MacDara Conroy picks some unsung favourites from the past two years in heavy music
Procrastination is hell of a thing. So apologies to the artists who released brilliant music over the last couple of years that I didn’t get round to supporting with words in a timely fashion. And believe me, there’s a lot of it. The following selection is by no means comprehensive, but they’re ones I haven’t seen written up anywhere else, and they should get more attention. So listen up.
Super Luxury – Ten Solid Years of Applause (self-released) So this gang of noise rockers from Leeds contacted me forever ago with their debut EP in tow, but I wasn’t reviewing EPs at the time so I asked them to get back to me when their album was out, and they did, and I promptly slept on it. My bad, because Ten Solid Years of Applause is definitely worth your time. Massive, driving riffs galore that place them well within the New Wave Of British Noise Rock (NWOBNR?) alongside the likes of Henry Blacker (whose second record Summer Tombs also came out in 2015) and fellow Leeds unit Blacklisters (whose Adult is out on NI label Smalltown America) in the filth-dripping stakes. Also like those other bands, Super Luxury have a healthy sense of humour, with the chutzpah to title a track ‘Ian MacKaye made so much money out of Fugazi that he lives in a solid gold house and drives a solid gold car and he sits on his driveway but he can’t go anywhere because the wheels are made of solid gold’. I can respect that.
Deadly Orgone Radiation – Power Trips (self-released) Veteran avant rabble-rouser Weasel Walter teamed up with English musicians James Seawards (guitar) and Alex Ward (guitar and alto sax) for this restless, relentless set of six improvised attacks on the senses. Well, I say improvised but it’s not a complete free-for-all. There are moments of inspired chaos, but Walter holds down pretty straight-forward, dead-ahead drum patterns for the most part, while the other players respond to his shifts in tempo with the ebb and flow of their squall, a double-guitar sound sparking like frayed wires but rich enough in tone that I don’t even miss the bass all that much.
Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura – S/T (Public Eyesore) Philadelphia jazz-rock trio Many Arms welcomed no-input mixer knob-twiddler Toshimaru Nakamura into the fold for this record that takes both parties into uncharted territory. Nakamura’s unmelodious tones are a slippery, undefined thing, pushing the other players — drummer Ricardo Lagomasino, bassist Johnny DeBlase and guitarist Nick Millevoi — to reach for something stronger and bolder to give shape to the whole, greater in volume and harsher in sound. Intense head music that’ll get the blood pumping, even when the tempo slows to a crawl.
Millevoi shows his other side on a more recent release, Desertion (Shhpuma), a quartet record with DeBlase, Ches Smith on drums and Jamie Saft (Black Shabbis) on keys, which can be filed alongside Earth’s The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull as an imaginary soundtrack to a sun-bleached western of the Cormac McCarthy school.
BOYFRNDZ – Impulse (Brutal Panda) Shimmering, atmospheric guitars, voluminous drums, haunted falsetto vocals and pop song structures make BOYFRNDZ’s second album Impulse, even more than their psyched-out 2014 debut Breeder, a cut above the usual post-rock offerings.
Cara Neir – Perpetual Despair is the Human Condition (Broken Limbs) Dallas duo Cara Neir made one of my favourite albums of 2013 in Portals to a Better, Dead World, and this delayed follow-up expands just that bit further upon on that record’s sonic template of blackened, punked-out death-beat to make it well worth the wait. There a stronger grindcore influence here as the band blends more bone-rattling blast beats into their heady stew of sounds, right from the outset in opener ‘Spiteful Universe’: throat-shredding screams over jackhammer drums, but paired with a bright guitar tone, and a full-bodied low-end that echoes Die Kreuzen circa October File, plus a soulful breakdown to boot. Trust me, it works.
Guerilla Toss – Eraser Stargazer (DFA) Yeah they’re based in Brooklyn and they’re on DFA and they look like someone’s conceptual art project so they’re pretty much the definition of ‘hipster’. But there’s a tangible commitment to their beautiful weirdness that marks Guerilla Toss as a band worth paying attention to. Of course it all makes sense knowing their background in improvisation and previous tenures on labels like Feeding Tube, NNA Tapes and even John Zorn’s Tzadik. But even without that history to go on, Eraser Stargazer is one of those rare art-noise-pop records that reveals hidden depths every time you play it, and keeps you coming back. You, me, whatever. What’s the elevator pitch, Deerhoof gone dance punk? That’s too facetious. But what they do have is a hefty but slinky rhythm section; a confident, hardcore-schooled front woman in Kassie Carlson; and an ear for a tune in spite of their songs’ tesseract construction.
Escuela – Non Serviam (self-released) This upstate New York trio rage across 10 seething minute-long blasts that sound like the band time-travelled to the studio where Napalm Death’s From Enslavement to Obliteration was scorched onto tape. Too loose for straight grind but too tight for power-violence, this cassette hits that sweet spot in between. It’s loud, it’s fast and it rules.
