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BLACKEST EVER BLACK

Rat Columns

Fooling Around EP

    Blackest Ever Black presents Fooling Around, a new E.P. from David West’s Rat Columns. The title track is nothing short of a modern rock ’n roll classic: co-written by West and Mikey Young (Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring et al) it appeared in truncated form on Rat Columns' album Leaf (R.I.P. Society, 2014), but this is the first time that the original, longer, and definitive version has been given the vinyl pressing it so richly deserves. Its combination of void-chasing motorik, moody jangle, West’s plaintive vocal delivery and Young’s spaced-out synth embellishments makes for a song at once elegiac and relentless: think Splendour of Fear-era Felt or David Kilgour at his dreamiest, strapped to the engine of Neu!’s ‘Für Immer’, and you’re in the zone. The three cuts on the flip confirm the status of Perth native West (veteran of Rank/Xerox, Lace Curtain and Total Control among others) as one of the most powerfully accomplished songwriters in the underground today: the choppy riffage, breakneck tempo and zig-zagging melody of ‘Living In The New World’ summon Orange Juice or Modern Lovers, but with a darker, more delirious edge; ‘Strays’ reprises the swooning, summer-death psychedelia of ‘Fooling Around’; and bedroom-recorded stalker’s lament ‘Should I Leave You Alone?’ brings the EP to a perfectly bittersweet climax, as square-jawed dub bass, chewy tape FX and West’s downcast vox yield to baroquely beautiful guitar phrasing and limpid Moog tone-float. Available on 12” vinyl with picture sleeve, insert and download code (edition of 500)

    You Know What It’s Like is an album for inbetween days, and occupies inbetween states: plain-speaking pop, disorientated by dub. Psychedelic folk delivered with (post-)punk economy. Drifting in space while still tethered to the ground. Astral tones blurred with earth sounds: wood, bone, breath, skin, dirt. Ending and beginning, dying and becoming. Longing for adventure and an unquiet life. Struggling to get out of bed. This is Carla dal Forno’s debut solo album, following time in cult Melbourne group Mole House and an earlier association with Blackest Ever Black as a member of F ingers and Tarcar. Her voice is an extraordinary instrument: both disarmingly conversational and glacially detached. It has something of the bedsit urbanity of Anna Domino, Marine Girls, Antena, or Helen Johnstone - stoned and deadpan - but it can also summon a gothic intensity that Nico or Kendra Smith would approve of. This voice is the perfect embodiment of dal Forno's emotionally ambiguous songs: their lyrics rooted in the everyday, observing and exposing a series of uncomfortable truths. This voice asks difficult questions of singer, subject, and sung-to. And of course there are no simple answers. Singles ‘Fast Moving Cars’ and ‘What You Gonna Do Now?’ weigh up claustrophobia against loneliness, inertia against acceleration, doubling down versus taking off; the title track acknowledges the provisional nature of love and “real” intimacy, then decides to brave it anyway. By the time we arrive at the startlingly sparse ‘The Same Reply’, the impermanence of all things is something that can no longer be tolerated, and the sense of dejection is absolute. The vocal-led pieces are interspersed with richly evocative instrumentals, like Eno’s Another Green World reimagined in shades of brown and blue. Smothered in tape-hiss and reverb, the seasick synthesizer miniatures ‘Italian Cinema’ and ‘Dragon Breath’ channel the twilit DIY whimsy of Flaming Tunes and Call Back The Giants. ‘DB Rip''s drum machine and bassline are pure Chicago house, but then its dark choral drones nod to Dalis Car's dreams of blood-spattered Cornwall stone. ‘Dry The Rain’ drinks from a stream of eldritch, home-brewed moon musick that runs through Coil, In Gowan Ring, Third Ear Band, even the Raincoats’ Odyshape, and into the woods.

