Category: Reviews

Record Review: Alex Novak: META 1977-2017

Alex Novak META 1977-2017 (VUZ Records) To celebrate a 40-year career in art and music and tied in with his recent gallery exhibition, VUZ Records release a strictly limited edition…

Alex Novak
META 1977-2017 (VUZ Records)

To celebrate a 40-year career in art and music and tied in with his recent gallery exhibition, VUZ Records release a strictly limited edition commemorative compilation cassette/download to showcase the work of Northampton artist and musician Alex Novak. To sustain a 40 year career in any field is difficult and even more so in the alternative arts. Alex’s secret of longevity is to be something of a musical chameleon. Constantly evolving and shape-shifting he is one of those rare, eclectic musicians (like Killing Joke or PiL) who produce markedly different work yet it has a certain ingredient that makes it easily identifiable.

Assembled by the guys at VUZ Records this compilation features a host of rare, remixed and unreleased tracks that make the collection a veritable treasure trove. Thus this offering has that ‘mix tape’ feel, like the kind of tape a friend would dub for you back in the day. Kicking things off we have two tracks from one of Northampton’s first punk bands, Isaws. On a subconscious level the original punks knew their tenure was going to burn brightly but briefly so there was a real urgency to make their mark with haste. ‘No Admittance’ and the rarity ‘Nightlife’ are typically fast, furious and powered by a youthful enthusiasm. Imagine The Ramones meeting The Clash.

With Religious Overdose Alex moved onto post-punk, perhaps the most, for awhile, unshackled of musical genres. Post-punk was often angular and brittle mirroring the fragile state of society, and Religious Overdose captured something of that zeitgeist. Like much of their work ‘Control Addicts’ has a hypnotic feel, reeling in the listener before landing a surprise punch. In that respect the band foreshadowed electronic trance (albeit played organically) and like much of the music contained in this collection Alex and his cohorts seem to be ahead of the musical curve uncannily anticipating the direction of alternative music.

Alex’s tenure with UK dark wave pioneers Attrition proved very fruitful and it could be argued that they’re the missing link between Killing Joke and Godflesh. Here ‘Feel The Backlash’ shows the band influenced by their surroundings: it’s cold and monolithic like brutalist architecture, crushing the listener beneath its enormity. Both Spore and The Den took the raw energy of punk and fused it with electronica, two musical genres that at one time were diametrically opposed. It took a mad scientist to fuse them and the effect was literally electric. The Den in particular are like PiL filtered through The Covenant, The Sword…-era Cabaret Voltaire, offering a disturbing glimpse of a dystopian Orwellian future.

In an age when popular culture was accelerated The Tempest perfectly captured that shift from post-punk to gothic and like all the bands on this compilation they stand apart in their originality yet are still connected by thin gossamer threads: the hypnosis that was pioneered with Religious Overdose is evident here in ‘Low Ebb’ and was later transferred to Alex’s Nova State Conspiracy. The two tracks here from the Conspiracy, ‘Definitive Item’ and ‘Life in the Basement’, feature electronics with surgical precision overlaid with organic vocals and the effect is quite disarming. Like all good art it is the tension of opposites that makes it so intriguing.

Like PIL before them Venus Fly Trap had a constantly revolving line-up, more through necessity than design, but unlike PiL the VFT was a democracy and this flux resulted in an ever-changing sound as evidenced by the three tracks presented here. From the bruising rock of ‘Moscow Menagerie’ (again with that hypnotic riff) to the electronic enthusiasm of ‘Achilles Heel’ what did remain constant was the cinematic nature of the music: the combination of music and lyrics combine to imprint a powerful image on your mind. Each track plays out like a ’60s French film noir or Tarantino flick in your imagination. Of course if I assembled this tape I’d have included ‘Pulp Sister’ but maybe you’d pick ‘Morphine’ and that’s the whole point – and fun – of mix tapes.

With a new Venus Fly Trap album tentatively scheduled for a Spring 2018 release there is still more to come from Alex Novak, but ‘META 1977-2017’ is the perfect way to celebrate the closure of one volume just as another begins.

Sargent

META 1977-2017 is available here.

