing listen. 

8/10

Key Tracks: 'Obsidian', 'Deceiver', 'V'
For Fans Of: Inter Arma, Marduk 


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Wild Beasts- Boy King

Image Credit: Adam B Flickr


Artist: Wild Beasts
Album: Boy King
Record Label: Domino Recordings
Release Date: 5th August 2016

Kendal quartet Wild Beasts' prospective attitude towards sex and sexuality has always tip-toed along the line between garishness and sensuality, between blunt suggestion and a multi-layered literacy. Their fifth full-length LP Boy King recorded in Dallas and helmed by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans) comes equipped with statements from lead vocalist Hayden Thorpe like "it was time to put on the leather jacket", and "we've become the band we always objected to being". In an interview with The Quietus, Thorpe put forward Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral and The Weeknd's Beauty Behind The Madness as chief influences, citing sex as both self-deprecation and as hyper-carnal outrage. Thematically, Boy King indulges in lad culture in the most strikingly direct way, but it's not for want of a healthy (and very necessary) dose of subversion either. 

Taking as its stock male sexual entitlement as weakness, insecurity and depravity, on this record it's arguable that Wild Beasts' randiest wanderings get their most tangible and repulsive expression here. On the surface it presents itself as the kind of bravado and braggadocia that holds a mirror up to ugly club antics. The songs do recoil from that aesthetic more often than not, but they also embrace it. The real question is how far do the band go to denounce the hubris of the male front, and do they do it convincingly? 

For the most part the answer is that they're self-aware, introspective and understated enough to pull the trick off with texture and dexterity. On 'Tough Guy', perhaps the filthiest, most riff-centric moment the band have laid to tape thus far, Thorpe is almost immediately self-deprecating as he sings "you know the route well, you follow the old path, to a new Hell". The subtle but essential vocal chemistry between Thorpe and co-vocalist Tom Fleming rears it's head clearly on lead-off single 'Get My Bang'; "That's how I get my bang", coos Thorpe before Fleming counters with "we're going darker ages". 

Album highlight 'Celestial Creatures' is not so much a rejection of depravity as a positioning of it upon a lofty pedestal ("You're a deity, and I have nothing but my beliefs"). Its imagery of champagne-sipping angels glides perfectly aside the album's most beautifully kaleidoscopic moment compositionally. '2BU' is the first example of Fleming taking on lead vocal duties and he hones in on rather terrifying, stalker-ish sensibilities as he croons "I hope you run... Let's hope I don't find you first... You know that I'm the worst". Most apocalyptic and degrading of all is 'He The Colossus', a double-edged sword of lust and accountability, arrogance and self-pity; "Do I dare to desert the universe, lest I become He The Colossus?". 

Chief offender of Wild Beasts' not being sufficiently subversive is the unreservedly shallow 'Eat Your Heart Out Odonis'. Elsewhere 'Alpha Female', despite its deconstruction of male entitlement is lyrically lazy. Although Boy King is a brash and seemingly unrepentant piece of work in many ways, look closely enough through the cracks and the group's deliberate exercising of short-comings and embarrassment are intricately and interestingly dealt with. And as ever, it leaves one wondering whether the band's understanding of human nature at its most base and identifiable will ever run dry. 

7/10

Key Tracks: 'Celestial Creatures', 'He The Colossus', 'Get My Bang'
For Fans Of: Glass Animals, Radiohead  



Monday, 25 July 2016

Short Fuze & Uncommon Nasa- Autonomy Music

Artist: Short Fuze & Uncommon Nasa
Album: Autonomy Music
Record Label: Uncommon Records
Release Date: 19th July 2016

There are few in the underground Hip-Hop game who have been as prolific in recent years as Uncommon Nasa. Having been in contact with him for about three years now, a new project is always an exciting prospect- there's always the sense that it'll be a journey, a sort of post-modern re-visitation of ideas and values that are well-cited that then get re-claimed and re-dissected to comply with Nasa's personal achievements and world-view.

Autonomy Music is Nasa's third collaborative project with fellow New York MC Short Fuze. Nasa sits back and takes control of the production reigns, leaving most of the literary character of this record to Short Fuze, whose dynamic rhyming system and sometimes intensely personal lyrical direction mean that Autonomy Music (more often than not) offers exactly the right amount of feel and atmosphere that one has come to expect from Nasa's ever-widening platform, Uncommon Records.

The record's first half (save the sample-lead, reflective and re-constructive intro of 'Art Gallery of Autonomy') serves as a more direct helping, whether it be via Fuze's self-deprecating honesty on 'The Darkest Place I've Ever Been' or the gritty, hard-nosed dissonance of 'EMPD'. The production is brilliantly judged at almost every point, and gives enough space for Fuze's laid-back but urgent tones to take the front and centre stage.

