Background notes for Aural Delights 5th & 8th May

So this is an expanded approach to my radio show posts to give you a little more information, also allowing me to keep a more comprehensive journal of what I play on the show.

This covers Aural Delights on May 5th and the Overflow Show on May 8th

First up we have the first of two tracks from Helms Alee‘s new album “Keep This Be the Way” which was released on Sargent House on 29th April 2022.

Helms Alee have always been a difficult band to categorise; too weighty for the indie tag, too steeped in lush guitar work and elaborate three-part vocal harmonies for the various sub-genres of the heavy music world. At the same time, their signature sound—a blend of siren songs, sludge, angular rock, and guitar pop—has created a loyal fan base, one that’s unsurprisingly populated by fellow musicians, gear aficionados, and audiophiles. Across the span of their first five studio albums, the Seattle trio zeroed in on different aspects of their sound while retaining their no-frills, meat-and-potatoes approach in the studio. On this new one they have expanded their palette by delving into the production possibilities afforded by recording the album themselves, creating their most dynamic work to date.

photo by Ron Harrell

When the pandemic hit, guitarist/vocalist Ben Verellen, bassist/vocalist Dana James, and drummer/vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis found refuge in their music and bunkered down in a makeshift studio in Verellen’s amplifier shop. Through the remainder of 2020 and into early 2021, the band wrote an album , recording songs with the assistance of Ron Harrell as they were writing them, composing the material with the added benefit of hearing them come together from the engineer’s chair. Keep This Be the Way still very much sounds like a Helms Alee record, but it’s their first album that diverts from the faithful recreation of their live sound and delves into surreal sounds and invented spaces.

This new approach is immediately evident on album opener “See Sights Smell Smells,” where reverse cymbal crashes, fragmented piano, layered drums, woozy drones, saxophone freak-outs, and trippy vocal treatments transport the listener to an altered state of exhilarated anticipation. The song basks in studio manipulations before depositing the listeners on the shores of the title track. “Keep This Be the Way” adheres closer to standard Helms Alee operating procedures with sparkling guitar arpeggios, syncopated drum patterns, and beguiling vocal melodies in the verses juxtaposed against blown-out bottom-heavy riffs and roaring harmonies in the choruses, until the song descends into a smoky mélange of groaning bass and air-raid siren whines in the final measures. Much like the self-recorded swan song of Unwound Leaves Turn Inside You, Keep This Be the Way showcases an ability to walk the line between studio experimentation and faithful representations of the organic core of the material.

The pendulum may swing towards more adventurous and exploratory sounds on certain songs—the nightmarish synth glides pitted against distorted barrages on the other featured song “Tripping Up the Stairs,” the lush orchestral oscillations of “Big Louise,” the cello swells played by Lori Goldston on “The Middle Half” and “How Party Do You Hard”, the long-arc slow burner “Do Not Expose to the Burning Sun,” the triumphant “Mouth Thinker,” and the smouldering “Guts For Brains.”

Verellen Amplifiers wound up closing the shop, so the final bits of Keep This Be the Way were tracked at Ben’s home studio. And therein lies the power of the album: it reflects a period of change, ambiguity, loss, and perseverance through its fearless curiosity, cathartic rumble, and sublime beauty.

Next a new album from the unmatchable output of Moff Skellington albeit under the subtly altered name of Hartwig Skellington.

Paul Hartwig, a painter and digital composer from Lacrosse, Wisconsin and Moff Skellington have been tinkering with tunes for two or three years. This is the result of their efforts so far. This is a more accessible/pop friendly version of Moff’s work. The spirit of Eddodi and Abstercot are in play but somehow subtly altered by Paul’s impact. The album is called The Fireboot Factory and as with the majority of Moff’s work released via German Shepherd Records. There are two tracks featured from the album.

Dave Graney & the MistLY – “play mistLY for me” is a collection of live recordings from shows over the last few years up to 2015. Dave says “Shows in Adelaide, Newcastle, Katoomba and Melbourne. Featuring different instrumentation and approaches to songs. Recorded on a hard disc recorder sitting in the rooms where we played. No direct feeds from a desk or mics on any instruments, just a stereo track from somewhere in the ROOM. No overdubs attempted. It’s all here just as it happened”. There are certainly some interesting interpretations of the Graney catalogue but be prepared for the lo-fi nature of the recordings. Available on Dave’s Bandcamp page. Dave has a couple of new albums on the way so I’ll continue to explore the back catalogue until they arrive.

