The Essential Six - October 2020
I was happily having a break from writing stuff about music, but then I heard a load of good music so I thought I'd pop them in a list and send them into the ether. Here are the 6 best things I listened to in October:
Spectres - It's Never Going To Happen And This Is Why (Dark Habits)
Opening with a Birthday Party style bang on "Idolise Us!" (metal riff, punchy drumming, general quickfire arty raucousness) and closing with the eight minute blunt industrial clatter of "I Was An Abbatoir", who'd have thought that what we needed in 2020 was a new Spectres album. This is a band that don't shy away from intense, uncomfortable (but highly satisfying) imagery and with the pessimistically titled It's Never Going To Happen And This Is Why they've provided another dosage. The band, who've been away for 3 years, have perhaps cheekily described this as their pop record, and although there are moments of snappy, raw punk ("The Annihilation of The Self" could easily find itself on Primal Scream's XTRMNTR...if it wasn't by Spectres), it's not going to alienate those of us that are perfectly happy with doom and despair, it just adds a touch of colour to their murky palette. There are other shifts too, firstly the band have self released this one, and secondly it includes a few guest spots, most noticeably Elvin Brandhi and French Margot adding a distinct DIY clatter to "On Nepotism". Then there's "The Boats" which bolsters Spectres' guitar sound with a synthy bassline which veers towards full early 90s goth territory. Basically, Spectres' third album is a sludgy, punky, gothy joy/nightmare.
Magana - you are not a morning person
Last month I was singing the praises of Breathing, Magana's ambient piece which only came out in September. Unbeknownst to me, the Brooklyn musician had a full album up her sleeve which has since been released independently via bandcamp. It couldn't be any different from Breathing and it's an absolute peach. you are not a morning person has a resolutely full band feel, although Magana plays guitar, keyboards, clarinet and flute herself she's joined here by Cassette Spence, Jonathan Smith, Fraser Campbell and JJ Byars and the results are almost shockingly (in a good way) BIG. Take "Who Am I" which is like a funeral march being led by the E Street Band, this is an album where Megana seems to be throwing everything into the pot and just unleashing it on an unsuspecting world. Other highlights include the smoky jazz-room ballad "Trouble and I" with its erratic time changes and (again) a lovely warm bit of brass. Perhaps the best of the bunch though is the dramatic, labyrinth-like madness of "Iodine" (which is over far too soon). A surprise release which is up there with the very best music that 2020 has had to offer.
break_fold - break_fold (Cathedral Transmissions)
break_fold is the electronic project of Tim Hann and this is his third, self-titled album. Nearly all of break_fold's song titles have been simple datestamps in the past, which maybe eschews any emotion or nostalgia from the songs (or does it add to them...?). Here though he's deviated from the plan for 2 tracks, the soaring "Gaps_in_the_Mesh_(Remix)" and the delicate glacial thump of "JP". Who knows what this means or whether it even has any meaning, but the good news is that this is another stellar batch of electronica, fusing techno, dark pop and analogue feedback and glitches to form consistently sweeping, absorbing music. Not quite ambient enough to be meditative and not quite poppy enough to be danceable, it does something in between. I personally use it as a soundtrack for pushing a baby around in a pram but I'm sure there are other scenarios to suit.
Mark Peters & Clem Leek - THESIS 19
I'm new to the world of the Thesis Project, but I think the gist is that it's a series of collaborations between musicians and artists resulting in beautifully packaged vinyl releases. Here on the 19th edition we find ex-Engineers man (and top notch ambient solo artist) Mark Peters working with sound artist Clem Leek. Peters' atmospheric, effect-laden guitar chimes are easy to spot, but the collaborative nature of these pieces moves the music into new directions. There's a distinct classical feel to the it, especially on the gorgeous opener "Overhill" which just drifts all around you, wrapping you in a blissful bubble to escape the outer world. Elsewhere the chiming, backwards melody on "Half Day" has nods to Tubular Bells and the reverb heavy closing track "Cawthorne" is just a perfectly formed five minutes of pure life-affirming delight. The artwork was created to fit the music and Gregory Euclide had done a fine job of producing something equally stunning. Buy it for the art or buy it for the music. It's a win-win.
Richard Dawson - Live @ The Sage, Gateshead
I went to a pop concert! My first gig since March was a trip over the river to see local legend Richard Dawson play the Sage Gateshead at one of their short (and it looks like they are going to be cut even shorter due to the latest lock down measures) run of socially distanced performances. This one saw a solo Dawson playing to 150 lucky people in a hall that usually takes 1500. It made for an initially odd atmosphere which the prolific musician played to in typically awkward, heartfelt and hilarious fashion. The set was bookended by two acapella performances (dvd extras or bloopers as Dawson under sells them) with an eclectic career spanning selection in between. Recent album tracks like "Two Halves", "Jogging" and "Heart Emoji" sat alongside fan favourites including the towering "Judas Iscariot". Christ knows what the children in attendance (during this matinee performance) thought of his pitch black farce "Poor Old Horse". An extraordinary show in more ways than one.
Yakka Doon - Live @ The Sage Concourse, Gateshead
Also on the bill at the Sage was Yakka Doon, the solo project of Claire Welford from Bad Amputee. Joined by fellow Bad Amputee member and local folk legend Phil Tyler they played a half hour set on the concourse of the beautiful sage on the banks of the Tyne. With the sun streaming through the windows we were treated to three tracks (the first one was quite the epic!) which were angelic and wicked in equal parts. With Welford's voice and guitar, accompanied by Tyler's fiddle/banjo atmospherics they filled the huge Sage concourse with an off-kilter folk which was fleeting but fulfilling. The set ended with "Golden Plover", a song which Richard Dawson would later wax lyrical about in the main hall. There's a fine chance that Yakka Doon picked up a few new doting fans on the back of today's show. What a way to spend an afternoon after such a long gig exodus.