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The Umlauts

Slags

    There are few things in life quite as mesmerising or outrageously euphoric as the nine-strong Umlauts army effervescing in fulsome force. Rebelling against labels, transcending borders of land and time - packed with twin vocalists equally competent in their skewering south-London drawl as they are in German, Italian or French - as in touch with the nostalgias of First-Generation post-punk or 80s pop as they are with the techniks of contemporary pop or big beat dance - the Umlauts are paragons of trans-europe excess, dripping with inarguable edge; shambling wildly from chaotic cool to bombastically exquisite order; invested with unhinging, socio-political bite, dancing in a rave of their own.

    Compiling the best of the Umlauts first two EPs - Ü (2021) and Another Fact (2022) - and appended with a clutch of new material - Slags offers the most comprehensive versioning of this Umlauts experience as yet extant on record; a salacious digest of wild experiments present and past.

    Taking its title from the by-product of the smelting of metals - the not-so-subtle cheapness in wordplay is relevant too - the music of Slags also represents a work of immense amounts of energy and heat. From their breakthrough EP Ü, aptly opening the record is thunderous live staple ‘Energy Plan’, defined by quote from multi-disciplinary artist Joseph Beuys and charged with post-industrial foreboding. Also plucked from that record comes the puckish splatterpunk of ‘Um Politik’, and radio ‘hit’, ‘Boiler Suits and Combat Boots’, a mission-statement satire against cultural uniformity, and perhaps the ultimate epitome of the Umlauts disco war march, stylish as fuck.

    And if their first EP was in their own words, basically an ‘accident’, its follow-up Another Fact is by all evidence a work of more immaculate designs. With the addition of Italo-disco influences, and of Caroline’s Magdalena McLean on violin duties, The Umlauts sound lifted towards more operatic and nuances heights - the tense violin bow sweeps on ‘Non è Ancora,’ or ‘Frightened’, or the delicious synth-popping sheen of ‘Sweat’ adding yet further spikes of melodrama to their sound. Not forgetting the , That EP’s title track proffers an appropriately magnificent closer here - the slow burning, heavy hitting techno vision loaded with string stabs, balalaikas, and a bicycle pump - an epic in every sense.
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    And, alongside the ‘Slags’ , the three new tunes included here are the ‘Slugs’ of the Umlauts’ Oeuvre “Like slugs, the band say, they are slippery, maybe slipperiness describes our approach best, ideas glued together with plasmic sludge, searching for something, enjoying the search.”

    Speaking out against “acts of harassment by those whose duty should be to protect” - ‘Dance and Go’ delivers a squelchy, undulating, irresistible dance-punk drive. ‘Mad Blue Love’ rants against rants against relationships built on the sandy grounds of false expectations, while ‘Prédateur’s’ Swaying Art-pop curiosities strings out one of the band’s most intricate arrangements to date.


    TRACK LISTING

    Side A
    Energy Plan
    Dance & Go
    Frightened
    Boiler Suits & Combat Boots
    Non È Ancora
    Side B
    Mad Blue Love
    Sweat
    Um Politik
    Prédateur
    Another Fact

    Uh

    Humanus

      uh’s music represents a restless blurring of pastoral and urban. The brother-sister duo of Dominic and Fionnuala Kennedy’s debut album, ‘humanus’, is embedded in the London that they grew up in. It’s a record that hurtles into the expanse of its surroundings rather than carefully probing them.

      ‘humanus’ is a record focused on the present. Amidst its raw acid synths, long form hardware workouts and soaring vocals is an album that’s ultimately about the pair’s own relationship both creative and personal.

      Their sibling connection allowed uh to align with some self-made rules when it came to the creative process. Eventually recorded at PRAH Studios in Margate, many of the tracks that make up the album existed in various forms within their prepandemic live performances. The duo were keen to keep these moments as natural as possible when it came to committing them to record, minimising any editing and layering so as to avoid overworking the music. Although structures inevitably began to take shape through repeated play, they weren’t overthought or forced.

      These tracks speak to the urbanity of London in their club-leaning BPM and more densely-layered walls of sound; however, the search for the pastoral and peace within ‘humanus’ remains.

      TRACK LISTING

      1. Prelude
      2. Attention
      3. Humanus
      4. Hit
      5. Mama
      6. Comfortable
      7. Early Learning
      8. Rocky
      9. 500 Ascended
      10. Sister

      Gentle Stranger

      Upon Return

        Staging an attempt to gloss their music, Gentle Stranger say it recalls “throwing a bouncy ball into a hall of mirrors”. It’s telling that normal routes of describing music - your typical band boilerplate of “such and such meets such and such” or “we just play guitar, us, and leave the writing up to you” - doesn’t suffice for the London collective; instead a more arcane, more potent image is fired back, a wonky and poetic idea that’s instantly more arresting, more substantial.