Heroes Are Gang Leaders was founded in 2014 by poet, photographer and professor Thomas Sayers Ellis and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis as a tribute to the late poet, activist and Jazz Critic Amiri Baraka. Ellis and Lewis opened for Baraka at the St Marks Church (The Poetry Project) in 2013. HAGL is a Literary Free Jazz Ensemble of writers, artists and musicians dedicated to the sound extensions of literary text and original composition. Between 2014 and 2019 HAGL recorded six projects: “The Amiri Baraka Sessions,” “The Avant-Age Garde I AMs of the Gal Luxury,” “Highest Engines Near / Near Higher Engineers,” “Flukum (Your Book Sucks)” and the yet to be released “POPschutz” (recorded in Berlin, Germany) during HAGL’s first European Tour. I’m featuring tracks from their 2020 album on Ropeadope and the new live album just out on 577 Records. This is powerful stuff but the collective managed to make it extremely accessible with strong melodies and the clever use of repetition,

Featured artists on the main Aural Delights Show are Rhythm & Sound one of several projects linked to the Berlin dub-techno duo Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus. They released a series of 10″ records on Burial Mix and 12″ records on Rhythm & Sound, both labels distributed by Hardwax. Von Oswald and Ernestus’ Rhythm & Sound recordings are much more dub-influenced and less techno-orientated than the duo’s previous, dub-techno recordings as Basic Channel and Von Oswald’s solo work as Maurizio. Rhythm & Sound productions emphasized the dub-reggae aesthetic rather than the more dancefloor-orientated techno sound of the early-’90s recordings. The records, which often featured reggae vocalist Paul St. Hilaire, weren’t quite as popular or well-known as the duo’s other recordings. Tracks from the See Mi Yah (2005), The Versions (2003), and With The Artists (2003) collections are featured on the Aural Delights Show.

Salem Trials, who I have featured extensively recently, started life in the UK’s northern, industrial, town of Bradford in 1987. They recorded lots of songs but did very little else until they broke up in 1991. They reformed in 2018 and still doing very little except record lots of songs. Fame beckoned when in May 2020 they joined Australian label Metal Postcard Records, who brought them to my attention. This new single was self released by band via Bandcamp on April 18th 2022.

Trapped in the Wreckage and Caught in the DMZ were the last two songs recorded by the band in 1990. Originally, there was a collection of songs written for a double album called, ‘Run Riot in Your Head’. Some of the songs were recorded in 1989 for the ‘Get Burnt’ album and the remaining ones were recorded in 2019 (after reforming) under the title of ‘Always Leave Them Screaming’. The two songs on this single were never released until now. As usual the line up is Russ: vocals / tape loops and Andy: guitars / Keyboards / bass. You’ll be hearing a lot more from Salem Trials, and the parallel band Legless Trails over the next few months, they are extremely prolific.

Cardinal Fuzz (UK/Europe) and Centripetal Force (North America) have announced the release of Slow Dawn’s “Into the Machine Haus”. The official release date is May 13th.

The band is from Ottawa, Canada and have spent the past few years honing their craft with a series of self released titles, including 2020’s Experimental Farm, a rather angst-ridden and raw display of sonic power. They are led by guitarist Dan Druff, formerly of Holy Cobras, and are rounded out by Chris DiLauro on drums and Jesse Winchester (Masss) on bass and synthesizer. The band draws influence from the darker edges of the musical spectrum and places a majority of their energy on filling empty voids with as much sound as possible. Slow Dawn is a cacophony of reverberating distortion, swirls of echoing vocals, droning horns, and a steady din of plodding drums. Whether it’s Ottawa’s grim and cold winters or simply a sign of the times, the band’s sound is quite dystopian and is marked by a sense of solemn minimalism. It would be safe to say that with Slow Dawn, the glass is rarely half full.

