brainwashed

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Free Music

Richard H. Kirk, 1956-2021

E-mail Print PDF

Richard H. KirkWe are absolutely devastated by the news of the loss of Richard H. Kirk, music pioneer, founder of Cabaret Voltaire, and one of the most prolific musicians. Kirk formed Cabaret Voltaire with Chris Watson and Stephen Mallinder in the early 1970s, concurrently releasing music under his own name, and continued on in Cabaret Voltaire with Mallinder after Watson's departure, and alone, following Mal's departure. Kirk also released numerous recordings under various aliases such as Sweet Exorcist, Sandoz, Electronic Eye, Biochemical Dread, Al Jabr, Vasco De Mento, Orchestra Terrestrial, and Digital Terrestrial, just to name a few. He also recorded with Peter Hope, and a one off collaboration as Acid Horse with Paul Barker, Al Jourgensen, and CV bandmate Stephen Mallinder.

Mute records issued the following statement on their Twitter feed:

"It is with great sadness that we confirm our great and dear friend, Richard H. Kirk has passed away. Richard was a towering creative genius who led a singular and driven path throughout his life and musical career. We will miss him so much.

"We ask that his family are given space at this time."

Cabaret Voltaire was one of the original groups we hosted a web site for on brainwashed.com beginning back in 1996. He will be sorely missed

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 September 2021 09:05
 

Episodes 538: Richard H. Kirk tribute

E-mail Print PDF

In Loving Memory of Richard H. KirkRichard H. Kirky by Simon Paul

It's impossible to effectively curate a brief playlist from a person who has been responsible for so much music for over four decades. An hour can hardly do justice to represent the man's exceptional work over the years. Even as the episode publishes, there's numerous songs that could have easily been included. We hope you enjoy and turn it up loud as hell!

We feature music from, collaborated with, and produced by Richard H. Kirk outside of Cabaret Voltaire. It's a super hyper extended episode with songs from Pat Riot, Nitrogen, Blacworld, Robots + Humanoids, Sandoz, Peter Hope, Richard H. Kirk, Dr. Xavier, The Anti Group, Eric Random and the Bedlamites, 23 Skidoo, Multiple Transmission, Electronic Eye, Orchestra Terrestrial, Biochemical Dread, Acid Horse, Sweet Exorcist, and Dark Magus.

Extra special thanks to Simon Paul for allowing us to use his image for this episode. Our love to all of Kirk's friends and family and fans.

Get involved: subscribe, review, rate, share with your friends, send images!

Amazon PodcastsApple PodcastsBreakerCastboxGoogle PodcastsOvercastListen on PocketCastsListen on PodbeanListen on PodchaserListen on Spotify PodcastsTuneInXML

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 September 2021 21:28 Read more...
 

Forced Exposure New Releases for the Week of 9/27/2021

E-mail Print PDF

New music is due from Gudrun Gut and Mabe Fratti, Catherine Graindorge, and Loren Rush, while old music is due from Ryo Fukui, Thomas Köner, and Fugazi.

Read more...
 

Lee "Scratch" Perry, 1936-2021

E-mail Print PDF

Jon and Lee fist bumpThe world would sound a lot different today (at least the music we listen to a lot of here at Brainwashed) were it not for the ears of of Lee "Scratch" Perry. Beginning with his role in Jamaica's legendary Studio One in the mid 1960s up until this year, he has been active in music, a visionary who would take the sounds he heard in his mind and create them for the world to hear.

The list of musicians he has collaborated with is massive, from Bob Marley to Paul McCartney to the Clash to Brian Eno to Andrew WK! Known as the Godfather of Dub, his creations may have originally nestled under the genre of Reggae, dub has proliferated throughout music since its inception, finding its way into rock, electronic, jazz, avant-garde, metal, ambient music, and nearly everything in between.

He will sincerely be missed however he has left us with nearly a lifetime of music to listen to and catch up with.

Our love goes out to his family and friends.

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 September 2021 19:27
 

Tomasz Sroczynski, "Symphony n°2 / Highlander"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis album was my first exposure to this Polish composer, but this appears to be his sixth album if I include his improv trio and his collaborations.  Also, it is the second symphony that he has composed (the first being 2017's Resurrection).  Some of his past albums are a bit closer to my own weird/experimental sensibility (Primal and Ajulella, for example), but Symphony n°2 / Highlander is a more straightforward modern classical release and it is one hell of a great one.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Highlander is composed of three very good pieces and one absolutely brilliant one.  Naturally, that one absolutely brilliant piece ("Moderato Pastorale") is the best reason to seek this album out, but as the album description notes, "Tomasz Sroczynski is a symphony in his own right." Hyperbole aside, Sroczynski is indeed a genuinely fascinating composer, seamlessly combining influences as disparate as Arvo Pärt, experimental improv, and strains of both classic Detroit techno and contemporary German minimalist techno.

Ici d'ailleurs/Mind Travels

A sane and honest critical assessment of Sroczynski's second symphony could be easily distilled to some variation of "just go listen to 'Moderato Pastorale' immediately."  As tempting as that is, it is a bit lean on the details and I would be remiss if I did not mention that Sroczynski's primary tools for this album were just a violin, a sampler, and a harmonizer and that Highlander is a triumph of masterful loop architecture rather than the work of a world-class string ensemble.  I was surprised to learn that, as it is hard to imagine the churning, propulsive intensity of "Moderato Pastorale" originating from anything less than a dozen violinists relentlessly bowing away with demonic intensity.  Regardless of how it was made, "Moderato Pastorale" is pitch-perfect in every sense, as Sroczynski unleashes a god-tier motif and then nimbly manipulates the tension for ten glorious minutes.  I suspect this is where Sroczynski's love of techno manifests itself: he handles dynamic tension the same way a virtuosic DJ might seamlessly assemble and deconstruct a monster groove.  Sadly, Sroczynski does not attempt to replicate that deft combination of raw emotion and steadily intensifying trancelike repetition again, but that is mostly because each of these four pieces explores a different shade of moody, epic grandeur.  The following "Adagio," for example, gradually transforms from darkly brooding cloudlike swells into a rapturously swooning and heaving crescendo of Romanticism.  Elsewhere, "Diablak" combines a chunky rhythm of strummed violin with a mournful, ambiguously exotic melody, but soon takes some strange detours before landing somewhere best described as "wrong-speed psychotic ballroom dance nightmare."  The closing title piece then returns to more billowing and cloudlike territory, but does so in a compelling way, as its deceptively amorphous structure is like a living, organic entity that can solidify whenever the need for an emotional crescendo appears.  The four pieces add up to an absorbing and dramatic whole, as Sroczynski is very skilled at moving between heaving immensity and emotionally raw snatches of melody.  That said, you should probably just go listen to "Moderato Pastorale" immediately.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 September 2021 12:08
 

Peter Rehberg, 1968-2021

E-mail Print PDF

We are all incredibly shocked and saddened at the sudden and unexpected loss of Peter Rehberg, a peerless and powerful force in independent, forward-thinking, innovative, and original music. It is rare that someone can leave such a lasting impression as a performer and composer (solo as Pita and with ensembles such as Farmers Manual, Fenn O'Berg, and KTL) and a label director and partner (Mego, Editions Mego, Recollection GRM, and Spectrum Spools). Everything he has had a hand in bringing to our ears has been worth listening to, and it has been a pleasure to be covering his works for over two decades.

Our hearts go out to all of his friends, family, and fans.

Guardian article.

 

Santiago Pilado-Matheu, "La revolución y la tierra"

E-mail Print PDF

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a1899664795_10.jpgIn Peru, Gonzalo Benavente Secco’s controversial documentary La revolución y la tierra, has drawn huge cinema audiences, perhaps because its subject, the 1969 Land Reform Act, still bitterly divides opinion more than fifty years later. So much so that TV Peru bowed to pressure and refused to broadcast the film, which skillfully folds scenes from old Pervuian films into the mix, in the run up to the elections of 2021. Santiago Pilado-Matheu’s deceptively simple soundtrack uses ambient electronics, loops, dubby Afro-Latin rhythms, Andean drone and melody, film dialogue, and speech excerpts by peasant leaders, to create a comforting yet sinister landscape of memory.

Buh

My off-the-cuff knowledge of Peru consists of four facts. Michael Bond’s fictional bear Paddington came from "darkest Peru" and legendary broadcaster John Peel died on holiday there. It was the location for Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, filmed on the stone steps of Huayna Picchu, on tributaries of the Amazon river, and in the Peruvian rainforest. Herzog claims to have written the screenplay in less than three days, mostly on a long bus trip with his soccer team - one of whom vomited on several pages which Herzog had to discard. Lastly I recall Peru’s Teofilo Cubillas, in hs nation's fabulous white kit with diagonal red slash, smashing in a wicked free kick with the outside of his right foot, the first of his two goals that vomited on Scotland’s hubris at the 1978 World Cup.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 August 2021 10:27 Read more...
 

Derek Monypeny, "The Hand As Dealt"

E-mail Print PDF

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a1804512090_10.jpgTitled after a phrase in Richard Meltzer's writings to do with an eternal sense of perseverance through sound,The Hand As Dealt is dedicated to Terry Riley, Don Cherry, Alice Coltrane, and Egyptian singer Umm Khoultoum (lesser known in the West, but the incomparable and legendary "Orient Star” and “The Fourth Pyramid” in the East). Inspired by the notion that through profound adversity there is a higher reason to play, inherent in the sound itself, Derek Monypeny plays this hand, simply and brilliantly. With his guitar tuned to DADGAD, and an indian instrument called the shahi baaja tuned somewhere in the region of D major, he also, in terms of equipment and technique, pays mind to a path trod by Riley, Reich, Oliveros, Fripp, and Eno.

2182

This album has a clear flow, running East to West and back again, at times fierce and frantic, at others, gentle, stretched out, and unhurried. By some standards, most of these pieces are very long, but time is relative and cultural. For instance, it was not unusual for Umm Kulthum to perform three songs over two hours. The music retains a raw magic, even as Monypeny uses a lot of e-bow and a myriad of different effect pedals. For example, a key song "South Van Ness Vickie” is gentle and cosmic: as a loop of a little guitar figure runs throughout the song, and he improvises over that using a Mellotron simulator pedal (the EHX Mel9), a time lag accumulator*, amp reverb, and e-bow. The combination sparkles with a spontaneous, almost-sensuous quality. His use of the shahi baaja is not the superficial embrace of a traditionally Eastern instrument, as attempted by countless groups whipping out a sitar in the name of psychedelia. If anything, on The Hand As Dealt the differences between the (Western) guitar and (Eastern) shahi baaji are more or less erased, bringing them closer together.

 

Last Updated on Monday, 06 September 2021 07:09 Read more...
 

Hugo Randulv, "Radio Arktis (samlade ljud från den norra polcirkeln)"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageBandcamp recently published a feature on one of my favorite subjects (the Gothenburg Underground) and it turned me onto this solo release from an artist they dubbed "the closest you'll get to a traditional musician in the Enhet För Fri Musik circle."  That is no doubt accurate, as Randulv has been the guitarist in a couple of popular Swedish indie rock bands (Westkust and Makthaverskan) that bear zero resemblance to the outsider folk of Enhet För Fri Musik, but I am sure literally everyone in that collective has extracurricular interests that would surprise me (they are quite an interesting bunch, after all).  In any case, the more ambient Radio Arktis is another outlier of sorts, though it is one still creatively indebted to the Gotherberg free music milieu.  Randulv notes that the album was inspired by "a dream that one of us had, that we were going to make an imaginary soundtrack to every place on Earth."  While the album's title ("Collected Sounds From The Arctic Circle") offers an explicit clue about the first place he chose to soundtrack, Randulv consciously opted for a more "beautiful and bright" aesthetic than I would normally associate with arctic-inspired ambiance.  At its best, Radio Arktis carves out a beautiful and distinctive ambient/drone niche that gives Randulv's field recordings and more experimental tendencies fertile soil in which to subtly blossom.

Discreet

The album's three numbered pieces kick off in impressively strong fashion, as "1" is the piece that feels most like the heart of Radio Arktis.  Fittingly, it is twice as long as the other two pieces and Randulv uses that extended duration to pass through several different stages.  Initially, "1" is built upon little more than a slow-motion bass buzz, crashing waves, and plenty of tape hiss.  That eventually blossoms into a reverie of blurred and shimmering synth-like melodies, but the terrain gets increasingly imaginative and inspired from that point onward, as it soon sounds like a Swedish lumberjack, a fireworks display, a extremely vocal flock of geese, and a melancholy young poet have turned up (as well as a probable cow).  Those "non-musical" touches elevate the piece into something quite beautiful, as Randulv has a knack for artfully fading into the background to make something like a cacophony of squawking birds feel like the emotional core and focus.  That "bird interlude" is the highlight of the album for me, as it feels like I am on a remote Nordic beach where the sun has just unexpectedly broken through a bank of clouds (exciting plenty of birds in the process).  The second piece ("2") is a bit more melodic, as an oscillating shimmer slowly blooms into a dreamy, soft-focus loop of carousel/music box-like melody.  It is wonderfully warm and sublime enough to be the album’s other major highlight, yet it too undergoes an interesting transformation.  It evokes the feeling of being inside an enchanted snowglobe, then having the spell broken to reveal just battered old piano and a fitful wind-up music box in a sad, empty room.  No such magic trick occurs in the final piece, lamentably, but "3" makes for a pleasantly radiant coda nonetheless.  Sort of, at least: it feels like a New Age album was dubbed over a noise tape, but the latter remains simmering below the surface, threatening to break through.  The noise never breaks though enough to make "3" as memorable as its predecessors, but such a cool climax likely would have ruined the spell of the album, so I must concede that Randulv’s artistic judgment is sound.  In any case, I like this album a lot and excitedly look forward to Randulv's imaginary soundtracks for the rest of the globe.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 September 2021 18:09
 

Rdeča Raketa, ".​.​.​and cannot reach the silence"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageI believe this is the third album from this Vienna-based duo, but it has been a while (eight years) since they last released anything and they are entirely new to me.  Rdeča Raketa is a collaboration between composer/double bassist Matija Schellander and Slovenian singer/artist/force of nature Maja Osojnik and they achieve quite a memorable and compelling collision of aesthetics.  At its best, ...and cannot reach the silence feels like a Weimar-era cabaret, a killer noise/industrial show, and gripping performance art all beautifully mashed together.  While that seems like an aesthetic that should not work (like Marlene Dietrich fronting Throbbing Gristle), the execution is so masterful that Schellander and Osojnik make that unholy union seem perfectly natural.  Admittedly, the train occasionally derails a little bit or a song might take an exasperatingly long time to catch fire, but the album's minor flaws feel completely irrelevant when everything locks in place and Osojnik starts seductively singing and ranting like a classic femme fatale diva gone feral.  Given that, Osojnik's magnetic vocal presence is understandably the focal point of the album, but it is also worth noting that the pair are unusually good at crafting wonderfully heavy and gnarled industrial rhythms.  This is easily one of the year's most memorable albums.

