A track drenched in the synaesthetic signatures of cosmic sleaze. More to come on this soon……
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
A track drenched in the synaesthetic signatures of cosmic sleaze. More to come on this soon……
And so, another dead hero. I got a text message whilst sat bunched up, clinging onto my singing calf muscles, in a box room above a pub in Odiham - just off junction 5 of the M3: 'Ballard's gone' it said. I immediately told the people I was with then promptly forgot about it. I was too full of other things; and given that we'd been walking for two whole days, largely numb to anything except my immediate surroundings. I thought, briefly, about contacting the JGB group on Yahoo, of which I've been a sporadic member for the last 5 years or so, and which contains a number of Ballard luminaries, but the urge passed. Later, after a couple of beers, I thought about Shepperton - just a few miles away along the frozen scream of the motorway. If I hung my head far enough out of the window of my tiny room I could see the tarmac and hear the sibilant roar of the road and beneath that another noise, the hum of psychic freight, quieter now. Much quieter.
I came to Ballard via an odd route - a half read of Empire of the Sun in my early twenties, a confused wade through Rushing to Paradise, a lunge at Crash that didn't go anywhere. I had him as an idea in my head for a while, someone I wanted to return to. Then I studied Cocaine Nights, of all books, and the door was suddenly opened: I went on a wild thrashing binge through pretty much everything I could get my hands on - and in no particular order either. Once things had settled and the themes and obsessions had started to take shape I'd already decided to study Ballard for my MA (aye, I know - the surest way to kill any love of anything off is to study it intensely); perversely, I chose to study emotion in Ballard, or more precisely, the lack of it.
Ballard came up with the phrase The Death of Affect to describe our emotional condition in the face of total media domination - to the point where the media had even colonised our unconscious. On a crude level, you could say that Ballard's entire work from, say, 'The Terminal Beach' up until Empire Of The Sun is a study of our inability to feel. His characters - lost, generally or plain psychotic - flail around for new ways to feel, to make sense of the projected landscapes of the disordered self and the odd contours of the mediascape. Never one to fear the absurd, Ballard often pushed the scope of his ideas to their absolute logical conclusion - primarily to see what may lay beyond. Not necessarily on some transcendental quest for enlightenment but simply to understand. What I came to realise was that Ballard, like Francis Bacon, was a master of seeing: he had that cold-eyed ability to look at something for a second longer than most would dare, and, crucially, the ability to render it in an exact idiolect. And what I also came to realise was that Ballard was most likely a moralist, perhaps an ambivalent one (if that isn't a contradiction in terms), but a moralist all the same - and absolutely the towering figure at the centre of post-war literature.
When Miracles of Life came along I probably hadn't read any Ballard for close to two years. My initial thoughts were that it was a book that didn't really need writing, in that it sought to hard to explain away the theoretical framework at the heart of all his work; but that was before the sections in which he described his emotional and domestic life. We all knew of the horrors of the late '60s and his bringing up a young family but I'd never seen it described so nakedly, so affectingly. It brought me to my knees on a few occasions. And now at the time of his death - and I know this is probably a largely tautological statement - there seems an immense outpouring of genuine affection and grief. On returning to the work there seems a new shifting undercurrent of emotional depth that I simply hadn't cottoned on to before, or had simply been ignorant of a very obvious absent presence. I'm sure this intensity will fade as the news sinks in but for now passages like this from 'The Voices of Time' are almost unbearably poignant.
"Stepping into the inner circle of the mandala, a few yards from the platform at its centre, he realized that the tumult was beginning to fade, and that a single stronger voice had emerged and was dominating the others. He climbed on to the platform, raised his eyes to the darkened sky, moving through the constellations to the island galaxies beyond them, hearing the thin archaic voices reaching to him across the millennia. In his pockets he felt the paper tapes, and turned to find the distant diadem of Canes Venatici, heard its great voice mounting in his mind."
