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Cowtown

Fear Of...

    First album in 8 years from Leeds Devo-esque DIY punk trio, full of three minute pop blasts. Have previously toured with Deerhoof and Quasi.

    Surviving five years as a band on the UK underground scene is difficult to do, lasting for 20 takes a near miracle. However, Cowtown – Leeds formed and raised trio of Hilary Knott (keys/vocals), Jonathan Nash (guitars/vocals) and David Shields (drums) – arrive blinking into 2024 not only intact and able to celebrate two decades together as bandmates and friends, but armed with Fear Of… their first new record in eight years, and a collection of songs that hand-on-heart, away from the sales speak, may be their best work to-date.

    Friendship can keep a band going for so long, but it’s more than that that’s seen this ostensibly DIY band enjoy European tours with heroes Deerhoof and Quasi, play festivals at home and abroad, and during several periods of time in their history become the most requested hometown support in their native Leeds for any touring band worth their salt – not to mention their own ability to continually sell out shows up and down the UK with little to no backing.

    Other projects have come and gone – Nash perhaps most notably as drummer in Hookworms which has since evolved into Holodrum; Knott stepping further into the experimental undergrowth as Basic Switches, among other collaborative efforts – yet the band have remained. Their fizzed-up brand of Devo-esque punk full of pop smarts has never stood still, constantly being updated and tweaked to sound timeless and subsequently outlast whichever latest guitar sub-genre has cycled back into fashion once again. Always though, Cowtown have kept at their core a warm sense of humour, positivity and the cartoonishly abstract song writing sense that’s always felt like their own small corner of the musical world

    A 20-year habit is hard to kick though and the group came to the same conclusion as everyone else; which was to crack on and try not to fear the outcome – and so Fear Of… is here. Silly as it might be to say for a band whose members are living through middle age, there’s a newer maturity to Cowtown’s sound. That doesn’t mean a monotone faced dumbing down of the frenzied hooks and two-minute blasts that they’ve cornered the market in – heck, the 11 tracks here clock in at a combed 30 minutes or so – but there is the slightest of breathing spaces given here and there.

    Wonderboy II is a typically all-guns-blazing intro to the album but then they just as quickly change direction, with the angular march of Can’t Talk Now that purposefully strides into a big chorus rather than rushing breathlessly up to it as they might have done previously. As Close To Town As I Like It meanwhile glides along underneath Knott’s more measured turn on lead vocal; she takes centre stage on Sea Lions too which recollects Dolittle-era Pixies in its ascendant guitar riffs thudding percussion.

    There’s still plenty of moments where the trio take the clutch fully off, of course – Thru Being Zuul, Offend Kliph and Total Engagement are two tracks that are the kind of giddy, breathless slices of pop punk (not that kind) fun that the band have made their staple over the past 20 years. Currently Unavailable meanwhile is a suitable rousing finale that touches euphoric heights. Ultimately for Cowtown that search for positivity remains their guiding force; 20 years in and at times it can feel harder than ever for the trio to find it, but Fear Of… is the sound of a band who can still find celebration in the simple importance of being able to make music with your best mates. 

    TRACK LISTING

    Wonderboy II
    Can't Talk Now
    Thru Being Zuul
    Offend Kliph
    Total Engagement
    As Close To Town As I Like To Get
    Humble Practitioner
    No Excursions
    Sea Lions
    Peace In Our Time
    Currently Unavailable

    The Van Pelt

    Artisans & Merchants

      After twenty-five years of waiting, New York City cult indie favourites The Van Pelt have announced a March 17th release date for their upcoming fourth studio full-length, titled 'Artisans & Merchants'

      Reunion show soundchecks revealed that this band has a voice that was prematurely muted by their inability to see clearly in the thick of their rise.

      More than two decades later, The Van Pelt has returned to explore what was left behind with a new collection of songs, 'Artisans & Merchants.' This is not a reunion album. This is vindication. For lovers of The Van Pelt, listening to 'Artisans & Merchants' is like hearing the voice of a dear friend you haven't seen in years -- a friend you used to share countless beers with over banter that went nowhere other than delivering a solid night. Your friend is older, they've changed. In some ways you're worried for them, looks like they might be teetering on the brink of something. In other ways, it's the same old them, a nugget of a soul too unique to ever be altered. It's for those unfamiliar with The Van Pelt though for whom we should be truly jealous. This is a stand-alone album, incredible vital songwriting in and of itself regardless of the long history this band has. The climax of the single "Image of Health" perhaps describes the beautiful desperation best: "And you never felt more alive / Than when the priest came to read you your rites!"

