First Play: Novelty Island – Thoughts Of The Fish Quay

Novelty Island - Thoughts Of The Fish Quay.jpg

On August 21 Further. favourites Novelty Island follow up their debut EP with Suddenly On Sea, a concept suite of five tracks based around a trip – you can use that word with whatever meaning you like – to an imaginary seaside town. With a nod squarely in the direction of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, Suddenly On Sea is full of vivid imagery, strange characters, quirky buildings and a brilliantly diverse set of instrumentation – organs, samples of old 78s, burbling electronics and tinny beats.

Whereas Welcome To Novelty Island set its sights on distant planets, Suddenly On Sea is concerned with a bonkers alternative vision of seaside England, all hankies tied atop sunburned scalps, faded ballrooms and dimpled beer mugs. Today, Further. is delighted to bring you the first play of the fourth single from the EP, the jangly, oompah-bassed, lysergic recollections of ‘Thoughts Of The Fish Quay’, a sort of dream-like shanty to crayoned oceans and boats made out of tissue paper. Probably.

“We’ve reached the fourth track from the EP,” explains Novelty Island’s Tom McConnell. ”It’s like the summer holiday that no one can have this year. You’ve checked in at the ‘Jaunty View’ hotel, gone for a ballroom dance to hit-of-the-day, ‘Francesca Relax’, and sank a few pints at ‘The Desperately Strange’. Now you’ve been out a bit too long. The early hours have turned to daylight. People are going to work, but you’re walking further and further out to sea.”

So there you have it. It’s The Beatles meets Reggie Perrin, set at an LSD-ravaged Butlins resort where Vic and Bob are the entertainers – and it rocks, in its own inimitably wonky way. Listen to ‘Thoughts Of The Fish Quay’ below.

Novelty Island - Suddenly On Sea EP

Thoughts Of The Fish Quay by Novelty Island is released by August 7 2020 by Abbey House Records. Thoughts Of The Fish Quay is taken from the Suddenly On Sea, released August 21.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

In Conversation: Centre Excuse

Centre Excuse - Teddy Lewis and Alex Rush
Centre Excuse – Teddy Lewis and Alex Rush

Centre Excuse is a duo of Teddy Lewis (vocals, synths, guitars) and Alex Rush (percussion, synths, backing vocals), school friends weaned on a diet of electronic music and modern punk in their home county of Rutland.

The pair have just released their debut album, the exceptional Favourite Soul. Further. spoke to Teddy for an exclusive look at the journey that he and Alex have taken, and how Favourite Soul came together.

I’ve known Alex since I was eight.

I always feel guilty about this story, but it is funny and sums up the sensibilities of a kid in year three at school. It was the start of summer and my family had just moved to our village of Empingham, Rutland from a stint in Tunbridge Wells. I was chucked in the deep-end: for the last two weeks of school before the summer holidays started, I went to Empingham’s village primary school for a taster and to prepare me for the next school year, just so that I would know some people.

I ended up having a pretty bad time with some bullying, but in the last few days Alex turned up out of nowhere. It was the lunchtime break and the bell rang to tell us all to line up and head back into class. By this point I knew who was in my class (there was only about ten of us) and Alex stood in front of me in the line. Alex is now a tower of a man, funnily enough, but he was one of the smaller kids for most of our school years and at this point I didn’t recognise him and thought he was younger. I said something along the lines of, “You’re not in year three – this is the year three line,” and he turned round looked up at me and said, “Yes I am – I’m new”.

From that point on we really gelled on everything – music, football, video games and generally just hanging out all the time having mad countryside adventures. Looking back we really appreciate those adventures as something very special to have experienced while growing up.

Rutland is beautiful, and I miss living there every day.

It’s basically countryside, fields, small villages, cows and a reservoir called Rutland Water. Growing up, we’d all go up to the village playing field to play big games of football and we’d ride our skateboards to the reservoir at the end of the village to hang out. Rutland Water was the real playground for us. We’d also bike down to the next reservoir village, Whitwell, just to share some chips from the café, even if it was pouring down with rain and completely empty.

As a place to start a band it felt very isolated. We only had our own devices and influences to push us this way.

Living there was probably very good for allowing us space to find our own sound and identity, however there was no real music scene in Rutland to build you up. There wasn’t much love for synth music among the people in our school year, but we always seemed to know what we stood for. Because of this we were never particularly ‘cool’, yet we had a great start with our first EP and live shows, but word doesn’t really travel far out of those borders.

Alex and I connected over bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure.

We’d been surrounded by synth music thanks to our parents while we were growing up. We were also into our era’s output of pop-punk, rock and metal like Blink-182, Slipknot and Linkin Park.

As we got older, we found ourselves digging deeper into those synth band catalogues as the internet really started to became a mainstream outlet, and we could explore outside of what we had in our homes on CD. As we found our individuality, we’d be finding and listening to sophisticated and sometimes darker records from the likes of Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, The Human League, New Order, The Cure, Nitzer Ebb, Joy Division and just too many to count. It was the way that this built upon what we already knew that made us think on how we could go forward creating music.

We got to a point where I played some keyboards and guitar, and started to find my singing voice. Alex had picked up drums and we started jamming in his shed, mainly Blink-182. Metallica’s ‘Wherever I May Roam’ was the first song we learnt together. We began incorporating synthesisers and electronic drums, and that became our focus. That all continued to evolve over the ten years that Alex and I have been playing music as Centre Excuse.

