STILL SPINNING: Gazelle Twin – ‘The Entire City’

Our Still Spinning feature focuses on records that we consider to be iconic – whether that’s for popular, or personal reasons – and celebrates our enduring love for them. Get In Her Ears Co-Founder & Features Editor Kate Crudgington talks us through why electronic artist Gazelle Twin’s debut album, The Entire City, released in July 2011, is still one of her most influential listens to date.

Named after a painting by German surrealist artist Max Ernst, Gazelle Twin’s debut album The Entire City was released via her own imprint Anti-Ghost Moon Ray on 11th July 2011. Independently composed, recorded and produced, her ambiguous lyrics and altruistic sounds invited her listeners into a world that offered both shimmering intrigue and heavy shadow in equal measure.

It was my older brother Joe who originally introduced me to Gazelle Twin aka Elizabeth Bernholz in 2014, citing her second album Unflesh as one of the best things he’d ever heard. I used to lay in the dark, headphones on, listening to it and feeling an odd sense of calm, as waves of nervous energy rippled through me. That record changed my idea of what electronic music could sound like and I was captivated by the persona printed on the album’s cover. Blue hoodie, long brown hair, a partially covered face and an open mouth revealing a snarling pair of teeth. Menacing yet enticing, terrifying yet familiar. Gazelle Twin was an enigma – communicating with listeners through harrowing imagery and nerve-shredding synths.

Back then, I had no idea she had released her debut album three years earlier, or that it would sound so different. Having encountered Unflesh first, listening to The Entire City felt like an ambient fairy-tale in comparison. But, as with all of her obscure creations, what Gazelle Twin excels at is contrasting the darkness with the light, so even if that darkness sometimes feels all consuming – like it often does on Unflesh and on her stunning third record Pastoral – the sublime still manages to shine through too. The Entire City is a sonic landscape littered with dense concrete, intimidating obelisks and unknown relics, but it’s also teeming with life.

Filled with twitchy drum samples, cinematic synths and her uniquely operatic vocals, The Entire City received flattering comparisons to Fever Ray when it was originally released, but I think Bernholz’s sound is often grittier and more detached. There’s an underlying feeling of voyeurism as you wander through her musical landscapes, something I feel she captures perfectly on the eponymous opening track, with her extended high pitch vocals guiding the way, like a thrilling race through deserted streets. It bleeds into the breathy stillness of ‘Concrete Mother’ and the hypnotic ‘Men Like Gods’, two of my favourite tracks on the record.

It feels odd to pick apart and review The Entire City on a track-by-track basis, because it has such a cohesive sound. Each time I listen I feel like I’m being shrouded in Bernholz’s graceful, unsettling sonic paraphernalia; her cryptic lyrics and eerie electronics lulling me into a false sense of security. The subtle power of her voice on ‘I Am Shell I Am Bone’ and ‘Changelings’ is intoxicating, whilst on ‘Obelisk’ – another favourite of mine – her blend of dense beats and crystalline synths evolves into an exquisite electronic hymn. Punctuated by briefer tracks like ‘Far From Home’, ‘Bell Tower’ and ‘Fight-or-Flight’ – on which she flexes her operatic voice sensationally – she ensnares the senses and gently pushes listeners into unchartered territories across the album. In retrospect, ‘View Of A Mountain’ feels like a hint at what was to come, it’s the kind of instrumental that would sit comfortably on Unflesh.

Steeped in shadow and mystery, The Entire City is a fascinating introduction to a truly progressive artist who has evolved into a new species of performer since 2011. Not known for revisiting her previous albums or personas, Gazelle Twin’s sights remain fixed on her future projects and I can’t wait to immerse myself in more of her visceral sounds.

 

Follow Gazelle Twin on bandcampSpotifyInstagramTwitter & Facebook

Album Artwork: Suzanne Moxhay

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

STILL SPINNING: The Joy Formidable – ‘The Big Roar’

Our Still Spinning feature focuses on records that we consider to be iconic – whether that’s for popular, or personal reasons – and celebrates our enduring love for them. Get In Her Ears Co-Founder & Features Editor Kate Crudgington talks us through why Welsh alternative trio The Joy Formidable’s debut album, The Big Roar, released in January 2011, is still one of her most influential listens today.

 

At the tender age of nineteen, I discovered The Joy Formidable through a crush I was trying to impress, and my ears were introduced to a new world of music outside of the charts. It’s this priceless personal affiliation with the songs on their debut album The Big Roar that’s kept me listening to the record for the last decade.

