Happy Release Day Wrangler

When Wrangler first formed like Voltron a decade ago, they had a very simple modus operandi. The clue was in their name. Ben ‘Benge’ Edwards (The Maths), Stephen ‘Mal’ Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire) and Phil ‘Phil’ Winter (Tuung) would get together with a very select kit list of careworn analog synthesizers and vintage digital sequencers. Their task? To wrangle new music from the ancient equipment. These self-imposed restrictions helped produced two classic long players: LA Spark (2014) and White Glue (2016).

However, the times have changed and so have Wrangler. The coming decade, which looks set to be dubbed the Terrible Twenties, may be the last time that bands actually get to release albums. Ecological collapse, climate crisis, food shortages and the disintegration of the fabric of society will mean that the slow devolution of the music industry isn’t even one of the main things that musicians (or anyone else) should be worrying about. So the trio have thrown everything into their third (but hopefully not their last) album. The result – A Situation, out late February on Bella Union – is simultaneously their bleakest and funkiest release to date.

This collection of warm, reverberant, amped up tracks, that land somewhere between future music, synth pop, industrial dance, classic techno and rigid electro, captures the ambiguities of the group perfectly. Just as they use the ageing outmoded equipment that other people once chose to throw away in order to make tomorrow’s music, they are the paranoid group who (just about) dare to hope that things still might turn out OK. They cast a doleful eye across the hellscape of 2019 and state, if the end is truly nigh, then it’s never been more important to celebrate the little time we have left. And if a revolution to save ourselves is possible then we’re all in need of a revolutionary party, with a revolutionary soundtrack to match.

Even though their first two albums were released on Benge’s own MemeTune label he was unsure that he had the time and energy to release “A Situation”. The solution was staring them in the face however. In 2018 the members of Wrangler, along with revered American musician, John Grant released “Mr Dynamite” on Bella Union, their debut as Creep Show. Label boss Simon Raymonde heard the tracks and loved them: Wrangler now had a new home.

For Mal it almost feels like a family affair: “I was best friends with Robin [Guthrie] and Liz [Fraser] of Cocteau Twins and when Simon joined the group I got to know him really well. I was more from a club music background but I loved what the Cocteaus did.”

Phil adds that there’s no real need for them to define the difference between Wrangler and Creep Show, as the chemistry is completely different: “It’s not just John’s vocals but the way he plays synths and programmes rhythms that is unique, so that music can’t help but have its own character. It’s the result of a four way democracy instead of a three way democracy.”

The album title A Situation is purposefully ambiguous, perhaps referring to a job that needs doing or a nettle that needs to be grasped; perhaps referring to an unspecified event that is potentially either an opportunity or a threat. The mood is set by ‘Anthropocene’ which concerns the collapse and fall of human civilisationAs Mal points out: “If a future archaeologist digs down into the rocks they probably won’t find any human fossils, just a very thin layer of plastic and some rust patches. There’s an inevitability because the wheels have already been set in motion but that doesn’t mean we should ignore what’s going on, we should be taking care of things regardless. So this is about reaching out to other people before it’s too late rather than building walls. They’re the first fucking things that are going to fall down in the Anthropocene!”

‘How To Start A Revolution’ contains a different kind of warning. Mal says: “There was originally a little bit of irony in this track but if anything the world has become even scarier in the last two years. If you keep on pushing people there will come a tipping point and it will come back to bite you. There’s no irony left any more.” ‘Machines Designed (To Eat You Up)’ is about the fully-automated AI state surveillance that threatens us all. It looks like the future that Cabaret Voltaire warned us about over four decades ago is now finally here. Mal says: “It’s not my fault! I take no satisfaction at all in this stuff coming true. If it felt dystopian then, it feels more dystopian now. Wrangler are still questioning power but some of the tools of power have changed. I’m now fearful of Google in the same way I was fearful of Thatcher in the 80s.” Phill adds: “In the 70s and 80s if you wanted to have a go you could any weekend of the year but nowadays it’s harder to see who the enemy is and where they are. Come on out and have a go. Where are you hiding?” Benge concludes: “People are aware of the problems with Google, Facebook, 5g, social media, etc. but they’re woven into everything we do, so impossible to deal with.” Addressing the multiple failures of the internet ‘Mess’ originally had the more direct title ‘It’s A Fucking Mess’ which just about says it all. ‘White Noise’ is perhaps the bleakest track of all, based round a spoken word piece by Mal, inspired by a reflection on JG Ballard’s notorious and transgressive experimental novel The Atrocity Exhibition.

