03 August 2017

Alternative Heaviness from Strange Corners #3

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Quite an eclectic mix this time, you never can tell what is going to be flung your way as a reviewer but they all have this in common: lots of noisy guitars, big gnarly balls and a dash of the weird. No hair metal here. Instead we have releases from Jabba, The Soap Girls, Chemical Cautery, Howling Giant and Pawns.

JABBA – VICE. It hasn’t been easy to get the low down on JABBA, search engines are swamped with references from THOSE films, and their facebook page isn’t exactly awash with information. I have ascertained however that they are a two piece drummer/bassist act from Tromsø, Norway. The cover of ‘Vice’ looks like something Sub Pop would put out. However, unlike their bloated alien blob of an intergalactic namesake, Jabba the band are fast and furious. Eight tracks, all under four minutes and most under three, no time is wasted at all. This is energetic, furious and fuzzed out punky noise and I for one love it. The basic ingredients for each song are the same, massive distorted bass guitar riffs, bruising breakneck drumming and howling screamed vocals, but the resultant songs do not feel repetitive or lacking. Highlights for me are ‘Smoke’ which is two minutes of addictive fuzz mania, the amusingly titled ‘Mathlete’ which is an avalanche of riffs, or a ‘riffalanche’ as I like to call it, and ‘Rats’. The sound is rough and ready, earth hum and amp fizzles are an inherent part of proceedings and so they should be. VICE is a hefty slab of noise rock awesomeness, like a mutant version of The Melvins and Motorhead.

THE SOAP GIRLS – SOCIETYS REJECTS. I recently saw The Soap Girls play a gig in Birmingham and their delivery of the musical goods dispelled any doubt that they have the muscle to counter any accusations of titillation and novelty. After the gig I observed “No doubt they are a divisive band who court controversy. Any band that presses the buttons of prudes and conservatives will always rattle cages, and a (dual) female fronted band who choose to sometimes play topless are always going to get some accusers claiming they are getting attention and fame through titillation over talent. However, these detractors are likely thinking too hard and I would say are missing the point somewhat….These French born South African based girls aren’t JUST here to look sexy and pretty, they are here to have their fun and entertain in exactly the way they please….. The Soap Girls play ‘We Don’t Give a Fuck n Roll’ music, make no mistake.” So how does the album sound? It opens with the title track which snarls into play and sets the bar high with an L7 tinged track, swiftly followed by ‘Johnny Rotten’ and ‘Waters Edge’ both which show a flair for nailing VERY catchy tracks. At times they veer too close to pop punk for my gnarly tastes but generally this is a brash and ballsy album that never lets your attention drift too far. It’s not all that straight forward party and roll though, a more reflective side is shown on ‘You Hate Losing’ and ‘Bury Me’ and ‘Drag You Down’ has a slower lower and darker vibe. Fifteen tracks are on offer here, and the fact that they can keep things on track for the whole ride says a lot. The album closes with another highlight ‘Rather B Dead’ which is a fine example of the Soap Girl’s craft. It is easy to list possible influences with examples of female fronted or driven alternative bands like L7, Hole and Blondie, but I also detected elements of the Ramones (latterday, when they could string together more than three chords with regularity), Pixies and The Hives. There’s no denying that their image, with the album cover here being a good example, is going to attract a certain type of attention. I would hazard a guess that the band want you to judge a book by its cover and then challenge you to change your perception when you actually digest its contents. It is easy to list examples of female fronted or driven alternative bands like L7, Hole and Blondie, but you’ll also hear influences from Ramones (latterday, when they could string together more than three chords with regularity), Pixies and The Hives.