Centre Excuse is a strange name for our band, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

When Alex and I started making music, we wanted and needed something that wouldn’t show up alongside loads of other bands with the same name on Google, Myspace and Facebook, otherwise people were never going to find us.

The name came from a time when Alex, another friend who played bass with us for about a year, and myself were sat in English class. I wasn’t a bad student really by any means, but I’d had a run of not doing my homework on time with this particular teacher. I went up to her to give my new reasoning for why it wasn’t in, but she jumped in and asked me, “So Teddy, what’s the centre of your excuse this time?” Even today that seems like such an odd sentence, and something in that combination made us pick out the name Centre Excuse. Many occasions of being called Center Excuse, Central Excuse, Centre Exit on gig posters would then ensue, but people have become much better at getting it right since we started the journey towards our first album.

Centre Excuse - Favourite Soul

It took us ten years to make this record.

When Alex and I started, we were really young kids. Then we were teenagers at college, and we were together almost every day of our lives for so many years.

Things began to change when I moved to London to go to university. I really wanted to push the band further, as it was proving difficult to make any progress from Rutland. There followed many years of transformation, and a lot of time taken out to improve and naturally evolve what we were doing.

I’ve always done most of the writing and recording by myself, but Alex and I were able to bring things back together as a duo fairly easily when it came to the band, even after I’d moved away. I’d show Alex my new demos and we’d start everything again remotely, while I’d also be going up to Rutland for live rehearsals, which I still do.

We’ve made it work in a way that fits around the responsibilities in our lives, and we hope to make it our sole primary focus at some point. It’s been a difficult balancing act for a number of years now, but I believe Alex and I are as strong a unit as we’ve ever been, especially as we’ve reached the landmark of releasing our debut album. It’s all been building towards this moment.

I write and record the music and lyrics in my little home studio setup, then I’ll send it over to Alex to get his view on it.

We both know what makes a great Centre Excuse song, and we know how we can turn something into one if it isn’t quite there yet. If I wrote a song and Alex said he really didn’t like it, there’d be an issue and we’d have to look at how we could fix it.

On the album there are a number of tracks where Alex re-recorded some of the drum parts, as percussion is where Alex has his roots and where he especially excels. When writing, I always start with the music first. I usually start with either a guitar riff or synth line, and it’s the melody that forms the song for me to go on and create the rest. It comes from a feeling. I’ll get an urge to make something and it’ll pour out, and that’s when the best CE songs come.

I’m very production-oriented. I produce, track and mix the song as I create, so quite often there won’t necessarily be any demos: they’re more like early drafts of the final song. Once the music is fully laid out, that’s when I’ll start to think of the lyrics, which I mainly take from my own experiences or observations of the world and life around me. I’ve had quite a wide-variety of experiences in working very different types of jobs, and I’ve lived and moved around a lot of different places, so I feel I’ve always got a nice breadth of differing perspectives and human realities to write from.

Favourite Soul by Centre Excuse was released July 24 2020 by New Motion Records. Listen on Spotify.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

First Play: Flossy Jones – Poolside

Today Further. brings you the first play of ‘Poolside’, the new single by Brighton singer-songwriter Flossy Jones.

A hypnotic, languid pop song presented with an aching, mysterious narrative, ‘Poolside’ finds Flossy depicting a dream-like scene. We find voyeuristic boys watching the protagonist swimming while drinking on the edge of the water. We see palm trees and concrete flamingos gazing mutely and without judgment at the scene. It is a song of extreme juxtapositions, the summery warmth of the imagery in Flossy’s lyrics offset by a distinct chill thanks to a hazy backdrop of electronics, piano and submerged rhythms.

“It’s a story about the other woman,” says Flossy tentatively about the subject’s shrouded subject matter. “It’s about a time in my life where I’d wait at midnight underneath the palms each night for someone to arrive. The song came to me while I was watching the reflection of the moonlight in the pool. It was almost like a vision of darkness that caught my attention while I was waiting there one night. I find myself really inspired, creatively, by beautifully unconventional situations like that.”

For the most part, the mesmerising ‘Poolside’ is sung in a detached, understated style acting as the perfect match to the graceful, delicate musical backdrop. A latent sensuality comes to the fore as the track – and the affair – progresses, leaving the song poised on a strange axis between the romantic and the anguished; between levity and brooding disappointment; between a yearning for the affair to become something more defined and an acceptance of the futility of that notion. Its highly evocative imagery transports you into the scene, whereupon you find yourself complicit in the long looks of the pool’s myriad spectators.

The track is backed by the poignant, fragile and ultimately hopeful ‘When It’s All Over’. “I wrote that song at the start of lockdown,” says Flossy. “I missed everyone. I missed my life. Sometimes you have these moments where songs just come to you, and it takes maybe no more than five minutes to write them. It’s when you feel so passionately, where you’re right there in that very moment, and that was definitely the case with that song.”

Listen to ‘Poolside’ below.

