Agitated Atmosphere: The Dead C, Loren Connors & Tom Carter, Blackrune, SKY H1, The Robert Bensick Band

Agitated Atmosphere, Album Reviews
Justin Spicer

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound locally, regionally and globally.

This is a rather harsh column. Literally, the music herein goes a bit on the brown note spectrum. Right into it with the latest from New Zealand stalwarts The Dead C, the first collaboration between guitar idols Loren Connors and Tom Carter, southern gothic psych from Blackrune, the blinding lights of SKY H1, and the palette cleanser reissue from The Robert Bensick Band.The Dead C - Trouble(BaDaBing; LP/CD)

How does one truly describe the karmic din of The Dead C? It’s almost sinful at this point to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to attach adjectives to the New Zealand legend, but let’s try. Trouble is fantastic. There, adjectives done.

In all seriousness, The Dead C continue to prove themselves a keystone species of primordial rock and roll. There is nothing about Trouble that really changes the formula of their aural attack, but that doesn’t equate stagnation. It’s how squalls and wails wash over the body in just the right amounts, at just the right time. Trouble feels just as spontaneous and unexpected as every new Dead C release. Where many bands can cue up their greatest hits in riff form, the utter lack of recognizable riffs in favor of mood, tone, and color have always meant The Dead C were never going to fit into neatly ticky-tack boxes of lowered expectations. But what Trouble does is post a reminder that not only are the Dead C sustaining an ongoing ecosystem that relies on its unique set of melodic anarchism, but they are the alpha species. That all imitators, both original and blatant rip-off, will always have to answer to the intestine quake of Russell, Morley and Yeats. My insides, once more, are shredded after 80+ minutes of predatory onslaught.

Loren Connors and Tom Carter(Family Vineyard; LP/DL)

This untitled (not self-titled) LP of two guitar greats is a literal stunner. The ghostly plucks of Connors and the hellish brimstone of Carter mesh to provide the afterlife portrait of what lies beyond those gravestones and tomb markers. Both have entertained death both in reality and in art – Connors continues to battle Parkinson’s and Carter’s own health battles with included a medically induced coma – have carried a pall over their respective works. So it’s crazy that these two, so frequently collaborating with many powerful entities and personalities, are just now working together. This untitled LP -- as ghoulish, yet perfect for the impending season as it may be — is spooky in all the right ways. Yes, when I used literal, I meant it. Like a group of young kids sneaking around a haunted house, ever squall and creak from Connors and Carter freezes you in your tracks. Where did it come from? What sort of hell house is hiding behind the floorboards and the studs?

As frightening and worrisome as this creation is, it’s also somewhat comforting. Some of us like a good spook, and many of us find ourselves in a metaphysical anxiety about death and disease that may be decades in the making. These are two gents who have and continue to face it down by not shying away from inevitability. Granted, they are in no rush to hug a coffin and enter eternal sleep. But flirting with death – and understanding its station and purpose, can influence the greatest art of a generation. Carter and Connors have done just that.

Blackrune - Dead Temples(Furious Hooves; CS/DL)

A little late to cover the follow-up to a 2014 favorite, but Dead Temples was worth both the wait and the delay in this write-up. My only complaint is how Blackrune have yet to find themselves pressed onto black wax. Dead Temples as tape is all well and good, but this space-psych-gaze would rattle some skulls on the hi-fi. But niggles such as this aside, another fantastic upward and onward release from a secret Savannah continues to shelter. I imagine once the right ears find out about Blackrune, they’ll get their due. In the meantime, I’m happy to share this with those who read this carved out niche of the internet.

Dead Temples plays around with repetition and patience, and much of the first half of the album is a darker shade of Magnog’s self-titled opus twenty years on. The recitation of lyrics, the sparkles of stars against the pitch black galactic canvas, and the ability to switch tempos and moods seamlessly – all fantastically wrapped up in Blackrune’s latest. They group continues to defy labels, even as someone like me aimlessly plasters them with the simplest of explanations. Blackrune continues to provide adventure for those who feel some of the best experiments in music can be found in southern gothic melodies and pop deconstruction. What’s left, as far as Dead Temples is concerned, is an ethereal realization that all these “dead” genres of a bygone era are indeed alive and haunting in a way lightly captured by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

SKY H1 - Motion(PAN/Codes)

The void in which darkwave has emerged has brought with it a strange sexuality that is hard to juggle. Considering how club-friendly the imagery but how anti-social the melodies can be, the tug-of-war in which it perpetually competes means only a select few are really feeling the repressed passion within its dystopic misanthropy. If that seems a little too wordy or academic, perhaps SKY H1 should cleanse the palette a bit. In hesitation of calling anything “post-,” it is with aplomb that Motion and its darkened synthesizers keenly tap into the middle ground of darkwave sensuality and the clubs in which it can be positively explored. Where darkwave seems like a tease where the dominator pushes away the target, only to angrily pull them back, SKY H1’s Motion is warm embraces and 3 A.M. ecstasies cast against dimming neon. The beats are energetic as the spoken word is often reduced to excited pitches of monosyllabic temptation. Though there may be truth to the life-is-shit-and-so-is-love-so-let’s-fuck spirit of darkwave, whatever new horizon SKY H1 has discovered is where I want to be, even if it means shaving off 10 years of hard fought life experience and traveling to the pop-up clubs of Berlin to find it.

The Robert Bensick Band - French Pictures in London(Smog Veil; LP/CD/DL)

Weirdo post-psych, pre-new punk wave from future members of Pere Ubu. This previously unreleased archival piece follows Robert Bensick’s more polished version of contemporaries oddballs Mark Tucker and Gary Wilson. Oscillating between Dead Airplane freak outs, downtown jazz jams, and mutated rock and roll visions, you can see where the future of the Cleveland and Akron regions were headed, though it’s largely due to hindsight granted via a LP released 40 years after it was intended. That doesn’t diminish the enjoyment, or the suave sneer of Bensick and his group. That the cassettes and demos of these recordings were passed and cherished among the who’s who of what would become Northern Ohio’s now-treasured “scene” it’s nice to have such a polished gem in our possession all these years later.

Justin Spicer is the editor of Cerberus at Tiny Mix Tapes and contributes to global online and print publications. You can follow him and his work via Twitter.

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