Harder Love is available via:
The E.P., Fresh Born Animal (And I’m Not Sure Who I Am), is available from:
Alternative; Lo-Fi; Noir
28th July, 2017
WRITTEN, PERFORMED; ENGINEERED AND PRODUCED BY:
Mark Walker at Couch Studios
Bleek Noir and James O’Connor
ONE man has been in my mind for the past…
few days. Nick Cave has been performing over here and making the music news. It is rare we get to see him and his Bad Seeds gig in the U.K. Ever since his album, Skeleton Tree, last year; we have not heard any new music from him. That is understandable, to say the least – considering the harsh and tragic circumstances that defined some of the album’s most emotional moments. He is an artist that is in a league of his own. I have not encountered anyone who has his same gravitas, sense of atmosphere and songwriting ability. I have followed his career from the early days and amazed by every album he produces. He never seems to slow when it comes to quality and originality – each record provides a new dynamic and theme. The reason I mention Cave is because of my review subject, Bleek Noir (although I know him as ‘Chris’). I wanted to talk about a number of things but, before that, how influential Nick Cave is and why artists like Bleek Noir – who inject the same sense of shamanic darkness and theatricality to their music – are so important. There are so few genuinely exciting and intriguing artists in music at the moment. If one wants to discover a musician that plays in the alleyways of music’s metropolis then they need to really go far and wide – there is far too much convention and ordinary spirit wafting through the streets right now. Yeah, one can hear some interesting and dynamic artists but there are few who have that energy and rare magic of Cave. Bleek Noir is no tribute act but one definitely feels a connection between Cave and Bleek Noir. In fact, as I shall discuss earlier, Bleek Noir covered a song by The Birthday Party – a Post-Punk group Cave was a member of in the 1980s. I will arrive at that but wanted to stay on the theme of artists like Cave and why Bleek Noir is an exciting force. The group/moniker arrived from Christopher Fox and, by various reviewers, has been described as Victorian, seedy and fascinating.
It is hard to put into words but there are music gymnastics and lizard-crawling vocals: hovering spirits, cheap hotel beds and flickering city neon. It is a heady and intoxicating brew that takes you by the hand and leads you somewhere exciting. I am not sure how much of Bleek Noir’s character and personality Fox takes into his everyday life but one suspects the man’s songwriting and creative process has a flair of the method – immersing his head in a space most of us would not go. I wanted to discuss unique artists like this, first, because there are so few innovators and genuinely alluring artists. Fox’s alter ego is a fevered imagination and colourful brew that gets right into the brain and spikes the imagination. It is unusual departing from the garden path and going into a new world. It is not an exaggeration to say Bleek Noir inhabits a very rare territory and approaches music in a weird and wonderful way. Those who are not used to Nick Cave-like sounds and voodoo-cum-tribal embers; it will be an unexpected experience and might put some off. That is not a slight against Bleek Noir but a commentary on how we all get used to something quite familiar and safe. People assume artists that have a quirky appearance and eye-catching description are going to be off-putting and divisive. There is nothing niche about Bleek Noir and the music that comes through. If you give it a chance; you’ll find the music gets into the soul and provokes an immediate reaction. It sounds like I am defending the Goth kid in school but it feels like that at times. Fox’s disguise appears to be that free-thinking loner that stalks the playground with his dark make-up and peculiar views – this is the way outsiders might perceive his aesthetic and music. In fact, like Cave and artists who have few like-minded contemporaries, there is nothing to be fearful of. What you get is relatable music that has a different skin to anything out there. I’ll end the Cave mantra by talking about Bleek Noir’s sense of lyrical prowess and vocal dynamics. I have known Fox for a bit and can tell you, since his last project, there have been some real changes.