Flossy Jones · Poolside

Poolside by Flossy Jones is released on June 19 2020 by Blitzcat Records. All proceeds from the first week of the single will be donated to Show Racism The Red Card.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Shots: Hypnodial, Mutante, Couronne de Merde, Score, de tian, Todd Fletcher

Hypnodial - GTET

Hypnodial – Good Times End Times (Somniscope)

Seven tracks of dreamy and much needed ambient electronic music from prolific Palma-based composer Hypnodial (Ilia Rodríguez). Tracks such as the beatific, widescreen ‘Summerine’ are poised on the delicate axis between hopefulness and resignation that the album’s title plays with. Elsewhere,  the standout ‘Brokelyn’ and ‘Cloopseend’ have a rougher edge thanks to gently undulating, bassy drones upon which are stacked euphoric vocal textures and chiming, stirring melodic counterpoints. Music to focus troubled minds. Released May 28 2020.

https://hypnodial.bandcamp.com/album/good-times-end-times

Mutante - Mutante II

Mutante – Mutante II (Dreamlord Recordings)

A second outing for Mutante, a Worcester duo of Jonathan Parkes and Alec Wood. Mutante II explores the rich and enduring legacy of early 1980s soundtracks, its seven tracks each full of evocative synth sounds and a sense of creeping paranoia and dread. ‘A New Horizon’ and ‘Magnetron’ are among the highlights, both moving ominously forward on a bed of prowling, heavy bass sequences and submerged rhythms offset by grainy sweeps and a topline suggesting imminent danger. Don’t have nightmares; or, if you must, make sure this is your soundtrack. Released June 8 2020.

https://mutantemusic.bandcamp.com/album/mutante-ii

Couronne de Merde

Couronne de Merde – ﺍﺗﻤﻨﻰ ﻟﻮ ﺍﻥ ﺍﻟﺮﻳﺎﺡ ﺗﺠﻠﻲ ﺍﻟﺮﻣﺎﺩ (Broken Britain Cassettes / wannamarchi.club)

The title of the new album from secretive Paris-based Couronne de Merde translates as “I wish the winds were ash.” Containing six tracks inspired by his frequent trips to Beirut, these pieces occupy a frontier land between emotive electronic music and the oppressive architecture of modern industrial music. Here you’ll find thunderous mechanical rhythms, subtle melodic interplay and drifting field recordings of life sounds recorded in Beirut but woven together back in Paris. ‘ﻻ ﻳﻮﺟﺪ ﻣﻮﺕ’ (‘There Is No Death’) is the album’s signature piece, a brooding, contemplative moment surrounded by sonic rubble and devastation, while ‘ﻗﻮﻯ ﺍﻟﻜﺘﺎﺋﺐ ﺍﻟﻨﻈﺎﻣﻴﺔ’ (‘A Strong Regiment’) snarls and inches relentlessly forward on menacing percussive tank tracks. Released June 5 2020.

https://wannamarchi.bandcamp.com/album/-

Score - Modern Wreck

Score – Modern Wreck (Cruel Nature Records)

Score is the solo project of d_rradio’s Chris Tate, and Modern Wreck is the follow-up to 2018’s Vent, released by Cruel Nature in a highly limited edition of just 40 cassettes. Many-layered and ushered in with sounds that have an organic, naturalistic earthiness to them, tracks like ‘Women And Children’ have a gracefulness and euphoric poise, full of jangly guitars and instrumentation of unknowable provenance. The playful ‘Crown Shoes’ is dominated by subtle electronics and a jazzy piano refrain, while ‘Inside Joke’ has a delightful wonkiness somewhere between nomadic glitch music and gentle folk. ‘Money Shot’ is the album’s pop highlight, wandering forth on a breezy warmth redolent of tropical island sunsets. Released June 5 2020.

https://cruelnaturerecordings.bandcamp.com/album/modern-wreck

de tian - Transcriptome

de tian – Transcriptome (Discus Music)

de tian is the longstanding partnership between Sheffield guitarist and electronic musician Paul Shaft and free music and Discus Music co-founder Martin Archer. The original version of de tian sprang up in the post-punk / pre-synth-pop hinterlands but when Shaft and Archer hooked up, their music evolved toward a more sonically diverse point. New album Transcriptome features nine tracks that find the duo working grooves out of industrial-style rhythms overlaid with Archer’s distinctive textural reeds and sax, with the addition of percussion from early de tian member Paul Hague. Key track ‘Transcriptome 4’ thuds with a wild, frantic pulse, wailing synth stabs and African percussion giving the track an air of only just being on the edge of self-control. Archer sweeps in with some especially evocative processed sax toward the end which cements the track’s beautiful chaos. Released May 7 2020.

https://discusmusic.bandcamp.com/album/transcriptome-93cd

Todd Fletcher - Rhythm Car

Todd Fletcher – Rhythm Car (Editions 100)

Eight tracks of mostly smooth, vaguely jazz-inflected electronica from Scottsdale, AZ-based ambient music stalwart Todd Fletcher. Each piece is characterised by sedate beats, gently washing pads, gorgeously understated synth work and heavily processed spoken word vocals mangled into melodic reference points. ‘Ice Angel’ stands out for his percussive melody and frosty sheen, while ‘Teleothenaion’ nods reverentially in the direction of Ken Ishii. The brilliant ‘China Radio Sunshine’ floats forth on an electro-dub pulse over which smart, fluid, jazz-inflected melody is allowed space to roam. Apparently Fletcher sold all his synths once upon a time and decided just to play the piano. Clearly, and for us very fortunately, he must have changed his mind. Released May 20 2020.

https://editions100.bandcamp.com/album/rhythm-car

Listen to tracks from these releases at Playmoss here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

In Conversation: Blancmange

“I enjoy being busy,” says Blancmange’s Neil Arthur. On the day we spoke he’d written some new music, signed a huge batch of vinyl and CD copies of the new Blancmange album, Mindset, some gardening and some DIY jobs around his house. “I’m not very good at doing nowt,” he admits, in his lyrical Lancastrian accent.

