Le Grand Sbam- Furvent (2020 Dur et Doux)

Like being attacked by a swarm of nightingales during a grand piano masterclass, I can positively say Le Grand Sbam is the most surreal listening experience I have had in a long time. The nightingales being the choir of singers that form Le Grand Sbam, capable of many things, most importantly the ability to stun audiences by doing unexpected things with vocal chords. I don’t even like vocal groups very much, but this one is different, much different. This one lures its listeners in, enchants them with weird spells, gibberish language, and beautified hymns, only to attack later in a mouth-frothing frenzy. Catching the listener completely off-guard, losing all sense of space and time.

The music that accompanies the choir is mostly piano of the most avant-garde kind, with sparse spots of percussion and spacey sound effects for added off-kilter weirdness. The whole record breathes an otherworldly atmosphere, the stuff of bad dreams and bad acid trips. Who on earth came up with this and what were they thinking? I have absolutely no reference when listening, which is a good thing I guess?! The name of the band Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum pops up at some point, in their avant-garde creepiness and utter disregard of genre or form, but they make pretty conventional rock songs compared to these French crazy people.

And yet you keep on listening, keep on listening, keep on guessing what those strange voices are saying, even when you will never understand them, or figure any of it out. Le Grand Sbam intrigues to no end, which is the magic of this journey called Furvent. You might argue their sanity, and question their inspiration -again: who on earth makes this up?- but you cannot argue their absolute musical skill power. These are world class musicians making this alien music, this absolute mind-implosion of creativity, this brilliant outer-edge of what humans can do when they decide to make sound together.

So listen to it, on your headphones. Take the “heroic dose” called Furvent. But keep a sane person close, because it’s going to be a wild ride…

The Psychotic Monks- Private Meaning First (2020 Fat Cat Records)

Some albums are so incredibly on point at certain times, they deserve to be released for the first time again. Private Meaning First by The Psychotic Monks is exactly such a record. Released in March 2019, but only in their native France, the second album of these noisy clergymen got reborn this year through Fat Cat Records, and for many listeners it will be a first encounter.

Private Meaning First, think about that title for a year or two. Then let album opener Pale Dream misleadingly put you at ease…this will not be a melancholic, contemplative ride. No. By the time Isolation hits your speakers The Psychotic Monks reveal their true faces: caustic, anxious, harsh, and abrasive like a freaking hammer to the forehead. Check out that ending; like a freaking mammoth trudging around the room, knocking around all the tea cups.

The album marches on, cold and relentless, fuzzing from the mouth. This band oozes a certain 80s esthetic, Joy Division but completely broken and disassembled, Swans with a paranoid haste, A Place To Bury Strangers, but more human, more ragged, and a lot scarier. A Coherent Appearance, but definitely to necessarily a very pretty one.

When they slow down, they always leave the threat of coming back and thrashing up the place. A Minor Division is hair-raising like that, especially when the fuzzy noise comes through like fall-out noises in the background. The music paints images of blackened east-bloc cities, acid rains, no hope, and fear of other people. What a time to be alive people. Halfway through the track a clock starts ticking and the band starts building up towards a harrowing eight minutes of nail-biting suspense. I can’t remember rock music being so close to modern art in a long time. It boggles the mind, it’s profound, it’s brilliant.

There is a lot more to say about Private Meaning First. Good things and bad. That’s really not the point though, not with this record. The point is to crawl into your speaker and experience this record with your internal organs. This record will make you feel things you may not have felt for a while, and think things you might not want to speak out loud. Keep it to yourself.

Take a day off.

Lift off.

I dare you.

Alpha Hopper: Alpha Hex Index (walkthrough)

Alpha Hopper from New York are a perfect soundtrack of 2020: crazy, hectic, all over the place, messy, relentless, and never ever boring. Their new album Alpha Hex Index just came out on the excellent Hex Records and it will show you a trick or two…Think Sleater Kinney on psychotics, think Riot Grrrl by mathcore addicts, think vocals like Harry Potter’s moaning Myrtle, think a big hodgepodge of styles with a punkrock attitude, and then think again because you are probably wrong. This is music you probably shouldn’t write about, so in stead let us just have them introduce their work to you themselves; welcome to a walkthrough of Alpha Hex Index by Alpha Hopper!

