Wellington, New Zealand musician Noel Meek founded and curates the critically applauded label End of the Alphabet Records. Over the past few years, the label’s built a considerable fanbase and released an increasing number of compelling recordings — including a few of Meek’s own. End of the Alphabet’s focus is on underground and outlier artists, and although the label’s dealt in a diverse range of outrémusic, a stubborn sense of nonconformity and audio adventurousness binds it all.
That desire to distort or subvert the familiar is readily apparent on Meek’s three recent cassette (and digital) releases for End of the Alphabet. Each release finds Meek collaborating with a different experimental music luminary: namely Richard Youngs on Lullaby for Lubieniecki, Neil Campbell on (the eyes don’t have earlids), and Norwegian noise-maker Lasse Marhaug on The Empty Brain.
Each artistic pairing represents End of the Alphabet’s unconventional aesthetic extremely well. Although, dissecting the kind of music that Meek and co create risks spoiling the strange and unscripted magic therein.
Still, here goes.
It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve spoiled a party.
Recorded in NZ and the UK, (the eyes don’t have earlids) sees Meek collaborating with West Yorkshire experimental musician Neil Campbell (Vibracathedral Orchestra, Astral Social Club etc). Like many long-running musicians with an interest in improvised compositions, Campbell’s produced an extensive catalogue of solo and collaborative releases — although I’m really only familiar with his work under those aforementioned monikers.
That’s okay, though. Because there’s a touch of Vibracathedral Orchestra’s psychedelic drone in the lengthy tracks that Campbell and Meek craft on (the eyes don’t have earlids). “Lit from Underneath” is a gurgling fun-fair drone with glitching sci-fi electronics and telegraphed code embedded in the mix. Follow-up, “Dirty Snowball”, is ear-piercing in parts, and the track flits from shimmering to stabbing, emphasising that the background musical movements throughout are just as important as any upfront noise.
The album’s last transcendent track, “Golden Lion”, is a 20-minute drone blizzard. It’s washed-out and blissed-out, and the track echos with abrading yet somehow still embracing electronics. “Golden Lion” works its way towards a nerve-twisting peak, and if you can hang on during its undulating latter-half, you’ll love the rest of (the eyes don’t have earlids). I know I sure did.
Lullaby for Lubieniecki finds Meek working with another legend of UK experimental music: prolificGlasgow-based musician Richard Youngs. Like Campbell above, Youngs been making off-kilter music since the early 90s, and he also has a huge catalogue of solo and collaborative recordings that often defy easy classification. Youngs contributes vocals, percussion, and keyboards on the otherworldly Lullaby for Lubieniecki, but he also puts his skills to use mixing and editing the release.
Lullaby for Lubieniecki is broken into five sections (“Part 1” to “Part 5”), although there are no sharp or uncomfortable breaks in the overarching mood or exposition. All told, Lullaby for Lubieniecki features around 30 minutes of slow-moving percussion that chimes, clangs, peals, and reverberates with hypnotic impact. Percussion sits at the forefront on much of the recording, but kosmic electronics are woven in to create a meditative and almost spellbinding atmosphere.
Certainly, Lullaby for Lubieniecki mixes a mesmeric tempo with mantric music. Its soothing environment is very different in content, concept, and constitution to (the eyes don’t have earlids). However, both releases showcase the ecstatic effect of compelling music given space to unfurl and engulf.
Of Meek’s three releases, it was his collaboration with Norwegian noise maestro Lasse Marhaug on The Empty Brain that I was looking forward to hearing the most. Marhaug’s vast and respected catalogue is replete with glorious free-noise hurricanes and improvised, ear-destroying freak-outs, and he’s well-versed in sculpting slower and more sombre soundscapes too.
Marhaug mixed and mastered The Empty Brain after Meek heavily edited the noise they crafted together in Olso, in May 2016. And I was excited to sit down with The Empty Brain, because you never know what a Marhaug collaboration is going to produce. It could be a serious brain-boiling wall of noise. Or it might be a more playful collection of unhinged electronics. In this case, The Empty Brain is a bit of both.
Meek and Marhaug mix vibrant and even giddy electronics with glimpses ofscorched-earth sonics and off-kilter transitions on the album. Dynamic tracks “Moth 5” and “Tripple Mammal” gurgle and hiss with tripped-out electronics, while harsher stabs of noise are threaded in throughout. Minimalist/formless rhythms on “Noble Eightfold Path” oscillate with unease. And the glitching and twitching electronics on “The Best Buddha Quotes” defy sedate meditative musings.
Creeping sci-fi thrills return on “Warm Blooded Creatures”; the track’s skittering and pulsating waves of noise working their way under the skin in an alien fashion. The Empty Brain finishes with its 12-minute title track, where Meek and Marhaug turn squawking and squealing electronics inside out, incrementally adding layers of stranger sounds and steadily applying more and more pressure until the track’s mind-melting zenith.
It’s not often you’ll find an artist or label releasing a trio of fascinating releases at the exact same time. Although, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that Meek and his friends have produced such diverse and engrossing music, given End of the Alphabet’s reputation for delivering just that, time and again.
Meek’s collaborations with Campbell, Youngs, and Marhaug all highlight different spheres of experimental music. But, more importantly, those collaborations showcase just how creatively successful a meeting of adventurous musical minds can be. No question, it’s great to see Meek collaborating with such respected figureheads of experimental music. But it’s also pretty clear that he’s well on his way to joining that club too.
Physical and digital copies of all the releases covered here are available from End of the Alphabet’s Bandcamp page — including a limited edition triple tape and tote bag set.