It's on the doom-laden 'Self Distortion' that things begin to get more poetically introspective. "Hell is a ferocious prison", quips Fuze with tangible vulnerability, with Curly Castro coming through with a verse the smacks of loss and disappointment. Though this track (and others before it) re-traces religious iconography, at first it's hard to know whether to take these references as sardonic or not, but on 'Time And Space' any rejection of nihilism is swiftly done away with; "Reaching for the teachings of God, when the hand that feeds is bitten off", jests Fuze cruelly, re-citing the same disdain for spiritual belief on the following 'Addicted to the Horn'. On the penultimate track 'Oddest Future', over Nasa's crushingly stomping boom-bap Fuze is almost reminiscent of Zach De La Rocha in his rapid fire, venomous righteousness.

Though Autonomy Music doesn't ever really drop the ball in terms of its thematic guidance, there are some less memorable moments. When it's at its absolute peak (the last four songs) it's steam-roller momentum comprised of reflection, personality and lyrical providence offers a vast plain of thought-provoking and musically hard-hitting listening. These days, Uncommon Records has basically become synonymous with esoteric quality.

7/10

Key Tracks: 'Oddest Future', 'Time And Space', 'The Darkest Place I've Ever Been'
For Fans Of: Aesop Rock, Run The Jewels

Monday, 18 July 2016

Wildernessking- Mystical Future


Artist: Wildernessking
Album: Mystical Future
Record Label: Smgs
Release Date: 5th February 2016

Star-Gazing Black Metallers bring spacious, naturalistic but raw euphoria to bear on their second full-length

Since the turn of the 21st century it has become increasingly plausible to suggest and even recommend Black Metal to the average music nerd, even if their forays into the heavier end of the spectrum are few and far between. To call it the "Deafheavan" conversation in this instance would be slightly unjust, because Cape Town quartet Wildernessking don't really sound anything like that band. They've far more in common with pre-George Clark USBM than that, and their second LP Mystical Future is a work of Earthy, epic proportions. 

Opener 'White Horse' is a slow-burning voyage that sets out the band's penchant for raw but soaring atmospheric favouritism; the guitars are wholesomely thick, the snares crack with lo-fi, primal rootsiness. The rollicking 'I Will Go To Your Tomb' shows off their effortless construction brilliance, validated at the end by a bout of cosmic ecstacy. 

'To Transcend' is a restrained but purposeful guidance through shimmering naturalistic atmosphere, the space between the notes both cavernous and barely there, the tone both melancholy and hopeful. Most glorious of all though is the 13-minute closer 'If You Leave', accompanied sweetly in its first four minutes by haunting angelic female vocals, before regaining star-gazing heights via beautiful melodic progressions and masterful tremolo picking. 

The spaciousness on the record falls short of being airy and although the aesthetic is nothing particularly new, the craft and sense of emotional fulfilment on offer here carries it rather majestically. There's no question that this is a record that will appease Black Metal fans first and foremost, but there's plenty of feeling and eloquence here that many would find resonance in. 

8/10

Key Tracks: 'If You Leave', 'To Transcend', 'I Will Go To Your Tomb' 
For Fans Of: Agalloch, Winterfylleth 



Clipping.- Wriggle EP


Artist: Clipping. 
Album: Wriggle EP
Record Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: 13th June 2016

LA noiseniks release another bout of dark, sexually depraved unpleasantness with quick-fire spitting and hooks to boot

Like all the so-called "Noise-Hop" groups, Los Angeles trio Clipping.'s respect for the genre and self-assurance goes back much further and deeper than the mainstream intrigue sparked by Kanye West's Yeezus, or even Death grips for that matter. Their new six-track EP, Wriggle, is another depraved chapter in their relatively singular warp-zone. As has become the case in point with Clipping., it's not so much visionary as it is filthily entertaining. 

It starts with 'Intro', a 50-second acapella lightning bolt by MC Daveed Diggs, whose esoteric portrayal of gutter-level violence leads fittingly into the banging 'Shooter', which sees him navigate his way through creative references and one-liners before rounding off hilariously on the line "caught his ass on demand, Netflix". 'Back Up' is deliriously noisy, propelled by head-spinning rhythms and bouts of melody-less scree with great guest appearances from both Antwon and Signor Benedick The Moor. The title track samples UK power-electronics group Whitehouse to near-perfection, complete with destructive snare claps and a murky acid-house inflection with Diggs shamelessly accounting a cross-sexuality BDSM situation.

Though it carries on the EP's reprobate initiative, a stellar Cakes Da Killa verse can't save 'Hot Fuck No Love' from being the least interesting moment in that inflection, and 'Our Time' is a bleak ode to loss and heartbreak that is reflective but feels slightly out of place. But Clipping.'s music has always been more about feel and violence than it has about being overtly profound, and for the most part Wriggle's degenerate oeuvre is thrilling. 