Ventil

The album is composed of three lengthy pieces whose titles form a poem of sorts ("the night is spilling across the room…like gasoline.  waiting it out.").  All of the texts come from Osojnik, and the poem abstractly alludes to the album's central theme of rampant misunderstanding and the "tightening of incompatible parallel 'realities.'"  I would be hard pressed to come up with a theme that better sums up the current state of the world than "incompatible parallel realities," but it would take a close reading of the lyrics to grasp that overarching theme, as ​.​.​.and cannot reach the silence primarily feels darkly libidinal with a healthy side helping of churning industrial menace.  The strongest pieces are the first two, as they are more song-like than the closing soundscape.  On "the night is spilling across the room," a ghostly haze of feedback gradually coheres into something like a Birchville Cat Motel gig unsuccessfully attempting to drown out a sultry cabaret chanteuse.  As it unfolds, it hits quite a striking balance of eerie beauty, gnarled industrial maelstrom, and smoldering sexuality.  It even stays great after Osojnik's fiery central performance subsides, as floating vocals swirl above a heavy industrial beat that feels like one of Downward Spiral-era NIN's more experimental moments.  The following "like gasoline" picks up right where its predecessor left off, as a heaving mechanized rhythm is strafed by static and ghostly backing vocals fade in to set the stage for another volcanic Osojnik performance.  There are a few moments that feel a bit too intense or bluntly sexual for my taste, but they are handily eclipsed by how much everything else is crushingly brilliant.  It's like a great industrial noise band was unexpectedly blessed with a strikingly charismatic, sensual, and spontaneous femme fatale vocalist hellbent on tearing through the scene like an erotic hurricane.  Consequently, it is fitting then that the final piece (“waiting it out”) is mostly a howling storm of noise and electronics.  It is an impressively nightmarish one too, but the comparative lack of Osojnik's vocals makes it feel less "human" and distinctive than the previous pieces (though I do like the part where her garbled voice fleetingly appears to ask "who are these people?").  The three pieces cumulatively add up to quite a wild, wonderful, and uniquely heavy album, as Schellander and Osojnik seem blissfully immune to any impulses that might dilute or diminish the primal intensity of their art.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 September 2021 11:23
 

The Volume Settings Folder, "Pastorage Sights"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis prolific ambient project from Italian guitarist M. Beckmann has been a fascination of mine for a couple of years now and I have been patiently waiting for an appropriately excellent major new release to cover.  This double album from June fits the bill quite nicely, though Beckmann has since released a trilogy of pieces entitled "Late Summer, Interior" that are similarly lovely.  According to Beckmann, these four lengthy pieces are "a very condensed display" of how he is coping with the "pressure, stress, and fear around the corner" as "cities burst with life and everybody is eager to live a life that resembles normality."  Stylistically, that coping manifests itself as a gorgeous strain of "rural ambient" akin to Benoit Pioulard's more bleary and blurred ambient work (Beckmann cites Boards of Canada as a big influence), but with some wonderful enhancements from field recordings and processed guitars.  I am tempted to call it "shoegaze-damaged," but Beckmann generally achieves his sublime, flickering beauty without ever stomping a distortion pedal.  I also dearly wish there was a more appropriate term for music in this vein than "ambient," as Beckmann’s strongest work brings a poetry and intimacy to the form that is every bit as transcendent as masters like Andrew Chalk.

Self-Released

The opening "Far From The Crowds And The Pressures Of Time" is the first and best of Pastorage Sights' two half-hour-long epics.  It begins somewhat modestly, as a hollowly echoing guitar motif languorously repeats over a hazy, shimmering bed of drones.  As it unfolds, additional layers of melodies, textures, and effects sneakily accumulate until the piece becomes an achingly beautiful swirl of twinkling, swaying, and quivering interconnected loops.  And from then on, it only continues to transform further, albeit without losing any of that essential character, as Beckmann subtly manipulates the focus with incredible patience and lightness of touch.  Once it reaches critical mass, "Far From The Crowds" is an absolutely sublime tour de force of warmly flickering and hiss-soaked ambient drone bliss.  In fact, one of my notes was "awesome in roughly five different ways by the time it ends."  That makes it a tough act to follow, yet two of the remaining three pieces manage to scale similar heights, and the third is far from disappointing.  The following "Leidenfrost Effect" features a similar slow-burning trajectory of steady loop accumulation, initially evoking flickering comets streaking across a lonely night sky before slowly expanding into a widescreen panorama of twinkling shoegaze bliss.  It took me a bit longer to fully appreciate the 32-minute "Sparing Of Words And Stern In Her Ways," but that is simply because its pleasure are more nuanced.  At one point, it feels like time slows and reality blurs while the hissing sounds of rain drift in from an open window, while another passage calls to mind a painterly sky of slow-moving bruised purple and pink clouds.  And there is the final five or six minutes, which feel like angelic choral voices enveloped in subtly psychedelic guitar shimmer. The closing title piece is arguably the weakest of the four, but I might just feel that way because it lacks the shifting, enigmatic arc that makes the other three pieces such a pleasure.  Instead, it is built around little more than a frayed and bittersweet slow-motion melody and a haze of ghostly EBow shimmer.  As such, it shares some common ground with Celer (a cool loop hypnotically repeating into infinity), but that dreamy reverie is slowly eclipsed by a vibrant host of birds in its final moments.  The sole caveat with this album is that it requires more patience than some other TVSF releases, as even the shortest piece hovers around 20 minutes, but the reward is usually proportional to how long Beckmann spends laying the groundwork.  While I have no idea if Pastorage Sights is one of the strongest The Volume Settings Folder albums to date (there are currently 60+ releases on Bandcamp), it certainly feels enough like one to make it an excellent starting point for the curious.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 September 2021 12:51
 

"La Ola Interior: Spanish Ambient & Acid Exoticism 1983​-​1990"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageSince the invention of cassette tapes, every country has had its own independent tape scene—whether independent musicians with limited release output via the medium or distributors sharing music under harsh conditions. Spain is particularly distinct in this time since, following the death of dictator Francisco Franco the prior decade, the country's creative class was reawakened and allowed to flourish. This tasty compilation from Swiss label Bongo Joe harnesses this movement, focusing on an array of Spanish and Spanish-related electronic music released between 1983 and 1990 that bleeds exoticism rooted in ambient investigations. The compilation succeeds at painting a picture of a lesser-known world of Balearic mysticism with Ibiza-influenced beats and treatments.

Les Disques Bongo Joe

Disc one of this two-disc compilation opens with the hypnotic ambient piece "Transparent" by Miguel A. Ruiz and ends with the fantastic "Trivandrum" by the same. It was "Trivandrum" that immediately caught my attention, sampling what appears to be video game audio over a majestic electronic loop of drums and bass. Both tracks are taken from the 1986 release Climatery but sound tremendously fresh yet today. Since the early eighties, Madrid musician Ruiz has worked under various names (Técnica Material, Orfeón Gargarín, Codachrom, Dekatron II, Michel Des Airlines, Funeral Souvenir, more) yet seems to be little known outside of his native country. Similarities to early O Yuki Conjugate exist, making use of mantric loops and tribal elements founded on a futuristic backdrop. Ruiz is a repeat name, along with Barcelona native Victor Nubla (1956-2020), the more well-known of the two. Nubla's "Chandernagor" is present, showcasing modulated clarinet for which he was known, as well as "20000 Lenguas" ("20,000 languages"), which puts his synthesizer work on display in a clangorous chorus of vocals.

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 August 2021 22:15 Read more...
 

Bendik Giske, "Cracks"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageI have been quite keen to hear just about everything that this Norwegian saxophonist releases since he damn near stole the show on Caterina Barbieri’s Fantas Variations earlier this year.  Thus far, I have yet to be disappointed and this latest solo release beautifully continues Giske's ascendance as one of the most compelling saxophonists on earth.  When I first heard Cracks, it reminded me of Pauline Oliveros's hugely influential Deep Listening, as much of it feels like a killer sax solo reverberating around a vast subterranean space leaving dreamlike ghost trails in its wake.  As it turns out, that is a masterful illusion, as Giske got to the same place in a very different way (and with very different conceptual inspirations).  One of those inspirations was José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia, which suggests that "queerness must strive towards futurity."  A healthy portion of Cracks' futurity was provided by producer/collaborator André Bratten, as the album was recorded in "the new 'resonant' space of Bratten's reactive studio tuned to his original sounds."  The album's description further notes that Cracks brings Giske "one step closer to the man-machine," but the beauty of the album for me lies in how effectively he combines intimate intensity with hypnotically repeating patterns.

Smalltown Supersound

The opening "Flutter" is aptly named, as it begins with a breathy, fluttering pattern hovering at the edge of audibility.  Gradually, a warbling and tender melody takes shape and the piece blossoms into something wonderfully broken and beautiful.  "Flutter" is one of the most simmering and understated pieces on the album, as the central pattern feels like little more than breath and flapping keys, but most of the remaining pieces share a very similar structure.  "Cruising" soon solidifies what that structure is: Giske unleashes winding, serpentine arpeggios akin to Phillip Glass-style minimalism, but with a twist: those arpeggios almost always spiral outward into something strangled, howling, or tenderly poignant (and sometimes all within the same piece).  Bratten's hand plays a crucial role on "Cruising" as well, as the visceral intensity and gnarled textures that Giske wrests from his sax cut through a hallucinatory fog of long, lingering decays.  It is quite an effective balance of sharp and soft textures, as the snarling central melodies stand out in stark relief while a deepening spell of unreality slowly intensifies in the background.  The title piece is the sole divergence from that aesthetic, as the ghostly fog takes over completely for a long interlude of murky, billowing ambiance.  The strongest piece on the album is "Void," which follows the expected arc of repeating arpeggios splintering into howls of anguish, but represents that arc in its most perfect form.  Or maybe I just like the central melody more than usual.  In either case, "Void" hits quite an effective balance of animal intensity, poignance, and flickering psychedelia.  The closing "Matter (part 3)" is yet another strong variation on the album's "unraveling patterns" aesthetic, but it packs more of a throbbing, seething tension than the rest of the album.  While I have not yet fully warmed to the title piece, Cracks is otherwise nothing but wall-to-wall greatness.  I love the seemingly raw, intimate simplicity of these pieces, as Giske is an absolute genius at transforming a few arpeggios into something howling, unpredictable, and vibrantly alive.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 September 2021 12:58
 

New Candys, 'Vyvyd"

E-mail Print PDF

Vivid cover imageThe latest from Italy's New Candys blasts immediately from the gate with an ear-candy combination of pulsating synth and massive drums, bass to match, and world-weary vocals before exploding into millions of crystalline guitar chords coated in fuzz-drenched reverb, resulting in what is quite possibly the most danceable tune the group has ever crafted. All the psyched-out power of prior releases exists, but their fourth full-length comes with the added bonus of cleaner production, allowing the powerhouse rhythm section to step forward amidst what feels to be a recharged songwriting team. Vyvyd becomes less a title and more an experience.

Little CloudDischi Sotterraneie

Not to be outdone by drum-heavy opening track "Twin Mine," New Candys get down to business immediately on "Evil Evil," with a pounding drum machine joined by real drums before distorted vocals and amped-up guitars complete the richly beautiful noise. Despite the increased use of drum machine, reverb lovers will be richly satisfied across the album, especially on the heartfelt "Begin Again," a song steeped in love and longing: "There I go, once again / Inside your head I will end / Where lives the love we once had / Which now belongs somewhere else." Tracks "Vyvyan Rising" and "Helluva Zoo" favor reverb and jangle over an overpowering rhythm, both allowing vocal harmonies and guitar interplay to take front and center. "Q&K" adds female vocals into the mix, guitar at the forefront, drums pulled back into the mix, and rhythm slowed to create a dreamy incorporeal haze.

Last Updated on Sunday, 08 August 2021 16:26 Read more...
 

Legendary Pink Dots, "Island of Jewels"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageMetropolis Records continues their ambitious LPD reissue campaign with an expanded and remastered edition of this oft-fascinating album from the band's celebrated mid-'80s hot streak.  According to the band, Island of Jewels was "the natural successor" to The Tower, but it was chronologically sandwiched between two of the Dots' most beloved albums from the era (1985's Asylum and 1988's Any Day Now).  Being eclipsed on either side by arguably superior albums has not been optimal for Island of Jewels' stature within the LPD canon, yet it still captured the band in legitimately inspired form (albeit in service of an especially bleak vision this time around).  As I did not start delving into the Dots' oeuvre until the mid-'90s (I was lured in by The Tear Garden), I still find it a bit difficult to embrace some of the conspicuously "'80s" elements from this particular phase, as the synth sounds and slap/fretless bass themes have not aged terribly well.  Then again, it seems deeply wrong-headed to take issue with the tools that the band used to craft such a playfully surreal and endearing collection of songs, as only a fool would let passing stylistic trends rob them of their sense of wonder.  While I would describe Island of Jewels as a more of an acquired taste than some of the surrounding releases, it is a taste worth acquiring, as this album is a delightfully hook-filled and hallucinatory world to immerse oneself in.

Metropolis

Belatedly delving into '80s-era Legendary Pink Dots is a curious experience, as albums like this one capture an incredibly imaginative and talented group of musicians still somewhat in the thrall of their influences and the popular instrumentation of the time.  As a result, a lot of this album sounds like someone from the Victorian era became obsessed with '70s prog and set out to make a half-carnivalesque/half-melancholy concept album armed with a fretless bass and an inexpensive synthesizer.  Given that singular vibe, even the weakest songs are compellingly weird, but the tradeoff is that the best songs almost always have some kind of irksome imperfection.  Perhaps that latter part works in the band's favor entertainment-wise though, as the dated sounds undercut Edward Ka-Spel's bleakness to create something more charming and fun.  The first half of the album is teeming with such skewed delights.  My favorite is the wonky, lurching "Dairy," which feels like a unhinged magician with a drum machine leading a dance party on a disturbingly Sid & Marty Krofft-inspired children's show.  "The Red and the Black" deserves an honorable mention too, as it sounds like a macabre art-pop ensemble performing a shape-shifting cabaret show, but a mischievous bassist decided to wrong-foot everyone by obsessively playing a cheerily cartoonish riff over and over again. 

Of course, there are some legitimate Dots classics here too, such as the neo-classical goth-pop balladry of "Shock of Contact."   To some degree, it feels like a prog band doing a spacey electric cover of an old harpsichord piece, but that aspect is eclipsed by an especially haunting and beautiful vocal performance from Ka-Spel.  The other big highlight comes in the form of the "Our Lady" trilogy near the end of the album.  The first part, "Our Lady In Chambers," feels like a darkly lysergic piano ballad plucked from a fairy tale, but one propelled by a thudding drum machine, liquid fretless bass riffage, harmonized lead guitar, dramatic violin flourishes, and occasional stabs of fake horns.  Ka-Spel's vocals are wonderfully tender, poetic, and beautiful, so it is easy to imagine a contemporary live version of the piece being an absolute stunner.  I was also impressed by "Our Lady of Darkness," which initially sounds like an absinthe-drunk mad genius performing a one-man opera in his mountain castle, but unexpectedly erupts into a very cool and intricate instrumental outro.  Notably, the vinyl and digital versions of this reissue enhance the original twelve-song album with eight freewheeling bonus pieces, and they make this latest incarnation considerably more fascinating than the original.  My notes on the bonus material are full of phrases like "terrifying German expressionist puppet show set in space" or "sounds like a disco-era erotic vampire musical on rollerskates," and those are not even the pieces identified as "Version Ridiculous" (an honor reserved solely for “No Bell No Prize").  Needless to say, those are exquisite experiences that are impossible to find elsewhere, but the biggest surprise was "This Could Be The End (Alternative)," which radically transforms Asylum's closer into a ghostly folk gem with Attrition's Julia Niblock on vocals.  I would not have a expected a bonus track with Ka-Spel on the sidelines to steal the show, but the timeless "folk horror" feel makes it one of my favorite outliers in the LPD canon.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 September 2021 12:59
 

Brainwashed Sponsorship Now Available

E-mail Print PDF
We're open for more sponsorships and can use the money for various costs of operation that go along with the territory.  Brainwashed is not a for-profit service and nobody gets paid but we are seeking non-profit status and are seeking sponsors.
Last Updated on Monday, 19 September 2005 16:23 Read more...
 

