SONIC CATHEDRAL: it may not be the most prolific of labels in terms of releases – but never mind the width; feel the quality.
Just take a look back, wouldya, over the past year and a bit of releases: an excellent, excellent new generation of the ‘gaze debut from East Yorkshire’s vowel-free but guitar thrill-replete bdrmm; old hand Andy Bell’s lovely album of deep mod-psych action, The View From Halfway Down, all crowned and lusciously addended by the run of singles which followed, from 12″ through 10″ and down to 7″; not one, but two, absolute jawdroppers from Cheval Sombre – elegiac, floating free and absolutely full of fragile, gently expressed emotional heft.
And if all that wasn’t enough, the expanded release by Noughties gazers Sennen was a necessary restoration to availability for a record from that era when the sound had really retreated into dark corners, a few souls, like Sonic Cathedral’s Nat, keeping the faith, fists clenched like the Northern Soul patches; and a scratchy, lofi-delicious debut 7″ nugget from Chicago’s Horsegirl. It’s a name you can trust, is Sonic Cathedral, if you like guitars doing all the right, thrilling, transcendent things. Music that’s reaching for the possible.
Please be welcoming then, dear reader, a new arrow to the label’s quiver in the guise of Cornish space-noise-gaze trio Mildred Maude, a band who I’ve been lucky enough to watch grow from their early days; their second album, Sleepover, is their big hello for the label, and their first studio release since CPA I-III three years ago now; a pink vinyl rarity which, I mean, you might get enough change from £600 for a chip supper if you dip into Discogs for one. Right? All the eeeps.
Full disclosure: I’m Cornish myself, so always intrigued and happy to champion an outfit from my craggy, windswept, peninsular neck of the woods. Most of the music that’s really made an impact from this far-flung corner in recent decades, however, has been leftfield electronica: Redruth’s Aphex Twin; Falmouth’s Luke Vibert (/Wagon Christ/Plug/Kerrier District). By her Dad’s bloodline we can add Gwenno, whose Cornish language second album Le Kov trod where Super Furries’ Mwng did years earlier and married contemporary sounds to a Celtic tongue. Yeah, electronica Cornovia hasn’t been in bad health at all.
Cornsh guitar bands have, until relatively recently, fared less well in terms of wider acclaim. OK, a fair few members of early Nineties’ pop-squallers The Family Cat were from West Cornwall (and “Tom Verlaine” is still a helluva tune); there were brief flashes of what coulda shoulda been from Blair 1523 and The Black Tambourines, who came, dropped vinyl, vanished once more.
But then, Penelope Isles have massive Cornish connections by dint of their formative days, education and resident relatives, play here a lot – we can kinda, sorta claim them; and although I’ve never seen any explicitly declared connection, Squid number both a Borlase and a Nankivell in their ranks – I mean, these are as Cornish as surnames get.
But Mildred Maude – they’re really ours. Proper leftfield, experimental guitar excellence. Someone to give that scion Richard D James a run for this money when it comes to scouring analogue bubblebaths.
So, by way of brief introduction: Mildred Maude is the space where guitarist and all-round sonic voyager Matt Ashdown meets and is ably underpinned by the tight motorik of bassist Lee Wade and drummer Louie Newlands. Named for Louie’s gran, Josephine Mildred Maude Gulliver, the three drifted together, as musicians often do, looking for the right mesh, the right minds. Lee, in particular, had had a rough ride prior, suffering and recovering from a life-threatening illness. Matt says of the trio’s genesis: “We found ourselves gelling over needing outlets for unconstrained musical expression, almost like a support group in a way.” They came, they jammed, they found a chemistry; began to get out and about live, locally.
“We all wanted to have fun and not take ourselves too seriously,” says Lee. “We found we shared a kind of DIY ethic in that we knew our music didn’t quite fit in and we just had to put ourselves forwards for things.”
And pretty rapidly, such things began to fall into place: what was only their third gig was as support to the mighty Fall in Falmouth. I was lucky enough to witness that two-hander, and although they were far from the finished article, a little rough around the edges (as you might expect on gig number three), but did they ever make a lasting impression. We can see for miles, they seemed to say. We’ve only just begun. ‘Some sorta British Thurston Moore meets Godspeed longform venture’, I remember mentally noting, eyes widened by sound. You knew they were … burgeoning. Coming through.
Since then they’ve had no less than Can legend Damo Suzuki guest on vocals at one memorable live excursion and they’ve ripped it up with bands such as Penelope Isles and, not too long before people began to get really ill in Wuhan and the world flipped into weird, a rather massively incendiary set in support of Acid Mothers Temple in a proper old-skool Cornish social club, pine panelling, committee members in a corner and all. At which – well, cranial restructuring. Stringed fireworks, right there.
Obvs, they’re on tour in support of this record, with six dates across the UK, some solo, some with Sennen, some with bdrmm, and beginning at that selfsame Falmouth social club where they sparred with Acid Mothers Temple two years ago now – see here for more details. Buy tickets, if guitars thrill you. Like all the best live bands of the moment (Squid, Oh Sees, Low) Mildred Maude are a whole different ballgame live, but expect the album to be in there somewhere.
