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Blood Stereo - The Magnetic Headache

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Artist: Blood Stereo

Album: The Magnetic Headache

Label: Bottrop-Boy

Review date: Nov. 6, 2008

The Magnetic Headache is the perfect title for this latest blat from Blood Stereo, a.k.a. the husband-and-wife team of Karen Constance and Dylan Nyoukis. They’re both rightfully legendary characters in the British underground, the former for her intensely hallucinatory visual art and music (in Smack Music 7) and the latter for helming the Chocolate Monk imprint, and blowing out gory gunks of crude tape noise with his sister Lisa Nyoukis, a.k.a. Dora Doll, in Prick Decay/Decaer Pinga. Over a decade on, Prick Decay’s Guidelines For Basement Non-Fidel still sounds like a call-to-arms for worldwide underground magnetic tape mangling, as well as a perfect summation of Nyoukis’s aesthetic: namely, gleefully dragging high art forms – musique concrete, sound poetry, improvisation – through the gutter.

But while they’re true to their junk-shop take on music, Nyoukis and Constance have composers’ ears. Even their earliest mutations, which at times sounded slapped together, have revealed, in retrospect, a very keen attention to sonority. The Magnetic Headache growls at times. Sputters. You can hear the tapes squalling and squabbling through the heads of the machine. But there are also great moments of repose, where Nyoukis and Constance leave things to unwind slowly, as with "Forgotten Tone Of Fire,” where the steady hum of an organ tone is the bed upon which untouched field recordings and percussives of unknown provenance slowly fold and roll over each other. "The Magnetic Headache" itself opens with warped vocal tones, jump-roping each other to create a mutant frogs’ chorus, where epiglottal trills are slowed to a tortoise’s crawl. Neil Campbell joins the duo for the closing "The Broken Line Recorder,” another slo-mo jaunt through primitive electronic spew, though there’s a particularly disturbing moment where possessed babies giggle and splutter through a fog of wind and drone.

These pieces were originally written to accompany an exhibition, which might explain their relative openness. At no point does this quite approach the density of some of Prick Decay’s music. But The Magnetic Headache still addresses Nyoukis and Constance’s key concern: tape music knocked from its academic pedestal and made to acknowledge consumer electronics’ takes on juxtaposition, cut-up and collage. A magnetic headache, indeed.

By Jon Dale

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