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Episode 506: February 21, 2021

Northport Maine by Adam Podcast Episode 506 is live

Keep warm with new music from Caterina Barbieri, Ak'chamel, The Venereal Head of Glory!, Mainliner, DJ Black Low, exael (with Zoe Darsee), Kelly Moran, Ryan Van Haesendonck, and Tapan plus older music from Stereo Total, All in the Golden Afternoon, Spirit of Brotherhood, and Micachu.

Thanks Adam for the pic in Northport, Maine.

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Forced Exposure New Releases for the week of 2/22/21

New music is due from Jantar, Jeff Mills and Jean-Phi Dary, and M. Caye Castagnetto, while old music is due from Bill Fox, MF Doom, and Current 93.

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Andrew Chalk, "Incidental Music"

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In characteristic fashion, Andrew Chalk quietly released this cassette last fall and it is damn near impossible to find out anything about it other than the fact that it compiles pieces recorded between 2008 and 2016 and features regular collaborators Timo von Luijk and Tom James Scott on one piece.  All outward signs suggest that Incidental Music was intended as a modest and minor release, so it was quite a pleasant surprise to find that it is actually one of the stronger Chalk releases from the last few years, roughly approximating the slippery, shivering, and floating bliss of 2015's A Light at the Edge of the World in more bite-sized form.  While there is enough variety to periodically remind me that this is indeed a collection of orphaned songs rather than a focused and complete new statement, the quality of these treasures from the vault is high enough to make such a distinction feel quite irrelevant.

Faraway Press

The album immediately dissolves into sublime impressionist heaven with the opening "Fallen Angel," which captures Chalk at the height of his textural and harmonic powers.  It is the sort of piece that people tend to describe with terms like "ambient drift," but it makes me think of water droplets quivering on a gently swaying spiderweb: there is an underlying structure, but the true beauty lies primarily on how the individual notes linger, shiver, and bleed together.  It also highlights Chalk's singular talent for making extremely nuanced and sophisticated music feel organic and effortless, as "Fallen Angel" feels loose and spontaneous, yet delicately shifts moods while deftly avoiding any straightforward melodies or chords at all.  While several of the following pieces return to roughly the same aesthetic with varying degrees of success (perfectly fine by me), the second half of the album is a bit more diverse and offers some more unexpected and rare pleasures.  While I am still not entirely won over by the warm synth reverie of "Solas," I absolutely love "Sparkled in My Eyes," which sounds like a fever dream organ soundtrack to some masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema a la The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.  Elsewhere, "From Mountain Tops The Dusky Clouds" crafts a languorously undulating fog with gentle drones and subtle wah-wah effects, while "To Many A Harp" conjures a wonderfully haunted and tender scene with a slow-motion melody of wobbly sustained tones.   At least two or three of those pieces are stone-cold gems, but the entire album sustains a wonderfully immersive and absorbing spell.

Samples can be found here.

 

Abul Mogard, "In Immobile Air"

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The latest album from this enigmatic Serbian composer is a significant departure from his previous work, as these five pieces were primarily composed on an old upright piano during lockdown.  While the usual synthesizers are conspicuously relegated to a background role, In Immobile Air is nevertheless still very "Mogard" in both its central theme (memory) and its meditative and melancholy mood.  It admittedly took me a bit longer to warm to this side of Mogard's artistry than usual (the piano is not my favorite instrument), but a few pieces capture him in especially inspired form and feel like significant breakthroughs in the manipulation of harmony and overtones.  The other pieces are intriguingly adventurous as well, inhabiting a murky shadow realm somewhere between Harold Budd and blackened, desolate dronescapes.

Ecstatic

Partially inspired by an unnamed Italo Calvino story, both the song titles and the general mood of In Immobile Air evoke the bleak grandeur of a rocky beach on an overcast day.  For the most part, Mogard paints the album's various somber scenes with a balance of gently rippling minor key piano melodies and deep, brooding drones, but that balance can shift quite a lot between songs.  The darkly beautiful title piece is probably the most equal balance of the two elements, as a sad, tumbling piano motif lazily repeats over a gnarled and heaving backdrop of synth swells.  The following "Clouds," on the other hand, abandons any recognizable piano in favor of dense, blown-out, and downright seismic waves of drone.  Nevertheless, it is an unexpectedly melodic piece, as the roiling miasma cyclically resolves into a repeating bass tone.  As befits the title, "Clouds" calls to mind a sky full of dense black clouds that periodically breaks to reveal faint rays of warming light.  It is quite a mesmerizing piece, but it is later eclipsed by the album's centerpiece "Sand."  Like "In Immobile Air," it is centered upon a tender, minor key piano melody, but the brilliant bit slowly emerges from the background, as massive, buzzing oscillations swell from the murky swirl of lingering decay to steal the spotlight.  The album's two more drone-based pieces are a bit less memorable, but In Immobile Air's highlights are impressive and unique enough to make it a strong album.

