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Album Review: TBA

Monday, February 7, 2011

Album Review: Ultraphallus - Sowberry Hagan

Those Belgian noiseniks Ultraphallus are rashly experimental. Their challenging, sensory warfare sits on the crossroads where the paths of Nadja, Bleach-era Nirvana, Sunn O))) and Kong all meet up. Now, if that sounds like quite an odd collection of names to stick into one sentence you’d be right. But then actually getting to grips with the abrupt track-by-track changes of direction of Sowberry Hagan is a task in itself. Whether they’ve been brave or stupid is ultimately your call, but hopefully I can help with that.

The album was recorded on a LiĆ©ge farm in just four short days. Four days of instrumental speculation with banjo and saxophones popping up amidst layers of white noise, samples and field recordings. Listening to the whole shebang you’d have to hope that it wasn’t a working farm. The cockerel wouldn’t get a look in!

Ripping through a multitude of techniques they assail us with a spot of white noise, not unlike a grotty recording of a macabre horrorshow, for ‘Pathological Freemind Verse’ before obliterating us with bawled punk as into the the snapping maw of ‘Right Models’ we go. Dropping tempo to settle into their more familial groove of badgering doom, vocalist Phil Maggi begins to psych us out with his best unhinged lunatic impression for the soul-sucking ‘River Jude’ and then menacingly half-whispers in our ear through the plonk-a-thon ‘Indians Love Rain’.

For ‘The Red Print’ (a track where the level of cotton wool disorientation will have you trying to un-pop your ears throughout) the band seem determined on drowning the dying guest vocal of Eugene Robinson (Oxbow) beneath the surface of a boiling ocean of sound. He manages to heave himself up to deliver a line, then splashes around a bit, until they drag him back under. This goes on with him re-emerging just breathless moments later until, agonisingly, he finally disappears beneath and we enter an underworld of psychedelic warblings.

The album as a whole is, at first glance, an exercise in various claustrophobic techniques. Adeptly, Ultraphallus smother us with the pillow of neurotic drone (‘Torches Of Freedom’), try to strangle us into submission with hedonistic, industrial doom (‘Suspense Bird/Human’), or break our spirit with fistfuls of discordant sax over scathing noise (‘Cinghiale’). And if they’d left it there, we’d be initially thrilled but ultimately unfilled. By presenting escape routes through the likes of ‘Right Models’, the banjo and birdsong 12-second blast of ‘The Crumbled’ and the grunge-tastic riff that inhabits ‘Golden Fame’, the whole experience becomes something else: an exhilarating thrill-ride into the unknown that makes our hearts beat faster and gives us a feeling of light-headedness as neurones fire us into something approaching happiness. Sowberry Hagan is justifiably, heroically brave.

Also online (and officially recommended) @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/02/ultraphallus-sowberry-hagan/

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