Mark Solotroff, "Not Everybody Makes It"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageMark Solotroff could never be accused of taking it easy when it comes to music, both in terms of style and productivity.  Since the beginning of 2020 he has been responsible for three side project releases (Nightmares, The Fortieth Day, and Ensemble Sacrés Garçons), two archival releases from his early Intrinsic Action band, and just a matter of weeks ago a BLOODYMINDED! live compilation.  Add that to three volumes of compiled solo material and an album last year, and there’s a massive stack of material that Not Everybody Makes It now sits atop.  Even with all of that material, this new album stands out as distinct, and somewhat of an unexpected turn for Solotroff's work, but is still clearly his.

Self-Released

What makes this disc unique is the more significant restraint and lighter touch he employs on all six of these (exactly) ten minute pieces.  I would be significantly concerned if he released anything that is not constructed around lo-fi analog synth noises, and that is certainly the foundation of everything here, but the mixes are less dense and the volumes are lower, giving everything a bleaker, more isolated sensibility.

Last Updated on Sunday, 25 July 2021 22:58 Read more...
 

Enhet För Fri Musik, "Ömhet & Skilsmässa"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis latest release from my favorite Swedish free music collective is apparently "a concept album on relationships, family values and broken promises."  I will have to take their word on that, as I do not understand Swedish, but Ömhet & Skilsmässa ("Tenderness & Divorce") does have a very different (and possibly more wholesome) feel than some previous releases.  How truly wholesome an album can be when it features Sewer Elections' Dan Johansson is up for debate, but I do not doubt the collective's commitment to carrying on the grand tradition of freeform Swedish psychedelia a la Pärson Sound, Träd Gräs Och Stenar, and others.  That said,  Enhet För Fri Musik have their own wonderful thing going and I would be hard pressed to think of any other artists this devoted to guileless simplicity and organic spontaneousness.  Admittedly, I was secretly hoping the quintet would revisit the sound collage territory of "Fragment Av En Midsommarnattsdröm" this time around, but my consolation prize is that the Jandek-ian discordant acoustic guitars are kept to a minimum.  Instead, this album feels like the impressionistic audio diary of a teenage girl who is growing up in a pleasant rural commune, as it uncannily evokes the wonder and openness of someone totally indifferent to popular trends and not yet hardened by the endless disappointment and inhumanity of the outside world.

Discreet Music

It took me a bit longer than usual to fall in love with this album, as I was initially exasperated by the extreme brevity of several of the best songs and the fragmented, kaleidoscopic nature of the album.  I am probably a fool for coming to an Enhet För Fri Musik album expecting a hot single, but I do like it when a band's best ideas are expanded into complete, fully formed statements.  That sort of thing was not on the agenda with this album, but it eventually dawned on me that something considerably more interesting and unique was happening instead.  Obviously, "Swedish noise artists reclaim their childlike naivete to transform into an oft-brilliant free-folk ensemble" is an impressive feat too, but I was already expecting that part.  Consequently, I was more struck by how this album feels like a VHS tape of enigmatic found footage fragments that capture flickering tender, beautiful, intimate, and uneasy moments spanning many years and many miles.  There are a few pieces that feel dark, such as "Opus 6 – Sommarljus" (crunching footsteps in a desolate moonlit shipyard, then a ramshackle, Wicker Man-esque folk procession) and "Kärlekens Nöjen" (woman humming a sad melody by the seaside as storm clouds gather).  If the album was entirely in that vein, it would feel like a series of clues to an unsolved murder, but the amiable musicality of Sofie Herner's voice makes the album feel like I am being led through a bittersweet phantasmagoria by a trusted and charming friend.  It also helps that there are some genuinely lovely song vignettes strewn throughout the album.  My favorite pieces are the ones in which Herner haltingly and casually chatters over a simple pretty melody, such as "Idag Är Det Bra" (featuring an endearingly wobbly-sounding synth melody) and the hesitant, finger-picked folk of "En Bra Dag."  The closing piano ballad "Skilsmässa" is another delight in that simple melodic vein, but there is also one excellent sound collage-style piece on the album as well ("Flytten").  In fact, "Flytton" is probably the album’s most surreal and absorbing piece, as it sounds somewhere between an accordion-driven sea shanty and a murky, hallucinatory cabaret.  Or maybe like a melancholy noir film about the French Resistance, except the club's femme fatale chanteuse has lost interest in singing and is just conversationally chattering in Swedish as a grinding, supernatural roar slowly envelops everything.  I would be thrilled if there were a few more songs like that on Ömhet & Skilsmässa, but I genuinely love the spell that the collective casts on this album. Enhet För Fri Musik are channeling something truly radical: a simpler pre-internet era before regional character, emotional directness, and intimacy were nearly wiped off the map by advances in production technology and all-consuming international trends.  And they seem to be confidently climbing farther and farther out on that limb with each new release.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 September 2021 19:23
 

Scanner, "Earthbound Transmissions"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis latest release from Robin Rimbaud is hopefully the first of many deep dives into the Scanner archives, as he ambitiously spent part of his lockdown digitizing and mixing his unreleased work from the '80s.  The big story, of course, is that Earthbound Transmissions features some of Rimbaud's early work with appropriated phone conversations that predates Scanner's 1993 eponymous debut.  Those scanned calls are only one facet of these recordings, however, as this album documents a formative experimental stage immediately after Rimbaud's acquisition of a "luxuriously expensive" Fostex 280 four-track recorder, which he combined with a Digitech RDS 7.6 Time Machine to make looping, layered sound collages.  For the most part, Earthbound Transmission feels like an unusually strong release from the '80s DIY noise cassette scene (albeit more on the "murky ambient" side of the spectrum), but there are also a handful of pieces that legitimately feel like lost Scanner classics.

Room40

The opening "The Canonization" is a solid and representative example of the baseline aesthetic of Earthbound Transmissions, as it unfolds as a roiling and murky sea of grayscale drones.  As a composition, it is not particularly memorable, but the actual notes played are secondary to the hissing, clouded, and frayed textures that Rimbaud conjures.  That is not quite enough to make it an album highlight, but it is a damn good starting point for some of the other pieces, as one or two imaginative touches can easily transform that foundation into something hauntingly beautiful.  Such welcome innovations start to appear with the following "Comus," which uses clattering metal, an obsessive ticking rhythm, and voice fragments to evoke a tense and enigmatic scene from a gloomy Cold War-era train station in Eastern Europe (like a John Le Carré novel, but artier and more hallucinatory).  "Split Substance" is better still, as a chopped and garbled male voice combines with pulsing string samples for something resembling a haunted radio broadcast.  The next run of hits kicks off with "His Begging Bowl," in which a found recording recounts the poignant final moments of a beloved family dog over a backdrop resembling a smearing music box melody.  Weirdly, it sounds like it is about to become a Daft Punk anthem at one point, but instead veers into trance-like, Oval-esque repetition.  The two "Drones Places" pieces that follow are mesmerizing as well. The first is a pitch-perfect dose of shuddering industrial menace, while the second features static-drenched voices (some funny, some sad) crackling across a warmly, billowing ambient dreamscape.  "Soft Endclose" is another scanned phone call gem, as a chaotic squall of noise and colorfully accented conversations fitfully unfolds over a minimal ambient shimmer.  My other favorite pieces are the languorously melancholy and grinding industrial textures of "River Whispering Run" and the wryly amusing plunderphonic groove of "Unhelpful."  The remaining pieces are solid too, but there are probably four or five songs that rank among Rimbaud's finest work, which is not something I was expecting to find lurking in dusty thirty-year-old tapes of unreleased music.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 September 2021 13:33
 

Alasdair Roberts and Völvur, "The Old Fabled River"

E-mail Print PDF

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a0017144637_10.jpgAlasdair Roberts’ creative spirit and respect for tradition dovetail perfectly on this collaboration with Norwegian collective, Völvur. With traditional songs (in both artists’ languages) balanced by four new Roberts compositions, and the latter’s plaintive voice complemented by both Marthe Lea’s beautiful singing and the collective’s edgy, swinging and restrained playing, The Old Fabled River is joyous and mournful in equal measure.

Drag City

From the opening “Hymn of Welcome,” which concerns the passing of a flame from a dying hand to one starting life, to the the closing "Now The Sun Goes Down/Nu Solen Går Ned” it is hard to miss the various pairings and the balance which inform this album. Cradle and grave, sunrise and sunset, transformations, time passing each day and life flowing through seasons, love blooming amid the beauty and harshness of nature. In this context, Robert Burns’ poem "Song Composed in August” fits right in. Written by the sixteen year old poet as an ode to young Peggy Thomson, of Kirkoswald, and to the precious nature surrounding her, it has often been recorded as "Now Westlin Winds,” famously by Davy Graham who said it was “about everything.” Sung here in three-part a cappella it sounds appropriately young and vital.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 July 2021 01:46 Read more...
 

"The Harmonic Series II"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageBack in 2009, Duane Pitre curated a CD entitled The Harmonic Series that brought together an array of artists like Pauline Oliveros and Ellen Fullman for a collection of pieces composed for Just Intonation.  Roughly a decade later, Pitre has returned with a considerably more ambitious second volume that enlists "six of the most important emerging voices of contemporary experimental music" for a triple LP extravaganza of longform Just Intonation pieces.  To his credit, Pitre truly did assemble an impressive lineup for this release, as artists like Caterina Barbieri and Kali Malone are undeniably leading lights of the current vanguard.  In fact, everybody here has a history of making great or provocative music, though I am not sure everyone was brimming with great ideas for a bombshell Just Intonation opus, as it seems like a daunting challenge for anyone attempting melodies.  Given that, The Harmonic Series II is more of a fascinating mixed bag than a uniform triumph, though roughly half the artists managed to conjure up something that exceeded my expectations.  And regardless of how well some pieces do or do not work, this collection has definitely expanded my idea of what is possible with Just Intonation.

Important

Each of the six artists was given a full side of vinyl to work with, so each composition is roughly between 15-20 minutes long.  The first side is devoted to Kali Malone's modest "Pipe Inversions," a duet between Malone (playing a "small pipe organ") and Isak Hedtjärn on bass clarinet.  I was expecting Malone to contribute an album highlight, given how much thought went into the harmonies and frequencies of The Sacrificial Code, but "Pipe Inversions" is mostly just a slowly shifting series of chords with bleary harmonies centered around a more sonorous root.  As such, its pleasures are more structural and subtly microtonal than some of the other pieces.  Conversely, I was not sure how well Caterina Barbieri's strong melodic sensibility would handle this tuning challenge, but her closing "Firmamento" is one of the collection's strongest and most surprising pieces.  Admittedly, Barbieri's melodicism did not come along for this trip, but her tense, neon-lit futurism did, as "Firmamento" is an enjoyably spacey and slow-burning drone epic.  My favorite piece is Duane Pitre's own "Three for Rhodes," which combines an erratically heaving, herky-jerky pulse with a shimmering crystalline edge.  I was also pleasantly surprised by Catherine Lamb's "Intersum," which goes against the grain to reduce Just Intonation harmonies to something akin to a ghostly supernatural fog drifting through a crackling and hissing backdrop of field recordings.  The collection is rounded out by the gnarly, nightmarish strings and buzzing horror of Tashi Wada's "Midheaven (Alignment Mix)" and Byron Westbrook's kosmiche-sounding reverie of stammering, sweeping arpeggios ("Memory Phasings").  Aside from Barbieri's piece, which has a definite dynamic arc, the general theme of the album is extending a single interesting motif for the entire duration of a piece (albeit with plenty of small-scale dynamic and harmonic transformations along the way).  As a result, how much I enjoy a piece within its first minute is generally a solid indicator of what I will think by the end.  However, what I actually hear is just the tip of an iceberg of deeper compositional and conceptual themes, so listeners who are more invested in the details and mechanics of avant-garde composition will likely enjoy The Harmonic Series II on a deeper level than me.  In any case, this is definitely an interesting and one-of-a-kind release.  While some pieces are more instantly gratifying than others, each of the six artists involved found their own unique and inventive way to face the challenge and expand Just Intonation's historically constrained stylistic niche.

Samples:

 

Last Updated on Monday, 13 September 2021 11:07
 

Fehler Kuti, "Professional People"

E-mail Print PDF

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a2160160686_16.jpgSeeing this release announced as music for "squares” or gated communities, unlikely to appeal to your "woke friends” made me approach it as one might any potential minefield. Learning that Julian Warner, aka Fehler Kuti, is a cultural anthropologist, actor, writer, editor, speaker, art festival curator and producer didn’t lighten the mood much as I feared an onslaught of dry polemic. What a relief then to simply get hooked by these hypnotic tunes - several of which were lullabies for Warner’s newborn child. Professional People reveals as a transcultural concept album, lightly touched with softly spoken wit, 8-bit space jazz, cosmic Euro-pulse, pan, chant, Afro-neon groove, wordless harmony, and melancholic synth. Some of the song titles can act as political signposts, but lyrics are few, mostly oblique, and any message subliminal: hidden in plain sight amid references to bureaucracy, cars, office buildings, home, leisure, gardens, and security. There is no holy indigestible agitprop, no denial of anyone else’s struggle, and Warner leaves academic language and analyses of class, race, and history for the books. He’s razor sharp, but kind, and rather than cutting with words he sprinkles sardonic humor and personal history in with broader observations. The whole record invites everyone to swing along together in our various states of alienated inclusion. Phew. I won’t hear many more enjoyable albums this year.

Alien Transistor

With the aid of stalwarts from The Notwist, Fehler Kuti builds a laid back sound with drive but also plenty of breathing space. Markus Acher's brilliant drumming is key, and Micha Acher adds sousaphone and trumpet flourishes. Equally, Sascha Schwegeler's steel drum helps make “Transatlantic Ideology” a standout track. Here Kuti gently references a popcultural and socio-theoretical Afro-Americanophilia in Germany that must be addressed as it deflects from anti-racist movements and away from other racist exploitations (systematic exclusion of Romani people, capitalist exploitation of eastern European migrant laborers). Off record he points out that Black Germans do not make up a racialized labor underclass, so in this sense the leftist fetish of the African American plight is devoid of its revolutionary potential when directed at the Black German. I say “gently” but, as with several stunning lines laid into the fabric of this album "Is a black man humanoid?” made me jump. I uncomfortably recalled the satirical essay “Are The Jews Human?” which got that awkward old stick Wyndham Lewis into a spot of critical bother. Whereas Lewis was brilliant but easily depicted as a brute, Warner’s unflinching honesty about his own status as a professional "manager of color“ is his calling card. He insists his class are using the paradigm of diversity as a tool to escape their fate, without changing the class relations as a whole. Who better, then, to warn us: "This song is a song to end all ties, to say goodbye to old, and say hello to new, lies.” If that sounds heavy, it’s actually as catchy as The Bonzo Dog Band doing “Terry Keeps His Clips On."

