Wych Elm - Rabbit Wench

Black Dog

Released: 24th September 2021 / January 2022


Ostensibly released in September 2021, most people would only have seen their copies of Wych Elm's second EP arriving at the start of 2022 due to well advertised pressing plant delays. In the nearly three years since their debut, the band have changed considerably, both in personnel and maturity. The seven-track Rat Blanket EP saw a very pronounced Pixies' influence and though the new Wych Elm have not fallen far from the tree, the same influences have been subsumed into a more confident band outlook where their own ideas are given as much validity as anybody else's. What hasn't changed is the length of the songs. Again, there isn't a track here that has made it to three minutes with five of the seven being snuffed out before they have even reached two. Wych Elm don't tease you, they deliver short, sharp punches and move on with haste. The seven tracks here, then, stretch this EP to just fourteen minutes, though there is enough in it to more than bruise you all over. Singer Caitlin Elliman has a fascination with folklore and like most West Country souls understands that folk music is not about dancing round the maypole with a flagon of mead but inuring yourself to the misery of existence before bits start falling off and you rot on the inside and out, trapped in the uncaring circle of life where death walks with you every day. Life is not fun. More than one of the songs here has sprung from the experience of a dysfunctional relationship and how that can pervert your thought processes; others focus more generally on misogyny rooted in the past and remaining in the present. These aren't happy little ditties or singalongs. Musically, the songs still have the resonance of early darker Pixies' or Breeders' tunes, with dragging guitars crawling over heavy basslines and concise drumming. There are starts and stops that leave room for Elliman to register her protests, occasionally a howl, occasionally a mutter, often a repetition. This relays the sense of dark magic stirring as spells are being cast. There's the occasional surprise. Producer Dom Mitchinson (known as the fifth member of Spectres) plucks on the balalaika on 'Feed Me' while guitarist Jack Hitchins picks up the accordian on closer 'Rabbit'. Along with Elliman, Hitchins is the only survivor from the band's first incarnation and he remains fascinating to watch in the band's live adventures. Get to see them play and get hold of a copy of Rabbit Wench while you still can. Only five hundred were pressed and there are still some available from Bandcamp.

The Loved One - Locate And Cement


Released: 5th November 2021


There's not many records that have been so misunderstood as The Loved One's 1985 album Locate And Cement which on its release was described as "the perfect example of the least desirable record on the planet." Dryden Hawkins and Zeb Yek had been creating genre-defying electronic music since 1978, but came to a wider audience as The Loved One with their appearance on the legendary Some Bizzare Album in 1981. Locate And Cement was originally released in 1985 and, like the duo's other works, contains an almost forensic level of detail in the sound design and production. Clearly this is not an easy listening collection but investigation will find it rewarding and inspiring, especially for anyone with even a passing interest in synthesizers and sound manipulation. Its mood is not a million miles removed from that of the experimental recordings created by Wire's Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis in the early 1980s as it teases out broken soundscapes and fills them with crooked structures and roads to nowhere. There's a respect for silence; almost a gothic fascination with the dying of sound, and where there are voices, they mock expectation and convention, seeking to dislocate and disturb. The legendary Peter Appleton built some unique electro-acoustic instruments and The Loved One take these to their hearts on this album and put them on tape to powerful effect. This newly remastered and restored CD version of Locate And Cement sounds astonishing. The fine detailing and clarity are a delight to hear after so many years of only being able to listen to these compositions on well worn vinyl. And with original copies being difficult to find, this is a most welcome reissue. Other remastered releases from their back catalogue are also available directly from Metaphon and you could do a lot worse than to investigate.

With thanks to Gavin Brick ...