Mindset is Blancmange’s twelfth album. That needs to be seen in the context of a prolific streak that has seen nine Blancmange albums appear since the group became active again in 2011, alongside two albums with Ben ‘Benge’ Edwards as Fader, another pairing with Gazelle Twin collaborator Jez Bernholz as Near Future and a mini-LP with Kincaid (his son, Joe). Stephen Luscombe, with whom Neil formed the band in 1979, was forced to leave the group after 2011’s Blanc Burn owing to ill health, leaving Blancmange as Neil’s solo project.

“I’m probably happiest when I’m being creative,” offers Neil by way of explanation, and it shows. None of these projects are wistful, nostalgic retreads of songs like ‘Blind Vision’ or ‘Living On The Ceiling’ with which Blancmange found initial success at the start of the 1980s. These are records that exist firmly in the here and now, that reflect back the current world we live in yet which are threaded through with personal reflections – on relationships, on situations, on life in general. Mindset finds Neil ruminating on everything from the playground recollections of his Lancashire youth, to calls for transparency and honesty, and onward to the darkest sides of social media. It is an album loaded with observation and dark humour – in other words, classic Blancmange.

Neil Arthur’s prolific streak has delivered more music into the hands of fans than Blancmange delivered across the whole of the 1980s. After he and Stephen went their separate ways after the release of Believe You Me in 1985, there followed a long stretch of very little music from Neil up until 2011, that silence being interrupted only by a solo album, Suitcase, in 1994. While his recent, comparatively frantic current release schedule might seem strange in the context of that silence, it helps to understand where he was spending his time in the years after Blancmange separated.

“I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to do film and TV music,” he explains. “You’ve got to work really quick when you do that stuff. You’ve got to be prepared to make decisions, and lots of mistakes as well. I think one of the disciplines that came from doing so much music, particularly for TV, was that the turnaround was sometimes so quick: if you were doing a pitch for a commercial or whatever, you’d go, ‘I’ve got to come up with this idea right now.’ There’s no point in pussyfooting around and getting all bloody precious about it – you’ve just got to get it down.” Right now, Neil is also working on another Near Future album, another project with Kincaid and is building up a collection of tracks with Erasure’s Vince Clarke (“He comes up with lots of ideas, he’s good to bounce stuff off and he’s fun to be around,” offers Vince.)

Neil also talks about feeling like he’s been “let off the leash” creatively. Supported by a loyal fanbase, he has been able to pivot the Blancmange sound in multiple varied directions, repositioning his vocal and distinctive outlook on the world alongside some of the most inventive use of adventurous electronics in the pop genre. Mindset is the third Blancmange album to have been crafted with Benge, and the record bears the hallmarks of the vast array of vintage analogue equipment to be found in his Memetune studio in Cornwall.

Given that there are two groups that see Neil collaborating with Benge – Blancmange and Fader – it begs the question as to what makes a Blancmange album, and what makes a Fader record.

“With Fader, Benge starts the ball rolling, and I think that’s crucial,” explains Neil. “He comes up with some instrumental ideas, some of which are more developed than others. They’re like thumbnail sketches – very simple some of them – but then some of them are more complex. That’s where it starts and then I add my twopenn’orth. On last year’s Fader album, In Shadow, Benge had done 95%, if not more, of the instrumentation, and I stuck to vocals, and then we mixed it and produced it together.” With Blancmange, the process is almost effectively reversed. “Blancmange is just me, and so it starts with me,” says Neil. “I write a load of songs, and then I offer them to Benge. We get together at his studio, we work on the structures, we change the sounds, add a few parts, and I add the lyrics.”

While both groups will eventually see both Benge and Neil meet somewhere in the middle, the different starting points gives Blancmange and Fader albums entirely distinct personalities. “The logic would tell you that,” agrees Neil. “For example, with Fader, I have the opportunity, on first hearing, to react to something that I have no idea what I’m going to get, and Benge has the same thing when I come up with ideas for a Blancmange record. Then we bounce ideas as we get closer to the point of it being finished. We get closer and closer to us both manipulating sounds on a synthesiser or whatever it might be, but the two projects have come from very different places, initially. They’ve come from different brains.”

If you take a look at the studio photographs on Benge’s Memetune website, what immediately strikes you is the sheer amount of kit available to bring to a project. I wonder whether that can be a problem, given there’s so much to choose from and potentially be distracted by, almost as if that might stifle the energy that comes with being prolific. “Well yeah, there’s a lot of lights flashing on and off and stuff like that,” laughs Neil. “When Benge and I work together, we’re pretty good at keeping it focussed on what is needed, and we don’t get too distracted. Of course, there are moments where you’re working on any project where you end up going slightly sideways, but we’re pretty functional when we work together. We’re very focussed on what’s needed.