Last Updated on Monday, 14 June 2021 13:55 Read more...
 

Brainwashed Is No Longer Accepting Unsolicited Packages

E-mail Print PDF

Due to time and financial constraints Brainwashed is no longer accepting unsolicited packages at the PO Box. (This means if we didn't ask for it, please don't send it.) Unwanted packages will be subject to refusal/return, recycling, or sale. For labels and artists who are interested in having their music covered, there are more details in the Contact Us page.

Last Updated on Monday, 22 August 2011 00:33
 

Rachika Nayar, "Fragments"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis new EP is something of a sketchbook-like companion piece to Nayar's sublime debut album.  More specifically, it is a collection of "sonic miniatures Nayar constructed from guitar loops . . . in the familiar comforts of her own bedroom," as well as a glimpse of what her raw material sounds like before it is processed and reshaped into "grander mutated compositions" like those of Our Hands Against the Dark.  In theory, that should make Fragments something of a minor release, but these more simple and intimate pieces are often even better than those of Nayar's more formal work, albeit with the caveat that more than half of these pieces end in under two minutes (and the others do not stick around much longer).  Nevertheless, Nayar is an incredibly gifted guitarist with a remarkably strong melodic sensibility and this album is quite a sustained hot streak of great (if ephemeral) ideas.  As with her previous album, it is not hard to spot Nayar's influences—in fact, some pieces are even intended as homages to folks like Pat Metheny and Steve Reich.  That said, the main touchstones I hear are more hook-minded contemporary artists like Mark McGuire and some classic Midwestern emo.  That is always welcome stylistic terrain in my book, but the real beauty of Fragments lies in how often Nayar matches or surpasses her influences at their own games.

Commend/Rvng Intl.

The album begins in impressive fashion with two nearly perfect pieces in a row.  The first, "memory as miniature," opens with chiming clean arpeggios before revealing a lead guitar melody that hits the breezy, laid back California vibe of prime McGuire before a synth-sounding chord progression pulls everything in a more bittersweet dreampop direction.  Everything about it is wonderful, but I was especially struck by the beauty of the intricately chiming arpeggios that form its backdrop.  The following "clarity," on the other hand, starts off sounding like a candidate for the best American Football song ever, as Nayar unleashes a gorgeously vibrant and ascending guitar melody.  Much like its predecessor, however, "clarity" sticks tenaciously to its perfect opening theme and merely enhances it a bit with shimmering chords and some warm synth-like coloration in the periphery.  Both of those pieces are prime examples of the compositional aesthetic that defines Fragments: each piece is essentially just an incredibly cool guitar hook playing out for a couple minutes before fading out or abruptly ending.  While it lasts, each theme is subtly fleshed out to add emotional depth and a sense of harmonic development, yet each song is still essentially a single theme that is not allowed to blossom into a fully formed song.  In theory, that should be exasperating ("aaaargh, why did you stop?!?"), but it is hard to complain when every too-soon ending only leads to yet another improbably beautiful new theme.  In fact, there is not a single moment on Fragments that does not sound like an excerpt from a killer emo classic, an imaginary Slowdive song about to erupt, or the perfect soundtrack for a sun dappled summer drive along the California coast.  While I dearly wish this EP was (much) longer, I would be hard pressed to hard to think of many other releases from this year that can match Fragments for sheer wall-to-wall greatness.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 23 August 2021 08:26
 

Klara Lewis & Peder Mannerfelt, "KLMNOPQ"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageI believe this is the first formal collaboration between these two Sweden-based artists, but the pair have a long history together, as Mannerfelt's label released one of Lewis's early EPs (2014's Msuic).  While I was not sure quite what to expect given the breadth of Mannerfelt's oeuvre and Lewis's continuous evolution, I was reasonably certain that this collaboration would be wonderful no matter what shape it took and I was not disappointed.  The closest reference point for KLMNOPQ is probably Lewis's killer Ingrid EP, as nearly all of these five songs feature churning, blackened drones or murky, gnarled loops of some kind.  The twist, however, is that Mannerfelt and Lewis take that roiling intensity in an unexpectedly playful direction without sacrificing much gravitas.  The closing "Full of Piss and Vinegar" captures the duo at the height of their gleefully mischievous loop mangling, as it resembles a nightmarishly chopped-and-screwed mariachi band, yet this entire EP is filled with endearingly inventive and perversely anthemic variations of obsessively looping and psychotropic sound collage.

The Trilogy Tapes

The opening "Sell Art" nicely sets the tone for the entire EP, as blown-out, heaving drones slowly churn beneath a trilling hook that sounds like a repurposed mariachi trumpet melody.  The central melody sounds pleasingly frayed and ghostly like a ravaged tape loop, but the more impressive feat is how Lewis and Mannerfelt seamlessly transformed festive traditional music into something resembling a techno anthem in the throes of a bad break-up.  It is quite a neat trick, as there is an underlying playfulness and dark sense of humor, but the result is legitimately poignant and weirdly haunting nonetheless.  Another theme in "Sell Art" that recurs throughout the album is the duo's love of obsessively repeating and layered loops, which has long been a realm in which Lewis excels.  In the second piece, "My Clementine Is Making Paella Tonight," a repeating chord swell holds the focus as a steadily intensifying undercurrent brings a relentless sense of forward motion and brooding urgency.  Near the end, the consistent rhythm dissolves to make room for more freeform percussion, resulting in something that sounds like Z'ev pounding plastic oil drums along with a Fossil Aerosol Mining Project album.  Next, "Styrofoam Tone" amusingly wrongfoots me again with something that sounds like the vocal hook of some ‘90s dance hit chopped apart and rebuilt into a seething and hiss-soaked nightmare.  The following "You Need to Be Kind" also sounds like an isolated pop fragment telescoped into an unintended new soundworld, albeit one taking a churning, fuzzed-out, and spacey ambient bent.  The EP then closes with the aforementioned "Piss and Vinegar," which sounds like a pre-bullfight trumpet fanfare frozen in suspended animation, then erratically allowed to play out a bit more before it locks into a different fluttering loop.  From there, it only gets increasingly disorienting and weird, calling to mind Throbbing Gristle DJing a Mexican street festival and doing their best to get fired.  My sole caveat with this EP is that every song feels like layers of loops manipulated with real-time mixing as opposed to more formal compositions, but most Klara Lewis fans (myself included) will be more than happy to hear a bunch of great loops being expertly manipulated and imaginatively juxtaposed.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:04
 

Peter Murphy, "Love Hysteria"

E-mail Print PDF

Love Hysteria cover image1988's Love Hysteria was my introduction to Peter Murphy as a solo artist, likely initiated by MTV's 120 Minutes airplay of "All Night Long." A minor hit in the United States, this and a host of other strong tracks from Murphy's second solo release would see Murphy exposed to a renewed audience as a solo performer, those both unfamiliar and familiar with his back catalog. Some of this may be attributable to the start of Murphy's songwriting collaboration with Paul Statham (ex B-Movie). This fruitful union would see the two working together for another six albums, producing some of his best-loved works over the next few years. This work alone spawned the aforementioned "All Night Long" as well as masterworks "Indigo Eyes," "Dragnet Drag," and "Blind Sublime."

Beggars Banquet / The Arkive

Sometimes, writing a review about one's revered musicians can be a struggle, challenging as it may be to separate one's memories of a much-loved album with time and place. As I transitioned from high school to college, the dawn of the nineties was approaching, and the familiarities I'd felt growing up in the eighties seemed to be fading. New music, shifting places, different friends, and the loss of a certain comfort was on the horizon as I completed my last year of high school. This era felt ripe for the birth of a massive amount of new music, but I felt a need for stability and nostalgia as life marched on into unknown directions. The darker, romantic music I had embraced in high school that had such an impact on my life seemed to be changing, not always for the better, and I felt a longing for something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I was thus relieved when seeing 120 Minutes' airing of "All Night Long," an artist I was familiar with and that, up to that point, was not aware had embarked on a solo career. I instantly liked the song, so I went to pick up the vinyl at a local record shop, albeit with some trepidation.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 June 2021 09:49 Read more...
 

Nonconnah, "Songs For and About Ghosts"

E-mail Print PDF

cover image

I am kicking myself for not catching up on this post-Lost Trail project sooner, as the alarmingly prolific Zachary and Denny Corsa have a long history of making great music and they may very well have reached their zenith with this latest chapter in their collaborative evolution.  That said, Nonconnah is something more than just a husband-and-wife duo, as the Corsas describes the endeavor as a "Memphis dronegaze collective."  That is a bit of an understatement, given the far-reaching and eclectic array of luminaries that have turned up on past Nonconnah albums, but the heart of the project is the mingling of Zachary's guitar playing with Denny's field recordings.  The "dronegaze" part of "dronegaze collective" is a bit of an understatement too, as it mostly just describes Zachary's sublime guitar aesthetic.  Sadly, I cannot think of a glib combination of words that better encompasses what this first vinyl release from the project actually sounds like, but my best attempt is that it sounds like some shoegaze guitar god dropped by the GRM for a series of ecstatic-sounding improvisations with some brilliant musique concrète enthusiast, then wove all the coolest parts together into achingly beautiful and intricately layered sound collages.  When Denny and Zachary are at their best, they are damn near untouchable, as I can think of no one else who so organically blurs together naked beauty, go-for-broke psychotropic brilliance, and immersive textural richness.

Ernest Jenning Record Co.

The vinyl version of the album ostensibly consists of four separate twelve-minute pieces, but each of those is further delineated into five separate movements, which makes for quite an unusual structure (the album feels like series of vignettes constantly segueing into different themes).  Similarly, it is damn hard to figure out who is doing what on any given piece, as Zachary is credited with quite a wide array of sounds (noise, tapes, field recordings) that blur the lines between his contributions and Denny's.  Guest collaborators Owen Pallett (strings) and Jenn Taiga (synths) are a bit easier to find in the mix, but individual performances are largely irrelevant, as one prominent feature of this album is its tendency to regularly blossom into complexly layered and rapturous "wall of sound" crescendos.  In those delirious moments, it can sound like a dozen tapes playing at varying speeds in an abstract symphony of swooning, frayed beauty.  Given that the album is essentially twenty individual pieces of varying lengths that bleed into one another, figuring out which title those moments of sublime, ecstatic transcendence correspond to is largely a fool's errand.  The crucial thing is merely that there are plenty of them and that the more understated moments that bridge them are often wonderfully hallucinatory or strikingly lovely as well.  For example, in the first side's "II. Changed In Autumn's Feral Depths" alone, the foursome pass through a dreamily warped and angelic choral passage, an interlude of chirping birds, an eerily poignant spoken word sample, a bittersweetly devastating string theme, and a gorgeously warbling and shivering climax of backwards guitar loops.  Listening to it now, it feels like an absolute tour de force of distinctive and absolutely beguiling passages and it probably is not even my favorite of the album's four numbered sections: every single damn piece is a highlight.  The digital version also includes two brief bonus tracks identified as excerpts and they are similarly brilliant (especially the roiling and roaring tape loop pile-up "Summer Sparkler Dream Cartridge").  Admittedly, some listeners might be a bit exasperated by the album's unusual structure and may find themselves wishing that certain passages had been expanded into fully formed, stand-alone compositions.  Normally I would feel that way too, but the Corsas are making some of the most sublime, absorbing, and vividly textured music on earth right now, so any way they feel like presenting it is just fine by me.  This is easily one of the finest albums that I have heard this year.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 August 2021 10:38
 

Can, "Live in Stuttgart 1975"

E-mail Print PDF

Can Live in Stuttgart 1975 cover imageLegendary German kosmiche band Can is not a "hits" band. Despite being known for classic studio work with individual tracks such as "Vitamin C," "Halleluwah," "Mother Sky," and "Future Days," Can, first and foremost, are an improvisational band. While this was a core driver of their studio output, it is particularly evident in their live performances, of which bootlegs of assorted quality exist, noted for never playing a song the same way twice. Singer Damo Suzuki had left the group by this time and Can had released their sixth official studio recording, Landed, an album some fans identify as the marker of Can's slide from greatness. A meticulously produced album, the rock sheen of that studio album could not tell the story of Can's true nature. This polished bootleg — for which we have a devoted fan with large pants to thank — separates the studio mystique from the musicians, showcasing their enduring and practiced talent, revealing the genius of the band's four original members that forever make Can an icon of music history.

Mute / Spoon

This legendary performance features Irmin Schmidt on keys, Jaki Leibezeit on drums, Michel Karoli on guitar, and Holger Czukay on bass. Live in Stuttgart 1975 is the first in a series of polished bootlegs, remastered from tape by sole remaining member Schmidt and longtime producer Rene Tinner, and available officially for the first time on various media formats, notably in a beautiful orange 3-disc vinyl version. There's not much revealing about the tracks at first glance, numbered simply one to five in German, with the shortest track clocking in at 9:31 and ranging to 35:58. Nor is there anything particularly revealing about the cover art, a stack of amps in a live setting superimposed with butterflies, moths, and the odd mosquito. It's not until cracking open the artifact is the essence revealed.

Last Updated on Monday, 21 June 2021 08:05 Read more...
 

Pay Dirt, "Error Theft Disco"

E-mail Print PDF

cover image A duo between California artists Victoria Shen and Bryan Day (by way of Nebraska), Error Theft Disco is noise in its purist sense.  A disorienting blend of electronics, distortion, and found sounds that never settles down from the first few seconds, the constant flow gives the tape a captivating sense of inertia that functions well in the loud harsh noise vein as well as it does the nuanced, complex sound art one.

Bluescreen

This is one of those tapes where there is no sense in trying to deconstruct instrumentation or sound design techniques, because there is simply too much going on.  Which is made all the more difficult given that both Shen and Day build many of their own instruments as well.  Right from the squeaky, waxy noises that begin “Ala Modem in Modernity” the duo throw a bit of everything out there.  Crunchy, almost rhythms collide with shrill outbursts, and modular electronics all propel the piece along.   This kinematic approach barrels into "Brutal Hygene," which is all chirpy sounds, found voices, and heavy bass thumps.

The third piece on the first side, "Harrier Spray," is just as active, but does feature the duo allowing some of the passages to breath a bit.  Comparably more loop-ish in nature, there is a somewhat more noteworthy sense of structure amidst the distorted pulsations.  "Mouthsh" covers the entire second half of the tape, and also features a bit more restraint from the two.  There are still large amounts of subsonic bass and shrill electronic beeps and tones, but overall there is a slower creep that nudges along the overdriven electronics.  There are a healthy proportion of extreme frequencies to be found, but never does it feel oppressive or painful.

Pay Dirt’s Error Theft Disco is a noise tape in its most distilled form.  There is little that is identifiable and there does not seem to be any specific theme running through the four pieces.  However, a great noise tape never needs any of these things, and that is certainly the case here.  It is a hyperactive burst that never relents, and with so much activity happening from second to second, the depth is just as engaging as the chaos.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 22 August 2021 13:06
 

Bob Bellerue, "Radioactive Desire"

E-mail Print PDF

cover image Described as "free chamber music in feedback environments," this massive double CD from New York based artist Bob Bellerue is a perfect blend of structure, improvisation, and chance.  Based around rough compositional structures, but left wide open to improvisation, the five instrumentalists, along with Bellerue helming electronics and production, create a massive noise that distinctly reflects the time, place, and conditions in which this material was recorded.

