Connect with us

Alternative/Rock

“Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion” by Harry Sword [Book Review]

At its heart, Harry Sword’s ‘Monolithic Undertow’ (out via Third Man Books) is a book that tries to describe, decode, explain and provide a profundity of examples of the drone in its many forms.

Published

on

Everyone, at some point, enjoys the sound of silence. It’s why people escape to weekend cottages and load up the car for camping trips. It’s why people move out to the country. It’s why we lock ourselves in the bathroom to escape the din of shitty relatives at family gatherings. It’s why earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones exist. But the idea of complete silence is a misnomer, more so when you speak to it in the context of music; there are always layers of something humming in the background.

Back in the day, when I was searching for more of the most extreme sounds the world of extreme music had to offer, I inadvertently discovered subverting bands and outsider artists like Earth, Lull, Scorn, Coil, Robert Rich, Steve Reich, James Plotkin and Mick HarrisCollapse album and so on and so forth. I found they worked wonders — along with the nighttime stillness of nature and the whirr of cars in the distance — in helping to put my perpetually racing mind at ease when trying to sleep. I would never go so far as to call myself a proponent of the drone, drone or ambient music, but after devouring the 300+ pages of the first book by Quietus, The Guardian, Vice and Record Collector contributor Harry Sword — major props to his parents (as well as his ability to withstand the childhood bullying he inevitably endured) if that is in fact his real name — has provided a deeper understanding of those initial attractions to the sounds of beat-less/ambient/minimalist/droning music as well as why my ear perks up at the sound of agony bags (i.e. bagpipes), sitars, hurdy gurdys and heavily distorted and lengthily sustained power chords.

At its heart, Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion (out via Third Man Books) is a book that tries to describe, decode, explain and provide a profundity of examples of the drone in its many forms. If you’ve ever laid back, ripped to the tits on life’s stress and/or some form of chemical enhancement and pondered the lines of association between the sound of the earth spinning on its axis, the din of pre-life in the womb and the resonance of caverns under the streets of Valetta and rural Pennsylvania through to Ravi Shankar ragas, Hawkwind’s prog-riddled attempts at space travel, Terry Riely’s classic “In C” and Electric Wizard’s hazy metallic drug den, then Sword has beat you to the punch.

A delightful scribe with a knack for painting theatrically vivid pictures with the written word and a thicker than average thesaurus banked in his journalistic holster, Sword attempts to put his thumb on the concept of the drone, where it turns up in everyday life, how it has inspired and motivated a laundry list of counter-cultural big wigs, musicians and artists, and how even though it’s both the sound of, say, your parents vacuuming on a Saturday morning as well as some of the most noteworthy and celebrated songs, albums and pieces in non-mainstream music history.

The book’s beginnings take the reader back thousands of years, studying the caves and chambers found under remote, modern Ireland and Malta, and their attachments to ritual and ceremonial chanting before distilling the presence of the ol’ thrum and strum throughout the history of religious and spiritual music, Indian music, jazz, New York’s downtown no-wave scene, industrial music of all stripes, the no rules communal hippy-dippy side of Krautrock, the original wave of jam band music exemplified by the Grateful Dead’s extensive meandering, the hidden layers behind balls-out proto punk, the violently anodyne lurch of doom metal and raves in which hypnotic techno and bodies shifted by synthetic drug use go hand in hand.

It’s an interesting thesis, trying to extrapolate the drone in musics both normally associated with the drone and not — despite a compelling argument, I still think unpacking and analyzing The Stooges under this microscope is a bit of a reach and giving short shrift to noise rock a massive oversight — and Sword presents copious numbers of examples of albums and artists where and how he hears the drone. As per my quibble with him including the Stooges in discussion about the drone, there’s a huge helping of subjectivity in how someone so attached to the concept of the drone seeks, hears and finds it in music as opposed to someone who’s just here for “the beat, the beat, the beat.” That the author hears it in music across the board is a stretch on one side of the coin, but a possible goalpost shift on the other. Your thoughts about the universality of the drone will be challenged, expanded, enhanced, and, as it says in one of the press quotes, you’ll never listen to music the same again. Maybe.

Harry Sword

One frustrating aspect — or revelatory, depending on your level of curiosity and how much time you have on your hands — is how Sword throws out example after example after example. It’s insanely thorough, but so much so that to listen to, and more crucially, absorb and understand what the author is hearing contextually would take a lifetime. Granted, there are more terrible problems to have than “Oh, there’s too much music to listen to, boo-fucking-hoo!” but on the plus side, most of the entries into Sword’s drone sweepstakes are given enough background, history and informational tidbits to spark interest for those willing and wanting to do deep dives into an artist and/or their discographies. As well, he includes a number of awesome stories about Timothy Leary, Ravi Shankar, Lamont Young, Alice Coltrane, the Velvet Underground and a huge chunk of the Krautrock scene that are worth the price of admission alone.