No Comments on Record Review: Alex Novak: META 1977-2017

Record Review: The Lords Of Thyme ‘Pellets’

THE LORDS OF THYME Pellets (Sunstone) Midlands quartet ‘da Lords’, as no one probably calls them, are the quintessential folk-psych, West Coast-harmonising band who play like the calendar got stuck…

THE LORDS OF THYME
Pellets (Sunstone)

Midlands quartet ‘da Lords’, as no one probably calls them, are the quintessential folk-psych, West Coast-harmonising band who play like the calendar got stuck on 1972. On this evidence, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that mindset. The group first came together as musicians in Circulus, and the nucleus/driving force of the band is Northants-based husband and wife team Joe and Michelle Woolley. Joe wrote five of the eight songs here, and arranged two of the traditional numbers.

Pellets originally was released on CD in 2016, but recently the group were approached by Sunstone to produce a vinyl version. This run is limited to just 200 copies; it also gave the band a chance to re-order the tracks into a more satisfying sequence. Now the album begins with ‘Burton Town’, possibly their most Pentangle-y song, which isn’t surprising as it’s on the first Pentangle album. Also tried out by Sandy Denny, you immediately get where they’re coming from. Michelle’s siren-song folk delivery is mesmerising from the first note, laid over tasteful organ and intertwining, earthy hand-picked guitar lines. Following a lovely solemn rendition of another traditional, ‘George Collins’, the listener is treated to the talents of J. Woolley and Tali Trow. ‘The Bird It Sang’ is more in tune with a Byrdsian worldview, riding a confident wave of up-tempo jangle, topped off with a wonderful dramatic chorus.  Side one finishes with ‘Morning Came’, a plaintive rumination from Joe that recalls a solo Bert Jansch in all its honest, down-home singing. It’s a real stunning number, truth be told.

Side two begins with the epic melancholy of ‘Coming Down’, and introducing some mellifluous pedal steel guitar lines weaving in and out of some equally impressive Hammond playing. Is that jazz drumming too? It’s an ambitious, weighty and beautifully stoned number the band should be justly proud of (as they can of the whole album). ‘Freight Train to Rainham’ comes out of the leftfield a bit, very much a John Mayall workout that’s bluesy and probably a lot of fun to jam on. Pellets finishes with ‘Keep On Travelling’, a West Coast psych-rocker that patiently builds and builds, swirling through the fog of tyme to bring us one step closer to the beatnik-hippy dreamworld.

The album is a luxurious sounding thing, and perfectly suited to the vinyl format. If we’re allowed a little critique it perhaps would benefit from being a bit more dog-eared at times, to give greater range and depth to the overall vision. The songwriting and musicianship are beyond reproach, though – this is an album we will be talking about in twenty years time. No matter what format you hear it in, just make sure it comes into your life, and soon.

Phil Istine

Pellets is out now on LP via Sunstone

No Comments on Record Review: The Lords Of Thyme ‘Pellets’

Religious Overdose ‘Glass Hymnbook (1980-1982)’

RELIGIOUS OVERDOSE Glass Hymnbook (1980-1982) (Glass Redux) This retrospective compilation is very early post-punk, the Northampton band having formed in 1979, the year in which the very notion of post-punk…

RELIGIOUS OVERDOSE
Glass Hymnbook (1980-1982) (Glass Redux)

This retrospective compilation is very early post-punk, the Northampton band having formed in 1979, the year in which the very notion of post-punk (or “new musick” as it was first coined) was first being talked about, and its ideas being explored. Guitarist Richard Formby would move onto work on In Embrace, Spectrum, The Jazz Butcher and more, before becoming a studio producer. Vocalist Alex Novak would move onto The Tempest, Attrition and his long-term project Venus Fly Trap. But there and then they were experimenters in noise and emotion, taking on board the contemporaneous sounds of PIL, Joy Division, fellow midlanders Bauhaus et. al – alongside the psychedelic kraut bands (primarily Can and Neu one can presume).

