Whisper it, but it looks like noise is back in business after a couple of aimless years, during which it seemed dually threatened by a mainstream co-opting harshness by watering it down and the continued overbearing presence of swaggering, clownishly violent machismo. Quietly but confidently though, the underground continues to provide fertile ground for those willing to move past the obstacles of norms, and last year alone saw this bear fruit with triumphant recordings by the likes of Sightings, John Wiese, Helm and Consumer Electronics. Now Frederikke Hoffmeier, aka Puce Mary returns to the fray for her first solo album in two years, providing her own antidote to noise's clichés and stereotypes with The Spiral.
For too long, noise has predominantly seen live bills dominated by grim-faced men in black hoodies bellowing misanthropic and provocative lyrics over confrontational blasts of harsh mulch. It takes a closer look to see that female noise artists are interwoven into the genre's DNA: from Throbbing Gristle's Cosey Fanni Tutti to Samantha Davies' current status as one half of Skullflower. But the prominent solo female noise artist unfortunately remains a rarity, and it's only really in the last few years that the likes of Puce Mary and Pharmakon have begun to make headway.
On The Spiral Hoffmeier's approach is subtle but forceful, with tracks building from quiet beginnings into multi-faceted vignettes that lurch from raw power to more expansive territories where silence is almost as valued as noise. It's a method that appears to be growing wings of late, as some of the artists or records I have mentioned above testify. Hell, even Consumer Electronics have their quiet moments on last year's Dollhouse Songs, albeit for different reasons and to different effect.
By balancing abrasion and texture, subtlety and noise, Hoffmeier is essentially allowing complex human thoughts and feelings space to navigate and be found within the miasma of her craft. A barrage of harsh noise walls or screaming misanthropic lyrics have a certain risky thrill to them, but little else beyond feelings of revulsion and anger. The Spiral is more nuanced, something reflected in the abstract wide expanse of pink of the cover, which contrasts with the image of a half-naked woman seemingly recoiling backwards from a mysterious figure looming over her. Hoffmeier appears to be toying with noise's obsessions with sex and violence on the cover, upsetting that archetype with the presence of a colour more readily associated with tenderness. Somehow, the results are all the more unsettling, perhaps precisely because it's hard to pinpoint why. In the music, she oscillates between muted industrial dark ambient, such as on 'Enter Into Them' and the more belligerent harsh textures of 'Night Is A Trap II', with its echoes of late-80s Ramleh; although at no point is The Spiral incohesive. Rather, each track evolves with consideration and precision, the emotional impact building into crescendos.
Hoffmeier achieves this deceptive complexity through the apposite deployment of "traditional" noise (white noise, feedback, distorted synth) with cleverly manipulated field recordings and vocal interjections. Never overtly rhythmic, many tracks nevertheless include drum patterns to drive them forwards, whilst the synths settle like dark clouds on tracks like 'The Actor' and 'No Memory', forming a moody, horror-movie undertone that makes the harsher moments all the more disquieting. Her use of vocals is equally potent, moving from hushed mutterings to warped, androgynous bellows of fury.
With The Spiral, Hoffmeier has built on rich promise to take her rightful place at the forefront of modern, forward-thinking noise music. Compared to it, so much made under the genre's banner seems locked in a self-defeating prism of pointless swagger, but so long as artists like Puce Mary continue to refuse to use noise for noise's sake, and shock value for shock value's sake, then impressive potential futures are emerging.
This is the second album by vocalist and songwriter Raf Mantelli and Richard Smith (O) who co-creates the sound web the songs inhabit. Describing what they meticulously concoct as electronica is a misnomer, really. The excellent Time Machine represents the very antithesis of EDM, the latter-day heavy metal, with its oppressive, compressed, ritualised, stadium-pleasing blare. There is a butterfly, acoustic delicacy about tracks like 'Mad And Brilliant', and yet also the deceptive, steel strength of spider silk in their complex weaving - and above all, a sense of space generated in which to live, breathe and explore.
Raf's tremulous vocals remind a little of Stina Nordenstam, but in truth she ranges far and wide in her emotional and lyrical foragings. The arrangements are full of detail - 'You Made Me' features stand-up bass, glassware-as-instrumentation, amplified acoustic plucking, and agitated, abstract, processed electronics, all of which add up to a detailed anatomy of an emotional state.
The duo use an array of effects - electro/acoustic drums, self-made triggers, pads, samplers, analogue synthesizers, repetitions and glitches - to track the fluctuations and narrative progressions of the lyrics. 'Chasing' is dappled and sunblinded, flitting between ecstasy and anxiety. As the title track has it, "A place we call the future, go ahead, the switch changes colour" encapsulates the Raf And O modus operandi - the surreal dreams, hopes and fears embraced and expressed in the words matched by the colourisation and reinforcement of the ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic backdrop. Freeze-frame any given second of this album and it'll reveal a hive of pixellated, analogue activity.
The album takes a lovely turn with a cover of David Bowie's 'Lady Grinning Soul' from Aladdin Sane, a theme song for an imaginary Bond movie, whose warm, analogue synth waves remind of Brian Eno circa Before And After Science. Perhaps the album's most unnerving track, however, is 'Slocomotion', whose scene is set with a field recording, the sound of a child's voice - you're sitting a cafe, perhaps, minding your own business. Then, the approach of stilettoes and a tiny, ear canal-tingling whisper; "I know exactly how to get inside your head, if you give me half a chance I show you how it's done, you don't need to know, in fact you're unaware." As with Time Machine as a whole, it's an approach you'd do well to take up, if you know what's good for you.