Recorded in a few short, improvised hours one day in May 2017 by the trio of Aidan Baker (Nadja), Simon Goff (Molecular), and Thor Harris (Swans, Thor & Friends), Noplace is an album that possesses the kind of depth that would never hint at the way it was created, even if it has been edited down from that improvised session. Hypnotic in the most wonderful of ways, Noplace is an album that creates a psychedelic haze, taking the listener to some place more relaxing and spiritually cleansing than whatever place you may find yourself physically within. This is music that is good for the soul.
Last year’s Songs From The Life of BearsEP by noemienours was an unexpected delight, an achingly tender and beautiful collection of four songs themed around animal rights. Cloaked in tape hiss and fragile vocals, the EP was the kind of record perfectly suited to late-night solitude, full of melancholy. Follow-up Bear Meditations LP picks up where that EP left off, offering a half hour of low-fi, slow and sparse lullabies that are all the more effective for how gentle they are, and serves as an apt demonstration that there’s more ways to get your message across via music than shouting and screaming.
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.
Sometimes, the most disturbing aspects in art are the most human. Whilst extra-dimensional Lovecraftian creatures and blasphemous demons may have their own type of power and horror, they can be as nothing when compared with a well-placed spoken word sample. SWVMPS by rabitrup is proof of that were any ever needed. The music itself is powerful enough, mixing industrial, harsh noise, and even dubstep elements in to a challenging listen. But what really makes this three-track EP horrifying are the spoken word samples, which give the music extra context and power. If you’re feeling emotionally fragile or downcast, this is a record to avoid; but, if you want an experience of staring in to the void that is humanity, press ahead.
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.
Following on from Part I, which can be read here, here is the second installment of my favourite releases from this year; still in alphabetical order, and still full of awesome, wonderfully diverse music. The top five will follow soon, along with a few other reflections on the past year. But in the meantime, enjoy!
Songs From The Life Of Bears is very different to most of what is reviewed on this site, but it’s such a beautifully sad record that it’s worthy of covering. Comprised of four slow bedroom recordings, the music of noemienours is reminiscent of an ultra low-fi version of Grouper, with gently sung/spoken lyrics over sparse guitar or piano. The EP is so achingly tender and fragile that it can’t help but be charming in the best possible way, and is perfectly suited for late nights and loneliness. It’s probably the most deceptively beautiful record based on animal rights and bears that you’re likely to hear.