The quick version
This is the home of Western Bloc an indie/experimental/alternative project based in Calgary but originally from London, England. The debut album was released on February 18th 2020.
Western Bloc is the new project of Barry James McCarthy an English musician who has previously released three now deleted albums as The McCarthy Hearings, Are You Now or Have You Ever been? (2007), The Class Nature of the Peoples’ Democracy (2008), and Urban Heaven (2009).
After that, in a change of direction, he released three electronic/alternative albums as Sound/s/Lab, Empirical State (2011), Fugitive Colours (2013), and The Future of Extinctions (2015), all available on iTunes and other digital platforms. After that, a best of album was released in 2017. They are also available on Bandcamp here: https://soundslab.bandcamp.com/music
More about Soundslab here https://westernblocofficial.com/sound-s-lab-2010-2015/
He also released two ambient/electronic albums heavily influenced by the German bands of the early 70s, Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel, Neu!, Harmonia, Cluster, and Can, under the moniker MGP (or Military Grade Peace), Kingdom of Bohemia (2018) and Occidental Thievery (2018). The former is available on iTunes, and both are available on Bandcamp here:https://militarygradepeace.bandcamp.com
More info on Military Grade Peace here: www.militarygradepeace.com
The debut album was pieced together over 2019, it started off as an idea to have short songs, like Wire’s 1977 debut Pink Flag, but songs just came thick and fast, so only 3 of the original short songs idea remain. There are a plethora of influences new and old, with a swirl of incredible new (and newish) bands out there. Ideas came from such sources as Billie Eilish, Idles, The Oh Sees, Hawkwind, The Specials, The Fall, Girl Band, Fat White Family, and no doubt many more. A video for the first single was released in January 2020.
About – the long version
Many years ago, when I was young and still recognized as a contributing member of society, and everything was analog, “even digital were analog back in t’day”, and selfie was a word that made no sense, and by logical extension, narcissists were unsure of their role in society, I discovered music.
I was given a 7″ single by a friend (google it kids, 7″ single that is, not friend). It was This is the Modern World by The Jam, it had 3 live tracks squeezed onto the B-side (Google, or Ask Jeeves if you’re a “retro” kind of person). It was like (I assume) the first hit of Heroin, and I was addicted for life, (to music, not Heroin). I was later gifted a tape cassette (……you know what to do) that contained the In God We Trust E.P by Dead Kennedys, from there came Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Specials, etc, etc. School was a miserable existence for me, bullying (victim not perpetrator), hopelessness, avoiding being stabbed (I was good at that) and a general sense that after realizing I am definitely working class (scum, for any Conservatives reading this) that school is there to churn out bottom of the barrel workers for bottom of the barrel jobs. If an honest career advisor existed, his prediction for my future would have been something along the lines of “Son, you are a bit thick, talentless, and likely to end up an obese, alcoholic, living either on a housing estate, or if you’re lucky moving to the suburbs, where suicide won’t just be an option, but more likely a welcome solace to get you through many a bad day (This is akin to a quote from Nietzsche, for the record), you will work a soul destroying job which you will be perplexingly loyal about, your biggest achievement might be the day you realize you picked matching sweatpants and sweatshirt, you will have kids you don’t want, adding to your moribund sense of depression, and you will rot in front of a TV, waiting to die, if you’re lucky!”. Thanks Mr Career’s officer!
I left school at 17, joined the Post Office/Royal Mail, I was basically a shit heel idiot, my education then came from Paul Weller, Joe Strummer, Ian Curtis and other musical heroes that made being intelligent as a thing of beauty. Books became the next love after music, Orwell, Burroughs, Wilde, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Bukowski, Mishima, Plath, Nin, and so much more, the UK education system did not educate me, so I did it myself. In fact the more you delve into books the more you realize that the UK education system leads you astray, not only about the horrors of British Imperialism, but on world history in general. Growing up in London was incredible and scary at the same time, I love that city and will always love that city, I never really came to any harm, I’ve had a meat cleaver pulled on me twice (nothing happened, but it’s not pleasant), knives pulled on me on a few occasions, been in a few riots, been chased by Police on horses swinging truncheons, the Police, not the horses, and had people I know die from violent acts. All part of growing up really, I made it to being an adult, I also did everything I could to avoid the earlier stated prediction for my future.