Hi guys! How are you doing? Hope you are ok in these freaky times!:

Ya we’re all doing good. I think we’ve all read/watched enough dystopian sci-fi books and movies to be mentally prepared for all this. – John

While science is cracking away at curing us of each other, now we’re all scientists of ourselves. This year everything is a window. Glass windows to look out on danger, 4K OLED windows to society and excitement, windows in our hearts to glance around at what’s hiding in there now that we’re alone. – Doug

Yeah! what Doug said! – John

I just realized I am sending you this in election times, how have you experienced the whole thing so far?:

Ugh, You don’t wanna talk about that, do ya? 1 Star review. Even having 45 lose this election still feels like finding out you brought home bed bugs after having to stay in a real sketchy place. The nightmare is far from over and we should really just throw everything out. Burn the mattress. – John

Epic slugfest between Art and The News, where making things always wore subjectivity on its shoulder, reporting just getting into the game. Broadcast media has turned its haymaker fists to interpretation, performative synthesis, an inclusive cornering of the philosophy of meaning. A lot of us making art still finding the language to offer meaningful and emotive and broadly tempting subversion in a social landscape where every voice is a closed world. – Doug

Ok, so I had this idea of a walkthrough while I was listening to your album. I didn’t quite know what to make of the song titles and the lyrics so I would like you guys to provide some feedback, or if you will, liner notes to each song. Things like: what inspired you to write it, interesting things that happened during writing/recording and/or the lyrical content. Anything goes! 

01. In The Desert In The West: 

A standoff between yourself and the unspeakable evil. I hope you win! -Irene

Horse riding song of urgency and confusion, pulling too hard on the reins. – Doug

02. Not the Universe: 

A song about offering ourselves to ourselves and accepting what we see. – Irene

03. Big Body: 

I read a science fiction story once about an alien life form inhabiting a human’s body. The way I remember it, the alien had formed eyes in the host’s fingers so the alien could see out into the world, but everything it saw was grotesque and monstrous in its point of view. However, because they were psychically linked, the human could see how the alien saw the host and other humans and it drove him crazy. Anyway, short story short, that’s the inspiration for this song. – Irene

It was lonely monstrous striding between cities to stomp, to crush and crumble, far horizons from my unmatched vantage, until lo, in that far-off dust cloud materialized another giant, a turbulent friendship of mutual hunger. Careless steps. – Doug

04. En-skin: 

A crash and tumble run from the demons that chase you, and not the kinds you’re willing to confront because these will eat you alive. -Irene

05. #592720:

This is the first of a series of instrumental segue tracks that appear throughout the record. Each one foreshadows a prominent musical theme from one of the moments to come later on, but reimagined in a robotic, computerized synthesizer vibe—kinda like what HAL 9000 might put on while cruising around the moons of Jupiter. The idea was to plant a little, weird seed in the mind of the listener that then blossoms once the actual part hits so that it feels vaguely familiar in a ghostly, haunting way. Since our songs tend to be really dense with a lot going on, we wanted to break up the record with some short interludes that give your ears a quick break and punctuate the wall of sound for a few moments before sending you back in for more punishment. #592720 takes the end theme of Glows Explodes (track 7) and sends it through the Hopper mainframe, generating a digital readout of its component parts. The title “Alpha Hex Index” was actually inspired by some of the settings in a file save dialog box while exporting digital graphics, and so each of these segue tracks is named with a six-digit hexadecimal value, the way colors are encoded for use digitally. We discovered that lots of specific hex colors actually have alternate common names, this one being “Caput Mortuum” which is an alchemical term for the useless, leftover substances from a chemical reaction and it literally translates to “dead head” or “worthless remains.” So, all of that seemed fitting for a remix of a song about exploding stars. – Ryan

06. The Goods: 

A fun ditty about good-old fashioned competition. – Irene

07. Glows, Explodes: 

This one is about moving on from things that keep you stuck in places. Life’s short (unless that recent study about the first time reversal of the signs of biological aging leads to something) so it’s important to get out there and do what you want. -Irene