One would hardly recognise the man I was reviewing all that time ago – the transformation is quite dramatic. I am interested learning about his association and love of Nick Cave – and Rowland S. Howard, for that matter. Every time I approach an artist, when it comes to influences, there is a bit of a repeat. You get the same names popping up and, whilst that is okay, there is never the feeling you’ll find someone who breaks that trend. Bleek Noir is a pleasant surprise and someone who has given me a new impetus: the chance to talk about something new. I wanted to talk about the immediacy of release and how striking when the iron is hot is essential. Bleek Noir only formed in July but is straight to work! Two releases came straight to light: double A-side Harder Love/Draggin’ That Damn Thing Around and the E.P., Fresh Born Animal (And I’m Not Sure Who I Am). I am looking at those titles and a few things strike me. Fox, as a conspirer, is not someone who goes for the trite and boring. Harder Love, the song I am looking at, is as close as conventional as he will ever get – in terms of the title, anyway! Draggin’ That Damn Thing Around and the E.P., I will allude to both later, compel you with their title alone! It is hard discovering anyone on the musical landscape that has a flavour of fascination about them. You get samey titles and music that really doesn’t hook you like it should. The love of the lugubrious festers and crawls through the blood. I digress but such is the power of those titles and the suggestions one gets. I wanted to commend Bleek Noir for racing off the blocks so quickly. It can be hard for artists to get music out they are happy with. You hear a lot of tease and trickle in modern music. One will invariably have that debut single and all the hype surrounding it.
I know it is challenging getting a song out and keeping the pressure up. Such is the competitive nature of music, each artist takes their own approach to songwriting. I know few who put music out quickly that has a real quality and sense of completion. Bleek Noir’s music is atonal and dark but has plenty of fireworks, compelling scents and bold tattoos. There is a sense the world needs it and there is a gap that requires filling. The fact, only a matter of days after the formation the first material was out, shows what a talent Fox has – a work ethic that few others possess. I am interested he released a double A-side: this is something more musicians are undertaking. The fact an E.P. shortly followed shows what productivity there is in his blood. If you have a couple of great songs and do not want to divide them – releasing each as a single can be quite a task and drags on a bit – the double A-side is the perfect solution. One can experience two excellent songs and does not have to endure the endless promotion and build-up to get their hands on it. I am not sure why there is this rise in the double A-side but it interests me. Bleek Noir is that explosive project that you cannot contain. It acts as a guide to other artists to get their finger out and not to linger. There is that sense of theatre and performance when it comes to promotion. Why do we need endless teaser videos and those cryptic status updates?! It seems music can just arrive and not demand a carnival of buzz and spoon-feeding. Productivity is one of the most underrated and ignored aspects of music, to me. I find a great new artist but, after the first single, there is a huge gap until we hear new music. Maybe they are ensuring the music is as good as it could be but there is a risk there – so many others will come into music and take away some of your followers.
We live in an age where we need constant music and updates. It is not good enough to love an artist and wait an endless time for new stuff to come out. Bleek Noir is in no danger of disappointing. There is a real desire to get music to people that has quality and originality. If the songs out there seemed rushed then I would be reluctant to proffer such an artist. As it is; I find myself drawn to various tracks and noticing the differences between them. Harder Love struck me because it has an accompanying video and it stuck with me the longest – but I will mention other tracks as we go on. I am not sure whether there will be more material before the end of the year but one can forgive Bleek Noir for taking a bit of time off now. I find it fortuitous I am reviewing music that has such a Hallowe’en vibe so close to the big day – a few weeks away, anyway! I would expect Bleek Noir to mark the day with something, at least. Maybe there will be a video or a new song?! It will be exciting to see if anything does arrive on 31st. I wanted to talk about Spotify – before I come to look at a couple of other aspects. Bleek Noir is someone on Spotify but, as an aside, it is near-impossible finding his Spotify page through a search engine. If you type ‘Bleek Noir’ and ‘Spotify’ together – you will not get any relevant results back. It is a slight detour but I am not sure why that is coming up. I have not included the link because of that. Maybe I am typing the wrong words or not looking in the right places but that is beside the point. I know he is on Spotify because I have the application and can find his music on there.
