A Certain Ratio – It All Comes Down To This (Mute)

Following hot off the heels off their last record ‘1982’, the band release their 13th studio album. Working with producer Dan Carey whom they met in 2021, it departs from their traditional sound and introduces new instrumentation from Carey’s studio, such as electronic sampling techniques. This can be heard in the opening title track, ‘All Comes Down To This’, with siphoning wind-up modular synth sounds and cataclysmic crashes, frontman Jez Kerr’s monotonal political lyrics citing “destruction…all the loss and all the fear” representative of a depressing reality which the album heavily politicises.

The second single follows, ‘Keep it Real’; a song written during Kerr’s recovery in hospital from septic arthritis; although once again darkly political, its catchy chorus-line contains personal musical references that the band used to help boost his esteem, also cheered on by clapping effects. The third track, ‘We All Need It’ has a creeping Rickenbacker bassline and ‘Knife Slits Water’ styled drum machine which is overcome by the cool jazz of Martin Moscrop’s hoppy Herbie Hancock guitar while focusing on Kerr’s dice with death; the latter part of the track sees buzzing synth effects with the elucidated lyrics, “Be yourself; that’s all that we all need,” that provide haunting, mantric wisdom.

The album then takes an even darker turn with the ominous tick of the springy ‘Surfer Ticket’; a track about AI, technology and video lifestyles in the Silicone Valley age. It’s heavily dubbed and sampled through Carey’s MPC to give it a cutty, hip-hop vibe, then paired with its successor, ‘Bitten by a Lizard’, which features more drum machine and a dominating percussive rhythm; the distant glow of the coldwave synth in the background is earth shattering and highly unusual for this band.

The more familiar funk and disco element of A Certain Ratio returns in the next segment with the chiming synth and guitar of ‘God Knows’; a utopian vision of a better world. The band’s cover of ‘Shack Up’ is reimagined for ‘Out from Under’; another song about Kerr’s medical recovery, its infectious groove makes this the most melody friendly and upbeat song on the album and a winning track. The band’s drummer, Donald Johnson, then narrates some spoken word for ‘Estate Kings’; the breezy, brassy feel is a return to ‘ACR Loco’ and its track ‘Taxi Guy’, written about Johnson’s upbringing in Wythenshawe, Manchester, the sound of which he describes as “Miles Davis meets ‘Shaft’ in a dark alley.”

The mind blowing release finishes on no small exit; with ‘Dorothy Says’ and its tangy, warped guitar, also fed through modular synths; it fills your ears with hazy reverb that at times competes with Kerr’s embittered vocals as if it’s a final fragmented transmission in this dystopian narrative. However, the album is ever-forward facing as its creators have always been towards a brighter future when they pick up that funky beat.

‘It All Comes Down to This’ is out now on neon pink vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.

Attrition – The Black Maria (Two Gods)

The group’s first non-live or compilation studio release in almost a decade, ‘The Black Maria’ finally arrives into their comprehensive discography since their formation back in 1980. Its introductory track, ‘The Promise’, is a pulsating heartbeat with the words, “Be silent!” – a dystopian mandate. The single follows with ‘The Great Derailer’; now remixed and remastered, it first appeared on the 2020 EP of the same name and has been performed in Attrition’s live sets; an EBM track showcasing the trademark duality vocals of founder Martin Bowes and returning group co-founder after 20 years, Julia Niblock. Neoclassical strings build, twinned with operatics, also sung by baroque backing from Emèse Árvai-Illes (Black Nail Cabaret), Elisa Day (Hetaira Decrépita), Yvette (Vaselyne) Alia Miroshichenko (Subterranea), with samples and lyrics that conjure up the cultish magnetism of a despotic deity.

‘The Switch’ sees Bowes speak a rhyming sequence of verbs with a mantra-like repetition over a low frequency synth. ‘The Pillar II’ is an ancient, simmering fizz of aching synth and lamentable yet burgeoning violinic strings; its haunted sadness mixes contemporary classical opera with modern industrial mechanical noise, with a sample at the end that resonates on the importance of freedom for humanity. The chaotic mix of EBM and neoclassical is also observed in remastered 2021 single, ‘The Alibi’; commissioned for Coventry’s City of Culture in the same year, it features grand piano from guest contributor Annie Hogan (Marc & The Mambas) .

‘The Zero Hour’ is reminiscent of William Bennett’s (Cut Hands) ‘Sixteen Ways Out’ and was formerly known as ‘The Voice of Truth’; the ambient vocal sample is overtaken by tribal drum bashings that crescendo to the end. The title track interestingly closes the release; a hybrid smash of industrial-classical set to a reverberating bassy synth riff. This outstanding release now provides a home to the group’s lingering recordings from the past few years but also leaves the listener hungering for more.