Mienakunaru - Blood Sun

Cardinal Fuzz / Feeding Tube

Released: 10th December 2021


Less than eleven months on from releasing their debut album on Drone Rock Records, Mienakunaru return with their second offering, Blood Sun, a four-track collection that very much continues where Lost Bones Of The Holy Butterfly left off. Released on Cardinal Fuzz in Europe and Feeding Tube in the States, this is forty-one minutes of crushing abandon as the "power trio of psychedelic noise rock and space punk" continue to explore the dark side of the sun. With the debut consisting of only one track split over two sides of vinyl, the band here have opted for four songs, though the title track takes up the whole of one half of the record, stretching to over twenty-one minutes. Of course it's a monster. Opening with a crescendo of crashing metal and guitars on countdown to lift off, the band unleash mayhem. Drummer Dave Sneddon is relentless and probably smashed his way through a couple of kits while Mike Vest's bass rises and falls as he attempts to put a lid on the carnage. Junzo Suzuki's guitars flay everything in their path and they benefit from the murky recording as they probably would have sliced through your head had they sounded any sharper. 'All Too Real' lessens the assault on your brain, but affects you in more insidious ways, the guitars protesting grimly as Sneddon takes a breather and Vest stokes the fires. This track seeps under your skin and infects you slowly and deliberately. 'Invisible Hammerblow' grinds away gloriously, while closer 'Red Flesh' stumbles into existence and staggers grimly across your conciousness leaving a filthy trail. Blood Sun is huge, noisy, drugged and no doubt would knock you senseless live. What is there not to love? It has been pressed in a run of 500 copies on heavy opaque white vinyl and housed in a 350gsm matt laminated sleeve. There appear to be a few copies still at the Cardinal's shop so snap one up while you can.

Ornamental - Ornamental

Weird Beard

Released: 14th January 2022


Despite the nightmare of the production crisis at the pressing plants, Weird Beard still managed to release a fair number of excellent albums last year and they have been quick off the mark in 2022 to make available the latest offerings from Series 2 of their limited edition cassettes. Ornamental is the alter ego of Sidney Jaffe, the former singer and drummer in the psychedelic rock bands Burnpilot and Arcane Allies, and sideman in Dai Kaiju and Revvnant. Producing music since 2013, Jaffe has been better known in recent years as a DJ working in Amsterdam and Berlin. When the coronavirus hit Europe, Jaffe relocated to the west German countryside where he began to move away from electronic club music and instead embraced the synthesised sounds of Tangerine Dream and Terry Riley, and Asian new age ambient artists such as Tengger and Hiroshi Yoshimura. The cassette features eight songs over thirty-eight minutes which were originally released as two four-track EPs, Tangerine Utopic Dreaming and Zeitguised, the first of which was recorded during the lockdown and the latter recorded afterwards in Jaffe's old studio in Tempelhof, Berlin. It's clear that Jaffe hasn't rid himself entirely of his DJ leanings as there's a definite club edge to many of these recordings that push them just over the road from ambient, despite including plenty of the soothing sounds that are familiar to that genre. Even where the synths tickle away pleasantly in 'Total Flotation' they are carried off by an urgent beat, and there is a lovely psychedelic club feel to 'Impossible Forms'. There is also a distinct pysch edge to the short but throbbing "Mortal Decay' which more than once forgets its way home. The songs from the earlier EP are more investigative synth workouts. 'Surrendering To A Principal' is experimental space rock which is refused permission to take off and is left lounging around to ponder the meaning of life, while 'Bath Solace' is gently reassuring where synths chatter and hum without any particular urgency. Another fascinating release from Weird Beard; no doubt the tapes will have sold out in a nano-second, but indulge in the downloads from Bandcamp.

The Weather Prophets -

Janice Long Session 10.10.85

John Peel Session 01.12.85

Precious Recordings of London

Released: 1st February 2022
Despite the problems with getting records pressed over the past year, Precious have succeeded in releasing a fair number of their classy double-seven-inch gatefold singles featuring radio sessions fom the janglier edge of the 1980s' indie scene. Complete with interesting liner notes, postcards and downloads, these really are impressive packages, capturing plenty of music that has never before had a physical release and stirring memories that had been lying dormant for many years. The latest offerings from The Weather Prophets feature a Janice Long session from autumn 1985 and a John Peel session from winter 1986 that capture the band in different stages of development. When they recorded for Janice Long, The Weather Prophets were a new group formed after Peter Astor and Dave Morgan had departed from The Loft, and the only song we had heard from them was 'Worm In My Brain' which had been included on Creation's Different For Domeheads compilation. This is clearly a band finding its feet with songs that were largely in the development stage. '24 Years' was later re-recorded as 'Head Over Heels' for the Mayflower album and here it is half a minute shorter, lighter and a little more tentative than the finished article which adds intricacy, confidence and touches of organ that give the music more depth. 'Lighthouse Room' was later released as 'Wide Open Arms' and featured as one of the b-sides of the band's 'Almost Prayed' twelve-inch. The change here is even more pronounced, the original version being again some half-a-minute shorter and lacking the toms that give the final version a distinct Spanish feel as well as the grating guitar solo. 'Love Song No.1' never appeared in any format after being recorded for this session, though it was played live by the band. Here Astor's vocal is sung gently as the guitars relay an almost-Doorsian blues riff. The final track is more familiar, being the version of the 'I Almost Prayed' single that was ultimately released by Creation after the band had failed to better it in their own studio.