My first real band was called Noise Bombs, me on Vocals and Guitar, my best friend Mark Notton on Guitar, Dave McCarthy (no relation) on Bass/Vocals, and a Drum Machine, I can honestly say it was the most exciting and beautiful thing I had experienced in my life up to that point. Mark and I went to gigs all the time, loved music with a passion and were always trying to form a band. I had written a bunch of songs that made up our set, the immensely talented Dave McCarthy (Idiot Dancers, Pop Icons, Trash) did all the drum programming and contributed a track, Wait and See, the best song in our set, and later Trafalgar Square, his driving bass propelled these songs into a place I didn’t think they could go, the band was formed by me and Mark but it really came to be due to the immense talent and kindness of Dave McCarthy
(Above) Noise Bombs, live at the Half Moon 1989, Herne Hill, London. A cover of Career Opportunities by The Clash (Audio Only, taken from a cassette from the mixing desk)
We rehearsed, played gigs, recorded 4-Track demos, and within a few months fizzled out to nothing, a very heartbreaking, barren nothing that began a period of profound depression. I have a collection of the 10 or so songs we recorded back then and am very proud still of the whole thing.
It would be 5 years before I got back on a stage, after a long period of depression, my next band was called Infected, me again on Vocals and Guitar, and Alan Kelly on Bass and backing vocals, and a drum machine again. We rehearsed, got some gigs, recorded demos, and then it kind of fizzled out again, before I knew what happened I had emigrated to Canada. Rehearsal tapes and demos exist of that time too, and even though I can say that both bands never had a chance of doing anything with the songs I had written, I remain proud of doing it.
Leaving England was never in my mind, London is all I ever knew, through “life happens” events I ended up emigrating to Canada. I started writing songs again. When I did start, the songs came pouring out, I would record (on 4-Track) demos of around 80 songs, maybe more, it was a fuck ton. By then of course, I was in my mid 30s, growing up in England and reading the NME meant that the unwritten rules (written by Tarquin or Quinten) said that if you’re over 21 you’re a “grandad” or play “dad rock”. Cunts. But I was in Canada now, where such moronic views are a lot rarer. The one thing I did notice of people close to being my peers, age wise, is we had VERY different tastes. My youth was definitely not Van Halen, Motley Crue, Kiss and other utter, vacuous shit like that. The music I liked made intelligence seem vital, these bands influence you to tolerate spandex, that’s about the best thing I can say about them. After a mentally ill person drove an SUV (a Ford Explorer to be exact, in case there’s any sponsorship deals going!) into me breaking my pelvis in two places and putting me in hospital for a while, it was time for a fresh start.
Starting again was fantastic, meeting other musicians, going to just local gigs, seeing anyone, anywhere, just like back in London. It was inspiring to write again and it was time to plan an album.
I recorded an album in 2007, under the name The McCarthy Hearings, called Are you now or have you ever been? A mixture of styles from post-punk, to Bob Dylan, to funk.
Meeting the love of my life and a new circle of friends helped me make music again, the album got limited release and is now deleted, it had maybe 2 great songs on it and a few I’m still proud of, it was an experimental phase were I did not necessarily stick with UK roots and delved into North American influenced music.
I recorded a 2nd album in 2008, The Class Nature of the Peoples Democracy, also now deleted. This was very post punk, political, razor-sharp guitars, and a nod to artists like the Manics, Paul Weller, and The Kinks.
In 2009 the 3rd and final album by The McCarthy Hearings, Urban Heaven, was recorded and released on iTunes/digital platforms, it was another cracking failure, but has some great songs on there. It is also no longer available.