‘The Black Maria’ is out now on vinyl, CD, cassette and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.

CAN – Live in Paris 1973 (Mute)

This compilation is the fourth release in a series of live albums that commemorate the Krautrock improvisional group at the height of their formation during 1973-1976, recorded at live shows from various locations in Germany and Europe. It’s a live recording of five tracks they performed at L’Olympia, Paris and, quite poignantly, this record coincides with the recent and shocking passing of Can’s vocalist Damo Suzuki just weeks before its release, who originally joined the group in 1970 alongside Michael Karoli (guitar), Irmin Schmidt (keyboards), Holger Czukay (bass) and Jaki Liebenzeit (drums).

As on the previous live releases, each track is numbered in German. ‘Eins’ is the longest track at over 30 minutes; an overload of psychedelic noise that perhaps is too much for one track, but was an improvisation called ‘Whole People Queuing Down’ dominated by Karoli’s feral guitar. The commercial tracks followed with ‘Zwei’, which demonstrates the bands earth rumbling rhythm section, Karoli’s guitar crooning along to the bumpy rhythm and Suzuki’s tripping vocals from ‘One More Night’ taken off the group’s 1972 acclaimed studio album, ‘Ege Bamyasi’, which along with its predecessor, ‘Tago Mago’ (1971), was released prior to this show.

‘Drei’ contains the famous lyrics of ‘Spoon’, a single also from ‘Ege Bamyasi’. The track sees Karoli’s mosquitoish feedback with Suzuki’s vocals dipping in and out of the instrumentation, his rhythm replicating tribal pants with the track building to a frenzied ending. After the improvisational noise track on ‘Vier’, final track ‘Fuenf’ features a performance of ‘Vitamin C’, the main single from ‘Ege Bamyasi’; Karoli’s ghostly guitar hovering above the drone of the drums and bass. The production on this release is particularly standout: the rhythm section has a third dimensional, burrowing quality that makes for a rumbling surround sound atmosphere when listened to on speakers and is likely their best live release out of the chronology. RIP Damo Suzuki.

‘Live in Paris’ is out now on double vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.

Modern English – 1 2 3 4 (InKind Music)

After a period of eight years since their last record, Modern English release their ninth studio album, simply entitled ‘1 2 3 4’, referring to the drumbeats at the beginning of several of the tracks and a reversion to the band’s minimalist punk roots in what is essentially a revival through the angst of these current times, achieved by louder production than on any of their previous releases.

It bursts open with first track and single, ‘Long in the Tooth’; a punk rock tempo referencing the phrase about getting old, featuring frontman Robbie Grey’s exasperated vocals and the band’s energising synthesisers, bouncing basslines and thunder-clad drums, which owe their credit to the superb productions skills of Mario McNulty. The album’s main single, ‘Not My Leader’, sees both noisy parts and minimalist stretches of post-punk guitar strokes from Gary MacDowell; unusually for Modern English the song has a political focus on the current government’s leadership failings.

‘Not Fake’ is one of the strongest and best produced tracks on the record; its deafening, hollowed drumbeats fill the entire track while electronic effects so typical of the band’s instrumentation play out in the background; alternating again between loud and quiet it explodes into uplifting defiance against the ever fake world of artificial intelligence, yearning instead for the preferred natural beauty of the planet and hints at The Cure’s ‘A Forest’, with the band also reconnecting to the pastoral heritage of their 1982 second album, ‘After the Snow’. However, despite also echoing the sound of their 1981 debut album, ‘Mesh & Lace’, this release uniquely differs from any of their previous albums.

‘Exploding’ has the bleak and repetitive chorus line, “Is that your fear; the danger of death?”; it lives up to its name being a track with intense noise washes and an industrial-style interlude marrying keyboardist Stephen Walker’s electronics with guitar scrapings; at times the guitar is even reminiscent of ‘After the Snow’ such as on ‘Tables Turning’. The accompanying track to ‘Not Fake’ is ‘Plastic’, which harkens a ridiculing message about plastic pollution. Third single, ‘Crazy Lovers’, is the most melodious song on the tracklist with an ’80s new wave synth edge, last seen on Modern English’s third album, ‘Richochet Days’ but with an updated vocal style.

The album then takes a grunge dip with the slow-play of ‘Genius’, sang by Grey with sardonic humour; its mechanical, hoovering bass riff intertwines with haunting slide guitar. ‘Out to Lunch’ could be another jab at the government and has beautiful cascades of high pitched, chiming guitar. On a contrasting tone, the release quietly ends on the mesmerising ‘Voices’, with its rippling synth, surf guitar and more reflective ombre that ends an otherwise explosive release. Aside to their early trilogy of excellent 4AD albums, ‘1 2 3 4’ seriously competes for a high status in Modern English discographic history.