As mentioned, Sword’s writing style is eloquently descriptive and vivid as he conjures up comparisons and metaphors that make me, a hack who has been putting sound into words for a long-ass time, envious, quite frankly. Take this description of stoner rockers Fu Manchu: “…they were 1970s iconography made flesh — a sonic celebration of dune buggies, shwag weed, ornate bongs, wide skateboards, early hardcore, stadium rock and tripping amid the dunes.” Or this, about the Butthole Surfers: “[they] were the most demented band of the 1980s. Here was all the hallucinatory slush of back streets Texas — meat sweats, drunken afternoons, granular speed, blotter acid, bathtub moonshine, prison tats, biker gang law, flickering late-night grind house movies — condensed into a greasy, screwy, ribald whole.” Gotta love it when the written word paints the perfect sonic picture.

The drone may be a tough nut of linearity to crack, but Sword unpacks it to demonstrate that its pervasive simplicity is a shared part of humanity; it’s present in all of us in different ways, shapes and forms, and we’d be good to slow down, learn about and grow from it.

Author: Harry Sword
Publisher: Third Man Books
Release Date: May 17, 2022
Format/Length: Paperback, 341 pages
ISBN-10: 1737382938
ISBN-13: 978-1737382935

Alternative/Rock

Glixen – “foreversoon” [Song Review]

On “foreversoon,” Glixen created a song where youthful exuberance clashes heavenly with the established shoegaze sounds of yesteryear,

Published

on

Glixen “foreversoon” single artwork
Glixen “foreversoon” single artwork

It’s been less than a year since Glixen released their debut EP, She Only Said, on Julia’s War Records. Still, the Phoenix shoegazers have already dug their heels into the DIY music scene and are heading out on an extensive US tour this year alongside the likes of Interpol, Softcult, Glitterer, and fish narc. Appearances at SXSW and Treefort will only further cement their reputation as a new band worthy of note.

To herald the busy year ahead, the band has released a new single, “foreversoon,” via the AWAL label, and it’s well worth a listen.

Says lead vocalist Aislinn Ritchie:

“‘foreversoon’ represents blissful moments of new love and intimacy. The song harnesses melancholy chords, layered with fuzzy red melodies and gliding guitars that pull you in deeper. I wanted my lyrics to feel like a conversation that expresses my infatuation and sensuality. Time is relentless and memories are fleeting, this song encapsulates those emotions forever.”

It’s a fair summation. Its youthful exuberance clashes heavenly with the established shoegaze sounds of yesteryear, think Ride, Curve and Slowdive, but with the fuzz cranked up possibly higher. Ritchie’s vocals certainly share that dreamlike quality of Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, and with many of those bands back on the road this year, perhaps the time is ripe to inject fresh blood into the genre.

Glixen, photo by Jesse Beecher

Glixen, photo by Jesse Beecher

Run Time: 3:43
Release Date: February 9, 2024
Record Label: AWAL Recordings

Continue Reading

Album News

Slightest Clue Release Their Rocking, Five-Track EP ‘Carousel’

Vancouver indie rockers Slightest Clue recently released their ‘Carousel’ EP, inspired by the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship.

Published

on

Slightest Clue
Slightest Clue

Vancouver’s Slightest Clue is like the secret after-school project of four kids who would have passed each other without a glance in the hallway at school, but once they’re plugged in and ready to play their distinct blend of post-punk, alternative rock, and dark pop, all bets are off.

Produced by Matt Di Pomponio, their new EP, Carousel, is inspired by the beginning, middle, and end of a formative romantic relationship, spanning the trajectory from love to this loss of connection. The closing track, “Carousel,” marks the ultimate bittersweet reflection with unique harmonic layers to portray those contrasting emotions, shifting between grand and quiet tones.

Commenting on the album, the band states:

“The main theme is love, loss of relationship, and connection. The arc of the story is our foreshadowing of the end in our first song ‘These Days’ speaking on the day to day fights and how neither person can seem to get back to a happy place in the relationship. ‘Why Can’t I Call You?’ is the initial spark of infatuation and obsession with someone before you know them. ‘When You Wake Up’ talks of the blissed out honeymoon stage where everything is working and nothing could go wrong. ‘Suit Uptight!’ represents the mounting frustrations and resentments building tension from unmet needs. And finally our closing track ‘Carousel’ is the end and the bittersweet reflection of a cherished relationship that can no longer return.”

Each member, Malcolm McLaren, Hannah Kruse, Sean Ries, and Nick Sciarretta, brings distinct influences and experiences: a stage actor whose playlists go from Talking Heads to Sonic Youth to Björk, a hook-obsessed recovering choir girl, an electrical engineer whose personal idol is John Bonham, and a guitarist who played for (and left) 10 other bands before deciding this was the one for him.