    An EP from Carla dal Forno containing four new, obliquely confessional dispatches from the edge zones of feeling. It marks both a refinement of the dub-damaged, inward-looking bedsit pop essayed on her 2016 debut album You Know What It’s Like, and an evolutionary leap. While there is warmth and intimacy to come, The Garden opens with a cold hard stare: ’We Shouldn’t Have To Wait’, an unexpectedly confrontational companion piece, or response, to her own 'Fast Moving Cars’.

    This is not a dazed reverie, but forceful, fatalistic, void-chasing drone-rock led by a stalking, venus-in-furs bassline that levels everything in its path. No longer gazing from afar at fast moving cars, but behind the wheel of one, driving pretty recklessly. No particular destination in mind, but impatient to get there. ‘Clusters’, then, is the sound of (unexpected) arrival in something close to paradise, and slowing down the better to take it in: a bright, imagistic, electronic pop fantasy in the tradition of Stereolab, Broadcast or Saint Etienne, with lyrics plucked and rearranged from the pages of a National Geographic article.

    Dal Forno's voice, newly prominent and minimally accompanied, sounds close to contented, but also worldly-wise and not a little suspicious of her surroundings…the only problem with paradise is the people in it. ‘Make Up Talk’, written last summer in Melbourne, is a tense, awkward unpicking of a dysfunctional relationship (aren't they all), its murky sound design, thrift-store percussion and lyrical starkness pegging it as the closest relation to You Know What It’s Like, and perhaps also the closing of that particular chapter. The EP’s title track - and its clear climax - pays tribute to Einsturzende Neubauten’s song of the same name, but shifts the action to nighttime, and brings an acutely female perspective to bear on it: here the garden is a place of beauty and refuge, sure, but also one of hidden menace and threat…things that lurk. 

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Barry says: Another brilliant suite of downbeat neo-gothic killers from Dal Forno & Gang. Spooky, entrancing and richly evocative, this will be at home in any record collection.

    Blackest Ever Black presents "Sleep Heavy", the debut album of broken-hearted, downtempo R&B/street-soul and supremely atmospheric, introspective electronics from Jabu: a trio comprised of vocalist / lyricists Alex Rendall and Jasmine Butt, and producer Amos Childs. The group was born out of Bristol’s Young Echo collective: an ecosystem unto itself which has birthed and nurtured a number of other notable soundsystem-rooted projects and artists to date including Kahn & Neek, Sam Kidel, Ishan Sound, Ossia, Asda, chester giles (the title Sleep Heavy comes from a giles poem) and Killing Sound (Childs with Kidel and Vessel).Jabu’s previous 7” singles, though arresting, barely hinted at the level of accomplishment and emotional heft that Sleep Heavy delivers.

    It’s a future Bristol classic with a universal resonance, with songs that are highly personal but deeply relatable, and tripped-out, time-dissolving sound design that both haunts and consoles. It is, first and foremost, a meditation on grief, on loss, making sense of separation and death; but it also looks forward to what might come after the aftermath: healing, acceptance, the chance to begin again.Childs is one of the most gifted producers of his generation and his work here, grounded in hip-hop but floating free, is a thing of sustained wonder: crepuscular, melancholic – funereal, at times – subtly psychedelic and heavily dubwise, but always concise and purposeful. Stitched together from deep-dug and beautifully repurposed samples, it draws on influences from US R&B to Japanese art-pop minimalism – Mariah to Mariah Carey, if you will – and a rich seam of underground UK soul, boogie, DIY/post-punk, library music and lovers rock; refining and reconstituting these inputs into powerfully immersive, emotionally ambiguous soundscapes as eloquent and engaging as they are understated and bottomlessly mysterious.


    This is Amateur Childbirth’s Christian Rock album. The previous LP from Ivan Matthew David’s solo project, 2015’s Pripyat, concerned itself with the blighted belief systems of UFO worshippers, Your Afterlife Is Cancelled expands this compelling solo project’s field of enquiry to look at a wider array of “religious anomalies” – cults, for want of a better word. Each song is about a different such anomaly.To call Hicks’ vision apocalyptic would be to underplay its cruelty. The Bible’s rampant sadism pales in comparison. This is a world where faith – in a god or gods, in astrology, morality, or any meaning whatsoever – is merely a prelude to punishment.

