RADIOHEAD  | MiniDiscs [Hacked] | ALBUM REVIEW


Radiohead | MiniDiscs [Hacked] | Review

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

‘If I get old, I will not give in/ But if I do, remind me of this’. So sang Thom Yorke on b-side ‘A Reminder’ (a charming, if inessential, outtake from a band at the peak of their career). It’s highly unlikely that Radiohead ever expected early demos of the song, in which Yorke sings a cappella over the sound of the wind, to receive an official release 22 years later.

MiniDiscs [Hacked] is a 17-part anthology of studio outtakes, live performances, acoustic demos, band rehearsals and even field recordings made prior to the sessions for 1997’s OK Computer album. The recordings were leaked online by a collector, prompting the band to officially release the collection (minus some third party copyrighted material) and pledge all proceeds to Extinction Rebellion.

This anthology is the perfect example of a curate’s egg. Long-time Radiohead fans will find much of interest, although after an initial listen it’s unlikely that many will listen to the release again in its entirety. And frustratingly, the 17 parts are not split into individual songs, meaning that song titles are not provided for the previously unreleased demos and song fragments.

Radiohead fans often have to be patient, however: the official, markedly different studio recordings of ‘Nude’ and ‘True Love Waits’ (which were written at around this time) weren’t released until 2007 and 2016, respectively. ‘Lift’, ‘I Promise’ and ‘Man of War’ were all recorded during the OK Computer sessions and performed live, but weren’t officially released until 2017’s 20th anniversary edition of the album.

Highlights of this collection include a Thom Yorke acoustic performance of ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ from 1996, and a different studio recording of ‘Lift’ that matches its live arrangement. There are a few mysterious untitled instrumentals, reminiscent of the ambient-flavoured pieces heard in 1998’s Meeting People is Easy documentary. There are synthesizer drones which demonstrate that 2000’s Kid A wasn’t a complete volte-face for a band known for using guitars. There are lots of previously unheard songs which never made it past the bedroom demo stage, and embryonic versions of many songs that did.

Unfortunately, these recordings do not have the consistency of the outtakes released on 2017’s OKNOTOK cassette. There are off-key vocals, fluffed takes, wrong notes, false starts, recording errors and poor sound quality – demonstrating that this collection was never intended for public consumption. If you want to hear Radiohead at their polished best then go elsewhere. There are also many, many versions of ‘I Promise’ – in all honesty not one of Radiohead’s better songs. However, these recordings do provide a unique insight into the composition and creation of one of the best and most enduring albums of the 1990s.

If you survive the 16-hour journey, MiniDiscs [Hacked] will serve as a reminder that musicians are imperfect human beings like the rest of us, and as proof that they don’t just produce an album as absorbing and popular as OK Computer without an immense amount of hard work.

HAWKEYES | Last Light of Future Failure | ALBUM REVIEW

HAWKEYES | Last Light of Future Failure | ALBUM REVIEW

Hawkeyes | Last Light of Future Failure | Album review

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

Hailing from Pittsburgh (correction) Kitchener, Ontario and boasting no less than four guitarists, Hawkeyes released their riff-laden first album Poison Slows You Down four years ago. Last Night of Future Failure finds the band experimenting with different styles, continuing the evolution already witnessed on their collaborative releases and soundtrack contributions over the intervening period.

Album opener ‘The Lickening‘ has a psychedelic, raga-esque feel. A strummed acoustic guitar establishes the rhythm while a synth adds texture, before the rest of the band joins in and the dynamics intensify. However, it’s a fairly restrained piece in comparison with the tracks on their debut.

‘Look At ‘Em Scramble’ is a lively slice of Stooges-flavoured rock, driven by wah-wah guitar. There’s so much going on that it’s a little hard to keep track of where one guitar line ends and another begins, but the propulsive rhythm sustains interest throughout the track’s six-minute duration.

‘Nude Karate’ starts with kosmische-style drums and a heavily modulated guitar riff. It’s another energetic and densely layered instrumental piece, in which the shifting tempo provides some interesting variation.