"Like an endless river, so broad that its banks were below the horizons, it flowed steadily towards him, a vast course of time that spread outwards to fill the sky and the universe, enveloping everything within them. Moving slowly, the forward direction of its majestic current almost imperceptible, Powers knew that its source was the source of the cosmos itself. As it passed him, he felt its massive magnetic pull, let himself be drawn into it, borne gently on its powerful back. Quietly it carried him away, and he rotated slowly, facing the direction of the tide. Around him the outlines of the hills and the lake had faded, but the image of the mandala, like a cosmic clock, remained fixed before his eyes, illuminating the broad surface of the stream. Watching it constantly, he felt his body gradually dissolving, its physical dimensions melting into the vast continuum of the current, which bore him out into the centre of the great channel, sweeping him onward, beyond hope but at last at rest, down the
broadening reaches of the river of eternity."
There has been a huge amount of coverage of Ballard's death, testament to his importance to so many people. Below are a few things worth reading:
A tribute from Michael Moorcock at Ballardian
The full text of David Pringle's excellent obituary over at Rick McGrath's site
A series of pieces in The Guardian showing Ballard's influence on a number of different artforms
A moving memoir from Will Self
Chris Petit at Granta
A couple of excellent video interviews Ballard gave to an Italian TV station
Album: Icarus, The Sunclimber
Label: Eyes of Sound
Reviewed this for LOBF. It's suitably immense.
From the wilds of Cumbria, a rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born…
Excuse the clumsy mix of mythography but thus comes Icarus, The Sunclimber the new record from Manatees, Carlisle’s finest (ok, only) export of chthonic sludgecore: a monumental album, roaring with ambition and a real sense of career-defining poise. How do you take on the dark, dying art of sludgecore, subvert it and give it new life? Well, you might start with something like this…
Manatees, a three piece consisting of Alex, Paul and Greg have been around since 2005. I missed their first record, called either The Forever Ending Jitter Quest Of Slow Hand Chuckle Walker: An Introduction to The Manatee or simply Untitled depending on your RSI worries. Looking back, Untitled in itself was a hugely ambitious album, full of sprawling epics, mining the same whiteout industrial soundscapes of Isis – but always with a flabbier, more chaotic bottom end, that at times threatened to blow the sound apart. They also had a neat line in queasy ambient passages – passages that threatened the breakup of the ground, something unpleasant dragging at your ankles… The UK doesn’t exactly have a sludgecore scene as such (Bossk, I guess, and the sinister emanations of Moss from the South Coast apart) but here was a band taking on the scene overlords at their own game – think the mighty Melvins or Eyehategod, dredging themselves out of the Louisiana bayous, the totemic scene figureheads of the Neur/Isis axis – and adding something primeval and rock-haunted.
The second record was an EP - (clears throat) We Are Going To Track Down and Kill Vintage Claytahhh, The Beard Burning Bastard, a more subtle affair – at times sounding stately and grand like latter period Earth. But there was still that entropic edge to them – notably on ‘The Pulp Cut’ which featured a moaning, raging Eugene from Oxbow, and ‘The Melee Cut’, a huge slice of end-of-the-world metal that threatened to collapse under its own weight. As it was a few people got a bit sniffy at the (slight) change of direction. They can rest easy.
