5 April

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Shit Creek — The Land of the Remember (Crow Versus Crow, 2020).

Listen/Buy [ Nb. I implore you to buy, financial situation permitting. Given the social isolation policies in place virtually worldwide, gigs — often a major source of income for many sonic artists — have all but stopped and many folks are struggling to make ends meet.]


A propitious arrival from Marginal Brevity’s kindred spirits from West Yorkshire, Crow Versus Crow! The Land of the Lost err The Land of the Remember is CVC’s latest limited CD-R/ (not so limited) digital release from an artist who, judging’ by their chosen nom de plume, is clearly tapped into the zeitgeist. Enter: Shit Creek. The Land of the Remember is 14 tunes / 40 minutes of tinkerin’ and sonic skylarking. Think maybe Kurt Schwitters on an Autechre kick. Or maybe a glitchy KLF (Coming Soon: Crow Versus Crow Burn One an imaginary £1,000,000! Oooh conceptual.). Boards of Canada convulsing whilst the tape is rolling (we’re gettin’ desperate here)? Ah yes, Syd Barrett in a punch up with Jimmy Cauty while Hanna Höch talks shit on an Animal Collective record she’s never heard (and is definitely never going to put on). Yes, that well and truly nails it. In any case, Land is a record that seems largely comprised of fragmentary motifs, but never feels half baked and manages to avoid be bogged down by the novel. It’s coherent if not a bit jarring. Sort of like someone shining a light in your face when you’re asleep. Or kind of like this. At times, the pieces are radiant and perhaps even transcendent (‘Happy Skeletonzz’, ‘This is the Trap’); other times, one encounters fleeting moments of nostalgic ecstasy (‘Uhrwerkwald’, ‘Little Solas’) that are joltingly halted. Here’s an ice bath for your daydream. There are elements of humor (the titles for one but also ‘Pram Racers’ or the magesterial ‘Burnt Toast’) and also moments bordering on the sublime (the segue from ‘Meatspace Infinity’ into ‘Uhrwerkwald’). If the listener is willing to let the album unfold, it’s easy to get sucked in and go along for the ride, relentless it may be at times.

For this listener, the antennae really got to rattlin’ when I read that slipperiest of slippery slopes when forming an opinion: the press release. That for The Land of the Remember suggests the album ‘is an attempt to create the sound of a world beyond, or perhaps reconfigured from, the current socio-political context’; the aforementioned refusal to let the listener aimlessly meander into nostalgia makes a compelling case. And yes, perhaps it is just a fragmentary mélange of tunes that are skillfully woven together. But rather, one gets the feeling (and not just from the signposting courtesy the press release) that these are aesthetic choices made to comment on the global north’s perpetual state of rehashing (culture, mores, economy, &c.) and contentment with and commitment to that rehashing by many in position of power/influence. And here we sit, fixed in our own tepid lands of remembering.*

The album’s disjointed beauty calls to mind Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s understanding of chaos (‘the  contradiction between the infinite expansion of cyberspace and limited [human] capability of processing cybertime’) and the need for chaoid(e)s: ‘an agent of re-syntonization, a linguistic agent able to disengage from the spasmic refrain’. [1] In other words, a culture that proffers a new reality and/or seeks to rupture currently dominant one dimensional forms. [2] Here, Berardi’s reading of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s later work is instructive: as late-capitalism has created a seemingly boundless and ubiquitous business ontology, the subject is faced with ‘[the] rhythm that financial capitalism is imposing on social life […] a spasm that is not only exploiting the work of men and women [sic], not only subjugating cognitive labour to the abstract accelerationism of the info-machine, but is also destroying the singularity of language, preventing its creativity and sensibility’.[3] This is where Berardi (following Deleuze and Guattari) says we need a chaoid(e), ‘a form of enunciation (artistic, poetic, political, scientific) which is able to open the linguistic flows to different rhythms and to different frames of interpretation’. [4] Academic acrobatics aside, The Land of the Remember feels like it may very well be one such chaoid in all its kaleidoscopic glory. It’s a bit relentless, but flying headlong into the deep end and beyond the cushy Overton window is always going to be a confusing and for some, perhaps a maddening experience.

