A catastrophic, divinely channeled music avalanche, Val Denham and Oli Novadnieks have splattered a sprawling, jolting “rock and roll” album with no pop aspirations, which still manages a pop sound. The duo strut with meaty guitar riffs, slicing atomic solos, psychedelic space melancholy, hyper futuristic jazz ballads, street hustle talk and blazing poetic language. Raw Powder is one of the best rock and roll albums you’ve never heard.
An enduring renaissance spirit, Val Denham has been a shaker and fellow visionary in the U.K. since the late 1970s. He’s probably most recognizable for doing striking cover art for Marc Almond and Throbbing Gristle. Val and Oli have been making music since the 1980s frequently opening up for bands like Psychic TV and Einsturzende Neubauten. Val Denham is responsible for most of the instrumentation including vocals, sampling and abstract guitar. Oli Novadnieks provides most of the fierce rhythm and laser surgery guitar soloing. The duo makes a racket more intense then any rock band.
The album sounds like a maniacal dash through a post punk kaleidoscope shattered then reassembled without genre codifications. Occasionally, the duo resemble early Royal Trux’s lo-fi haze or Chrome’s sci-fi dystopia, yet overall the duo are their own beast. The production often goes into the red while the searing and/or stuttering guitars are up front in the mix. Though overdubs abound, the album has a natural live feel. With messy, venomous pride, Raw Powder (what Iggy missed out on to call Raw Power) sprawls to 24 song bursts. Every song is not essential, though what is astounding is the duo’s unrestrained creativity even if it wanders dangerously close to black holes.
“My Hangover” sounds exactly what one would not want to hear with a massive splitting hangover. Overdriven guitars slash and slam with stuttering riffing. The lyrics tackle real life annoyances with painful humor with lines like “Turn the Tv off/its starting to make sense.”
Ugly, claustrophobic and beautiful, “Judas Fish” seethes with ricocheting endless razor sharp guitars and a galloping drum machine rhythm struts till catapulting to space. Like many other swift surprises constantly expanding the album’s essence, the song ends on a ghostly, beatific organ coda. “At Least I’m Alive” comes across like tiny sounding spy movie music via splattered post punk recorded in a junk shop. Muted guitar riff shambles forward with metal bucket percussion. Vocals are tinged with an amphetamine urgency which contrasts with the sledge hammer guitar freak out interludes.
Truly silly and almost embarrassing, “Welcome to The Asylum” blows a pungent whiff of ’80s cheese. The awful drum production features that decade’s hollow mechanical percussive production. Vocals are wrapped in corny flang/chorus effects. Unfortunately, this could be a stand in for an Alice Cooper ’80s out take.
Emotional, “Do You Know Who I Am” is transcendent pop music one will never hear on the radio. Strange off kilter ethnic percussion contrasts with the major guitar and vocal progression. Lyrically the song is a simple plea against selfishness. Lines like “do you know who I am/ do you care how I feel right now/ or are you so wrapped up in yourself/ you forgot who I am” sound like plea and accusation simultaneously. Denham is aware that even simple emotions are complex.
So many good songs exist on the fiery, punchy album that they all cannot be talked about, though at least a few more deserve mentions. Shimmering with glass-like, jazz guitar chords, “All Change” takes post-surrealist lyrical detours describing city transportation. Bizarre and gleefully uncomfortable, “The Real World” comes across as a complete deeply personal rewrite of Pere Ubu’s “Real World.” Raw Powder also contains a hidden track which is complete overdrive mayhem. Upping the album’s idiosyncrasies, one has to rewind the CD backwards from the first song to get to the hidden song, at least on regular stereos.
Raw Powder should stand essential for any rock fool for it shows how such a worn and tattered music genre co-opted boundless times for exploitive mainstream principles can be reinvigorated. The album rolls mean and truly deviant flooded with charisma. One should hope Val and Oli do another album!
Ooh, just in a review from “Record Collector” magazine September 2007 of the “Raw Powder” album!
“Val Denham and Oli Novadnieks Raw Powder (***)
Blossoming Noise BN022 C.D.
Interesting ideas in plenty
Val and Oli previously played together in the Death and Beauty Foundation and Silverstar Amoeba where they supported Einsturzende Neubauten and Psychic TV and mixed in and around that whole Throbbing Gristle /Coil underground culture. From there, they’ve developed a singular style of twisted melody, while as a visual artist, Denham has also produced album covers for Marc Almond and been recognised as a key exponent of the ecological and socially fused “Tranart” movement. Their latest work, available as a 1,000 only gold disc, contains enjoyable rambling and lo-fi post punk. Many of the tracks have a spontaneous quality to them that seems to stem from that Can / Krautrock approach of jamming around a single cord, but whilst some work in their unrefined immediacy, others tale off or end abruptly, echoes of ideas that failed to find proper form. That said, where the album works is often in it’s more sonorous and deliberating moments such as the bittersweet “All Change”; engaged in low gear, its thoughtful and poignant, it’s just that when Val and Oli power up into industrial noises and what the credits describe as “abstract guitar” they lose some of there approachability in discordant experimentalism which cries out for a little pruning.
Review by Ian Abrahams
Hmmm………….three stars! Petula Clark’s new album only gets two!
Raw bluesy sounds from Denham and Novadnieks. Swampy sounding, abstract and full of quirky lyrics that sound remarkably authentic. Not exactly what I was expecting from Blossoming Noise, to be honest, but if you’re a fan of the grungier end of folk / blues, this could well be one to check.
Genre: Experimental Rock
02 Move Like a Tiger
05 My Hangover
06 Yorkshire Hills
07 Spit Me Homage
08 Judas Fish
09 All Change
10 Ship For You
11 Real World
13 Escape Being Me
14 Dreams (Will Have Their Say)
15 Dontcha Fear a Thing
16 Do You Know Who I Am?
17 Devil’s Advocate
18 Show Me Your Monsters
19 At Least I’m Alive
20 Welcome to the Asylum
21 Hang/Candy Bomb
23 A Brand New Me
Review from “Brainwashed” website
Although collaborators since the early 1980s, Raw Powder marks the first official release from this duo (excluding self-released CD-Rs) that encapsulates some 50-plus years of rock and roll into a sprawling, slap-dash collection of 24 tracks, intentionally raw and rough around the edges. While many may know Denham more for her connections to Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Greater Than One, and other integral bands of the era, she proves here that her musical sensibilities are just as noteworthy as her paintings and artwork.
