Undersmile, Anhedonia: Back into the Water

Posted in Reviews on July 30th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

undersmile anhedonia

Aesthetic continues to play a large role for UK dual-vocal four-piece Undersmile, whose second full-length, Anhedonia, is out on vinyl through Black Bow Records. The Oxfordshire outfit released their debut, Narwhal (review here), back in 2012 and since then have embarked on an acoustic side-project called Coma Wall, even releasing a split called Wood and Wire between the two bands in 2013 (they also had a split with Bismuth out that year). Because that alter ego contains all four members of Undersmile — guitarist/vocalists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown, bassist Olly Corona-Brown and drummer Tom McKibbin — I wondered if perhaps some of that influence might sneak its way into the workings of the new Undersmile offering. Aside from a shared theatrical sensibility between them and an enduring penchant for slow pacing, both of which Undersmile already had in their arsenal, almost not at all.

I’ll note that Taz and Hel work together more dynamically as vocalists here than on the debut, but with a few years between and some considerable stage time throughout that span, there’s nothing to say that wouldn’t have been the case anyhow. What Anhedonia is, however, is monolithic. At seven tracks, 75 minutes, it dips below the 10-minute mark just once for second cut “Sky Burial” (8:02), and spends the rest of its time reveling in a near-complete wash of darkness and grueling lumber. One might be tempted to call it drone-doom for the overbearing plod it enacts on “Song of Stones” or opener “Labyrinths,” but the truth of the listening experience isn’t that cut and dry, and for all its (purposeful, useful) unipolar churn, Anhedonia creates rich atmospheres.

We could almost call those atmospheres colorful if we were talking about the deep purples and blacks of the album’s fitting Peacevillean cover art, but either way, they play into the stylized drawl of the material — Hel and Taz‘s vocals either sung clean or shouted, but almost always in a drawn-out delivery to match the nodding material behind, which opens gradually on “Labyrinths” and proceeds to trade back and forth throughout the album in massive swells of volume and minimalist spaciousness, an early flair of strings showing up on the opener that will play in again deeper into the abyss on the penultimate “Emmenagogue” and elsewhere. Rhythmically, the course of Anhedonia impresses perhaps most of all in that it manages to hold together and not — as one might be inclined to do while listening — stop halfway through, have a good cry for days gone and what could have been made of them, and go back to the rest later.

undersmile

“Sky Burial” works with similar explosive tendencies, and by the time it’s done, Undersmile‘s intent to absolutely overwhelm their audience is writ large. Pushing toward the midsection, “Song of Stones” builds to a heavy push in its middle and again near the end — strings coming forward around the halfway point of the track only to be consumed by the grueling distortion captured at Skyhammer Studio by producer Chris Fielding (also of Conan), reappear, and be swallowed again for the effort. Take that, any sense of hope whatsoever. Centerpiece “Atacama Sunburn” would seem to draw together a water theme present in the band’s past works — Narwhal had its nautical moments, as did Wood and Wire, and even their 2010 debut EP, A Sea of Dead Snakes, was a sea — and a huge vision of waves remains an appropriate image for the undulating force of Undersmile‘s groove — but the real standout of Anhedonia is “Aeris,” which follows.

As one would expect of Undersmile at this point in their tenure, it’s consistent atmospherically with its surrounding pieces, but “Aeris” offers a melodic fullness all its own, and it doesn’t quite stand in contrast to what’s around it, but it marks a definite broadening of the context. It winds up affecting the listening experience for “Emmenagogue” and closer “Knucklesucker” as well, though the finale has its own intentions, which it keeps secret almost to the very end as if to see who among those who’ve taken Anhedonia on might make it that far. After an oozing linear build for its first nine minutes, feedback transitions into faster (gasp!) riffing that solidifies around McKibbin‘s drums and shifts into a more ’90s-style noise rock, the repeated lines, “I don’t feel hollow/I don’t feel sorrow/I don’t feel anything, really,” metered out over a push of growing intensity. It slows down prior to deconstructing at the finish, but even if for just a minute, Undersmile proved it’s possible to make a sound of such enduring thickness move, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find them pushing it further next time.

Of course, with that there comes a full 74 minutes of suffocating doom, but that’s precisely the point. Undersmile‘s intent isn’t to make it easy on the listener, but to challenge their audience to plunge these emotional and sonic depths with them. As a result, Anhedonia is successful because it feels throughout its course like the four-piece are dragging you along with them on their slog through this oppressive ambience. The party album of 2015 it ain’t, but in its progression beyond what Undersmile have done before, for a more personal feel throughout and for the still-monstrous scope with which it plays out, it’s hard not to stand in awe of the wide waters the band continue to cast, be haunted by the otherworldly presence in their melodies and get lost in the tidal sway of their rhythms.

