Sunday, January 17, 2016

No easy listening - Chelsea Wolfe's Abyss

I've read a few comparisons between Chelsea Wolfe and PJ Harvey and it's an easy (if superficial) one to make. Black hair, guitars, the absence of a Y chromosome, etc, etc.

What Wolfe's latest record, Abyss, reminds me at least as much of, though, is PJ's old West Country comrade Tricky.

That's not to say it sounds like Bristol circa 1994, although Wolfe and Tricky share a few musical tropes: a fondness for jackhammer industrial beats and vocals submerged in noise and sludge among them. But what really makes them feel like kin to me is the bleakness of the aesthetic, the claustrophobia of the effect.

In short, Abyss is a gripping place to visit, but not necessarily a conventionally fun experience. The nearest thing to a conventional rock tune is second track Iron Moon - a quiet/loud/quiet treacle wig-out revolving around a chorus which proclaims 'My heart is still a tomb.' 

Elsewhere, lyrical and melody lines repeat over rythyms and grind which threaten to swallow the singer. Folk laments dissolve in a wash of noise or discordant piano. Guitars follow the 'lower and slower' edict of doom metal.

Now, we used to have a name for this sort of thing. Without apology, we used to call it goth. And there's nothing wrong with seriousness of purpose and a tragic aesthetic - and Wolfe absolutely nails both. The cold-sounding production works in her favour, too.

Abyss isn't easy listening because it's not meant to be. It's a piece of musical quicksand with something to say, and even if it's not an everyday listen, that counts for quite a lot in my book.

Here's the album on Bandcamp and the video to single Carrion Flowers.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Why yes, that is the album cover

Remember that moment in fashion a few years back when models swanned around in vintage metal T-shirts? Gold are the musical equivalent - raiding the closet for bullet belts and leather jackets and upcycling what they find into something approaching (gasp) pop music.

(why yes, that is the album cover)

It's all relative. I mean, their No Image album still comes with big, big riffs, thunderous drumming (mixed really high and sounding great) and songs which stand 'as a monument to civilisation's decline.' But the vocals are clean, the tunes average out around 4 minutes and mostly go verse/BIG CHORUS/verse.

You can listen to the whole album on Bandcamp here.  Or watch the video for The Controller below.

The overall effect is if Garbage (and singer Milena Eva does have a touch of the Shirley's about her vocally) had put out Vow and then decided to get heavier, without sacrificing any of the pop nous that made them so initially promising in the first place.

The opening trio of Servant, Old Habits and O.D.I.R (Only Death Is Real, natch) make No Image a real statement of intent, and while the album sags a little in the middle it also ends strongly .

Metallic art pop, then. Or pop art metal. Either way, Gold are doing something I don't hear a lot of bands doing at the moment, and doing it well.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Can I level up in writing in 2016?

As of now, this blog has been running for around five and a half years. I've clocked up over 500 posts or, to put it another way, a post every four days or so.

Not a bad innings at all. :)

The blog serves a number of functions for me. 

- A scrapbook of thoughts, images and reflections. 
- An exercise in writing practice 
- A space where I can express some of my own ideas and opinions in long-form 

I could (and did) do all of those things in a written journal when I was younger, but what a blog brings to the table is interactivity: it's a place where people can read what you've written and tell you what they make of it.

It's a way of taking a risk and putting part of yourself in the public domain - even if only a small part. And I've really enjoyed doing it.

The blog also is a fair reflection of my various interests - artistic and political - although I imagine that it lacks some coherency as a result. I haven't really pursued a single theme, and it follows that I've not really chased a specific audience either. That inconsistency has probably contributed to the fact that I've seen at best a modest growth in page-views over the years. 

Now, that doesn't take anything away from the blog - everything I've done has been worth doing for it's own sake. And thank you to everyone who has read any of my posts - it's very much appreciated.

But it does bring me on to the question of where I go from here, at this time of resolutions. Can I level up in writing in 2016? Can I write more ambitiously, in a way which gives the blog more focus and brings in readers and new opportunities?

I think I can, and there are three areas I'd like to focus on this year.

1. Fiction: this is the year I want to start regularly writing short fiction/spoken word/poetry to really build that creative muscle. I'm confident enough in the fragments I've left on the blog to feel that here is something worth developing, but I won't know unless I try. 

And I had a lightbulb moment towards the end of last year when I realised who and what I was writing for, which I think will help a great deal. :)

2. 'Decadent environmentalism': [UNDOUBTEDLY SELF INDULGENT KLAXON] at the risk of coming over like a pseud, I've been trying to work out my relationship with the environmental movement through a humanties/arts-based dialogue and I think I'm going to need to put it in long form if I'm going to get any answers. This post back in November points the way.

3. Narrowing down the reviews and criticism: the two good runs of reviews and critical reflection I've had over the past year have been around science-fiction, fantasy and especially the Hugo Award controversies and the ongoing culture clash of being a right-on ageing indie kid and learning to appreciate metal. Both good stories to tell, over and above the joys of reviewing for its own sake.

None of this means that I won't continue to use this blog as a convenient location for personal pieces or other things that don't fit the above description. But it will help providea direction of travel for my writing which will allow me to plan ahead, promote my work a little more beyond my friendship circle and hopefully connect with other like minds.

And like getting ready to run 5K - another ambition for this year - it will mean getting more organised. About what I write and when I write it.

What it could also lead to - if these strands become too disparate - is setting up another site to cover one or more of them. But we'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.

No peril in other cultures

Found a quote from Bruce Johansen in an old notebook which still seems relevant today.

"European culture is simply not imperilled by the existence of other cultures. Indeed, the peril has flowed in precisely the opposite direction."