        For the newly-initiated, Gentle Stranger are a self-described “post-clown” outfit that oscillate between musical forms, achieving a bewildering, almost Joycean experimental sweep; pastiche, parody, burlesque, earnest composition, genre interrogation and progression - they cover it all. Their renowned live performances see the trio cycle through an arsenal of musical instruments, apparatus, tackle, and stuff. The set (part of the reason for their now cult-like following) hangs together intricately, a fractal clockwork machine that relies on movement and spatial-awareness as much as it does timing and musicality.

        Upon witnessing the Gentle Stranger live show (“show” here is most certainly in the theatrical, carnivalesque, extravaganza sense of the word), it’s tempting to question whether they could reiterate, reshape, and condense this uniquely visual and visceral spectacle into recorded music - and the answer is yes. The latest iOS update of the Gentle Stranger sound lands in the form of Upon Return, their barnstorming third album.

        ‘Life Without Natural Snow’ is a weirdo music box that sets the tone for the album - a song that perfectly encapsulates the “clown” aspect of Gentle Stranger, with theatrical vocals and lyrics like an Eileen Agar or Salvador Dalí painting come to life. It’s uncompromising, a bad acid trip whirligig with a menacingly nursery rhyme-esque chord progression that almost dares you to question its simplicity.

        ‘Dragonfly’ - the first taste of the new album - is a skeletal post-rock exercise that exists on the edge of the album’s orbit - a tender, eyes-aloft oasis of calm in the maelstrom. The glacial guitars, blushes of harmonica, and a stately trombone buttress those meditative vocals; where you’ll find shades of Jockstrap.

        About the track, they explain; “A song that says shhh look at this little insect, borne by the rising heat of each consecutive patch of sun, as if its flight path were a melody. Then it zooms out past the sun and wonders what the first and last star in the universe was and will be, and how meaningless it is to try and quantify linear time at that scale. This is equated to the feeling of wanting not to die exactly, but to be unborn, to return to a state of pre-existence. Delivered imperfectly, straining, as if gazing up from the lowlands.”

        Gentle Stranger reportedly enjoy “[revelling] in the disarray” of Upon Return, this ornate and finely-wrought mind palace - it’s a riveting and often joyous experience soundtracked by strange, strange, and stranger music.

        TRACK LISTING

        Life Without Natural Snow
        Order Up
        Dunce Disco
        Spider Since
        The Plough / Kinclaven Brig / Morpeth Rant
        Flutterby
        Butterfly
        Do You Wanna Go?
        Two To Carry Two
        Insects Dressed As Birds Have Learnt Not To Dwell Upon Their Achievements
        Post Clown
        Where Did My Dunce Disco Go? (Dead!)
        Dragonfly
        N.I.L.
        Lime Leaf
        In The Name Of Love
        Crow
        Since The Hares
        Imagine Roses
        Last Row Sown

        Yama Warashi

        Crispy Moon

          Yoshino Shigihara came into 2019 needing a change. The Japanese artist had been based in Bristol ever since co-founding the now defunct Maloya-infuenced raucous psychedelia collective Zun Zun Egui. She then blossomed on her own across an EP and two albums of more meditative but no less territorially transcendent records as Yama Warashi. As in her music, though, Yoshino has always had a sense of wanderlust and it was perhaps no surprise that she’d eventually want to move again – this time to London.

          “Moving to London gave me the chance to work with more diverse musicians” Yoshino says. “And I wanted to be here too because of the high creative energy, the diversity of the music and art here and the people who live here.”

          The first material to come out of her relocation is a bold advancement of her sound, her third album Crispy Moon. Recorded at the Total Refreshment Centre in London with Kristian Claig Robinson, with most of the mixing coming from Hannes Plattmeire and mastering by Zun Zun Egui guitarist Stephen Kerrison, there are new contributing members, including Cathy Lucas of Vanishing Twin (with whom Yama toured with in 2021), Aletta Verwoerd on drums and Mermaid Chunky’s Moina Walker on sax. Compared to the more lo-fi, homespun feel of early releases such as Moon Zero and Moon Egg, there’s larger brush strokes at play, a bigger sound and an understated but self-assured grandeur.

          Much of the move to London and Yoshino’s experiences of being in the capital have made their way into the themes of the record. For Yoshino, though, while the lyrics are important, they’re also largely personal. The drive for her is to get across the universality of her music, to keep an open ear and absorb everything that she can before returning it back out into the world. Moving to London has only strengthened that for her, with new collaborators, fresh experiences and altered perspectives. Crispy Moon is the colourfully brilliant end result.


          TRACK LISTING

          Side A
          1. Makkuroi Mizu
          2. Dividual Individual
          3. Saku Saku
          4. Umi No Mon
          Side B
          1. Ha Ha No Uta
          2. Makai No Keyaku
          3. Dou Dou Meguri
          4. Yuru Yuru


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