      TRACK LISTING

      1. We Gotta Leave
      2. Image Of Health
      3. Artisans & Merchants
      4. Punk House
      5. Old Souls From Different Epochs
      6. Grid
      7. Cold Coconuts
      8. Did We Hear The Same Song
      9. Love Is Brutal

      Holodrum

      Holodrum

        FFO: Arthur Russell, Stealing Sheep, Neu!, Agar Agar, Galaxians.

        Holodrum are a new disco-infused synth-pop group, who feature members of Hookworms, Yard Act, Cowtown, Virginia Wing, Drahla and more.

        Maybe Holodrum were destined to start at this point. This might be the first time they’ve all officially worked together, but between Emily Garner (vocals), Matthew Benn (synth/bass/production), Jonathan Nash (drums), Jonathan Wilkinson (guitar), Sam Shjipstone (guitar/vocals), Christopher Duffin (sax/synth) and Steve Nuttall (percussion) they’ve shared bands, mixed each other’s records, promoted live shows and made music videos together in and around Leeds. As Holodrum, this is the seven-piece’s debut album, but the interlocking grooves and hot headiness of their repeato-rock-via-CBGBs dopamine hits have in one way or other been fermenting for years.

        “When it comes to doing music most bands fall between two extremes of doing it for some goal or as an end to itself” says Shjipstone. “I think Holodrum is about the joy and complexity of living, and I just hope to god everyone gets to have a good time doing it.”

        Ultimately the core of the group comes from Shjipstone and his former Hookworms bandmates Benn, Nash and Wilkinson. After their abrupt dissolution in late 2018, the four of them spent six months apart; Benn still had Xam Duo, his ongoing project with Virginia Wing and some-time James Holden & The Animal Spirits live member Duffin, Nash remains vocalist and guitarist of long-running DIY rockers Cowtown and helms his solo project Game_Program; and Shjipstone plays guitar with Yard Act. However, the four of them missed the sixth sense synergy they’d built-up playing together over a decade and soon enough demos were being swapped and new ideas were discussed.

        The vision of a large live electronic ensemble formed quickly. Friends were added: Duffin and Nuttall – who was keen to resurrect the double percussion interplay that he and Nash had been exploring as part of motorik trio Nope – joined first. Then animator and VIDE0 singer Garner crystallised the line-up by joining on vocals.

        “Apart from Emily, all of us had actually played together before in a covers band at a New Year’s Eve party at the Brudenell Social Club a couple of years ago, so we knew we could have fun together” says Benn. “So we set up to be a live party band early on. We wanted lots of people on stage having fun, playing for people that also wanted to have fun. It makes sense we take inspiration from bands like Tom Tom Club and Liquid Liquid; they were trying to help people to party at a point when New York was quite a scary and dangerous place – we’re doing the same, albeit in the face of a decaying world and a global pandemic.”

        Covid-19 hasn’t given them much opportunity to do that yet, with two fledgling shows in late 2019 to their name before festival appearances at the likes of Bluedot, Sounds From The Other City and Gold Sounds were scuppered last year. However, the six tracks on Holodrum crackle with the energy of the dancefloor. Opening cut 'Lemon Chic' – described by Garner as her “workout track” – starts out sparsely, with tight drum claps and burbling synths holding a teetering suspense before the whole thing’s prised open, allowing beaming saxophone skronk to shine in. Garner’s vocals bob and weave around the syncopations of the track’s building cacophony.

        It sets the stall for an album heavy on euphoria, built atop crisp interplaying percussion and acid-flecked grooves. At times Shjipstone provides a raw counterpoint on vocals, while elsewhere - like on the strutting, swirling disco of 'Free Advice' and 'Low Light'’s late night ping pong synths - the pair indulge in playful call and response as the instrumentation builds and contorts around them. 'Stage Echo' provides a respite of sorts halfway through, a swirling, fever dream of a track that peaks with big squelchy frequencies and cavernous reverb, before the album returns to its repetitious exercises in body-moving catharsis – underpinned at all times by a relentlessly propulsive rhythm section.