Panicked typing to keep the darkness away, hopeful coding with a crystal golem deadline. – Doug

08. Wrestles Snakes: 

One of my favorite songwriting techniques is to create a female character and write about her. It’s one way I try to channel what I want out of myself. Yeah, I want to wrestle snakes. – Irene

09. #1D2951:

The second instrumental segue track on the record. Similar to “#592720”, this one takes a preview of the closing section of “Third Man” and gives it the “John Carpenter in outer space” retro-future treatment. This hex value, #1D2951, is a dark gray-blue known as “Space Cadet,” which pairs with a song about a hallucinated presence during a traumatic or lonely experience. We chose this name thinking about the loneliness of deep space, an experience that might trigger the Third Man Syndrome in a fresh, green cadet sent off into the great nothingness for the first time. – Ryan 

10. Spiral: 

A reminder to self that it’s ok to go down a spiral of emotions (am I allowed to write a one-liner for a song using the words in the song?)

11. Third Man: 

Doug and I got really into rock climbing the sport + the hallucinatory companion documented by those lost on tops of mountains. Don’t do the math -Irene

Uh oh, that whistling is not a teakettle, is not the wind. – Doug

12. #16161D:

This last brief interlude is another instrumental take on Third Man and inverts the foreshadowing model of these segue tracks for an echo of what you just heard on the preceding track. This one is just a bit of dénouement / aftercare, letting you down gently from the abusive climax as its sound waves reverberate and fade out while expanding outward into the abyss. The hex value here refers to a dark gray color known as “Eigengrau” which is a term for the color that people see in the absence of light; it’s not black, but rather the gray you see when you close your eyes or look at the spaces between stars in the night sky and you see an ever-changing field of tiny black and white dots rather than absolute black. – Ryan

Corecass- Void (2020 Golden Antenna Records)

And now for something completely different; a soundtrack to a short film that doesn’t exist (yet) by German composer Elinor Lüdde aka Corecass. The movie is about twenty-five minutes long, and takes the listener through a landscape formed by Void (I, II, and III), Carbon, Amber, and Breath.

It all starts with an angelic chorus accompanied by fragile harp play; are we in heaven? No not quite, as suddenly feedback spears through the loveliness and biting vocals tells us we are doomed. Onwards the journey goes…

Carbon then takes us underground now, into a cavernous tunnel where the wind whistles its eerie tunes. The music evokes a dramatic array of images, all balancing between beauty and decay. An actual church organ brings back the religious theme, embodying as well the ambiguity in its creepy harshness while paving the path to stillness at the same time.

Amber starts with the sea, and what seems like the sound of large vessels in a misty darkness. Something lurks and looms, but not quite makes itself known. Then we are on to another spell of beauty with more harp play and a mournful organ now, slowly building up to a crack in the dark sky through which rays of sunlight descend guided by the voices of angels. Drums roll, we can breathe.

It is the constant balancing act between darkness and light that makes Void such a compelling listen. As with actual short films, the ending feels abrupt and harsh, it forces the listener to think; what have I just witnessed? Corecass leaves it up to you.

Presenting: HAQ123

HAQ123 sounds like a computer virus, generated to summon chaos and disarray on all of your systems. Which is kind of an apt name if you listen to the music, and then find out who made it! Because the unholy racket comprised of weird noises, harsh buzzing bass, otherworldly, demonic vocals, and stomping drums is played by kids! Milly (11) on vocals and Zac (12) on drums are assisted by Zac’s dad on bass. One really has to hear it to believe it. I have listened to it several times and I still don’t believe it when I hear Milly bellowing her evil lyrics while the rest of the band goes completely ape shit. This can’t be real right? Oh wait, let’s just ask them…

Hi guys, how have you been doing? And especially in these times: how have you been holding up during the current pandemic?

Millie – Good –  I have been able to play and train with my football team most of the way through but that has now had to stop. At the start of the pandemic me and my mum started up a face mask making company that kept us really busy. I have been going on some walks with my family, doing some artwork on my iPad, learning keyboards with my music teacher and making music that is very different to Haq on garageband. PS4 is also keeping me busy – Need for Speed and Rocket League.