‘1 2 3 4’ is out now on vinyl, coloured vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.

J Mascis – What Do We Do Now (Sub Pop)

The Dinosaur Jr. vocalist’s fourth solo studio album sees him musing about current times and emotional turbulence. Opening track ‘Can’t Believe You’re Here’ features Mascis’s corrosive guitar feedback. The title track, ‘What Do We Do Now’ is the best song on the album; it should also have been a single. It has a mellow, melodious chorus with an acoustic drive and an electric guitar solo ending. ‘Right Behind You’ has a gushing electric guitar interval and ‘You Don’t Understand’ sees a country twist with pedal steel guitar played by Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn.

’I Can’t Find You’ has stronger drums than the rest of the album, with Mascis playing most of the instrumentation on the album. After some weaker tracks, a strong song in the way of ‘Hangin Out’ has a great synchronisation between keyboard and guitar, the former played by Ken Maiuri. The release ends on the whip and crash of ‘End is Gettin Shaky’. The album has some great highlights with Mascis’s guitar playing typically excelling, which makes up for the similarity of some of his songs.

‘What Do We Do Now’ is out now on vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.


New Model Army – Unbroken (earMUSIC)

For their 16th studio release, the band returns to their roots with a punk rock album of defiance that harkens back to their 1984 debut record, ‘Vengeance’. Heavily political, it provides a running commentary of the abysmal mess of the current time and is an eclectic mix of sounds from New Model Army’s circa 45-year history mixed with the formidable skills of Tchad Blake.

Beginning on pastoral single ‘First Summer After’, which acts like an introduction, it simmers down to a keyboard drone and reignites with thrashings of acoustic guitar. ’Language’ is a tempestuous swirl of chaos, with a dark rhythm section and ominous spoken word interlude that displays Justin Sullivan’s astute yet bleak assessment of the situation: “It’s the things that you fear the most that you’re going to make happen.” ‘Reload’, which could be a single in itself, contains heavy metal guitar chords contrasting with the tumbling, glittering keyboards that reveal the smokescreen of nihilistic reality concerning global political corruption.

Second single, ’I Did Nothing Wrong’, focuses on the current Post Office scandal; having been written earlier it could not have been better timed for its release: a panicky track with ticking bass that questions the binary nature of computers, it contrasts between moments of quiet and sudden sonic explosions; the drum sound on this release being particularly emphasised. ‘Cold Wind’ echoes the main single; it also has string keys which could have benefited more from real instrumentation. The Bunrundi beats of dissociative song ‘If I Am Still Me’ are overlaid with magical guitar strokes that make it another album highlight.

The release ends on a couple of songs that differ from the overall feel of the rest of the track list; the most standout of these is ‘Idumea’, featuring a gospel choir with the bashings of tribal drums continuing, providing hope in the darkness as does the ending of the conflicting last song, ‘Deserters’, with Sullivan’s final assessment after much inner turmoil being, “These mornings I wake up singing, even if I can’t remember why”. A revolutionary apex in New Model Army’s rich discographic history that strongly contends for album of the year.

‘Unbroken’ is out now on vinyl, limited edition coloured vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.

Black Grape – Orange Head (DGAFF Recordings)

Six years since their last studio album, the Black Grape duo formed of ‘Kermit’ Leveridge and Shaun Ryder, finally release their long-awaited fourth album, which was delayed upon release until this year. The record has a heavier rap focus moving away from the electronic funk of before, starting on the samba twirlings of ‘Button Eyes’ before the rappings of single, ‘Dirt’, which is fairly predictable in sound but connects with the genre on autobiographical experiences with their pair growing up in working class Manchester. Traditional Black Grape is seen in ‘Losers’, with its Western-style guitar funky rhyme influenced by Ryder’s Happy Mondays background.

Second single, ‘Milk’, unfortunately borrows a bassline from Gang of Four’s ‘What We All Want’, which is off putting. But third single, ‘Pimp Wars’, is a funky reggae rap; a highlight on the track list, it contains a summery brass section and centres around about street crime. The album finishes on the sardonic humour of ‘Self-Harm’ and the psychedelic garage guitar of ‘Sex on the Beach’. The release is a varied experimental development of the Black Grape sound to keep the duo amongst contemporary genres but still lacks the ‘wow factor’ of those previous chart topping albums.

‘Orange Head’ is out now on coloured vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.