"…And since the appearance of things was no longer definitive but limitless, this paradisiacal awareness freed me from the reality external to myself. The fire and the rose, as it were, became one…" Federico Fellini
March was a very psychedelic month in various aspects (including the weather!) and its soundtrack could not have been any different. The 20th anniversary party of Rocket Recordings and the unforgettable performance of Alva Noto with Anne-James Chaton, worked like sonic attractors and it was as if everything that we listened to during this month, was to be compared with the quality and the sound of these two performances. In the name of impartiality though, we had to try to 'forget' the impact of these two shows and the aesthetic 'pull' that they exercised, so that we could create a soundtrack that would be characteristic of the releases of the previous month. Out of the 60 albums/EPs and singles that we listened to during the previous month, it was the different incarnations of punk that somehow 'neutralized' the ground before we got enchanted by the weird, the 'too experimental', the 'textured' sound and the 'heavy' music that creates space for social and political critique. If there is one word that could describe the feeling that the soundtrack of March 2018 has created, this is numbness.
If we treat the soundtrack of this month as a painting, then we should start by talking about its frame. The four releases that somehow 'contain' the energy of this month's soundtrack are MOBY's 'Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt', Ministry's 'AmeriKKKant', Anthroprophh's 'Omegaville' and Alva Noto's 'Unieqav'.
Following the release of his latest solo albums entitled 'Long Ambients 1: Calm.Sleep' and 'These Systems Are Failing', MOBY has 'written' another chapter in the big music book that is his career. The album 'Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt' has strong influences from soul music and gospel and brings to the foreground, female vocals by Apollo Jane, Brie O'Bannon (who has collaborated with MOBY in the past), Julie Mintz, Mindy Jones and Raquel Rodriguez. The songs where MOBY's voice comes to the foreground, stress his social perceptiveness through their lyrics and the fascination for inspiring ambience through synth based dreamy melodies.
At the other end of the sonic energy spectrum, Ministry and Anthroprophh occupy two places which they 'hold' as if they were the most strategically important forts. Ministry have released perhaps the most political album of their career so far. The album's title, 'AmeriKKKant', is the result of a very clever play with words and the songs work like Burroughs' cut-ups as they strongly rely on syncopation, something that gives to them this quality. The signature heavy sound of Killing Joke comes to mind here and there throughout the album but in the end, the music and the performance is typically loud, unapologetic and direct for Ministry. On the other hand, Anthroprophh create an attractive wall of noisy psychedelia with distorted, metal music inspired, guitar riffs that will definitely take your mind into nice 'trips'. The band reveals its social perceptiveness through the song titles, the videos, the album's title and its cover.
Going into the main sonic image of this month's soundtrack, let's start with the releases that used the least syncopation and introduced some melody and disquiet calmness in our days. The Men, Echo Ladies, Dead Leaf Echo, Pós Saudade, Preoccupations and The Blind Shake/The Hipshakes, painted the music canvas of the month using different tones of 'cold' colours and different levels of experimentation. The Men in their album entitled 'Drift' use experimentation and discreet influences by the sound of Suicide, Tuxedomoon and 60s garage. There is blues-inspired minimalism, a fleeting punk attitude and a lot of passion in this album! If you are looking for a more typically punk sound then you should go no further than in the split 7" EP of The Blind Shake/The Hipshakes which at times brings to mind the sound of Evil Blizzard. The album 'Holy Doom' by Demob Happy enriches its garage sound and the relaxed rhythms, with heavy guitars at the background which seriously 'ground' the lyrics and consequently the whole album, before a surprise typical punk song, closes the album. The debut album of SNOB, entitled 'SNOB' is a typically hardcore punk album with distorted guitars that create a wall of noise at the background, loud and 'racing' drums and angry vocals. It is an album with a consistent character from start to finish and beautiful moments where punk becomes darker rather than angrier. Echo Ladies, via their debut 10″ EP entitled 'Echo Ladies', give melody and lightness to the distorted guitar trembles that sometimes take up industrial elements, but always form the steady basis on which the dream pop vocals are supported. Dead Leaf Echo start in a post punk and indie rock mood but later within the album 'Beyond.Desire', the energy gets a tad slower both rhythmically and through the performance. In his EP entitled 'Hidrodinâmica', Pós Saudade offered beautiful coldwave melodies.The album of Preoccupations entitled 'New Material', was my favourite of this team of releases because of the band's creative and artistically inspiring experimental mood that made a sound which is both unexpected and beautiful. The extensive use of syncopation in synth based post punk is not something we come across every day but the band, managed to combine this with tribal rhythms in the drums and industrial elements. This album is worth both your time and financial support.
