The Fantastic Plastics – Malfunction

Recorded over a period of two years at their brilliantly-monikered CoCo Beat Studios in Brooklyn, Malfunction is the follow-up to The Fantastic Plastics’ 2015 debut album, Devolver. As with that first record, the order of events here is hyperactive tracks threaded with spiky guitar riffs, buzzing synths and chunky drums that offer up a futuristic vision of pop drawing a line back to the most effervescent and innovative moments of electrically-infused post-punk.

From the energetic forward motion and symbolism of ‘Numan’ (with its general nod in the direction of the erstwhile Gary Webb and possibly Wayne Knight’s annoying character in Seinfeld) to the insistent high-speed glam-punk of opening track ‘Disintegration’, Malfunction is (mostly) an upbeat record. The harmonic interplay between the band’s Tyson Plastic and Miranda Plastic has a gleeful charm, even if their outwardly euphoric tracks appear to mask a general cynicism at the state of the world today. The effect, on the sinewy, Cars-y ‘Telephone’ or the feisty political grandstanding of ‘Disconnect’ – a thinly-veiled bash at a certain high profile abusing the freedom of social media – is slightly disorienting: here you are, pogo-ing around like a complete lunatic, and then when you start to focus in on the lyrics, you realise you’re actually hearing a cheerful protest song.

The frantic pace drops just twice, once on the charming space-age instrumental vintage synth interlude ‘Neon Satellite’ and again – briefly – with the jangly guitar intro to the otherwise perky ‘Bad Day’. The latter has a brilliant, cutesy quality that wouldn’t go amiss on a kids’ TV show, even if its theme – about either being chronically hungover or clinically depressed – sit slightly uncomfortably with the joyous ‘la-la-la’ing and generally upbeat mood of Miranda’s delivery.

The standout track here, ‘Evacuate’, finds Tyson doing a brilliant impersonation of Phil Oakey’s leaden delivery, its lyrics and insistent guitar riffery urging us to get the hell out of dodge before the world ends. That it ends suddenly with a brief, dissonant electronic tone suggests we didn’t quite make it, but if this album was the last thing you heard before the world ended, frankly it doesn’t seem like the worst way to go.

Malfunction by The Fantastic Plastics was released October 4.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

The Slowest Lift – Plutonic Shine

The Slowest Lift pairs together singer / guitarist Sophie Cooper with Vibracathedral Orchestral’s likeminded sonic experimentalist Julian Bradley. Third album Plutonic Shine finds their respective inputs – mournful, questing vocals, freeform electric guitar, murky synth passages – draped in a cloying, impenetrable distortion haze.

The effect on a track like ‘The Birds Float The Slowest’ is to leave you feeling gloriously disoriented. Starting with a looped electronic pulse, layers of guitar textures and clanging, overlapping riffs are allowed to growl and feed back freely while, at the centre of everything, Cooper offers a processed vocal line that is simultaneously both mesmerising and terrifying. The effect is akin to being willingly imprisoned inside some cavern of irrepressible, joyous noise.

Elsewhere, ‘Take Off Your Badge’ proceeds on whiny low-end synth melodies and washes of grimy fuzz with a vocal that is both sensual and cryptic, while ‘Sage Reach’ offers up a gently undulating fabric of interwoven drones to reach an absorbing, intricately-developed transcendence. ‘I’m Born’ is perhaps the chilling highlight of the brilliant nine tracks, its chilling, murky tonality, stentorian vocal refrains, splinters of unpredictable sound and an insistent, submerged rhythm sounding not unlike a new and harrowing take on Sonic Youth circa ‘Halloween’.

Plutonic Shine by The Slowest Lift was released on August 2 2019. A vinyl edition will be released by Feeding Tube later in 2019.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Jah Wobble & Bill Laswell – Realm Of Spells

Bassists Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble both emerged from two vibrant post-punk scenes, Laswell in New York with Material and Wobble in London with Public Image Ltd. Both have spent the last forty odd years as deft collaborators, their playing threading effortlessly through everything from jazz to dub to electronica, while Laswell’s production nous has seen him involved in so many sessions that it’s generally hard to keep up with his discography.