Even within the first few tracks that open this disc, the microcosm of rock and roll becomes immediately apparent: “Move Like A Tiger” is immediate and grippingly pure glam stomp, right down to the slide guitars segues into the folk rock of “Universe” and then into the rapid fire dance drum machine pulse of “Shine” that apes the likes of the Happy Mondays and others of the so called “Madchester” scene.
Other reference points are even a bit more specific, such as how “Spit Me Homage” and “Ship For You” pull off an excellent imitation of early Rolling Stones, from the rhythms to Denham’s very Jagger-esque vocals. Perhaps the most odd is the hip-hop elements that come up in the beats to “Judas Fish” and even into the vocals somewhat on “Individual.”
Some of the work eschews the rock sensibilities entirely for experimentation that is more consistent with Denham’s early connections to the then burgeoning industrial scene, “Real World” and “Doncha Fear A Thing” are built on abstract rhythm loops and pure experimentation rather than conventional rock frameworks. The deep filtered vocals, processed rhythm loops and fuzzed out guitar of “Hang/Candy Bomb” seems to just exist on its own, not easily labeled into any specific genre.
As a whole, the disc is intentionally raw and rough: according to the liner notes it was recorded entirely to four-track cassette and largely improvised on the spot, which makes the music all the more compelling. In some cases the lo-fi nature brings parallel to other dissimilar artists: the somewhat lighthearted lyrics and rough guitar work of “My Hangover” could be something from The Pod era Ween, and that is a compliment.
The disc has an overarching sense of fun and whimsy that is so rarely represented in the more esoteric forms of music so many of us are fond of. Sure, across 24 tracks some feel more like filler and less notable than others, but taken as a whole, it is more good than “ehh.” It is nice to hear something that can be both captivating in the musical sense, but also playful and lighthearted and seemingly created out of the sheer joy of making music that definitely feels “rock,” but on Val & Oli’s terms.
I am completely unfamiliar with either Val Denham or Oli Novadnieks. Raw Powder is their newest combined release; recorded in 2006, it was released this year by Blossoming Noise Records. The 23 tracks presented on Raw Powder express a wide range of influences from 60s, progressive, experimental, alternative, and modern rock; folk, and just about anything in between. With so many songs and such a variety in the approach to song writing, Denham and Novadnieks have definitely not held back in the expression of their vision of a new pseudo rock style.
With so much variation in stylistic approach and execution, Raw Powder can be a difficult album to review. So many things could be said, but at the same time would be so misleading in representing other material on the album. If your musical taste were more based in traditional approaches to your rock, I would say this is not the album for you. Not that anything on Raw Powder is so wild that one might not find a connection with it, but enough of the material is experimental enough (or brings in substantial other influences) that traditionalists might be a little thrown off. As I have said before, if you are reading your reviews on Heathen Harvest, that shouldn’t be a problem anyway. Some songs such as Move Like a Tiger have a great down and dirty rock feel, very reminiscent of something you might hear a band playing in a good rock bar. A good upbeat rhythm, bouncy guitar, and distortion round out this song. The ensuing track, Universe, has a very timeless and dramatic feel to its slow, melancholic tune. Slowly strummed and quiet guitar are accompanied by serious-toned vocals. This kind of adaptation and alteration of the rock formula is going to either be the biggest appeal or the largest turnoff for you in listening to Denham and Novadnieks Raw Powder.
Where does the album go from here? Pretty much wherever it wants. I cannot decide whether there was an actual formalistic approach to the writing of Raw Powder or whether the artists just write what hits their fancy at that exact moment without regard to what has preceded or might follow it. Maybe this is for you, maybe it isn’t. Denham and Novadnieks departure from the traditional heard it before rock scene is interesting to say the least. With such an assortment of styles, the adventurous rock listener will most likely find something to like. While I was not crazy about Raw Powder, there are enough moments I did enjoy to make me throw the CD on again at some point in the future.
Conversation found on the internet.
Oh, this is…. Val & Oli.
D: Good, I’m glad you knew that, because the iPod just says
“Track 12,” by “Unknown Artist,” from “Unknown Album.”
D: Huh, I just ripped the CD, I guess I forgot to write in the
track names the right way or something. I think it’s called
“Gift,” and the album is…. some pun joke title…. Shocking
D: That’s not a pun.
D: I know. Oh wait…. Raw Powder! That’s it! Raw Powder.
D: Okay, I think that’s a pun.
D: Yeah, that’s a pun. It’s on Blossoming Noise.
D: Great label.
D: Yeah, a lot of good stuff on there. The Daniel Menche album
he just put out is really good. The G*Park CD is wonderful.
And they all look great. Nice digipaks. I wonder how long
he’ll go at this pace.
D: We’ll see.
D: Not that this Val & Oli is one of the great ones…. it’s
good, but pretty uncharacteristic…. I mean it’s basically a
D: Yeah, but it’s good. Kind of a bedroom Syd Barrett T. Rex
thing. Really weird.
D: Yeah…. that’s a woman singing. Her name is Val. Val
Denham, I think.
D: (listens) I actually can’t picture this being a woman.
That’s really weird.
D: I wish I could show you the pictures on the CD, she’s
definitely a woman. Although you can’t be too sure, as we move
into this new pansexual era. Blossoming Noise also just put
out a Genesis P-Orridge album, after all.