The Next Phase
I took a different direction next, this time with synthesizers, and toward a more electronic sound, and in 2011, under the name Sound/S/Lab, the first album, Empirical State was released on iTunes, Spotify, etc, etc. Physical CDs were sent out to College radio by local Radio Station CJSW, it garnered airplay across Canada, and picked up favourable reviews, as well as being cited as one of the best local albums of the year in Beat Route magazine. Something is better than nothing.
in 2013, the 2nd album Fugitive Colours was released, I’m particularly proud of this as an album, everything seemed to work, production, mixing, and of course great songs, CD copies went around Campus radio again and I got airplay across Canada, as well as in the UK, and some good reviews. (See Sound/s/Lab page link below)
I started to actual grow bored with the synths, but I recorded another album The Future of Extinctions (2015), so many problems making that album, from broken bones, lyrical dry spells, and maybe a little apathy. The CD edition was printed with the sleeve reversed, it was late, I missed the deadline for the mail out, and I chucked in the towel a couple of months after its release, it was a waste of my time, the uninterested publics time, and I’d had enough. (See Sound/s/Lab page link below)
More about Soundslab here https://westernblocofficial.com/sound-s-lab-2010-2015/
Military Grade Peace was the next project, two official albums released in 2018.
Kingdom Of Bohemia was released in August, 4 electronic compositions. Heavily influenced by the first two albums by 70s German bands Popol Vuh, Harmonia, and Cluster, with a definite nod to the ambient work of Brian Eno. These were lengthy electronic compositions, driven by synths, minimum percussion, atmospheric soundscapes, and evocative layers of sound. An album for stoners, or just something to chill to
The follow up, Occidental Thievery, was released in November 2018. The title came from the eastern feel to the first track, I wanted something that evoked that fascinating music from the Middle East, similar to how the German band Agitation Free used such sounds on their 1972 album Melesch, the rest of the album contained a mix of varying electronic experimentation. Sunday was heavily influenced by Brian Eno. Both this album and the debut were released with zero budget, therefore no promotion and zero interest.
Both albums were electronic/experimental/ambient, influenced heavily by the early 70s German avant garde bands such as Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel, Can, Cluster, Neu!, and Harmonia, more commonly known by the pejorative term “Krautrock”. I’m very proud of this work, it’s for a very niche market (me and my brother, to be honest) but it was great to do and I had to get it out of my system.
After finishing Western Bloc’s fifth album, a third Military Grade Peace album was made, after a 5 year gap. The album contains 2 thirty minute pieces, heavily influenced by Eliane Radigue, Delia Derbyshire, and Wendy Carlos. Ambient, minimalist drones to chill to, fall asleep to, or just get stoned to, the album will be released in May 2023.
More on Military Grade Peace here: www.militarygradepeace.com
That’s all that went before, so from now on, it’s the now.
And now, the on-going adventures of Western Bloc
In 2017 I discovered a band called Idles, I thought they were the best thing I’d heard in years, there was a sudden influx of great guitar bands coming out of the U.K and Ireland, Fontaines D.C, Shame, Cabbage, Goat Girl, Heavy Lungs, Girl band, i’m sure there are many more too, it was refreshing to hear these bands, even though they were doing pretty much what I had listened to many years ago, except Girl Band who I think are utter genius and incomparable, it was nice to see that this music had gone underground. I also listened to the prolific The Oh Sees, and of course The Fall. This spurred me to go back to guitar based music and to write what would become Dead Doves & Rotting Olive Branches under the name Western Bloc.
The album was released in February 2020 to a cavalcade of silence, very little was done in the way of promo as there was no money, 2 videos were released (see menu at top of page) to promote it, but if no one knows they exist no one will watch them and subsequently not stream or buy the album. The videos keep to the punk aesthetic, the first was made on a budget of about $65, and that was for the software that made the animated news room footage, the 2nd video cost even less, using imagination and a nod to the love of David Lynch. (see videos tab in the menu above to check out the videos)
Divide and Conquer said of the album “The songs were consistently good from beginning to end. I must also say I loved the names of these songs. If you are well versed in some of the aforementioned genres and bands this should be an easy win. If not this isn’t a bad place to start. Recommended.” and ““What Are You Looking For?’ is a song that absolutely rocks and drives. The organ breakdown was also great.”