Formed of Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd & Matt Thomas, The Joy Formidable dropped The Big Roar in January 2011, two years after their debut EP A Balloon Called Moaning, and twenty year old me fell head over heels in love with it. I bought the limited edition boxset which included the album, a pin badge, a CD of live recordings and a piece of Ritzy’s smashed guitar. I worked part-time in retail earning minimum wage back then, so it took a hefty chunk out of my pay-check – but I felt like I’d struck gold.

The record was already littered with singles I knew – ‘Whirring’, ‘Austere’, ‘Cradle’ & ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ – so listening for the first time flooded me with familiarity and excitement. As the title suggests, The Big Roar rips and roars with vital, visceral urgency, plunging listeners into overwhelming waves of sound before allowing them to resurface and breathe again. At the time, I thought it was a bold move to open an album with a 40 second cacophony of indiscernible clacking noises, but it laid the foundation for the spiralling opener ‘The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie,’ which rushes the ears with swelling riffs and urgent vocals. This track, along with ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’ brim with cathartic guitar wails and commanding beats, encouraging listeners to be “courage’s child” and break away from the past.

I remembered the stomping rhythms of ‘Cradle’, Austere’, ‘The Magnifying Glass’, ‘Chapter 2’ and ‘A Heavy Abacus’ because I’d already heard them live. I remember turning up to The Garage in Islington in 2009 to see the band headline and afterwards having an overwhelming feeling that I’d seen something that was going to change my life. Dramatic as that might sound, watching Ritzy Bryan shredding her guitar, singing lead vocals and thrashing her white-blonde hair around the stage with her bandmates galvanized my idea of what a guitar band should be, and quite frankly, who I wanted to be. I wanted to be just like her.

When I used to frequent the dancefloor at The Pink Toothbrush on a Saturday night – one of the only alternative clubs in my home county of Essex – DJ Darren B would play ‘Whirring’ in its entirety so my friends and I could thrash about to on it at the beginning of the night. The thudding drum beats and punchy lyrics kept me stomping on those floorboards for hours. Even now, I can remember pushing open to the double doors to enter the club, hearing a Joy Formidable song playing and feeling like I’d truly arrived at a place of happiness.

My ribs still remember the thrill of being hit by the ear-swelling sounds of ‘Buoy’ when I heard it live for the first time at Kentish Town Forum. From the subtle allure of Ritzy’s opening guitar riffs, to Rhydian’s dense buzzing bass lines; it’s an all-consuming aural blur. I love the way they spit the last lines “And you should have talked / and you should talk too / ’cause in twenty years / you’ll be a fucking mute” – their urgency complimented by dizzying riffs and Matt’s relentless percussion. Bassist Rhydian takes the vocal lead on ‘Llaw=Wall’, which like ‘Buoy’ has a colossal drop in. I’ve been miming “spit on the window is what you are” into the mirror since 2011, but a quick Google search just informed me it’s “spilt” – which brings me on to another TJF song I’d been singing incorrect lyrics to.

The opening track on A Balloon Called Moaning, but the closing one for The Big Roar, ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ still sounds as shadowy and hypnotic today to me now as it did back in 2009 when I first heard it. I thought the chorus opened with the line “Destroy this…” but it’s actually “This dream is…” but who cares about technicalities like that when you’re swept up in the layers of frenzied guitar and Ritzy’s tender vocals. It’s a song that I’ve turned to at so many different points in my life that my heart overflows with nostalgia when I hear it. I cherish this Joy Formidable track above all others.

After penning such a passionate essay about The Big Roar, it might surprise you to know that I didn’t review the album when it was first released. When I looked up some reviews by respected music publications, one labelled it as a “brit-pop” revival record. The only nineties influences I can hear are grunge and shoegaze, but these comparisons are all tiresome rhetoric, distracting us from the most important thing – The Joy Formidable just sound really fucking good on this album.

Listen to The Big Roar on bandcamp or Spotify.

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

Still Spinning: Hole – ‘Nobody’s Daughter’

Our brand new Still Spinning feature focuses on records that we consider to be iconic – whether that’s for popular, or personal reasons – and celebrates our enduring love for them. First up, Co-Founder & Features Editor Kate Crudgington talks us through why Hole’s fourth album, Nobody’s Daughter, released in 2010, is still one of her most influential listens.

 

Admired by plenty and maligned by equally as many, Hole‘s front woman Courtney Love has been a controversial figure in rock music for over two decades. Actively antagonistic towards the 90s Riot Grrrl movement – even though many consider her music & persona to be the living embodiment of it – Love has carved a career that’s so notoriously independent I often forget there are four other talented musicians in her band, Hole.