Zac – Lots of practicing on my drums, playing with my football team, loads of family bike rides mainly along the canals around Birmingham and doing the mountain bike tracks in the forests at Cannock Chase. When the weather was good we went out and played football and frisbee. I was able to keep in touch with my mates over lockdown by playing PS4 online games. Did a bit of reading too.

Dave – I took the first 9 weeks of lockdown off work and did much of the above with Zac, fitted a new bathroom in our house and destroyed and rebuilt Zac’s bedroom. I mixed and released our third album that came out in April then we all recorded and released the fourth one just recently. Apart from that it has been work as normal and the kids have been back at school since September.

How is life for a bunch of musicians in these times of no shows?

Z – I am missing doing shows but it does give us time to write new stuff.

M – Its ok but its a bit boring.

D- Same – we were looking forward to doing a gig with local legends Einstellung on mine and Zac’s birthday weekend in November but that just got cancelled last week due to Covid. Just keeping fingers crossed that we’ll be able to get back into it sooner rather than later.

Can you tell me how Haq123 came to be?

M – I was round at Zac and Dave’s house and we were doing some bottle flipping. I asked if we could go in their music room and have a jam. We did it and that day became a band.

Z – We recorded a few of the early jams and put them on Youtube – they are still there. Its alright for a band just starting out but we look really young.

I was especially amazed about the age of Millie and Zac! And they have been at it for quite a while too! How can you explain these kids being into this kind of heavy music so young already?

D – If I’m being honest with you, Zac usually listens to grime and hip hop stuff and Millie mainly seems to be into trap.Neither of them are particularly into heavy music – except for the stuff we do in the band. We have been gigging regularly since 2017 and have played some pretty renowned festivals such as Supersonic, Supernormal and the first ever World Metal Congress event so things like that definitely give them a sense of achievement. The kids seem to enjoy watching the other bands in a live environment. It always makes me smile when Zac leans over and tells me “They’re not as heavy as us”.

Kids – What do you like about playing heavy?

Z – Its fun to play this style because it is very loud and I get to  bash the drums really hard. I also play in a band at school but it is not as much fun because I don’t get to play in such a crazy way as the music we do is much softer.

M – Its in our blood- we are from Birmingham. It is good beacause it is different to what people expect from us.

Dave, what is your role in the band, aside from being the bass player?

Cat herder in chief, van driver, gig organiser, musical equipment provider, parcel poster,  general dogsbody. I also get a lot of help from my wife and Millie’s parents with regards to doing the merch, setting up gear at gigs, spreading the word about the band, etc.

Millie – Dave is the glue.

Millie and Zac: what are your favorite bands at the moment?

M – Prodigy, Young Knives, Big Lad, both kinds of trap music – hip hop and dance versions.

Z – JB Scofield, AJ Tracy and also Big Lad who have amazing drummer called Henri and weve played with them a few times.

What are the reactions of other kids your age when they hear the unholy racket you make?

M – Surprised and a bit shocked at how loud and heavy we are.

Z – From behind my drum kit I can sometimes see that their faces often look confused at first then they usually get into it.

What are the pros and cons of being in a band with your dad?

Z – Pros are….there is none. Not really, we can practice whenever we want in our music room.

Cons – He tries to make you practice to try new stuff every minute of the day.

D – I can confirm that this is 100% true. If it were up to me we would probably be on our 10th album by now.

M – I’m not in a band with my dad, even though people often think it… Dave is my godfather though.

Who did the artwork, and what were they thinking?! 🙂 

Z – We usually do combined artwork from all of us. Wacky, messy, creepy, weird, unusual, lots of skulls.

M – My favourite thing we did was for the third album when we got loads of paint out and splattered it around to make the backgrounds.

D – The artwork is very important to us, especially as there only seems to be a minimal amount going on in that sphere at school these days. Most of the artwork is a collaboration between the three of us. I try to get Zac and Millie to do as much as possible then try to smash it all together playful but sinister fashion. That’s not really a problem for me as pretty much every piece of art I did at school was met with a comment from my teacher Herbie Hancock (not that one) “It’s a bit macabre Kavanagh” even if it was just a drawing of some foliage. We like to have something a bit different from usual metal cover but still i keeping with that kind of vibe. If you look on our bandcamp page on a PC or laptop you can see that each track on every album has its own artwork. We have also done a few videos that are animated with our own drawings.