But Wrangler refuse to ignore the possibility of hope. The mirror image of ‘Mess’ comes in the shape of the copper-bottomed Kraftwerkian techno pop banger, ‘Rhizomatic’. In 1980, French philosophers Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze came up with the idea of complex connectivity between “nodes” which eerily predicted the way the internet would work. As Mal says: “It’s an uplifting song, simply because the decentralisation of technology is the one aspect of the internet that might save us.” On the track ‘Anarchy Of Sound’ the group call up perhaps their most unlikely influence to date: the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid Of Athens. Benge explains: “We’ve built weird things into this track called Euclid patterns.” Mal, who studied the history of rhythm for his PhD concludes: “They’ve been part of culture for millennia and explain African drumming as much as Elvis Presley.” But perhaps the most positive aspect of the album is hardwired into the DNA of the track ‘Slide’ simply because it stands on a continuum with the most uplifting of jacking Chicago house and the most utopian of New York garage.

Both sides of the coin – the dystopian and the utopian – are necessary for Wrangler to work. Phil sums it up the most succinctly when he says: “The heavier things get, the more I just want to jump around and have some fun.”

Introducing… Drab City

Bella Union are thrilled to introduce new signings Drab City whose debut album Good Songs For Bad People will be released 12th June and is available to preorder here. The band have shared a hypnotic self-directed video for first single “Working For The Men”, which premiered on Clash earlier today.

A heady air of dislocation envelops Drab City’s debut album, where songs of innocence and experience merge with dub, hip-hop, dream-pop and jazzy soundtrack vibes to intoxicating effect. Drab City are fixated on social alienation, violent revenge, and (perhaps) romantic love as salvation; topics not new in music, but listening to Drab City in 2020, one is struck by how uncommon they’ve become. Lyrically, these songs often project punkish angst and resentment. “Working For the Men” is a degraded service worker’s revenge ballad, imagining male tormenters brought to a violent end. “Hand On My Pocket” tells of a destitute, wandering youth. One night she meets a stranger on a desert road, and is told of a nearby city where a soft, rich citizenry make easy targets. Class war is palpable. Other songs are more opaque, but seem to speak of being the black sheep of the family, or being weighed down by the dullness of hometown life. Yet the casual listener might not notice the violence as the music itself is far from abrasive. Dreamy and ethereal, a foundation of flute, vibraphone, and jazzy guitar chord melody can switch to drum machines or funk-inflected girl-group pop at a moment’s notice. It’s a flurry of 20th century references, combining and recombining at such a schizophrenic pace, the overall effect is something that could only be conjured in our frenzied present. At once catchy and unfamiliar, the melodic, welcoming soundscapes are a Trojan horse for the band’s antisocial outlook.

Drab City

One night fated to be slept

on the streets of Drab City

turns out lasts entire generations

We both drop dead

hungry each night

under foreign stars

Hair matted and mashed into the sidewalk glue

grime, spit, snot, olive pits, ashes, spoiled cream

We sleep huddled in the thinnest linens and dream

startlingly beautiful stuff

like ships with eight sails

and fifty canons mooring at the quay

or even just Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

When the landlord pays a visit he arrives

cheerful and singing in a flute like voice

an underdeveloped, simple and predictable tune

He wears boots like Robin Leach

And at the back of the skull

Wakes us with a kick

Then we’re off and away digging

other people’s ditches all day

We’re staring out the big window

in thisTurkish bakery

on the dirty boulevard

after sunset

blank, silent

and sucking the last of the grounds

Probably everyone around here wants us to die

Our feelings are unfashionable

Creative little groups of artists and influencers pass

carrying uniquely scented wallets

Everybody’s got nice stuff but me

I want a stereo I want a TV

Well I guess that’s everything

Avoid the authorities, live free, then die when it’s cool

Sincerely,

Drab City

BC Camplight debuts ‘I Only Drink When I’m Drunk’

Having last month announced his new album Shortly After Takeoff, released 24th April via Bella Union, and shared the track “Back To Work”, BC Camplight has today shared the brilliant opening track from the LP, “I Only Drink When I’m Drunk”. Of the track Brian Christinzio says: “People that are struggling in life, be it from a stress, loss, or mental illness, are more likely to behave in self-destructive ways. The idea of only drinking when you’re drunk is the notion that sometimes we hurt ourselves because we are hurting. The verses reflect the feelings some of us have when we are plodding through our everyday lives. The choruses are what happens when these feelings get the best of us.”

Additionally, BC Camplight has announced a raft of new UK live dates to follow the release of the album, including a number of headline shows in May, festival appearances at the likes of Liverpool Sound City and Bluedot, and three instore appearances the week of release. Tickets can be found at bccamplight.co.uk.

“This is an examination of madness and loss,” says Brian Christinzio, the inimitable force behind BC Camplight. “I hope it starts a long overdue conversation.”