        STAFF COMMENTS

        Barry says: Neon synths, bright Go-Team-like vocals and funky disco beats come together into a wonderfully danceable maelstrom. There are parts that sound like 80's lipservice (that guitar sound is particularly evocative) but it never strays into anything standardised, remaining as confounding as the first notes would suggest. Wonderfully produced, and great fun throughout.

        TRACK LISTING

        1. Lemon Chic
        2. No Dither
        3. Free Advice
        4. Stage Echo
        5. Low Light
        6. Clean

        Dinked Edition Flexi Exclusive:
        7. Hypercoster

        Sweet Williams

        What's Wrong With You

          Cyclical chime and post-punk rumble from former Charlottefield man T House, taking in the strange majesty of Lungfish and the dread of The For Carnation. Sweet Williams exists as a vehicle for the creative endeavours of Thomas House (b. 1980, Eastbourne, England). Perhaps best known for the group Charlottefield with whom his unique musical language was developed, House has also been a part of musical projects as diverse as the thunderous gloop of Sloath, the sinister folk of Haress and the bottomless musical universe that is Joeyfat. House’s musical back catalogue could read like a treasure map of underground European music if you wished it to and were eager enough to follow it (you should).

          It is one such collaboration that spawned this new Sweet Williams record that you hold here – digitally – in your (virtual) hands. Sick and frustrated with the UK, House and his French partner moved to Zaragoza Spain in 2018 where House had formed a tight relationship with legendary post-punk group Picore (House playing guitar and bass for the group now since 2008). When younger, it is easy to buy into the idea that a band is a gang and roles within are sacred and fixed. This begins as an easy dogma to follow, but as time moves along (and you are moved with it), it becomes impossible to adhere still to those rules. People come and go. Life takes over. This is enough to make most people stop making music altogether. House experienced something of a revelation when it came time to put together Sweet Williams: the limitations of any given time would be embraced and treated as a collaborator, as opposed to a saboteur. Sweet Williams would work like a band, except fate and circumstance would be the only permanent member, the only creative director.

          So - this new Sweet Williams record was made in Zaragoza with the instrumental core of Picore as the band. Circumstance and limitations were fully embraced. Participants forced to be open to what was thrown at them. The result is 8 songs recorded almost live, 2 guitars, bass, drums, vocals. The same as Sweet Williams records that have come before but yet completely different. To these ears, there is a greater intensity to the musical interplay, with fewer moments of tranquillity or respite than previous records. The band appears giddy with the excitement of the moment and how spectacular and free they sound together. Awkward rhythms become soothingly pulse-like through repetition. Aggressive guitar clang and dissonance becomes beautiful through inspired interplay, strings ringing out against each other like bells drawn from some uncanny sense memory. A gruff voice is initially interpreted as an aggressor but soon becomes a friend and a guide.

          It is a wild ride. Tempting though it is to throw musical comparisons about, this record isn’t really one for genre classification. House seems to be playing a longer game than that. It instead feels like part of a body of work in the great tradition of bands like The Fall or Pere Ubu, or labels such as 4AD or Touch & Go. That’s not to say it sounds anything like those reference points but rather that it’s the latest step of a conscious creative journey that embraces change and fortunes (good and bad) in order to make a body of work that becomes its own genre, despite great variation within. “Of course we’d normally be trying to get you to come out and see us play these songs live. You could replicate the experience by drinking too much, sleeping in your clothes, not showering and then putting the new LP on, about early evening” Sweet Williams

          TRACK LISTING

          1. Dead Singer
          2. Steal It
          3. Stopper
          4. Five Perfect Darts
          5. Woods Demand
          6. White Table
          7. Slide Right Off
          8. Fucked Away 

          Grey Hairs

          Halloween (Live At JT Soar)

            “Halloween” is a recording of a Grey Hairs live gig on October 31st 2019 at JT Soar in Nottingham. Gringo Records are releasing it on purple vinyl. It is limited to 300 copies and that’s it: no re-press, no deluxe edition. Grey Hairs guitarist Chris Summerlin takes up the story: “When the idea of recording a live album was put forward, our film-maker friend David Lilley suggested he film a song too. He wanted to experiment with using as many cameras and vantage points as possible and that’s exactly what he did here – cameras on heads, cameras on guitars, cameras on cameras. We hope you like it as much as we do.

