Svart Records Roundup: Red Lights, Red Letters & Red Bitters
Taking a look at some more of Svart Records’ recent releases, and an older one, including, Jess By The Lake, The Exploding Eyes Orchestra, Kaleidobolt, Sabbath Assembly and Cleaning Women
How does a bunch of guys dressed up as cleaning ladies, playing art rock on homemade cleaning-apparatuses-turned-musical-instruments sound to you? Well fuck you too then. The group’s first album in ten or so years, Intersubjectivity follows that path began on U, in that the band is further developing their own musical language to match their avant-garde dogmas, the lack of which was a common critique of the earlier records. While opener “Playoff” still retains the percussive clang that ruled U, it also exhibits a power shift in the band’s songwriting, the melancholic melodiousness having conquered more ground. Though the percussive elements continue to define the band’s sound throughout the album, they no longer dominate it. Cleaning Women have added more distinct and nuanced vocal lines to their arsenal, shortened their songs and re-embraced the qualities that made their earliest records more dance-able. At the same time, Intersubjectivity is the most comprehensive and diverse collection of songs Cleaning Women have produced, the prog-pop of the first few songs interrupted by briefly delving into blues-influence before presenting a nebulous, French-sung ballad but although the following return to the albums opening stylings, with a sparser touch, doesn’t yield as good results, the duo of “Party Teufel’s” industrial-pornography and the title tracks Depeche Mode vibes bring the album to a satisfactory close. Though Intersubjectivity appears to be more song focused that it’s predecessors, it’s flow and pacing remain mostly coherent throughout and as the material is easier to a degree, Intersubjectivity is the band’s most pleasing, and perhaps best, records – even though in some ways U felt and sounded like it had further fleshed out the band’s core concept. But concept’s change, and it may as well be a sign of being yet unaccustomed to the new paths presented here.
While Jess And The Ancient Ones is living through a period of lesser activity as bandleader Thomas Corpse just put out a new record with Winterwolf, and Deathchain is becoming more active again, vocalist Jasmin Saarela has seized the opportunity to make her solo debut as Jess By The Lake. As opposed to her main band’s more psychedelic occult rock travels, Under the Red Light Shine offers a more grounded vision of rock inspired by the likes of Danzig and Bowie. With Saarela’s voice, and a name like that, it was always bound to draw comparisons to JATAO, and the ghost of Sabbath Assembly can be seen hovering around Under the Red Light Shine, but many songs also feel like relatively stripped down songs based on ideas that could just as well have made their way onto The Horse, And Other Weird Tales’ successor. Not many of these songs are anywhere near as endearing though, and especially the longer pieces, “Legacy Crown” & “Interstellar” spend a long time doing nothing, going nowhere. While Jess By The Lake will still probably find some friends among fans of lightly psyched up occult rock, there’s going to have to be a remarkable rise in quality if it’s going to stand on it’s own legs, as Under the Red Light is a perfectly average album apart from Saarela’s once again heartrending vocal performance.
Drawing from the blues-based proto-heavy bands a’la Blue Cheer, with more than a few hints of psychedelia and a handful of doom riffs, Kaleidobolt established themselves as one of the finest rock bands around with their first two albums, but I haven’t heard much from them since, or caught them live, granted that’s as much mine as anyone’s fault. Their records were every bit as energetic, loud and heavy as their live shows, and though their their songwriting at times seemed to owe as much, if not more, to the carefully composing prog rockers as it did to the free thinking jam bands, the air of improvisation was inescapable. If music could still sound dangerous, Kaleidobolt did, in that the band most often seemed to be at the verge of a breakdown. Bitter triples down on this, louder and with more hectic playing, though only the playing, not the songs themselves, are so. Despite their variety of influences Kaleidobolt would be easy to mistake for a single-minded band at a first glance, but there’s a depth to the songwriting not always readily apparent. Whether it’s instruments subtly trading off lead duties, a complete change of mood in the blink of an eye or just plain clever juxtaposition of styles Bitter keeps you at your toes. Though undeniably retro in their stylings, nothing in Kaleidobolt’s music reeks of nostalgia, and if it wasn’t for the give-or-take mix and master, Bitter’d very likely be the finest rock album you’ve heard in a very long time. I mean, it still is, but despite the favourably clear and separating mix, the master is LOUD, and while this helps with the whole “about to fall apart” -thing they’ve got going on, it doesn’t do good for the already hiding subtlety of their songwriting. A shame in that The Zenith Cracks and Kaleidobolt have already proved putting depth in your songwriting isn’t going to take away any of your swagger.
The Exploding Eyes Orchestra was supposed to be a collective formed by revolving musicians centered around Thomas Corpse, who would use it as a way to freely channel ideas that weren’t so fitting for Jess And The Ancient Ones. Supposed to, because it only seemingly lasted for one studio sessions, during which the band was largely comprised of JATAO alumni. Though uneven, especially I‘s ballads made a strong impression on me, with gut-wrenchingly pleasing basslines through and through, Jasmin Saarela’s dedicated, heartfelt vocals and here and there, the third-best thing in life, after a good bassist and to seeing you enemies driven before you, tactfully arranged, discreet horns. Actually, opulent horns is the third best thing in life, but close enough. The Exploding Eyes Orchestra never properly got off the ground before JATAO reportedly “swallowed it’s influences, and made the side-project unnecessary”, nor did the sophomore recorded in the same sessions as the first materialize, until some three years later, in 2018. Ranging from mildly prog-ish rock through light jazzy mush to the Finnish-sung Godfather-waltz of “Harmain”, II maintains a surprisingly coherent flow and quality despite it’s stylistic inconsistency. Especially the opener “Those of Us Left” and “The Things You Do”, both dispensing the horns more liberally, but with no less tact, than anything on the debut, and adding sax to the projects arsenal, and the cello-laden “The Birch And The Sparrow” hit hard and deep. It’s a shame that TEEO is coming to an end as an unnecessary creature, especially as The Horse And Other Weird Tales, the first of JATAO’s albums after “swallowing it’s influences”, wasn’t as promising as either of TEEO’s works. Nevrtheless, I remain intrigued if the motherband will more prominently wear these sounds on their sleeve or not.