Charlotte Spiral – Ideal Life

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Charlotte Spiral is a duo of vocalist Amy Spencer and multi-instrumentalist accomplice Avi Barath, two former Goldsmiths students now making stirring, yet endlessly fragile, music together.

Their debut EP, Ideal Life, contains three songs poised perilously on the tightrope between mournfulness and hope, each track a discrete soundworld of emotive layers over which Spencer’s tender, engaging vocal is allowed ample room to manoeuvre. ‘End Of Summer’ carries a tragic quality, its altered piano and gently shuffling jazz rhythm a perfect foil for Spencer’s quiet and understated anguish. There is a resigned tonality here, amplified by plaintive harmonies and a brutal, haunting dead stop following the line ‘Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be.

‘Wide Eyed’, with its unwavering Casio preset rhythm and languid, amorphous backdrop, is perhaps – by a whisker – the EP’s towering moment. We find ourselves being moved through Spencer’s innermost thoughts, comprising everything from a delicate defiance to a fear of being unloved, its diaristic outpourings laced with such pathos and longing that it would surely soften the heart of even the hardest and most curmudgeonly of souls, and whose arrangement stays with you long after it concludes.

Ideal Life by Charlotte Spiral is released February 7 2020. Charlotte Spiral play Servant Jazz Quarters on February 4 2020 – tickets can be purchased here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Sunda Arc – Tides

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My first introduction to Sunda Arc came with a December 2018 show supporting Go Go Penguin at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I was left speechless as brothers Nick and Jordan Smart presented a thrilling, loud, bass-rich techno-inflected set that fused intricate electronics with Jordan Smart’s clarinet; it contained such velocity and intensity that I honestly figured the roof of the 1867 concert venue was going to collapse.

The duo quickly released their debut EP Flicker in the days that followed and it didn’t disappoint, capturing the precise essence of that live set that felt so compatible with Go Go Penguin’s own – in spite of Go Go Penguin’s flavour of jazz being written with electronics but played acoustically, whereas Sunda Arc keep the electronics in. It was, perhaps inevitably, more restrained than the live show had been, but only in volume.

Their debut album, Tides, is, in comparison, strangely muted. Aside from the juddering Warp-inflected ‘Dawn’, the slowly growing shimmer of ‘Everything At Once’, the utterly gorgeous ‘Cluster’, and the ominous kick drums of ‘Hymn’, it’s not that the album lacks energy, it just feels like that energy might have taken on a more rueful, less recognisably euphoric tone. A sparseness, or even a brittleness, permeates through these pieces, spliced in with a cautious fragility maybe. Listen to all the components of the aforementioned ‘Hymn’ and it’s hard to know precisely where that comes from – its juddering electro rhythm has plenty of forward motion, and its central melody is not immediately plaintive, questioning or uncertain.

‘Secret Window’ takes that maudlin disposition and attaches it to delicate piano loops and mournful reeds, while ‘Vespers’ does the same only with sheets of ice-bright Bob Fripp-style atmospherics. These are pieces that feel like they could erupt into something edgy and dangerous at any moment, but instead they stay firmly bedded down in an achingly beautiful, yet ultimately sorrowful place.

Once you realise that this is just where Tides wants to stay, it makes for an incredibly well-crafted, detailed and wonderfully minimalist record, full of meticulous gestures and an ever-shifting palette of complex sounds. In spite of the Smart brothers’ role in hip Norwich modern jazz unit Mammal Hands, any overtones from that group lurking around on Tides are discrete, tentative and sporadic. The mysterious ‘Collapse’ is the exception, Jordan’s bass clarinet leading this album centrepiece through an atmospheric, electronically-structured ride through a vibrant, edgy, futuristic souk.

Tides by Sunda Arc is released February 7 2020 by Gondwana.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Thomas Köner – Motus

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“I dream of a dance floor where Motus would be enjoyed,” says Thomas Köner. “What kind of society would allow that?”

His ambition isn’t necessarily wilfully controversial or provocative, but it nevertheless underpins a desire to unshackle music from the notion of grids, beats, BPMs and electronic music formalism. Motus is the latest instalment in Köner’s gently subversive approach to analogue synthesis, something I first experienced way back in June 1996 with ‘Untitled’, a track included on a CD given away with The Wire (Miaow! (…Cats What I Call Music)). That track was, on face value, a recording containing virtually nothing, a distant, ephemeral rumble easily overtaken by real life; to experience it, one had to tune everything out, turn it up loud and concentrate very hard. Only then could you hear the rich, undulating turbulence that the piece was actually constructed from. It was loud music, just presented very quietly.