How do you usually write songs?

D – Usually Zac and I will work on a new song together first. I have realised over the years that he doesnt particularly like being told exactly what to play so these days he has a lot more freedom. I’ll just give him a general idea of the type of beat and  tempo and leave rest to him. It always ends up better than anything I could have thought of.

Millie has now started playing a fair bit of keys in the band. When Zac and I have got the bare bones of a new song together I will go through it with her a few times before we all try it at full volume with drums. It is a pretty recent development but things are going very well.

On our first album many of the lyrics were words that Millie had made up on the spot while we were playing but recently  lyrics have mainly been down to me due to time constraints. The kids have homework, after school clubs, football teams, instrument lessons so when we have the chance to get together we just like to make a proper racket. We have written the words for a few songs together though when we have had the chance. It is always more fun to do it this way as some very original and leftfield ideas can come into play. Just before doing this interview we were working on a new song that will consist only of words ending in -ify. There are going to be some very good words in this song.

Would you like to tell us anything else?

Z&M – Football, Brawl Stars, PS4, Among Us.

D – If you want to check us out then go to https://haq123.bandcamp.com/ where you can download everything for free. We are already deep into preparations for our fifth album and will hope to have it ready for early next year. Hopefully see you at a gig sometime soon!


Dark Buddha Rising-Mathreyata (2020 Svart Records)

I saw the members of Dark Buddha Rising at the Roadburn Festival, performing together with their Finnish brethren Oranssi Pazuzu in their collaborative project Wast Of Space Orchestra. It was by far the best show of the entire weekend. Central to their performance was a sense of ritual, of complete concentration towards some higher (or lower) goal. The repetition, the otherworldly visual presentation, the menacing sonic cathedral they were building was quite magnanimous. On their own albums I was never so convinced about Dark Buddha Rising as I was that night, that is, until now.

For Mathreyata brings back that similar feeling of focused ritual, a slight difference being that this time the performance is even more repetitive and persistent. You kind of get the creeping suspicion they are up to something, as if you probably should not play this too loud at your home at night. Strange things might happen…

Strange things might happen…

We start the journey with the mesmerizing Sunyaga, thirteen minutes of pulsating doom. The band takes you on a plodding pace downwards in a spiraling maelstrom. The earthy pathway starts to become warmer, and as the endless repetition becomes heavier and more intense, a creeping sensation of dread envelops the listener: we are heading towards the earth’s core! As Dark Buddha Rising’s shamanistic vocals start screaming, your ears want to wake up from this nightmare, but still the dark forces move you down, down, down, plod, plod, plod, into the fiery pits of hell.

Nagathma starts with the realization of this dread, and a desolate outlook upon Hell’s outer reaches on which nothing grows. The vocals sound mournful now, panicked at times, and the atmosphere is so extremely dense and suffocating that you start to hallucinate. A strange and frightening kind of psychedelic vision unfurls, and still the repetitive chants lead you onwards. Halfway through the music builds a tower of angry screams, which rain down like lit arrows. You start screaming with chorus in agony, and then it is suddenly over and Suni begins.

Suni takes us deeper through the maelstrom where its cavernous tunnels only hold a faint mysterious glow. You hear drums in the distance, and completely entranced you stumble on. Dark Buddha Rising controls your every move now, and you have ceased resistance, this reverb drenched bliss starts to feel quite nice actually…

Mahatgata III is the equalizer. Its majestic tones lead the listener to the album’s final altar, deep underneath the earth’s crust in a pulsating atmosphere. The path strangely leads us up now, to a broad set of stairs and towards a maddening spectacle. On top of the stairs an altar becomes visible, and behind it Dark Buddha Rising’s members stand with long ritualistic daggers in hand. As the shaman vocalist starts to scream unintelligible mantras, the other two mercilessly grab your arms and force you on the black stone table. You look up and the sky begins to spiral as twenty-thousand daggers start to come at you from all sides. A piercing final scream, and then darkness.