The heady mix saw strange, often bleak, gothic lo-fi abstraction poured forth from the studio. Over three singles and a compilation track they briefly burned strong before the individuals moved onto other, equally-interesting projects. John Peel supported the trailblazing Relgious Overdose debut 45: the drum machine-heavy, hypnotic dirge of ‘25 Minutes’, which came backed with the industrial fuzz of ‘Control Addicts’. The second single ‘I Said Go’ bought the kraut influence to the fore in the unsettling 5/4 rhythms and complex vocal arrangements. It could have been a hit, in a certain light. ‘Alien To You’ continued the serious ambience of the earlier single, with some avant-garde, Vini Reilly-esque spiky guitar lines alongside Novak’s vocal in-and-out flights of fancy. Also from 1981 came the synth-led new wave of ‘Blow The Back Off It’, which appeared on a Glass Records compilation – and was good enough/should have been a single itself. ‘The Girl With The Disappearing Head (I’ve Got To Adjust To It)’ was the final A-side from 1982, the band now confident enough to be putting out 7-minute songs of jittery punk-funk that holds it’s head up well against their competition of the time. New drummer Pete Brownjohn does some striking patterns throughout.

It’s their final B-side, ‘In This Century’, which cements their legacy though. After almost two minutes of abstract noise (drum machine, triangle, violin, real world sounds) the songs kicks in with their most affecting song; a hypnotic, funereal off-beat jangle that would not have sounded out of place on Closer. There are four bonus tracks to round up this release, of which the ten minute demo version of ‘In This Century’ is the most exciting revelation. ‘Hazaal’ and ‘Talk Talk’ are unreleased recordings that stand up in comparison to the released songs, and only suffer a little for the demo quality of the recordings.

It all builds up to an impressive work of a band who freely admit they were making it all up as they went along. Bold, experimental sounds from a Northants past that can be treasured by all in this excellent compilation. Make sure you pore over the visuals in the CD case too – they create another world of their own.

Phil Istine

Glass Hymnbook (1980-1982) is out now

1 Comment on Religious Overdose ‘Glass Hymnbook (1980-1982)’

Loose Tooth – Loose Tooth (Undead Collective Records)

This Northampton band have a biography that states ‘millennial malaise at it’s most morbid’. As sales pitches go it’s unlikely to have people queuing up for tickets. It’s obviously a…

This Northampton band have a biography that states ‘millennial malaise at it’s most morbid’. As sales pitches go it’s unlikely to have people queuing up for tickets. It’s obviously a little bit tongue in cheek. But then again, as the guttural scream of ‘Split In The Hair’ kicks in and lasts an uncomfortable nine seconds, maybe not so. Anyway up, the hardcore punk/grunge/metal trio have turned in a debut [mini] album that’s as confident and fresh sounding as anyone has any right to be.

The pummeling action of Oli Knight (formerly of Of Blue Skies And Youth) on vocals and guitar is capably aided and abetted by Adam Cator on bass and Josh Miller on drums throughout (both formerly of Death Kindly Waits For Me). Eighteen months work has gone on in the background leading up this release, and it’s been time well spent, as the songs give the hardcore/alt-rock scene a sure-shot in the arm.

‘Moodhoover’ has immediate impact, with the juxtaposition between anthemic chorus and the tense light/dark shades on the verses. It loses its shit towards the climax and will leave you rather stunned when it’s suddenly over. The aforementioned ‘Split In The Hair’ plays it relatively straight – the hardcore centre sounding familiar to millions. It moves into screamo territory in the breakdown though: we’re talking less scare-the-horses and more Stephen King shit-the-bed. ‘Roman Nose’ showcases their trademark tempo changes again, shifting effortlessly from frenetic passages to a more grunge-style chorus.

‘Raincoats’ has one foot in the indie/alt-rock world: all well-shaped guitar lines through just the right pedals and a keening, angry melody about love gone wrong. If you want to dip your toe into this album it’s perhaps a good starting point. ‘Snakebites’ repeats the trick, though with a little too much reliance on the pure grunge sound when evidently the strength of the band is the blend of their myriad influences. ‘The Everfall’ is the softest sounding tune here: an effecting minor-chord bruised body that jolts back into life on slash’n’burn punk choruses. They finish with their debut single ‘Pearls’, a powerful song about a dying relative and the anguish that causes. It’s beautiful, haunting, sad, angry, and more besides. Well worth waiting around for, in an album that continually rewards.

If you enjoy Refused, Deftones, Soundgarden, At The Drive-In, or Million Dead then there’s something here for you. And really you should be all over this, as Loose Tooth offers some serious dark fun to those bleak Midlands nights.

Phil Istine

Loose Tooth is available to buy on ITunes, to stream on the major platforms, and to buy on CD directly at the band’s shows

No Comments on Loose Tooth – Loose Tooth (Undead Collective Records)

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search