With six songs clocking in at about 22 minutes, Into the Machine Haus moves quickly and efficiently through a range of territories that include post-punk, psych, krautrock, noise, and even a little bit of goth. It’s a unique amalgamation of sound that demands attention. The band’s influences are easily read but integrated in a way that they escape the dreaded “sounds like” tag. And, to their credit, there are no wasted moments or frivolous meanderings. Their approach is straightforward, primal, and succinct. In the case of this album, less is definitely more.

Following their latest single ‘University Jesus’ in March, which explored a multi-dimensional soundscape of alternating time signatures and moods, Cardiff band Blue Amber keep the ball rolling with new release, ‘The Great British Sitcom’ featuring guest vocalist, Kate Willetts was released on the 22nd of April.

Composed of a rotating ensemble of like-minded friends and musicians from all around the UK, Blue Amber create sonically diverse music that captures the experiences of young adults in a post-Brexit Britain. ‘The Great British Sitcom’ is written by Joe Rackza and the band’s vocalist, Drew Noel, and sharp commentary on the current political and cultural climate while incorporating references to their individual childhood memories. With its powerfully poetic lyricism and folk-tinged, experimental rock vibe, the single seamlessly demonstrates the many ways music can be employed as a communication tool, as well as a form of creative expression. When speaking on the new single, Noel said “I think it was a way for us to vent our frustrations… It was an opportunity for me to make lyrical jabs at the Conservative MP from my hometown and vent my petty complaints about people I saw online.”

As a sudden heat storm on a joyful summer’s day, ‘Ben-Hur’ kicks off the new Compro Oro album ‘Buy The Dip’ with clashing sounds and ruthless grooves. Brightly opened by frisky and vibrant vibraphones, the tune’s melody is abruptly pushed over by pulsating synths and razor sharp guitar strums. A nervously shuffling jazz rhythm comes on, soon topped with punchy marimba’s, bleeping samples and rattling percussion.

A Ghent based latin jazz collective they are set to release ‘Buy The Dip’ on the 2nd September via Sdban Ultra. Having received critical acclaim for their 2020 album ‘Simurg’ – a collaboration with Murat Ertel, co-founder and frontman of Istanbul’s cult psychedelic folk band BaBa ZuLa and his singer partner Esma Ertel – the band’s fifth album is less ethno- and more techno-logy, both on a musical and conceptual level.

After imaginative musical trips to Havana, Mogadishu and Istanbul for previous releases, Compro Oro went looking for sounds and inspirations from other corners of the globe for ‘Buy The Dip’. Synthesizers and electronic effects spice up Compro Oro’s distinctive musical marriage of vibraphones, electric guitars, jazzfunk rhythms, exotic percussions and dubby bass patterns, next to a bunch of neo-noir western vibes, laidback crooked pop sounds, off-hook Turkish psychedelica and even some kraut-ish vocal parts.

Toronto-based psychedelic-band The John Denver Airport Conspiracy are set to release their debut album ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ on the 13th May. An LSD infused jangle of melody and 12 string that melds Love, The Byrds, The Velvet Underground ,Pretty Things, Television Personalities, BJM, Stereolab into one glorious orgy of sound. From the thudding jangle of album opener ‘The Big Classic’, to the closing Velvet chug and strum of ‘The Lab’ The John Denver Airport Conspiracy will take you by the hand and lead into a psychedelic dreamworld of electric sugarcube flashbacks.

Sugar For The Pill are an Indie / Shoegaze – Dream pop band formed in March of 2020 in the Athens, Greece. The band consists of former members of Skinner Box (2012) and Dead Buildings (2009): -Vana Rose (vocals), Spyros Mitrokotsas (guitars), Elias K (guitars), Stefanos Manousis (bass/keyboards) and Konstantinos Athanasopoulos (drums). Their name was inspired, as the shoegaze genre fans might have already guessed, by a track from Slowdive’s self-titled album from 2017. Their debut, full length album is called Wanderlust and was released in March 2022 by Shelflife Records (US) and Make Me Happy Records (Greece).

For their great third LP, this Portland OR sextet Abronia heads deep into the scalding sun of what feels like the Sonoran Desert. There is an edge to the fried guitar and the ever more massive drumming that evokes a parched ritual of psychedelic worship. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact initial rehearsals took place outdoors, during which time the Pacific Northwest was on fire (both in the forests and on the streets). When you know this fact, you can begin to appreciate the smoke as a compositional component.