“We have a hell of a laugh when we’re doing it as well,” he adds. “We have a lot of fun, even if a lot of the music’s quite dark. We spend a lot of time together in the studio laughing. You’ve got to, you know? Sometimes you can’t help it with electronic sounds – you’re sitting there gurning when you’re doing a filter sweep. It can be a real laugh.”

Anyone who’s taken a listen to a Blancmange record will recognise a particular strain of  humour, and Mindset – for all its explorations of heavy subject matter – is certainly faithful to Neil’s ability to use wordplay to lighten the mood.

Perhaps the best example of this on Mindset is the track ‘Anti-Social Media’, a song that takes a sideways look at the trolling and the sinister sides of apps that were designed to bring people together, not force prejudices and divisions. “Thankfully nothing in this song is related to anything I’ve experienced personally,” says Neil, with some relief. “But, from an observational standpoint of what’s going on, I’ve taken loads of stuff in. It’s quite easy for people to let go of some opinion – they just send something off, just like that. Press the button and it’s gone. But the receiver can pick up on it in so many different ways, if there’s any subtlety at all in the message, and can quite often be very, very upset. It’s been in the news all too frequently, and there’s been some horrific, sad and tragic cases. Even so, I had a lot of fun with the lyrics – things like the line ‘chastise me and baptise me’, or the idea that you can criticise me but please just wait until the end of the song. I’m having a bit of a laugh at the idiots who think it’s alright to behave like that and hide. They’re cowards, aren’t they? Bastards. It’s something I wanted to write about, and it seemed to fit with the groove I’d got going.”

Speaking of grooves, taken as a whole Mindset moves forward with a relentless momentum, the rhythms and sounds nodding squarely in the direction of clubbier electronic music. “I wanted it to move along with a pace,” he says. “Dark as some of the lyrics might be with twisted black humour, I still wanted them to be supported by something that kept the pace going, and Benge and I didn’t want too much getting in the way of that if we could help it. It definitely leans toward a faster pace, so you’d be able to, you know, move a leg to it if you wanted to.”

‘Insomniacs Tonight’ plays with that sense of momentum using a framework of sounds and beats that belong in minimal techno, beginning very sparsely before firming up into something more anxious, evoking the feeling of a sleepless night. “I don’t sleep very well,” confesses Neil. “It’s a very different world in the middle of the night. That song starts very simply, but once it gets going, it’s like a train of thought.”

Another standout track on Mindset is ‘This Is Bliss’, an exercise in keeping things defiantly simple, staying resolutely sparse and unadorned throughout. “One of the things that I’ve tried to do lyrically, and musically, as I’ve got older is that if something doesn’t need to be there, you don’t have to have it,” Neil explains. “Benge and I agree on this – there’s no point putting another part on top of something if the one that’s there doesn’t need supporting. With ‘This Is Bliss’, there wasn’t a lot in it when I took it to Benge, and we kept it that way – we just improved some of the sounds, and replaced the original rhythms with analogue drums.

“The idea of keeping things minimal is something I’ve striven for for bloody ages,” reflects Neil. “Less is best, but sometimes it’s difficult to hold your ground on it. Maybe on this one we were getting closer to that. We tried to leave as much space as possible.”

This starts to tap into the influences that have informed Neil Arthur’s approach to music, many of which are reverentially to be found on display across the breadth of Mindset. “One of the biggest influences on early Blancmange, from my point of view, was The Young Marble Giants. Although they never used synthesisers, they’re the epitome, for me, of minimalism, and they’re still one of my favourite bands. It’s perfectly executed, lyrically, structurally, and in their instrumentation. You simply didn’t need anything else. I saw them live so many times, and that’s definitely stayed with me.”

Elsewhere on the record you can hear the trace echoes of Neu!’s distinctive pulse on the album’s title track, fused with a small dose of the Velvet Underground. You also hear deferential – but never plagiaristic – nods in the direction of Roxy Music, Sparks and LCD Soundsystem, all within the same song. To wear those influences so vividly on your sleeve without ever sounding anything other than like Blancmange is quite the achievement. Elsewhere on the record, ‘Diagram’s direct call for truth and honesty finds Neil crossing the intimidating style of Grace Jones with the lysergic energy of vintage Cabaret Voltaire, whose Stephen Mallinder is one of Benge’s bandmates in Wrangler. Sticking with Sheffield, Neil plays me the snarling intro to ‘Anti-Social Media’ and intones Phil Oakey’s spoken word intro to The Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’ over the top, accompanied by a dry and charismatic chuckle.

The album is also characteristically personal, though Neil is at pains to maintain some comfortable ambiguity. ‘Not Really (Virtual Reality)?’ transports us back to the Lancashire town of Darwen, his home town, the lyrics reflecting the moors of his childhood and the phrase he and his pals would use whenever someone was thought to be bending the truth – ’et wady’. There are also songs dealing with family and domestic issues, while ‘Warm Reception’ finds a detached Neil running through quotidian thoughts and ministrations, inspired by a painting bearing the same name by his wife. Not for nothing does he describe lyric writing as “like having a contact mic on the inside of my brain”.