This release is sure to be a hit for kosmische kids, owners of the Warp back catalogue turned revolutionaries, and anyone with the patience to sort through my drivel and footnotes in its wake.

 

JSES

* Having lived in both North America and the United Kingdom, I can safely say the hegemons of the Anglophone world (USA/UK) are certainly hung up on both staid and reactionary types of memory and remembering.

[1] Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of the Post-Alpha Generation (Minor Compositions: Wivenhoe, England, 2009), 44-45; Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Heroes (Verso Books: London, 2015), 220. Nb., Berardi prefers the spelling ‘chaoide‘ whilst English translations of Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy favour the spelling sans the ‘e’ (chaoid).

[2] See Herbert Marcuse, The One-Dimensional Man, (Routledge: London, 2007), 59-87 Cf. Dick Hebdige, Subculture The Meaning of Style (Routledge: London, 2002), 90-99.

[3] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Zero Books: London, 2009); Berardi, Heroes, 222

[4] Berardi, ibid.

3 April

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Bruce Russell and Luke Wood – Visceral Realists (2019, VHF)

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Easy there, pistolero! We’ve a salve for yr sorry soul: a slab from Marginal Brevity mainstay Bruce Russell and in this case Dr. Bruce Russell with compatriot Luke Wood (any relation to fellow-fellow compatriot Chris Wood? No matter, me thinks Sean Dyche’ll want this on his platter). ‘Tis a tip toe through gritty analogue tulips! One part commentary on the 45 as a conveyor of messages (the linear notes muse that ‘there’s more information encoded in an old record than in a new one’), one part commentary on the 45 as a medium of delivery. Visceral Realists is eight cuts, each clocking in at just over 3 minute. The preferred medium of delivery for the pop music of yesteryear is discarded (or is it subverted? Or as the linear notes — that phantasm of authorial voice, transcending the limitations of space and time, exerting influence on the possessor/listener/reader — claim, inverted*) and replaced with pallid (in the best way) tape-sick bursts. The sound of the desert on LSD. Oh no, you misread. Not the subject under the influence of blotter, meandering aimlessly through the dessert. This is the very landscape itself being born and reborn under the star of molten lysergic soup.

Just when all is coming into focus again, that voice from nowhere and everywhere speaks again: the linear notes tell this listener that I’m doing it wrong. The LP is, much like what it purports to be commenting on, a 45 RPM disc. And it isn’t until the umpteenth time I’ve listened through that I realize I’ve missed the plot. Once I get my head on straight on the RPMs are clocking in as intended, the record is less murky, but still sputtering out of the speaker cones. ‘Large Diaphragm’, the third cut from the A-Side (or ‘V Side’, so says the label) is rock ’n’ roll swagger dissipating in the sun (funny enough, to these ears, the track is reminiscent of early 1990s Dischord and could easily be an interlude on Red Medicine or part of the Nation of Ulysses sonic agit-collages) before colliding with the rhythmic jouissance of a school yard clapping game. Pattycake in the age of capitalist realism.

On the B-side (‘R Side’), enter ‘Etonian’: an abandonment of the self-aggrandizing and dour lack of playfulness so rife within experimental music(s). Scratchy, skronky,  flatulent – something we could all use more of. Aye, this some sonico invocation of Bakhtin’s love affair with the carnivalesque. Double yr money: the listener is treated to a farty segue into the closer, ‘Mobile Index’, an exit tune pockmarked with seasick melodies played on the wholly grotesque Casio (or at least some Casio-esque keyboard). And with that, the bedraggled circus actors squelch their malt liquor and kick rocks out of town. All in all a decent long playing record and the usual suspects (antipodes, spacey-thumbsuckers, Wally Ben-ya-meen-fiends, and anyone whose ever written for Marginal Brevity) are sure to dig it, regardless of yr chosen playback speed.