Abronia’s line-up has not changed since 2019’s The Whole of Each Eye, but their sound keeps evolving in terms of both depth and connection. The percussion achieves a true otherness here. Both Shaver’s Big Drum, and the additions of pedal steel player Rick Pedrosa, create a central pulse that’s impossible to resist. The bass and guitars, slither through the haze, raising up for massive strikes at times, just laying back and waiting at others. Different instrumental slices of this album might remind you of anyone from the Gun Club to Savage Republic to Amon Duul II. But Keelin Mayer’s vocals are more of a presence this time as well.

Occasionally, there’s a way her voice combines with the coiling Eastern-tinged string parts and lazy propulsion that reminds of Grace Slick’s pre-Airplane band, the Great Society. But she is just as likely to conjure up visions of Scream-era Siouxsee, surrounded by gauzy clouds of guitar.

Still, the collective brunt of Map of Dawnis bracingly original. It doesn’t really sound like anyone else. Abronia have developed a nuanced and totally addictive approach to creating song forms. I’m just hoping I’ll get a chance to see them live some time soon. Music this good should be a fully immersive experience.

Oakland-based duo Othered present their hard-hitting debut album ‘Othered Vol, 1’ on limited edition vinyl and digitally, following up the single ‘Journey To The Edge’, a heavy rock / metal anthem replete with signs of our times. ‘Othered Vol. 1’ was born out of sheer necessity to create amidst a complete disruption to normality as a result of the 2020 pandemic and lockdowns. Lyrically, the album is a call for independent thought, soul maintenance and critical discernment in a time when a war on human consciousness is being waged.

“This album was a synchronistic opportunity for me to dive into myself as a vocalist and also to bring a voice to the traumatic experience everyone was plunged into. As we traversed the mind-bending manipulation of the last two years the lyrics and melodies of Othered served as a channel to express views that were challenging to many to hear. Many of us who have always questioned what our government tells us have been afraid to speak up for fear of life-altering consequences. I do not pretend to know the core facts of the story we are playing out now, however there is longstanding and irrefutable evidence that these false authority figures have never cared about us. I maintain that it is critical that we be able to question and think for ourselves,” says Emily Palen.

“When we are being attacked so viciously for doing so, it is a horrible red flag. Austin Lannan gave me his unlimited blessing to explore my own ideas uncensored and I am very grateful for that landscape. My hope is that this music is both a clarion call to others who have felt alone during this time, a fortifying song for those who are on the front lines of consciousness evolution and a reminder to those who have fallen victim to mass engineered manipulation tactics, to come home to who they truly are. Our true nature is to care for each other, and celebrate and support our vast differences. Our strength is in our diversity, not in aligning to one single thought sent down upon us from above”.

Henry Austin Lannan and Emily Palen met by chance through Specimen Box, Lannan’s collaborative music project with Larry Boothroyd (Jello Biafra and GSM, Victim’s Family, Triclops!). Upon hearing one of Austin’s demos, Larry introduced him to Emily, who created a vocal composition that led to this fruitful collaboration, based on songs written in the midst of the 2020 lockdown.

After recording numerous demos at Austin’s home studio, they eventually recorded this long-player at El Studio in San Francisco with Phil Becker (drummer of Triclops!, Terry Gross, Pins of Light and Lower Forty-Eight) serving as producer and engineer.

‘Othered Vol. 1’ is out now, available digitally and on gold-colored vinyl in a limited edition of 150 copies, pressed with heavy-weight gloss stock jacket and black card stock insert printed in silver and gold ink. The album can be ordered directly from the artist via Bandcamp.

And finally, the ever busy Tony Jenkins of Everlasting Records from Cambridge sent me a new single from one of his many collaborative projects. This time it is Scatter which is a project from Erik Bergqvist of Victorian Tin and a new single called Unstoppable. He also sent me a copy of the new album from The New Fools which is called Vanille, which will be turning up again in next weeks shows!

3 thoughts on “Background notes for Aural Delights 5th & 8th May

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