Following the spectacular failure of the debut album, and the arrival of the Coronavirus, self isolation inspired me to start on album number two I wanted to record something a bit more experimental/avant garde, I figured if no one is listening, It’s worth getting weird, with Can, This Heat, Crispy Ambulance, and The Fall heavily influencing the sound, the guitar style of Charles Bullen (This Heat, Lifetones) would be a very strong influence. That influence would be the centre piece of the album, it would kick off with Fall of the Limerick Soviet, musically it tries to reflect the chaos of the little known Limerick uprising. this would be a template for what was to come. Post-Punk guitars and Charles Bullen’s brilliant work, Charles Haywood’s brilliant lyrics, all drove this project forward.
The second album was recorded and mixed between March and September 2020, it was mastered in the UK in October 2020. La Peste, featuring 10 new tracks, was released on January 15th 2021 . The first track to be featured from the album, Huxley’s Reminder Birds, was released as video on YouTube. It was sent to anywhere and everywhere to be listened to and reviewed, sadly that was as futile as it sounds and not one recipient even clicked to listen. It is hard to get heard on no budget, but this is a great album, with original great songs and nothing can take that away.
While the album was sent to be mastered, I collaborated with electronic composer Jon Arnold of VCF-1, the tracks that have been released so far on SoundCloud show the results of this collaboration all released under the name Revolutionary Angels. (see menu for more information). After a few rough demos we started working on an album.
Work on the third album began in December 2020, before album two was released, ideas, writing, and demos came thick and fast. In January work on the first track began, it would turn out to be a nine and half minute epic that brought in influences from This Heat, Scott Walker, Hawkwind, and snatches of many other things. Everything was finally recorded by March 2021, mixing and post production took until mid May, with a last minute dropping of two songs and two new songs written, recorded and mixed in the space of two weeks. It was clear this was not a “commercial” piece, but it was a cathartic piece, the grim verse that opens the album “The band was incredible, they played with the frenetic energy of madman, amphetamine fuelled passion. There was a visible aura that snaked its way around the transfixed audience, they were not to know, but this was the last moment of pure joy they would ever experience, for from here on in was an abyss of melancholy, decay and loss, the trajectory would exist in an ever fading light, heading inexorably toward their second eternity of darkness”, the verse was based on Nabokov’s quote “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness”
The third album (the 2nd of 2021), Monkey Christ was released on August 31st 2021, 9 new songs, a darker album, the opening salvo is the nine minutes and 20 seconds title track that addresses death and our dire existence today. There is more experimentation on this album, found sounds, different song structures, minimalism, and a nod to the avant garde.
A&R factory said of it “I never thought Glenn Branca would have competition, but Western Bloc’s darkwave avant-garde post-punk composition, ‘Monkey Christ’, parallels the ethereally phantasmic effect in The Ascension. It’s got the class, nihilism and theatrical flair but through the consistently evolving progressions, you’ll pick up on contemporary post-punk styles through the reminiscence to the Editor’s impassioned sound that tends to air on the melancholy despite the bursts of energetic angsty euphoria.
Any fans of SWANS, Magazine and Echo and the Bunnymen definitely won’t want to miss out on the official launch of the Calgary-based artist’s forthcoming album, which is due for release in August 2021.”
Divide and conquer’s review of the album
“Western Bloc is the project name of musician Barry James McCarthy. Not too long ago we reviewed Dead Doves & Rotting Olive Branches. The artist is now back with Monkey Christ. I would describe this music as experimental post-punk. Artists like Joy Division and Wire come to mind but so does some of the later work of Scott Walker. There is a sense of the absurd in line with David Lynch.
The almost ten-minute opener “Monkey Christ” might be the best song on the album. I loved the dark and dissonant soundscape. Every element is sort of doing its own thing but it still works in unique ways. The vocals are hard to make out but are more like spoken word.
We get a little more conventional with a 4/4 beat and traditional song structure on “The Last Man to Read All Books.” That being said, I loved this tune. “Garden of Need” is like this mix of Joy Division and psychedelic sounding guitar. “Home” is a beautiful but dark slow burn.