Elevator Bath

Recording in two sessions on July 29 and 30 of 2020 at the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, the physical space in which the performance occurred works like another piece of the ensemble.  The players, including saxophonist Ed Bear, double bassists Brandon Lopez and Luke Stewart, violinist Gabby Fluke-ogul, and viola/organist Jessica Pavone all appear together on three of the six pieces (two of them are Bellerue solo, and one features just him and Pavone on organ), but even in these three works, it is often hard to discern specific players.

The expansive, bleak "The Longest Year" does have some identifiable buzzing strings from Fluke-Mogul and Pavone, but the space and production give it an unnatural, otherworldly color to the sound.  The scraping and grinding sounds build into dense clusters not unlike some of Hermann Nitsch's early scores.  "Bass Feedback" is, unsurprisingly, bass heavy, but also has some painfully shrill sections as well.  Instrumentation is obvious at times, but the focus is on the abstract tones.  The title piece shifts from harsh, distorted sax to scraped strings and a nasal insect buzz, later bouncing between horror film strings and dense noise walls.

“Organ Feedback,” featuring just Bellerue and Pavone, is the closest to melody that Radioactive Desire gets.  At times almost synth-like, the layered tones blend together beautifully through the rather steady overall dynamic.  On the other hand, Bellerue's two solo pieces are far closer to harsh noise than anything else.  “Empty Feedback,” which is just room noise and unattended instruments, builds from hissy buzzes to machinery like hums to painfully shrill feedback.  Everything from stabbing high frequencies to dense steady walls of sound appear.  The near 40-minute conclusion "Metal Gambuh" is just that:  a suling gambuh flute, metal, and feedback.  Bathed in heavy natural reverb, it is a violent outburst of frustration, with oppressive sub bass underscoring the fuzzy crackles and droning noise.

Radioactive Desire is by its very nature an intense work.  Recorded in a massive space, in oppressive summer temperatures after a long stretch of lockdown, and spreading out over two hours, there is a lot to absorb.  With Bellerue leading the five performers in their improvisation, the intensity of this work is not just in the composition, but in the performance, as well as the space in which it was recorded.  Everything is huge, but with such nuance that it never becomes too much to take in, with Bellerue's guiding hand beautifully guiding the material through all its disparate facets.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 22 August 2021 13:06
 

Opium Warlords, "Nembutal"

E-mail Print PDF

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a3521227934_16.jpgIn 2010, the Opium Warlords’ MySpace page claimed they sound like "a bad Bolivian Metal band practicing a riff.” Fair enough, but at times their ponderous, doom-laden, brooding, drone-metal shows signs of being more than just another fatberg clogging the sewers of musical culture. My introduction to the group was Live At Colonia Dignidad. Nembutal is a better produced recording, with more variation in speaking, singing, and what sounds like movie dialogue samples. The pest of cliched lyrics such as on “Destroyer of Filth,” is laughable and disappointing, because at other times the words are mysterious and intriguing, sung powerfully and with room to breathe. In those moments, allied with portentous guitar work and a contemplative tempo, Nembutal is nicely out of sync with the flashy haste of modern life.

Svart

To be honest, my girlfriend went away for a few days, and I decided to spin a couple of albums overlooked in 2020. Alabaster dePlume’s To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 was a great listen, somewhere between the pastoral hum of Anthony Phillips and the clear, sparse jazz of Jeff Parker’s Suite For Max Brown. It has now been picked up by the same label as Angel Bat Dawid. No such liftoff as yet for Opium Warlords, although like tripping into a predictably cartoonish puddle of lumpy brown medieval sludge, they do make for a bracing contrast. The album starts and ends with a couple of monolithic tracks, but “Threshold of Your Womb” is as strangely hypnotic as being attacked by a tribe wielding gamelan gongs and a fuzz pedal. Two creepy pieces about women suffering a tragic fate are also good, but I’d have preferred if one or both had a male victim. If you call yourself Opium Warlords the subject matter is going to be unflinchingly dark, methinks, but the flashes of subtlety here - guitar tone, song pacing, running order- hint at greater promise. For example, the contrasting guitar work of “Solar Anus” is great. It is as if they are simultaneously not trying and trying too hard.

As detailed in his book 45, Bill Drummond (of Big in Japan, The KLF and more) once made up an entire Finnish underground scene for his own purposes, and recorded singles by these imaginary groups (The Daytonas, Gormenghast, The Blizzard King, Aurora Borealis, and The Fuckers). But he never came up with a name as good as Opium Warlords. The group is the solo project of Sami Albert “Witchfinder” Hynninen, who has added the witch-finding part to his title since I last looked. He has not changed his sound a great deal, though, and I am not changing my opinion too much. For the Opium Warlords to broaden their appeal, they need to continue to refine their sound and improve their lyrics. Maybe also listen to some Chrome. Yet, perhaps the "Bolivian metal" self-mocking and the daft mumbling and growling is a ruse; after all, it is said that the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to make us believe he doesn't exist. And the name is marvelous; conjuring histories of deceit, greed, and war, the British in China, the French in Vietnam, the heroin labs of Marseille, the Golden Route, the release of Lucky Luciano and the role of the Mafia in assisting the Allies in opening a second front in WWII, Fidel Castro’s exploding cigar, Oliver North’s covert exploits in Colombia and Iran, CIA tolerance for Afghan opium production and export, and the alleged payment of $43 million to the Taliban government for crushing opium production, just months before the US invasion of Afghanistan with the support of the Afghan opium warlords.*

samples available here

*Ed Felien: The Big Payoff

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 August 2021 14:18
 

Anders Brørby, "Constant Shallowness Leads to Body Horror"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageI was not familiar with this Norwegian artist until a few weeks ago, but I find that just about everything on Ireland's wonderfully weird and adventurous Fort Evil Fruit is worth hearing.  That seems to be doubly true when an album also features amusingly Cronenbergian child art and a droll Coil reference.  Unsurprisingly, Cronenberg and Coil are among Brørby's many influences for this album, but they thankfully do not surface in derivative or unimaginative ways.  Instead, Constant Shallowness Leads to Body Horror is an unexpectedly amiable "love letter to taste-defining early influences" presented as a flickering fever dream of Brørby's fond childhood memories of grainy VHS films, surreal late night television commercials, videogames with friends, and the thrill of discovering underground music's weird and shadowy fringes.  All of that predictably sounds great to me, but what makes this album even better is that Brørby proves remarkably adept at filtering all of that into a focused, distinctive, and oft-beautiful vision.  In its own bizarre way, Constant Shallowness is an outsider pop album, as the heart of these pieces is Brørby's strong melodic sensibility and a real knack for cool percussion.  That alone would be enough to make this a strong release, but Brørby went one step further and enveloped his warm, ramshackle, and endearingly lovely pop vignettes in a stammering, obsessive, and phantasmagoric swirl of vividly multidimensional mindfuckery.  He is exceptionally good at that last bit, making this one hell of a immersive album.

Fort Evil Fruit

In an amusingly valiant commitment to thematic consistency, the album opens with a bit of "constant shallowness" and closes with a small helping of "body horror."  That opening piece ("Baby, You’re Disharmonic") is one of my favorites, as an obsessively repeating and erratically transforming commercial snippet laments hair care woes over a woozy and hallucinatory strain of hypnagogic synth pop.  In a broad sense, it sounds like LA Vampires chopped and screwed an Enya/Negativland mash-up, yet it is considerably more haunting and poignant than such a playful collision of aesthetics would suggest.  Some more overt nods to other artists appear later, such as the Tim Hecker-esque roiling, distorted majesty of "Imaginary Scene II" or the Oval-esque skipping loops of "Still Warm."  To some degree, that makes those pieces a bit less distinctive than others, yet it mostly seems like Brørby learned Hecker's and Popp's best tricks and promptly set about using them in his own way.  In any case, "Imaginary Scene II" is unquestionably one of the album's many highlights, as the twinkling piano melody buried in the churning maelstrom is an achingly lovely touch.  For the most part, however, I prefer the pieces with beats, as one of the album's greatest pleasures lies in how expertly Brørby manages to transform his simple, warm, and subtly beautiful melodic themes into something wonderfully weird with inventive percussion and vivid intrusions of layered, jabbering psychedelia.  The best of that side of Brørby's vision is probably "Dungeon Crawlers Leveling Up," which marries thick, spacey synths with a lurching groove and a host of crunching, crackling, and squealing industrial textures.  Elsewhere, "I'm Sorry..." sounds like a jackhammering construction project distantly unfolding in a blissful cloudlike heaven of soft-focus chords and chirping birds, while "Pre-Sports..." sounds like a funky live drummer and a distressed tape of a techno anthem emerging together from a churning nightmare.  If there is anything that resembles Coil at all here, it is the smeared, twilit atmosphere of "See No Evil Hear All Evil," but even that ultimately winds up with a simmering, sultry groove.  It is admittedly a strong piece, but so is absolutely everything else on this wonderful album.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 August 2021 16:33
 

Six Organs of Admittance, "The Veiled Sea"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageMy relationship with Ben Chasny's discography has always been a hit-or-miss one, as some of his albums are very much Not For Me, yet I can think of few other artists who are as intensely committed to endlessly evolving and trying out bold new ideas.  This latest release is a prime example of that, as The Veiled Sea can be glibly described as "the album where Ben Chasny unleashes some absolutely face-melting shredfests."  In characteristically open-minded fashion, Chasny drew inspiration for this album from an extremely unusual source: "'80s American pop shredder" Steve Stevens, who I knew primarily as Billy Idol's guitarist, but who others may recall from the theme from Top Gun (or Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana").  Given that Top Gun and contemporary psychedelia seem like a truly deranged collision of aesthetics to bring together, I was a bit apprehensive about this release and expected an audaciously over-the-top album that I would probably only listen to once.  Instead, it was something considerably more soulful and compelling than I ever expected, as Chasny swings for the fences on a couple of songs and connects beautifully, crafting a pair of the most perfect pieces of his entire career.  There is also a wild Faust cover and some more ambient-minded pieces rounding out the album to varying degrees of success, but the only crucial thing to know about The Veiled Sea is that "Last Station, Veiled Sea" may very well be the "must hear" song of the year in underground music circles.

Three Lobed

There are technically six songs on The Veiled Sea, but the party does not begin in earnest until the third piece, "All That They Left You."  To my ears, it sounds like Carter Tutti Void and A Certain Ratio are jamming with Appetite for Destruction-era Slash, as it is a feast of jangly post-punk guitars, brooding industrial thump, and indulgently fiery hard-rock shredding.  There is a catchy song lurking in there too, as the soloing frequently breaks to make room for a haunting, processed-sounding vocal hook (Chasny sounds a bit like a sultry but lovesick robot).  For the most part, though, it is simply Chasny ripping shit up on his guitar over a cool, heavy groove and it rules.  A brief and likable interlude of tender piano ambiance follows ("Old Dawn"), then the album hits its zenith with "Last Station, Veiled Sea," which unexpectedly resembles This Mortal Coil at first (languorous drones, vaguely androgynous-sounding vocals, a dreamily melancholy mood, etc.).  After about three minutes, however, Chasny unleashes an absolute supernova of a guitar solo that is equal parts movingly gorgeous and viscerally violent (it features plenty of Orcutt-esque scrabbling, slashing, and gnarled flourishes).  Sadly, it only lasts about ten minutes, but Chasny sounds absolutely possessed and I am sure he could have gone on for another half hour with absolutely no dip at all in soulful intensity at all.  Not much could follow such god-tier brilliance, but the surprise Faust cover that closes the album is quite satisfying nonetheless.  The bouncy, playful original version of "J'ai Mal aux Dents" sounds like a bunch of mischievous art weirdos jamming on a fake Velvet Underground song.  In Chasny's hands, however, it becomes a heavier, more trancelike juggernaut, as he uses a tumbling drum pattern and chanting backing vocals as a propulsive backdrop for a roiling, spacey guitar solo.  It is quite a delight, but the main reasons to hear this album are the twin highlights of "All That They Left You" and "Last Station, Veiled Sea," which unavoidably eclipse everything around them.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 August 2021 16:33
 

Noveller, "Aphantasia"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageSarah Lipstate's latest opus enigmatically borrows its title from a disorder in which those afflicted lose the ability to create mental imagery and associations (it literally translates as "without imagination").  If there is a polar opposite of that disorder, there is a strong probability that Lipstate has it, as Aphantasia is an absolute tour de force of imaginative, vividly realized visions.  In fact, there are twenty-two such self-contained visions on the album and very few of them stretch beyond a minute or two in length.  That can be a bit exasperating at times, as the most wonderful ideas are often some of the most ephemeral, but the sheer volume of killer motifs on display could have been the framework for four albums of great fully formed songs rather than one dazzling array of brief vignettes.  That unusual album structure was entirely by design, of course, as Lipstate viewed each song as a "a short sharp flash," further noting that "if her usual process brought about cinematic results, these were something new – something swift and intriguing."  The "something new" is that the album is intended as something akin to a poetry collection, and it succeeds admirably in that light while still remaining extremely damn cinematic regardless.  The fragmentary nature of this album will likely garner a somewhat polarized response from fans, but I doubt that anyone will question whether Lipstate is at the height of her creative powers right now.

Self-Released

The best way to view Aphantasia is as an impressionist funhouse in which each door reveals a fleeting glimpse of something wonderful (or disturbing) that quickly dissolves to make way for the next vision.  The darkest vignettes mostly arrive early on, as "Rune (for Silent Guitar)" feels like the soundtrack to a psychedelic folk horror film, while smeared and curdled synth tones of "A Valley of Snakes" call to mind a lurid, art-damaged giallo classic.  Elsewhere, the more substantial "The Haunted Man" feels like a great post-rock band adding quietly smoldering accompaniment to an eerily lit Dario Argento film.  The darkness resurfaces a few more times near end of the album as well, as "The Gatherer" feels like a creepy, feedback-ravaged faerie tale, while "Night/Heist" briefly resembles a nightmarishly Lynchian rockabilly band.  In between and around those more haunted moments, the remaining seventeen songs are like a highlight reel of imaginary dreampop, 4AD, and goth-rock classics from the late '80s and early '90s (though they seldom make it very far beyond the opening hook).  The best pieces sound like Lipstate channeled some beloved band from the shoegaze/dreampop golden age, made some sort of ingenious and welcome improvement, isolated the best part, then quickly moved onto the next challenge.  In "to love / dream you," for example, she evokes a more tender and burbling Lovesliescrushing, then later repeats that same feat even more impressively with "Annalemma."  Elsewhere, "Vanishing" sounds like the achingly gorgeous coda of an imagined Slowdive masterpiece, while "33" feels like a glimpse of an absolutely sublime lost Durutti Column classic.  At other times, Lipstate conjures a more psych-minded Bauhaus or Santo & Johnny lost in a phantasmagoric fever dream.  Throughout it all, she unleashes a characteristically dazzling host of killer effects and cool textures.  I expected that part, obviously, but did not expect her to casually toss off so many gorgeous melodic themes as well.  Admittedly, part of me wishes there was at least one perfect, fully realized single akin to "Deep Shelter" here, but the sheer volume of great ideas on display makes for a wonderfully kaleidoscopic and immersive whole.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 August 2021 16:31
 

Sarah Davachi, "Cantus Figures Laurus"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis five-CD boxed set ambitiously compiles all three of Davachi's interrelated 2020 albums released on her own Late Music imprint.  Given that Figures in Open Air alone features two pieces that clock in around an hour each, this collection presents an absolutely overwhelming amount of similar-sounding material.  That said, Cantus, Descant seems to be one of Davachi's more beloved releases among fans despite its unswerving devotion to pipe organ-centered minimalism.  That makes this collection an inspired idea, as it presents that constrained vision in three differing stages: its "more raw and improvisational" beginnings (Laurus), the polished and meticulously crafted studio album, and some great live performances from the period when this era was taking shape.  Each of the three albums features some sublime highlights, which will likely inspire me to curate my own condensed version.  That distillation will give me the sustained and focused beauty that I want from a Sarah Davachi album, but Cantus Figures Laurus can also provide a calming five-hour respite in a cathedral of drones.  It is not unlike a portable version of La Monte Young's Dream House, if he were into church music instead of psychotropic Just Intonation harmonies.  Hell, it can even be an interactive one, as listeners can enhance their experience with their own Marian Zazeela-inspired light shows.