‘Full of Secrets’, the title of which may or may not be a Twin Peaks reference, brings proceedings to a close with an 18-minute slab of desert rock. Despite its initial bombast, there is greater clarity in the mix on this track. There is also a dramatic dynamic shift halfway through, when the track almost grinds to a halt; a minimalist section of white noise and atonal guitar tones is a nice development, before the track builds back up to a noisy finale.

Overall, the album demonstrates Hawkeyes developing their sound and tackling different styles. Fans of their debut may miss the all-out guitar assault, but the more varied structures and dynamics of this sophomore effort should attract a wider audience.

Last Night of Future Failure is available from Cardinal Fuzz from the 28th of June.



Dark Morph – Dark Morph | Album review

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

A palpable and sustained atmosphere of dread is not necessarily what one would expect from Sigur Rós’ vocalist/ multi-instrumentalist Jónsi, but that’s exactly what he has created on Dark Morph: a collaboration with Swedish composer Carl Michael von Hausswolff. These recordings were made using sampled hydrophone and field recordings, especially of humpback whales and the titular ‘dark morph’ heron of the Fiji islands. Von Hausswolff used the recorded sounds as the bases for drones, which were then developed into musical pieces by Jónsi.

The resulting album is a disquieting collection of pieces in the dark ambient vein of Robert Rich and B. Lustmord’s Stalker, or William Basinski’s more recent On Time Out Of Time. It’s something of a departure for Jónsi, whose collaboration with his partner Alex, Riceboy Sleeps, was more melodic and featured orchestral elements. Fans of Sigur Rós will miss his striking vocals on this release. It’s perhaps more typical of von Hausswolff’s work, which often uses found sounds and explores electricity, frequency and tone.

Opening track ‘So(ng)qe’ is built on a bed of mysterious wailing noises, which do call to mind whale song but which also have an oddly artificial, digital quality. ‘Ura Dardanella’ is ostensibly more musical, in that it uses sampled noise as a rhythmic device while a synthesizer plays a subtle harmonic progression over the top. Pieces such as ‘Wai’ and ‘Bani Manumanu’ are more atonal. The album perhaps succeeds the most when it strikes a delicate balance between its sampled sounds and its musical elements, such as on the atmospheric ‘Kavura’, where it’s hard to tell which sounds are natural, which have been manipulated and which are being generated by instruments. Overall, it’s an interesting and original piece of work, in what is shaping up to be a great year for dark ambient releases.

Dark Morph is available digitally on Bandcamp, and on vinyl from The Vinyl Factory. The duo performed in Venice last month to celebrate the album’s release.



Kankyō Ongaku (Various Artists) | Japanese Ambient, Environmental and New Age Music | Review

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

Ambient music’s origins lie in Erik Satie’s ‘furniture music’, which was designed to blend with atmospheric noise (the sound of cutlery during dining, for instance) rather than serving as the focus of attention. The term ‘ambient music’ itself was then first used by Brian Eno (whose pioneering albums include ‘Discreet Music’, ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’ and ‘Ambient 4: On Land’) in the 1970s. ‘Ambient’ has evolved over the subsequent years to become a byword for ‘atmospheric’, and the label often overlaps with modern classical, music concrète,  jazz, post-rock, drone and even techno. There are often debates about whether or not rhythmic elements can exist in ambient music, but suffice it to say that the selections for this album appear to have been made on the basis of what sounds good, rather than overly rigid definitions.

Like Scottish whisky, ambient music is a phenomenon that has been greatly appreciated, explored and reverse-engineered in Japan. This compilation of Japanese ambient music recorded in the 1980s was assembled by Spencer Doran from Visible Cloaks. It features an elegant front cover and a title that means ‘environmental music’.

Many of these tracks call the natural world to mind, whether it’s in their titles (Takashi Toyoda’s ‘Snow’ and Interior’s ‘Park’) or in their sonic characteristics (Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Loom’ features the sound of dripping water, and Akira Ito’s ‘Praying for Mother/ Earth Part 1’ prominently incorporates the sound of running water underneath its gentle wash of synths).

Joe Hisaishi’s ‘Islander’, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Terry Riley’s ‘A Rainbow in Curved Air’, and closing track ‘Original BGM’ by Haruomi Hosono is a not-so distant cousin of the pieces on 1978’s Music for Airports. However, it’s natural that musicians working in this period would show the influence of such prominent figures, and while they share sonic characteristics, these are not slavish imitations and are worthwhile compositions in their own right.

