If you’re in the market for something to get sad to, then Vases is just what you’re after. The collaboration between dark electronics musician Wet Nurse. and Matt Finney is bleak, depressing, and possessed of a certain beauty. This is music for staying up late, wondering where it all went wrong and feeling powerless to do anything about it. And yet, as unappealing as that may make it sound, there’s something about Vases that makes it easy to listen to for hours at a time, sinking in to its dark, melancholy embrace.
2016 has been the year that saw me listen to, and review, more music than ever before. For every release that gets reviewed, there’s several that I don’t have the time to write something on; or that I listen to, but simply don’t get excited over. It’s also worth bearing in mind the purposes of this blog – exploring the underground. With the odd exception (such as the new Darkthrone), I have no interest in writing in the “big” releases; I want to help give some exposure and coverage to the small and underground, not go chasing whatever review or feature will get me the most hits. I’d also point out that it’s easy to lose sense of what actually is mainstream and underground when you spend so much time immersed in music. Sure, everyone may have access to Bandcamp and Youtube and a legion of Spotify recommendations, but it’s easy to overestimate just how big our favourite bands are.
That said, there’s still some mainstream releases I’ve really enjoyed this year and want to share some thoughts on in another post. But here, I want to take the time to give shout-outs to those more underground releases which didn’t quite make the cut for my list of 25 favourites of the year.
And so here we are, fast approaching the end of 2016, and what a year it has been. Leaving aside all that has happened in the world at large, there have been plenty of worthwhile releases in the world of underground music (and even some decent mainstream ones, too). Over these posts, I’ll be picking out some of my favourites – albums, EPs, and demos that kept me coming back for more, and which have shaped my impression of 2016 in a musical sense. The first few posts will go through records in alphabetical order; it’s only once we reach the end that I’ll assign a ‘top 5’, and also give a brief overview of some releases that didn’t quite make the cut, and even a handful of mainstream highlights. Just because you can buy something in a HMV, it doesn’t always mean it’s shit.
The usual disclaimer applies – these are my favourites, which means they are not necessarily the best records of the year. There’s far more released than I can keep track of, and to hold even 25 records up and say “these are the best” feels dishonest. And, as you might expect, there is some cross-over with my summer ‘best of 2016 so far‘ list. But, whatever. Enough of this. On to the first part of the list.
Apathy isn’t really an album to be enjoyed. Whilst there are lots of elements I like about the first full-length from Shrug, it is a bleak, harrowing listen, dealing as it does with issues of depression, illness, and suicide. It doesn’t shy away from any of its themes, confronting them with a straightforward approach that can be quite uncomfortable, and is remarkably honest. There’s no suicide idolatry here, no veneration of depression as artistic inspiration. Instead, there are elements of harsh noise, experimental electronics, and goth rock, resulting in something quite unusual, but very convincing and brave.
So, October has been pretty busy. There’s been quite a few big, exciting releases – not least of which are the new albums from Darkthrone and Planes Mistaken For Stars – and I spent a few days travelling around the country to see SubRosa on their first UK tour. Their shows were every bit as incredible as I hoped, and if you get the chance, I recommend you go see them.
For this month’s short review, there’s eclectic hardcore from Death By Fungi on In Dearth Of; psychedelic doom by Cities Of Mars with Celestial Mistress; discordant post-black metal by Simulacro on Echi Dall’Abisso; harsh soundscapes of Perennial Disappointment byConcrete Mascara, which is anything but disappointing; raw death/doom with black and folk elements onSangreal by Cóndor; and one of the most uncomfortable pieces of sludge/hardcore I’ve heard by Cowards on Still. Enjoy!
One of the most wonderful things about artistic creation is that you never really know where it will take you. Even though Photosynthesis started out as an attempt to write some quasi pop/classic pieces, you’d never know that from the finished product. What the duo of Dave Ball and Jon Savage have created instead is a haunting, delightfully organic album of ambient and experimental electronica. This is a record to sink in to, letting it take you on its journey to some other place, and it has a refreshing, almost cleansing feel to its retro soundscapes.
Minimalism is a difficult concept to get right. Go too minimal, and the music fades in to ephemerality, having all the impact of a whisper lost upon the wind. But there’s always the risk that an artist might put in too many elements to their intended minimal sound, utterly defeating the purpose of such a technique when something more conventional would, perhaps, be more effective. But Fade by Mancunian artist Schoolhouse strikes the right sort of balance, where the minimalism contributes greatly to the impact of the music. Possessed of a remarkable depth, Fade is not an easy album to understand, but it is one that holds deep rewards for those with the patience and determination to discover its full power.