            People occasionally tell us we’re a “good live band”. I’ve never been sure – some bands we’ve been in have always been fairly predictable in their quality, always able to do a good show but this one is different and elusive somehow. You just can’t tell how something is going to go, even when you’re in the middle of it. So, in the name of balance and trust, before I tell you to buy this live record, I’m going to first tell you about the 3 worst Grey Hairs gigs to date, in no particular order.

            Which brings me neatly back to plugging this record to you. We’ve resisted the temptation to do a live album because we always felt this unpredictability was both our secret strength and our clear weakness. We could never guarantee any live record would capture us at our best and maybe putting us under the microscope would just be upsetting. I’m pleased we were convinced otherwise, the record captures the good and the bad of what we do perfectly, maybe even more so than the studio albums. We really hope you like it. Maybe we *are* a “good live band” after all?”

            TRACK LISTING

            01 Hydropona
            02 Serious Business
            03 Ghost In Your Own Life
            04 Red Paint
            05 Backwards
            06 Kernels Of Eyes
            07 Piss Transgressor
            08 The Chin (Pts I & II)

            Irma Vep

            Embarrassed Landscape

              Irma Vep is the on-going, evolving main vehicle for polymath musician Edwin Stevens and on Embarrassed Landscape the project has reached a zenith. Primarily recorded in Stevens’s adopted home town of Glasgow over two days with frequent collaborators Ruari Maclean and Andrew Cheetham, Embarrassed Landscape is an album that breathes in a fetid skip full of millennial dread, self-effacing anxiety and doubt before exhaling it as heartbreaking songs and ecstatic abandon. Following a series of limited releases spread out over the course of a decade, recorded in fits and starts around the United Kingdom as the protagonists wanderlust saw fit, Irma Vep’s 4th album proper presents Stevens’s vision in its fullest and most realised form.

              Built around the skeleton of Stevens’s songwriting and fleshed out with loose, virtuoso playing, it’s a body of work that could have been the anxious songs of an over-thinker but rendered here Embarrassed Landscape revels in a kind of un-selfconscious confidence. Indeed, various tensions throughout the album are constantly revealing. Lyrics are riven with poetic, crushing self-analysis and absurdity only to be performed against a backdrop of trance-rock music skewered with Stevens’s own instantly recognisable guitar playing, a style free and full of fire.

              Songs wring nuggets of uncanny truth out of prosaic, every day activities while sounding like Rolling Thunder Revue era-Dylan. Songs that seem hewn from some unspeakable personal pain are laced with a disarming streak of black humour, massive, world-ending psych jams that harken to Vibracathedral Orchestra’s wall of sound dissipate into tender songs that deserve to be picked apart and cried to. Tension needs release and here the release needs tension. For example, Opener King Kong is bold in several directions at once. A pummelling trance spurred on by the endlessly enjoyable interplay between drummer Andrew Cheetham’s free jazz-inflected style and Stevens’s barely contained guitar wildness, the music screes for 6 minutes of transportation on its own steam before Stevens’s vocal even comes in.

              Perhaps the biggest dichotomy at the heart of Embarrassed Landscape is between the unbridled energy of the songs’ performances, their often bold arrangements and the heartbreaking, darkly funny songwriting at their heart. Closing song Canary brings most of these tensions to a sweet end. Within the alternating crescendos of violin and guitar Stevens intones about canaries brushing teeth down sinks, alcohol abuse, ghostly images half-seen through the fug of depression yet saved somehow by the social crutches friends and lovers provide. Embarrassed Landscape feels like the album Irma Vep always threatened to make, by some strange alchemy transforming the anxieties and self-criticisms inherent in the lyrics into a liberation, a letting go, a release from the tensions built up by a life lived full.