-JSES

 

*Having read a sizeable chunk of B.R.’s writings on art and sound, I am acutely aware of his interest in Walter Benjamin and recognize this piece of wax’s ‘concept’ is about praxis. And indeed, pop music may’ve opted for the iTunes™ single by way of the compact disc, now superseded by the drab 10101010101010s of streaming services, so why not excavate the outmoded for its revolutionary potential…

See: Walter Benajmin, ‘Surrealism the Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia’ in One Way Street in Other Writing (London: NLB, 1979), 225- 239; Bruce Russell, ‘Left-Handed Blows: Towards a technique of incognito’ in Left-Handed Blows Writings on Sounds 1993-2009 (Auckland: Clouds, 2009), 1-17; Bruce Russell, ‘Exploding the atmosphere: realizing the revolutionary potential of “the last street song”’ in Reverberations the Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Politics of Noise edited by Michael Goddard, Benjamin Halligan, and Paul Hegarty (London: Continuum, 2012) 244 – 259.

Checking in.

Dinah Washington sung it best, what a difference a day makes? Or three or four months, but who’s keeping count?

And here we are. In the shit. For those of you in inner-/outer-/ cyber- space, you have probably noticed that dispatches from Marginal HQ have gotten miiiighty fucking sparse over the past months. The long and short of it is, between old jobs, new jobs, busyness, life changes, new horizons, and all that noise, the steely-eyed polemicists of Marginal Brevity have been all quiet on the western front. All of this ship’s crew have decided to move on and are wished the best. As for me (Jake), I am remarkably still here. I will be attempting to rejuvenate the MxBx now that COVID-19 has brought modern life to a near standstill.

On that note, if you are interested in peddling sharp wits and poking the unsuspecting reader in the eye with a sharp stick, I would be excited to share the space with some co-writers interested in what it is we/I do here. Intellect-chew-alls (pseudo or otherwise), commie pinkos, people of color, nonbinary folks, are especially encouraged to zip me a line. We need more of our writing out there and this humble, obscure, and widely ignored sliver of the internet might as well be a launchpad.

More brevity very, very soon.

Ta,

Jake

7 December

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Carnivorous Plants  —  Mammon (2019, Crow Versus Crow)

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Yowza another blistering banger from Crow Versus Crow! Is Marginal Brevity slowly becoming the kool aid drinkin’, mumbling, despondent, pseudo-intellekctual embouchure for those West Yorkshire upstarts? A shoot from the hip, Pravda for the so-called No Audience Underground? The portents are there, friends.

The press release in its anodyne appeals to the layperson – not you humble, reader of all things marginal and brief – likens the release to the flowing, feathery tones from some fantastic middle territory between Brian Eno and Earth…maybe, maybe. To these ears however, a more suitable place might be Earth and Bill feckin’ Laswell. Carnivorous Plants, Bristolian, but don’t expect triphop, Mark Stewart, nor the Glaxo Babies. Posi-hesher zen metal vibes, abound!

The opening jab of Mammon, ‘The Second King of Hell’ is 14 er so minute splish-splash through a standard fair maelstrom with the obligatory pit stop at yr best mate’s, neighbor’s, cousin’s (twice-removed, mind) dominatrix’s pleasure dungeon (not that you’d know anything about that, though). The undertow inhales ya’ and proceeds to pummel yr soft flesh. Hows about that trusty safe word?

*If* the listener-cum-reader were to invoke ‘Ion’ Brian Eno (aka Brian Eno), ‘Pandemonium’ may well be the place. Reminiscent at times of Eno’s 1979 LP, Discreet Music (B-side, fam), the tune is the album’s shortest clocking in at just over 5′. And aye, it is a rather unexpected departure from the two pieces bookending it. Perhaps that’s the contextual pandemonium of it all… The piece is fairly placid and a wee bit sentimental tune largely driven by piano with recordings of rain and birdsong interspersed. A bit theatrical, a bit awkward amidst two choons of fairly fucking distorted guitar. And blammo, twenty minutes gone and the maelstrom relents and your sorry ace is flyin’ surface-ward to gulp in fresh [sorry, all out!] air. If it’s predecessor is the long lost relative of Discreet Music‘s B-side, then the closer (‘Blood Orange’) is the pulverized best-fiend of the A-side. Distorted, transcendent, aspirational. For this listener, the centerpiece of the album.

A bit of a departure from the recent spate of CVC release, a bit more rock-y, shall we say. Something about the production values are, well, a bit Laswell-y. Boss chorus in there? No matter, Laswell cut Ask the Ages and no marginalites would say anything cross about that. Drone heads, guitar pedal tinkerers, and Pierre Aronnax & friends would be wise to give Mammon a swirl.