Black Sun Productions and Val Denham – Somewhere Between Desire and Despair
After a couple of collaborations on tracks, Black Sun Productions finally get together with Val Denham for a full length release. Val Denham might be best known for her paintings that have appeared on releases by Marc and the Mambas, Psychic TV… but over the past few years she has been releasing short-run CD-Rs of her lo-fi sounds. Homosexual overtones inform much of Black Sun Productions material but with Val Denham, a transgendered figure, the focus moves on to a new form of sexuality.
Somewhere Between Desire and Despair opens with the haunting atmospheric drone of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ with Denham reciting lines from Charles Dickens. From then on much of the first half of Somewhere Between Desire and Despair flirts with various forms of electronic music. It’s clear from ‘Cobalt Blue’ that Massimo and Pierce haven’t forgotten their past association with Coil, as it picks up on the rhythmic shuddering Coil-like electronics with Denham’s voice pitched deep and treated, alongside passages of sped-up processed vocals. Val Denham is something of a character and, at times, she sounds like a Northern housewife reared on a diet of glam records. ‘Stars’, a Denham collaboration with Testing Vault, goes all downbeat with dark electronics, featuring Denham’s idiosyncratic take on a pop vocal. Denhams’ voice is almost helium-fuelled on the disco-chug of ‘We Are The Hydrogen’. ‘Eat Us Mother!’ foregoes the electronics for a surprisingly sparkly run through post-punk dynamics. Denham picks up on a rock persona teasing the listener with her shrieky and screechy vocal careering over booming bass and discordant guitar scrapes from her longtime collaborator Oli Novadniek.
Things slow down in the next half with a collection of evocative tracks, much in the vein of Black Sun Productions fantastic OperettAmoralle. The disorientating queasy electronics of ‘Absinthe’ has Denham relating a tale of alcohol abuse, evoking the Green fairy alongside some effective harmonium and harmonica drone. Many of the tracks here use mournful orchestration taken from a track called ‘Morphium’ – though the source isn’t given. ‘Andromeda’ taps into the mind of the transgendered artist. It’s almost poetic as Denham delivers a spoken vocal in her homely Northern tones. Much more poignant is ‘Flowers In The Trenches’ which tells of transgendered and transsexual soldiers who fought in WWI. Amidst sombre strings and military snare drum rolls Denham speaks of those unnamed and forgotten soldiers who were, in fact, “women in their heads” fighting in another “man-made catastrophe” and “suffered for nothing”. Enlightening stuff.
Val Denham really shines on the campy theatrics of ‘I Try To Kill The Man’ over the Weimar Berlin cabaret sounds of ‘Das Lila Lied’, an early 20th century homosexual anthem, here performed by the Ophelia Orchestra. Similarly ‘Emerald Green’ uses the score of Marlene Dietrich’s ‘Such Trying Times’. Denham is finely positioned to evoke the decadence, sexual transgression and dark wit with her sarcasm and style. Black Sun Productions have, of course, produced their own musical tribute on the works of Bertolt Brecht to tremendous effect and Denham’s contributions don’t disappoint.
Somewhere Between Desire and Despair is much more fun-filled than previous Black Sun Productions. It strikes a balance between electronic music and cabaret music, and a balance between poignancy and absurdity. It’s not the most coherent release, partly due to the varied list of collaborators, but Val Denham manages to carry it all off with a verve and panache, informed by her strength of character, her honesty and humour. Somewhere Between Desire and Despair comes in a 6-panel digipak with wonderful representations of Val Denham’s artwork.
The duo of Massimo and Pierce from Black Sun Productions (also known as The Anarcocks) recently released an album with the Italian project Bahntier. They here strike back with a new collaboration, this time with the English experimental artist Val Denham. “Somewhere Between Desire And Despair” is totally different than the recently released album with Bahntier. This album sounds more experimental and conceptual as well. Val Denham wrote the lyrics, which were performed in a pure narrating style. The main style of this album sounds like stories that were put to music. Music and lyrics this way come to perfect harmony. Even when the music becomes quite experimental, it remains quite accessible and rather fascinating through the narrating part. This album also moves on the edge of cabaret music making it experimental. “I Try To Kill The Man” is a cool example in the genre. A touch of mystery is also part of this release like accentuated on the last track “Time Uncaptured”. One of the most harmonious pieces between music and lyrics is “Andromeda”. Experimental souls will be more pleased by “Absinthe”. This is a rather unusual release and innovative release. I think the title was well chosen and in a way tends to summarize the content from the album.
Band: www.anarcocks.com / www.valdenham.com / www.myspace.com/blacksunproductions / www.myspace.com/valdenhammusic
Review by enfantterrible Sep 04, 2009
referencing Somewhere Between Desire And Despair, Box, Ltd + CD, Album + CDr, Single, Tourette 010, none
The poignant fleshy smell from cabaret charged with the intoxicated nebulous contours of the green elixir where the fairie of all extasis live serve as the platform for a faun to spread a satyrical diatribe that will leave not a taboo untouched and no phallic figure secure of its dominance.
Rarity is not the word with this record, it is more probably madness, but a sharpened one, the kind that amuses and inspires but at the same time brings the prudence of danger; All while the poetry and the intelligent mologues come in. There is always an impending feel of uneasiness and molestation around, of a high intoxication. A cabaret with a transvestite singing lullabies for the end of times and the beginning of new one. Or perhaps dismal tunes for the exhausted. Or even replies to the sinister and mostly insane world outside this place.
And the music is half way the one made for a wake with an absent dead and other half celebrating a sodomy as a tonic ritual.
Drinks are served cold. Intoxication runs free.
And Perversity is a merely word to justify an abstinence that will increase coming of a messianic orgasm. Twisted record, tasty, cult, but not for the sexually insecure.
Review by Heathen Harvest.
“Somewhere Between Desire And Despair” is a collaborative affair, matching transgender artist Val Denham’s curious cabaret with Massimo and Pierce – Black Sun Productions’ electronic compositions. The album also features a number of guests, making for quite a mixture of moods and styles, held together by Denham’s unconventional Northern accent and overarching themes of subliminal, neither/nor sexuality, gender, and sanity, as evoked by the album’s title.