And so we have arrived at Icarus, The Sunclimber. It’s a return to Untitled and then some: Untitled squared, hectared. It’s a bestial thug of an album: long, brutal, draining, sludgy. It uses the myth of Icarus – a myth so burned into our brains it has the impact of a revealed truth – to fight and fuck with the genre of sludgecore. Sludgecore, as the name so fruitfully describes, is supposed to be arduous, gruelling – it’s a style you wade against, battle through – but Icarus, The Sunclimber pulls against the strictures of the genre, throws them off. ‘Of Wax and Wing’, the opening track, lurches into life with an ominous bass line. It quickly descends into a blare of feedback and raw throat screams before disappearing as it soon as it came. ‘The Sunclimber’, the first of two 10-minute plus tracks, bleeds into existence, a huge – and yes sludgy – yawing chasm of a riff giving way to an almost tribal drum pattern. They sound at their most Isis-like about now. But it doesn’t long as the track broadens out into an ambient acoustic dirge that I assume is meant to soundtrack the flight of Icarus as he tests his new wings, soon to become enraptured with them and fatefully hubristic…
‘Hyperion Altitude’ is the most obviously metal-structured track on the album: another monolithic riff over a chopping, thudding bass line; yet the song crashes into ‘Untitled’, which feels like the beginning of a huge fall. It’s a sheet metal crisis of squalling guitars and plague-drums, the latter sounding like they’re being played on a coffin lid… The vocals are at there most anguished and raw here, and the track comes under so much pressure it genuinely feels close to splitting apart – the very fabric of the sound pushed to some kind of sonic limit. It’s a remarkable thing and it’ll be intriguing to see if they can carry it off live.
‘False Sun’ begins on a portentous acoustic note, yet always with that sense of something seething underneath. A sky-wide riff soon comes to dominate the track – sounding for all the world like blistered skin, or a plague of insects. ‘Out of the Sky, Into The Gutter’ – the album’s climax and a 12-minute colossus - is the biggest and most impressive thing they’ve recorded to date. It’s vast, and hugely emotive, with singer Alex Macarte repeating the mantric ‘not where they belong’ over a churning maelstrom of bottom end. It’s a huge statement of intent, epic and ambitious. It takes the tight chains of sludgecore and runs with them – will Neurosis or Isis ever release anything this powerful and this heavy again? I doubt it. Perversely, Manatees have fought against the earthbound drag of genre and the gravid heft of the Icarus myth and made them soar. Fabulous.
Download: Manatees - Hyperion Altitude
FR (image by daddsy)
The below review is now up at LOBF. I feel like I didn't quite do We Were Promised Jetpacks but no real matter, their time will come.
There was a shard-sharp moment during this gig when everything that Frightened Rabbit stand for was frozen into a blinkless instant of time. The band had left the stage after a crazed hour of redrawing the sainted contours of The Midnight Organ Fight and in that low mumbling hum before the encore Scott Hutchinson had evidently snuck back out with an acoustic guitar. I heard him before I saw him - the first strains of ‘Poke’ ‘poke at my iris, why can’t I cry about this’ - and sought out the source of the sound. Once it became apparent that he was at the lip of the stage, alone and washed in blue light, a total silence fell across the room - it bred, the way noise does sometimes, quickly enveloping everyone. I’ve seen reverence at gigs before but this was something else, a giving over, an open gesture of respect for the song and for Hutchinson’s lyrics. Whatever the reason for this - and it might just be something as simple as an honest band writing superbly well about the universal theme of feeling like shit, mostly - Frightened Rabbit have dug their way into people’s hearts. It’s an immense thing to behold.
There had been an odd humid haze about London all day, a softened focus. St. Pancras Station, always looming, looked awry, tilted at an awkward angle - it dragged the eye upwards; the rest of Kings Cross by contrast, always a haunt of street-babblers and wall-eyed nasties was seething, crouched. In the heat it was like a hair-clogged plughole. It was almost a relief to get into the gothic splendour of The Scala…
We Were Promised Jetpacks looked wired up there, tense. And so young. I assume this was the biggest place they’d played up until now. I suspect it won’t be for long. They sounded huge, starting with ‘Keeping Warm’ - the eight-minute epic from their soon-to-be-released debut album. They followed it with their new single, ‘Quiet Little Voices’ which is a great shovel of a song with Adam Thompson roaring out the chorus with real passion. It was a common theme, and you get the sense that this band really means it. There’s a point during ‘Thunder and Lightning’ where Thompson backs off from the mic and bellows ‘your body was black and blue’ and he’s shaking with the delivery of it and looks like he might buckle under the weight of the thing. The effect on the crowd is palpable and by the end of their set they get a dirty great roar of approval.
