Artist: Astral Social Club
Title: Super Grease
Format: LP, Coloured Vinyl
Label: Important Records
Catalogue Number: imprec156
Year of Release: 2007
Ltd Edition of 500
A1 Super Grease (17:16)
B1 Manifold Flange (3:26)
B2 Nitrous Foment (14.06)
Of course, the first question with this release is - where to file it? A, C or V? It's essentially a Neil Campbell solo album, so C would make sense. He's a former member of the mighty Vibracathedral Orchestra, who I have a few things by too (mostly CD unfortunately, but hey-ho).
But with websites being what they are, I can link to this from the pages of all three letters, which is a minor problem solved. Obviously the physical record has to sit somewhere in the collection, so I've chosen A for now, as it gives me a chance to bang on for a bit about how great the Vibracathedral Orchestra were before we get to V some years hence.
I say how great they were, because I've not heard any of their stuff since founding members Neil Campbell and Julian Bradley left, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I saw the band first in the middle of Hyde Park in Leeds, as part of the Hyde Park Festival (1997?), it turned out to be their first ever gig, as they were previously two trios that shared a member. They were astonishing - and unlike anything I'd seen before. I saw them again at various venues around Leeds: Brudenell Social Club; The Packhorse; The Royal Park; other places like that.
The last time I saw them is probably the most firmly imprinted on my memory as I met the band first. They were playing Glasgow's Instal festival in 2003, and my wife and I were in Glasgow to attend. We were meeting one of her friends in Mono for lunch, and the band trooped in whilst we were waiting. I went over to introduce myself, babbled something about really wanting to see them again, and Merzbow, who was also on the bill, they said The Boredoms were the ones to really watch (and they were right). I remember Neil and Julian did most of the talking, and Bridget pointedly ignored me.
I had a friend in common with Julian though, and we have met up a few good times since. He currently records as The Piss Superstition (myspace link). Live that night they were great - a spectacular hour-long improvisation of slow-building drone noise, with at one point three of the band members making some form of noise or other into microphones (I'd never seen them do this before), alongside trumpet, strings and drums, all pulled together gloriously by Matt Bower's guitar at the end.
When I lived in Dunbar for a year I tried to persuade the landlady at the Volunteer Arms to book them, and she still has my tape of Queen of Guess.
Anyway, back to this release. Since leaving Vibracathedral you could hardly accuse Neil of slacking off (see discogs for more) and this beautifully-pressed blue record is the sister album to Neon Pibrich, also on Important Records - samples and a review of which are available on Brainwashed.
The title track starts quietly, all shimmering drone and chirrups. The stuttering percussive hits of effected snare drums join in, and the drones are phased and get louder over about 3-4 minutes when they are joined by guitar. There is nothing like a melody being played, just high pitched squeals and feedback, but relatively low in the mix. The effects on the snare clatter build up, as do other noises that are boiling and bubbling underneath. The effects begin to swamp the snares about 7 minutes in, and a 4/4 beat begins, propelling all the other noises along with it in a beautiful coalescence of rhythm and noise. It chugs along at trance-speed, with the previous snares joined by hi-hats but becoming increasingly machine-gun-like whilst the other synth noises get squelched up and distorted. About 12 minutes in the beat drops to half the speed, then out altogether, the component parts of the tune also begin to fracture and disintegrate, as if in a vice. And just when you think it can't get any noisier, it does, approaching Merzbow-like levels of noise and distortion for the last minute, before cutting abruptly. It's like Experimental Audio Research's Millennium Music with a good beat, and it's great fun and you should hear it.
Manifold Flange, on the other hand, sounds like listening to Techno on a runway, but without the inherent danger. It disappears with some high-end pitch-shifting jiggery-pokery pretty swiftly, and reminded me of Squarepusher's material on Hard Normal Daddy, but without the bass.
The final track Nitrous Foment has the clearest link to Neon Pibroch, being an obvious partner to its Tripel Foment. Unlike Tripel Foment and Super Grease itself, the drones and echoed guitar-parts never resolve around a beat, and so you have a track closest in spirit to some of Vibracathedral's more meditative work. If Super Grease was Millennium Music, then this is Phenomena 256. In the last few minutes it gets unaccountably noisy though, an ending which feels a little tacked-on - my only criticism of this otherwise excellent release.