The album concludes with the poignant ‘When’. “The chorus on that song really sums it up – ‘When is anything / About what it’s about?’ It happens to people all the time: someone can be on the receiving end of an emotive outburst that leaves a feeling of being distraught and empty. But then it becomes obvious that, in actual fact, you’ve received all this stuff because basically it’s the other person’s baggage, and you’re now having to carry that around yourself. What you may have had in mind when there was some kind of argument hasn’t been discussed at all. It’s like in a Woody Allen film when he puts the subtext underneath the dialogue – it’s nothing to do with what it’s really about.”

It’s a beautiful spring lockdown evening, and Neil, a keen cyclist, wants to get out on his bike near his Cotswolds home before it gets dark. There’s just enough time for one more honest reflection before he heads off. “I’m really bloody fortunate because we’ve got a very loyal fanbase,” he muses. “They want to listen to the new stuff, but obviously like the old songs. I’m very happy to play the old stuff – I thoroughly enjoy it, and I’m incredibly proud of the music Stephen and I did all those years ago.

“I completely understand that, when I go out on stage, it wouldn’t be a Blancmange show without those songs. That’s absolutely fine by me. I’ve got to say, though, I’m much more interested in the future,” he concludes before heading off, no doubt working on even more songs as he pedals his way through the countryside.

Mindset by Blancmange is released June 5 2020 by Blanc Check. Buy signed copies of Mindset at Blancmange’s website.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Sad Man – Daddy Biscuits

cover

In May 2020, Sad Man – the alias of Bournville’s Andrew Spackman – ran a Twitter poll to ask fans to suggest the name of his next album. The options were Sad Man 13, ISO-Nation, Wonky Heights and the winner, with a cool 50% of the vote – Daddy Biscuits. It arrived in my inbox, just three months after his last release, with the description that it was a ‘wonky banger’.

Spackman has done most of the legwork for me with that, to be honest, as those two words perfectly sum up the sound of the twelve songs on this new collection. These are pieces that jerk around like they’re being attacked with an electronic music cattle prod, all quirky beats, skewed melodies and sounds that feel like they’re splintering and fragmenting inside your ear canal.

The jazz influence that can be felt on other Sad Man releases is here suppressed ever so slightly, emerging in the background on pieces like ‘Fump’ or in the coda on the icicle-sharp ‘Illustration’; instead, the only way I can describe a track like the nine-minute title track, or ‘Wonder’, or the effervescent ‘So So’ is how I imagine it might sound in the nightclub of a ship that’s about to capsize in a storm. Or a ‘wonky banger’, I guess.

Buried deep here is the minuscule ‘Water’. It’s a track that seems to pack so many disparate ideas into its brief, sixty second existence, from muted house-style riffs, deep beats and a frantic jumble of melodies that sound like a stroll around a dimly-lit games arcade.

Daddy Biscuits by Sad Man is released June 5 2020.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Greg Nieuwsma – Travel Log Radio

Greg Nieuwsma - Travel Log Radio

Travel Log Radio by US-born, Krakow-based sound artist and electronic musician Greg Nieuwsma arrives at a point where travel, either for work or pleasure, has become an almost entirely alien concept. Whereas there was a time before lockdown when you ignored planes in the sky because of their ubiquity, nowadays you see a pair of isolated vapour trails high above you and reflect on their rarity, as if we were transported back thirty years before skies were crowded and travel was commonplace ritual, not a privilege. Today, the only travel most people seem able to do involves switching their Zoom backgrounds for photos of somewhere far afield containing perfect vistas and idyllic, untroubled, virus-free sunsets.

Nieuwsma is part of Krakow’s vibrant music scene, primarily as a member of the band Sawak, and professes an interest in the ethnographical aspects of music. You can hear that creeping into the music he makes with Sawak, and it forms the exclusive concern of his new album, which consists of four pieces recorded in four specific locations – Italy, Morocco, India and the US – over the period 2015 to 2019.

These pieces are either constructed from straight, unaltered field recordings, or are subject to subtle processing and adornment. The effect is akin to sonic postcards, each one taking a dreamy, otherworldly resonance, like flicking through photos of trips and barely-remembered memories, made all the more poignant by the absence of specific location or temporal detail.

Even in the most joyous moments – snatches of choral singing in Italy, prayer calls or the bustling hubbub of a Moroccan souk – there is an inevitable poignancy here as you reflect on not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. There is also drama in these recordings – street sounds and radio broadcasts from India evoke the sensory overload that comes from finding yourself in an unfamiliar place; the interaction with an overzealous authority figure, or a series of hypnotic platform announcements in the US brings to mind the strange detachment and uncertainty that comes from jetlag; a recording of reverberating saxophone transports you to the serenity of a late night New York subway platform.

The sound of water features in several places. It is a strangely unifying, universal interjection, free of specific language or identifiable sonic provenance. It serves to remind you, in a way, that the borders we cannot presently cross are entirely abstract, artificial constructs that nature has no need to observe.

Travel Log Radio by Greg Nieuwsma is released June 5 2020 by TQN-aut.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Various Artists – Latibula

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Latibula is Marionette’s first label compilation, offering a window into the eclectic artists who call the label home as well as providing a sneak preview of where the Toronto-based imprint might go next. All proceeds from the digital compilation will go to Médicins Sans Frontières.