The Peel session from December 1986 sees the band at the height of their fame. Two popular Creation singles had raised their profile and they were about to record for Creation/WEA offshoot Elevation where major label backing was expected to see them rocket to national success. Three of the songs on this session were to be re-recorded and included on the band's debut album, Mayflower, while 'Hollow Heart' became a Creation single in 1988 after the band's major label adventure was over. The session version of 'Swimming Pool Blue' is nearly fifty seconds longer than the eventual album version and the lighter approach works well, making the song far more enjoyable. Producer Dale Griffin certainly had a sensitive touch which works very effectively on these jangly gems and it would have been interesting to see how Mayflower would have turned out if he had been at the helm. 'Faithful' is a world better than the album version, remaining the same length but dropping the nasty backing harmonies and the overly fussy arrangement. 'She Comes From The Rain' is equally silky, coming in twenty seconds shorter than the eventual single, but the final version remains one of the best moments on the album and probably benefits from its firming up. Both versions of 'Hollow Heart' have their merits. The untreated vocal is better on the session version, though the Creation single has better guitar work and a nice solo.

Again, this is a fascinating release from Precious which is well worth an investment. It has been pressed in an edition of 475 of which fewer than ninety remain so don't miss out. It can be picked up at Bandcamp here.

The Janitors - Noisolation Session Volume 2

Cardinal Fuzz / Little Cloud / Bad Afro

Released: February 2022


In March 2020 The Janitors had their new album all written and had booked studio time in the north of Sweden to get the tracks recorded. It was to be the band's first album since 2017's Horn Ur Marken, and so anticipation was high. Their plans were shot to pieces when the coronavirus hit and forced everything to change. The band instead retreated to their own studio to work on the songs but ended up recording a host of new ones which were consequently released as Noisolation Session Volume 1. With the virus keeping a tight grip on the world, there was nothing for the band to do after the first album's release but to start recording again, and another eight new songs were shaped that now appear as Noisolation Session Volume 2. Both records serve as true lockdown albums, with The Janitors stressing that they had no other path to follow. "This wasn’t our choice. We really didn’t want to do this record, but the pest that fell upon us kept pushing. So after Volume 1 we started recording again, but without the confinement of the regulations we put up for the first volume. We allowed ourselves to think beyond just one night of creativity and this is what we came up with. These songs really reflect us at this moment. We're not sure if that means anything to anyone except us, but it is important to us. This is a testimony of what we left behind and what we hope for the future."

The eight songs on Volume 2 very much follow on from those on their predecessor, being dark, hypnotic, one-eyed and bitter. They trudge along at marching pace with very little variation in tempo, seemingly in no hurry to get anywhere. The mood is ominous as drums mark time, encouraged by a seething bass, with neither apparently keen to pass you by. Instead they look you in the eye and their threat is only underscored by guitars and vocals that have no restraint. This works to best effect on 'Levoton' which opens slowly and darkly, dripping menace, before erupting halfway through. The vocals become more intimidating while guitars scrape through the fabric of the world before pouring through the rips they have made. It's a great moment, but there are many such here. 'Thin Line' is touched by psych weirdness. See-saw guitars envelop you, vocals become distorted, and everything sounds half a step out of order. Bloody hell, this is good stuff. 'Making Demons' also has a sting in the tail, distorted guitars hacking and wailing while the battering ram rhythms remain. Closer 'Nowhere To Come Down' sums up all that has preceeded it, storming off in a welter of noise and sounding, quite frankly, glorious. In contrast, opening number 'Bellwellhell' leads us relatively gently into the hell that awaits, guitars stretching forward, its vocals half buried. Only at its death does it begin to spit and shout but it has already led us to 'Rymdamnden' which weaves its hypnotic spell. "On the edge of insanity, looking up there is nothing to see. So pick me up and take me where I wanna be" ... We're already lost.