The reason I wanted to (briefly) talk about the streaming site is because Bleek Noir has that niche. Owing to the night-crawling sounds produced; it appears there is a chance to create playlists and hook other artists/contemporaries in. I know Nick Cave’s music is on there so perhaps Bleek Noir could add his music to a playlist and tag Cave on Twitter? It would be good to see his own themed playlist come through that includes similar artists. I highlighted how there are few out there like Bleek Noir but one gets a similar smell from Captain Beefheart…um…yeah, might leave it to the man himself to search the archives! Spotify is a useful way of getting music shared and exposed. Playlists are a good way of including other artists, new and old, into your own rundown and getting their music shared. The hope is, once that is done, those artists will return the favour and include you. This allows the songs to get to new audiences. I wonder whether Cave, if his music were included on a playlist, would share it?! That would open Bleek Noir to his crowd and, with it, so many new fans. I am not sure why Bleek Noir does not show on the search engines but I will have a word with Fox and see whether he has encountered any similar issues. That is a minor point but I feel Spotify is a platform Bleek Noir could thrive on. I have mentioned Hallowe’en and it seems only natural there would be a place for the E.P. Fresh Born Animal (And I’m Not Sure Who I Am) on any spook-themed playlists. I will come to look at Harder Love very soon but, before I move onto that, I want to look at Leeds – and music from the North of England.
I have written extensively about the fact music seems to be split between the North and South. We live in a time when everything has to be divided between London and ‘elsewhere’. Artists who are close to London often get mentioned as London-based acts and that is quite worrying. Such is the dominance and size of the city it is hard for any other areas to get their music heard. It is a trouble that needs addressing but artists like Bleek Noir show what a wealth there is out there. I always mention Leeds in the context of music that flirts away from the mainstream. Mainstream acts like alt-J show there is definitely something in the water up there. Over the years, when reviewing Leeds artists, there have been so few that do anything ordinary and boring, Heir were the last band I featured (from there) but I have also looked at Electro-Swing (Little Violet) and similarly unexpected treats. I am not sure whether it is the way the city runs and the type of music heard there but few feel the need to follow the pack and replicate what is already out there. Different parts of the U.K. have their own sound but there is nowhere quite like Leeds. The city seems to beat to a different drum and everything about the place excites me. We put so much emphasis on London and what is coming from the capital, I wonder whether areas like Leeds are even considered? I guess it is easy to discover artists that live/work near London because that is where all the big labels and studios are – and most of the bigger venues. That is no good reason to overlook the rest of the country. The recent Mercury Music Prize showed what an emphasis there is on London. There were more South London-based artists on the Shortlist than there were from the North. It gets worse than that. Ed Sheeran, born in the North, does not live there anymore and the further North we got was Leeds – alt-J were the most-northern act, it seems.
Scotland was ignored and, actually, Stockport’s Blossoms were also in the mix. Even so; it is hardly encouraging to see so few northern artists included in big music prizes. The lack of visibility is no reflection on the quality and innovation arriving from cities like Leeds and Manchester. I will move things on soon but, before then, artists that come from other projects to create new music. I am not going to get into Christopher Fox’s previous incarnation too much but his latest project is a leap from where he came from. Anyone who has heard his older music would recognise very little in what he is producing now. Maybe it was the desire to do something more challenging but I have never heard him as electric and exciting as he is right now. Beforehand, when listening to his music, there was something charming and loveable but it was quite a niche style – something possibly reserved to past decades that attracts a very small audience. I have noticed certain bands/artists – who play under-heard styles of music – rebrand themselves. Most of these are older Folk types and genres like Hokum and Tinpan. You know the kind of music I am alluding to: music we might hear from the 1940s and artists who play sea shanties at coastal bars. It is quite interesting, I guess, but there comes a time when that kind of music slips the mind. Music has evolved where it is and going that far back creates a danger. I know a lot of artists want to be unique but if the style of music you are playing is not that popular then your lifespan is not going to be that long. Fox is in a position where he still plays on the outskirts of music’s normality but has reinvented himself in a more populist mould. I keep bringing names like Nick Cave in but it is only as a compliment. The Australian is someone who has an enormous fanbase but has very few out there like him. Maybe it is the sheer potency and majesty of the music but I feel there is a need to find Caves-in-waiting to fill the eventual void – when he does retire from music. Bleek Noir has all the right ingredients to build a real foundation and, in time, ascend to the mainstream. I am a little weary of what we have right now and there is a desire to give it a real kick. Too safe, predictable and grounded: Bleek Noir is a head-spinning cocktail that would shake-up music and provide it a rare fascination.