Brash appears to be the word of the day for me as it also applies to CHEMICAL CAUTERY who are plying us with “happy music for depressed people” . The new release is called GET FUCKING HAPPY and it is quite frankly a mess. Don’t take that entirely as a criticism. I like my music messy, even the music I make is messy in quite a similar way. Twelve tracks of filth is what you get for the ‘pay what you like’ price tag, filth both lyrically and musically. Titles like ‘Vapes are for Pussies’ , ‘Animal vs Cannibal’ and ‘Sex Trophy’ will give you a flavour of what is on offer. It isn’t all fun on frolics though, there are some really meaty sounds on offer here. Sure, you can tell it is DIY and at times it is certainly lofi, but bands that John Peel introduced me to such as Killdozer, Alice Donut, Cable Regime and God appealed to me with a similar sound. ‘The Cure’ opens the album, hammering home in pneumatic fashion, ‘Preach’ is just downright nasty, ‘Release’ is punkier, ‘Roses and Champagne’ is weirder, and ‘Scathed’ is ponderous and an album highlight. Elsewhere, ‘Unfucked’ is Mudhoney done by Godflesh and ‘Alright’ is The Stooges channelled through Big Black. GET FUCKING HAPPY is a wondrous thing, it is a sleazy thing, it is a rough as fuck thing. Give it a go, you’ll hate it but you might like it too.

HOWLING GIANT are new to me, and clearly with this release being BLACK HOLE SPACE WIZARD PART TWO I needed to research the context a little. Well according to facebook, band interests include Atari, FX pedals, Dungeons and Dragons and Crock Pot recipes. Clearly they share at least some nerdisms with me then. Furthermore I learned that there was indeed a Part One (otherwise the album title would be even more incredulous than it already is) and furthermore it seems there will be a Part Three to conclude a trilogy. Part one introduced listeners to a science fiction concept/story with four solid tracks of fuzzed out space rock and part two continues with not four but six further chapters. ‘Henry Tate’ (the English sugar baron?) starts things anew with a slower tempo, building atmosphere with a killer space hook, swirling synths and delay soaked guitar solos interspersed with passages of Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. ‘The Pioneer’ strides forwards with a vocal element, melodic and perfectly suited to the rolling stoner vibe of the track. ‘The Vision’ drops the pace once more which has the effect of ramping up the power of the chord progressions which are fantastic, while chiming guitar harmonics and another soulful galactic vocal help the track soar to great heights. The much more gentle ‘The Forest Speaks’ drifts pleasantly to the penultimate track ‘Circle of Druids’ which is a return to strong space (or perhaps ‘earth’) rock riffage in another well crafted anthem. ‘Earth Wizard’ brings part two to a close in a heavy fashion with a wickedly ponderous stoner riff and plenty of melodic axe play. Production is warm rather than crisp, which suits the sound well and I’m left with the impression that HOWLING GIANT sound like a barely imaginable hybrid of The Melvins and Devin Townsend’s Ziltoid project. Wrap your head around that.

We really are genre hopping this time. I’m going to close out this session with some words about New York City’s post punk ensemble PAWNS who have their debut album THE GALLOWS hot of the presses. Following a couple of 7”s and a split cassette with CEMETERY (all of which I might have to hunt down), THE GALLOWS does what it does very well, which is to channel the ghosts of eighties post punk into the 21st century. Spectral reverbed guitars, deadpan vocal delivery and songs to shuffle to bring to mind early Killing Joke, Joy Division and Bauhaus. Even the production keeps things sounding of that age, forgoing the polish that technology now makes available to them. The drums pound nicely, setting out tribal rhythms that form the basis for a majority of the tracks on offer. The basslines are unfussily insistent and the guitars wrap tendrils around and throughout the tracks. They are perhaps a little angry sounding to be simply classified as goth, but there are certainly strong trad goth elements here. Highlights include the urgent sounding ‘Aberrations’ with its Killing Joke esque chanted chorus, the ensnaring bassline of ‘Herxing’ and the darkly thrilling ‘Thanatos’ . PAWNS are not reinventing any wheels here, but they prove that there is some distance yet to be travelled by dark eighties inspired lofi punk rock.