Motus, comparatively, is bold, noisy and restless. Freed from the tyranny of the beat, tracks like ‘SUBSTRATE (Binaural)’ take their forward motion not from an obvious rhythm, but the ebbing waves of a modular sequence, whose pace only alters materially when the waveform is tweaked. The effect is, for those used to hearing music anchored to a pattern of kick drums, hi-hats and snare sounds, mildly unnerving. You want to attach these sequences to a rhythm, even though it’s not there, your inner clock suddenly thrown off track by a subtle modulation here or there.

Strangely, the effect of this – despite being made from nothing more than artificial waveforms and electrical current – is to remind you that nature does not cling rigidly to perfection. Gusts of wind don’t readily adhere to a quantised location on a screen; a bird’s flapping wings are not operating at a consistent BPM; your heart is more than likely not beating at precisely the same pace as it was when you started reading this (it will either have slowed down through disengagement or sped up through the panic of a beat-less musical world). It takes pieces like ‘SUBSTANCE (Suicide)’, and the other six tracks on Motus to make you realise that.

Motus by Thomas Köner is released February 6 2020 by Mille Plateaux.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Infinite Scale – The Value of Accessibility

Following on from their excellent BUNKR and Echaskech releases, VLSI Records continue to cultivate that rare ability in a label of creating a cohesive identity while simultaneously showcasing acts who have their own personalities.

Such is the case with Harmi Paldi, who has been creating music under the alias of Infinite Scale since 2005. Opening track ‘Caught On Tape’ gives the feeling of leaning forward without falling over, like a glitchy, fragmented Jack Dawson holding Rose Dewitt Bukater at a 45-degree angle on the bow of the Titanic.

‘The Chauffeur’ is fuelled by a laconic bass-line that tethers all the other moving parts to its roots. ‘Ordinary Familiar’ splutters wonderfully to a halt like ‘French Kiss’ deprived of its morning caffeine. Album closer ‘Steppa Side’s wooziness suggests a more playful side which strikes a nice balance with the more muted tones of the track that precedes it, ‘Pay For This’.

The album concerns itself with the ease we have of accessing information and the sheer volume of data available to us. It also suggests a longing for the pre-internet days of anticipation and manual discovery. The use of the word ‘tape’ in one of the titles reveals a fondness for the tactile joy of physical objects. In a digital world items such as audio and video cassettes look and feel antiquated, and it’s easy to see why they might become fetishised by generations who were deprived of the pleasure of possessing them first time around.

Does accessibility trump first-hand experience? Can second-hand experiences ever match seeing and feeling things unfold in the flesh? Does it matter? Are we guilty of setting our personal filters too far to the point where we only interact with our own doppelgängers?

Perhaps the reality is if we solely embrace this constant source of never-ending information we will end up isolated and our opinions homogenised.

The Value Of Accessibility‘s strength lies in its ability to process and present ideas without losing its humanity or identity. To have information at one’s fingertips suits those of us who can no longer can be free in their movements, whether due to geographical responsibilities, mobility issues, or the end of free movement in Europe post-Brexit. Luckily, records such as these transcend physical borders.

The Value Of Accessibility by Infinite Scale is released January 31 2020 by VLSI Records.

Words: David Best. David is a founding member of Fujiya & Miyagi and Ex-Display Model.

(c) 2020 David Best for Further.

Richard Skelton – LASTGLACIALMAXIMUM

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Richard Skelton’s latest album is a forty-minute evocation of the growth, peak and accelerated thawing of the British and Irish glacial landscapes, presented as a series of eight movements of slow, developing tones that ebb away into quiet murmurs; basically, it’s like Morton Feldman, on ice.

The effect is powerfully disconcerting when heard in the context of climate change and the insistent messages of politician, scientists, protesters about the urgency of the corrective action that might be required to arrest the impact.

