Cyclocosmia – Deadwood

Cyclocosmia is a relatively new project that I have had the pleasure of working on in the past. I call it a project rather than a band, because Cyclocosmia embodies a real commune approach to music making. One the band members is – in fact – a filmmaker, and an open invite on their website encourages any fans to contribute and submit material for future projects.

A woman with the top of her head cut off and her brain exposed.

Cyclocosmia’s debut album, Deadwood, features 10 tracks of mostly symphonic metal, with numerous gorgeous interludes of a minimalist approach. The album is about the darker side of the human mind, and the title refers to the parts of the mind that are not working as they should and impair the function of the mind as a whole.

The first track that stands out to me is “Ubasute,” which is the old Japanese practice of taking the elderly into the woods to die when they become a burden on the family. The violin by Pete Hartley complements the song and really takes this particular track to a new level. The following track, “Season of Regret,” continues to impress with lyrics that speak of destruction of the present based on failures of the past. My favourite line is about missed opportunities in the pursuit of perfection:

“The chance that I threw away
In search of the perfect words to say”

“Shackled” is another track that stands out as lyrically significant, with lines describing the non-anguished anguish of a walking shell of a person, simultaneously in pain and unable to feel that pain. “…y dolor en la Tierra” is, as the title implies, a song written in Spanish about singer Lorena’s native country of Venezula. Living in Spain and being a Spanish speaker myself, this song grabbed my attention as one would expect. The lyrics are beautiful, and I cannot envisage them better in any other language.

The album ends with “Under the Silent Stars,” which is – in my opinion – the most poignant track on the album. Maybe it’s the attractive minor key? Maybe it’s because it’s minimalist by comparison? (In contrast to most of the album, this track does not feature a symphonic metal interlude). Maybe it’s because of the nautical references? Maybe it’s because it is about death? In any case, it is a memorable song to end a debut album and by far my favourite on the album.

Attrition & Anni Hogan – Millions Of The Mouthless Dead

Some of you will know of my long term association with the post-punk, darkwave band Attrition. I have lent my vocals for several recordings, including The Unraveller of Angels album, and sometimes I join them on tour. I lent some vocals for Attrition’s latest album, “Millions of the Mouthless Dead,” but in the end, they didn’t quite fit the project.

Now… some people might be upset to have their entire contribution to an album dashed aside, but having worked with Martin Bowes for several years now, I knew that whatever decision he made was in the best interest of the album…. and indeed… my vocals would have ruined this masterpiece!

A knife standing in the ground amongst twigs and brush.

Whenever possible, I prefer to listen to music in a dedicated setting, where I can give it my full attention. Being a very busy woman and a mother of two, these opportunities don’t present themselves often, so when they do…. I want whatever I’m listening to to be damn good! When I finally got a chance to sit down and listen to Millions of the Mouthless Dead, I knew within the first 60 seconds that the next 50 minutes would be well spent. Not even one minute into the album, I was struck by Martin’s voice. It’s the same whispery, gravelly voice as always, but it had a particular lushness to it that really grabbed my attention. You can hear in Martin’s voice how near and dear this album is to his heart… and with good reason.

Millions of the Mouthless Dead is an album inspired by and dedicated to William Bowes (his grandfather) and the millions of people that experienced the living hell of World War I. The album was many years in the making, released to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the war as a form of memorial.

Rather than pulsating beats and operatic vocals, like most Attrition albums, Martin has created a soundscape to recreate the trench warfare, interspersed with spoken poems read by several different people – men and women – in multiple languages. Also interspersed throughout the album are Anni Hogan´s stellar pianistic skills adding both warmth and dissonance to the mix. The sound design is stunning! Martin has crafted and manufactured the sounds of war, using samples both obvious (like gunfire) and not obvious (such as the sound of a washing machine).