One of the highlights is Hiroshi Yoshimura’s ‘Blink’: an extremely delicate piece played on electric piano with a barely audible synth accompaniment. In less than five minutes, it creates a very unique and beautiful atmosphere.

In an unusual move, Light in the Attic Records has limited the digital version of the album to just ten tracks, rather than the full set of 23. This frustratingly obliges the listener to invest in one of the expensive physical formats in order to hear the full compilation. However, the double CD and triple vinyl releases include an essay by Spencer Doran and extensive liner notes, so are bound to attract collectors.

PILE | Green and Gray | ALBUM REVIEW

PILE | Green and Gray | ALBUM REVIEW

Pile | Green and Gray | Album review

Review by: Graeme J. Baty

Pile return with Green and Gray bringing a softer edge, yet retaining their distinctive alternative-rock guitar god sound. Lead singles Hair and even Bruxist Grin hint at a mellower approach but don’t be fooled there are some moments of sheer intensity that will send shivers up your spine.

Pile have managed to carve their own distinctive sound, the type that proliferated 90s alternative scene, just damn fine guitar-based music that has in recent years has fallen out of favour. It’s not unreasonable to compare them to Built To Spill, bringing elements of Shellac chaos and Jesus Lizard hooks or maybe even some Pavement. Fans of said bands will find a comfortable home with this music and also that they have discovered one of the USA’s best-kept secrets. Pile have been around since the mid-2000s and have built a following and reputation with their previous six albums.

Firewood is a slow building opener, seemingly confirming my suspicions that this might be a chilled record. Those suspicions are happily crushed on the following track; Your Performance a complex math-rock-esque stomper.

On a Bigger Screen brings pure venom and throat ripping performance from Rick Maguire and gives confirmation that the album will not be a slow plodder. This is fantastic stuff! A Labyrinth With No Center brings a lush singalong anthem that twists, distorts and delights.

The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller is another colossal vocal performance of sheer ferocity and anger at the hypocrisy of the subject matter, to the point where you can imagine his vocal cords being permanently damaged. It’s an incredible performance beautifully captured by the engineer. The mid part of the record is a riotous affair and shows them at their strongest.

No Hands brings the record full circle to a mellow close. It’s an incredibly well-written record and masterfully sequenced. They are truly the new kings of alternative rock.

Available via Bandcamp and the usual outlets with a vinyl version coming soon 

ULVER | Drone Activity | ALBUM REVIEW

ULVER | Drone Activity | ALBUM REVIEW

Ulver | Drone Activity | Album review

Ulver Drone Activity
Ulver Drone Activity

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

Norwegian band Ulver’s name means ‘wolves’, but stylistically they are chameleons. Beginning their career in the 1990s with a trilogy of black metal albums, they then opted for a starkly different electronic approach in the new millennium with Perdition City. Next, they experimented with modern classical and ambient on 2007’s Shadows of the Sun , before digging out the guitars again for the post-rock-flavoured ATGCLVLSSCAP in 2015, and then settled on a synth-pop direction for the following year’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar. Keeping up so far?

Drone Activity, as the name suggests, sees Ulver adopting a more minimal approach. Recorded live but heavily edited in the studio (in a manner similar to the largely improvised ATGCLVLSSCAP), this year’s album consists of four pieces which are all over 15 minutes long.

‘True North’ starts proceedings with an appropriately chilly drone piece, punctuated by dissonant guitar chords in its later stages. ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ incorporates some subtle rhythmic elements and electronic effects, gradually increasing in intensity. It’s interesting enough, if a little overlong. ‘Blood, Fire, Woods, Diamonds’ occupies similar territory. Ulver’s sonic palette is richest on closing track ‘Exodus’, which briefly shifts in tone halfway through to incorporate arpeggiators and bell-like tones, before an ominous low-end storm erupts.

