9 May 2017

Forget Consensus: The Best of 2017's Musical Margins

There's a lot of talk around about how divergent our tastes have become from one another. To a degree that's accurate, as you do now tend to see less large scale movements, all centred around a crazed infatuation with some new emerging sound - bar noticeable exceptions like Footwork. Yet in the wake of these scene based surges has risen an insidious new form of consensus culture, sharing no similarity with either large scale collective creativity, or some fractured utopia where we each individually venture into new and uncharted regions of sound. Instead, we lay witness to a poisonous rise in sites like Album of The Year, Metacritic or Rate Your Music. Outlets, which in theory, should expose people to a greater degree of music, but in actuality form a creative hierarchy, where the same set of consensus albums receive countless of plaudits, and many of the more interesting new forms fall through the cracks. One useful tool these sites have created, is the ability to see an album of the year list generated from an accumulation of all the other large music publications' end of year lists. It's useful in so much as proving just how indistinguishable these lists have become, making it more essential than ever for this foul trend to be bucked. Below are just a number of albums or projects, whose work deserves far greater coverage, ones who expose a great deal of consensus "greats" to be pale and uninspired.

Shit and Shine - Total Shit
Sharing that same fucked in the 'ed humour as Aaron Dilloway or The Butthole Surfers, Shit and Shine succeed in maniacally obliterating all the conventions that stand in their way. Released on the label home to all things prickly - Powell's Diagonal - Total Shit is effectively a two finger assault to all conservative notions of good taste, gleefully puncturing the heart of each genre they touch upon, leaving them in a state of wheezing desperation. Here, the musical veterans truly run amok, pummelling through techno, noise-rock, disco, and an assortment of odd samples - notably snippets of Michael Jackson on Dodge Pot, and questions of what exactly is the most unique thing Van Halen bring to rock and roll, on Excess, Laziness, Egotism. Aside from featuring some superbly jagged techno bangers like Chklt shk, brilliant track titles such as Stop Saying Awesome, and consistently deranged genre hopping; the album is simply a stubborn, obtuse but also wholly enjoyable listen, akin to repeatedly stubbing your toe or jamming your hand in an electrical socket, but you know... fun... really fucking fun.

Shackelton & Vengeance Tenfold - Sferic Ghost Transmits
Jesus Christ, this don't 'alf quench my Coil thirst. For many of us, not much music can really measure up to Coil, one of the most extraordinary bands -arguably the most- to ever grace the earth with it's existence. This could possibly be a problem for Shackelton, an artist whose last couple of projects have been consistently compared to the group, as for most, a comparison to Coil will make said group look rather hollow when measured up to them. Luckily, in Shackelton's case, the music shares that crucial sense of exploration, venturing through post-dubstep's wobble-centric electronics, and gamelan-esque melodic and rhythmic layering. The resulting album, Sferic Ghost Transmits - a collaboration with the poetic vocalist Vengeance Tenfold - balances that ancient/futurist tightrope, delving into each tendency in a manner that's frankly visionary, whilst also open to sounding a tad silly. The cover depicts some unknowable alien race, one which has seemingly evolved at a mind boggling, unnaturally rapid pace, whilst its gigantic head is hung in solemn reflection, a murky abyss weighing on its psyche. The extraordinary music feels as if it has been enacted by this fictitious race, somehow, simultaneously more primitive and advanced than our own, with tongue in cheek spiritual tones, that can at times come across like Beelzebub's own branch of Rainbow Rhythms...

Gosheven - Leaper
Gosheven has forged something to be truly cherished with Leaper, a deeply strange investigation into unwielding microtonal textures. There's an unfortunate habit when attempting to achieve beauty in sound, to rely on tried and tested formulas, many unwilling to stray into the hinterland and risk artistic failure. Released on the excellent Opal Tapes, Leaper imagines a new sonic language for beauty, one which rarely -if ever- relies on conditioned methods to achieve this goal. Perhaps most devastating of all, is the tack Excluded and Abused, with angelic vocals soaring amongst gently released guitar tones, whose unfamiliar tuning creates a haze of disorientating ecstasy. The crumbling percussion which materialises on opener Island of Unknown Joys, is largely an anomaly, as for the most part, we are left with these beguiling vocal and tonal experiments, which blissfully ascend, unrestrained to any physical or earthly forms. Along with many of the other releases on Opal Tapes, Gosheven belongs to a criminally neglected underground, one barely beholden to any known form or tradition.  