Sans frontières is also an apt way of describing Marionette’s approach. The label was founded in 2013 and swiftly made a mark through releasing complex electronic music that was unafraid of borders, genre limitations or jaded notions of purism, with most releases given their own visual identity by label stalwart Benjamin Kilchhofer. The Basel-based electronic adventurer has released four distinctive solo and duo releases for the label over the past few years, each one characterised by his approach to fusing modular sound design with acoustic instruments. Kilchhofer’s ‘Kloen’ is one of the natural highlights of this collection, led by a synth sequence that feels more like a soprano saxophone line than something that might have emerged from a nest of writhing patch cables.

Elsewhere, musician and instrument builder Pierre Bastien follows up last year’s playful Tinkle, Twang ‘n Tootle with ‘4hands 1breath’. A collaboration with jazz drummer Steve Argüelles and pianist Benoît Delbecq, the piece includes Bastien’s pocket trumpet played through running water against a backdrop of abstract percussion and wandering piano. Another brilliant Marionette release from last year was Giraffe’s Desert Haze, which found the Hamburg trio tapping into German rock reference points from Can to Manuel Göttsching; the trio follow that up with the brilliant ‘Lines Across The Still’, a mellow exploration of wavering melodies, stuttering guitar and polyrhythmic percussion.

One of the most interesting pieces here is ‘Serpentina’ by another Basel-based musician, Marco Papiro. Papiro is a fan of vintage kit, as evidenced across the many albums he’s released to date, but he’s also a DJ, and that tends to mean his tracks are infused with a sense of motion and finely-controlled tension. The brief ‘Serpentina’ is perhaps the most outwardly electronic track here, rolling forth on springy sounds and simple chiming, expressive melodies that feel like they belong in a pivotal scene in an 80s teen movie.

Papiro’s piece slots in alongside other hidden gems from Twinkle3 (Richard Scott, David Ross and Clive Bell), MinaeMinae, Julian Sartorius, Soundwalk Collective and others, pointing to a vibrant future release schedule for Marionette.

Latibula is released by Marionette on May 1 2020 through Bandcamp. Find Marionette at Bandcamp here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Audio Obscura – Self Isolation Tapes

Early on in the COVID-19 outbreak, Etsy took down a t-shirt design emblazoned with the words ‘I Survived Coronavirus’ on the grounds that it was poor taste amid the progress of the disease. We are only four months into this – whatever this will eventually become – and despite government plans to try and progress toward a return to normality, when I think of that t-shirt I’m reminded chiefly of Captain Darling’s line at the end of Blackadder Goes Forth: ‘We lived through it! The Great War, 1914 – 1917!’

So it may also be that releasing music made at this point in isolation, when we could well just be at the start of something that, unlike Blackadder, runs and runs and runs (I’m thinking The Archers, perhaps), may also prove to be similarly premature. Fortunately, amid the slew of self-indulgent self-isolation releases are some genuine gems, and of these is Norfolk-based Neil Stringfellow’s Audio Obscura release, Self Isolation Tapes.

Electronic musicians, as a rule, have never had a problem with self-isolation of course. Theirs is a life of relative solitude, and so it is often hard to see what’s different between music made before isolation, during, and how it might sound when things return to whatever normal we’ll face after this. In Stringfellow’s case, a precedent for the sounds here could be found on his June 2019 Bibliotapes-released imaginary score for George Orwell’s 1984. I’m not prone to self-quoting, but this is how I concluded that piece: ‘Something about the way that Stringfellow has crafted these pieces seems to simultaneously remind us of the unflinching horror of daily life … while also presenting a sense of resignation and dismay that this is the world we currently occupy.’ I’m not saying that this is prescience on my part; more that Stringfellow’s music already seemed to be perfectly suited to dystopia, and so it goes that these seventeen pieces (plus three remixes) are perfectly suited to the current bleak outlook.

Talking of bleakness, not for nothing does Stringfellow include a track nodding in the direction of another savage work of fiction (or is it, now, biographical?) – Albert Camus’s The Plague, a depiction of a highly infectious disease wreaking devastation on an Algerian port. ‘Life In Oran’ is an unsettling listen amid unsettling pieces, beginning with the sounds of Stringfellow’s children playing innocently, which he then frames with murky pulses, dread-ridden haunted tones and a general sense of urgency and insistence. Stringfellow’s children appear again on ‘Each Day The Radio…’, calling for his attention against a backdrop of the daily news stories charting the progress of COVID-19 on the radio. (As an aside, I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like the daily governmental proclamations feel a bit like something from 1984.)

Fortunately, Self Isolation Tapes isn’t a wholly bleak listen – it just mostly is. For example, buried deep in the track ‘Ghosts, Dusk, Decay’ is a solitary, tentative, almost hopeful synth note which appears fleetingly, only for the track to return to more discordant territory by the end; elsewhere, ‘Quiet World’, one of the shorter tracks here, is a piece floating forth on a delicate, soothing ambience. The pair of tracks ‘The 33rd Of April’ and ‘The 44th Of May’ may be titled with sardonic humour, but are presented with brooding textures and muted beats that become sonic approximations of industrial, noxious soundscapes or the fading broadcasts of horror soundtracks heard across post-apocalyptic wastelands.

