Artist: Black Breath
Album: Heavy Breathing
Label: Southern Lord
Label: Supernatural Cat
An observable truth about this place is that we simply don't feature enough metal. It is an appalling oversight. I tend to miss a good deal of metal stuff, I'm sure, partly through being old and ignorant, partly through simply not finding the time or the space for it. A couple of things recently have grabbed me though....
Heavy Breathing is Black Breath's second record, after last years' Razor to Oblivion EP, also released on Southern Lord. They're a nastly little prospect, sounding something like a post-hardcore Entombed, or like Converge if they were to replace their guitars with baseball bats strung with taut cheesewire and trade their iconography for some classy grindcore obsessions. Black Breath trade in occult and anti-Christian imagery, nailing it to the wall with skin-flaying guitars. It's simple, kinda primitive stuff but done with such conviction it's impossible not to get caught up with it. The Entombed thing has been mentioned a few times, but it is a striking comparison and the aesthetic similarities to Clandestine are there for all to hear (let it be said: what a record to choose as a jumping off point - still one of the finest metal/grindcore albums ever released): those tactile, gravelly guitars, the shifting undertow of the rhythm section. And yes, even some cowbell. Nicke Andersson was always an extraordinary drummer, and J. Byrum has nearly matched him here, beat for beat. I'm not entirely sure where this fits with the overall shape of metal to come, but if there is a movement in this direction then count me in.
That word, 'heavy': it tends to get overused, or at least in a genre sense, misplaced, and as such loses its weight, its heft. For the record, Ufomammut - an Italian 4-piece - are genuinely heavy. You find yourself searching around for earthy or bestial similies: elephantine, leviathanic, igneous. Their creations (such as they are) feel dragged out of the very fabric of the world around you. And the key to their presence is their grasp of dynamics - the ways in which they manage the sludgy tempo changes and the build and release of the tracks. The heavy is such because of the ways they manage light and dark. They've been creating these magmatic pulses for over ten years now, and Eve is their fifth album - a concept album no less, a paean to our first lady - and they feel very much like a unit that knows its trajectory.
The difference here, compared to say the crushing, suffocating weight of Idolum, is that Eve - effectively a circular 45-minute piece, broken down into 5 constituent slabs - does have a greater element of space about it, a near-psychedelic concentration on the layering of sound. 'Part 1' builds from a slow repeating guitar figure before devolving into an appallingly sludgy waltz, but in the background is a gothic wall of synths, and a well of distorted sampled voices. It acts a kind of microcosm for the record, or at least the rest of the record is a variation on this dynamic of light and dark. 'Part II' is probably the stand out track, and packs in all that low-level punch the band seem to create so effortlessly. It follows the same 3/4 pattern but when the wall of guitars come in... It's big and dumb and metal at its very finest. Amen.
Download/Listen: Black Breath - Escape from Death
Download/Listen: Ufomammut - II
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
So yes, the Mercury Prize nominations were announced yesterday, to the usual sighs of apathy and disbelief. Looking at the 12 selected records doesn't induce apoplexy as much as a kind of resigned shrug - the odd interesting choice, but generally speaking it's predictable and bland. Which would be fine if it were representative. But of course it isn't. The truth is that there's a huge amount of innovative, interesting and exciting music being made in the UK at the moment - music that deserves to be heard. So rather than just bollock on like a bunch of washer women, myself, Rich Hughes (TLOBF magus and instigator of the idea) and Scott MacMillan (aka Mapsadaisical, proprieter of one of the finest blogs in existence) deliberated for a while, produced a list of close to 30 albums and eventually came up with an alternative 12. The Uranus Music Prize (named for the fact that Uranus spins on a different axis to any other planet in our solar system, obviously) seemed the perfect title. The winner will be announced on The Line of Best Fit in September.
Predictably strange and unsettling video from Demdike Stare, using footage they've adopted for their live sets.
Vex'd - Disposition (feat. Jest) (from Cloud Seed 2010)
Guelewar Band of Banjul - Warteef Jiggeen (from Golden Afrique Vol.2 2006)
Troupe Majidi - Essiniya (from Ecstatic Music of the Jemaa El Fna 2010)
Gregory Isaacs - Public Eyes (from Slum in Dub 1978)
Olan Mill - An Obedient Ear (from Pine 2010)
Brave Timbers - Let's Never Go Back (from Music and Migration 2010)
Artist: Various Artists
Album: Folk Against Fascism
Label: Folk Against Fascism
I got asked to join this Facebook group a few weeks back (it’s called, wait for it: ‘It’s funny how our flag offends you but our benefits don’t!’) I idly checked to see how many people were members (yeah ok, make with the Pete Townsend comments) and nearly threw up – more than 500,000. I checked back just now and it’s up around 630,000. I can’t decide if I’m missing some great sledgehammer of irony here. Are there really that many people willing to have their name and photograph associated with a group with such a sub-tabloid name, and with such awful Daily Express approach to such a complex subject? It struck me after seeing this and being asked to review the new Folk Against Fascism album that organisations such as these, whilst having honourable intentions in going after the snub-nosed stupidity of the BNP, – who have of course attempted to co-opt folk music into their confederation of ineptitude – have a far greater enemy in their midst. Namely those who remain politically demotivated – and would probably never vote for the BNP – but who are nevertheless caught in the broad pulse of that low-energy recourse to dull received opinion peddled by the mainstream press and media. Fascism might be a daft overstatement for it, but it is a dull, passive bigotry that seems to be becoming more pervasive all the time. I feel it like a chronic societal ache.