“Our shows always consist of motifs and ideas that have come out of previous gigs or recordings,” says Matt, “so even though we perhaps won’t directly be playing the songs, parts of them will emerge during our live shows, which is quite an organic approach to touring an album like this.
“It’s always our approach to offset noise with beauty,” he continues. “Maybe for this album the balance swings towards beauty because we had a little more time to be still, and moments of chaotic ecstasy kind of just naturally unravelled.”
So let’s dive in. A quartet of tracks, mostly (really, as we shall find out, all, longform in one way or another) – that’s one more than CPA I-III, the snapshot in time of their ever-evolving “Cosmic Pink Alignment” – the live ‘song’ which will rearrange you in the best way, next week, should you go see. (Go see).
Album the second then begins with “Trevena” – named for old friend and filmic collaborator Chris Trevena who, in a neat further intertwining, made the short film which runs alongside this preluding single drop, taking a look at the end of Penzance Dry Dock in monochrome, and thus arriving at an aesthetic wherein Bait meets shoegaze, which, for me, is a very, very fine place to be. (You can watch that below).
“It was just a warm up, really, but it turned out good so we kept it,” says sticksman Louie. And he’s too self-deprecating, really; yes, you can hear those muscles warming up, the tune flexing gently with a crisp drum pattern, strings feathering with effects in a light drone, but it’s so warm, that riff 4AD melodious (think first album Pale Saints) woozy with feedback and other intelligently, intentionally accidental sonic byproducts licking and curling off. It gears up, fuzzes up, slides into a lava lamp-warmth of bent notes and overdrive and sheer atmosphere, big sunset skies and guitar majesty, ten minutes to the dot.
“Chemo Brain” is named for a side effect of bassist Lee’s cancer treatment in which he suffered sudden mental blocks as a byproduct of the medicinal cocktail surging through his bloodstream, and clocks in at under three minutes – waaaay, waaaay the shortest thing MM have ever committed to tape, surely – and comes at you from a place where first-album Swervedriver or even maybe, Medicine, don really battered Converse, soles hanging off, pump gas and hang with Thurston. You can imagine him or Lee Ranaldo maybe bringing a riff of this scouring melodious nature to the Dirty sessions, fo sho. It’s full of bright sunshine on a dusty gravel track, maybe somewhere in Colorado, maybe somewhere the back of Pendeen with the gorse in full flower. And, aha! here’s the thing: obtain Sleepover on wax, and this track concludes side A on a locked groove, so you get to rejoice in the riffin’ until, conceivably, the heat death of the universe. Two minutes fifty-odd or much, much longer.
“Elliott’s Floor” is deep into the shoegaze, Matt’s guitars just so: that delicious iron fist in the velvet glove balance we know and love, notes bending, abrasion channeled and compressed through beauty and elegance and singing overtones; meandering, harmonic bass pulsing, Louie flourishing double snare beats. And of course it elevates, sings a thunderous song, scudding across the sky, high cloud, moves from the rich glissando of mid-period Cocteaus to recall long-lost and underrated instrumental ‘gazers Stafrænn Hákon and Southpacific in its joyful soundfire, teeth bared yet smiling. This, this is Mildred Maude painted majestic and vital and on top of their game. This is them at their most wowsome, worlds to dive into.
And they go out all guns blazing, as “Glen Plays Moses” presents as a 20-minute odyssey down into the depths, up into the heights; pick your preference. We’re told Matt chose a screwdriver by way of a plectrum device for much of this track, and as it melts and howls, six strings drawing blood, you’re glad he did, inserting himself in a lineage of necessary, urgent guitar abuse stretching back to The Misunderstood and The Creation back in the Sixties (although knives were their guitarists’ weapons of attack). It has real grind beating in its heart, courtesy a simple, mantric bassline, 81 in 21, the spirit of Steve Hanley stalking its relentlessness. That propulsion – and it actually swings somewhat, Lee and Louie’s underpinning on this ‘un – allows you to loosen the muscles, attune to the groove bodily while immersing in all that guitarchitecture: Matt swirling and skirling and action painting pure amplified sound just about everywhere, letting that combination of wood and valves and strings and pedals rebirth as a more primitive thing, directly connecting to the senses and the subconscious, urgent and arresting and hell yes, right in the here and now., bathing you clean, readying you for a better world, less dreary, less drudging, bright with colour.
It’s a really bloody very good record, is Sleepover, ripe for some after-dark speaker bustin’. it ought, by rights, to gather in devotees of the krautrock and the shoegaze and postrock and noiserock. Four tracks, and really a record of two halves: part the first, pushing the MM aesthetic into newer spaces, taking in more ambient and US noiserock qualities and making them Mildred Maude’s own; part the second capturing all the flame and the colour of the band who simultaneously exfoliated and trepanned and transfused me in that Falmouth club before the rona. The band who I look forward to very much performing the same sonic makeover on me in that selfsame space in just a week’s time.
Sound, articulated and hammered and welded to make your world bigger and your eyes much, much wider. A cracker. Right on, bird.
Mildred Maude’s Sleepover is out this Friday, October 22nd digitally, on cassette and on vinyl; flex your PayPal at Sonic Cathedral or Rough Trade have a squeakingly limited (250) exclusive green vinyl pressing; there’s red, too; but sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings the clear splatter has long been snapped up. The noise is still glorious, though. And that’s the important part.