Black Sun Productions are probably best known for their work with Coil – indeed they may never shake off this point of reference. Personally I consider comparison to Coil as a great compliment – they were one of the most awesome bands of the Industrial era – so I mean no disservice when I say that a number of these tracks are very redolent of Coil’s sound from various parts of their career. “Cobalt Blue” puts me in mind of “Black Light District” or “Musick To Play In The Dark”, “We Are The Hydrogen” has a real “Love’s Secret Domain” feel. But BSP are more than mere Coil copyists; they’re doing their own thing with aspects of this sound.
The album opens strangely but theatrically with the opening passage of Dickens’ novel being proclaimed over a dark, slowly pulsing backing, at once confrontational and mournful. “Cobalt Blue” introduces a chipper electronic rhythm as Denham’s voice is processed and pitch-shifted. It’s a great track, at once spooky and up-beat. “Stars”, a collaboration between Denham and Testing Vault, sees Denham in diva mode, that Northern accent and off-kilter vocal delivery putting me in mind of Genesis P-Orridge, a feeling I can’t shake for the rest of the album!
“We Are The Hydrogen” is another collaboration, this time with Bahntier, and it’s another upbeat number, this time with an added acid-y feeling. The spoken-word vocal is too much in the foreground for this to be a dance track though. The next three or four tracks are quite different, showing a more cabaret feel; slower and more introspective leading up to the beautiful “Flowers In The Trench”, an angry requiem for the transgendered victims of war, “another Man-made catastrophe”.
“I Try To Kill The Man” finds us back in cabaret mode; this is a live recording, and the tricksy drums and the muffled accordion backing are redolent of a Weimar basement club. “Falling Time” is a skewed torch song, sounding like well after kicking-out time in the cabaret, when the alcohol and ennui are taking their toll. “We Are Monsters” is a curiously-placed composition of echoed vocals and drones, coming as it does in the middle of the more song-led part of this disc. “Emerald Green”, which follows, is Sally Bowles crossed with Steptoe And Son, a curious experience indeed.
The last couple of tracks are splendid; “Val ium” is a churning, nauseous mix of wobbling synth mass and discordant orchestral smears, building with a tribal rhythm and reverberating vocal moans to some king of debased climax. “Time Uncaptured”, another live recording, is an epic, swooping soundscape of synth pad and a lonely piano phrase. It feels almost religious in solemnity and beauty. If this is religious music, I want to convert right now!
I really enjoyed this album even though it wouldn’t be the kind of thing I’d normally pick up. The more cabaret-styled songs did less for me than the electronic experimentation but they were still well produced, well delivered and are certainly odd enough to warrant further listens. I must also comment on Val Denham’s artwork for the digipak – four paintings (including one on the CD) that suit the mood of the disc perfectly, particularly the Louise Brooks Green Fairy.
Another one from Heathen Harvest.
Black Sun Productions, whose reputation is underscored by police raids, communion with Coil, and freely flowing bodily fluids, join once again with Val Denham – who previously had featured on their double album opus, The Impossibility of Silence – in a cabaret of sly wit and wry perversions. ‘Somewhere Between Desire and Despair’ is an urban swagger of slouching sexuality, vivacious abandonment and dark fun.
The reckless disassemble of the collective, Black Sun Productions (whittled down to the duo, Massimo and Pierce of late), strangles previous disparate and chaotic threads into a knotted cord upon which sways the transgendered barb and whip of Val Denham’s pinched British voice in a sweaty bobbing of electronic pantomime and song. Delectably unsettling the album unfurls an hour from tense coils to more languorous undulations, yet never shies from unnerving with carnival fancy bordering on a horror-show.
Massimo and Pierce’s backing is perfect accompaniment to the bristled and tense pierce of Denham’s vocals and while the prevalence of Coil can be discerned in the songs the album is hardly imitative. Launching with a haunting narrative excerpted from Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, bolstered in tumid drones, the album flusters the nape of the neck, already shaven, with flecks of sweet burning bile. Clockwork beats machine endless loops that flutter and rattle squeals and tinnitus frequency before the awkward songs fill out the album and what imperfect pop gems they are, intentionally flawed to agitate. Dark rock shuffles, soiled torchlight numbers, the lurch of ambience fracturing into sweltering boiler-rooms of demagoguery, poignant poetic recitative, banjo propelled ditties, it’s a smorgasbord as only one should expect from such a dark show, one well worth the admission.
A limited edition, also released as an artist edition including a special bonus CDR version, the six-panel jewel-tray digipak is appointed with full colour paintings by Val Denham throughout, soaked in Absinthe greens and skewed sexuality.
The Death & Beauty Foundation
The Death & Beauty Foundation is an odd footnote in the history of The Hafler Trio. It’s a project that began sometime in the early ’80s presumably in and/or around Newcastle, UK, featuring a young Andrew McKenzie (who later went on to found The Hafler Trio) and Val Denham, a visual artist who has some history with Psychic TV, Marc Almond, and Cyclobe. Only a couple of compilation tracks of the Death & Beauty Foundation had appeared on Touch cassette compilations, and a tape-only release emerged in 1986; but beyond that, the story to the Death & Beauty Foundation is pretty mysterious. This CD represents the complete ‘Darlington Tapes’, which the two began in 1982. Instead of the media-savvy collages and psycho acoustic investigations, which The Hafler Trio mastered throughout the ’80s, the Death & Beauty Foundation penned songs, really weird and fractured songs; but these are nonetheless tunes. A curious falsetto (which we’re presuming to belong to Denham) floats in flanging tremolo haze above odd, Spartan electronics, sounding somewhat like “In Heaven” from the Eraserhead soundtrack, but ever more evasive and purposefully meandering. In line with primitive BBC Radiophonic tricknology meets Cabaret Voltaire cut-up methods, tape manipulations guide the bulk of the arrangements to that fluttering voice, with Shadow Ring like splutter across guitar and tin-can percussion on a few tracks. Some of the electronic sounds seem to have reappeared on the h3o album Sea Org; but those recognizable instances are few and far between in this confusing album.