Samples can be found here.

 

Rrill Bell, "Ballad of the External Life"

cover imageWith only a handful of releases so far (as Rrill Bell and as The Preterite), the American born, German based composer Jim Campbell and his arsenal of various tape machines, is already doing amazing work.  Layers of processed field recordings, various incidental tapes, and who knows what else come together in these two extremely dynamic and complex compositions that at times seem like completely alien, yet utterly fascinating worlds.

Elevator Bath

Campbell opens "Like Heavy Honey…//Wie Schwerer Honig…" with a mass of stacked erratic electronics; complete with bent (at times melodic) tones and abrupt tape stops and starts.  He balances the denser, heavier segments with calm, peaceful passages of gentle field recordings punctuated with birds and other inviting bits.  There are even some hints of melody, albeit subtle, that seem to be generated from live tape manipulations.  Some of the sections have a ghostly feel via echoing empty spaces, and others resemble submerged, aquatic excursions.  Closing with a bit of menace and bizarre wet echoes and subtle crackles, it never stays in one place too long.

On the other side, "…From the Hollow Comb//…Aus Den Hohlen Waben" begins with a significant amount of open space and heavy reverb.  What obviously sounds like field recordings (though what they are actual recordings of remains a mystery) fill in that space, resulting in a bit more of a foreboding vibe. Campbell generates some synth-like pulses and shimmering, crystalline sounds, but the sense of menace never fully relents.  Towards the end he does an excellent bit of juxtaposition balancing manipulated Morse Code like beeps with crackling analog textures.

Ballad of the External Life has such an amazing sense of depth and complexity that it is hard to fathom that this is his first full length vinyl release.  This is all the more impressive knowing that this is almost exclusively manipulated cassettes and processing.  Jim Campbell’s ability to generate such variations in tone and texture from tape manipulation is rather impressive, and that constant flow from one section to the next without ever really staying in one place too long manages to stay engaging without seeming in any way unfocused.  It is an album I immediately loved, and listening to it more unveiled even more depth and variety.

Samples can be found here.

 

Chuck Johnson, "The Cinder Grove"

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I can think of few other artists in the midst of a hot streak quite as wonderful as the one Chuck Johnson is currently enjoying, as nearly everything he has released since 2017’s Balsams has been downright revelatory.  In keeping with that theme, his return to solo work is yet another sublime stunner and a strong contender for his finest album to date.   While Johnson wisely does not depart much from his winning Balsams aesthetic, he does subtly expand his palette with some help from Sarah Davachi, a small string ensemble, and an endearingly exacting approach to reverb.   For the most part, however, everything beyond his swooningly gorgeous pedal steel playing is merely icing on an already perfect cake: virtually no one crafts warm, achingly beautiful soundscapes better than Chuck Johnson and he seems to only get better at it with each new release.

VDSQ

The album opens with an absolute masterpiece in the form of "Raz-de-Marée," which poignantly combines a lovely descending organ theme with a lazily shimmering haze of pedal steel heaven.  Everything about it is damn near perfect, from the melodies to the textures right down to the bittersweetly beautiful mood.  It is frankly an impossible act to follow, which makes the more vaporous "Serotiny" pale a bit by comparison, though its floating dreamscape is still a very pleasant place to linger.  The strongest pieces tend to be the ones that anchor the sliding, liquid bliss of the pedal steel with something more solid though, as the instrument can start to feel a bit weightless on its own.  On "Constellation," that solidity is initially provided by a repeating pattern of warm bass tones, but the structure eventually gets fleshed out further by some reverberant piano chords courtesy of Davachi.  The following "Red Branch Bell" is the album's most adventurous and unexpected delight, as Johnson fades into the background while a churning string theme steadily builds in visceral intensity, then reappears to finish the piece with a languorously psychedelic coda.  The closing "The Laurel" feels similarly epic, marrying an elegiac string motif with some achingly beautiful pedal steel that evokes vivid steaks of color in a slow-motion sunset—a fittingly great end to a near-perfect album.  Johnson hits the mark on nearly every possible detail with The Cinder Grove, but my favorite facet (aside from the songs themselves) is just how incredibly wonderful it all sounds, especially the way the sharper textures of the strings tear through the soft-focus swirl of dreamily sliding melodies.  This album is going to be in heavy rotation here for a long time.