Late Music

The heart of this collection is, of course, Cantus, Descant, which was both the inaugural release for Davachi's Late Music imprint and the culmination of her recent fascination with sacred music and antique church organs.  Two organs in particular play a central role: a Van Straten pipe organ from 1479 located at Amsterdam's Orgelpark and a Story & Clark reed organ (1890s) situated in LA's wonderful Museum of Jurassic Technology.  Several other antique pipe organs turn up as well, but the Van Staten stands out as unique for reasons beyond its advanced age, as it was tuned to a "sixteenth century meantone temperament" and required the presence of a second person (Hans Fidom) to operate the bellows.  The Van Straten compositions form a kind of mini album of their own, as that organ was used for the five numbered "Stations" pieces.  Stylistically, however, the "Stations" cycle is fairly representative of the album’s overall aesthetic, which has a feel of floating, dreamlike suspension.  The liner notes provide plenty of interesting information about the inspirations and conceptual themes of the album, but the central idea of the album lies in the title: Davachi was primarily interested in the interplay between "cantus" (either unadorned singing or the sometimes improvisatory high voice in a polyphony) and "descant" (the larger structure).  Davachi expanded that into approaching the album as a dialogue between the individual and "the larger time and space" that they occupy.  In more practical terms, that guiding duality manifests itself in a series of slow-motion, droning reveries that gradually and subtly blossom into something more. 

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 September 2021 19:15 Read more...
 

Beatriz Ferreyra, "Canto+"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageRoom40 continues its campaign to celebrate this Argentinian composer's underheard body of work with a second volume of selected pieces very different from the voice- and field recording-centric fare of last year's Echos+.  That said, Canto+ does share its predecessor's curatorial aesthetic of combining pieces from her more prolific ‘70s heyday with more recent work and the differing eras sit quite comfortably together.  To some degree, Canto+ feels like a very synth-driven album, as there are plenty of modular synth sounds and textures fluttering and chirping around, but nailing down an overarching vision that unites these pieces is surprisingly elusive, as every piece is full of unexpected and surreal detours into unfamiliar terrain.  In fact, that elusiveness is arguably what most defines Ferreyra's work the most here, as a major recurring theme of Canto+ is the organically fluid and oft-surprising way in which these pieces evolve: they never linger very long in familiar melodic or structural territory, yet they always wind up getting somewhere unique and compelling.  Of the two Room40 collections, I still prefer Echos+ as a whole, but a  piece like "Canto del loco (Mad Man's Song)" would probably be a highlight on just about any release (Ferreyra-related or otherwise).  Ferreyra's vision can admittedly be challenging at times, but the rewards make it a journey well worth taking.

Room40

It is always a pleasant surprise when the best song on an album is also the longest and that is the case with the aforementioned "Canto del loco."  Happily, it delivers on its provocative title too, resembling the sort of hallucinatory tour de force that could only be brought to life by a mad genius, as Ferreyra alternately conjures a rubbery and rhythmic chorus of psychedelic frogs, an enchanted night meadow of flickering fireflies, an eruption of spectral banshees, and several other equally bizarre scenes over the course of the piece's twelve minutes.  Sometimes it also sounds like disjointedly alien and gelatinous synth blatting, but just about everything Ferreyra unleashes feels wildly unique, eerily beautiful, or unnervingly otherworldly.  It is definitely a ride that I did not want to end.  Fortunately, the pieces that follow are compellingly weird too (if somewhat less unrelentingly dazzling).  On "Pas de 3…ou plus," a hushed and hissing swirl of voices turns into something akin to an asteroid field before resolving into a dripping, gurgling, and echoing coda of liquid sounds.  Then the following "Jingle Bayle's" sounds like a scene in a whimsically haunted clocktower that blossoms into a full-on Lovecraftian nightmare.  I believe both of those pieces are more recent ones (composed nearly four decades after 1974's "Canto del loco"), but "Etude aux sons flegmatiques" returns to the '70s for another fine extended piece.  It initially sounds like a deep bell tone is supernaturally transforming into a lysergically bleary haze of shifting feedback, but ultimately blossoms into something resembling a simmering and understated noise guitar performance of amplified squeaks, creaks, and whines (I bet there is probably a Kevin Drumm album in a similar vein lurking somewhere in his vast discography).  The final piece then shifts gears yet again, as "Au revoir l’Ami" calls to mind ghosts flitting in and out of the shadows during an electroacoustic improv session in an abandoned and partially submerged factory.  All five pieces are impressive feats of mindfuckery, but I was most struck by the twisting and turning trajectories they each took to get there.  Beatriz Ferreyra is a composer like no other, as this album is like exploring a funhouse in which a new trapdoor is always poised to drop me somewhere even more unfamiliar.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 August 2021 09:56
 

DJ Plead, "Relentless Trills"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageNewly remastered by Rashad Becker and given a vinyl reissue, Relentless Trills first surfaced on cassette as part of Boomkat's eclectic Documenting Sound series devoted to home recordings made during the pandemic.  Given those origins, it makes sense that this full-length debut showcases a very different side of DJ Plead's artistry than his impressive run of oft-killer EPs.  Given that, curious listeners intrigued by the Australian producer's unique blend of cutting edge UK dance subgenres with Middle Eastern influences like dabke and mahraganat should probably head to 2020's Going For It EP first to experience the "out-of-control Lebanese wedding party" brilliance of prime DJ Plead before exploring this inspired detour.  That said, this surprisingly experimental, stripped-down, and post-punk-adjacent departure from his strengths is quite a compelling listen in its own right.  Boomkat's description rightly tosses around adjectives like "humid" and "sensual" to describe this bedroom DIY fantasia of floating Middle Eastern melodies and languorously simmering grooves, but that does not paint the entire picture, as Relentless Trills also masterfully dips its toes in hazy psychedelia, plunderphonics, and a hauntingly beautiful beatless synth piece.  The latter ("RT6") unexpectedly steals the show, as DJ Plead (Jarred Beeler) has a remarkably great ear for melody and atmosphere, yet this entire release is quite a singular, propulsive, and (of course) sensually humid experience from start to finish.

Boomkat Editions

This album instantly won me over within the first moments of its endearingly weird opener, which ingeniously marries a very insistent and ‘80s-sounding "funk punk" bass line with samples from some kind of Middle Eastern talk show.  There is also a cool Arabic synth melody running throughout the song, but my favorite part is how the talk show keeps unpredictably being autotuned into ephemeral melodies.  Talk show samples aside, "RT1" is fairly representative of the entire album, as nearly all of the sounds originate from the same Yamaha 'Oriental' keyboard.  Beeler's amusingly self-deprecating liner notes also state that he recorded lots of "self-indulgent melodic hooks" and initially set out to make a drum-less ambient album of sorts.  At some point, he changed his mind and added some simple rhythmic accompaniment ("I'm praying that this tape doesn't sound like Deep Forest") and ultimately landed upon something that resembles Gang of Four backing a virtuosic Middle Eastern wedding musician.  Notably, those "self indulgent" melodies are the best part of the album, as every song has some kind of wonderfully smoky, winding, or soulful hook that fluidly unfold over an obsessively repeating staccato groove (often dancehall-inspired, but more stark and thudding).  That "staccato" bit was an odd choice given how adept DJ Plead has been at unleashing vibrant and complex rhythms in the past, but the songcraft is strong enough to make it work despite that (it feels akin to watching a boxer handily demolish an opponent with one hand tied behind his back).  That said, "RT3" feels like an instant highlight primarily because the groove is allowed to flow a bit more than usual.  Then again, the closer dispenses with a beat altogether to combine a dreamily fluttering melody with a pulsing chord progression that feels like a psychedelically deconstructed house classic and it is absolutely gorgeous.  There is not a weak piece in the bunch though, as DJ Plead's melodic and songcraft instincts are remarkably unerring.  I cannot even begin to imagine how great the resultant album would be if he ever figures out how to seamlessly combine this side of his work with his usual rhythmic intensity.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 August 2021 11:37
 

Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective, "Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageUnraveling the discography and line-up mutations of this Ho Chi Minh City-based collective turned out to be quite an unexpected challenge, as they have been releasing full-lengths and EPs since at least 2014, yet this latest album is being billed as the project's debut.  I thought this might be the first release with "collective" appended to the group's name, but that is not the case either.  That said, the project now appears to be a trio consisting of original members Phạm Thế Vũ and Jung Buffalo, as well as relatively recent addition Zach Schreier (who ostensibly composed much of the album).  In any case, this latest release bears little stylistic resemblance to several of RCD's previous releases.  Much of that is likely due to the involvement of Berlin-based producer Ziúr, who alternately punched up the songs to Subtext's exactingly high standards, "reduced them to a cinder," or "beamed them into the fifth dimension."  Regardless of how this album took shape, it is quite a dazzling and deliriously kinetic achievement, resembling a freewheeling Carl Stone-esque plunderphonic tour de force of shapeshifting Vietnamese cultural fragments.

Subtext

The title of this album roughly translates "Sleeping Through the Apocalypse," which is a colorful yet remarkably apt description of the trio's dizzying and disorienting vision.  The "sleep" part is a bit misleading though, as this album more closely evokes the troubled, jumbled, and cacophonous dreams of an overstimulated and media-saturated mind in an increasingly unraveling world.  In more concrete terms, that means the album is a hyper-caffeinated maelstrom of surreal collisions and transformations.  I tend to loathe most releases that could be described as "aggressively genre-defying" or "like _____ in a blender," but there is a coherent overarching "sound collage" vision here that weaves all of those jarring shifts into a churning and warping near-masterpiece of mindfuckery.  Given that, trying to accurately describe even a single song is hopeless, as my notes are filled with phrases like "the most incredible Terry Riley song ever just became Vietnamese cloud rap karaoke."  The closing "Đme giựt mồng" that I just described is one of the album's stone-cold gems, but there are quite a few other highlights to be found as well.  Some other favorites are "Aztec Glue" ("dreamy pulsing synth reverie gets violently interrupted by an in-the-red Ben Frost remix") and pair of pieces that feel like they could be the work of a supernaturally possessed radio ("Eri Eri…" and "Infinite").  The former sounds like a deranged pile of overlapping stations or Carl Stone at his most kaleidoscopic and unstable, but the collective further spice things up with psychotically shifting speeds and an unexpectedly rapturous crescendo.  "Infinite," on the other hand, sounds like Vietnamese dance pop chopped and stretched into a stammering nightmare.  The stammering is especially impressive, as the piece sometimes feels like a cacophony of the world's airwaves is organically shaping into pulsing rhythms.  At other times, the album calls to mind free jazz, whale songs, or Popul Vuh and absolutely all of it is vividly fried, as this album is a gleefully shapeshifting feast of wide-ranging and inspired ideas from start to finish.  In fact, it feels favorably like channel-surfing through like a dozen different cool albums at once.  This is instantly one of my favorite albums in the Subtext canon.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 July 2021 13:34
 

Aaron Dilloway & Lucrecia Dalt, "Lucy & Aaron"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThe underground/experimental music world is full of promising-sounding collaborations that yield underwhelming or half-baked results, but Lucy & Aaron is a wonderfully refreshing exception to that recurring phenomenon.  Part of that success is likely due to the pair's long history together, as they have been fans of each other's work (and close friends) since meeting at a festival in Madeira back in 2010.  Moreover, Dalt and Dilloway have actually inspired and impacted each other's work over the years, which probably went a long way in setting the stage for such a natural-sounding and symbiotic blurring together of visions.  As Dalt puts it, "we crossed our signals, sometimes his affecting mine, or the other way around, we just wanted to make a fun, weird and inevitably emotive record that somehow captured so many things we love about music."  Naturally, Dilloway's endearingly disorienting and creepy tape loops tend to be the foundation for much of the album, as Dalt's own backdrops tend to be quite stark and minimal.  The mood of the album is quite a bit different from typical Dilloway fare, however, as Dalt's melodic influence transforms his obsessively repeating fragments of simmering psychotropic weirdness into a broken and playfully warped "pop" album like no other.

Hanson

The best summation I can come up with for this album's aesthetic is that it sounds like Lucrecia Dalt's already frayed and alien-sounding pop was fed through a nightmare machine set somewhere between "Kafkaesque" and "arty Giallo film."  There is nothing that feels outright malevolent or violent, but there is also nothing familiar and nearly all of it feels unsettling and disturbingly tactile.  The songs are roughly structured like pop songs, as there are vocal melodies, grooves, and sometimes even hook-like approximations of a chorus, yet all of it feels unrecognizably grimy, broken, and obsessive in a host of intriguing ways.  The entire album is a creepily surreal delight, as it is hard to imagine a single piece that could not be someone's favorite, but my current personal favorites are "The Blob," "Niles Baroque," and several of the weirdly beautiful psych-inspired pieces that come near the end of the album.  "The Blob" is probably the album’s most unexpected surprise, as it sounds like Pat Benatar made a dreampop album for 4AD but a deranged dub producer got his hands on it and replaced the entire rhythm section with one of those little wind-up monkeys with a drum.  "Niles Baroque" is similarly melodic (there are even dual vocal harmonies), but the groove is centered on a lurching bass throb that feels viscerally gelatinous.  Those two pieces, along with treble-ravaged and industrial-damaged single "Demands Of Ordinary Devotion," are the ones where Dalt and Dilloway's aesthetics most seamlessly combine into curdled pop pleasures, but I am also a huge fan of the outliers that feel like something I would not expect from either artist.  The best of those is probably "Tense Cuts," which sounds like a collaboration between a factory, a locked groove of church organ motif, an ASMR recording, and a broken speaker, but there are some even more unlikely moments that approximate a grim Russian ballroom dance ("Voyria") or fleetingly resemble '80s Legendary Pink Dots ("The Tunnel").  I could easily write a paragraph about every single piece here though, as each slithering tendril of this unholy pop union is memorable, unique, and unexpected in some way.  Lucy & Aaron is absolutely going to be all over "best of 2021" lists this December (my own included).