“The Sound and the Beauty ” is frantic and intense but also sort of meditative while “A Place I’ve Never Been” is one of the catchiest songs in the batch. “Oscar and the Spaceship” and “Were We Even Here at All?” ponder existential questions under a dark veil. Last up is “Walpurgisnacht Cap” which is an instrumental send off.
I liked his previous release but this one was even better. McCarthy does an exceptional job tying in themes but also disperses energy in the right way. For instance there are some slow burns but also songs with a more kinetic feel. The benefit here is listening from beginning to end. My only critique was I was often struggling to make out the lyrics. I wanted some more clarity.
Overall, this is a great album. Fans of post-punk, theater of the absurd and a good dose of darkness should love this. Recommended.”
At the dawn of 2022 album four had been completed, a radical departure from what’s gone before, the new batch of songs were very much pop orientated. The first track to be previewed was The Ultrasonic, the track that also kicks off the new album.
The 2nd track The Heaviest Weight is Love was the biggest departure yet, the 808 Drum Machine sound popped up a lot on this album, this track was a paean to the hardship of losing someone you love. The Grim Gram was inspired by the brilliant Joan Didion’s book Salvador, the title of the song was the name the American embassy gave to the telegram announcing how many more people had died in the latest round of violence, the song explored the deleterious aspects of American intervention around the world. The final track, You Fade, was the track that kick started the sound of the album, electric piano, influenced by R&B, and a more soulful approach to songwriting, the song itself is about how we become invisible as we age, an invisibility inevitable in the eyes of capitalism that is only interested in avid consumers, the young.
The release date came and went without a fuss, every attempt to push the album resulted in silence, although there was no surprise in that it was a shame, there are great songs on this album, but that’s life.
Divide and Conquer said of the album “Solitude for the Masses is arguably the best Western Bloc release. The songs are well written and I think the fact they he dug deep into his roots paid off.”
Full review here:
A video for The Heaviest Weight is Love was released in March 2022, (check the video tab to view) Calgary Radio Station CJSW sent the album to 55 Campus radio stations across Canada in June.
An offer to contribute 2 cover tracks, one of which will be released on Corsair Records, came in April 2022. Western Bloc recorded covers of Rescue by Echo and the Bunnymen (from their 1980 masterpiece Crocodiles) and Keep on Keeping on by Redskins (from their sole album Neither Washington Nor Moscow from 1986). The chosen track was Rescue, released on Corsair Records on November 4th 2022.
Rescue by Western Bloc (Corsair Records CR 128 – November 4th 2022)
The fifth album was completed in October 2022 and mixed in November. Rules are Bourgeois Porn will be released on March 13th 2023, the first track to be previewed was Paradox Lost, released January 6th 2023.
The fifth album is probably the most accomplished yet, boasting epic strings on tracks like The Quantum Nature of Bird Migration, and Roxy Music influenced stompers like A Very Small Scene of One. Once again lack of money means no promotion, and because I’m not middle class, from the Isle of Wight, with a novelty song akin to Joe Dolce that top level management can promote the fuck out of and pretend it “grew organically”, means no one will ever hear it. But that’s the music industry for you.
The 2nd track to be previewed, the title track, was out on February 3rd 2023 as a video on YouTube (see video menu above). The video was shot in December 2022, with the return of the paper bag man (from the video Whatcha Looking For?) and a plethora of interesting props. The final track to be previewed from the album was The Quantum Nature of Bird Migration with a video posted on March 3rd, an epic track with strings and a minor key massive chorus. In a review of the album, Jamie Funk at Pitch Perfect said ““The Quantum Nature Of Bird Migration” is next and this felt like a highlight. I loved the instrumentation which has this ’70s type quality. The chorus is pretty epic. It’s a dynamic song all around and arguably one of the best songs I’ve heard from Western Bloc.” The album garnered a 4 out of 5 review.
(In case anyone ever reads this, here is a little piece on ILK Graphika’s Sleeve designs
In the time leading up to the release of the fifth album, McCarthy recorded another ambient album to be released by MGP (see above) Terra Nullius will be released in May 2023.