‘One Day I’ll Grow Nostalgic For These Days’ is one of the most memorable pieces here, containing wistful piano and scratchy little sounds, a little like static coming from an old radio transmission. Here you find little melodic lines that seem to belong elsewhere, stuttering vocal segments and pretty bird song, a sparse rhythm outlining the weird sense of nostalgia embedded in the piece’s title.

It is a collection that is necessarily dark, even in the context of Stringfellow’s work. But perhaps it’s worth returning to ‘Life In Oran’ to put this all in context. Alongside the more negative moments are the interjections of real life – washing up, maybe, along with other quotidian tasks. Initially these throw you off and confuse you, but between those sounds and Stringfellow’s kids playing, they serve to remind you that life does indeed go on, even in the strangest of circumstances. Long after this is over, these sounds will be our reminder of how we felt while COVID-19 took its toll on us, with Self Isolation Tapes a diaristic time capsule into collective self-isolation.

Self Isolation Tapes by Audio Obscura was released Friday April 24 2020.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Touch: Isolation

Touch: Isolation. Photograph by Jon Wozencroft.

As things like self-isolation and social distancing became phrases and concepts the majority of the world has quickly become accustomed to, it’s been the art of the hasty pivot that has characterised lockdown: businesses that relied on face-to-face interactions suddenly thrust themselves into the hitherto unknown territory of digital engagement, restaurants suddenly offered take-out where they previously relied on seated diners, wholesale retailers suddenly became direct-to-customer operations; we have moved from the need to see, touch and meet people to drinking espresso and gin over video conference, walking in the middle of the road to bypass another pedestrian walking toward you, and following authoritarian one-way systems around supermarkets. None of this we could have conceived of a few months ago, yet we are now all – mostly – suddenly expert.

The way we consume and enjoy music was almost immediately disrupted by the measures governments put in place. Gigs and festivals were cancelled; release dates got put back; pressing plants shut down; critical calendar entries like Record Store Day were postponed; venues were almost immediately shuttered. These are existential events for artists, bands, labels, designers and the countless individuals and businesses that support the music industry.

In response, all manner of COVID-19 projects quickly sprang up: compilation releases to support frontline essential workers; isolation playlists were hastily assembled, often comprising lots of soothing ambient music; live-streamed solo bedroom gigs delivered your favourite artist into your front room; noodling Soundcloud tracks appeared with high velocity, the product of idle fingers, a need for expression, boredom and the advantage of a broadband connection.

One very special and highly distinctive project to emerge from this is Touch: Isolation, announced last week by Touch. “The pack of COVID-19 cards came down quite quickly, and we wanted to respond to some immediate problems many of our artists were experiencing,” says Jon Wozencroft, who founded the label 38 years ago, later bringing in Mike Harding to work with him.

Available through Bandcamp for a minimum £20 subscription, all of which is divided up among its contributors, Touch: Isolation consists of at least twenty tracks from Touch artists, each one mastered by Denis Blackham – that, in itself, an example of the label’s dependable obsession with quality presentation despite the speed with which the project was conceived and realised. At the time of writing, releases have already come through from Jana Winderen, Chris Watson, Bana Haffar, Mark Van Hoen and Richard Chartier with tracks incoming from Howlround, Claire M Singer, Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi, Philip Jeck, Carl Michael von Hausswolff and others who have issued released material through Touch.

chriswatson_gobabeb
Touch: Isolation – Chris Watson ‘Gobabeb’. Photograph by Jon Wozencroft.

“By the nature of what we do, it’s quite hand-to-mouth,” Wozencroft continues. “For Mike and I, the project is also a declaration of intent in a personal sense because we’ve both been experiencing some highs and lows in recent months.” Those lows are self-evident and are common to most of us, yet uniquely personalised to our own lives; the Touch highs include recent releases like Eleh’s brilliant Living Space, nurturing new artists on the label and Hildur Gudnadottir‘s success at the Oscars. Wozencroft justifiably calls it the “culmination of years of collaboration and shared ambition”. The idea of Touch going on hiatus just because normal life has been paused would thus have been a terrible, terrible notion.

“Between Mike and I it was kind of a Eureka decision to step ahead and do this,” he continues. “In effect, we pressed the switch in the third week of March and in no time we had a strong response from almost everyone we asked.”

A critical signifier of Touch has always been Wozencroft’s photographic accompaniment to the imprint’s releases, which presented a challenge for Touch: Isolation. “I had to think hard about how the Isolation series could be given a visual counterpoint, given the lockdown restriction,” he says. The result is a series of photographs of trees, leaves, pools, each one of something strangely quotidian yet now, thanks to the lockdown, mostly off limits; each one was taken on March 25 on Hampstead Heath’s West Heath and Golder’s Hill areas, just as the lockdown began.

“I’d been going to Hampstead Heath since being a teenager growing up in North London,” Wozencroft continues. “It was always a special trip, and so it was a challenge to make this familiar space reflect a certain unreality; the suspended state of beauty in the full gleam of the recent sunshine. But also its rarity and rawness as an urban environment in the current conditions. I was also remembering the damage of the Great Storm of 1987 – seeing the evidence of regeneration and a landscape transformed, and that sense of faith in the future.

“For me,” he concludes, “it’s about hope and detail, the hidden and its brilliance.”

Support Touch: Isolation at touchisolation.bandcamp.com

Thanks to Jon, Mike and Philip.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.