Across these movements there is a sense of stillness and calm, but also a slightly dizzying sensation. The precise instrumentation is not disclosed, and one never knows the origins of these long, eddying indeterminate tones and warped, muffled drones; at times it sounds like industrial, metallic noise, while at others we hear what could be an especially mournful, poignant cello, only presented like a vague outline of something that once was, but which can never be again. Sounds drift in and out, like gusts of wind across the arctic tundra, only presented as fleetingly melancholic, and edged with a frosty tension. There is a feeling of isolation, a panic-inducing out-of-placeness, that sensation being all the more remarkable given the levels of nothingness one experiences here.

Your response to music is often entirely situational. For me, I chose to listen to this during the clamour and franticity of a walk three and a half blocks from a hotel in New York to a downtown E train during the rush hour. Something about the slow, ominous passage of the music chimed menacingly with the post-work streetscene of manic Manhattan, a world removed from the subject matter of Skelton’s remarkable work, yet somehow entirely in tune with it.

LASTGLACIALMAXIMUM by Richard Skelton is released February 2 2020 by Corbel Stone Press

(c) 2020 Further.

Evil Gal – Brown Acid / The Village Of Doom

A cassette outing for this 28-minute outburst from Canada’s Evil Gal, originally released digitally last November, here released through the uncompromising Industrial Coast imprint. Evil Gal is an offshoot of New Brunswick’s Women Of The Pore (M Gatling), here with additional sonic architecture from Montréal’s Matthew Donnelly (Fecal Mutiliation).

Both artists have a long pedigree in the world of noise, but ‘Brown Acid’ and ‘The Village Of Doom’ play with a different, slightly more restrained sense of violence, feeling more like a low-budget soundtrack to a particularly vivid video nasty only available through the dark web. ‘Brown Acid’ creeps, prowls and stalks with extreme menace, proceeding on a murky bass sequence over which all manner of sounds – percussion, sax, general unholy disquietude – are overlaid. It’s a thick, gloopy sonic goo that leaves indelible stains on your psyche. In a good way.

‘The Village Of Doom’ is more sparse, though just as freakishly uncomfortable, opening with oscillating sounds like warbling sirens, the hiss of escaping air, distortion, micro-loops of unknown origin and randomised non-rhythms and electronics that sound both chaotic and intricate. Nothing here stays around for long; passages are cut off just as they start to become repetitive, engendering a queasiness and rapid motion that means its fourteen minute duration nonchalantly zips by before ebbing away into surprisingly pleasant texture.

Brown Acid / The Village Of Doom by Evil Gal is released January 3 2020 by Industrial Coast.

Words: Mat Smith

3 Questions: Matthew Barton

No matter how hard I try, no description of Rugby multi-instrumentalist Matthew Barton’s latest single ‘Orchid’ is going to get anywhere close to his own: “‘Orchid’ was inspired by Prince minimalism and the Casio organ sound of the Young Marble Giants,” he advises. “I wanted to write something simple and direct. I think of it as like Prince having a baby with a Georgia O’Keeffe painting at a video game arcade. Or something.”

If that sounds brilliantly odd, it’s because it is. Driven by layered, sparse preset rhythms and a shimmering keyboard melody as hypnotic as it is absent, the vast empty spaces of the music act as the perfect setting for Barton’s distinctively impassioned, soulful vocal. There is tender anguish writ large here, spliced together with a vulnerability heralding the arrival of a singular musical talent.

Matthew Barton is working on a cassette release for Knife Punch Records that is due for release in the Spring. In the meantime, Barton talks to Further. about almost drowning and getting stuff done. Listen to ‘Orchid’ below.

What is your earliest memory?

Probably being fished out of a swimming pool by my dad, having fallen in, unable to swim. That wasn’t the last time that happened either. Maybe I can trace my fascination with water back to that moment.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

As a serial procrastinator, “You will never feel like you are ready – so just do it,” is useful and motivating. I’m trying to get better at that this year. Isn’t adulthood all about just pretending you know what you’re doing anyway?

Where are you most productive or inspired?

I find that new places, and new instruments, tend to spark ideas.

I have a lot of random voice memos on my phone recorded in weird places, usually while I’m just walking down streets, probably looking a bit bonkers.

New instruments too – my brother bought me a kalimba for my birthday and I’ve been writing some different stuff on that. You’ve just got to be open to everything around you.

Orchid by Matthew Barton was released January 21 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.