Coby Sey - Whities 010
Having previously collaborated with maverick figures like Mica Levi and Klein, Coby Sey is further cementing his position as a singular artist in his own right, with a dank, murky, sound quickly beginning to fester. Sharing a similarly dour tone to trip-hop, eMMplekz, Raime or Young Echo, tracks like Active (Peak) are overcome by a coarse hiccuping beat, spreading like mould into into the dilapidated tones of All Change, vocally residing to bizarre mutterings and half formed syllables, spectre like, lost in eternal limbo. With fellow sonic adventurers like Gaika and the previously mentioned collaborators, Coby Sey reveals just how fertile modern London's music scene is, if your just willing to look bellow the sea of shite Libertines rehashes, who somehow manage the seemingly impossible task of being even worse than the original article.

Children Of Alice - Children Of Alice 
The music of Broadcast was indebted to a past refracted; cultural memory turned into psychedelic wormhole. Follow their trajectory and become ever more subsumed with blurred artifacts and tampered recollections. By the time of their final release Broadcast and The Focus Studio Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age - excluding the Berberian Sound Studio Soundtrack - the group had honed a singular and contemporary psychedelia from the the morphed relics of a forgotten past. Tragically in 2011, the group's singer Trish Keenan passed away, with the project left on indefinite hiatus. Children Of Alice reunites Broadcast's James Cargill and Roj Stevens with longtime collaborator Julian House (The Focus Group) to conceive an album of fragmented, semi-formed ideas, left in an illusive state of embryonic mystery. Surely destined to become a classic in the hauntological cannon, Children Of Alice is defined by its colossal opening mission statement, a 19 minute piece titled The Harbinger of Spring. During its elongated run-time, the audio collage undergoes many drastic ruptures and shifts, evoking an English countryside of both joyous tranquillity and an occult indebted darkness.

Adult. - Detroit House Guests 
Pretty underappreciated this. An album which was actually released to rather mixed reviews, something which I find rather baffling, as - to these ears - it's a fuckin' stellar exercise in avant-electo strutting. Opener P rts M ss ng, is propelled by a sexy, slinky, analogue synth line, fluctuating and writhing in the mix, while the volatile percussion lands like breeze-blocks onto metal. The hellish tones found throughout Detroit House Guests, sound like what the witch in Hansel and Gretel would listen to on her weekends off, stirring a stew of dubious origins, vocals wailing to incant her ghoulish dinner guests. Various underground legends show up during the albums tracklist, ranging from Swans' Michael Gira to Nitzer Ebb's Doughlas McCarthy, firmly situating this project within a proud lineage of perverse, maximalist, experimentation.

Babyfather - Cypher
An 18 minute mixtape was always destined to fall through the cracks. Music culture still seems rather beset on album-mania, like a stubborn child clinging onto the most familiar toy. Yet for Babyfather, and many others, the mixtape format allows for a far more loose method of creative exploration, not beholden to any release dates or label expectations. With the output of Babyfather - the project comprising of Dean Blunt, DJ Escrow and Gassman - much of the greatest work has arrived on mixtapes, most notably the iconoclastic, Kate Bush sampling, Skywalker Freestyle. Soon into the proceedings of Cypher, we find Blunt and co further indulging in the backward effects which were strewn over the 419 mixtape, conceiving a lysergic form of UK hip-hop, not merely dazed in a druggy fog, but wholly consumed by uncanny hallucinations. Blunt the vocalist retreats from this affair, appearing at only brief intervals, but his signifier's remain a constant; upfront vocal samples, tacky midi instrumentation, and a flow overcome by a monotonous drawl. For all those who wrongly dismissed Babyfather as an endeavour interested in mere provocation and novelty - his 2016 album BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow, began with a sample of Craig David saying "this makes me proud to be British", which was repeated incessantly for over five minutes - the continued evolution of the project just proves to be ever more pertinent and impactful, not at all some form of vapid post-modern irony. Equally essential is the new Dean Blunt and Joanne Robertson mixtape, Wahalla, which has only just been released, so I haven't yet had a chance to fully process it.

Helm - World In Action 
World In Action is the sound of turbulence, barely concealed disorder, in fact, Helm's latest release can't help but be situated in the the aftermath of 2016's political events. Featuring assistance from Raime's Valentina Magaletti, this new EP documents the frantic environment we now find ourselves a part of, Blue Scene's free jazz squeals invoke havoc, disarray, whilst the oppressive percussion of the title track is like a loose limb made of rusting, clattering, machinery. As oppose to his last full length - 2015's masterful Olympic Mess, released on the incredible German based label Pan - their is noticeable shift towards more rhythmic territory, partially emerging from the dense viscous sound, with a newfound tendency towards attack, propulsion. It's a needed approach, taking note of the head-space we all share within the current political landscape, a landscape of consistently growing desperation.

(Words: Eden Tizard)