Winter is coming, but here’s the last dregs of summer in audio form: Prodigal prog, Brexit paranoia, self-cannibalising power electronics, industrial noise, electro abstractions, blacked out dub, vaporwave nostalgia, militaristic techno, ambient drones and horror flashbacks…
TOOL – Fear Inoculum (Fear Inoculum LP)
13 years was a long wait and unlucky for Taylor Swift, Tool’s first album since 2006 has just gone No1 on the US Billboard charts, sparking an unlikely online feud between prog rock dads and Swfties.
In truth, Fear Inoculum could’ve come out any time between 1996’s Aenima and now, but it engulfs like a labyrinthine comfort blanket. Lead single Fear Inoculum was a mainline of relief, from Danny Carey’s mystical tabla and pattering tom rolls, to James Maynard Keenan’s rich vocal surrealism. And like all good Tool songs it feels like they’re guiding you through a series of chapters.
PHARMAKON – Homeostasis (Devour LP)
French producer Margaret Chardier’s last album Contact continued her recurring themes of empathy and transcendence through visceral noise and power electronics. On new record Devour she takes the next logical step, with five tracks steeped in the imagery of self-cannibalisation, “on cellular, individual, societal and species-wide scales”.
Devour is her first album recorded in a studio, and Uniform’s Ben Greenberg immediately captures her feral live intensity. Opener ‘Homeostasis’ is an extreme body horror dirge, all rusting metallic white noise, shattered vocals and animalistic heavy breathing.
HIDE – SSSD (Hell Is Here LP)
Not sure if this is a spoiler, but if you’ve seen the film Hereditary, the unrelenting piledriver kickdrum in ‘SSSD’ will give you a woeful flashback to the attic door ‘bit’. Chicago duo HIDE headbutt you inside out with their corrosive industrial noise and Heather Gabel’s retching vocals. As if to hammer it home a bit more, ‘SSSD’ means Self-Self-Self-Destruct.
HEIDI SABERTOOTH — Tune Your Body (Tape Your Mouth EP)
Heidi Sabertooth is the best pseudonym I’ve heard since Deathbomb Arc’s Lana del Rabies, and her glitchy, corroded technoid clatter also chews away at your nerves. There’s a hint of Suicide, The Normal and Not Waving all over her EP Tape Your Mouth, and especially ‘Tune Your Body’, with everything in the red, splintered pitched-down vocal shards and a general disregard for pleasantries.
NARCISSIST HOLOCAUST — I Love You But I’ve Chosen Dankness (No Sleep Til Avon compilation)
Fad Gadget vibes on this EBM industrial nailgun attack from Narcissist Holocaust — one of the standout tracks on new label Avon Terror Corps’ new sampler comp No Sleep Til Avon. The label’s influences include “the total destruction of ‘deconstructed club’”, and they’re doing a fine job in Bristol.
FEVER RAY – To the Moon and Back (Live) (Live at Troxy LP)
If only to recall seeing Fever Ray’s majestic, empowering live show in Serbia last year, even if the album doesn’t capture the queer superhero modern dance exuberance, with Karin Dreijer smearing red lipstick across her face and performing exaggerated choreographed sex acts on her band members. ‘To the Moon and Back ‘was already a defiant electro-pop masterpiece, and live it’s a burst of unhinged joy.
GROSS NET — Social Nationalists (Gross Net Means Gross Net LP)
We’re hitting peak Brexit but unlike lounge act Jacob Rees Mogg, Gross Net’s Philip Quinn is refusing to take it lying down.
The title of Quinn’s second album Gross Net Means Gross Net is a wry nod to Theresa May’s nonsense ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ slogan, and the record has plenty of references to the rancid political and economic shitstorm that is 2019, amid wiry post-punk, dubby techno and avant-garde electronics.
The album builds steadily to the closer ‘Social Nationalists’, a bleak and ferric cold wave howl with the repeated refrain: “coming together is falling apart”.
DEBBY FRIDAY – TEAR THE VEIL (DEATH DRIVE EP)
Ever since hearing The Prodigy’s ‘Break & Enter’ as a teenager I’ve been a sucker for broken glass percussion. Debby Friday smashes bottles all over the opener of her new EP, with ‘Tear the Veil’’s murky industrial dub paving the way for the ALL CAPS harsh noise, punk and fractured electronics that follows.
SHIKEN HANZO – Oni (The Centipede EP)
Like his Blackest Ever Black labelmates Raime, Shiken Hanzo skulks around the outskirts of dub and junglist abstraction, and The Centipede is a real dread-filled night-crawler.
But while most of the EP echoes through minimalist, dank empty spaces, the ghost in the machine vocal traces and sci-fi synths on ‘Oni’ add a stateliness to the skittery fever dream.
BLANCK MASS – Wings of Hate (Animated Violence Mild LP)
The droney ambience of Blanck Mass’s 2011 debut album has started to feel like a real outlier, after three further albums of electronic maximalism. On ‘Wings of Hate’, Benjamin John Power taps into channels he’d explore in his (dormant) day job in Fuck Buttons — think psychedelic noise pile-ups that are offset by “melody against all odds”.
DEFEKT – Split My Mind (Magnetic Resonance EP)
It’s three out of three belters this year on new Dublin label Winthorpe Electronics, after previous EPs by Roy of the Ravers and Cignol in 2019. Dublin-based producer Defekt aka Matt Flanagan lands with four tracks of elegant modular synth electro and techno. There’s a snarly trace of Joey Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’ off the title track, while ‘Split My Mind’ hits cosmic levels, ebbing skyward on sci-fi synth leads and a rasping arpeggiated bassline.
DATASSETTE – Stoatle Excelsior (Kestrel Kestrel Manoeuvres in the Dark EP)
As a tabloid hack in my day job, you had me at a good pun. Thankfully DATASSETTE aka producer John Davies follows through with an abstract electro bullseye on the always awesome label Central Processing Unit, with warped, glitchy blips, wrong-footing beats and nano-scale mechanical whirring effects.
VATICAN SHADOW – Whitewashed Compound Stealth Helicopter Crash (Pakistan Military Academy LP)
Producer Dominick Fernow has had a busy 2019, with crucial releases as Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement and Vatican Shadow, as well as some vicious noise collaborations as Prurient. He’s also spent the summer getting his house in order, remastering and reissuing long decommissioned pieces from his Vatican Shadow bunker, “for the nine-year anniversary of the project”.
Originally a limited tape run of 125 in 2011, Pakistan Military Academy has been liberated from YouTube rips for an official vinyl and digital release, with its dark ambient dread and militarised techno losing none of its desert-weary paranoia. The funereal 4/4 thud of ‘Staccato Bursts of Gunfire’ may be heavier, but the synth clouds on ‘Whitewashed Compound Stealth Helicopter Crash’ billow through this 10 minutes of ominous ambient beauty.
LOSCIL – Equivalents
Loscil’s new 50-minute album has eight separate passages, or Equivalents, but you’ll want this wafting over you in full, with repeat looping advised. Canadian ambient producer Scott Morgan is a master at subtle shifts in tones and drones, and this is one of his most singular, minimalist works yet. It’s inspired by a series of black and white photos of clouds by renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz, with heavily processed piano pieces drifting in and out of the foreground. Play this and press pause on everything else.
ACTIVE PRESENCE – TROPICAL MESS
Another album that’s prescribed as a whole, tapping into a sense of naive melancholy and nostalgia. While many releases on vaporwave label Business Casual invoke the hyperreal Windows 98 aesthetic, the youngster in the half-assed Optimus Prime suit and the orange & brown 80s carpet suggest a smudgier, more analogue memory bank. Evocative track titles like ‘Watercolor Lake’, ‘Credits Fade’ and ‘Video Logo’ add an extra layer of dust and fingerprints to the wide-eyed electronic pop sketches.