Sounds From The Outer Reaches #4


Another edition of chaotically parenthetical, excessively purple prose, praising sounds far-flung and fucked. This week, eldritch free jazz and funereal medieval folk, sweeping, malfunctioning ambience, surgeon-precise industrial slam, and a touch of evocative mystery.

Death Shanties – O! Where is Saint George

Death Shanties are comprised of Alex Neilson (most notably of Trembling Bells) on drums, Sybren Renema (multidisciplinary Dutch artist) on alto/baritone sax and Lucy Stein, a painter, who adds a mixed media dimension by providing psychedelic visual projections – often composed of layered painterly chaos. Most of their LP, ‘Crabs’, is a turbulent run of improvised free jazz caterwauling, rampantly veering between a sputter and a wail, and wildly mirrored by scattered, rumbling percussion.

The final track though, ‘O! Where is Saint George’ makes a fascinating break with such unrestrained, spasmodic action, by foregrounding something else entirely. Described by Neilson in a recent interview as a ‘Padstow salutation song’, it mixes a reading of DM Thomas (‘The White Hotel’) with a forlorn chorus which sounds as if it’s being distantly enunciated by a group of weather-beaten sea captains. The latter is actually lifted from a May Day song traditionally performed every year in Padstow, a port town in Cornwall. Accompanying a parade which includes a ritualistic teasing of the Obby Oss (some kind of ceremonial horse thing) the song is sung in a procession that lasts all day and night. The spoken word comes from a letter written to Sigmund Freud and reimagined by Thomas for the novel; an intimate retelling of a strange dream, indicative of some kind of psychosexual neurosis. Images of ‘charred bodies’ hanging on trees, torn wombs, sheared breasts, and wooden embryos abound, until it culminates in the characters relief in being awake and still having her breasts intact (phew)

Why I like this and see it fit for recommendation I’m still not sure. Both fantastical and historical, it sounds appropriately formless and freewheeling, considering the sources; an imaginative reconfiguring of tradition and reference into some kind of reclaimed, eldritch Englishness. But this attempt at explanation probably falls short of being a true measure of it. Even if you’re likely to loathe it, it simply has to be heard.

The Fates – Ceaseless Effort/Furia LP

Keyboardist and one of the founding members of The Fall, Una Baines, made the ‘Furia’ LP in 1985 following the disbandment of The Blue Orchids, the John Cooper Clarke-christened post-Fall project she formed with fellow ex-Fall member Martin Bramah. The Orchids had toured with and backed Nico prior to their all-too-soon end. In the same year Nico had released ‘Camera Obscura’, but you’d have to go back to her 1974 effort ‘The End’ to trace any palpable convergence on ‘Furia’. Of course knowing the other projects Baines was involved in inevitably feeds an assumption that this will keenly recall earlier collaborations. Instead it testifies to her own distinctiveness.

The band was made up of former members of Beyond The Glass, another Manchester band she was involved in at the time. Apparently driven by an interest in pre-patriarchal societies and exposed to the influence of Robert Graves ‘The White Goddess’, Baines got together an all-female troupe to record an album, after persuading Geoff Travis of Rough Trade to fund the recording. Amid all this upheaval, of resigned and newly assumed projects, her mother was dying of cancer. Such seeming chaos and tragic strain seems to have influenced the outcome.

Appropriately enough it was originally scheduled for release on Halloween, yet the record resists simple designation as horror-caricature. The later stages slip spritely into something holy, like Californian-choral (like some Pagan Mamas & the Papas) and along the way there’s a slight voltage of rackety VU garage-chug (‘Sheila’) and sacrificial drone-chants (‘Who Am I’) Yet it’s the first track which stands out and endures. Persistent and sinister, it keeps a sepulchral tone and pace, punctuating the whole medieval, caped-cult feel with aptly baroque and courtly instrumentation; as if the flautist and percussionist are lost in a convincing re-enactment of a sombre and ancient rite. It’s completely haunting. The best unearthed release – of this particular sound and period – since Gareth Williams & Mary Currie’s ‘Flaming Tunes’.