1 November

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Michael Morley – Heavens Idleness Awaits (2019, Thin Wrist)

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Tis’ little secret that in the deep cavernous vestibule of Marginal HQ, one can readily encounter a most solemn and rapturous hum, ceremoniously heaving from the sound system. And what of this great distorted monolith of sound and its taciturn devotees, stares unbroken, lips mouthing silent prayer… aye, it is a most peculiar ritual and penance, propelled by the likes of Kiwi-Extraordinaires the Dead fecking C. Alas, a new sound resonates through the chamber, whilst uncannily familiar and eerily bewitching, it does not possess the same immensity… Bless my soul (nobody tell Davy Hume!)  it’s Michael Morley and ‘is latest 12 string slinging affair, Heavens Idleness Awaits (pressed, packaged, and pushed by the superlative Thin Wrist).

Two long playing slabs, four beautifully meandering tunes picked out on 12 string acoustic guitar. All four tracks are astounding in their simplicity, but provide the listener with an engaging, daydream-like sonic journey – maybe a droll Steve Reich… less stoic, more lysergic (or perhaps a more turgid, hard-assed Timothy Leary)? At times, Morley’s playing is Fahey-like; other moments, his sonic dabbling is closer to compatriot Donald McPherson. Were it not for the need to flip the records (the gatefold is a true bee-yoot), one could be forgiven for thinking Heavens is a single extended length study – and maybe it is, with the album’s linear notes indicating the album was recorded on a single day. This is the record for getting in touch with yr inner psyche in the proto-extinction age. And all those deadheads thought they had it made in the shade with their endless stream of dubbed cassette tapes…bless.

Morley has long produced fascinating works both as a member of Dead C and under the Gate moniker, but Heavens Idleness Awaits is some of his best work since Metric or the Dew Line. An absolute cracker and surely one of 2019’s best. 

3 October

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Psanck – Psanck II (2019, Chocolate Monk)

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Buckle in — and prepare to slake yr Graham Greene allusions — as trio Psanck proffer Psanck II, their latest heaping helping of some tasty Brighton Rock! Errr Brighton free music. Right  —to The Heart of the Matter (couldn’t resist): Kev Nickells, Chris Parfitt, and Al Strachan deliver a 10 marvelously evocative tracks courtesy of Dylan Nyoukis’ Chocolate Monk label. Save for playful seven minute ‘Saith Cant Un Deg Un,’ nary a tune exceeds four minutes. Instead, the listener is treated to a series of hazy sonic vignettes. Though each tune varies in its approach and constitution, the album is bound by an overarching continuity: the listener revels in an auricular world that is equally reminiscent of Andrei Tarkovsky’s cerebral and slow moving cinematic ruminations and the spectral, sometimes indiscernible demarcation between waking and sleeping (maybe Tarkovsky also traverses this grey area?). 

Particular standouts include ‘Tri Cant Deg Pedwar’ with initial primitive percussive thumps that mix with what sounds like a low drone (possibly courtesy of a hydrophonic recording being looped?) before a somber violin takes centre stage lending an air of surreal fatalism. Elsewhere, noise of the breath, disjointed thuds, whispy (sometimes heavily reverberant) flutes intermingle and create a diverse sonic world that winds up feeling like Frances Bacon doin’ a Bruegel study (ya’ follow?). Whilst the combo of string and flute sometimes invokes an almost mediaeval primitivism or some other aesthetic essence from a bygone era, the group counterpose any notions of vulgar-nostalgia or derivation by injecting firmly-contemporary motifs: the collage-like construction, the improvisational approach, and electroniche (e.g. the oscillations in ‘Pedwar Cant Wyth’, which by my ears, recall early Cluster)… In all, Psanck II manages to ride the dialectic razorblade of old/new (or wake/sleep) and produce a work that is sure to be a hit amongst fans of confectionary ascetics, the AMM, or Francis Bacon (but probably not a hit for Bruegel-ites and definitely not for Graham Greenies).  