The next team of releases have alternative and indie rock characteristics and we liked that their energy was motivational and powerful, but the vocals had a melancholy that 'took' these albums away from the typical sound of the genre. The Howl and The Hum enrich the sound of their 7” EP entitled 'Portrait I' with 'injections' from soul music. We loved the melancholy and musicality of the vocals, that take this EP away from the typical mainstream indie rock sound. The album 'One More Time Without Feelings' by The Room Without Sun, has soul influences that are nicely combined with discreet punk elements at the beginning and at times, its sound brings to mind The National and Editors. Speaking of Editors, we particularly liked the ending of the second, more experimental and melancholic, half of their album 'Violence'. Overall the sound of this album does not support its very strong title with equally strong and dynamic rhythms as their previous albums.INVSN, inspired by the early sound of Depeche Mode, offer a beautiful EP entitled 'Forever Rejected'.The EP begins with two songs that feel catchier than the rest especially as a result of the female backing vocals. We loved the way dynamism is picked up afterwards through both the rhythms and the vocals .
The next two teams of releases are complementing each other in a way and could be seen as two sides of the same coin. Alva Noto, Luxus Varta, Vowws and Woven In represent the experimental side of electronic music while Grauraum, Plaster and Hide, represent the noise, industrial and heavy side of electronic music. We have 'talked' extensively about Alva Noto's 'Unieqav' in our live review, but as far as this monthly playlist is concerned, the pluralistic and rich sound of this album (made up of beautiful ambient and IDM rhythms), is perceived as being the guide for all the other releases of this genre. In their new EP entitled 'Then We Fall', Luxus Varta treat minimal electronic music in a way that brings to mind the sound of Laid Back but with many added industrial elements. I loved the fluidity of the rhythms and the aloofness of the strategically positioned lyrics. The album of VOWWS 'Under The World', honestly evades categorisation as it combines metal inspired, distorted and noisy guitar riffs and melodies, with female and male vocals that have a strong rock character; yet its sound is not at all mainstream. Finally, Woven In experiment with different tones, moods and durations of electric sounds, guitar and bass melodies, which sometimes get a punk/coldwave character (e.g. 'Murder', 'Every Soul') and some other times a character that flirts with deep house or even 60s garage in their EP 'Razzmatazz'.
In terms of the darker side of electronic music, Blauerosen loved the textures and the dark atmosphere that Grauraum has created in his album entitled 'Grauraum', starting with ritual dark ambient soundscapes which were then enriched with textures and beautiful rhythms. Plaster, shares the same fascination for dark, throbbing and seemingly impenetrable soundscapes and stresses the complexity of their 'geometry' in the album 'Transition', by managing to keep them minimal in their aesthetics. The sound of Nitzer Ebb and the early sound of Front 242 seem to have inspired Hide in their debut album 'Castration Anxiety', which starts in an experimental mood but manages to reveal the melodies within the industrial soundscape that it later creates.
We kept the weirdest releases for last, because their mood almost summed up all the energy of the month. The albums of Wendy Rae Fowler, Mark Pritchard and Hawthonn take experimentation to a different level and their combined emotional effect is very strong. Wendy Rae Fowler who has collaborated with Mark Lanegan in the past, has released her first solo album entitled 'Warped' and its sound traverses indie rock and blues with the flexibility of a gazelle. Wendy's vocals are beautifully complemented by the backing vocals of Dan Booroff, Daryl Raynor, Ollie Wickham. I have to admit that the sound of Nick Cave also came to mind while listening to this album, which grows on me every time. While Anthroprophh are referring to the dark side of psych rock, The Ex, have been strongly inspired by tribal music (evident in the rhythms of the drums) and have offered us a highly experimental psych rock/jazz album entitled '27 Passports'. Mark Pritchard must have had the sound of COIL as a source of inspiration. 'The Four Worlds' is a highly atmospheric album that has some ritual dark ambient twists, while remaining dark in its mood and highly experimental. QNTAL is one of our favourite bands of all time and we had been waiting for the next chapter in their career for a few months. 'VIII' was released this month. Even though this album did not surpass their previous one 'VII’ in melodies and composition, it delivers a sonically elegant result. The band has been exploring ways to combine electronic parts in their ethereal and melodic compositions and do this carefully and with respect to both aesthetics. We will probably have the chance to see the band perform live in Leipzig later this year.Speaking of atmospheric albums, as unusual as it might sound, we have included a compilation within this monthly playlist making it infinitely chaotic. 'Spring Equinox Compilation 2018' by Unknown Pleasure Records is a 'free to download' compilation, made up mostly of unreleased songs whose common element seems to have been, the creation of a dark psychedelic and extremely atmospheric soundscape. Having said that, if one release was to provide the definition of the words ceremonial and haunting, within this month's playlist, then this is Hawthonn's album 'Red Goddess (Of This Men Shall Know Nothing)'. Hawthonn is a band that has been inspired by the music of COIL and by the darkness of nature, its formations and ambience. I think that if I say anything more, I will take something away from the immersive experience of listening to their beautiful album! Enjoy our playlist!