Monday, 10 January 2011

Manchester Records of 2010 (Part One)

Before pressing full-throttle on with a fresh twelve months of music, compiling any hype-driven ones to watch lists (which we won't be doing) and jumping on any bandwagons, it’s worth a gaze back to last year. There’ve been a few albums queued for review for a while now and grouping them under this stipulated three-part umbrella seems a reasonable call.

Looking at the the drownedinsounds, pitchforks, etc of this world’s picks, there’s not a lot of cohesion in tastemakers’ mp3 folders; plenty of new niches have emerged, lighting up the eyes of many a genre architect. Needless to say, Now Then’s raison d’ĂȘtre differs, so we’re adding another niche, and there has been no shortage of Manchester musical stirrers who haven’t made it onto the blogosphere’s buzz band shortlist. Here are some local full-lengths to peruse and discover, in no particular order.

caro snatch – Til You’re No Longer Blinkered
Nov 2010

This, caro’s second long playing collection of compositions, follows intergalactic concepts across its nine tracks, which take on both the near and far; otherworldly interpretation through introspection.

‘Mammoth Mountain’ is a sparse, yet lyrically sensual, entry into an operatic universe, which develops in the subsequent tracks, ‘Mary Rose’ and ‘Sense Ability’, into dystopia as industrial mechanism shudders around caro’s articulately expressed spoken word delivery. In fact, her eloquent use of puns is a constant highlight, but the ever-changing instrumental scene-setting cannot be ignored for its role in sustaining the storyline. There’s televisual static in a near-vacuum on ‘To Do List’, while ‘Heart Knock Schule’ relies on a thicker backdrop of bluesy guitar and album-closer ‘She Is Her Kink’ (a remix of a Frau Aike song) offers squelchy beats fidgeting in the shadows of dark electronic echoes.

Often a solo performer (and occasionally without instrumental accompaniment, as at our own event in October), a stage-full of collaborators is promised for a show early next year.

Illum Sphere - Long Live the Plan / The Plan is Dead
Fat City
Feb/Dec 2010

Year of the Sphere – this two-part album has devastated the start and end of my 2010. It’s an intelligent, tightly controlled narrative that creeps up on you, leaving you feeling raped by drones. ‘Psycho’ is definitely one of the deepest songs of 2010. Its disturbingly calculated restraint pits aching sub-bass throbs against distressed high-pitch hiss, tearing your ear drums apart from any sense your mind’s making. For all the malevolence, Ryan Hunn does let you fall into carefully constructed, shimmering episodes – the bossa nova of ‘One For Dimlite’ and slow-burning outro ‘Aftermath’.

The Plan... is also explosive in parts – take two minutes into ‘Shadowman’ – and especially on ‘An Old Escape (Kill Them Kill)’, it holds up some of the heavy dancefloor synth you’d expect from the hip-hop honcho of Manchester’s most forward-thinking electronic night Hoya:Hoya. That doesn’t mean it’s ever far from beats so unhinged they can only just about support the tracks. Don’t let that mistake you into thinking anything other than Illum is in total command.

John Fairhurst – Band
Debt Records
Oct 2010

Don Van Vliet’s recent death brought back to the fore his relentless pursuit of invention and unbridled virtuosity. Echoes of that spirit can be found within this second full-length from the well-travelled Wigan bluesman, John Fairhurst.

While his debut, Joys of Spring, was compiled on the back of some extensive worldly adventures, many of Band’s growls hint towards more homely tribulations. From the barroom bawls of ‘Daylight’ to the swaying deep sighs of a reworking of Mississippi John Hurt’s ‘Pay Day’, which adopts more of a Howlin’ Wolf vocal makeover, the lyrical content grounds a diverse musicality in familiar settings.

The Beefheart comparisons don’t end with Fairhurst’s husky intonations, the most noticeable development from an acclaimed debut. Although not as audaciously avant-garde as the Captain’s most lauded work, Fairhurst blends an array of traditional folk and blues learnings into his own brew befitting some of Van Vliet’s other work, such as that composed during the Virgin Records years.

With his wandering troubadour vibes, Fairhurst conjures scenes of an energetic boogie through a fast-paced stomper, ‘Big Dig’, and sing-alongs (for the chorus of “...on the barren ground...”) on ‘Lost My Mind’, before returning to a heart-warming fusion of sax and slide guitar for the lyric-less ‘Earworm’.

To be continued...

Words: Ian Pennington (intro, caro snatch, John Fairhurst) & Sam Bass (Illum Sphere)

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