Musket Hawk – Desolate (Unholy Anarchy) Eight tracks of grind-minded sludge from this trio of Baltimore miscreants. It’s always interesting to my ears when blast beats are applied to genres where you wouldn’t expect to hear them — it’s why the rolling thunder of Inter Arma or the doom-grind of Call of the Void are so effective — and Desolate is no exception. The treacly thick production doesn’t hurt, either.
Unyielding Love – The Sweat of Augury (self-released) It was another bumper period for heavy music from this small island, what with earthquaking albums from Slomatics, Shardborne and Ainriail, and marked improvements on EPs from Galway’s Ilenkus and Dublin death dealers Vircolac. The cream of the crop, however, is the debut LP from Belfast-based grindcore merchants Unyielding Love. The Sweat of Augury is 20 minutes of anguished screams, atonal riffs and feedback noise over frenzied snare blasts and D-beat thunder. Slot with Cloud Rat and Immortal Bird as bands doing exciting things within the strictures of the genre.
Dowth – S/T (self-released) There’s a fertile music underground in this country, as celebrated by John Mulvaney’s Fractured short-film series. While they lean towards the metal end of things (as noted above) there’s a common spirit of art for art’s sake, or for the edification of making something for oneself, that carries across genres. And of course there are the edge cases, from the blackened noise drone of From the Bogs of Aughiska, steeped in esoteric folk experience, to Brian Conniffe’s many sonic tendrils. Fans of both will find a lot to love in the first self-titled LP from Dowth, comprising John Kelleher from D-beat nasties Rats Blood, and Tim Ording of international doom-rap crew Melodica Deathship. Their self-titled debut utilised traditional sounds and instrumentation reconstructed into atmospheric, melancholic, quasi-mystical dirges the polar opposite of twee diddly-eye nonsense.
Horse Lords – Interventions (Northern Spy) What is it with Baltimore and bands that love repetition? Lungfish made 10 albums’ worth of hypnotic looping notes and chords. OXES pummelled their riffs into submission. And now we have Horse Lords, a quartet simple in instrumentation — just guitar, bass, drums, the odd synth or sax part — but rich and full-bodied in practice. Interventions sounds like a krautrock band inspired by African rhythms, then fed through that US Maple prism of making unusual music with clean sounds, no distortion required. Unusual, yes, but not discordant or difficult, as the minimalist beats and subtly melodic low-end are easy to grasp despite the off-time, polyrhythmic guitar lines and their vivacious interplay. Think Don Caballero’s American Don without the muscularity and you’re on the right track.
This one’s from Northern Spy, the same Brooklyn-based label that brought you Zs’ brain-massaging Xe, Arto Lindsay’s latest solo explorations, and last year’s fantastic Craw reissues. Speaking of which…
Craw – 1993–1997 (Northern Spy) This three-LP set from Cleveland noise-slash-math rock barnacles Craw collects most of their output: the 1993 self-titled debut, 1994’s Lost Nation Road and 1997’s Map, Monitor Surge. (A fourth album, Bodies for Strontium 90, was released by Hydra Head in 2002.) Tapping the same veins as St Louis’ Dazzling Killmen, think of Craw as a loose, creeping, stalkier cousin to the cerebellum-bludgeoning assault of Keelhaul, with whom they share drummer Will Scharf on their later material. The music here is moody, unsettling, and terrific.
X___X – Albert Ayler’s Ghosts live at the Yellow Ghetto (Smog Veil) There’s more to avant rock from Cleveland than Pere Ubu, as the Electric Eels’ John Morton would very much like you to know. Or maybe he doesn’t give a shit. Whatever. In any case he’s still making a vibrant racket, here with a latter-day revival of his late 1970s experimental project X___X. Eight scratched and smudged tracks with Craig Bell (Rocket from the Tombs) and Andrew Klimek on guitars, the mood veers from the straight-forward, fuzzed-out ragged stomp of ‘Transmogrification’ and ‘Black Leather Rock’ to the playful concrète fuckery of ‘Tool Jazz’ and a cover of Albert Ayler’s ‘Ghosts’ for good measure.
Child Bite – Negative Noise (Housecore) This right here is my favourite record of the last few years, hands down — the involvement of Phil ‘I’m not a racist, honest!’ Anselmo as producer notwithstanding. Detroit’s Child Bite have been knocking around for a decade with a few albums under their collective belt (their previous one recorded by the great J Robbins) but Negative Noise is something else.
Nominally ‘noise rock’, that label doesn’t really do it here, as the lead guitar tone is relatively clean. The songs, though? There’s nothing clean about them: propulsive, vibrating rhythms married with off-kilter melodic lines with atonal flourishes, multiple time-signatures and exasperated street-preacher vocals.
Shawn Knight’s pitched-down Jello Biafra warble is perfectly matched with the restless squall of tracks like ‘Death Before Dementia’ and album standout ‘Euphoria Saturation Point’. But the band are just as apt to stretch out with the warped motorik of ‘Beyond The Dirt’. The record’s hefty, gelatinous production seals the deal; evidence, too, that Anselmo isn’t a completely irredeemable tosser.
Also published on Medium.