Ross Manning – Both Sides of the Cocoon


[Chemical Imbalance; 2017]

With ‘Both Sides of the Cocoon’, Ross Manning shares a more pensive side to the clamorous unstrumentals of Brisbane/Melbourne avant pop group Sky Needle. 

Where most critical discourse is levelled these days at the production feats of hyper definition Europe, Manning’s solo work is top heavy; his sonic collage nutted out well in advance of the record button.  Manning is not the kind of audio collagist who needs any composing, or indeed finessing, in post.  Overdubbing is hard to place other than beyond the realm of human possibility (yet even then I suspect he’s devised a workaround). 

You’d be mistaken for thinking this is a Sky Needle record with all members present for a more hallucinatory session, such is the sense of real-time interplay between obscure percussion and otherworldly resonances.  But instead the band’s musical philosophies have been recalibrated by Manning from the performative to the generative, with the chemistry of band members substituted for careful manipulation of algorithmic interplay.

I’m yet to see Manning’s live chain, but by all accounts it’s an ever-expanding retrofuturist assembly line – wood on metal on circuitry.  Manning carefully selects a new family tree for each piece which, despite origins unknown, always seem to speak the same language.  As such, each song on ‘Both Sides of the Cocoon’ reveals a new timeline of a city of antique apparatus springing to life then receding into twilight.  It’s a bit too fiddly to label it sonambience, but I’m not going to put my name to something as self-congratulatory as post-sonambience (but if it takes off, you heard it hear first).

We’re lucky we live in a time where there is a good appetite for experimental music, fed largely by select publications and festivals whose popularity seems largely self-sustained without corporate intrigue.  But this can also lend itself to a new stagnation, in which the previously indeterminate moniker begins to assume the genre tropes it is meant to shirk by definition and fork out into more determinate points of reference.  (They are far from kicking the bucket, but there is certainly a vanguard of popular experimental music with their own distinct ‘sound’; Pan, Posh Isolation et al.)  There are few people focussing on diversifying instrumentation over process and so devotedly, and its a forgotten tradition in the vain of Bertoia and Neubauten that deserves a long and healthy future.

Pick the record up from Chemical Imbalance.

Scattered Order – A suitcase full of snowglobes


[Rather be Vinyl; 2017]

When asked the question “what does industrial music sound like now?” you’ve got many press-friendly touchstones at hand: the cold wave boogie of Factory Floor, the high octane ladware jams of the Diagonal stable, the apocalyptic dancehall of the Bug.  In other words, there is not so much of an industrial 2.0 as much as it just permeates everywhere.  Every time you hear a vocal contort in theatrical agony, the crude, primitive rhythms of DIY abominations, or the million other tropes such an intrinsically adventurous genre could mount its flag on, you feel the legacy of industrial’s erstwhile uncelebrated antiquity, raising it’s hand meekly from the back of the room. 

Fast forward to 2017 and it’s a different story entirely: every prick and his dog have licked the industrial stamp, invariably to catalog some vein of dreary otherness.  Which is, cynicism aside, a great thing.  The amount of compilations released to celebrate the industrial scenes here and abroad, and most importantly the old groups it has brought out of the woodwork, more than makes up for the cast that would seek to regressively attitudinise it.

What then does industrial music sound like now for the original players?  As it turns out, both quite unlike what they used to and very little like their modern counterparts.  Primitive Calculators have completely revitalised their set up, while Tom Ellard makes his disinterest in early Severed Heads emphatically clear at every available opportunity.  And, as it is with Severed Heads, a cursory glance at the discography of Scattered Order quickly reveals that these aren’t acts that are hot on the heels of their flavour of the month. 

Coming off the back of two releases in 2016, ‘A suitcase full of snowglobes’ offers over 90 minutes of heady, colourful material showcasing the band’s ease around a crowded studio and skills at production in equal measure.  This is no ‘we’re getting the old band back together’ affair (they’ve had one hiatus over nearly forty years), and as deep cut after deep cut is effortlessly rolled out you realise how in shape these guys are.  This is the sound of a band who been making noise together for a long time while restlessly upping the ante at every creative juncture. 

(Makes you wonder whether the old aphorism of ‘you have your whole life to write your first record’ is worth its salt when the fecundity of an immediate sequel eclipses the eventfulness of a long-awaited release.   I think about this concept a lot with artists like Thee Oh Sees or any other act out of the Castle Face/Drag City continuum, Shit and Shine and Yo La Tengo, who spit our records faster than you have time to parcel one as the canonical cherry on the cake.  Other than being excellent acts, I don’t think these artists ever went out of critical favour because they never gave an opportunity for the press to craft a career-defining moment – and as such, the peak of a journalistically necessary decline).

Scattered Order were traditionally more aligned with the mood-driven end of the spectrum as opposed to the wild-eyed freneticism of contemporaries PrimCalc and Severed Heads or the skull-crushing processes of SPK, and ‘A suitcase’ further inures us to the more groove-oriented kraut pulse heard on 2011’s ‘It’s behind you’.  Processed kits and fourth world percussion lend a sense of perpetual motion to the band’s synthetic textures, making your arrival at the end of what is an exceptionally long record come as somewhat of a surprise.   It may be a full suitcase, but it’s all killer no filler. 

Scattered Order have sidled easily into the digital age of production – opting to explore the possibilities afforded by new technology rather than shoehorn old habits of composition into fresh devices.  And, despite having the hit scene a good forty years ago, they remain one of the most consistently surprising, and exciting, underground acts in the country.  In an era where we marvel at the return of Midnight Oil after beginning to think Garrett had a foray into music not politics, let’s not forget the salt of the earth. 

You can pick it up now from Scattered Order’s Bandcamp.