Six Noises’ 2015 Extravaganza: Eccentrics and Experimentalists Part 1
Welcome to the first post of Six Noises’ end-of-year shenanigans. This year, as usual, I’ll be dispensing with any crotchety critic antics to simply let fly with a bunch of posts cataloguing a whole heap of first-rate metal, punk, eccentric and experimental rock, and a bunch of riotous New Zealand albums from 2015.
Basically, the intent behind all of the upcoming lists can be best encapsulated by those immortal words uttered by the sadly departed “Rowdy” Roddy Piper: “I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass … and I’m all out of bubblegum.” So expect an unapologetic and no-holds-barred barrage of music.
I’m not going to be ranking any albums. (Well, maybe one or two of ‘em, just to play favourites.) Mainly because I’ve got zero interest in deciding who is better or the best at this time of year. All I want to do is recommend some great music that I think you should hear. So I hope you discover a few gems.
As always, many thanks for stopping by Six Noises this year.
Happy holidays. And hail
Here’s Part 1 of some of my favourite experimental and eccentric rock releases from 2015. Part 2 will follow tomorrow.
Northumbria: Helluland (Cryo Chamber)
Northumbria create guitar and bass drones that are as achingly beautiful as they are mournful and transcendent. The Canadian duo’s 2015 masterpiece, Helluland, was inspired by the Norse discovery of Canada’s Baffin Island, and it was a soul-stirring and mist-shrouded album, infused with a sublime sense of mystery and wonder. No question, Helluland was one of 2015’s most haunting releases. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Can I recommend you listen to the entire 2015 output from a label? I guess I can. It’s my blog, after all. Honestly though, it’s really not hyperbole to say that dark ambient label Cryo Chamber (who released Northumbria’s Helluland) had an absolutely outstanding year in 2015. I’d wholeheartedly suggest you seek out releases from Atrium Carceri, Council of Nine, Sabled Sun, Ugasanie, and the fantastically chilling label-wide collaboration Azathoth.
Prurient: Frozen Niagara Falls (Profound Lore)
Prurient mainman Dominick Fernow is a prolific and provocative noise-maker, and his 2015 double LP, Frozen Niagara Falls, was his most creatively successful endeavour yet. Released via Profound Lore, a label with a long track record of issuing some of the most vital and challenging extreme music, Frozen Niagara Falls was an utterly fearless album. It was also highly imaginative. But, most of all, it was an extraordinary display of harsh noise transformed into incomparable art.
Locrian: Infinite Dissolution (Relapse)
Every subsequent release from experimental trio Locrian finds the band painting ever more fascinatingly detailed soundscapes. The band’s latest album, Infinite Dissolution, was firmly focused on an extinction narrative. However, with its mix of progressive rock, pitch-black metal, ambient electronics and percussion, Infinite Dissolution provided an unquestionably thrilling exit for humanity along the way. Another triumph from the always innovative Locrian.
Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (Harbinger Sound)
UK electronic duo Sleaford Mods are 10 times more punk rock than any guitar-wielding whippersnappers you’d care to mention. The band’s raging 2015 album, Key Markets, saw vocalist Jason Williamson spitting on-point and ill-mannered street sermons over Andrew Fearn’s jolting and jarring beats. Even better, Sleaford Mods’ rising popularity in recent times has only stoked the band’s fire and ire more. A furious and timely FUCK YOU to capitalism’s hollow promise.
Kreng – The Summoner (Miasmah)
Dark ambient sorcerer Kreng (Belgium-based Pepijn Caudron) is a maestro at conjuring nightmares. However, his latest work, The Summoner, didn’t summon any fictional demons. The album looked straight into the face of death and grief, with Caudron evoking the stages of mourning following the death of several of his close friends. In a first for Kreng, strings and live instrumentation were used on The Summoner, and the album was grimmer, more human, and more moving because of those new elements. An absolutely heart-rending classic.
MIR: In the Dust of this Planet (End of the Alphabet Records)
MIR say that they create “dark alien dronescapes”. Which is an ideal encapsulation of the fathomless sounds found on the band’s debut, In the Dust of this Planet. The album featured icy post-human electronics and tenebrous, mesmeric drones that you could get lost in for hours. Desolate, yes. But utterly beautiful in that bleakness. (See the recent feature I wrote on MIR’s label End of the Alphabet Records for more wonderful NZ weirdness.)
Ramleh: Circular Time (Crucial Blast)
You’d hardly call UK post-industrial titans Ramleh a conventional rock band. Yet, Ramleh’s 2015 double album, Circular Time, ended up being pretty damn rockin’ in parts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking pop-friendly hooks here. Circular Time featured amp-shattering guitar and bass, crushing squalls of noise, sky-high walls of distortion, and hallucinogenic meltdowns galore. But, amongst all that lysergic noise, wicked barbs were scattered. Meaning Circular Time featured some of the most alluring and tripped-out noise I heard all year.
Blown Out: Jet Black Hallucinations (Golden Mantra)
Blown Out features members from famed speaker-destroyers such as Bong and 11Paranoias, and it was no surprise to find Blown Out were following a heady and time-warping course on their fourth LP, Jet Black Hallucinations. The album featured three immense psychedelic jams awash in guitar-pedal delirium. Jet Black Hallucinations was Blown Out’s best album yet, but their other 2015 release, Planetary Engineering, is also well worth checking out too.