Realm Of Spells is the pair’s first jointly-credited album since 2001’s Radioaxiom, a record that found Wobble sitting in alongside many players familiar from other Bill Laswell projects. Their new record evens things out slightly, with the whole project largely initiated by Wobble’s long-standing unit The Invaders Of The Heart (Marc Layton-Bennett, George King and Martin Chung), who provide the backbone of the nine tracks included here. Alongside The Invaders and the idiosyncratic bass approaches of Laswell and Wobble, the group were augmented by drummer / percussionist Hideo Yamaki and multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum, here playing sax on a number of stand-out pieces.

Though tracks like the serene, constantly-shifting electronically-enhanced dub of ‘Uncoiling’ link back to the sound of Radioaxiom, Realm Of Spells was directly influenced by Laswell and Wobble’s shared love of Miles Davis’s unparalleled electric period in the first half of the Seventies. You can hear that freedom of expression and borderless, flexible quality on tracks like ‘The Perfect Beat’ and the album’s nine-minute title track, melting pots of jazz, rock, electronics and funk with an unswerving, tight rhythm sections and cavernous basslines. ‘Dark Luminosity’ operates in similar territory, a snare-dominated groove and nagging low-end attacked by everything from delicate keyboard motifs to guitar lines that flip-flop between jazzy licks and prowling, angsty hooks, while the curt organ-led grooves of ‘At The Point Of Hustle’ sounds like Money Mark jamming with The Wailers.

Realm Of Spells by Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble is released on August 2 2019 by Jah Wobble Records. My interview with Laswell and Wobble will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

3 Questions: S. T. Manville

S. T. Manville released his debut album, Somebody Else’s Songs, earlier this year, collecting together eleven surprising covers of tracks by Jimmy Eat World, Green Day and others. At the very end of June, Manville released ‘Make Believe’, a self-penned piece of tranquil acoustic music for guitar, ukulele and violin that perfectly details our uncomfortable relationship with growing up, being full of wistful nostalgia, regret and hope.

Here, Manville talks about spelling, overcoming shyness and being inspired during the middle of the night.

What’s your earliest memory?

There are a few and I don’t know what order they came in so here’s the two that contend for earliest…

I think my brother Patrick was born but still a baby so I would have been about two or three. My mum took us to feed the ducks, which was a short drive from where we lived. God knows how but she managed to throw the house and car keys into the pond along with the bread. After getting really flustered and shouting a bit she jumped in after them and managed to get them out.

I was thinking about this recently and decided it was too insane to have really happened so I asked my mum if I’d made it up. I hadn’t. When I asked her why she jumped in and didn’t just leave it her reasoning was that ‘Mobiles didn’t exist then.’ I’m not fully sure I see the logic in that, but she’s a smart woman and so there must have been some sense in it.

The other memory is being in the car with my mum and dad around the same age. They used to use the time old trick of spelling out words to each other when they didn’t want me to understand what they were talking about. During one of these covert conversations I asked if we could get some ‘B-C-P-S.’ When they asked what I was on about I replied with ‘Chips’. I’ve always been a great speller.

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

‘Shy kids get nought,’ a really good friend said it in passing once, and it’s stuck with me. He probably doesn’t even remember saying it, but I genuinely live my life by it. There’s no shame in asking for help, guidance, or bit of shameless self promotion, if you ask in the right way and it comes from a sincere place.

Where are you most productive or inspired?

I’ve learnt that when inspiration happens, I just need to get on with it while it’s there, and when it isn’t I need to be patient, not force it and just wait until it reappears.

The times in the cycle that I’m not being musically creative can be pretty horrible, with plenty of self doubt and worrying about whether I’ll ever be able to write again, but I’ve been doing this for so long I’ve gotten better at dealing with those feelings. Sometimes it helps to find new music that inspires me, and sometimes I find that it’s better not listening to any music at all for weeks.

I tend to find inspiration in two places – from other music or art that I enjoy, and from watching general life unfold around me. The only real criteria for creativity, in my case, is sobriety and sun light. I’ve never been able to write or do anything creative unless I’m sober, and so I usually tend to work during the day. I find it really hard to work after about 7pm. When I see people in the studio at 3am getting stoned, drinking beers I always think, ‘How are you getting anything done?’