Various Artists: “Radio Interference from Unknown Orgasm”
(Somnimage), features contributions from Val Denham, (four songs) Mykel Boyd, Black Sun Productions, Merzbow, Wyrm and The Sword Volcano Complex. On listening it’s not quite what I expected, particularly with the line up. Instead of a full on noise assault we get some other edge pop with wierd lyrics about eyes sung like an (even more) demented Frank Sidebottom or maybe a Genesis Breyer P Orrigde. The music is lo-fi with a hi-fi prodution values, a barely strung guitar, lurking, lurching power electronics and environmental spaces. Part song book part instrumental.
If there is something obvious that connects the English artist Val Denham and the Catalan Experimental Popper Demian Recio, it is the affinity to explore interesting collaborations. Both of them always seem to be looking for contradictions and to push their various collaborative work, but always with their own distinctive stamp. What helps, is that one has the Mediterranean heat; the other is an icon with the brash bravado of an as yet unknown outspoken transgender individual.
The fact that the two met at some point and come up with the idea of a joint album was hardly to be expected and is one of the pleasing coincidences of the music world, but so far both were travelling in very different orbits. Demian with his project Ô PARADIS has a loyal group of fans, but by the standards of alternative pop music he has always remained a secret. We would not be so surprised, were it not for the down to earth style pitched somewhere between folklore and urban Trip hop.
As for his musical craft, Demian is above all a passionate hobbyist who knows all too well how to deal with field recordings. He shows that pop music does not need to sound like a cliché, it will have to be “quirky”, but also pop music can be beautiful.
Val Denham leads a double life as a painter and a singer, and some Blackmagazin readers recognise the name from the extended environment of the “England’s Hidden Reverse” bands and the TG-known descendants.
Search classification already knows this brash artist has a very clear voice of course, which sometimes acts as a bridge between Hawkwind-inspired Hard Rock to loop amateurism, and the candy-coloured surreal Pop Art paintings of a supposed reality, just like the strange reality suspended in her lyrics, in which she rails passionately against the dictates of a sexual nature forced to conform to notions of normality. The rejection of restrictions of all kinds is what the album “Transform Thyself” seems to be dedicated to and Denham’s lyrics here in certain parts at least being so clear and direct, that they try something almost taboo – they carry an explicit message. Its target: no less than Icarus. The message: Rise Again! It seems that Denham alludes not just to a kind of intellectual history, with all the Greeks obsession of going against the grain, but because it shows the famous mythical hero in allegory of failure and vain conceit. Literally, the Icarus issue is indeed only in the last part of the album, but every minute of “Transform Thyself” is crossed by the militant optimism of a person who refuses to be found. A brief glimpse of Denham’s biography of her childhood concerning being in the body of a boy and the sexual “transformation” confirms her truth. The personal issues in these confessions point toward courage and subversion. Their refusal to be hidden is crowned with the success of their courage.
The fighting spirit is evident in the catchy song “Glow”: Here it is invoked as a hidden, vital glow in the addressee, which has to compete with a dull, distorted reality. “Glow” is musically one of the highlights of the album and recalls several other passages similar to the COIL of the early 90s, yet this is a typical Ô Paradis-piece. More than ever, it is striking how much Demian changes the colours of his sound depending on the voice doing the singing – the English freshness that is brought to the sometimes very shrill singing in the music could be the reason why “Transform Thyself” will always have a special status in the discography of the Catalan even more so than his albums with NOVY SVET. In the moments where Demian resorts to the microphone, this difference is very clear, because the two voices are as different as green absinthe and burgundy.
In other pieces Demian pulls out all the stops of Sound Arts accesses and transforms and drives them to the extreme. We can hear recordings of running water, trips to take in folk terrain and he even allows us, as in “You’re Not My Type” to remember the old days of disco music. The typical accessories are shown here, however, old show tunes and chanson-like melodies, all of which form the cabaret atmosphere of the album and will tighten the bow to Denham’s last album with BLACK SUN PRODUCTIONS. This is admirably put in the opening track “She’s a Witch”, in which the list of countless recalcitrance the perfect femme fatale is summoned. Impressive, how Denham’s voice increases in wickedness to wickedness, it sounds like a young Johnny Rotten, whilst the roguish tones of Gavin Friday are ubiquitous and we can even squint a ghostly aunt Genesis occasionally just around the corner. On female myths, words pertaining to a different type of woman are available in “Thinking of My Girl”. Just as Antony sang the “construct of woman” in “The Rapture”, his version was based on the tragic make-up removal ritual. However, Denham’s dressing up matches the optimism of the album, the dressing, the successful transformation is a joyous experience.
Although Denham’s angst is often directly addressed, we get the feeling that the real addressee is the artist herself – obviously on behalf of all other “gender dysphoric people,” to which the CD is dedicated.
Is “Transform Thyself” something of interest perhaps something special? In my opinion, acts of defiant optimism are contagious and the more time you listen to the successful combination of singing and music it reveals even more.
(Uwe Schneider. Blackmagazin)
This creepy cover photograph should come with a warning: “WARNING what you see here should not inform any conclusions that you may have about the music included!” Otherwise you could only imagine the potential buyer thinking, what the contents might offer judging by the photographed artists, perhaps schmaltzy love songs for a kitsch late night rendezvous. That this album is by Ô Paradis and Val Denham, this seems very unlikely. In turn, those who know one or both musicians will know otherwise. Val Denham and Demian O Paradis – as expected, in spite of the soft core-erotic image on the front cover make a rather great, album together.
The NONPOP reader may be aware of Val Denham from her various musical collaborations, although this British person is primarily known as a visual artist. Take the cover of the THROBBING GRISTLE album “Live 1976-1978” she was the model, photographed (by PETER ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson), She has made music since the 1980s with such bands as the Hafler Trio, Oli Novadnieks and the previous album singing her own lyrics with Black Sun Productions (2009, NONPOP-review here). This transgender artist was born a boy and has now changed through the use of hormones, at least outwardly, into the right body; her haunting voice fluctuates between Baby Dee, PIL and David Tibet.
