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Karen Gwyer – New Roof

Firmly entrenched in the new wave of outboard racket-makers, Karen Gwyer has already given us a considerable body of work to consume considering the fact that in 2012 she had but one cassette release to her name. Buffeted on the winds of No Pain In Pop she has since issued a debut album (the excellent Needs Continuum), a long-form cassette for Opal Tapes, and collaborated with Luke Wyatt (in his Torn Hawk guise) for some reworking of her own material. Now she’s back on No Pain in Pop with a ranging EP that shirks edited-down focus in favour of broad strokes as two seventeen minute tracks sandwich a brief interlude in a fit of electronic abandon.

Karen Gwyer - New Roof
Karen Gwyer
New Roof
No Pain In Pop
12", digital
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Where Gwyer’s music has previously skirted around danceable forms by tipping any beats present into cauldrons of dominant synths and textures, there is a definite kinesis at work on “Lay Claim To My Grub” that finds Gwyer channeling the spirit of techno more explicitly, and it works a treat. The drum machine patterns that sit at the forefront of the track snap and snarl in jagged formations that call to mind the kind of exploratory programming that embodied the early ‘90s electronica pioneers as they divulged from more primitive box beats. It’s the kind of dynamic approach that struggles to fade with time, so dense and layered are the percussive sounds as they leap forth like whirling dervishes.

Meanwhile, the melodic content is as impressive as ever, with a distant, reverb-soaked line falling in a mellifluous polyrhythm against the aforementioned drums, providing a haunted foil to a more prominent and overwhelming grind that bustles its way to the front a few minutes in. There’s a graceful sense of progression to the track as each successive melodic character weighs in on the clamouring chords, a high-pitched organ tone adding yet more to the swell without it bursting the frequency range of the track. Of course over a 17-minute spread, there has to be some deviation, and around the ten-minute mark the beats give way to a fulsome drone out led by that low-end grinding synth, which then drifts with a church-like ambience into a glorious meltdown; surely the appropriate way to round off such a weighty body of sound.

“Nail Bars Of The Apocalypse” makes for a fitting palette cleanser in between, again turning to those ecclesiastical organ sounds to coo out a winsome refrain devoid of the drama and intensity of the former track. “Missisissipippi” picks up that incidental theme and runs with it for a protracted intro loaded with hauntological paranoia that revels in the humming tick-over of sustained chords. Only around the five minute mark does the beat start, as a muffled kick pulses away as a signal for the track to open out, and so in creep new piano phrases and sharp hats that unfurl the full nature of the track with elegance. This slow-release ethic serves Gwyer well, creating a finely orchestrated drama that can be fully absorbed at every turn, waiting until each evolution of the track has fully sunken in before progressing to the next state.

Some may argue that such elongated pieces of music are self-indulgent, but that’s never the feeling when listening to New Roof. Gwyer has nailed the balance between hypnotic absorption and engaging progression here, and so the tracks sweep you up in their bombastic journeys. Of course those with little patience may find themselves twitching past the seven-minute mark, but much like minimalism in music, stretching ideas out over vast expanses of time can have many benefits, if approached correctly. When the nuances of progression are as well performed as they are here, the band can play on for as long as they like.

Oli Warwick


A1. Lay Claim To My Grub
A2. Nail Bars Of The Apocalypse
B1. Missisissipippi