My favourite apsects of this album are the different perspectives from French, German and English people reading original war poetry. This creates a narrative that doesn’t so much follow the progression of the war (although there is a nice salute to America’s late-as-usual arrival), as the progression of the lives affected by the war. “A Madman’s Flash,” which occupies three tracks titled “As Quiet As,” “All The Mad Men,” and “Krieg,” is without a doubt a jewel of the album, where the soundscape starts to crumble into insanity.

The title track “The Mouthless Dead” is the most “Attrition” song on the album, in that is has the most graspable beat. For me personally, however, it isn’t the highlight, as one would often expect of the title track. For me… the most chilling moment is during the last track, “A Drawing Down Of Blinds.” The spoken words, “Goodbye Dear” followed by a fade in of church bells are a perfect reminder that nothing came of that war except death… and then more death.

This album is – in my opinion – a highlight of Martin’s career. I’m grateful for just being privy to the process and having a little ghost of a vocal on the track “Divine Providence”… but also, I’m grateful because my vocals that found no home on this album became a little masterpiece of their own.

Pharmakon – Bestial Burden

I came across a new (to me) “band” quite by accident the other week. The “band” (which I later found out is the solo project of Margaret Chardiet) is called Pharmakon.

As so often happens with amazingly different music, it was the album artwork that caught my eye and drew me in before I had heard a single note (or the opposite of a note, as the case may be). Such was the case when I first discovered Björk, when the album cover of Homogenic literally stopped me in my tracks walking down the aisle of a Gallery of Sound record shop. (Back in the day, when we bought music in stores).

A girl laying down with cuts of meat and offal arranged to look like her internal organs.

The album was inspired by the experiences Chardiet had during surgery. This meshes in deliciously with the artwork, which shows a girl (I’m guessing Chardiet), laying down with cuts of meat and offal laid across her body to suggest her internal organs. If you know me, you know how seriously I take my own album artwork – that it must be an extension of the overall work. Learning the inspiration for the album, I was drawn in even deeper accompanied by a tremendous amount of artistic respect.

The album starts with “Vacuum,” breathing to a background of electrical humming… breathing which soon becomes layered, altering the patterns in an intense trance-like way. The breathing ends – sooner than expected – and the next track, “Intent or Instinct” emerges with NIИ-esque noise and beats. Chardiet’s vocals, emerging from the background as subtle instrumentation lead up to primal screams that would make Diamanda Galas droll in envy. The second track seams itself in beautifully with “Body Betrays Itself,” which for me invokes the soundtrack to House of 1,000 Corpses.

“Primitive Struggle” starts off with a person coughing, retching and panting as the beat behind intensifies. This instantly took me to the sound-design tracks of Type O Negative’s World Coming Down – one of my favourite albums of all time.

A clean break in the noise atmosphere introduces “Autoimmune.” This is the first track on the album where I can sort of make out lyrics – which is by no means an insult. “Autoimmune” ends followed by a brief, clean break of silence that makes you appreciate just how engulfed you were in the atmosphere.

The album’s false ending is its title track, “Bestial Burden,” which returns to an invocation of Diamanda Galas, but with Chardiet’s own distinct flavour, which by this point has been well established. This track brings you an onslaught of maniacal laughter, layered until it becomes instrumentation in its own right.

Who doesn’t love a bonus track? I adore them!! And here we have a surprise version of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” which is originally a Cher song written by Sonny Bono. It’s a damned good version!

I reference other bands and artists in this post…. but they are merely anchor points to what is otherwise an incredibly unique album. Yes, it’s another noise album, but for as much as I love noise, most noise album do become tedious after awhile. One can only take so much in one sitting. (The same goes for my own albums, which are blessedly short). Music that really drives itself under your skin and challenges your perception usually does become tiresome, simply because it requires more of you – the listener – than being a passive audience member. At 32:40, I find the album length of Bestial Burden to be absolutely perfect and brilliantly planned.

Bestial Burden is available on bandcamp. To hear some of my own experimental tracks simply enter your name and email address here for a free download.