Undersmile, Anhedonia (2015)

Undersmile on Thee Facebooks

Undersmile on Bandcamp

Black Bow Records

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Undersmile Post New Video for “Song of Stones”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 12th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

undersmile song of stones video

Oxfordshire four-piece Undersmile released their sophomore full-length, Anhedonia (review pending), last month on Black Bow Records as the titanic follow-up to their 2012 debut, Narwhal (review here). Recorded at Skyhammer Studios with house producer Chris Fielding (also of Conan, whose Jon Davis owns both Skyhammer and Black Bow), it is a more dynamic outing overall than the debut, utilizing some of the lessons learned from Undersmile‘s operation under the unplugged alter-ego of Coma Wall, with whom they — Undersmile — released a split back in 2013.

They weren’t exactly lacking for atmosphere before, but one can hear the progression in the gradual, patient unfolding of “Song of Stones,” for which Undersmile has a new video rife with all the creepy imagery, candlelight and averted eyes one might expect from guitarist/vocalists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown, bassist Olly Corona-Brown and drummer Tom McKibbin, and ultimately it makes them a stronger band. “Song of Stones” follows a largely linear pattern, but trades back and forth between spacious, minimalist stretches through which McKibbin‘s ride cymbal seems to be the only thing keeping it all together, and crushing, lumbering doom, the quiet, eerie vocals of Hel and Taz changing to more vicious shouts as surely as the wardrobe cuts from white veils to black dresses. Through these changes, a consistent bleakness is maintained such that, loud or quiet, Undersmile never really veer from the overarching darkness that consumes the track.

The video, likewise, is dark. Actually, it starts out dark and then it gets even darker. But you’ll just have to turn up the brightness on your screen or take my word for it that they’re all in there. Undersmile, who were positively leveling when they played Roadburn in April (review here), worked with Mondo Cheapo Productions on the new clip, which you’ll find on the player below. Dig in and get really to be swallowed whole:

Undersmile, “Song of Stones” official video

The official video for “Song of Stones”, taken from Undersmile’s second album Anhedonia (available on 12″ on Black Bow Records / CD on bttfck srprs rcrds).

Produced in the spring of 2015, and directed by M. Arthur Wickson for Mondo Cheapo Productions: https://www.facebook.com/mondocheapo

Anhedonia was produced at Skyhammer Studio by Chris Fielding (www.skyhammerstudio.com), and mastered by James Plotkin (Khanate / Jodis).

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Undersmile on Bandcamp

Black Bow Records

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audiObelisk Transmission 048

Posted in Podcasts on May 26th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Click Here to Download

 

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

The second hour starts a little early this time around, and what I mean by that is when you’re like five minutes into hour two and trying to figure out on the tracklisting below what improv-sounding brilliant cut you’re hearing, pay careful attention to when hour one ended. Just 11 seconds from the start of the second half of the podcast. So yeah, that 18-minute wonder gets filed under hour one instead, but it comes with a wink and a nod. I just couldn’t bring myself to file something under hour two without a one at the front of the time stamp, which shows you how sad and compulsive I am because I’ve only been time-stamping these podcasts for two months now. What a dork.

It’s good stuff this. Always is, I suppose, but starting out with Goatsnake into The Machine and then on from there, it builds a flow that makes some sense one into the next in a way that, listening back to it after I put it together, was especially satisfying. Hopefully you agree as you make your way though.

As always, hope you enjoy:

First Hour:
0:00:00 Goatsnake, “Grandpa Jones” from Black Age Blues
0:04:36 The Machine, “Coda Sun” from Offblast!
0:09:55 Galley Beggar, “Pay My Body Home” from Silence and Tears
0:18:51 Steve Von Till, “Night of the Moon” from A Life Unto Itself
0:25:48 Venomous Maximus, “Through the Black” from Firewalker
0:29:42 Black Pyramid, “Open the Gates” from Dead Star 7”
0:34:59 Ape Skull, “A is for Ape” from Fly Camel Fly
0:39:54 Sunder, “Deadly Flower” from Demo
0:43:53 Eternal Fuzz, “Sea Change” from Nostalgia
0:47:37 Geezer, “Long Dull Knife” from Long Dull Knife
0:53:31 Fogg, “Joy of Home” from High Testament
0:59:49 Shiggajon, “Sela” from Sela

Second Hour:
1:18:07 Blown Out, “Thousand Years in the Sunshine” from Planetary Engineering
1:34:01 Les Lekin, “Loom” from All Black Rainbow Moon
1:47:14 Undersmile, “Knucklesucker” from Anhedonia

Total running time: 1:59:00

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 048

 

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