This edition of Drowned in Bristol deviates slightly from the usual 'sprawling mass of Soundcloud embeds' formula that these columns are generally based on. This is because August marked the arrival of two excellent debut albums - both self-released - by bands that, in my opinion, are two of the most interesting, and possibly underrated acts the city has to offer. Rather than the usual cursory glance, both are worth a slightly higher word-count, and a bit more focus so that's exactly what they're getting...
Big Naturals - Big Naturals
Big Naturals are undoubtedly one of Bristol’s best live bands. The two piece - comprised of drummer Jesse and bassist/sonic manipulator Gareth - produce the sort of meaty, floor-shaking sounds that you’d expect from a band whose name you can’t google at work for fear of turning up innumerable specialist websites for men with an affection for expansive chests.
Despite existing, in one form of another, for some time now, this self-titled LP - released last month via their own Greasy Trucker label - is their first proper recorded output. It’s an impressive realisation of their chaotic, yet sludgy live sound; thunderous bass riffs warped into unexpected shapes by a multitude of effects pedals, intersected by occasional burst of atmospherics and scattershot use of spoken word samples. The whole thing is underpinned by Jesse Webb’s dexterous drum work (you’ll be hard pressed to find a more impressive drummer gigging within Bristol’s city limits).
For an instrumental two-piece, they do a lot with their limited resources – compositionally the album slides between amped-up, aggressive takes on the post-rock build-and-release template and bursts of motorik-leaning repetition, touching on the instant compositions of Can and the endless riffs of early Oneida. The sprawling tension release of ‘A Good Stalker’ and the closing double of ‘Krautpunk’ and ‘Amathaphobia’ prove to be album highlights. Being a fairly budget-conscious, self-release the mastering quality occasionally doesn’t quite keep up with the songs’ complex sonics - without wanting to sound like I’m forcing an up-sell, it sounds best on vinyl – but it’s highly recommended listening for anyone with a passing interest in experimental rock. Listen via the Bandcamp embed below. If you’re a promoter, I’d advise you to book them ASAP.
OLO Worms - Yard Is Open
Given the limited territory that these local columns cover, it’s fairly inevitable that certain bands and artists are going to crop up repeatedly. OLO Worms are one such band - which is surprising bearing in mind that, until this summer, the four-piece hadn’t played live (excluding a streamed live soundtrack to last year’s royal wedding) in over two years. The truth is they are just an exceptionally easy act to write about; between their penchant for abnormal release formats - recent singles have been deployed in miniature coffins, plant pots and paintings - their ambitious attempts to encompass as many genres as possible, and their seemingly obsessive dedication to peculiarity, they just lend themselves to column inches.
Fortunately, their long-in-the-making debut album, Yard Is Open - self-released last month digitally and in ‘annual’ format; a CD packaged with an impressively designed 32-page booklet of original artwork - justifies these repeat appearances. It comprises 12 tracks that nicely balance the band’s skill for meticulous and textual production with their inherent weirdness - provided more often than not by sort-of-vocalist James Hankins. (I say sort-of-vocalist; during the band’s recent live outings his role has involved semi-rapped spoken word parts, operating a sampler housed in a pizza-box and intermittent bouts of popcorn eating. He’s also responsible for most of the band’s artwork - essentially, his contributions bridge the gap between the output of experimental a/v duo Hype Williams and a Viz cartoon.)
For all these oddities though, YISO is actually built on a foundation of solid songwriting. Songs like ‘Strays’ and ‘Whacked By Pillow’ bear a likeness to the more accessible ends of later-era Radiohead, while ‘Sphynx’ and stand-out track ‘Back From England’ employ creative, surprisingly catchy rhythmic patterns. There’s an inherent Britishness to the whole thing though - not necessarily in the ‘beefeaters scoffing eels round the Queen mum’s gaff’ sense of the word, but in the same way that there’s something quintessentially British about the closing moments of The Wicker Man, in which Edward Woodward is burnt alive amidst a terrifyingly stone-faced ring of pagan worshipers chanting middle-English folk songs.
Needless to say, it’s one of the most esoteric, creative records to come out of Bristol of late (and we’re talking about a city with quite a record for turning out quality weirdos). Stream the album via Bandcamp below. Highly recommended.
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