The hero, it is said, is going to make a hundred kind of harder love. These words spike the mind right away and make you wonder what he is alluding to. Before then, he urges (the heroine) to peel back that “fleshy, pink armour love”. The instrumentation and composition remain far-off and the vocal a little distorted and echoed. That lo-fi sound means the song has a degree of danger and stranger-lurking-in-the-shadows. It is a threadbare and interesting start that gets you in and settles you in your seat. The strings wallow and vibrate out of the blocks. Carnivorous, animal-like and echoed – few can ignore the power and mystical power of the sound. The percussion slams and offers punctuated slams that bond nicely with the strings. It is a witches’ brew that instantly transports the mind from the laptop into Bleek Noir’s world. In my mind; I was in a rather odd commune where the hero acts as a shaman. Standing over the boiling and bubbling pot – with lusty and night-dwelling ladies beside him – he fixes the listener with a cheeky and troubled wink. Before long, the steady and level-headed composition starts to twirl and trip. It is almost like a drug has got into their system and they are feeding on the chemicals. It is never too strange but one notices voodoo smiles and crocodile snap to the strings. The hero asks, the heroine, I assume, where it hurts. He is almost like a love doctor – albeit, one who wants satisfaction rather than a medical cure. His mind is focused on the bountiful and sensual: concerned with something primal and lusty. One cannot ignore the Nick Cave echoes that stem from the song. The composition has the same sort of sound and flavour one would find on the 1996 album, Murder Ballads.
The early stages of the song have a flavour of Cave but that is all good in my books! Yes, there is that love of the great mind but Bleek Noir has his own mind and soul. One gets a real hit of that as we learn about his motives and mindset. If one can detect bits of Murder Ballads on the song; it doesn’t take too long before the man steps out from the shadows and lets his golden teeth shine. That snarl and alluring smile talks of banging walls and the place where the pain if kept. Maybe there is that need to release something pent-up and confined. Perhaps a heroine is being addressed – someone who is reserved and in need of ‘guidance’. Our hero allows that deep and commanding voice to paint scenery and keep the imagination fevered and tormented. The imaginations and visions flood to the eyes and you cannot help but follow the story in your own way. My schematic and interpretation remains true but transports to a candle-lit room in a creaky house – maybe a grand mansion somewhere on the hill. Bleek Noir approaches the girl in the corner (without notice) and casts his spell. Such is the potency of the music; anyone who listens will have their own view. The girl, confessed, undressed for the hero with some shame – it entered both their backs at the same time. What the ‘it’ refers to is beyond me but possibly a sense of lust or a strange spirit hanging in the cobwebs?! Whilst most songs are neutered and domesticated: here, there is something sinned, damned and recidivist. One admires the skeletal nature of the composition – it has booming moments but retains a bone-knocking sound – and whether the introduction of swaggering/off-tune horns might add an element of the demented? Perhaps that would be a step too far but, also, a Quartet of Dark Souls – a string combination that fuses Bernard Hermann and Danny Elfman. “Sweet leather rain” are words you probably haven’t heard together but sound natural companions in a song that continues to press and stalk – the hero threatening to push the button where pain is penned; unlock something inside that has been cloistered and hidden.
Subcutaneous crawl and sense-altering odd: Harder Love continues to grace and fascinate to the dying embers. The hero wants a harder love and does not seem one for easy answers and natural foreplay. Fox’s voice has an operatic quality and is at its most striking near the end – when the chorus comes back in and he is at his most wracked and afflicted. The tree-clashing percussion and the Devil’s toybox are combined in a sentient sound that grabs you by the arm and leads you into a peculiar fantasia. If one watches the video to the song – link is at the top and bottom – then you can see the hero with his hands over his eyes and revealing little of his face. It is a simple concept but one that documents the torment and physicality of his feelings. I am not sure whether Harder Love is constructed from a personal relationship or is cribbed from the pages of fiction. It is an engaging song that conspires theories and makes you dig deep. Few songs get into the mind as easily and vividly. It is part of a remarkable double side and is the opening song to the E.P., Fresh Born Animal (And I Am Not Sure Who I Am). Many might see the song as anhedonic and quite po-faced – it does play on the shadier side of the street. There is much delight and colour to be found among the sepia, noir and grey. There is no privation of soul and one discovers emotional resonance and nuance in every moment. A remarkable and addictive song from one of music’s new pioneers; make sure you discover the song and explore the back catalogue (already quite fulsome) of Bleek Noir.