Demian Recio alias Ô Paradis has been presented here many times before. The Catalan musician loves “music from the 80s and has had some recent projects of industrial, pop, folk, electro-acoustics to lullabies,” as he reveals in a recent NONPOP interview. One constant factor is his wistful, warm voice.
My first (but short) impression: Einstürzende Neubauten. From industrial noise to growing stunning rhythms, the lyrics run backwards and are looped. “She’s A Witch” (01), is the opener, which causes this impression, the firecracker, the roll of the album. The discreet but decisive beat, the hypnotic rasping voice, some strings and the chorus, a synthetic brass combo – amazing!
Here, already we can observe the mixture, which makes this album succeed consistently. On the one hand, the airy, sumptuous instrumental beds of Demian, full of southern freedom with distorted, disguised strings and industrial noise, but with more rhythm than on any other Ô PARADIS albums. Secondly, of course, the rudimentary shrill voice of Val, which is absorbed by the music wonderfully.
My second impression: Noya Novet, when the songs are slower as in “Glow” (02); it scrapes and scratches ghostly in the background. Sometimes Demian’s voice sneaks up from behind, in a duet, it wraps, ensnares and supports Val wonderfully as in “Memories and Dreams” (03), but essentially he leaves his partner on the stage. Only once is there a reversal of roles, as in “My Lovely Val” (10) Demian’s solo track. He takes the role with a melancholic and sad man’s voice; supported by croaking hip hop rhythms and a nostalgic feel with the three-quarter time. It’s all over in short two minutes.
My third (and last) impression: “Welcome To The Twisted Cabaret”. So bizarre, both lyrically and musically, performed between chanson-like music snippets. Especially the quirky ballads, for Val still seems to enjoy singing a track as a shrill cabaret act, the lost piano improvised in the background, sometimes also likes a Waltz. Thematically, anyway everything revolves around the story of Val Denham: She sings about personality disorder, division, calls for ‘Coming Out’, which calls for some kind of adaptation of the body to the spirit. The appropriate dedication to the credits blurb reads: “Dedicated to all gender dysphoric people everywhere.”
“I’ve never worked so hard on my musical activities before”, Val Denham said after the recording of “Transform Thyself”, and I believe her now. The goal of the two artist friends to create an album without failure is a success; even a brush with disco “You’re Not My Type, (08) works in this environment.
If I would have to think up a genre, it could be called ‘Post Industrial Chanson’ this fits most of the songs quite well. A very intimate, yet very diverse album, that fans of both artists will be won over by, with this unusual collaboration with its unique and harmonious atmosphere.
Michael We. for nonpop.de
Translated from German by Google translate and Val.
This is a very strange album that I received with the new Seven that Spells. Val appears to be gender dysmorph (Man who has become a woman). There are 16 tracks and some of the music reminds me of Legendary Pink Dots and other times, more mainstream. All the music is by Val’s boy, Demian and it features basic programming of rhythms, layers of keyboards, occasionally some guitar, bass and other instruments like banjo. The lyrics are actually quite personal and a bit surprising. Some quite strong statements on a wide range of subjects. It is not really for me but I am glad to see that people like this are not inhibited from creating art and being themselves and allowing others to accept it or not.
Scott aka. Dr. Space. Denmark.
Heathen Harvest (Dionysus Apollo 2011)
Lately, there’s a problem for me to categorize something as being eccentric, the more I know, the more I listen to, the more understanding there is for me and the more I find something in art or in any kind of expression it seems to me to be something quite human, and with that I tend to imply some kind of utter normality out of any moral conception or out of any rarity. Somehow, this is predictable in its own terms, yet what still surprises me is the sincerity and the lack of pollution that sincerity may bring to a work, whenever it comes back to art, sincerity is essential, it brings a difference, this unique condition some people might define as weirdness or eccentricity and sometimes this is difficult thing to bear for the insincere majority.
“Transform thyself” contains this pristine purity coming from a sincere need. A combination from the Mediterranean surrealism musically conceived by the now legendary Ô Paradis and the cabaret like aesthetic brought by Val Denham. Ô Paradis is in charge of conceiving the music that will serve as a niche for Denham’s presentation, mounted elegantly around her voice to bring an aura of surreal cabaret music performed by organic machines. Bringing rhythms that show the comparative development and incredible versatility that Ô Paradis may bring to a scenario. Denham is the mistress at the platform, opening the show with a halo of strange elegance and proud openness and sometimes it is like a monologue or a self-conversation where the only witness is the listener. The soundtrack is fascinating and very well adapted to the cadence of the voice, sometimes impressing with the sophistication of the strange arrangements that Damian has used for paralleling voice and sound as well as the proper adaptation for the voice modulation and the detailed effects he has implemented here.
Some may call it decadent or perhaps weird for the senses, but this album may have enough character both in sound and expression for the commercial majority. I wonder if it is because of the topic it deals with and not the music per se, as brilliant as it is. Songs about love and reflection motivated by the complexity of a singular personality in its own uniqueness cannot or shouldn’t be considered weird, perhaps the rarity comes from not being possible to understand them. Denham reminds me of Genesis P Orridge in her intelligent discourse and the freedom of her expressiveness, although she is always herself and that is something really interesting when perceiving the overall experience of the album. Ô Paradis shows a more developed work to date, at least in terms of composition as all his albums have this unique sound and aesthetic that no one else has, but on here he is more dedicated to constructing a soundtrack that covers the presentation and scenario, perhaps like a play with a character. This shows immense creativity and adaptation and a very well conceived and solid set of arrangements preserving part of his original sound. Good work.
My Friend Bruce LaFountain wrote this and I just had to insert it into reviews!