 

27 September

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Embla Quickbeam, Natalia Beylis, and Neil Campbell – House Sparrow Settle Back  (2019, Crow Versus Crow)

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As the end o’ summer malaise sets in and the engorged bleakness of late capitalist modernity™ becomes even harder to ignore – and just in time for all your Autumnal Equinox rites and rituals – West Yorkshire’s Crow Versus Crow bestows upon the unsuspecting another auricular assemblage aka a fresssssh C45 of tunes, containing concoctions by Embla Quickbeam, Natalia Beylis, and Neil ‘Don’t call me Neve’ Campbell. Two sides, two duos, two performances, in two different cities. Enter House Sparrow Settle Back. 

Side A, (‘Settle Sparrow’) features Quickbeam and Beylis extemporizing in Todmorden in early May of this year (2019). In their roughly half hour set, the duo generate a soundscape that would make an excellent sonic companion to Jan Nemec’s Diamonds of the Nights or act as a fine alternative to listening to Jez Riley French on LSD. One is engulfed in a swirling, fragmentary journey, encountering splintered bits of conversation, gurgling tape noise, flowing streams, and varying modalities of bird song along the way. Invocations of memory, the (sur)real, and (dis)location (both of the self and of the self amidst the vanishing ecologies and spaces not traditionally inhabited by humans…two for one!) all permeate a deeply engrossing performance.

Side B, (‘House Back’, also recorded in early May) features Campbell and Beylis tape slinging in Leeds in a performance that manages to come out feeling simultaneously more and less solemn than the number on the album’s reverse. Whilst Side A affords the listener with an opportunity to consider the body in space and to contemplate largely internal phenomena (memory and subjectivity), Side B dispenses with the contemplative ballyhoo and instead opts to examine extraneous stimuli: the body is acted upon, in ways that are both banal and unnerving. The listener is prodded forth by the lurching pulse of a phantom tempo, ever-present in the performance. The free-floating conversational fragments and sense of psychedelic eavesdropping are replaced by the act of dictation. The directive voice, ever at the ready to command, rebuke or advertise, is at the fore. One especially salient and humorous moment is audible when the artists employ a recording of a machine-like auctioneer –one of capital’s most wanton and yet most farcical appropriations of the voice. Curiously, Side B elects to include the crowd’s applause at the terminus of the performance, where the Side A does not. This listener’s immediate reaction interpreted this decision as a breaking of the fourth wall – and in making that fracture audible – an invitation to the listener to shatter the ‘homogeneous empty time’ (following Walter Benjamin) and fatalism implied by any sense of tempo, real or otherwise perceived.*

All the waxing feel-o-sofa-cull aside, if boney Sony didn’t have a vice fucking grip on the Clash’s work, Crow Versus Crow would be wise to expropriate the title of the group’s 1980 tune ‘Hitsville UK’ and swiftly endow this appellation on Halifax as the burg’s civic title. Another great release sure to appeal to lovers of everything from Crass (namely, ‘Reality Asylum’ from Feeding of the 5000 or Stations of the Crass) to Gabie Strong’s recent work (notably, Incantations, Vol. 1).

* A number of scholars, hacks, and observers have written on the radical potential of improvisation as an artistic practice.(See, David M. Bell, “Improvisation as Anarchist Organization,” Ephemera 14, no. 4 (November 2014): 1009-1030; Bruce Russell “What is Free?a free noise manifesto.” In Left-Handed Blows Writings on Sound 1993-2009, 21-25. Auckland: Clouds; et al.Regardless of a given artist’s (public) politics, an underlying radicalism remains manifestly present in the practice of free improvisation and in the rejection of formalism, structure, consonance, &c. As ‘House Back’ was recorded (ostensibly for posterity and/or dissemination) an additional recycling of radicality takes place. As aesthete extraordinaire and Deutsche-Francophile Wally Benjamin says:

‘mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility […and] the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice—politics’. (Benjamin 1969, 6)

By making use of the radical potentiality of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction and thus making the May performances accessible and contemplatable – errr just plain enjoyable – to a slew of listeners from Todmorden to Tikrit to Texas, these talented duos promise to send us careening towards that savoury jeztzeit which Benjamin believed art was capable fostering.