Slightest Clue ‘Carousel’ [EP] album artwork

Slightest Clue ‘Carousel’ [EP] album artwork

Continue Reading

Alternative/Rock

Track-by-Track: The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord Cuts Through ‘It Leads To This’

The Pineapple Thief frontman Bruce Soord breaks down each track on the progressive rock band’s new record ‘It Leads To This.’

Published

on

The Pineapple Thief in 2023, photo by Tina Korhonen
The Pineapple Thief in 2023, photo by Tina Korhonen

It’s been a bit of a renaissance period for The Pineapple Thief over the last few years. This revitalization has resulted in the brand-new album It Leads To This. Released on February 9th via Kscope Records, the eight new songs comprise more of frontman Bruce Soord’s observations and deductions about life and the world around him. The initial concept for the record came together rather quickly, but the actual lyrical and musical components took time. Finalizing these songs required much work and collaboration between Soord and his three bandmates. Each member had a conception of what was satisfactory regarding the songs. Coming to that common ground took time, but in the end, each member was extremely pleased with the final product.

The release of It Leads To This coincides with the 25th anniversary since The Pineapple Thief formed. In that time, they have released over 20 full-length albums and EPs. It Leads To This proved to be one of the most intense writing periods ever for the band. They worked on these new tracks for almost three years. Each band member pushed each other to go above and beyond what they felt capable of. It was extremely fruitful from an artistic perspective, but personally, it did pose challenges for the band members.

Joining us today for an exclusive track-by-track rundown of It Leads To This is Bruce Soord himself. He takes us through each song on the record, their inspirations, motivations, and how they came together.

1. “Put It Right”

Bruce Soord: “This was the first song we wrote for the album, right in the depths of the pandemic. I remember standing outside my studio, which is in the garden of my home, when we were in full lockdown. I looked at the blue sky, not a vapour trail to be seen. Even the hum of my small town was gone. As a songwriter, you’re obviously going to take that in and use it. I started to ponder the fragile state of the world. I mean, how can the world be brought to its knees overnight? Which then led to thoughts about the past, essentially a re-evaluation. Are we all to blame? Was I to blame?”

2. “Rubicon”

“As soon as the lockdown was lifted, I remember talking to (drummer) Gavin (Harrison), and he had the idea to write some songs in the same room. I know, radical, right? So I got in the car and drove to his house. Honestly, in the history of The Pineapple Thief, I had never written in this way. Songs were built up in our various studios over weeks and months.. But we were up for trying something new. It could have been a very long disaster – a 6 day jam in E. But to my surprise, we wrote four songs in this way. The first one being Rubicon.

“The verses are in a ‘5/4 shuffle’ which is quite unique (see Gavin’s drum playthrough on the Vic Firth YouTube channel). The song is actually about Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, destroying the Roman republic for his own selfish ambitions. History repeating itself indeed…”

3. “It Leads To This”

“Following on from the theme of ‘Put It Right,’ this is essentially a positive song about focusing on the right things in life. What are going to be your biggest regrets on your deathbed? It’s obvious but also easy to miss. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard, I wish I had spent more time with my family and friends. It’s a love song really. ‘For all this time, I didn’t notice you…’”

4. “The Frost”

“I came up with the riff on my 6-string baritone guitar, so it has a low, edgy feel which I really love. This was a song that came together really quickly between the four of us (plus some great contributions from our touring guitarist Beren Matthews on guitars and backing vocals who played throughout the record). It’s about spending your life with a soulmate, through thick and thin, no matter how bad things get.”

5. “All That’s Left”

“Thematically, this continues the theme from ‘It Leads to This’ and, for me, is dominated by the riff and the middle section, which I love playing live. Again, it’s low in register, written using my baritone, massive drums.”

The Pineapple Thief ‘It Leads To This’ album artwork

The Pineapple Thief ‘It Leads To This’ album artwork

6. “Now It’s Yours”

“Written during the sessions with Gavin, this song goes on a bit of a journey. Soft, atmospheric, big riffs, a guitar solo… Lyrically, looking at the world as an older guy with a family about to be let loose into the world. What the hell are they going to inherit? Well, now it’s yours…”

7. “Every Trace Of Us”

“Again written during the Gavin sessions, I remember Gavin had the intro riff written on his Wurli keyboard he has in his studio. I took it, added some more chords in the progression and the song snowballed from there. Lyrically this is about the pressure of modern life, expectation, pressure, and the mental repercussions of it all. Modern life can tear every trace of us apart.”

8. “To Forget”

“I had this finger-picked acoustic guitar part, which the band liked, so I developed the first part of the song and came up with the words pretty quickly. Us humans, especially as we grow older, have to come to terms with loss and, in a lot of cases, tragedy. Touching on the debate as to whether life is a gift or a curse (I am firmly in the ‘gift’ camp). However, living with tragedy isn’t easy. Remembering isn’t easy, to forget is impossible.”

Continue Reading

Trending