              TRACK LISTING

              1. King Kong
              2. Disaster
              3. I Do What I Want
              4. Standards
              5. The Feeling Is Gone
              6. Tears Are The Sweetest Sauce
              7. Not Even 8. Purring
              9. Canary

              Sweet Williams

              Where Does The Time Come From

                Rumbling, angular post-punk FFO: The For Carnation, Lungfish, The Breeders, My Bloody Valentine, Hey Colossus. "it's the ugliness of this that makes it beautiful to me" - Jon Hillcock, BBC 6 Music // The Sweet Williams on new album Where Does The Time Come From is one Thomas House, a South coast native guitarist and songwriter whose bands have a habit of dissolving. This latest LP contains ten post-punk infused songs of an almost brutalist nature, House's music in its purest form, performed almost entirely by himself.

                The first single is 'Ride A Gold Snail', a rumbling post-rock juggernaut that sets a backwards drum beat to a filthy, holding pattern bassline, with guitar amps on the verge of burning out and elliptical, elusive lyrics. "It's probably my most romantic song," says House. The video was shot and assembled in Zaragoza, Spain, the town House calls home since October of 2018 In 2016, the Sweet Williams line-up responsible for the open, organic sound of that year's album 'Please Let Me Sleep On Your Tonight' dissolved in a potent formula of work, babies, babies and work. Armed with a clutch of new songs and no time to break in a new band, House repaired to Agricultural Audio in the heart of rural Sussex with trusted producer Ben Hampson and set to work. The resulting recordings reflected House's fascination with, and horror for, busted mechanics; in place of the live band's fluid, entropic interplay, structured patterns lurch and correct, a crowbar jammed in every gear. "It doesn't represent a performance," he explains. "It represents the songs as I hear them in my head." However, the record was not conceived in a bathysphere.

                These compositions could be seen as the culmination of twenty-plus years playing in countless bands, from the incandescent fury of House's old vehicle Charlottefield, to the discipline honed on guitar in post-punk stalwarts Joeyfat, to a newfound confidence in vocal texture and melody in Haress. Lyrical themes cover love, dread, betrayal, bliss, injustice, death, sex, the end of the world. You might struggle to ascertain the narrative. House takes an impressionistic approach to his subject matter. "My dad read me Elidor and The Owl Service when I was sick as a kid. And his own made up stuff. There's another world behind this one." After the bracing opening two tracks, the celebratory 'Stop It I'm Killing You' and its stinging hangover 'Stunt Freeze', the album proceeds to its dusky heart. By the time of 'Two Golden Sisters', House's hands barely brush the strings of his guitar as he croons to the memory of a long lost love.

                TRACK LISTING

                1. Stop It I'm Killing You
                2. Stunt Freeze
                3. Fifties
                4. RF
                5. Very Long Division
                6. Ride A Gold Snail
                7. Rusted Mouth
                8. Two Golden Sisters
                9. Facing East
                10. Discomforter

                Grey Hairs

                Health & Social Care

                  Having spent 2018 touring with Sleaford Mods, Hey Colossus and Brooklyn's SAVAK, Nottingham punk rock lifers Grey Hairs have announced their third album 'Health & Social Care' - a scorching reflection on balancing your creative impulses against the commitments of impending middle age. Their first output since 2016's 'Serious Business', released via Nottingham's esteemed Gringo Records, 'Health & Social Care' is an expansion of the band's sound that recalls elements of The Birthday Party, Laughing Hyenas, The Jesus Lizard or of a downer-fuelled B52s and what surf music sounds like coming from the most land-locked part of the country. In the video for new single 'Tory Nurse', directed by David Lilley, we're taken on a sloped and queasy trip through rural Derbyshire that sees the band tasked with delivering a body (later revealed to be a clown) to an undisclosed location. The fate of the clown is never revealed beyond disappearing into a hole in the ground, in a droll and absurd attempt to address the core ideas behind ‘Health & Social Care’ and the inevitable mystery of things to come. 2016’s 'Serious Business' saw a clear sharpening of the band’s focus.