Daniel Menche and Mamiffer: Crater (SIGE Records)
Crater saw “stalwart noise technician” Daniel Menche working alongside Mamiffer (Faith Coloccia and ex-Isis frontman Aaron Turner) to channel the sound and feel of the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. The trio worked with live instrumentation and field recordings, processed via some outré studio wizardry, to conjure an immersive and enthralling experience. Obviously, Menche, Coloccia and Turner have all created acclaimed music before, but Crater’s uneasy yet enchanting audio adventuring represents some of their finest work yet.
Antony Milton: Streaming Black (PseudoArcana)
New Zealand sound artist Antony Milton’s own description of his 2015 album Streaming Black is perfect: “super loud apocalypse tinged pop songs, shoegazing sun scorched sad bliss that sounds like it was recorded using the same crap gear as Burzum in the early 1990s.” Released on Milton’s own (and always interesting) PseudoArcana label, Streaming Black was absolute no-fi heaven. It featured shimmering songs with rough-hewn riffs and washed-out vocals baked in waves of feedback and static.
Consumer Electronics: Dollhouse Songs (Harbinger Sound)
UK noise pioneer Philip Best started Consumer Electronics in 1982, when he was only 14 years old, before he went on to join controversial power electronics innovators Whitehouse. Point being, Best has history, all of it provocative, and while Consumer Electronics released an absolutely storming album in 2014 with Estuary English, this year’s Dollhouse Songs was even more brain-boiling and intense. With Sarah Froelich and multi-disciplinary artist Russell Haswell on board, Best wrapped blasts of ear-bleeding noise around sinister voices, injecting corrosive unease into every second of Dollhouse Songs.
Hills: Frid (Rocket Recordings)
Swedish band Hills remind me of fellow Swedes (and pioneering mind-melters) like Baby Grandmothers or Pärson Sound. Hills dig deep into the third-eye-opening realms of tripped-out rock, and the band’s third album, Frid, was filled with acid-fried tracks, rocketing into infinity. There’s no question that Frid’s mantric rhythms harked back to the most hallucinatory years of Scandinavian psychedelia. But it would do Hills a disservice to say they’re simply a throwback band. If anything, Frid showed a band searching for (and discovering) moments of pure rock ’n’ roll ecstasy.
I’m never going to get over the demise of Campbell Kneale’s formidable drone metal outfit Black Boned Angel. But the New Zealand-based (and globally renowned) musician/artist is doing an excellent job of releasing plenty of fucked-up and head-cracking noise via his Our Love Will Destroy the World project. The band’s 2015 album, Carnivorous Rainbows, threaded clangour through clatter on four deafening and certifiable songs. An ecstatic maelstrom. Well worth your time.
Steve Von Till: A Life Unto Itself (Neurot Recordings)
Steve Von Till’s A Life Unto Itself found the baritone-voiced Neurosis singer and guitarist exploring primarily acoustic and weatherbeaten spheres once again. Less psychedelic than the music recorded under Von Till’s Harvestman moniker, A Life Unto Itself nevertheless felt darkly atmospheric due to the subtle use of strings, synth and electric guitars. Von Till’s folk and country balladry, channelled via his distinctly “American Gothic” storytelling, served as a great reminder that sometimes the starkest music is the heaviest of all.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (Constellation)
Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, the fifth studio album from Canadian post-rock luminaries Godspeed You! Black Emperor, was an emotionally rich and involving release. At 40 minutes long, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress was shorter than your average GY!BE release. But that wasn’t due to any lack of captivating creative ideas or action. Some have said that the post-rock pool is stagnant these days, but the abundant inventiveness flowing through Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress definitely proved otherwise, over and over again.
Wolf Eyes: I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces (Third Man Records)
After what must be a zillion band and solo recordings, Wolf Eyes have yet to show any sign of an impending creative slump. The noise merchants’ 2015 album, I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces, released on Jack White’s Third Man Records, was as thoroughly uncompromising and utterly demented as ever. Any concerns that the band’s signing to Third Man Records would muffle their caterwauling was countered by mind-bending sounds and offbeat tracks of a singular vision. I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces was another in a very long line of compelling releases from Wolf Eyes.
Kill West: Smoke Beach (Echo Drug Recordings)
GIANT reverb riffs kicked off Buenos Aires-based Kill West’s full-length debut, Smoke Beach––and it was a king-sized six-string inferno from thereon in. Smoke Beach featured blues, surf rock, garage rock and krautrock, as well as a hefty dose of blissed-out shoegaze and dirty drone. But Kill West had zero problem incorporating all of that into a raucous display of red-hot psychedelic rock ’n’ roll. Smoke Beach totally smoked most of the other acid rock I heard all year. Definitely one of the greatest albums I stumbled on via Bandcamp in 2015.
Gruidés was one of two solo works released by Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley in 2015. The other being Éternelle Idole, a 47-minute score for choreographer Gisèle Vienne. Gruidés was commissioned by the Paris-based l’Orchestre de Nouvelles Créations, Expérimentations et Improvisation Musicales, and featured a single 35-minute drone played by jazz, classical and avant-garde musicians. Gruidés was built on increasing layers of tautness, with notes stretched and nail-bitingly sustained. Much like Sunn O)))’s recent Kannon, Gruidés dealt in both ratcheting tension and the liberation of release.