Back in 2010, Ulver performed one of their first ever concerts at The Norwegian National Opera. The show was released on DVD the following year, and is much more akin to a ‘live album’ (in that it features previously released material performed in front of a live audience) than this collection. Here the band uses the concert space as a venue for improvisation. It’s unclear where the live performance ends and the studio work begins, but perhaps this work was more interesting to experience in its original live setting. Time will only tell if Ulver will continue in this vein for a while or promptly abandon electronic drone for something else.

Drone Activity is available from House of Mythology in a variety of formats, including several different coloured vinyl editions.



Lungbutter | Honey | Album review

Lungbutter - Honey - album review
Lungbutter – Honey

Review by: Graeme J. Baty

I knew little about the band going into this review. The name grabbed my attention immediately. They have to be interesting with a name like Lungbutter right? A quick listen confirmed by suspicion. Some utterly delicious detuned guitar tones and spoken word groove of lead single Flat White appealed instantly. A slice of American alternative taking me right back to the 90s with a delightful mixture of Sleater Kinney and early period Sonic Youth, coupled with beat poet lyricism. The Montreal trio take that sound and reinvent it to something modern and thrilling. Utterly refreshing in a world of over produced cringe-worthy auto-tuned vocals. Lungbutter serve up primitive and thrilling sounds.

Bravo proves a highlight of the record with it’s catchy detuned hook that you can almost sign along to. Almost, I can confirm that you can dance to it as I am doing right now! Curtain is another standout. A one minute punk-rock  pounder.

Eleven songs in under 34 minutes gives the perfect length. Ensuring it’s not too much yet leaving you wanting more.

It’s a mighty fine debut offering some fabulous sounds that will be adored by those of us who still mourn the loss of Sonic Youth and the chasm their split has left in the alternative music world along with some deep lyrics to explore with repeated listens.

Honey is out on Constellation Records on 31st May 2019

PELICAN  | Nighttime Stories | ALBUM REVIEW

PELICAN | Nighttime Stories | ALBUM REVIEW

Pelican | Nighttime Stories | Album review

Pelican | Nighttime Stories

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

Chicago quartet Pelican was formed in 2001, and this is their sixth studio album. Their music is generally pigeonholed as ‘post-metal’ due to its largely instrumental nature, although guitarist Trevor de Brauw is dismissive of labels.

The title track’s relentless heavy riffs are indicative of the band’s current aggressive direction, signalling ‘the resulting dread and anger’ that the band feels at the current cultural climate in America. The album’s title is borrowed from associated act Tusk, whose vocalist Jody Minnoch passed away in 2014. His chord voicings, song titles and structural ideas were a strong influence on the record.

The most initially striking elements of this album, however, are the gentler, more melodic ones: opening track ‘WST’ has a slight folk flavour. It was written as a tribute to guitarist Dallas Thomas’ recently deceased father. ‘I Stared at Me’ features delicate guitar lines and an almost bluesy slide part, before it comes to an abrupt stop at three and a half minutes. Closing track ‘Full Moon, Black Water’ starts quietly before a torrent of riffs erupts, but the piece comes to a fairly peaceful conclusion.

Elsewhere, ‘Midnight and Mescaline’ is more representative: it’s propelled along by strident drums and an army of guitars. Pelican’s sound on this album is at times slightly reminiscent of fellow Chicagoans Russian Circles, although they never quite achieve that seamless a balance of melody and dynamics. They don’t quite have the ambition of English post-metallers Bossk either, but it remains an entertaining set of thunderous guitar parts and intricate rhythms. The album is densely mastered for maximum impact, which is perhaps why the quieter tracks stand out.

Nighttime Stories is available in a variety of formats from the 7th of June.

EARTH | Full Upon Her Burning Lips | ALBUM REVIEW

EARTH | Full Upon Her Burning Lips | ALBUM REVIEW

Earth | Full Upon Her Burning Lips | Album review

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

Earth was formed in Olympia, Washington 30 years ago, and Dylan Carlson is the only remaining original member. The line-up for the band’s ninth studio album features Carlson on guitar and bass, and Adrienne Davies on drums.