Wild World is the latest single from Bleek Noir – originally recorded by The Birthday Party. Given the fact, in a few short months, Bleek Noir has released a few originals – many would forgive the Leeds-based artist for releasing a cover. In fact; it is a great move and shows the full range of Bleek Noir’s talents. Covering other songs can be quite risky and few artists manage to add anything interesting to the songs that tackle. A song that has Nick Cave involved is already a quality product and has his own voice. Bleek Noir takes on the moment and does not replicate what has already come. It is a great interpretation and takes the song in a new direction. If that were not enough; we have the upcoming single, Last Night I Saw Myself with the Animals (And the Animals Ate Themselves). Bleek Noir is not someone who does punchy titles but, when you hear the music, it would be hard to abbreviate the titles. It seems like his upcoming song is not going to be a slushy ballad: another crawling and creeping viper with a variegated tongue and peculiar sting. There will be an E-book accompanying the song and another step from the new outfit. At the start of this month; Bleek Noir announced there would be FOUR new releases – two singles, a collaboration double A-side and the second Bleek Noir E.P. It seems like music pumps through every sinew of the creator and he cannot stop recording. He even makes King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard look like a bunch of lazy bastards – they are only releasing five L.P.s this year. I was musing whether Bleek Noir would release anything for Hallowe’en but it seems like we are going to get Christmas presents, too. I am not sure when new releases will come to light but we have his E.P. out there – and singles like Harder Love. Draggin’ That Damn Thing Around and the Fresh Born Animal (And I’m Not Sure Who I Am) E.P. are fantastic works and show what a force of nature Bleek Noir is.
Material is spewing forth and it is hard capturing the breath. What we have right now is electric, fascinating and highly engrossing. There is something rare and peculiar about Bleek Noir but one is always hooked and seduced. You never balk or feel distant from the music. It beckons you in and takes you by the hand; takes you through the Lewis Carroll-cum-Haruki Murakami world of weird and wonderful. I wonder if there is going to be any touring before the end of this year? It would be great to see the songs come to life on the stage and how that is translated. That will be down to Christopher Fox but I know he is busy promoting and working on new stuff. He is a musician that never tires and has an imagination that one cannot put a corkscrew in – nor would you ever want to! There are few who are as prolific and keep the fans engaged. Normally, one would bond to an artist and then have to wait months for new material to come. It is important getting music out there but ensuring the quality is solid. That might sound like a hard trick but it can be achieved. Bleek Noir is someone who is unaffected by the buzz and stress of areas like London and is breathing the psychotropic smoke of the North. It will be interesting charting the progress of Bleek Noir and where the music goes. I am excited by what it is out there and seeing the fan numbers rise. Fox keeps his followers engaged and informed – this is rarer than you might think. I know few others who are as busy and keep that work ethic strong. The quality is really strong and it all bodes well for 2018. I would have reviewed his E.P. but I do so very infrequently – only assessing singles; due to the rather wordy nature of my blog. I have heard the remainder of his E.P. and can only urge people to dig in and experience something fantastic.
Each song explodes from the speakers and gets the mind working and whirring. If, at first, you find the music peculiar and unexpected then give it time: everything will fall into place and win you round very soon. The very best artists are those who remain aloof to the marketing men and the sounds of the mainstream. Fox, in guises past, has shown real promise and innovation but Bleek Noir is his finest realisation. I hope his horizons broaden and he continues to record top-quality music. There is, as he says, new music coming so keep your eyes on that. I have been hooked to Harder Love and all it possesses. It seems like an appropriate word (possesses) as one cannot shake off the entrance and allure of the song. Find out for yourself and, more than that, involve yourself with everything Bleek Noir. I am keeping my eyes out and seeing what comes next from Bleek Noir. Whatever it sounds like, you can pretty much guarantee…
IT will blow the mind.
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