This is another record that only exists because of the pandemic, and though it's a moral struggle to find positives in a world in crisis, it has to be said that things are better with this record in our lives. This is an album you will return to again and again and one you could play on repeat without the slightest hint of weariness. It's bloody fantastic.

Lastryko - Sesje

Weird Beard

Released: 18th February 2022


It's almost exactly two years since Weird Beard released Lastryko's Tętno Pulsu on vinyl, and the Polish quartet have returned to the label with their new offering Sesje ("Sessions"), a collection of four improvised instrumentals in which the band are aiming to find the "sweet spot halfway between kraut-infused electronic music and something soulful and repetitive." It was always WB's intention to give this a vinyl release, but with the current meltdown at the pressing plants this has been put on temporary hold, with one hundred cassettes being produced in the meantime to fill the gap. This tape, then, is not a part of the label's famous limited series of cassettes – with a larger number than usual being produced – but it is a necessary attempt to ensure the band's music is not held back by logistical problems. Lastryko recorded Sesje in February 2020, just days before a Covid lockdown came into force in Poland, and the band only decided to enter the studio after spending a few days composing and rehearsing new tunes. Some three-and-a-half hours of music was recorded in all, with the most interesting thirty-six minutes being chosen for the record, edited down to four songs merely titled 'A1', 'A2', 'B1' and 'B2'. The opener is the longest track here, stretching over thirteen minutes, and is very much a melding of bustling rhythms and funky bass with dangerously wobbling guitars and waves of space noise. It's a bright thing, while the following 'A2' is more introspective, almost grim in its pulsing beat as guitars and synths drone and drum metal chatters incoherently. The mood slides again with 'B1', which is steady and jostling, with the guitars in a contemplative mood, though the serious edge is discarded midway through the simmering 'B2' where synths flicker and drums dance patterns. More than any other track, it captures the vibe of the recording studio in Porażyn, cosily tucked away in the middle of a forest. The whole album hints at mysteries hidden from the cold reality of the outside world and as you explore it, more and more doors open up revealing their secrets. The harder you listen, the deeper you are drawn in until you are completely shut away enjoying your own private serenades. Force yourself back into the real world to grab a tape while you can; they won't be around for long and who knows when any vinyl may appear? Available at the Weird Beard webpage.

The Boo Radleys - Keep On With Falling


Released: 11th March 2022


There were always two sides to The Boo Radleys: the immaculate pop band and the edgy, experimental rockers. Not that this was some sort of a Jeckyll and Hyde arrangement; the Boos would often veer from one identity to another in the middle of the same song, thus parading both sides of their personality at the same time. This is what made them so fascinating and at their best, from both perspectives, they were untouchable. Looking back, there's a purity to 'From The Bench Of Belvidere' that is astonishing and we have no doubt that The Beatles would have been chuffed to have written such a song for one of their later albums. On the other hand, The 13th Floor Elevators would not have shied away from some of the Boos' more experimental sounds. It was a surprise when we heard that the Boos were reforming some twenty-two years after the release of their last album, Kingsize. It was perhaps more of a surprise when it was announced that only three of the band were involved, Sice, Tim Brown and Rob Cieka not being joined in their endeavours by guitarist and lyricist Martin Carr who had always been regarded as the band's driving force. We were fascinated to hear how the truncated Boos would sound in his absence and the answer is, pretty fine.

It would be right to stress that this is not the Ghost Of Boos Past and after all of these years it would be wrong to suppose it might be. Missing are the experimental dabblings of yesteryear and the crunching guitars that often drove their songs forward. What we are presented with is the Boos Immaculate, a band capable of producing sublime pop tunes, chock full of ideas which remain cheerful despite the generally serious nature of the lyrics. With the voice of Simon Rowbottom still there to guide the way, it is clear that this could be nobody other than the Boo Radleys, though Sice uses his guitar sparingly and decoratively, seldom dominating and letting the melodies speak for themselves. Tim Brown's keyboards take just as much of a leading role as the band float through eleven new songs stretching to some forty-two minutes. The vibe is positive throughout and really there are no duff tunes here. Each song is full to the brim with neat little touches and the intricacies of their construction reveal themselves the more you listen. It's tough to pick highlights. The poignant 'A Full Syringe And Memories Of You' is ludicrously sweet given its subject matter; 'Tonight' is cleverly built and catchy; and 'I Can't Be What You Want Me To Be' sways gorgeously as Sice narrates what could be the theme of the album. "Accept what you see," he states and that could apply to the current version of the band as much as any personal misgivings. This is not The Boo Radleys of old, but the new version of the band has much to offer. It's a relief to hear it, given that the three could have become the Roo Badleys. As it is, this is a fabulous record if you can get your head around the notion that days change. And not always for the worse.