So what can an organisation like Folk Against Fascism do about such a situation? Not a whole lot is my guess. Despite all their success, it’s hard to work against passivity. Folk Against Fascism was originally set up as an awareness thing, to combat the co-opting of folk music by the BNP. Nick Griffin had been on record claiming various folk singers and groups as among his favourite artists. BNP activists were sent out to folk festivals, seeing them as hotbeds for nationalism and places to inculcate nationalist fervour against the ‘growing power of Islam’. The BNP in their nuanceless, monolithic manner, sought to exploit the sense of heritage and belonging implicit in the ancient chords of British folk music for bigoted means – culture and history as a form of insulation and protection. And there is a double bind at the centre of the continuing revival of folk music and folk traditions, or at least the potential for a double bind. When its meaning and importance are hyper-inflated – instead of considered as merely part of an ongoing history – then you witness the kind of thoughtless, belligerent frothing you see in all nationalist movements. FAF would argue that one celebrates it merely for what it is – a living example of our connection to a shared past. It needn’t be whipped or shaped into anything more.
So what of the music? They’ve assembled quite a collection of artists, old and new: Billy Bragg, James Yorkston, Damian Dempsey, The Unthanks, Christy Moore, Eliza Carthy, June Tabor, Juldeh Camara; there’s even a closing track from Shirley and Dolly Collins, a reworking of a traditional arrangement by The Copper Family. Naturally with any collection of this size and scope, it’s a bit hit and miss (which might be as much to do with my ignorance of some of the artists) and despite the nature of the project there isn’t really an overarching theme amongst the material – it’s more a collection of songs for a cause. But it is a very strong collection – and with material as good as that of the The Unthanks’ ‘Nobody Knew She Was There’, a keening soft pillow of a track, the mighty Lau with their spacious take on folk, the stentorian Damian Dempsey raging out ‘Colony’ and the traditionalists such as Blowzabella and the aforementioned Collins sisters this shouldn’t struggle to sell.
You have to acknowledge that this is a genuinely worthy cause, and a collective with this much publicity can only work for the good; and we know that given the backing and the manpower that its easy to puncture the imbecility of the BNP – witness what happened in Barking and Stoke at the general election. Hopefully it’ll sell by the bucketload. What of that insidious and latent bigotry though? That pall of ignorance that seems to have become something of the norm in this country – all that smug Clarkson Littlejohn halfwittedness that seeps into things, where everything seems to be the product of middle-aged men who TELL IT LIKE IT IS, people who remain free of nuance and misunderstand pretty much everything. Whether it’s intentional or otherwise is pretty much a moot point, if you act the part for long enough and you become that part. The question seems to be: how do you battle such an ominous creeping vapidity and apathy?
You can buy the double CD for a tenner from the FAF site, and listen to a bunch of tracks. Go do it.
Artist: Natural Snow Buildings
Album: The Centauri Agent
Label: Vulpiano Records
The simple truth is that every home should own at least one Natural Snow Buildings album, at least one. The first thing I heard by them was The Dance of The Moon and the Sun a monstrous folly of a double album which came out in 2006 on a tiny French label (and reviewed on a former incarnation of this site). I remember thinking at the time that they I'd never come across a band so perfectly named - they sounded like spectral ice palaces. Since then they've released countless albums, CDRs and cassettes and I've kind of lost touch a little, only picking up stuff here and there. Then this year they made their new album (another double) available as a free download - The Centauri Agent. It's another dazzling release full of stunning witchy folk music and drones which is, if anything, slightly warmer sounding than stuff they've released in the past. In places it's almost bucolic. It also features more vocals than I remember, with Mehdi Ameziane's delicate whisper rising to what seems near sky-scraping countertenor at times.
My suspicion is that the duo have hacked into the gossammer-thin sound wall that backgrounds everything and merely act as penitent conduits. Here's hoping they keep their secret to themselves.
You can download The Centauri Agent at the Vulpiano site. You can also download a lovely live session from one member of Natural Snow Buildings, TwinSisterMoon, at the Victory Rose site.
I don't do much in the way of tech posts on here (OK, none) but I've recently discovered Extension FM, an add-on for Chrome and it's ace. I'll confess to feeling a bit dirty when I ditched Firefox for Chrome, but it had become so damn sludgy and sluggish it was driving me nuts, so off I went. Chrome will inevitably become weighed down itself as the extension gallery grows, but the crucial difference here is that each tab and extension is treated as an individual process or session and as Chrome has its own task manager you can monitor each process and kill them off as you wish. No more hangs or crashes...
Extension FM is a pretty simple idea - it turns any on-page download (be it a single mp3, a suite of mp3s or a whole mix) into a playable file via an embedded or floating player, so you can play the file from the source or from within Extension FM itself. And as you can create an account, it keeps a library of what you've listened to - accessible across browsers. Oh, and you can scrobble from it to Last.fm, too.