By the time Frightened Rabbit came on the Scala had filled to bursting and the heat had nearly doubled. You could feel it rising from the concrete floors. The band started with ‘I Feel Better’ from The Midnight Organ Fight and to be honest the sound wasn’t quite there. But the initial moments were all about the response, and at the end of ‘Fast Blood’ which again sounded a little thin, you could see from the band’s reaction that this was a special moment, the end of a special era. Hutchinson announced that this was the biggest crowd that had ever come out to see them and that, as it was almost exactly a year since the release of …Organ Fight, they were celebrating.
They proceeded to play pretty much the entire record, most of which was at an odd sort of half-tempo, with Scott and his bearish brother seeming to live every minute of every track. Which I guess is a kind of perfect representation of what Frightened Rabbit are - a ramshackle, dishevelled, waywardly talented band making raw, honest music into which people seem to be able insert themselves wholly, carelessly. And Scott Hutchinson is the personification of this: a shambling figure, yet a man who seems to inspire a rare kind of warmth. And when ‘The Modern Leper’ had come and gone, and ‘Floating in the Forth’ - to date, the single most uplifting suicide song I can think of - had filled the air with its pulsing warmth there was such a sense of camaraderie in the air that the band could seriously have done anything and it wouldn’t have mattered. What they did do was to play two tracks from Sings The Greys (’The Greys’ and ‘Square 9′) and proceeded to sound the best they had done all night and became, for a time, a fucking huge rock band.
Then came the time of ‘Poke’ and everything reached a perfect sense of peace. We were thanked again for coming out, and for supporting the band through everything. We were even thanked for being nicer than a London crowd ever should be. We know that Hutchinson has been off writing the new record at a sea-side house in Fife, and we can probably infer that the collective exorcism of The Midnight Organ Fight is now complete. It’s time to move on and now I guess we wait for what comes next… They finish, inevitably, with ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ and again they sound immense - especially Grant Hutchinson, belting at his kit like a raging animal. It’s been a triumphant evening and it’s impossible not to feel happy for the band. The roar that comes as they leave the stage for the final time mingles with all that trapped heat and is carried out through the doors into the waiting fists of the Pentonville Road.
The Basingstoke Canal
So we have returned having completed 70 miles in 4 days. I've wrecked the lower halves of both my legs but I have a head teeming with cool air and a reel of images I'm only now beginning to sort through. If I get a quiet moment, it feels as if the thing is unspooling by itself and I have to focus on something else or get lost in the deluge of images. It's a most odd feeling.
There is a kind of madness to a long walk, a madness built from repetition; and yet what returns is a true sense of time and distance, and how the two are inextricably linked. And what also returns is a true sense of geography and the shape of the reverberating land under roaring feet. Truly, this land we live in is a thing of wonder.
A long distance walk is a serious affair. You shake up every atom of your being. You arrive footsore, at your destination: lighter, shorter, hungrier. A stranger to those who stayed at home. Head emptied of old fears. With room made for the new.
There's going to be a brief-ish period of silence around here for a bit as myself, mook (mythic progenitor of this site) and another are off on a long arduous walk. Well, I say long, it is in fact only 60 miles and we have four days; and I say arduous when in fact it's mostly flat. And we're staying in pubs each night so we have the lure of beer to pull us along each day... The walk is from Windsor to Winchester, via Odiham, and loosely follows the route King John used to take when visiting Winchester from his stronghold at Windsor Castle. It's thought that he rode out from Odiham for his first meeting with the Barons at Runnymede. If anything interesting comes of this madness I'll post it up here. But for now we retreat into England's green ways and await the coming of Wodwo...
Neu! - Hallogallo (from Neu! 1972)
My Latest Novel - Dragonhide (from Tense 2009)
Lee Moses - Time and Place (from Time and Place 1971)
Noah Howard - And About Love (from The Noah Howard Quartet 1966)
Mr Flip - The Wild Thing (from Ngoma 3 Remixed by Dj Zhao 2009)
Sidney Bechet - After You've Gone (from Jazz Giants)