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.

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.

 

 

22 July

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Chlorine — Gallooner (2019, Crow Versus Crow)

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Does music(s) ever fully embody the historical contingencies present at its creation? Or perhaps asked another way, can the artist/musician (or the listener [or the critic]) ever sidestep genre conventions or recycled descriptors and simply (!) attribute an artistic work to being a product of its time? Well, sure. Maybe that’s all musics (and art) have ever been: the result of artistic labor framed and formed by the artist’s interaction with material reality in their lifetime (or perhaps that’s a load of historical materialist hogwash). Whatever sound art and musics are (or do), Gallooner, the latest cut from Gateshead’s Graeme Hopper aka Chlorine on Crow Versus Crow certainly embodies the zeitgeist of late capitalism better than many ‘a cultural object to emerge in the last 50 years.

As one might expect, Gallooner contains many of the signifiers, signs, trademarks, tools, etc. of late capitalist musicking; yet, the listener has the distinct feeling that the works are imbued with the artist’s deep introspection, while also possessing their own, autonomous negativity. In Basinski-esque fashion, if the tunes were played enough, they’d eventual dissolve* and any conception, execution, urtext, etc. etc. would be irretrievably lost, akin to planned obsolesce of both technology and goods as mandated in the lifeworld of homo consumericus. Over the course of six tracks, one encounters the symphony of insubordinate office machines (‘Song For A Silhouette’ or the first half of ‘Hindered By Humility’), yipping dogs that fade into Ambarchi-esque sonic voyages (‘Confessions Of A Broken Temperament’, last half of the aforementioned ‘Hindered…’), transitory piano loops flanked by sparse live drums (‘Protect, Lust’), and generally, the sounds of a tumultuous world where the portents of ruin have begun to show, yet the cracks continue to be glossed over in an act of desperate solipsism and penance to the omnipotent market.

In all, whilst not a total negation (i.e. silence), the works contained on Gallooner are something of an inversion: the mundane and incidental are focused (or blurred), manipulated, and reflected back in on themselves. From this,  the artist manages to create theatrical soundscapes from the fragmented ephemera of the postindustrial 21st Century wasteland.

***

In the final scene in Akira Kurosawa’s late work Ran (A.K.’s retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear), the character Tsurumaru [Gloucester] stumbles blindly on the precipice of cliff, dropping a sacred object, before timidly backing away from the edge. I am confident in asserting that the same sense of forsakenness or existential dread present in Kurosawa’s final scene — so grave that it borders on the sublime— can also be encountered on this release.

Fans of Oren Ambarchi’s early work, industrial knobheads, and bleak Warp-devotees would be wise to tune in sharpish.

* I recognize that quite literally, like Basinski, it would be possible to play physical versions of this release to death; this is not what is referred to here. Instead, I am stating objectively postulating that the record’s aesthetic is one which deeply suggests a negation of an even more metaphysical nature.

 

1 December

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Andy Moor and Yannis Kyriakides – Rebetika (2010, Unsounds)

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Whilst homage can often feel pastiche, derivative, or just lazy, Andy Moor and Yannis Kyriakides’ (re-)interpretation of classic Greek rebetika guitar works is instead rather fascinating and wholly original. Featuring Moor on guitar and Kyriakides on computer, Rebetika captures the duo in live action in Glasgow, Groningen, and Amsterdam between 2006 and 2007. The pair combine to de/re-construction classic Greek rebetika recordings and in the process craft pieces from the source materials that are at times intuitive and ruminative and other moments fragmentary and alien with the results bearing little resemblance to the source materials. The opener, “Minores” (using “Minores Manes” by Stratos Pajiomdsis) begins unassumingly featuring only subtle manipulations of Pajiomdsis’ original work. As the seven minute track unfolds, Kyriakides forges labrynthine paths that entrance the listener without overpowering the innate solemnity of the original tune. Moor sprinkles the piece with some tasty and odd interjections: full and half-note plucks along with nauseating harmonic barbs, both of which add a surprisingly percussive sense of unease and disquiet. By the time the listener has arrived at track four, the album’s nine-minute centerpiece, “All is Well,” one has been fully pulled  down the rabbit hole. Dimitirs Kontogiannis’ “Eimai Finos Magkas” provides fodder for Kyriakides glitch-laden affair which is an unholy amalgam of early-Cluster and Greek broadcasts on a shortwave radio that is ready to give up the ghost. Moor continues to possess an astounding awareness, realizing all the while that his guitar must simply be a passenger and conduit and not take center stage (no pun intended), as the guitar so often does. Moor and Kyriakides’ Unsounds label has no shortage of excellent releases, but this one certainly ranks among the best in their catalogue.

2 October

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The Michael Flower Band — The Michael Flower Band (2008, Three Lobed Recordings)

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Having recently seen Mick Flower perform with Clandestine Quartet, it was only a matter of time before his work in some capacity entered the Marginal rotation. This self-titled record from 2008 features Flower on six blistering strings and John Moloney blasting the kit. A low fidelity treat which showcases the duo’s swagger and gritty ebullience. At times reminiscent of psychedelia’s spacey heyday, other times more akin to a free-noise Kiwi outfit, easy on the noise. Featuring two studios cuts and three live ones, fans of either John Moloney or Mick Flower will dig this release for sure.

1 August

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Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura — Weather Sky (2001, Erstwhile)

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Sure, this release is several years old, but here at Marginal HQ, we’ve been exuberantly waiting for the right moment to review this collaboration between free noise legends Keith Rowe (on guitar) and Toshimaru Nakamura (on the “no-input” mixing board). “Weather Sky #1” opens with a high-pitched sine wave fading in; around the :45 second mark, in fades electronic noise on the left channel. This makes way to alligator clips rattling strings at around the 2:40 mark and the duo really start to jive. Sci-fi soundscapes weave with sine waves, fizzing electronics, scrambled 8-bit gurgles, and the myriad other sonic oddities Rowe lures from his guitar. Nakamura provides continuity and a sense of (anti-?)rhythm with droning sine (or triangle) waves. There are large segments of the opening piece where little happens. When one of the artists diverges, it is often only a soupçon of sound. In the final third, things hasten. Mechanical humming (most likely emanating from Rowe) supplants nearly all else. When Rowe cuts out, Nakamura remains steadfast and enveloped in electronic bliss until the piece fades out. “Weather Sky #2” is much more accessible. Not only owing to the fact that it is only five minutes in duration, but many of themes and motifs lack the esotericism of the other pieces. Despite it’s short length, the piece does not feel forced or haphazard. The final piece on Weather Sky (“Weather Sky #3”) feels both tenuous and private. At times, the piece feels like a straight-ahead dark ambient piece; yet Nakamura and Rowe’s reinforcing of one another, creates a collective sea of sound, whose opaque and reticent surface conceals untold mysterious and captivates the listener. Whilst we prefer the din Rowe knocks out as one part of the AMM, Weather Sky is an excellent deconstructionist work by two heavyweights of experimental sound. Coupled with Rowe’s painting of an éclair on the cover, fans of either artist, Chondritic Sound, or the otherworldly racket of either the AMM or Dead C are sure to enjoy this release.