That said, I have woken up in the middle of the night a few times over the years with lyrics and melodies that I’ve written in my sleep, and then I’ve had to sneak downstairs to record a voice note. My wife loves that…

Make Believe by S. T. Manville is out now on Difficult. Listen on Spotify. Read the Further. review of Somebody Else’s Songs here.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Fujiya & Miyagi – Flashback

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When I interviewed Brighton quartet Fujiya & Miyagi two years ago around the time of the reissue of their second album, 2006’s Transparent Things, singer and guitarist David Best expressed his admiration for Talking Heads and what he called their “awkward funk” sound. Perhaps more so than on any other Fujiya & Miyagi album, that reverence for that slightly off-kilter groove can be heard right across Flashback, containing seven of the band’s most precisely-executed cuts to date.

In the last couple of years, both Best and fellow F&M founder Steve Lewis have busied themselves with side projects – Lewis’s crystalline torch songs with Johanna Bramli as Fröst and Best with Fujiya & Miyagi bandmate Ed Chivers as the Terry Riley-inspired art-rock of Ex-Display Model. Surprisingly, none of that time out from their main group seems to have had any sort of influence on these new songs. You won’t find any fuzzy introspection here – just solid drumming from Chivers, elastic basslines from Ben Adamo and an effortless interplay between Best’s signature guitar styles and Lewis’s sinewy and infectious electronic patterns.

That tightness provides the backdrop to some of Best’s most oblique and deceptively humorous lyrics – a semi-political character assassination rant on the closing track ‘Gammon’, a bitter tirade against self-importance on ‘Personal Space’ and a brilliantly ironic (and astute) rumination on our modern obsessions on ‘Fear Of Missing Out’. The highlight among highlights is ‘For Promotional Use Only’, a low-slung, many-layered slow-builder that plays on one of the most mundane of piracy risk warnings and turns it into a hypnotic, restless epic, Best’s vocal taking on a distinctly paranoid hue as it progresses.

Flashback by Fujiya & Miyagi is released by Impossible Objects Of Desire on May 31 2019.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

S. T. Manville – Somebody Else’s Songs

Somebody Else's Songs PACKSHOT

Sam Manville is a singer-songwriter dividing his time between Nottingham and Leicester. His debut album, as its title suggests, is a collection of covers; however, unlike most such albums, what shines through most clearly is Manville’s credentials as a talented arranger.

Think of these songs as the stylistic opposite of Me First And The Gimme Gimme’s Green Day-ification of songs into high-speed Ramones-y salvos; here, Manville takes eleven songs from the modern pop-punk canon – songs by Bad Religion, The Offspring, blink-182, The Postal Service and others – and presents them as delicate, sensitive acoustic pieces, each highlighting Manville’s beguiling voice, delivered with a quiet tenderness like a friend’s kindly whisper in your ear that everything will be okay.

Central to this type of album is an ability to surprise you, to offer a fully new perspective on songs that have become so familiar that they’ve become like aural wallpaper. Manville does that time after time here, drawing out qualities and emotions that were often buried in the originals. His version of Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Middle’ and Alien Ant Farm’s ‘Movies’ are two signal highlights here, while his enthralling take on Weezer’s ‘Butterfly’ is recast as a regretful, mournful torch song.

Somebody Else’s Songs by S. T. Manville is out now on Difficult. The album is accompanied by a guidebook to the album – more information can be found here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Personal Reflections: The National – I Am Easy To Find

New York is a fickle mistress: all are welcome (subject to having the right immigration papers), its charms are universal, but few are invited to stay forever. Each and every time I visit, I hope that at some point the city will just absorb me, cling onto me, plead with me to hang around for as long as I want, rather than sending me back to JFK feeling as rejected and unwanted as a cast-off, spurned lover; like I have no place there; like I just don’t have what it takes to make it there.