Jan St Werner – Split Animal Sculpture

Another Mark E Smith collaborator (Von Sudenfed) Jan St Werner, has been been plying his craft in electronics since the early 90s, as one half of Mouse on Mars (read our archive interview with them here) But it’s this recent solo work which stands as a captivating digression from his more famed work in MOM, and which also represents an interesting continuance of his previous solo work under his own name and the Lithops moniker.

For the first three minutes, a graceful sweep of otherworldly organ repeats and immerses, developing a constant and comforting motif, but its poise is subtly distressed by effects which metallically buzz, as if the output is contending with frizz and fray; an appealing kind of damage. An interlude of spaced ambient-whitewash serenely disrupts that opening scene, which then incorporates deep-machine bleeps, before allowing it to come back into the fore as a more veiled sustain. Although clocking in at 11 minutes, it doesn’t feel overlong. It’s ineffably mesmeric, with sounds which seem to orbit incongruously but which somehow arrange themselves into a compelling system.

This came out in March as a 10”* courtesy of art book publisher Infinite Greyscale, who’ve recently diversified with releases from Holly Herndon and Jefre Cantu Ledesma. Their next release comes on October 3rd, undoubtedly one to look out for.

(*My bad, slow on the uptake, largely sifting/drowning in a sea of shit promos)

Dual Action – County Line

Hospital Productions stalwart and by extension Dominik Fernow associate, Matthew Folden released the very promising ‘Wounded Laurel’ LP under the Virile Games guise last year (check the awe-inducing, cinematic feel of ‘Military Saints II’ for a darkly sublime indication of its quality) In the intervening period – as with the nature of Fernow’s relentless spew of bloodying and provocative noise-techno and numerous other sidelines – Folden has recently directed his attention to his Dual Action project, a significantly more intense and beat-driven exercise, attuned to a violent kind of ecstasy. Although that description could be misleadingly reductive. His latest ‘Nightmare Angel of the Expressway’ is not some mindless, head-down, brutalist flurry. The approach to sampling and industrial noise is like a dissection, eagerly poring over the ugliest elements whilst retaining a certain level of reflective distance.

At over two hours and a half ‘Nightmare Angel…’ would be a ridiculously indulgent and absurdly unlistenable work if it was just the equivalent of a roundhouse to the gut, over and over again. It speaks promising volumes that this sits ambiguously between the two extremes whilst engaging in sounds which veer into both, in other words; trading in full blown balls-to-the-wall noise and ominously stirring, nerve-shredding subtlety.

‘County Line’ is one which convincingly mixes such polarities. A mechanical wrath of drum machines anchor it; a fierce, predatory hiss and rattle and alongside it the colossal growls of some recalibrated industrial generator shake and heighten the terror before some twisted, maniacal vocals come in, like the fiendish outpourings of a possessed mind (Also, the artwork is of a penguin. Which is perplexing…but nice) Yet another release which continues Hospital’s recent rude health*.

(*The Alessandro Cortini LP & Clay Rendering EP's make up the other recent standouts)

Unknown Artist – Katy Left Memphis

The second cassette release on the London based imprint Death Is Not The End, ‘Murderers’ Home’ is a reissue of Alan Lomax-curated material performed by inmates of the Mississippi Penitentiary. Lomax made some pretty insightful comments at the time concerning the nature of the ‘work songs’ and ‘field hollers’ that feature: "These songs belong to the musical tradition which Africans brought to the New World, but they are also as American as the Mississippi River. They were born out of the very rock and earth of this country, as black hands broke the soil, moved, reformed it, and rivers of stinging sweat poured upon the land under the blazing heat of Southern skies…”

The searing heat and exhaustion is potent on this cut, one that has a tantalizing sense of mystery about it, owing to its anonymous creator. There’s no accompaniment, just a struggling, downtrodden acapella, rhythmically moored by the drudgery of hard labour (a thud like something’s being chopped) though, staggeringly enough, the harmony never wavers. About as close as a recording can get to the sound of misery, and the determination to endure it.