John Bence "Archangels"
John Bence employs music as a tangible expression of the immaterial. The British composer’s visceral and spiritual sound world probes the metaphysical. Raised in Bristol’s burgeoning underground electronic music scene and a graduate of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, John Bence manages to employ compositional complexity to manifest potent emotions. Gregorian chant, orchestral arrangements, rippling synthesizers and field recordings are equally at home in his music. Bence’s acclaimed early works focused on the human experience, charting the composer’s own experiences with addiction and alcoholism in both stark minimalism and caustic noise eruptions. Written two years into his recovery, Archangels finds the composer casting his gaze heavenward, sculpting radiant soundscapes that offer a glimpse of the divine.
Bence comes fully into his own as a composer on Archangels, deftly threading together gauzy electronic atmospheres, brooding orchestral passages and minimalist piano meditations; revealing new surprises at every twist and turn. Bence’s composing follows his daily meditation and prayer – creative and spiritual practice woven so tightly that the two became inseparable. Bence transmutes complex theological and philosophical concepts into something tangible and immediate. Rather than ascribing to any one religion or philosophical viewpoint, the composer juxtaposes myriad concepts as he does sonic elements to reveal new insights, crafting a new sonic language to articulate the inexplicable. Archangels’ opening track “Psalm 34:4” evokes “The Fool” tarot card and its promise of opportunity and new beginnings, finding the composer standing at the edge of the next phase of his life post-recovery and stepping off and into the unknown. “Metatron: Archangel of Kether” and “Gabriel: Archangel of Yesod” both draw inspiration from Damien Echols’ Angels and Archangels. Echols’ book would sit open on the desk as he drew from the Archangel into the work. The reference equally demonstrates how Bence’s work fits into the larger picture, with Kendrick Lamar also drawing energetic links to Metatron and Gabriel in “Family Ties.” Closing triptych “Anu/Enlil/Enki (The Way of Anu)” explores cosmic processes of death and rebirth through the Hindu holy trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Each immersive, yearning movement in the album manages to be evocative and probing without ever being prescriptive.
Bence’s work excels at creating a space for contemplation. “Metatron, Archangel of Kether” pushes Kill’s sepulchral arrangements to dizzying new heights, shifting from sacred chant and crackling distortion through to an ominous drum march. “Tzadkiel, Archangel of Chesed” elevates solo piano to similar emotional impact, reflecting Tzadkiels Merciful nature. “Raphael, Archangel of Tiphareth” vaporizes the composer’s orchestral arrangements and haunting vocals into airy, shapeshifting soundscapes which reflects the angel’s healing energy in Kabbalah. Bence’s entirely modern compositions are atmospheric, creating space with their creative instrument use and contemporary electronics. Following in the footsteps of pioneers who used existing ideas and equipment to establish entirely new sonics, Bence defies compositional norms and forges new pathways through philosophical composition and electronics. Archangels is a compelling addition to contemporary composition by an artist unbound by classical traditions.
Miss Grit "Follow the Cyborg"
The idea of Asian humanoids never seems to leave the cultural consciousness. While techno-Orientalist tropes have penetrated Western popular media for decades, appearing in sci-fi films like Ex Machina or Ghost in the Shell, recently artists of Asian descent have increasingly begun invoking the concept of Asian robots themselves: South Korean-born filmmaker Kogonada centered his drama After Yang on a Chinese automaton child, while this year Singaporean pop artist yeule explored their status as a “cyborg entity” on Glitch Princess, and Filipina-American singer and social media personality Bella Poarch cast herself as a robot revolutionary on her Dolls EP. Following this trend, Korean-American musician Margaret Sohn inhabits the role of a repressed machine on their upcoming debut album as Miss Grit, Follow the Cyborg, using the archetype to explore the complexities of selfhood.
On the album’s lead single and title track, Sohn is alienated from their own body: “I’ll wake up pretending/Then I’ll wake up again/Leave my mouth open/And let her say the rest,” they sing flatly, over a flickering drone beat. Drums, angular synths, and jagged guitars build momentum; midway through, the song is joyously elevated by saxophone flourishes. “I’m a living girl/A real living girl,” they proclaim, then announce a different identity: “I’m a living boy/A real living boy.” Offering a quiet moment of clarity after an adrenaline high, the track pulls back, and lingering piano keys dissolve into electronic dissonance. “Follow the Cyborg” gestures to a liberated future beyond binaries, and while its concept isn’t particularly new, its theatrical vision is striking.
Sightless Pit "Lockstep Bloodwar"
Sightless Pit is the project of duo Lee Buford (The Body) and Dylan Walker (Full of Hell). Buford and Walker are born collaborators, known for their ability to subvert musical expectations, transcend genre and plunge headlong into the unknown. Their work with the likes of Thou, Uniform, Merzbow, and Nothing, taken together with their The Body & Full of Hell albums, have established each as singular voices and masterful alchemists of heavy music. The duo shares an affection for rhythm-based beat music, disparate electronic genres, dub, as well as darkly-hued atmospheric ambience. Lockstep Bloodwar exceeds expectations by stunningly combining the noise and confrontational posturing they are both well known for with pulsing and kaleidoscopic electronic samples, drum machines, and grizzled synths. Across the album, the two highly inventive musical omnivores are buoyed by an astounding menagerie of eclectic and celebrated collaborators.