Mathreyata is a monolithic experience. Strange, dark, lethal. I guess I would recommend it to listeners that would like to experience the true meaning of the word doom in doom metal. However, this review also comes with a warning: the first time you listen to this album completely from start to finish might also be your last…

Gong Wah – Gong Wah (2020 Tonzonen Records)

To be in love, to sing about it, to float on that pink cloud, to feel like the world ends without it. It is a feeling everyone knows, uncomplicated, relatable. Sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter and dark, always a known, always in the front or the back of your mind. Gong Wah conjures up this feeling, plays around with it, worms it inside your ear with its catchy tunes, and then leaves you for somebody else. So you spin the album again.

On their self-titled debut album for German psych label Tonzonen Gong Wah presents itself as a versatile band capable of rocking out riotgrrrl style (I Hate You), shoegazing psychedelically (With Him), catchy fuzzpopping (Sugar & Lies) and everything in between. Singer Inga Nelke has a sweet seductive voice to immediately fall in love with. Gong Wah as a collective know how to seduce the listener as well, using their catchy tunes to draw attention, only to really open its treasures in the longer psychedelic songs like the aforementioned With Him or the washed out krauter Just Sayin’.

At its core this album is a pop album, with well written songs that stay with you quickly. That might seem fleeting and superficial at first, and if you only listen to the singles that would be your impression. Gong Wah has more in store though, and some more thorough exploring of the record is highly recommended as its true power lies in the whole picture of catchy tunes versus longer trippy tracks. It is the work of a bunch of tight musicians that know exactly what they are doing. In a just world they would be doing a truckload of touring right now, preferably with a like-minded act like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sleater-Kinney, or Ladytron. The world, like love sometimes, is terribly cruel at the moment though, and Gong Wah will be sitting at home, waiting for you guys to pick up their album. I won’t tell you what to do, but just so you’ll know, I’ll add the links to order that sweet vinyl below.

Dorcha – Honey Badger (2020 Box Records)

If there is anything to learn from Birmingham’s Dorcha it’s that it is ok to be weird. Own your weirdness, embrace it, use it, live it. Just about everything about Dorcha’s album Honeybadger is weird; from the stylistic paintmixer-sound to the artwork, but somehow it works out brilliantly.

Am I really allowed to call them weird? Yes, to have four tracks on your album called “meets” (but rearranged M Eets, Me Ets, Mee Ts, and Meet S) is quite deliberately acting weird of course, but that’s not even the most outrageous part of Honey Badger’s cabinet of curiosities. Dorcha just won’t be caught in any formulas. The songs vary from one minute to six and everything in between, and stylistically they break as many rules as they can. Six minute whirlwind-ride title track Honey Badger for instance goes from angelic harmonized choruslines to freakjazz in the blink of an eye, settles a while on a cinematic jam, and ends in violin feedback. Singer Anna Palmer then leads the way through the dreamy Lizard (is it a good dream? We are never quite sure…) after which more instrumental weirdness follows and then Bruiser: a jazzy disco track??? It looks quite exhausting when I read it back like that, but miraculously Dorcha make their fantastic hodgepodge sound absolutely listenable and smooth.

Dorcha deliberately acting weird, but getting away with it…

Shall I compare Dorcha to anything? I am hesitant, as pinning them down to any style would be doing them a huge disservice. I could say if you like Wolf Alice (some of the vocals), Bosnian Rainbows (the electronic wizardry), Yeah Yeah Yeahs (the energy!), and being surprised you’d be in for a treat. Although especially that last trait would be obligatory. Most of anything Dorcha are completely their own weirdo selves and that is probably what makes this album work so extremely well.

For a blog called Weirdo Shrine, with which I hoped to explore the outer reaches of music that would still tickle my brain Dorcha are a real treasure. More than anything I would love for you as a reader to open up that treasure, and maybe pass it on to other like-minded weirdos so that we can be weird together and through this shared experience maybe also feel slightly more normal. Don’t thank me though, thank the band. And buy their stuff from the links below!

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