    His lyrics are vivid glossaries of pain, abjection and indignity; the songs’ protagonists swim in blood, piss, shit and ejaculate. Eschatology and scatology are indivisible here. Drugs are rampantly abused, albeit to little benefit. There are scalpel-flashes of humour in David’s wordplay, rhyming and dour Brisbane diction – but this offers scant consolation for the songs’ embattled subjects, who wait, in vein, for salvation, while crows peck out their eyes, blood pours from their ears, and psoriasis ravages their skin.These words, for all their pessimism and body-horror, are cradled in minimalist, folk-rock arrangements that are quite dazzling in their beauty and grievously earned simplicity: Hicks’ monochord strum embellished with subtle violin, synthesizer and percussion shading. Amateur Childbirth’s caustic end-times worldview inevitably prompts comparisons with Current 93, but also a wider (non-)tradition of caustic and disturbed loner psych that includes Simon Finn, Patrik Fitzgerald, Robyn Hitchcock, Peter Jefferies and Roy Harper.Your Afterlife Is Cancelled is a depressive tour de force from one of the most crushingly eloquent voices in the Australian underground. 

    Af Ursin

    Aura Legato

      Blackest Ever Black presents a new vinyl edition, and the first CD edition, of Af Ursin’s 2005 masterpiece 'Aura Legato'. Af Ursin is the alter ego of Finnish autodidact composer / improviser Timo van Luijk. His work is rooted in the use of acoustic instruments (wind, percussion, strings), but his special sensitivity to the timbral qualities of each instrument, and his deft blurring of them, results in a sound-world that is mysterious, amorphous and hallucinatory, full of suggestive shadows, creaks and whispers. Informed by years of intensive listening to various types of free music, exploratory drug use and especially the “irregular organic forms” of the Belgian countryside where he resides, van Luijk’s process begins always with pure improvisation: music played in an intuitive, sensual way, without the employment of conscious technique. He performs and overdubs each instrumental component himself, and out of this process micro-structures and loose arrangements emerge: the piece becomes an improvised composition. Over time he has evolved his own richly poetic musical language, full of allusions to drone, acid folk, classical, Musique concrète and jazz, but beholden to none. 'Aura Legato' is one of van Luijk’s darker and more acutely psychedelic offerings: a work of profound interiority, but one that also conjures images of old Europe and fin-de-siècle decadence – dabblings in Thelema, the fog of the opium-den – and has earned comparisons to Third Ear Band, Nurse With Wound, Mirror and HNAS. Fully remastered and housed in die-cut sleeve with gold detailing and individually hand-glued labels.

      Tarquin Manek

      Tarquin Magnet

        A unique synthesis of time-dilating folk-jazz romanticism, brittle chamber dub and plasmic post-techno electronics, "Tarquin Magnet" is Australian artist Tarquin Manek’s first full solo release on Blackest Ever Black, but by no means his first contribution to the label: he is one half of Tarcar (with Carla dal Forno) and a member of F ingers (with dal Forno and Sam Karmel), while his track "Not Missing You" features on the BEB compilation "I Can’t Give You The Life You Want". Manek has been busy elsewhere, too: he released "Th Duo", an LP made under his LST alias, on Another Dark Age earlier this year. The disturbed and enchanted environments of "Tarquin Magnet" are the result of improvisation, domestic field recording and fastidious editing; for all its rough textures and strange juxtapositions, this is masterfully mixed and arranged music, its deep spatial dynamics and higher dub logic powerfully apparent. 

        Bremen

        Eclipsed

          Bremen return with a new double-LP of glacial electronics, strung-out drone-punk and smouldering space-rock minimalism, 'Eclipsed'.