Lockstep Bloodwar is a dub album composed by Buford and Walker with a sonic palette drawn from heavy music. The pair, enamored by the space and depth of dub, as well as the creative production techniques of the genre, wanted to employ its approach to harsh and foreboding sounds, a natural continuation in their explosions of boundaries. The duo built the sonics of each piece with distinct guest artists in mind, allowing them space to alter the direction of each track while maintaining a distinct, cohesive vision for the album. Midwife’s signature ethereal voice undulates suspended in time on “Resin on a Knife.” A protean performance from Elizabeth Colour Wheel’s Lane Shi Otayonii drives “Flower to Tomb” from obliterating squalls to anthemic rounds. An autotuned Claire Rousay expands the range of Sightless Pit’s dynamic compositions. The distinctive nature of their approach is nowhere more evident than when looking at the stark contrast of songs like “False Epiphany” and “Low Orbit” from the Industrial Hazard’s (aka Spencer Hazard of Full of Hell) noise-riddled onslaught to clubby dance hooks from Gravediggaz/Stetsasonic rapper Frukwan. This seamless mashup of disparate influences is also apparent on the exhilarating “Calcified Glass,” where YoshimiO’s (Boredoms/OOIOO) processed voice and drums spar with Walker’s howls before succumbing to defiant bars from Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo. Sightless Pit, with the help of engineer Seth Manchester, produce a strikingly seamless balance between entirely unexpected sonic combinations wrapped with high caliber collaborations to create an invigorating, inventive and undeniably listenable album.
An aura of brusque confrontation and grime is sheathed around Lockstep Bloodwar and its multiplicity of noises and raw energy. Buford’s signature rhythmic voice stretches into new complex patterns while retaining an unearthly punch, with gargantuan bass thuds and deft syncopations capable of transforming a song’s landscape in an instant. A spirit of malcontent and caged frustrations oozes from within each piece manifested in spiraling low end throbs and Walker’s pained wails. Walker describes the underlying worldview of the album: “Lockstep Bloodwar is the struggle to comprehend and come to terms with the fact that our lives are on a locked track, and the track is violent and painful. We have zero control over our lives on any kind of scale and even the simplest existence is a selfish and violent one.”
Buford and Walker are sonic inventors who, armed with an array of voices complimenting their own as Sightless Pit, push back against the locked track of life, presenting escape routes and musically giving voice and agency to all of us navigating an increasingly hostile world
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs "Land of Sleeper"
“I’ve always liked the quote: “Sleep, those little slices of death – how I loathe them.”
So reckons Matt Baty of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, vocalist and lyricist of a band as comfortable wading through the darker quarters of their subconscious as they are punishing ampstacks.
Whether dwelling in the realm of dreams or nightmares, the primordial drive of the Newcastle-based band is more powerful than ever. Land Of Sleeper, their fourth record in a decade of riot and rancour, is testimony to this: the sound of a band not so much reinvigorated as channelling a furious energy, which only appears to gather momentum as the band’s surroundings spin on their axis.
“Shouting about themes of existential dread comes very naturally to me, and I think because I’m aware of that in the past I’ve tried to rein that in a little” reckons Matt. “There’s definitely moments on this album where I took my gloves off and surrendered to that urge.”
Whether this means Pigs, a band once associated with reckless excess, have taken a darker turn to match the dystopian realm of the 2022 everyday, is open to debate. The band themselves aren’t necessarily convinced; “Sobriety does funny things to a man” reckons guitarist Adam Ian Sykes wryly.
“I know from my perspective, I was trying to write some much heavier and darker music” says guitarist and producer Sam Grant. “But this was an aim more as a counterpoint to earlier material, as opposed to any sort of political or social commentary. I still very much see these heavier moments as musically euphoric, and emotionally cut loose or liberating.”
“For obvious reasons, the anticipation for the writing of Land of Sleeper was unlike anything we’d felt before” Adam adds. “These sessions were an almost religious experience for me. It felt like we were working in unison, connected to some unknowable hive mind.”
The intensity of feeling is writ large right from the pulverising drive of opener ‘Ultimate Hammer’, and its rallying cry “I keep spinning out, what a time to be alive”. Yet, whilst ‘Terror’s Pillow’ and ‘Big Rig’ are rich with the band’s trademark Sabbathian power, there’s scope this time around that supercedes anything they’ve previously attempted. Matt’s duet with the traditional folk vocals of Cath Tyler on the closing lament ‘Ball Lightning’, for example, is one particularly potent illustration of their expanded horizons.
In terms of emotional impact, a pinnacle on Land Of Sleeper is ‘The Weatherman’. Replete with devotional rapture and radiant intensity, the band’s attack slowed down to a mantric and mesmeric crawl, it marks a collaboration with the ululatory tones of Bonnacons Of Doom vocalist Kate Smith and a choir including Richard Dawson and Sally Pilkington. The resulting tumult constitutes a sound not unlike The Stooges ‘We Will Fall’, reinvented and adrenalised as an invigorating sermon for the zeitgeist.
“This one presented an opportunity for me to do something completely unbridled. I wanted to surrender to the weight of the song, so the lyrics came about in much the same way I imagine a frenzied artist might throw paint at a canvas.” relates Matt “I just wanted the lyrics to present an uncontrollable energy.”
For all that the last few years have seen Pigs’ stature rise in the wake of triumphant festival slots and sold-out venues alike, this remains a band, consummated by bassist John-Michael Hedley and returning drummer Ewan Mackenzie, who are fundamentally incapable of tailoring their sound to a prospective audience, instead standing alone and impervious as a monument of catharsis.
“Writing and playing music is often surprising and revealing, it can be like holding up a mirror and seeing things you didn’t expect to see” reckons Mackenzie. “For me, the darker tracks on the record hold in common a determination not to lose faith, despite the odds.”
The better to unite slumber and waking, Land Of Sleeper is no less than an act of transcendence for Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – new anthems to elucidate a world sleepwalking to oblivion