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 July 2021 13:31
 

TJO, "Dispatches from the Drift"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageAs alluded to in its title, Dispatches from the Drift is something of an accidental album, as it is a collection of keyboard improvisations that Tara Jane O'Neil informally recorded during the pandemic lockdown that were never intended for release.  In fact, many were casually recorded on her phone and most "were promptly forgotten," but O'Neil happened to stumble back upon them while digging around for fragments of inspiration that could blossom into fully formed songs.  These are not the ones met that criteria. but they amount to something similarly wonderful.  As O'Neil herself puts it, these pieces are the ones that "were not looking for a form or seeking to be known," so she decided to present them as they were without further polishing or embellishment ("complete, traveling pieces that resolve or simply end").  In lesser hands, such an album would feel like a series of unfinished sketches, but O'Neil's instincts regarding this experiment are remarkably unerring.  For the most part, the "keyboard improvisations" origin ensures that the album tends to linger in pleasantly blurred "ambient" territory, but there are quite a few striking surprises lurking here too (some very "dreampop" and some considerably more outré).  The entire album is quite a leftfield delight though, as it feels every bit as strong as O'Neil's more formal work.  Her inspiration simply took a different shape this time around.

Orindal

The album unexpectedly opens with a tenderly lovely piece that feels like a great would-be single, as the watery, quavering arpeggios and hushed vocals of "A Sunday 2020" feel plucked from a great This Mortal Coil album.  No other piece on the album revisits that particular territory, which is not surprising, as O'Neil notes that it is the one exception where she embellished the original take (with some subtle guitar).  She opted to include it anyway, however, as both the vocals and the keyboard part were improvised enough to give it thematic consistency with the rest of the pieces.  It also highlights an endearing thread that runs through the album, as Dispatches from the Drift seamlessly mingles warm nostalgia for a particular era of music with contemporary flourishes and a dreamlike timelessness that make everything feel fresh and pleasantly unfamiliar.  Moreover, O'Neil is impressively freewheeling in her stylistic inspirations.  Sometimes the album sounds like a lost recording from Eno's Apollo sessions, while other times it resembles one of Warren Defever's teenage tapes, an out-of-phase accordion drone piece, a prog-minded bagpipe collective, or a traditional folk ensemble experimenting with Slowdive's gear.  In every case, the results are invariably compelling.  To my ears, the strongest piece is "Wind With Dog," which is a wonderfully woozy and bittersweetly gorgeous feast of dancing, quivering melodies and ghostly overtones.  Elsewhere, O'Neil channels squirming heavy psych drones ("It's Been A Long Time"), a tropical steel drum band trying their hand at ceremonial trance music ("Ventura Tuesday"), and something akin to a stark, tremelo-heavy cover of a lovesick torch song.  Naturally, there is an informality and unpredictably loose structure to all of these pieces given their spontaneous origins, but that intimate, imperfect, and searching feel generally suits them just fine.  And sometimes I am even ambushed by something that feels like a wonderful premeditated set piece, such as when a haze of decaying notes forms a complex swirl of oscillations.  The beauty of the album is that none of those cool textural or harmonic surprises here were planned, as O’Neil essentially tricked herself into approaching music in an entirely different and instinctual way and plenty of happy accidents ensued.  In some ways, that approach makes it hard to point to any individual piece as a fully articulated and focused glimpse of perfection, but the album's warmly beautiful soft-focus mood and unexpected twists and turns add up to an unusually inspired, lovely, and immersive whole.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 August 2021 13:29
 

Midwife, "Luminol"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis latest album from Madeline Johnston takes its title from a forensic chemical that emits a blue glow when it comes in contact with blood at a crime scene.  That macabre yet beautiful transformation provides the album's guiding metaphor, as Johnston attempts the similar feat of "turning trial and tribulation into sources of light."  That is thematically familiar Midwife territory, of course, but Luminol feels like the beginning of a new phase stylistically, as these songs are simultaneously more anthemic and more starkly minimal than the project’s previous fare.  While that is not necessarily an unstable combination, Johnston does tone down her artier tendencies to fitfully showcase a newfound love of tighter songcraft and hard rock-inspired swagger.  That approach suits her unexpectedly well, as some of the better moments of Luminol resemble a hiss-ravaged shoegaze deconstruction of a power ballad by someone like Lita Ford, Pat Benatar, or Joan Jett, which is certainly something I was not expecting to encounter here.  Luminol is definitely more of an straightforward "rock" record than I anticipated.  For the most part, however, Johnston’s hazy, slow-motion, and abstracted homages to ‘80s and ‘90s rock radio work quite well, as this album seems to have instantly become a fan favorite.  Some fans of previous albums will likely miss Midwife's sharper edges, but I suspect most will warm to this more punchy and comparatively playful side of Johnston's art.

The Flenser

The album's release was preceded by a pair of singles that beautiful illustrate two of the divergent stylistic directions in this somewhat transitional-feeling phase.  My favorable is the ultra-minimal slow burn of the opening "God is a Cop," which is based upon little more than a descending keyboard melody and a repeating, hiss-soaked refrain of "I can't kill the evil thoughts."  Eventually Johnston expands upon those lyrics, but the most impressive facet of the piece is how she creates such a perfect simmering tension that every newly added note or embellishment feels like a glimpse of a tightly restrained underlying storm.  The closing "Christina’s World" is similarly minimal, but feels unexpectedly radiant and gospel-inspired, as it builds to a repeating group refrain of "show me the way" over some simple piano chords (though it is spiced up with some winding harmonized guitar parts in the periphery).  In between those two poles of dark and light lie a curious array of emotional shades and varying degrees of greatness. 

The more accessible end of the spectrum is represented by the slowly chugging "Enemy" (akin to a shoegaze-damaged mutation of '90s grunge) and another uplifting piano-driven piece in the vein of "Christina’s World" ("Promise Ring").  The latter has some appealing twists though, as Johnston sweetly sings "love will break your heart forever" like a fatalist mantra while a cool undercurrent of trippy guitars gradually intensifies.  It also features some very "hard rock" riff flourishes that are amusingly effective.  Aside from "God is a Cop," the strongest piece is probably the sole throwback to Midwife's earlier seething intensity, "Colorado," which uses the mantric repetition of a couple of rueful phrases as a foundation for killer guitar pyrotechnics somewhere between Pink Floyd and grinding noise.  Elsewhere, "2020" is the most fascinating piece, as Johnston jacks a chorus from The Offspring to approximate Joan Jett-style pop on a sleazy, druggy bender.  It sounds like the imaginary band that would be playing at an extremely hip club in an arty, neon-soaked cult film, which is a very cool niche to land in.  It also makes me wonder if there are other layers of pop culture appropriation happening elsewhere, as Luminol may very well be a bittersweet love letter to the ambient sounds of Johnston's past (she notes at another point that she is "born to run," for example).  Than again, maybe I am projecting all of that.  In any case, Luminol is yet another solid album from Midwife.  It does not quite rank among my personal pantheon of stone-cold Midwife masterpieces, but the great moments remain as powerful as ever.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 July 2021 13:28
 

Julian Sartorius, "Locked Grooves"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageWhen I first found out about this album, I was not quite sure how to feel about its ambitious structural premise, as the idea of a vinyl record with 112 locked grooves felt suspiciously like a willfully annoying conceptual art statement.  That said, I am unable to ever resist the allure of a killer drummer in an indulgent mood, so I was still quite eager to hear what Sartorius had planned for his unique format.  My first impression was a favorable one, as I have been on a bit of a Niagara bender and the shifting beat patterns here called to mind a slowed and deconstructed kindred spirit to the tour de force of "Sangandongo."  My next impression was mild exasperation, as I was not thrilled that every amazing beat lasted a mere minute before giving way to something new.  That revealed the appeal of the physical release though, as this album is packed full of hypnotic rhythms that would make absolutely trance-inducing infinite loops.  Naturally, that opens up a host of compelling interactive ways to experience the album, as it is a Pandora's box of multifarious percussive delights.  To some degree, I expected something in that vein (as far as gimmicks go, this is a very cool and well thought-out one), but I was still blindsided by both the sheer imagination of Sartorius's rhythms and the way the album as a whole feels like a transcendent psychedelic epic by the end.  As La Monte Young and others have decisively proven, sustained immersion in a very insistent and focused vision can feel like a remarkably profound and mind-rewiring experience.

-OUS

I listened to this album in its digital form, which doubtlessly provided a radically different experience than the vinyl.  Nevertheless, the building blocks are identical, as each numbered piece is essentially a 1.8 second loop allowed to play out for exactly one minute and one second.  Each piece segues seamlessly into the next with no space in between and all feel like they are roughly the same tempo, so the whole album has a hypnotically consistent flow.  At first, the beats seem cool but fairly straightforward, but indications that Sartorius has something more ambitious in mind begin to appear quickly, as he starts sneaking increasingly adventurous sounds, patterns, and flourishes into the insistent pulse.  I believe I was first hooked by skittering, off-kilter rhythm of the fourth piece, but that loop was soon eclipsed by even more killer beats, which themselves became eclipsed by still others as the album unfolded.  It is hard to nail down an overarching pattern to the sequencing, but there are occasional runs where Sartorius unleashes a flurry of dazzling loops in rapid succession and it all seems to cumulatively build into something wonderful.

Part of the album's brilliance is that those clusters tend to all be compelling for different reasons, as sometimes Sartorius works in a virtuosic fill, while other times he locks into an especially lurching, tumbling, or downright weird time signature without the slightest dip in the album's propulsive forward motion.  Sometimes it feels like I am being swept along by a tide, while other times it feels I am descending like an almost ritualistic rhythmic trance, which is an impressive feat for an album this ostensibly one-dimensional and purposely fragmented.  Notably, Sartorius used a "prepared" drum kit, which enables a surprisingly varied range of sounds and levels of textural complexity.  For example, "Locked Groove 084" feels like a killer hip-hop beat tape, while "Locked Groove 051" feels like it could be plucked from a Sublime Frequencies album and "Locked Groove 047" sounds like a futuristic industrial banger.  Other times, Sartorius locks into something that feels like Indian techno, a free jazz drummer going wild in a junkyard, or something absolutely alien-sounding, like the gurgling and clanging "Locked Groove 011."  Anyone looking for a great drummer showcasing a wildly imaginative array of beats will not be disappointed here, yet I was most surprised by how masterfully Sartorius overshot that mark to craft something considerably larger than the sum of its parts.  Sartorius's stated goal was that "listeners will experience these compositions like they would explore a painting," and he succeeded far beyond my expectations in that regard.  Locked Grooves is a deliciously rich vein that succeeds both as a whole and as a collection of compelling fragments that can be isolated and recontextualized into something equally fascinating.  As far as solo drummer albums go, Locked Grooves is high art that masterfully raises the bar for what is possible.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 July 2021 13:38
 

The House in the Woods, "Spectral Corridor"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis appears to be the first major release for this long-running (if fitful) Pye Corner Audio side project, as Martin Jenkins' previous albums under this alias have all been limited CD-Rs.  It certainly feels like a suitably strong statement for such an occasion.  In the words of Ecstatic, Spectral Corridor "treads the line between occult soundtrack and zonked out space jam," which is a fairly apt characterization of Jenkins' latest aesthetic evolution even if it does not quite do justice to the sublime beauty of some of these pieces.  According to Jenkins, this project draws its inspiration from "field recordings of walks through forests wielding finger chimes, long slow tape loops, treated guitars, elegiac organ tones, free running oscillator banks and chance operations," which mostly translates into slowly pulsing drones, subtle psychedelic touches, and a pervading air of shadowy mystery.  That said, Spectral Corridor sounds considerably different from its more lush 2013 predecessor Bucolica, as Jenkins clearly took the "spectral" part of the album title very seriously, distilling his synth-centric ambient/drone to a wonderfully haunted-sounding and elegantly brooding suite of gently phantasmagoric soundscapes.

Ecstatic

The album opens with a plinky yet insistent drum machine pattern that is quickly joined by a seesawing pulse of deep drones.  Eventually, the piece ("Tone Intervals") gets fleshed out with warmer harmonies, submerged melodic fragments, and a woozily oscillating thrum.  It is a perfectly executed slow burn, as Jenkins masterfully weaves together a handful of simple themes into a hypnotically swaying reverie that slowly builds in intensity and rhythmic complexity.  For that one piece, Jenkins seems like he is operating on a plane of inventive minimalism that few others can touch, as the purring, quavering, and gently heaving rhythm elevates a good piece into quite a great one.  The following "Spectral Corridor Part 4" is another highlight, albeit a very different and far more dramatic one.  For me, it evokes a cold sky full of eerily pulsing and twinkling stars, but it also sounds like some killer early '70s space synth guy scoring a film about a macabre bit of forest folklore.  Yet another gem is the tenderly languorous dreamscape "Quadratic," which unfolds like warm waves lapping the shore of an enchanted grotto.  It is by far the most nakedly beautiful piece on the album and feels like a perfectly crafted loop that could extend forever, but Jenkins also performs some neat textural sleight of hand, as it steadily takes on a more hissing and quivering character as it folds.  To my ears, the rest of the album does not quite hit the same heights, but it is impressively solid nonetheless, as Jenkins alternates between more minimal drone pieces and something akin to Tangerine Dream scoring a scary and intense film set in a space station or futuristic city (a description that applies to much of the four-part title suite).  Fans of retro-futurist synth atmospheres will especially dig the latter, as that is one realm where Jenkins truly excels.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 July 2021 13:47
 

Dolphin Midwives, "Body of Water"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageI loved Sage Fisher's last album (the wonderful and hallucinatory Liminal Garden), so I was quite eager to find out how she would follow such a unique vision.  Now that Body of Water has been released, I have my answer and it is very much an expectation-subverting one.  While the harp arguably remains Fisher's primary instrument, her vocals take a much more prominent role with this latest opus.  That is a twist, certainly, but it is not THE twist, which is that Fisher enlisted the aid of acclaimed producer Tucker Martine to craft a suite of songs that feels like a sensual and psychotropic strain of outsider R&B.  Whether it is close enough to the real thing to make an impact beyond underground electronic music circles remains to be seen, but Fisher's stylistic reinvention is an extremely cool and surprising one regardless.  Admittedly, it took me a few listens to fully warm to the unabashed pop hooks that fill this album, but Fisher's more lysergic impulses are never far away, resulting in an immersive swirl of delightful mindfuckery anchored by memorable hooks, simmering grooves, and a newly unveiled soulfulness.

Beacon Sound

After a brief yet surreal introduction of cooing looped vocals and skipping Oval-esque electronics, the autotuned R&B of the title piece reveals the unexpected new direction.  When I listened to the album initially, I kept waiting for "Body of Water" to cleverly derail into more hallucinatory and abstract territory, but that moment never came.  The vocals are processed into semi-artificiality and there is an eerily ghostly atmosphere, but the piece is otherwise straight-up melodic pop, as Fisher's inner dance diva belts out a sultry melody over a stark backdrop of deep bass, slow kick drum, and a quietly simmering haze of electronics.  Rather than a fluke, that piece is a statement of intent that sets the tone for all that follows.  That pop-inspired side reaches its apotheosis with "Clearing," which could easily be mistaken for a killer Portishead remix.  At the opposite end of the spectrum are a couple of stellar harp pieces: the rippling and gently heaving psychedelia of "Fountain" and the swooningly melodic "Idyll."  The remainder of the songs evoke the artfully glitchy and pixelated pop of an imagined cyberpunk future, but Fisher keeps things stark, weird, and intimate enough to make that seem like an appealing trajectory.  "Capricorn" is a particular highlight, resembling some kind of spaced-out synth-driven future funk that is wonderfully unstable and out of phase.  Elsewhere, I loved "Break," which gradually transforms into a delirious swirl of pitch-shifted voices suggesting a chopped and screwed Enya classic, as well as the frayed and shuddering vocal loops of the two-part "Hummingbird."  In fact, I like just about everything on this album, as even the most straightforwardly melodic pieces are inventive and art-damaged enough to stand out as compelling, fresh, and unique.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 July 2021 07:56
 

Robert Gerard Pietrusko, "Elegiya"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis is Pietrusko's first solo album under his own name, but sound art enthusiasts will likely remember his previous outing as Six Microphones (2019).  Elegiya is a radically different release, however, as it comfortably fits within the more ambient/drone side of Room40's aesthetic on its surface. Beneath the surface, however, lies a roiling emotional intensity that sometimes becomes downright volcanic.  As befits the album's title, Pietrusko drew his inspiration from elegies, but does so in a very unconventional way, as he was most fascinated by themes of repetition and shifting context.  As he himself puts it, "the creation and performance of an elegy, however, is not an experience of this original sorrow but is instead its repetition."  The more interesting part, however, is that Pietrusku "attempts to capture the contradictory condition of a macro-level stasis versus a tumultuous interior."  In more practical terms, that means that Elegiya transforms five piano motifs into a suite of beautifully melancholy ambient pieces that self-destruct into frayed, blown-out eruptions of emotional catharsis.