Samples can be found here.

 

Massimo Ricci, "Tracey Feels Worse"

cover imageMuch like the prolific music criticism on his Touching Extremes website, Massimo Ricci's first ever recordings to be released are a unique combination of ambiguity and pure no-bullshit bluntness.  Consisting of material sourced from 1984 and heavily reworked in the four decades that followed, there is a purity in his approach that makes bleak, repetitive structure all the more fascinating.

Elevator Bath

Tracey Feels Worse is a single 35 minute piece that structurally remains constant throughout:  wave-like swells of indeterminate sound come and go hypnotically, with consistent, though microscopic, changes occurring throughout.  Ricci opens with metallic low-end sweeps with slow evolution apparent from the start.  He expands the sound with reverberations liberally applied throughout and increasing over time.  There an overall bleakness throughout, but never does it come across as overly depressive or plodding.  The sound becomes more enveloping, the intensity builds, resulting in an excellent sense of disorientation. The change seems so slow at first but by the end the difference seems dramatic.  Not to draw too many comparisons to other artists, but the purity of sound and the approach to repetition is not so far removed from some of David Jackman’s more recent works.

From his style of writing and the sound and presentation of the disc, I do not believe the ambiguity that runs throughout Tracey Feels Worse is necessarily intentional, or at all essential, to the album.  It strikes me as being a work of pure sound exploration, without any sort of hidden theme or social commentary or conceptual intent.  Given that approach to sound rarely exists outside of the world of harsh noise, it is refreshing to hear it in something more understated and nuanced.  Of course I had natural curiosity throughout of what the source recordings were, how they were being processed (since no loops or samples were used), but in the end that knowledge is in no way needed to justify or appreciate the work.

Samples can be found here.

 

Alina Kalancea, "Impedance"

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This Romanian composer’s second album is quite a wonderful surprise, easily ranking among Important's finest non-reissue releases in recent memory.  Far less surprising is the fact that Impedance is Buchla-driven (given the label’s well-documented fondness for modular synthesizers), but this is happily one of those times in which the tools are secondary to the focused and compelling vision that they help bring to life.  While the album's best moments tend to be those that resemble a throbbing and seething strain of minimalist, industrial-inspired "noise" akin to recent Puce Mary work, Impedance as a whole is an ambitiously shapeshifting, deep, and legitimately heavy listening experience that grows more expansive and varied as it unfolds.

Important

The opening "Introspection" very effectively foreshadows what is to come, as it slowly builds from beeps and a bass throb into a seismic slab of deconstructed techno that burrows through a barely-there haze of twinkling, smearing, and looping psychedelia.  The more haunted-sounding elements evoke the feeling of descending into a nightmare, but it is at least a propulsive and darkly libidinal one (those bass pulses just do not stop).  The piece then arguably segues into a more concise, focused, and hallucinatory version of itself with "Walking Through Storm" (mechanized dread with a side helping of "weirdly viscous-sounding").  Delineations between pieces quickly cease to matter though, as the album feels like an extended DJ mix of heavy bass, subterranean woodpeckers, futuristic Kubrickian menace, and plenty of subtle mindfuckery (smearing tones, field recordings, etc.).  And it seems to only get better as it goes on, culminating in the stellar one-two punch of "Horizons (After a Silent Walk)" and "Concrete Floor."  In fact, "Horizons" damn near steals the show when its seesawing bass thrum blossoms into a darkly surreal finale of echoing voices, densely buzzing oscillations, sinister animal howls, and slow, insistent beeps.  While a few pieces feel a bit long (I wish this was not a double vinyl release),  Kalancea clearly had more than one LP worth of killer material and it would have been a shame to pare it down to only that (especially since it all flows together so well in its current format).  In any case, this album is an absolute monster, as Kalancea repeatedly strikes the perfect balance between raw physicality, simmering violence, and exacting execution (like an Eliane Radigue album that is about to smash a bottle over my head).