          Following the release of their self-titled debut on Skrammel in 2013, the Swedish duo of Jonas Tiljander (Brainbombs) and Lanchy Orre (Brainbombs, Totalitär) joined the Blackest Ever Black fold with last year’s 'Second Launch'. If the mood of that record was brooding and stygian, its monochord intensity unfaltering, then 'Eclipsed', their equally sprawling new set, could be construed as a warmer, more dynamic and variegated offering. Perhaps. There are still passages that are heavier than a death in the family. Still a staunch obsession with the consciousness-altering power of repetition.

          The band’s points of departure are specific: a particular organ sound from J.A. Seazer 1970s recordings, the squalid alien guitar tone of Chrome, the cranked, psychic roar-out riffage of Hawkwind, the melancholic mode of Swedish jazz pianist Jan Johansson, minimalism from La Monte Young to Eleh, “cold eighties electronic sound”, and sloppy, lo-fi psychedelic rock from the likes of Pärson Sound and Träd Gräs och Stenar. Tiljander’s icily poised synth / organ drones and the grieving cosmic howl of Lanchy’s guitar dominate the landscape, but their instrumental palette has also expanded to include various percussion treatments, saxophone, strings, dissolved vocal fragments. Their exploratory jamming, overdubbing and dub-savvy mixing yields a music of unbelievable eloquence and physicality.

          'Eclipsed' is another masterpiece of black hole psychedelia from one of the greatest underground rock’n’roll units on the planet. No serious void-worshipper’s collection is right without it.

          'Dark Pool' is the new studio album from Black Rain, the project’s first in 18 years. Produced in New York City by Stuart Argabright, Black Rain’s founder and figurehead, 'Dark Pool' is a work of hard-edged sonic fiction rooted in cyberpunk's quintessential neo-noir cityscape / dataspace but projecting into a farther future of biotechnological advancement and alienation. Partly inspired by the writings of Philip K. Dick protégé K.W. Jeter (particularly 1996’s 'Edge Of Human', which picked up where Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner left off), and Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2009 novel The Windup Girl, a vision of 23rd century Thailand plagued by genetic and economic terrorism, 'Dark Pool’'s humid dystopia is also acutely Ballardian in its vision of manmade and natural worlds encroaching upon each other: a vivid psychogeography of half-submerged high-rises and hidden jungle laboratories.

          Stuart Argabright first landed in New York in 1978. By day, he worked as a landscape gardener for the upscale likes of Rock Hudson and Bob Dylan, while at night involving himself in all manner of subcultural activity. He co-founded seminal no wave minimalists Ike Yard (whose early 1980s work has been cited as an influence by the likes of Kode9, Young Echo and Silent Servant), collaborated with the late Rammellzee in futurist hip-hop outfit Death Comet Crew and as Dominatrix scored a bona fide club hit with the downtown electro classic ‘The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight’ (1984).

          In 2013 Black Rain released an EP of live recordings, 'Protoplasm', on BEB. Three of the EP’s four tracks appear here on 'Dark Pool' in radically revised and expanded form: the stuttering ribofunk of ‘Endourban’ is now anchored by ominous string pads faintly redolent of Argabright’s labelmates Raime, while ‘Data River’ revisits the accelerated beat-stream of 'Black Rain'’s 1996 album Nanarchy, and the low-slung ‘Protoplasm’ has evolved into a sprawling, syncopated techno epic - the sound of red dawn rising on an illegal replicant rave. A further seven new productions feature. ‘Burst’, its title perhaps a nod to Sogo Ishii’s 1982 biker gang saga Burst City, harks back to the scrap-metal-banging brutalism of 'Black Rain' mk.1; ‘Xibalba Road Metamorph’, the album's angry, anguished centrepiece, externalises the sadness and self-loathing of Jeter’s oppressed post-human workforce. ‘Night In New Chiang Saen’ reimagines dub as the viral product of one of AgriGen’s morally suspect scientific initiatives in The Windup Girl, before ‘Who Will Save The Tiger?’ calls upon spidery, Metalheadz-esque breakbeats and wailing guitar drones to summon a 23rd century Ark. Vocals (on 'Profusion' and 'Profusion II') from Zoe Zanias (Keluar), and a brief spoken intervention from Sean Young (who of course played Rachel in Blade Runner) are simply the most audible manifestations of a dejected feminine presence that haunts the entire album. For all its textual references, 'Dark Pool' is a visceral and straight-talking affair: its bodyhammer rhythms and brooding sound design require no explanation for their impact to be felt.