                  The clue was in the title. What started as an offshoot to the members’ proper bands reached that wonderful point where it becomes an entity all of its own and steers the ship as though an invisible 5th member. And that member was steering things in directions none of the others had ever anticipated. 'Health & Social Care' expands on this. Its rage is tight and deliberate and its themes more explicitly stated. This is not a bunch of guys mimicking their youth (or other people’s youth) and balancing their weekend anti-establishment anger with their job as a software developer, or vintage furniture dealer, or credit check specialist. If 'Health & Social Care' has a theme (and again the clue is in the title) it’s “how can someone be a public sector punk in 2019?”. Commendable though most political music is, it’s perhaps easier to articulate your rage at the system when you don’t spend over 40 hours a week working in it. But what if you do? What if your punk rock ethics extend to your occupation? This is a record about balancing your creative impulses with your life as you get older and the time to do either squeezes in on you. It’s a record about aesthetic punks, Dunning-Kruger syndrome in the Health service, extreme 360 degree cognitive dissonance and – most crucially – a confusion and inability to tackle these external problems because you’re so f*cked by your own personal ones

                  TRACK LISTING

                  1. Hydropona
                  2. Piss Transgressor
                  3. Ghost In Your Own Life
                  4.  Capable Man
                  5.Tail To Teeth
                  6. Tory Nurse 
                  7. Breathing In Breathing Out
                  8. Kernels Of Eyes 
                  9. The Nag 
                  10. Glugs 

                  For a while now Leeds five-piece Hookworms have been terrorising headlining bands across northern England and beyond, not through histrionics or gimmick, but through sheer sonic velocity and emotive intent. Often bracketed among the latest wave of psychedelic rock currently appearing in pockets around the UK (as support slots with Wooden Shjips, Sun Araw and Peaking Lights attest), this tag is somewhat of a misnomer for a band whose use of repetition and reverb is not to open the third dimension or for some sort of flower-power escapism. Instead the reel feels cathartic, each fresh revolution of the loop a confrontation between the band and themes of depression, loss and anger - subjects close to the heart of the group’s vocalist MJ (“no enigma; we just don’t use our full names, we’ve no interest in being celebrities.”)

                  ‘Pearl Mystic’ was recorded and produced in MJ’s own Suburban Studios – where he’s worked on records for Mazes, Eagulls and Spectrals among others – and he admits he enjoyed the greater freedom he could allow himself on his own project. The album is an absolutely thunderous statement of intent for Hookworms (MJ – vox/keys/analogues; JW – guitarist, SS – guitarist; MB – bass; JN – drums) after a portentous couple of years of live shows and limited releases (a debut self-titled EP on Sun Araw’s Sun Ark label, a 7” Gringo Records all sold out quickly). Whilst their live shows continued to increase in intensity, with impressive festival appearances at Beacons, Liverpool PsychFest and Supersonic cementing their reputation treading the boards. Live and on record, like Spaceman 3, they pointedly subvert the tripped out sound environments of psychedelia with a darkly malevolent punk menace; unlike J.Spaceman et al, there’s no chemical assistance, these concepts and feelings come with clarity, and hit all the harder for it.

                  Indeed, the most impressive thing about Hookworms is that, through this torrent of emotion, through their wild motorik and their thick slabs of noise that threaten to spill over, there’s always the sense that they’re in control of it all, so committed are they to this catharsis that they refuse to throw any of it to chance. And so they shouldn’t, because even at this early stage we think Pearl Mystic will be one of the albums of 2013.

                  STAFF COMMENTS

                  Darryl says: Having built up a large following with their famously intense live sets, supporting and indeed blowing off stage many of the psych glitterati, Hookworms, a five-piece from Leeds who prefer to be known by initials only, bring us their debut full-length. Throughout the album’s nine tracks the ferocity of their live gigs has been superbly replicated with a self-production that keeps the sound just on the right side of raw. The album kicks into life with singer MJ’s rousing echo-blitzed scream of “Come On” on album opener “Away / Towards”, and the band respond with a sonic velocity that’ll have your nasal hairs quivering. What follows highlights the dark malevolent menace at the heart of ‘Pearl Mystic’: distorted wah-wah guitars clash with huge swirling organ noise and barely intelligible echo-swamped vocals, all propelled along by a wicked motorik groove. Akin to Spacemen 3 or Loop in their pomp, this is one of the best UK psych / space rock albums in years.

                  TRACK LISTING

                  1. Away / Towards
                  2. Form & Function
                  3. I
                  4. In Our Time
                  5. Since We Have Changed
                  6. Preservation
                  7. Ii
                  8. What We Talk About
                  9. Iii


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