A Place To Bury Strangers - See Through You


Released: 11th March 2022


The release of the Hologram EP in July last year showed that APTBS were very much a band heading in a new direction with new recruits Sandra Fedowitz (drums) and John Fedowitz (bass) obviously having a marked impact on their sound. It was an encouraging start and it is good to note that See Through You continues very much where its five-track predecessor left off. Oliver Ackermann has been attempting to blow the heads off his listeners for just on two decades now, largely relying on power, noise and volume, but the intrinsic heaviness of his music has now given way to something much more twisted and insidious. The thirteen tracks here have a far more pronounced psychedelic edge, with the guitars twisted and corrupted and laid over flickering drum rhythms rather than big pounding beats. The vocals have been brought much more to the front, keen to relay their message rather than mumble in the background and the whole album requires a whole lot more from the listener than a simple agreement to be blown away. The trio now toy with melody and happily destroy it, creating a gorgeous mess of sound in 'Dragged In a Hole' which is little more than a distorted hell. 'Ringing Bells' is disturbingly creepy, with Ackermann singing gently over warped, throbbing beats with guitars lashing. It's punchy and sharp, running in at under three minutes, while 'Anyone But You' is the Ramones put in the blender. It's mightily impressive; a shock of noise that leaves your brain in happy confusion. The disarray is almost hypnotic as the rhythm section fails to miss a beat but happily drags the guitars into situations with which they simply cannot cope. This is a world falling apart to a ticking clock: a countdown to inescapable anarchy and the song titles speak for themselves: 'Dragged In A Hole', 'My Head Is Bleeding', 'Hold On Tight' and 'Broken' where the magnificent guitars sound like nothing else on earth. After so long in the game, to come up with an album of this intensity, invention and balance is a mighty achievement. It's measured destruction with the same attention to detail as we saw when MBV began to shake the world. See Through You leaves most everything else behind, let alone the band's previous work, and that's impressive as hell.

Loop - Sonancy


Released: 25th March 2022
Very little news thrilled us more than hearing that Loop were working once again and ready to release a new album. It's nearly seven years since Array 1 gave us hope that the band would once again become an ongoing project, but it turned out to be a false dawn, so hopefully the release of the ten-track, forty-two minute Sonancy will be the beginning of a new, lengthier chapter in the history of the band. The tracks and the timings offer a big clue as to what is on offer here; this is an album of short songs, averaging around four minutes and not the lengthy mind-fucks that we had been used to from previous albums. On 1990's A Gilded Eternity, a four-minute track was a rarity; here it is the norm. Robert Hampson may have embraced guitars again, but he uses them as blunt instruments, to stab and hack rather than to drown your senses. This makes Sonancy an urgent album, sometimes an angry one, the guitars stripped naked, and protesting in monosyllabic rage. As revealed in recent interviews, Hampson is infuriated with the state of the world and Sonancy is his powerful response. The opener 'Interference' introduces us to Wayne Maskel's dangerously sharp drum sound, which is maintained throughout; indeed the sound of the whole album rings with clarity. There's no room here for obfuscation or doubt. This is a statement record, not open to confusion, and it punches its point home with considerable force. As Hampson strikes out venomously, he does so on the foundations of bassist Hugo Morgan whose instrument takes the middle ground between two combatants, bouncing and gliding over Maskel's sharp raps and numbing Hampson's searing cuts. It's incredibly effective. Hampson's vocals also take centre ground, strong but half-concealed, occasionally following the same path the bass is moving. One can only imagine how punishing these songs would sound in a live environment: on vinyl they quickly leave your head reeling. The rapid 'Fermion' is a highlight, dipping in and out of itself, while 'Supra' spits and claws with little remorse. 'Halo' builds and slides with a drum pattern strangely reminiscent of Dead Can Dance, while closing track 'Aurora' digs itself some room to expand the general soundscape. It's still tough, but hits you on two levels which is a great way to sign off – a head punch and a body punch. Welcome back.
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