Allan and I were both talking about your voice and how unique it is. There is something ‘other’ in your voice that cannot be described easily (but I’ll try!). You have a razor-sharp facet on your ‘timber’ which gleams like a knife blade; Even in your softest moments, it’s like a beam of light, a laser. No matter how quiet your vocals are, there is something crisp and defined about it. It’s ultra-clean,…dare I say almost metallic, perhaps it’s diamonds? That’s one way of describing it. I can’t think of one voice that sounds like yours. Isn’t that amazing? At times, you sound childlike and delicate like the chirp of a sparrow, billowing translucent threads, or pieces of glass in the sunshine, yet at the same time you sound like a female lion. Feminine, yet fierce. Yeah….feminine, yet fierce and very fiery. I think that one day, if I am lucky, we should sing a song together. I imagine that our voices would be a striking contrast, and if we harmonize and sing to the heavens together…it could be spine-tingling. My deeper tones and your diamonds sprinkled all around….A boy can dream, can’t he?
You’re damn right he can.
For a full listing of all my releases, even the very obscure stuff, plus all the titles and collaborators, cover art etc, check out “Val Denham Discogs”.
Here are the album covers for Val Denham’s limited edition CD-R’s
“The Fabulous Sound of Val Denham” 2005
“Somewhere Inbetween Desire and Despair” 2005 (Not to be confused with the album of the same title that was done in collaboration with Black Sun Productions in 2009)
“Raw Powder” CD-R version 2006
“A Slight Shock to the Solar System” 2006
“Halved Man” 2007
“Why So Sirius?” 2008
“The Death & Beauty Foundation – A Reanimated Corpse – 1982 to 1985” 2010
“Poisoned by a Green Fairy” With Black Sun Productions. 23 minute long track on 23 CD-R copies. 2009
Review from “The Hearing aid” Blog site
THURSDAY, JANUARY 05, 2012
Album of the Year 2011…
This is a bit late but given the fact that I practically OD’d on turkey over Christmas it’s a miracle I’m still here. So, what was my album of last year then eh? Go on, I’ll give you three guesses. Nope, nope and nope. It was actually a strictly limited edition CDR (just 30 copies in fact) from the lovely Val Denham. For the uninitiated Val’s arguably one of the UK’s greatest living artists. Why the ‘art world’ isn’t drooling all over him/her (she’s now transgender) I’ll never know, but that’s life I guess.
Back in the 80’s she provided the covers for a series of my favourite records by Marc Almond and performed in a number of bands (this fact sadly passed me by at the time…I was soooo very young). By chance a few years ago I came across a painting by her on ebay, not expecting that the seller was also the artist. It was though and she very kindly took the time for a chat on the phone when she found out I was a fan. Over the years I’ve bought a few other bits and pieces as finances allowed and last year secured a copy of Val’s latest opus, Bluelands. Val being Val all of the copies are beautifully hand illustrated, making each one a unique work of art in itself. It was the music that really struck me though. In a world in which genuine emotion seems in short supply and true characters are rarer than decent moustache wax (seriously…damn difficult stuff to find don’t you know), especially in the music biz, Val is simply a national treasure. The genre’s impossible to categorise (the album embraces a wide range of different musical styles) and I’m guessing it’s not going to be for everyone, but give this little beauty a spin and see what you think.
PS: I can also heartily recommend that you rustle yourself up a stiff G&T and spend an hour or two at Val’s website, especially the autobiography and artwork sections. Genius.
“Dysphoria” Vanity Case Records V-16 Released 2013.
With a name like Dysphoria, which means “unease or dissatisfaction with life,” you might expect this to be a whiny release. No such thing. It is rather an honest telling of the facts of life according to Denham, a gifted artist and musician whose voice at first made me think of Alice Cooper but then took on its unique personality once I started really listening to the words. Each song has a story to tell, but it just lasts as long as it needs to and does not beat a dead horse. Almost like poetry set to music, Denham paints a musical self-portrait on these 2 CDs. Read sleeve notes for the song titles and glimpse this unusual peek into one artist’s soul.
Reviewed by humana on November 5, 2013 at 10:46 am
8/10 according to Clinton (Norman Records) on Thu 31 Oct, 2013.
Christ what a back story. Val Denham was involved in doing artwork for the likes of Marc Almond, Throbbing Gristle back in the day and has been involved in Psychic TV and Genesis P Orridge projects, originally from Leeds, spent 20 years away from the north in that London and is now resident in the outer wilds of Bradford happily producing art and music.
This is certainly what we know as ‘outsider’ music, her voice is not particularly easy on the ear, being quite shrill in tone, the music is wandering experimental containing elements of electronica, soundtrack music and free-form jazz. Tracks like ‘Grey Rabbit’ aren’t too far away from Robert Wyatt territory, non linear synth and electric piano based, the album as a whole is wonderfully idiosyncratic as if the music has all just come gushing out one long winters afternoon.
The main artist who comes to mind as a comparison could possibly be Baby Dee especially on the haunting melancholy of ‘Shopping/Shoplifting’ which has a naggingly familiar piano refrain not unlike early Daniel Johnston. ‘You Only Hurt Yourself’ is also very in debt to Daniel Johnston and is strummingly tuneful in a kind of lop-sided way that would suggest the album was made in New York rather than York(shire). The very limited edition package contains a bonus album ‘Why Does The Bitch Drink So Much?’ and is resplendent in expertly silk- screened sleeve.
The Early Work of Val Denham. Box set of 4 vinyl LP albums and 7″ EP.
2014 Vinyl-on-Demand label, Germany.
Review by Boomkat.