Samples can be found here.

 

Harness, "Encased in Marble/Wrapped in Roots"

cover image This latest CD from the duo of Luke Tandy and Shane Church has all the hallmarks of an old school harsh noise record.  With an instrument list consisting only of tapes and pedals, and right up front the obvious use of clattering junk and buzzing instrument cables, I thought it was going to be a mid 90s throwback blowout of distortion.  Encased in Marble/Wrapped in Roots is, however, more of an understated work.  That rough-hewn production and use of overdriven sound is certainly there, but Tandy and Church deliberate in their use of dynamics and space, giving a perfect sense of tension throughout.

Throne Heap

On "Mind as Stone and Water," the duo use an almost musical phrase looped throughout, covered with layers of lo-fi analog crunch.  "Message Infinite" may not have as much in the way of pseudo-melody, but does approximate rhythm via stabbing bursts of static.  With a hollow metal hum giving a slightly dark ambient feel to the piece, it is understated and a bit too brief overall.  There is also a rhythmic clicking throughout the closing "Clenching Sand," presented alongside windstorm noises and low end rumble.  The piece is structurally tight overall, with some looseness towards its conclusion in the form of bent tape passages.

Harness never fully abandon their harsher roots, however.  "Replaced Broken Relic" is constructed on a bed of pummeling, overdriven layers with clattering spring reverb tank abuse and wobbling, unstable sounds on top.  There is a bit of rhythm via loops, but overall it is a lot of crunching texture punctuated with just the right amount of breathing room.  With an opening that sounds almost like a distant chainsaw, "Traveling Along the Knife's Edge" ends up resembling an entire orchestra of power tools.  Easily the harshest work here, it eventually relents to a space of heavy sub bass and reverberated clattering, resulting in a conclusion that less harsh, but certainly more unsettling.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Encased in Marble is how Tandy and Church use deliberately lo-fi sounds and production, but in such a way that it adds a massive sense of textural depth and complexity to the sound.  The distortion and maximized, but clipped volumes give a brilliant added variety to the sound that, even at its harshest moments, seems carefully nuanced.  That depth, and an overall structural dynamic of tension and release, results in an amazingly gripping album that hits all of the notes a good noise album should.

Samples can be found here.

 

Kara-Lis Coverdale, "A 480"

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Newly reissued on vinyl on her own Gate imprint, A 480 was Coverdale's formal debut (originally issued on Constellation Tatsu back in 2014).  When I first heard it a few years back, I believed it was not nearly as strong as her breakthrough 2017 EP Grafts, but I have since revised and reversed that opinion as A 480 has its own (very different) flashes of brilliance—they just require a bit more focused listening to reveal themselves.  This is both a unique album within Coverdale's discography and a unique album in general, approximating a slow-burning strain of loop-driven kosmische-style psychedelia assembled from ingeniously manipulated vocal loops.

Constellation Tatsu/Gate

The album's brief opener amusingly feels like a targeted assault on my personal sensibility, but the cheerily artificial textures and manic repetition of "A 480 are admittedly quite an effective illustration of the album's overarching vision.  In essence, A 480 was crafted entirely from vocal pieces that have been "unpersonally sourced, downloaded, then disembodied, disfigured, and displaced over forty times."  At various points throughout the album, those vocal loops approximate a human choir, but they far more often sound like a synth album from the '70s that has been chopped up by an Oval-esque mad genius.  While both the album's conceptual basis and its source material are certainly intriguing, what truly matters is that the three pieces at the heart of the album all belong in the headphone album hall of fame (sadly still imaginary at this point).  That incredible hot streak begins with the half-heavenly/half-futuristic epic "A 479," which sounds like it could have been a lost Tangerine Dream or Popul Vuh soundtrack for Solaris.  That feat is then followed by the darkly hallucinatory "A 478" and the alternately playful and poignant otherworldliness of "A 477."  Each piece offers its own bit of fiendishly clever compositional sleight of hand, but the thread uniting them all is Coverdale's virtuosic skill at maintaining a consistent sense of forward motion and structure in an endlessly evolving and oft-gorgeous sea of phase-shifting loops.  In the passages where everything clicks fully into place, A 480 feels like an almost supernaturally rich and immersive tour de force of subtle rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic mastery.  I cannot believe that this was a debut album.

Samples can be found here.

 
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