‘Datura’s Crimson Veils’ sets the tone for most of the record – Carlson’s overdriven guitars play monolithic (but not unmelodic) riffs, accompanied by Davies’ slow-moving, expressive drums and percussion. At no point does the band sound quite as ominous as it did on Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version, but Earth’s approach has drifted over the years from aggressive drone frequencies to angular, psychedelic-flavoured riffs which slowly envelope the listener. This approach is especially apparent on the longer tracks, and ‘She Rides an Air of Malevolence’ is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

While Carlson has deliberately toned down the use of effects, ‘Descending Belladonna’ features some whirring modulation. Meanwhile ‘Maiden’s Catafalque’, with its languorous phrasing and use of slow delay, is somewhat reminiscent of Fripp & Eno’s experiments on 1975’s Evening Star. The snakelike guitars create a disquieting atmosphere, and here the drums take a little more of a back seat.

Rhythm is very much at the forefront on ‘The Colour of Poison’, however – its abrupt stop/ start nature suggesting at times that the track has entirely ground to a halt, before it shifts a gear into Sabbath riff territory. (Lest anyone forget, ‘Earth’ was Black Sabbath’s original name.)

Carlson has certainly achieved a ‘more upfront and drier sound’ on this album. There is so much space in these sparse recordings that it almost feels at times like the guitars are setting the speed while the drums are adding the tonal colour. (That’s not intended as a criticism: Carlson reportedly felt that drums were buried in the mix on previous Earth albums and decided to grant them greater sonic space here.)

If it’s perhaps true that there was a little more dynamic range on Carlson’s solo album Conquistador from last year, this release is still a majestic beast, and Davies’ restrained but powerful drumming is a highlight.

Full Upon Her Burning Lips is available from Sargent House in a variety of formats (including double vinyl) on May 24th.



Big|Brave – A Gaze Among Them | Album review

Review by: Graeme J Baty

There is something special about Big|Brave that I can’t quite put my finger on. I’ve indulged in their new album A Gaze Among Them for a few weeks now, regularly dipping back into it. It holds my attention far more than other records in this genre. Slow doom-laden songs, whilst sounding utterly awesome on first play they tend to lose my attention with the long meandering slow-paced songs that have little traction. This is definitely not the case with Big|Brave.

Opening with the strong Muted Shifting of Space, an epic piece of work at 8 minutes and 41 seconds. The diversity of the seemingly simple sound captivates and engages.

The vocal style is something quite refreshing and maybe a little bit jarring at first listen. I think the typical incomprehensible guttural wails of this genre of music is perhaps a little over saturated these days. This is where Robin Wattie separates Big|Brave from the pack and excels. Her voice sitting perfectly juxtaposed to the music with elements of Bjork in there, traditional Celtic folk and I was also reminded of the female-fronted Brutus who are also making interesting fresh use of well-tread sounds. The combination of music and vocal style creates a unique soundscape.

Holding Pattern demonstrates Big | Brave’s masterful ability to craft songs with dramatic dynamics. Building from a slow start and gripping you tight by the throat until it finally dissipates. Proving a strong highlight of the album.

The midsection of the record finds the pace slowing with Body Individual leading into the first sub-five-minute song This Deafening Verity. This builds tension and anticipation which Sibling brings with its deep whale song guitar tones and throbbing bass.

While quite a short record at only five songs in 39 minutes. It’s fully evolved, well paced and each play brings the depth of the songwriting to light. It’s a gem of a slow burner. The more I listen to the record the more I adore it. Out on Southern Lord Records on 10th May 2019.

I think this music will be utterly devastating in a live setting and you’d be wise to check them out on the upcoming UK/Europe tour which includes a stop in Newcastle!

BIG|BRAVE Live dates:

16/05 DE Nurnberg Musikverein

17/05 DE Berlin Urban Spree

18/05 PL Poznan LAS

19/05 CZ Prague TBA

21/05 NL Haarlem Patronaat

22/05 BE Antwerp Kavka

23/05 FR Lille La Bulle Café

24/05 UK Bristol Rough Trade

25/05 UK London Raw Power

27/05 UK Newcastle The Cluny

29/05 FR Paris Instants Chavirés

30/05 FR Brussels Magasin 4

01/06 CH Winterthur Gaswerk

03/06 DE Wurzburg Cairo

04/06 DE Hamburg Schute