Fired by his ongoing battle with mental illness, Shortly After Takeoff is the final, and finest, chapter of what Christinzio calls his “Manchester Trilogy”, following 2015’s “How To Die In The North” and 2018’s “Deportation Blues”. All three albums were created after the native Philadelphian had moved to Manchester. Like Deportation Blues, Shortly After Takeoff spans singer-songwriter classicism, gnarly synth-pop and ‘50s rock’n’roll, with Christinzio’s similarly distinctive, flexible vocal carrying a fearless approach to lyrical introspection, but the new album is a major leap forward in songwriting sophistication and lyrical communication.

“It’s important to stress that this isn’t a redemption story,” he says. “I’m a guy who maybe lives a little hard and I’m in the thick of some heavy stuff. But as a result, I think I’ve made my best record.”

The “heavy stuff” has come thick and fast for Christinzio. Just days before How To Die In The North was released, he was deported and banned from the UK because of visa issues. Estranged from his new home, his girlfriend and his dog, unable to promote his album and back home with his parents, Christinzio sunk deep into the dark. An Italian passport, care of his grandparents, eventually allowed him to re-settle in Manchester, but then just days before Deportation Blues was released, his father Angelo unexpectedly died.

“I went into a spiral that was worse than any time since my twenties,” he recalls. Hence the title Shortly After Takeoff: the feeling of being suddenly thwarted by what life throws at you. Making matters worse was a neurological disorder that returned after years in remission: “I see TV static, and it messes with how my brain interprets everything from sound to my own feelings.”

One way to process tragedy is comedy, which elevates Shortly After Takeoff to a heightened plateau, from grief-stricken vulnerability to armoured bravado, from the black dog of depression to gallows humour.

Bleak comedy is evident from the album’s first song. ‘I Only Drink When I’m Drunk’ features Christinzio’s trademark ‘keep you on your toes’ style. ‘Ghosthunting’ similarly changes tack, between serene melody, classical harps, and pounding passages. Though the Nilsson-esque ‘I Want To Be In the Mafia’ (Christinzio’s favourite lyric on the album) and the elegantly sombre ‘Arm Around Your Sadness’ are less changeable, the way ‘Back To Work’ trades dreamy AOR and robotic funk, “sums up this record perfectly,” Christinzio feels. “The verse seems to make sense, then out of nowhere, boom boom…just when you think you have it figured out… It’s the never-ending cycle of mental illness.”

Christinzio says his love of stylistic shifts is also linked to a, “pretty low attention span. I’m always stirring the pot, I never let it settle.” His personal life is similarly restless. Few might risk everything and abscond from the safety of home in Philadelphia, where he had released two albums, occasionally played live with local faves The War On Drugs – whose current members Dave Hartley and Robbie Bennett were part of the original BC Camplight live band – and guested on Sharon van Etten’s Epic album. “If I’d stayed, I’d be dead. Period,” he once mused, and what was Philly’s loss became Manchester’s gain.

There, Christinzio has his friends, and his band. On record, Shortly After Takeoff is “95 percent” Christinzio, plus Adam Dawson (drums) and Francesca Pidgeon (backing vocals, sax, clarinet) and guests on cello and violin. Dawson and Pidgeon are also members of the current live BC Camplight, alongside Thom Bellini (guitar), Stephen Mutch (bass) and Luke Barton (synths, acoustic guitar).

Christinzio couldn’t tour How To Die In The North because of his deportation, but the shows following Deportation Blues played to increasingly larger audiences. Christinzio’s bombastic and intense live performances have earned him an ever-growing legion of devotees (and a recent nomination for Best Live Act by the Independent Music Awards) that see Brian as an “anti-rockstar”, an unfiltered talent.  

“I’m pretty sure the BC Camplight live experience isn’t something you can find elsewhere,” he declares. “It is a journey every night. One moment, I’m basically doing a stand-up routine and the next, the band and I are playing like we plan on dying that evening, giving our everything. One regret is that his father never saw Christinzio experience any level of success. “I wish he could have seen what I’ve started to do here,” he says. “I certainly gave that guy more grey hairs than he deserved. He would have liked to see this.”

Shortly After Takeoff ends with the gorgeously tender 93-second ‘Angelo’, “a little fleeting moment for my dad. I wanted his name on the album, and something that sounded like a goodbye. It ends with the drums, like a heartbeat stopping…” That’s Christinzio and Shortly After Takeoff: his best, most honest, open and frequently heartbreaking record.

Ezra Furman shares ‘Every Feeling’ video

Today, Ezra Furman presents a video for “Every Feeling” a standout track from Sex Education OST, released digitally last month via Bella Union (CDs and vinyl will be available April 24th). “Every Feeling” was inspired by a bad bout of depression and has an up-all-night, emotionally exhausted feel to it. The video, created by Sivan Kidron, is brightly coloured and entirely animated.