That being said, the majority of these musicians were absent from the recording of Nobody’s Daughter, which was initially conceived as Love’s second solo record in 2005. It’s probably worth mentioning that Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins played a role in the writing of this album too, but I don’t want to get into production credits. What I want to get into is how Hole – and by default, Courtney Love – have created some of the most cathartic, memorable music I’ve ever heard.

There’s no denying Love has exhibited plenty of toxic behaviour in the past, but I feel her male counterparts in the industry are rarely treated with such judgement, disdain or hatred. I don’t care if her vocals aren’t pitch perfect, or if she plays chords “the lazy way,” as my first boyfriend once put it. What I care about is how her music offers an alternative to angry women and girls, growing up in a world that consistently tells them to minimise their anger.

Nobody’s Daughter is the first Hole album I listened to in full. I was about to turn twenty-five and I was livid and heartbroken after my 3 and a half year relationship had unexpectedly come to an end. My cousin Rebecca – an original 90s Riot Grrrl – gave me some of her Hole CDs and from the opening lyric of the eponymous track, I was hooked. “Made something better / kept it for himself” seethes Love, taking me right back to the rage I felt the morning after the breakup. I was so embarrassed, so humiliated and so frustrated and I couldn’t communicate that properly to my friends and family. I’d been waiting for permission to tell the truth about my post-breakup feelings, and Nobody’s Daughter granted me that permission in a heartbeat.

It’s worth noting I took the lyrics on this album very seriously/personally, which is probably why I prefer the ragers and not the quieter tracks. The way Love snarls “Don’t tell me I have lost / when clearly I’ve won” resonated with me deeply post-breakup. I needed that level of petty competitiveness to get me through. Love could be referring to any number of things on ‘Nobody’s Daughter’ – including her own complicated relationship with Frances Bean Cobain – but to me, that track is a defiant middle finger to anyone who had a pre-conceived idea of how I would behave or react post-relationship.

Vicious second track ‘Skinny Little Bitch’ is another example of how I framed Love’s aggressive lyrics to fit my own feelings. The track rips into life in such a violent, infectious way, it’s hard not to screech the lyric “You will never see the light / I’ll just obscure it out of spite” without feeling fan-fucking-tastic. Of course, I don’t advocate women tearing down other women – especially not about their weight – but whether you frame yourself as the bitch Love’s hating on in the song, or as the bitch who’s tearing this girl a new one – it’s hard not to find respite in the spite, even if it feels misdirected when I listen to it now.

The third rager is ‘Samantha’. It comes after alt-folk tracks ‘Honey’ and ‘Pacific Coast Highway’, both of which feel like they could soundtrack a Bonnie & Clyde style getaway film. They’re not bad tracks by any means, but they’re easy to skip over when you know ‘Samantha’ is on the horizon. “Watch her wrap her legs around this world / can’t take the gutter from the girl” seethes Love, over roaring guitars and buzzing bass lines. I love the accompanying video to this track, where she’s tearing through a desolated city, wearing a wedding dress with the word “c**t” embroidered on it.

I think the most vicious line on the record is “If you were on fire / I would just throw kerosene”. I was intoxicated by Love’s ability to speak the psychopathic unspeakable. The follow-up lyric “I love so much I hate / and I hate what you have seen in me” still strikes a chord today. The binary opposites of love and hate and how they’re a hair’s breadth apart in feeling is something that fuels Nobody’s Daughter, and is probably why I invested so much time listening to it in the aftermath of a breakup.

I’m out of the ragers zone now and rolling around in ‘Someone Else’s Bed’. In the midst of hanxiety (hungover anxiety), I would listen to this and take a sick kind of joy from the lyric “I quite enjoy your suffering / Oh I want to watch the view”. When I listen back now, I smirk at how much time twenty-five year old me dedicated to stewing in all these awful emotions, being angry and upset about something I couldn’t change.

Unfortunately, my attention drifts towards the end of Nobody’s Daughter. ‘For Once In Your Life’, ‘Letter To God’ and ‘Loser Dust’ go over my head. Things pick up again when Love starts shouting and screaming on ‘How Dirty Girls Get Clean’. It smoulders with her trademark fury, even in the opening verses where it’s just Love and her acoustic guitar. ‘Never Go Hungry’ closes the record with a quiet determination. “I’m hungry for / life a little less cruel” muses Love, a repentant sentiment that still fills me with hope.

Nobody’s Daughter taught me many things, but mostly it taught me that feeling irrational, or angry at a situation you can’t change is okay. It also taught me how destructive those feelings can be. It was my introduction to Hole’s discography and led me to discover Live Through This, another Hole album I feel forever indebted to. Say what you like about Courtney Love – and the whole Hole saga – Nobody’s Daughter is a fierce, frenzied record that deserves repeated listens (purely for the ragers).

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut