Gig Review: Fuck Buttons

Slow Focus fbThursday, 24th October @ Oxford Art Factory

There I was, a sad, broken shell of a man, more used up and dishevelled than a street whore. I’d spent the day being abused at a job I hated, and had more or less been rejected with the article that I’d been working on all week. I was in an emotional fit on par with the crux of your average teen romantic romp. That is to say, incredibly depressed. After a day of Eric’s Trip, Elliot Smith, and Marf Loth, I made my way to the Oxford Art Factory, an industrial space in Surry Hills, a venue which some of the best bands of the year (FIDLAR, Thundercat, TOY) have utilised to splatter their noise on the unsuspecting masses. That Thursday night was an average night for OAF: a legendary band putting on a legendary performance, and making all in attendance, including the moping sad sack of shit that was myself, have a killer night.

First band that was seen by the sadder-than-Marlon-Brando-circa-70-years-old individual in the room was Standish/Carlyon. A darkwave duo made up of Conrad Standish and Tom Carlyon, these dudes know how to tickle the senses. Their music is a sultry mixture of S&M and diehard pop, which sounds like a strange concept, and when shown live looks even stranger. Conrad rocks a porn ‘stache, a chestful of man-hair, and a leather cap, a low slung bass his weapon of choice. Meanwhile, Tom is tweaking a mixture of knobs, completely mesmerised in his band’s booming, slightly disturbing music. I feel as though Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton only have sex to this music. 

Watching Standish/Carlyon live is a divisive thing. You’re either bored out of your mind, or total engaged with the music to an unhealthy degree. It would be fair to say that about 30% of the room were of the former, and 70%, including moi,  were in the latter half. That’s just called maths. The raw, blue music that flowed so naturally from the stage was completely unique and although a bit slow at some times, was made up through through the intrigue and mystique that the band portrayed.

After Standish/Carlyon prepared the audience for some mind-fuckery, Fuck Buttons graced the stage with their earth-shattering music. After 4-5 minutes of a single, prolonged note, the duo of James Hung and Benjamin John Power joined their instruments on stage, and burst into current single ‘Brainfreeze’. It was at this point that I finally figured out how to identify Fuck Buttons music. A thing so desperately interesting and complex shouldn’t be labelled half-heartedly, but I’ve decided that the most accurate descriptor for Fuck Buttons’ music is ‘glacial’. This becomes very apparent once seen in a live setting: lumbering, slow beats that give off a wondrous sense of beauty from far-off, and only become more fascinating when examined more deeply.

Fuck Buttons’ music continued to tumble and pierce the room, filling it exponentially with an electric quality, vibing the room to dangerous proportions. Everyone was having a different reaction to the music. To my left, there was a fist-bumping. pinger-chewing gentleman with a shit-eating grin smothered on his face, withelbows that flailed in every direction. To my right, a quiet indie chick shuffled her feet, eyes closed, slight grin spreading wider and wider as the set went on. Everywhere, people nodded their heads to the music, invisible tendrils of sound infecting the brain, bringing the audience under Fuck Buttons’ weird spell of deep house fed through a filter of several layers screams, static and tortured banshee cries.

The most interesting thing about the set, is that although it was nearly an hour and a half long, it was only compromised of eight songs. Eight songs! Ihave more fingers than that, and I’ll go ahead and assume you do as well. However, every song on that setlist was killer. ‘Surf Solar’ and ‘Colours Move’, the latter including some live cries and obliteration of touch pads from the band, proved to be early highlights, whilst the double smackaroo of ‘The Red Wing’ and ‘Hidden XS’ (my personal two favourite songs from ‘Slow Focus’) got the audience to an all time frenzy.

Another highlight of the set was the band’s amazing visuals. Although the duo didn’t really, how do you say, ‘interact with the audience’ (a mumbled sentence at the close of the set were the only words spoken from the stage), the backdrop behind the band was enough to distract from some bullshit stage banter. ‘Brainfreeze’ was a shimmering display of natural wonders, and ‘The Red Wing’ featured a hawk or an eagle flapping, and yet it was so in time with the ball-tripping sinister music, it gave the simple video so much more depth than usually watching half a wing flap would warrant. And on top of all this, the silhouettes of the two members were shone onto their trippy visuals, so every movement, from a nose pick to a ball scratch, was captured in vivid, 2 second delayed blackness. Awesome!

Overall, Fuck Buttons are one of the great noise bands of recent history. They haven’t released anything terrible, ever, and their 3rd record is a work of genius. Live, the music becomes more ear-splattering and blistering than usual, and you’ll be lucky to leave the venue without welts forming on your ears. That’s all a good thing by the way. Visually entrancing, and with a sound that is their own, Fuck Buttons put on a killer show that should be seen by anyone with a pulse.

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SQURL: Pink Dust

I fell in love with this song last month, went and bought the EP, and I was going to include ‘Pink Dust’ in my August playlist. Alas, I forgot, as I have the memory of Adam West’s Batman. However, there was no way I could wait another month, nay a little month (Hamlet y’all) to post one of the greatest things I have heard in a long time. ‘Pink Dust’ is drone, but it’s not boring (surprise!) and is in fact as deep and enticing as an ogre’s throat cavity. It’s chilled but vicious at the same time, a paradox of perfect harmony. A telling, informative French sample of a woman counting to three is spelled over the cascading wail of guitars and feedback squall, all combining into a beautifully ugly sound. It’s so amazing that even my musically tasteless Selena Gomez loving banshee of a mate Portia thought it was ‘pretty good’. Of course, her opinion is voided the instant she announced she’d never been to a concert outside of Acer Arena, but the point stands that this cohesive grappling piece of majestic noise will remain one of the best 6 + minutes of your life. Also, SQURL features Jim Jarmusch, the underground film director responsible for ‘Strangers in Paradise’ and ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’, so of course it was going to be awesome. Anyone who can get Iggy Pop and Tom Waits to do a short film together is susceptible to ‘Greatest Person Alive’ status.

Album Review: Hebronix-Unreal

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Two ATP Recordings reviews in one week? Gee Whiz that’s a lot! Not it’s not you patronising fuckwad, ATP put out some of the best shit on this planet. You heard the SQURL EP? That shit was balls deep in amazing, helped along slightly by the fact that Jim Jarmusch was in the band.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, the new Hebronix album. A little history lesson for those struggling with Trials at the moment (a list that includes myself-damn you standardised testing!). Hebronix is the moniker of Daniel Blumberg, who used to be in Cajun Dance Party, and Yuck. You probably know Yuck as being one of the coolest bands of the past couple of years. You are not wrong. However, Blumberg has left that group, and now most of the creative energy is focused in this new, Greek-hero-sounding project Hebronix.

As Yuck is to Pavement, Hebronix is to Elliot Smith. It seems that Blumberg just can’t get enough influence from critically lauded bands. Even though this album is super Smithy, it’s also got some other shit in there, like Neil Young, Bright Eyes, and Sparklehorse. So, yeah, it would be fair to say that ‘Unreal’ is like an indie orgy of some of the best acts of the past decade, all tied up with Blumberg’s stunning voice. It’s a soaring masterpiece of the melancholy underachiever.

The first two tracks, the 10 minute ‘Unliving’ and ‘Viral’ are excellent, but the album really hits its stride on ‘Wild Whim’.  The lyrics of ‘Your the girl I se in my recurring dream/the girl that took the time to learn the tambourine/your the girl that doesn’t give a fuck about anything’ may or may not go in the box for best guilty pleasure/beautifully cliched lyrics of the year, something that The Kooks wet dream about. Then there’s the serene descending solo that balances out agains the fuzz like a careening drunk on a New York Sunday night. ‘Wild Whim’ is an  astonishingly beautiful track that is by far the highlight on the album, something you can play whilst philosophising on a bus on a rainy day. In fact, I guarantee a Pitchfork employee is doing that somewhere in the world right now.

The rest of the album never quite reaches the lofty heights of ‘Wild Whim’ but it comes damn close. Earthy and lightly wafting ‘Unreal’ sheds a tear, ‘Garden’ digs in it’s heels and bares it’s Dinosaur Jr. teeth, and ‘The Plan’ is a delightful mash of the quaintness of Bright Eyes with the heart-on-sleeve of  Built to Spill. Musically, ‘Unreal’ is a top fucking notch. However, most of the songs seem to drift for maybe just a tad longer than they necessarily should. One 10 minute track is asking quite a lot already, but when everything bar one song is far beyond the six minute mark, Blumberg is certainly asking a lot of patience and dedication from an average listener keen for a geez of entertainment. It’s like wanting to see the Bearded Lady and ending up watching Cirque Du Soleil. Sometimes it’s just too much.

So yes, whilst Daniel Blumberg might have crafted one of the best listening albums that the snobby music fan will champion, (myself included), sometimes it looks like it might just be a bit too much filler and not enough ‘Wild Whim’ to entice the middle of the road Yuck fan. Still, it’s undeniably good shit, and an obnoxious round of applause is in order to Mr. Blumberg for ‘Unreal’.

Album Review: Fuck Buttons-Slow Focus

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Fuck Buttons have the kind of band name that attracts attention. They also have the music to back it up. Listening to Fuck Buttons for the first time was a polarising thing in my life, like the first time I played Crash Bandicoot, or watched South Park. And whilst those things have faded in my personal popularity, (to be replaced by Bubble Trouble 2: Rebubbled and Workaholics, respectively) Fuck Buttons are still at the forefront of my mind. ‘Slow Focus’ was one of my most looked forward to albums, and it certainly has not disappointed. The grotesque and deliciously disturbing melancholic sounds of Fuck Buttons is one that might take a while to get used to for some listeners, and others might not even have the will to stand it. However, those that can bluster through some truly sweltering distortion-oriented disturbia will be glad they did so.

The opening track of ‘Slow Focus’ is traditional Fuck Buttons. Giant, hammering drums that thunder across the sky of ‘Brainfreeze’, whilst shimmering synths, and animalistic escapades echo to create a howling masterpiece. So far, orgasmic. I can’t believe there was an ounce of doubt in my mind. Sure, eight and a half minutes might be pushing it, but do you think Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power give a solitary fuck about your feelings? I’ll leave you with that existential debate, and continue onto the next track, ‘Year of the Dog’ which is a brilliant, goopy mess, slimy to it’s core. After horror-movie string sliding and futuristic spaceship travels across the galaxy, ‘Year of the Dog’ sounds a shitload better than the year of the pig, or the year that I was born and represent. Unlike the lazy and satisfied pig-like nature of myself, ‘Year of the Dog’ is a transcendent, horrifying piece that sounds like Blade Runner banging Alien (both Ridley Scott movies-the more you know). 

After a while of getting the living shit scared out of me, it’s onto ‘The Red Wing’, of which the radio edit came out a while ago. The full version is that much more intense, which is really saying something. Starting with a gentle, trip-hop beat, we move into space n time format again, grooving placidly through the muck of dizzying electronica. It’s a glitch-ridden and buzz-saw laden track of techno that will both jolt you awake with frequent electric pulses, and lull you into a deep sense of insecurity. When ‘The Red Wing’ climatically finishes, ‘Sentients’ comes on and lives up to it’s name. Lasers shoot through a galactic inter-war battle, and giant robots do destruction with each other, all in the name of electronic music. In the most avant-garde way possible, the destruction of the Death Star is put on in a slow motion, audio-centric format, and it’s goddamn mind-blowing, and definitively enormous. You can never prepare yourself enough for the inter-plantary apocalypse speech that interrupts the closest thing to a reverie that Fuck Buttons can come to. The warm down and after effects of this is seen in ‘Prince’s Prize’, a shimmering Pac-Man interpretation that transforms into a breakbeat, entrancing hypnotism of the senses. Holy Fuck Buttons Batman, I think I just experienced Tron through the power of music! Take me back to a point in Jeff Bridges’ career where he isn’t at that low of a point in his life (I am, of course, referring to, The Big Lebowski)

The final end of the album comes in the two, huge 10 minute slabs of ‘Stalker’ and ‘Hidden X’s’. The former is a towering and intimidating figure, the other a succulent and entrancing track that swims with the grace of Derek Zoolander in his Merman commercial. Although ‘Hidden X’s’ is a damn beautiful track, it’s ‘Stalker’ that leaves the bigger impression, mainly because it seems to follow in the format of ‘Slow Focus’ more solidly. ‘Stalker’ is fucking huge, booming and throwing it’s weight around, not just shoving but actively defying anything to get in it’s way. It’s like an evil Optimus Prime, mechanic, whirring and death-defying in the most belied sense of every adjective. The way it jilts and heaves, just when you think the menace might be over, it amps to another level, blasting away your faith in humanity with that giant fucking laser sword thing that Optimus Prime has. 

Overall, Fuck Buttons have created a powerful force of technology. Yes, that’s right, this isn’t just an album of electronic music, it’s a fucking piece of technology, like the iPod you’ll listen to it on. I would say that ‘Slow Focus’ was so powerful and layered that it could hypnotise Megatron, but that would be portraying a hypothetical, and we haven’t been attacked by any inter-galactic space robots in the recent past, have we? ‘Slow Focus’ is fucking sick, and if you’re a fan of having your head chewed off and spat back out in a crumbled mess in front of you through the glory of sound, then you should get this album. It’s glorious in every sense of the word. It’s the kind of shit that Skrillex goes all corporal mortification in an effort to create (that’s the crazy whipping stuff that the albino monk from The Da Vinci Code does). ‘Slow Focus’ is everything I hoped it would be and more.

For those wondering, the vagrant slangshot of ‘Fuck’ was used only 14 times. I’m really sorry. I’ll try better next time. 

Video: Fuck Buttons-The Red Wing

For those still awake, here’s a treat: Fuck Buttons, audio-visual style! Watch a scantily clad woman bather in red light either strip or do kung fu, depending on your interpretation. Meanwhile, a circus of bleeps, whistles and buzzing is all compressed into a high-octane and grippingly addictive track. It drips with ecstasy in classic Fuck Buttons style. Man, do I want to see them live.