Sutcliffe Jugend – The Hunger

Sutcliffe Jugend – The Hunger 2xCD Death Continues 2018

Over the past twelve years Sutcliffe Jugend – the duo of Kevin Tomkins and Paul Taylor – have been rather productive and issued 20 releases in that time-frame. Specifically 2006 appears to be the particular point in time when the project was reactivated, following a five year gap from 1999’s viscerally direct The Victim As Beauty album, while also shifting towards wider sonic experimentation. Although today’s version Sutcliffe Jugend is a very different beast from the sonic brutality issued during the initial 1980’s phase, they have remained a power electronics act at heart and in overall attitude. But in forging new paths by dialing down on the all-out sonic assault and seeking out far more diverse sonic treatments and stylistic experimentation, this approach is in full display on this sprawling double CD.

On the early album track The Mute Shall Speak, the crisp digital noise squalls is perhaps partially reminiscent of later era Whitehouse, while Sehnusucht features a stuttering fast paced rhythmic programming coupled with jagged digital shards stabbing at the ears from the background. This track is also noteworthy as it demonstrates the vocals of Kevin Tomkins being in a strong trademark style, which are delivered in a drawling semi whispered rant which on occasion steps up to being half sung and half screamed. Lyrically the album is noted to be densely rendered, which have a particular psychoanalytical bent in various description of the power dynamic in personal relationships; first person internalised dialogue; and at times ‘stream of conciseness’ narration. Yet Cause comes as the first major surprise by featuring a ‘doom jazz’ sound of minimalist piano and double bass (and consequently wholly reminiscent of Bohren & Der House of Gore), yet further augmented with spoken vocals and swathes of minimalist backing distortion. But not to stop there, the sonic surprises just keep on coming, where Crushed delivers pump organ, synth drones, sparse xylophone and meditative spoken vocals, and Unashamed with its quirky programmed electronica. From there the rest of the first CD deviates through musique concrète (Dissonance); maudlin piano melody and abstracted strings (Angels Flying Into The Burning Gates of Hell); emotive sub-orchestral drones (A Room Full of Knives and Eulogy); while the closing track The Pain Will Take Everything Away is a doom drone oriented work with treated ethereal female vocals and moody bowed cello etc.

The second CD delivers a further ten tracks spanning an hour which builds upon the wide frame of experimentation of the first disc. The Lost is built around misfiring digital noise and a rabid vocal attack, but is quickly offset by the moody and contemplative Authors Note of sonically over-processed synth line. Blindfold charts more abstracted sounds and half formed melodies which at times verges on musique concrète, while the loose guitars of Dancehall Etiquette evokes the sound of noise rock (minus drums). Perhaps the only major misstep of the entire two CD set is All I have Forgotten, which sounds to be based on improvised abstracted piano and accompany cello, but sonically the tinkling piano awkwardly jars the prevailing album atmosphere. As for the title track, this arrives as a 15 minute monster of sprawling yet tensile shifting bass drones sub-orchestral elements, as the spoken vocals gradually ramp up in aggression to match the upward trajectory of the choppy and chaotic digital noise. As for the final album cut My Crumbling Walls, it is an instrumental offering it is quite cinematically toned with its building string orchestral elements, which build and recede in intensity.

Apart from the 2xCD version, there is a special bonus third digital album, recorded at the same time at The Hunger. Featuring 6 tracks across 50 minutes, this bonus album is limited to 100 by virtue of only being available via plastic business card sized plastic download card. On a whole the bonus album is more subdued overall, by broadly opting for a series of tensile sub-orchestral droning tracks, where vocals do not rise above a narrative whisper.

Given that 2016’s Offal and 2017’s Shame (reviewed here) were albums with a more singular sound and musical vision, The Hunger stands out by the sheer diversity displayed, and consequently is a far stronger album for it. Likewise, while unhinged aggression is an underpinning element of The Hunger, this is more a case of being implied through tonal tension and lyrical phrasing, rather than actual sonic execution. As an album issued so far into Sutcliffe Jugend’s extensive discography, The Hunger is an extremely well executed and sonically diverse collection of tracks, where it seems there is no shortage of musical and lyrical ideas, nor any sense of slowing down from the Sutcliffe Jugend camp. Recommended.

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Ulex Xane – Stances / Semblance

Ulex Xane – Stances / Semblance CD Cipher Productions 2018

Ulex Xane, the agent provocateur of Streicher infamy, has recently issued this unexpected solo album which showcases a very different experimental side. Within the extensive liner notes Ulex hints that these recordings could be bracketed under a banner of electroacoustic and musique concrete, but equally he shies away from formally using those genre descriptors. The recordings themselves span a 40 year period from 1975 to 2015, with the earliest recording made when he was only 12 years old (and evidently only recently discovered on an old cassette tape).

Working in reverse chronological order, the first eight tracks are the more recent material spanning 2015 to 2009, showcasing a subtle, yet loud and crystalline, sound. The 17-minute opening track The Inarticulate (from 2015) is sparsely cavernous, but with interjecting field recordings and micro-tonal textures, while a whispered voice (purposefully enunciated to be indecipherable; the track also concludes with a mass of unintelligible screaming voices) pans between speakers for enveloping and immersive listening. Paroxysms of Disappearance (from 2010) is another exceptional track of meticulous and chaotic sonic detailing, featuring a huge diversity of sounds (from the day-to-day mundane to the completely unidentifiable) that at times combine into tensile, almost atonal, orchestral quality. Space, Time and the Categories (from 2009) is split into four separate tracks with a combined playtime of 35 minutes. Panning and surround sound elements are used extensively, along with sonic elements including mid-toned static hissing textures, treated gongs/chimes, micro-tonal sound treatments, various fragmentary field recordings, wavering sub-orchestral tones, and the ever-present widescreen separation of sonic textures.

The much earlier works on the album pick up at 1995 and extend all the way back to 1975. The one-minute Noise Panel #43 (from 1995) is a blink and you miss it short distortion rumble and noise blast workout, while The Disinherited Mind is based on a home recording made in 1984, which highlights the sonic clarity of more recent material. Here, the cavernous and echoed sound is more muted and grey toned, but still there is a huge diversity of tonal elements, including field recordings of blaring foghorns, aquatic textures, distant musical motifs, and a general mood of desolate urban space. The final track Farewell to Matters of Principle is the oldest on offer from 1975, recorded when Ulex was a mere boy. Clearly being the crudest and least refined of the set, it is based around choppy and spliced cassette recordings of garbled and choked vocalisations, slapped flesh, and maniacal laughing (and even the voice of his grandmother offering cooking tips); it is surprisingly unnerving in its execution.

Apart from being distinctly different from any other material issued by Ulex to date, the most pleasing aspect of this album is that it avoids any resemblance of a dry tonal range or stuffy atmosphere which can plague the more academic end of ‘sound-art’. Instead the sounds are detailed, engaging, and highly animated throughout, fiercely dynamic yet subtly restrained. The full colour and spot-varnished cover includes a 27-page booklet with extensive liner notes on the philosophical/conceptual framework of the material and inspirational sources, and it makes for excellent companion reading. Although I am far from well-versed in the electroacoustic and musique concrete spheres, I get the vague and subtle impression that Ulex is in part parodying and poking fun at the academic art-world. But, in noting Ulex’s already established legacy within the post-industrial underground, this is both an intriguing and exceptionally enjoyable release, which also functions to reinforce Ulex Xane as a complete enigma in the truest sense of the word.