“Kidron and I talked about that all-nighter feeling and the feeling like you’re already gone. That’s why we wanted the video to be full of empty hotel rooms, cigarettes still burning, like you’ve just left leaving everything unfinished because you just need to keep moving,” says Furman. “Our dancing blowing flailing inflatable tube man is sort of the avatar for me at my most emotionally vulnerable. I love these images and the way Sivan brings them across, like we’re almost dreaming, like how the world feels when you’re really exhausted, like there are no people left in it, like you’re at the mercy of the wild wind.”

“When I first listened to the song, I immediately connected with it,”
 says Kidron. “It’s about going through everything and just feeling tired and empty, and to me it sounded like a mantra that is saying, in the end underneath all these tumultuous emotional layers there is pure love. The thought of how there is no actual empty space if you take in mind light and air made me play with the idea of a figure that is full of air, like an inflatable tube man. Also as humans, there is always something in us even when we feel empty, and the tube man kind of illustrates that. Lacking any ability to resist, it dances so totally that it seems completely open and free, as if it embraces this emptiness and celebrates it.” 

Sex Education is about Otis Milburn, a socially awkward high school student who lives with his sex therapist mother, Jean (played by Gillian Anderson). Season 1 shows Otis and his friend Maeve Wiley setting up a sex clinic at school to capitalize on his intuitive talent for sex advice. The second season, which is now streaming, follows late bloomer Otis trying to master his newly discovered sexual urges in order to progress with his girlfriend Ola while  also juggling his now strained relationship with Maeve. Meanwhile, Moordale Secondary is in the throes of a Chlamydia outbreak, highlighting the need for better sex education at the school.

The Sex Education Original Soundtrack gathers the original songs  Furman composed for both series alongside some of Furman’s older songs that were played in the show. Lining up alongside older cover versions of LCD Soundsystem’s  “I Can Change”  and Melanie’s “The Good Book,” there is a new rendition of “Devil Or Angel”, The Clovers’ doo-wop jewel from 1956.

Furman and her band recorded the new songs in between sessions for the exhilarating Twelve Nudes, released by Bella Union in 2019.

Happy Release Day Lanterns On The Lake

Today Lanterns On The Lake release their stunning new album Spook The Herd via Bella Union. To celebrate the release as well as their live instore performances this weekend Lanterns On The Lake have shared a live performance video of ’Swimming Lessons’. You can catch Lanterns On The Lake live this weekend at one of their 3 x Record Shop in-store live performances, in Brighton, London and Newcastle.

“Musically elegant, emotionally eloquent, and absolutely vital.” The Line Of Best Fit – 9/10

“With this brave, political LP, Lanterns On The Lake have found their time… Hazel Wilde’s words are clear, emphatic and beautifully sung… The songs are shimmering and sharply defined; infused with melody and searing musical ideas.” MOJO – 4 stars ****

“A glorious shot of potent romanticism… While the songs are Lanterns’ leanest yet, fusing dream pop melodies with Paul Gregory’s soaring post-rock guitar, it’s Hazel Wilde’s lyrics that quicken the pulse. If we are sleepwalking towards apocalypse, Lanterns are here to sing us out in style.” Long Live Vinyl – 9/10

“Succeeds in painting atmospheric images, with elliptical poetry set against dreamy, FX-laden guitars, twinkly pianos and jagged beats… Lanterns On The Lake can be quietly magnificent.”Uncut

“Their most beguiling album to date.” The Arts Desk – 4 Stars****

“Poised, rising and falling soundscapes… From the yearning Every Atom to the bittersweet Baddies, every track trembles with individual intensity… A Northern powerhouse.” PROG

A Valentine’s day treat from Laura Veirs

Today, Laura Veirs, newly separated, releases “I Was A Fool”, the first thing she’s ever recorded herself as it flowed out of her stream-of-consciousness style on the first go with no edits.

Of the track Veirs says: “My marriage was falling apart. I was strumming my guitar and I felt a song coming on. Normally song-writing for me involves editing and fussing before the song feels ‘right’, but not this time. I grabbed my phone and recorded this song as it wrote itself — it came out this way, completely formed and realized. It’s a rare thing for this to happen to me. Rather than sitting on this song and waiting for a new album I simply had to release it, as soon as possible. I offer this up on Valentine’s Day as a balm for the broken-hearted.”

Lyrics:
I was a fool
I was a fool
Was I really loving you
In October and May
Every night and every day
I was a fool
You can’t change the way the wind blows,
You can try but everybody worth their salt knows
You can’t mess with the breeze
It just does what it pleases
I was a fool
Down on my knees
I was a fool
There again I was a fool
And I tried
To live my life free
I was a fool
I was a fool
Was I really really loving you
In October and May
Every night and every day
I was a fool
I was a fool