          Blackest Ever Black presents to you 'Dead Unique', an album by Officer! recorded in 1995 but - outrageously, inexplicably - never before released into the public domain. This then is not a reissue or a revival; it’s a new record that just happens to have been maturing in the cask for, oh, a little shy of 20 years. It also happens to be a lost classic of English art-rock, and the crowning achievement in the career of its mercurial creator, Mick Hobbs. Londoner Hobbs’ roots are in the fecund RIO scene of the late ‘70s and early 1980s, initially as guitarist in The Work (alongside Bill Gilonis, Rick Wilson and Henry Cow’s Tim Hodgkinson), and subsequent related groupings The Lowest Note, The Lo Yo Yo, and The Momes. Over the course of the decade he became closely associated with This Heat and their Cold Storage studio in Brixton, working with the likes of Flaming Tunes, Family Fodder, Catherine Jauniaux and Zeena Parkins, to name but a few. Officer! - the project that this incorrigible collaborator and connector calls his own - surfaced in 1982 with a cassette tape entitled 'Eight New Songs By Mick Hobbs'. It marked the blossoming of a singular writer and improvisor, with a gift for plangent melody, ingenious arrangement and lyrics at once caustic and courtly, playful and profound (two songs from this tape, ‘Life At The Water’s Edge’ and ‘Dogface’, have been remastered for a limited edition 7” release on Blackest Ever Black later this year). The Cold Storage-recorded 'Ossification' LP arrived a year later, followed by 'Cough' (1985) and 'Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes' (1988). Megaphone Records, responsible for 'Ossification'’s recent 30th anniversary reissue, rightly describe it as “one of the most unusual, pleasurable and character-filled ‘pop’ records anyone has heard… a timeless anomaly in the history of recorded music.”

          By the start of the 1990s Hobbs had joined Jad Fair’s Half Japanese (he continues to play in that group as well as Strobe Talbot, a trio with Fair and Benb Gallaher). In the early months of ’95, Half Japanese were in Baltimore to record their 'Hot' LP; Hobbs stayed on to cut the bulk of the songs that comprise Officer!’s 'Dead Unique' - songs drawn from a rich store of material written and refined in the seven years since the band’s last outing - with a talented assemblage of local and visiting musicians. Returning to the UK, Hobbs brought the tracks to producer Julia Brightly to mix at her 16-track home studio in Bethnal Green; by the end of the summer, 'Dead Unique' had taken shape. And then? Nothing. For reasons that no one, least of all Hobbs, can remember, 'Dead Unique' was shelved, all but forgotten about until 2012, when Blackest Ever Black chanced upon it while trawling the Officer! archive maintained for Hobbs by Andrew Jacques. Finally, rightfully, on May 26th, 2014, the album will be made available to all for the very first time - on double-vinyl and CD.

          A complex but thrillingly immediate avant-pop song cycle that charms and confounds at every turn, Dead Unique will give immense pleasure not only to Officer!’s existing cult following, but to anyone with an appreciation of piquant, idiosyncratic songcraft – fans of Kevin Ayers, Flaming Tunes, Art Bears, Woo, Dislocation Dance, R. Stevie Moore, Robert Wyatt, Cleaners From Venus, Lol Coxhill or The Monochrome Set should especially pay attention. It touches upon ragged-raw rock ‘n roll, sumptuous chamber music, pastoral folk, blowsy prog-jazz and paranoid dub-space, effortlessly shifting from skronking abstraction to rousing harmonic refrain and back again. 'Dead Unique' is also the culmination of Hobbs’ lifelong collaborative impulse: his visionary ability to bring musicians together, galvanise them and wrestle coherence out of the collective free play of ideas, arriving at something far more than the sum of its parts. The tension between composition and improvisation is key to the LP’s power, with Hobbs abetted by an extraordinary supporting cast that includes Tim Hodgkinson (bass clarinet), Pleasant Livers’ Fred Collins (vocals), Legendary Pink Dots’ Patrick Q (violin), filmmaker/animator Martha Colburn (vocal), Gilles Rieder (drums), Jad Fair (vocals) and Jason Willett (bass, keyboards, trumpet). Special mention must go to John Dierker, whose superbly expressive clarinet and saxophone parts are a fixture throughout, and to Joey Stack, who takes lead vocals on ‘Good’ and the show-stopping ‘Elephant Flowers’. Nonetheless it is the voice of Hobbs – as principal writer, performer and protagonist of these songs – that resonates most powerfully. Blurring the roles of storyteller, poet and prankster, he turns memorable line after memorable line, booby-trapping them with mischievous puns, fleet-footed literary allusions, sudden digressions and shifts of register, nonsense rhymes and other wordplay. But his acute wit and flair for the absurd is moored by a deep romantic sensibility, and though it delights in the minutiae of the human comedy, 'Dead Unique' ultimately addresses its biggest themes: love, loss, commitment, independence, the mutability and inconstancy of all things.

          Retrieval is the debut collaborative album from Faith Coloccia and Alex Barnett. Artist and composer Coloccia was a founding member of Everlovely Lightningheart, and is perhaps best known as one half of Mamiffer. She has contributed to recordings by House Of Low Culture, Boris and William Fowler Collins among others, and collaborations with Circle and Daniel Menche are forthcoming. Alex Barnett played in Oakeater but since 2009 has been active primarily as a solo artist, with releases on Catholic Tapes, DRAFT, Nihilist and others. Following an initial exchange of ideas, the bulk of Retrieval was recorded over three intensive days at Otic Sound in Vancouver, with Coloccia contributing treated vocals, tape-manipulated acoustic recordings and AM radio sounds, and Barnett adding an array of synth instruments to create further loops, drum sounds and other rhythmic elements.They then reconvened at AVAST! studio in Seattle for a final session of mixing and editing with engineer/producer Randall Dunn. The resulting LP is about time and place, synthesis and environment. It's an invitation into the woods, to find that which reveals itself only to the lost. A grave, deeply introspective work, pastoral in essence but cosmic in scope. Opening with the stately, medievalist sequences of 'Harbor', Retrieval's narrative takes in subdued techno abstraction ('Hallway'), chrondritic psychedelia ('So, How Much Do You Know About Me?'), saw mill gear-grind ('Repeating Pit') and eldritch noise invocations ('Retrieval', 'Bird's Eye'). Throughout, it invigorates without consoling.

          'An Ambassador For Laing' is the debut album by Dalhous. Arriving in the wake of their recent 10", Mitchell Heisman, it's due to be released by Blackest Ever Black in May 2013. The Edinburgh-based duo of Marc Dall and Alex Ander work with intricately stacked percussion, dubwise bass and a rich harmonic tapestry of processed voices, keys, harp, vibraphone, guitar, woodwind, strings and synthesiser - every sound re-sampled to the nth degree then subjected to subtle automation and rigorously fine-tuned over a period of many months. From the mesmerised pastoral drift of 'Anger Sees Red' and 'Dwelling By The Meadow' to agitated arabesques like 'The Physical Body' and the self-titled 'Dalhous', the resulting pieces explore dreamlike but treacherous terrain. Eleven questions in a world of blue


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