Sunday, February 12, 2017

Swimming Through Dreams With John Fryer: A Look At The Recent Black Needle Noise Singles

Everything I held close to my heart when I was 19 or 20 was something that this guy touched as a producer. John Fryer was half of This Mortal Coil, for Crissakes! And the litany of bands he produced or mixed is like a peek into my cassette collection circa 1987: Depeche Mode, Xmal Deutschland, Love and Rockets, Swans, and so on. His CV is one of the most impressive I can imagine.

So, it's with great delight that I share the news that he's recording again under the name of Black Needle Noise. Utilizing a few guest vocalists, Fryer's new band serves up music that is sure to please fans of his earlier work. Let me take you quickly through a few recent tracks.

"Swimming Through Dreams" recalls Fryer's material with This Mortal Coil and its spin-off project, The Hope Blister. Shimmering shards of treated guitar come at us in waves as vocalist Mimi Page (from Front Line Assembly spin-off Delirium) delivers some beautiful vocals. Any references I could make here would be to classic 4AD label bands and I suppose that is a huge compliment. The slightly sinister keyboard line that cuts through things made me think of early Ministry, or even the quieter moments on an old Xmal Deutschland record, and there's a trace of the icy beauty of an early Bel Canto single here too. Marvelously evocative stuff!

"Teeth to Grey" with Omniflux is jittery electronica that skirts an edge between late-period Cocteau Twins and early NIN. A strong melody carries this one into the memory as the production reveals the further skills of Fryer.

"Treasured Lies" with ZiaLand is a spin on "Another Day" from the first This Mortal Coil album mixed with the force of a classic Curve number. The waves of static and sound that surround the vocals serve as sort of a rhythmic device while the big chorus is what grabs the listener's spine.

The superb "This Kind of Road" is the closest that Black Needle Noise get to Depeche Mode in what is a nice echo of stuff off of Songs of Faith and Devotion. The vocals from Kendra Frost recall Sarah McLachlan from her early years when she was the big highlight of the Nettwerk label and long before she was a Top 40 artist, while the guitar and keyboard figures here weave a delicate-and-yet-forceful pattern under the vocals that suggests nothing so much as figures trudging up a lonely road. Evocative and warm, this is exactly how electronica should be done, less ambient and more human.

"Warning Sign", the other Black Needle Noise single with Kendra Frost, is sharper, all clear vocal lines and precise beats. Frost's vocals here suggest Annie Lennox, while Fryer's instrumental bits veer between hard riffs and supple flashes of symphonic keyboard textures. There's a lot going on here in the mix but it's unleashed with a great deal of economy and deliberation in order to convey the overall effect so successfully.

The pounding "Heaven" with Jennie Vee offers up a hint of Eighties Siouxsie and the Banshees thanks to Vee's delivery, while the drums and guitars and keyboards made me think of the end of side 1 of It'll End In Tears, Fryer's masterpiece with This Mortal Coil. The drums here link up those nods to the classic 4AD stuff with the new wave of Depeche Mode. Superb!

The breathy vocals of Andrea Kerr carry "She Stands On A Storm" and a listener could be forgiven for recalling Cranes material even as the drums pound like NIN, or a Chapterhouse single. A song that shifts between ethereal (to use an over-used adjective) and industrial styles, "She Stands On A Storm" is a blast of energy for fans of anything John Fryer's touched in his pre-Black Needle Noise years. Seemingly referencing so many things in this guy's past at once, the cut was one of the highlights of this recent batch of singles from his new project.

"Swimming Through Dreams" is available now via that Bandcamp link, as are the rest of these fine Black Needle Noise singles. For more details on John Fryer's Black Needle Noise, please follow via the project's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Tom Delpech]