It was in that state of mind that I arrived back into London from New York on early Friday morning, and it was in that state of mind that I listened to I Am Easy To Find by The National. This was possibly a mistake. Notwithstanding the mood of this album which, like much of The National’s music, has a brooding, maudlin quality – if that’s what you’re drawn to, which I generally am, it seems – there’s one lyric on the fragile, electronics-laden title track that seemed to be intended just for me: “You were never much of a New Yorker / It wasn’t in your eyes.” To me, it reaffirmed how I felt right then: you just didn’t fit in; you’ll never completely fit in; feel free to come back, but don’t expect us to let you stay.

Even though that track arrives almost a third of the way into the album, it was that quality of emotional turbulence and displacement that I heard throughout I Am Easy To Find. I’m sure that tracks like ‘Hey Rosey’ (with guest vocals from Bowie collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey) or the stuttering, complicated trademark Bryan Devendorf rhythms of opening track ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ and ‘Where Is Her Head’, or even Kate Stables’ plaintive ruminations of the title track do have some sort of transcendent, euphoric quality to them – if that’s what you’re seeking – but for me I just wanted the darkness, and that’s what I found in this album. I wanted to feel shit about my lot and the non-linear rock gestures – processed and infused with copious synths and electronic rhythms with the assistance of Mouse On Mars’ Jan St. Werner – all sitting restlessly beneath Matt Berninger’s quietly expressive vocals, enabled that. Maybe one day I’ll acknowledge the sparse and tender balladry of ‘Kansas’ or the shimmering synth textures of the duet with Lisa Hannigan on ‘So Far So Fast’, or maybe I’ll forever associate this record with feeling jetlagged and empty.

If the album spoke to me in a way that suited my mood at that particular point, the accompanying twenty-five minute black and white film, directed by Mike Mills, left me with profuse tears running down my cheeks; tears that were years and years in the making.

The film charts a life, from birth to death; through joy and sadness; from innocence gained to innocence lost; the discovery and development of oneself; the anguish of relationships; the first meetings and last goodbyes; the endless, endless, endless arguments; the wanting of different things; the inexorable passage of time; the purposefulness and futility of existence. The central character, played vividly and sensitively by Alicia Vikander, never ages throughout the film, even though all those around her do, while the captions – acting as the film’s dialogue – are largely culled from tracks on the album, with the words of ‘Dust Swirls In Strange Light’ and ‘Hairpin Turns’ suddenly making infinitely more sense once coupled to the visuals.

It takes a few short scenes to figure out what Mills’ story is showing us, but the gravity of what is unfolding becomes apparent when Vikander races abruptly into teenagehood, with the attendant and all-too-common hatred of her mother, despite everything she provided her daughter. There’s something about the duration of the film, and the way songs from the album – with all their evocative traits of unresolvedness – soundtrack Vikander’s passage through her life that takes its toll on you; if Mills had compressed her life into the length of a single three-minute song, you’d have no opportunity to adjust to what is inevitably going to happen to everyone she has ever loved or cared about, and then her own passing. Instead, by stretching this out over an intermediate length of time – too long for a promo video, too short for a feature film – the progress feels unswervingly, unbearably, savagely languid.

The film of I Am Easy To Find is thus harrowing viewing in the way extreme horror films are, and yet everything the camera shows you is utterly quotidian, unexceptional, unremarkable – reflections of your own life, maybe. As with the tone I was drawn to on the album, perhaps it was the mood I was in and my own vantage point from probably halfway along my life’s own twenty-five minute high- and lowlights reel – that point where you start to acknowledge your parents’ mortality, where your kids don’t idolise you anymore, where nothing that was previously carefree and innocent seems to be straightforward any longer – this beautiful film made difficult viewing for me. There is plenty of unbridled joy here, I’m sure, but I was mostly oblivious to any of that.

That’s all I have to say. Maybe the entire I Am Easy To Find package will affect you this way and leave an indelible mark on you like it already has for me; maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll see the happiness in all of this that I can’t see. Maybe your eyes will suggest you belong in New York after all. Maybe you’ll brush off your teenage daughter’s disdain for you or the feeling that you’re exactly where you were yesterday, last year, a decade ago – just older. Take a listen (or a watch) and decide for yourself. I’ll still be right here. I am easy to find. I’m not going anywhere.

I Am Easy To Find by The National is out now on 4AD.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.