7/10

Key Tracks: 'Wriggle', 'Back Up', 'Shooter' 
For Fans Of: Death Grips, Shabazz Palaces 



LISTEN: Karenn Resident Advisor Podcast

Image Credit: Rene Passet Flickr 

Blawan (Jamie Roberts) and Pariah (Arthur Cayzar) have been among UK techno's most staple, sought after purveyors for the last decade or so, but nowhere is their vision, chemistry and sonic tenderness more evident than in their collaborative Karenn project. This hour-and-a-half set, recorded live at the MMA in Munich in April and released as part of Resident Advisor's legendary podcast series is an incendiary bosh of dark, pounding, often twisted and sometimes gorgeous improvised techno that's as banging as it is subtle, as hyper-coloured as it is subterranean. Their thoroughbred understanding is on display here, as even when you can hear them pondering which aural pathway to take next, the journey remains cohesive. 

Speaking to RA about the idea behind the set, Cayzar said: 

Aside from the way that we approached the tour as a whole, there wasn't really a specific aim for this show. During the tour we really tried to focus on stripping things back a bit, letting ideas roll out for a bit longer and to concentrate more on the sound rather than plugging the machines in and just going for it! We recorded most of the shows we played during the tour and, in general, we've been pretty happy with the quality of the recordings- although the fact that everything is totally improvised means that it can be hard to ever be 100% happy with an entire 90-minute or two hour set. 

You can stream/ download the podcast and read the full interview with Cayzar and Roberts over on the Resident Advisor site

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Swans- The Glowing Man

Image Credit: digboston Flickr 

Artist: Swans
Album: The Glowing Man
Record Label: Young God
Release Date: 16th June 2016

Michael Gira's legendary noise-makers sign out with one of the most transcendental records of their career. 

It's easy to look at the current state of worldwide affairs and denounce this age as the final downward spiral of humanity. Depressingly, for many of those among the most unfortunate it has all too often seemed as though their fates have been prized from their hands; gone in a millisecond with no confirmation of return or purpose. Together with his band Swans, Michael Gira has been the gutter-level voice of primal anxiety and loss since the early '80s. Since their reformation in 2009, they've continued shamelessly to force their apocalyptic purview into practice, becoming ever more expansive and all-consuming in the process; 2014's To Be Kind was the sound of entire galaxies pushing the self-destruct button. The Glowing Man, which will be their final album in this incarnation, is somewhat a depiction of the aftermath. How have our lives changed now that they're seemingly forfeit? Who is left to pick up the pieces?

Though The Glowing Man doesn't provide archetypal answers to those questions, it does reach pretty transcendental peaks via a number of passages. Lyrically it's bursting at the seams with themes of death and rebirth; not new ground in literary terms for Gira by any means, but in the context of this being a farewell of sorts it's more pertinent. Musically it feels like the band has been lifted as well. Whether it's the unfurling pathos of opener 'Cloud Of Forgetting' or the sprawling, disjointed 25-minutes of 'Cloud Of Unknowing', it's all delivered from a decrepit but lofty pedestal. The latter in particular meanders its way through sudden seismic shocks and propulsive, barren hypnotism. 

On 'The World Looks Red/ The World Looks Black' there's a shift from immersive cynicism to nightmarish actualisation halfway through, chants of "Follow! Follow!" accompanied by violent stabs of brass and twisted electronics. There's chemical transcendence too via references to heroin and MDMA on 'Frankie M'. Faith is pulled into the equation sardonically with regards to Gira's Bible-imputing intonations. The monstrous title track traverses from Gira in full mental breakdown mode to the band's skull-crushing instrumental nihilism to the ecstatic peaks of volume and intensity we've come to expect. 




Femininity is exuded all over this record, as it was on 2012's The Seer. The hellish female accompaniments to Gira's shamanism on 'Cloud Of Unknowing' are spine-tingling enough, but it's the disturbingly dark 'When Will I Return?' that hits the hardest. Sung by Gira's wife, it opens with the line "his hands are round my throat, my key is in his eye..." in a harrowing depiction of domesticated abuse, before becoming more cathartic as she sings "I still kill him in my sleep" before rounding off with repetition of "I'm alive".

As the glistening, soft-industrial bounce of 'Finally, Peace' reaches it's halfway point and and vocal circulation of "the glory is mine", one has to wonder if Gira is laughing at us. Has he finally been proven right after all these years of doom-mongering? Has he become a spirit, his fate finally back within his reach? And yet it feels like there's more to come from Swans. Exactly what kind of future is in store is still an enigma. It's arguable that no group has used finality more ambiguously than this one, and just as the case seems to be in Worldwide, everyday life at the moment, the hope for restoration is maybe the most profound we have.

9/10

Key Tracks: 'The Glowing Man', 'Cloud Of Unknowing', 'The World Looks Red/ The World Looks Black', 'When Will I Return?'
For Fans Of: This Heat, Sonic Youth