Frank Maier at V-O-D reanimates the wonderfully freakish pop output of Val Denham and company with The Death & Beauty Foundation, a 32-song collection entitled ‘We Are Young & Stupid’. While a couple of couple of CD compilations have had a good stab at collecting the group’s output, you can safely consider this thee definitive collection, highlighting various tracks from ‘The Darlington Tapes’, recorded by Val Denham and Andrew McKenzie (The Hafler Trio) in 1982, plus their eponymous cassette album from 1986 together with stacks of early/unfinished and rehearsal recordings. It’s a crucial survey of a quintessentially English art pop group, literally started up at art school – well, the RCA – and who would become adopted by a small group of experimental performers that orbited the industrial ideology of Throbbing Gristle; namely Coil, Pure, Ramleh and Dogs Blood Order. Val Denham sounds alternately possessed, ravenous and delirious throughout, adding bitter, fizzing-twisting Bradford flavour to a dark rainbow of pop vignettes, at once abstract and atonal, yet with a jet black humour and taste for blasted blues/R&B that really sets them away from the crowd they were involved with. If you like this, we’d thoroughly recommend getting the Counterdance LP too for more Val Denham shenanigans, but start here and make sure first; we daresay it’s an acquired taste!
Blow Up (magazine. Italy 2014)
I’ve talked before about Val Denham, better known for a series of considerably important graphic works for cover art representing bands such as Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and Marc Almond, in the review that I did of the album “Transform Thyself”, a collaboration with O Paradis. Denham has been also involved in some new and interesting projects, close to the grey area of the most exasperated DIY.
The Death and Beauty Foundation didn’t leave much behind, apart from the tape of ’86 with the same title as this double album. The original compilation of 2008 is outstanding. In this retrospective, we also find parts of this brief collaboration with Andrew McKenzie of The Hafler Trio, (also available as a CD album from Somnimage Records, USA.) It is partially contained here as an example of the material recorded between ’81 and ’84 on this new double LP.
This first truly excellent section (side 1 of the album) starts with extracts from the so called “Darlington Tapes”, with basic, skeletal experimentations, mostly short and with sinister shades from Denham’s voice, especially on “The Birthday”, “The Life and Soul”, “Swastika Puppies”, “Spoilt Children” and with the kind of weird song-idea in the doggerel “Martian Marshmallow”.
Later, The Death & Beauty Foundation became a proper band, even though with very rudimentary technical cognitions, maybe they were more attracted by the performance elements, a sort of compromise between PTV and Virgin Prunes looking for a new form of beauty? It is also recognisably the austere sound of the Velvet Underground with an imprint in part of the repertoire of PTV, especially in “Black Mouth” and “Silent Death” Vocals that sound like Genesis P Orridge sometimes remind us of Throbbing Gristle in “We Are” and “Everyone Wants To Be A Devil”. Sinister declarations from mournful backgrounds, like “Kill Appeal” and “Sitting Target”. The ungraceful improvisation of “Insanity” or “Sub Atomic Physics” and some totally dark songs like “Sinking Feeling” and “Black Hole”.
Before all this, Denham contributed to Counterdance, founded in the summer of ’78 by Mark Bokowiec and Eli Vasylenko, that soon turned into a collective. This mutating group was considered the Bradfordian answer to Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. Pure industrial origins can be heard in “No Excuse”. The track entitled “The Counterdance” is very influenced by the Cabs, just as “Hot Fridge” is by Throbbing Gristle, with the long improvisations.
These tracks are entitled “The Human Slug Sessions”, recorded at Leeds University in ’78 and consisting of three 15 minutes long recordings. Some very interesting stuff, “Mechanical Damage”, has the typical kraut influences of the first industrial experimentalists in evidence. The primitive electronic sound of “Panic in Bradford” also reminds us of krautrock.
“Silverstar Amoeba” was the passage from The Death And Beauty Foundation to the more basic duo of Val Denham and Oli Novadnieks, this was in the mid 1980s. On this album entitled “I Love Everything”, we find some pieces in common with the previous experience, but even crazier, like “Kill Appeal”, unbearably slowed down, with alienating vocal effects a la The Residents. Between psychotic pulsations and hallucinated nightmares in “Give Her Back” and “Fairies”, grim and provocative declarations in “The Silverstar Amoeba” and “Shine On Motherfucker” and a terrifying “Beautiful” that from an elegy turns into a series of grunts, throaty noises and brays. Psychotic alterations which overflow in “Three Spirits” or “Child Of The Year”, the acid delirium of “I Love Everything” and “House Of Love”.
The three LP releases are available separately or in a 4 vinyl box-set with a T shirt, or even in the heavy 13 vinyl box “VOD-Records Presents 80s Industrial & Avant-garde”.
“I Saw Myself in Your Dreams Last Night” 2016
Clinton at Norman Records.
Described as a genius by Genesis P Orridge and with a remarkable history already in place, Val Denham is, as it suggests on her website, the sort of artist that is normally only discovered after their death.
Val Denham is alive and well and resident on the outskirts of Bradford where she combines art and music. This is her second record on Vanity Case and contains the sort of outsider music that will or may polarise but for those who can get to the core of it, there are plenty of riches to be discovered. Denham musically comes across indeed as a more melodic and less abrasive P Orridge. Her voice has a similar timbre but is used to create deeply personal meditations. My first listen to the title track had me almost weeping over my keyboard, part of her life history spoke /sung over haunting lo-fi piano and when her voice is triple /quadruple tracked it’s almost too hard to bear. I also enjoyed the beautiful horns which drift through ‘Black Boat Fisherman’ where amongst synths and percussion Denham, picks out words that slowly but surely envelope you in her world.
It’s been a couple of years since I heard it but I can’t remember anything as glammy as ‘Lilith’ on her previous album ‘Dysphoria’ – still, this is a rather fractured take on say, Marc Bolan – the track seeming to threaten to fall apart at any moment. Elsewhere there is a mixed bag of sounds, sometimes acoustic, sometimes electronic but the finest tracks such as ‘Tomorrow Is Another Day’ sit musically somewhere between the winsome folk of the early Tyrannosaurus Rex and the fractured songcraft of Syd Barrett. Like a lot of Denham’s words the lyrics explore gender and sexuality in a deeply personal and revealing manner.
Art that wears its heart on its sleeve then. Not always palatable but always fascinating, Denham uses an impressive array of sounds and like the music of the Fall, the voice is the key to how it all holds together.