Room40

The album kicks off in supremely crushing fashion with the epic "Pershing Red Skies," which sets an impossibly high bar for everything that follows.  The piece deceptively opens with warm swells of billowing chords, but that proves to be a mirage, as everything gradually becomes sharper, louder, and more frayed en route to being ripped open by seismic waves of juddering synth-like tones.  At times it favorably calls to mind Oval or Tim Hecker, but it mostly feels like an great ambient piece whose wake of overtones unexpectedly refracted back something roaring, alive, and all-consuming (like a feedback monster attacking heaven).  While "Pershing Red Skies" is unquestionably the album's zenith, the other eight pieces offer similarly deft variations of the same nightmarish inversion.  For example, "Iru Descent" sounds like a ghostly factory that manufactures clouds of menacing dissonance, while "UTM 39N" feels like thick, viscous drones slowly undulating and oozing across a desolate prairie towards a distant train.  The latter is my second favorite piece on the album, but just about everything on Elegiya blossoms into a memorably intense crescendo of some kind.  Usually that crescendo resembles something akin to a Tim Hecker album getting sucked into a gnarled, curdled, and squirming extradimensional horror, which is just fine by me.  That said, Pietrusko proves impressively inventive in finding cool news ways to ravage beauty, such as transforming heavenly choruses into snarling, infernal roars or materializing a demonically possessed Victrola inside a quietly churning, hissing soundscape.  Given how unrecognizably mutilated some passages feel, I have no idea which instruments Pietrusko's palette included beyond piano, but the whole album feels like someone opened a Pandora's Box of corroded classical music fragments and enigmatic field recordings that transform a somber occasion into something far more visceral and unpredictable.  Pietrusko has achieved something truly impressive with Elegiya, crafting a poignant, haunted-sounding drone opus that is repeatedly torn apart from within by a clawing, thrashing elemental force.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 July 2021 21:56
 

Kleistwahr, "Winter"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageBack in 2019, Helen Scarsdale celebrated its 50th release with a ten-cassette wooden box, On Corrosion, that immediately sold out.  While I did manage to pounce on that landmark release in time to get one, I have not spent nearly enough time with it, as absorbing ten full-length albums is quite a herculean time commitment.  Consequently,  I was delighted to see that the label had embarked upon a campaign to reissue some (or all) of its contents and that they were starting with this bombshell from Gary Mundy's long-running Kleistwahr guise.  Being a casual fan of Ramleh and the Broken Flag milieu, I thought I had a solid idea of what to expect from this project (noise, possibly involving guitars), but the striking and unique beauty of this album completely blindsided me.  It is fitting that Winter debuted on a release entitled On Corrosion, as it has the feeling of an achingly gorgeous drone album that has been corroded and ravaged into something texturally complex and viscerally soulful.

Helen Scarsdale

Due to its original cassette format, Winter is roughly presented as two twenty-minute sides, but each side features two pieces that segue into each other.  "We Sense It Through the Even Snow" kicks off the album with the first of its two god-tier highlights, as buzzing, shifting, and smearing organ drones unpredictably form knots of dissonance while harpsichord-like melodies make me feel like I am imprisoned in a darkly enchanted music box.  It becomes incredibly gorgeous at some points, but its mesmerizing dream-like trajectory nearly becomes consumed by an engulfing roar of roiling noise (imagine heaven suffering through a brief plague of psychedelic locusts).  That piece segues into the more infernal mindfuck "Rust Eats the Future," which sounds like Purple Rain-era Prince's evil twin unleashing ugly, gnarled shredding over a sinister bed of deep, dissonant bell-like tones.  Things only continue to get weirder, but the album returns to more beautiful and melodic terrain as the second side opens with another masterpiece, "The Solstice Will Not Save Us."  It is built upon a looping semi-melodic howl, but that hook is surrounded by an absolutely feral-sounding maelstrom of noisy guitars and chords that seem to catch fire and burn away.  It feels like a hallucinatory fireworks display over a dying world and easily rivals anything I have heard from other celebrated purveyors of fucked-up guitars.  Amusingly, the piece I love the most is immediately followed by one called "Everything We Loved Is Gone."  However, that closer is quite strong in its own right, as Mundy makes the air come alive with buzzing high frequencies while evoking a lonely, clanking train slowly chugging through a shimmering and spectral dreamscape.  All four pieces are excellent, but at least two of them reach a level of sublime brilliance that absolutely floored me.  I had no idea that Mundy's art had evolved to this level.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 July 2021 22:01
 

Tasos Stamou, "Antiqua Graecia"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis London-based electroacoustic composer/instrument builder/DIY electronics enthusiast has been engaged in projects and activities for more than a decade now, but this latest album is the first time his singular vision crossed my path.  Antiqua Graecia is the final release of a Greek-themed trilogy that began with 2018's Musique con Crète, though there is also a fourth related work that surfaced on Chocolate Monk last year (Greek Drama).  The series is the fruit of an extended creative research project that initially began with a residency, but blossomed into repeat summer visits to Crete to hunt for traditional music albums, perform with local musicians, and make field recordings.  While I have not fully absorbed the entire series yet, Antique Graecia feels like a significant creative leap forward from previous installments, as Tamou's earlier Greek forays resemble a Sublime Frequencies album dissolved into a fever dream: there was a clear reverence for the source material, yet Tamou's sound collages imbued traditional music with a murky, spectral character.  With Antiqua Graecia, Tamou decided to go for broke, gleefully chopping and layering folk songs in a wonderfully psychotropic fantasia.  I find all of the strains of Tamou's Greek series to be compelling, but this album is the one that most beautifully transcends tradition to feel like something wonderful and new.

Ikuisuus

This is an album of top-tier psychedelic mindfuckery from start to finish, which makes it very hard to describe with any concise generalizations, but a rough summary like "a supernatural fun house at the center of a Greek street fair" is probably a solid starting point.  There is a distinct arc, however, as the first few drone-based pieces steadily deepen my immersion in Tamou's otherworldly fantasia to prime me for the wilder plunges to come.  For example, "Madoura" sounds like a nightmarishly insectoid cacophony of buzzing bagpipe-like drones, while the following "Poor Mum" sounds like mid-90s Dead Can Dance made a lysergic soundscape from Nonesuch Explorer classics.  We then pass through something akin to a flickering and phantasmagoric Scottish parade in a haunted jungle ("Oil Wrestling"), a phantom rembetiko song with an electronic doppelganger ("Taki’s Sorrow"), and a Lisa Gerrard-sung DCD classic consumed by a sickly, dissonant delirium of smeared chimes ("A Woman's Moan").  All are a delight, but the album fully catches fire with the sixth piece, "Just Pagan."  It begins as a psychotropic throb of heavy electronic drones and surreal, jumbled, and haunting layers of melody and field recordings, but gradually transforms into a heartsick folk dance.  The following "Epitaph" is yet another highlight, as the gong of a church bell leaves a ringing, bleary haze of high frequencies that morphs into a squirming, menacing electronic buzz mingled with a chanting street procession.  The final piece brings that trend of escalating otherworldliness to its curious crescendo, as it feels like a cathedral is invaded by a churning, honking, and squawking cacophony (and a cow) before everything dissolves into a disarmingly sweet and calm rustic oasis.  Tamou truly outdid himself with this tour de force, as all of these eight songs seamlessly blur sacred and traditional sounds with vivid, multilayered psychedelia in impressively singular fashion.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 July 2021 22:02
 

Don Zilla, "Ekizikiza Mubwengula"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis debut full-length from Ugandan producer Zilla is something of a much-anticipated event, as his Boutiq studio is a crucial part of the killer underground music scene centered around Kampala's Nyege Nyege Tapes.  Ekizikiza Mubwengula was additionally anticipated because it is the follow up to an absolute monster of a single that Zilla released in 2019 on Nyege Nyege's club music-themed sub-label Hakuna Kulala.  While this latest release is on that same imprint, these songs are considerably wilder and weirder than the more straightforward (and relentlessly, viscerally danceable) "From the Cave."  With Ekizikiza Mubwengula, Zilla shoots right past the cutting edge of contemporary dance music and lands somewhere akin to an industrial-damaged dance deconstruction of Rashad Becker's deeply alien Music for Notional Species.  Predictably, I am the exact demographic for such a gleefully unhinged tour de force, and this would be the ideal soundtrack for a party occurring exclusively in my head.  Yet it is quite a challenge to imagine songs this pointedly hookless and aggressively outré packing the floors of any but the craziest clubs on earth.  Granted, there are a handful of more straightforward pieces here too (Zilla's production is as exacting and punchy as ever), but those will not be the ones that people most remember.

Hakuna Kalala

If Ekizikiza Mubwengula has anything at all that could be considered a follow-up single to "From the Cave," it would be the killer closer "Ekivuuma."  It even caused some spontaneous dancing to erupt in my apartment, as it remains infectiously rhythmic despite its many nightmarish and darkly hallucinatory elements.  Zilla is something of a virtuoso at crafting heavy industrial-inspired grooves, and "Ekivuuma" is one of his finest creations in that regard, as a skittering, lurching beat and woodpecker-like percussion drag a rumbling bass throb through a lysergic jungle of otherworldly animal howls.  It is the best song on the album, but it takes that honor primarily because it feels like the most fully formed.  It would admittedly be nice if the other eight pieces felt less like cool percussion vamps, but the consolation prize is that said vamps are invariably inventive, unique, and intensely physical.  I am especially fond of "Full Moon," which sounds like a strangled tuba leading a shambling parade of cartoon monsters.  Lamentably, it is probably too brief to make my personal highlight reel, but the jackhammering, seismic onslaught of “Entambula” is not.  I particularly enjoyed the chopped and stammering vocal hook, as it is one of the rare flashes of human warmth or melody on the album (albeit in brutally mangled form).  For the most part, Ekizikiza Mubwengula feels like a broadcast from the dance floor of an alienating, futuristic dystopia where all melody has been replaced with air raid sirens, ominous machine hum, and broken, gnarled, and unrecognizable deconstructions of samples.  It is an incredibly striking and instinctive aesthetic for sure, but it is best experienced in bracing, single-song doses, as the relentless industrial bludgeoning starts to yield diminishing returns as an album-length assault.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 July 2021 22:02
 

Dave Seidel, "Involution"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis challenging and overwhelming double album is my first exposure to this NH-based composer, and it was quite a synapse-frying introduction to his uncompromising vision.  While Seidel has only been releasing albums as a composer for the last decade or so, he was an active part of NYC's flourishing Downtown music scene in the '80s, and his work feels like it is spiritually descended from that era.  Or perhaps from even before that, as he cites Alvin Lucier and La Monte Young as key influences.  Unlike most artists inspired by Young, however, Seidel did not stop at dabbling in Just Intonation.  Instead, he took "Young's ideal of previously unheard sounds, those that may engender new sensations and emotions in the listener" and ran with it, delving even deeper into unusual tunings until he could bring to life the sonorities that he was chasing.  In practical terms, that means that the two compositions here ("Involution" and "Hexany Permutations") are longform drone works teaming with strange and buzzing harmonic collisions, which makes Phill Niblock's XI Records exactly the right home for this epic.  While I suspect many people will find Seidel's single-minded and no-frills approach to conjuring unfamiliar sounds intimidatingly difficult, this album will definitely make a big impression on anyone fascinated by the physics and physicality of sound.

XI Records

Dave Seidel is not the first artist to be inspired by the work of Alvin Lucier, but the album that struck him was not one of the usual classics.  Instead, Seidel found himself fascinated by a more recent composition, "The Orpheus Variations," which was "based on a particular sonority from the first movement of Igor Stravinsky's ballet score, Orpheus; a sonority that has haunted Lucier for decades."  I find "sonority" to be an elusive quality to define, but Lucier's notes on The Orpheus Variations album provide some clarity for what Seidel is attempting, as Lucier views sonority as a sort of phantom energy field that sometimes forms from the unpredictable interactions of waveforms.  On Involution, Seidel exactingly employs a modular synthesizer and CSound to conjure one ghostly, buzzing energy field after another like a sorcerer.  He succeeds most beautifully with the three-part "Involution," which resembles an endlessly shifting feedback sculpture in which alien dissonances take shape and dissolve into buzzing drones.  It calls to mind a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat, as it is a series of pregnant lulls punctuated by blossoming microtonal events that make the air feel humming and alive.  The six-part "Hexany Solution" feels like a darker, more disconcertingly alien variation of the same phenomenon, as it exists in an uncanny valley that transforms melody into something that feels wrong and grotesque.  It reminds me of Michael Gordon's Decasia, suggesting a time-stretched recording of an out-of-tune string quartet that feels unnervingly artificial, as though someone who never heard a cello was trying to reproduce its sound waves with a modular synthesizer.  I mean that as a compliment, as otherworldly harmonies and tunings rarely yield comforting and consonant sensations, yet Seidel's queasy and unsettling sound fields are very much not for the dissonance-averse.  Given that and the complete absence of any firmer melodic or textural ground, immersing myself in Involution for its full two-plus hour duration is a bit of an endurance test, yet I am nevertheless fascinated by the unique and reality-bending soundscapes that Seidel brings vividly to life.  This is challenging and adventurous sound art unlike nearly anything else that I have heard.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 July 2021 22:03
 

Motion Sickness of Time Travel, "If We Were Landscapes"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThere was a period between 2010 and 2013 in which Rachel Evans seemed like a universally celebrated and ubiquitous figure in the "experimental music" milieu, as she released a flurry of tapes and LPs on a variety of great labels in a very short span.  Since then, she has embraced a considerably more quiet and homespun approach to her art, self-releasing a steady and increasingly eclectic stream of limited edition tapes/CDrs/art objects to the delight of fans like myself.  This latest release is an especially divergent and ambitious one, as Evans rarely releases vinyl and even more rarely shifts her focus towards acoustic instrumentation or conventional songcraft.  The latter deserves an asterisk though, as there is only one brief song lurking within these two longform soundscapes and it largely appears in submerged form, but it is still quite a good one regardless.  While the appearance of that surprise song is very much an album highlight, it is just one part of a larger and wonderfully hallucinatory whole. In fact, If We Were Landscapes is strong evidence that the golden age of Motion Sickness of Time Travel is still unfolding and that Evans' acclaimed run of albums like Seeping Through the Veil of Unconscious was actually just the tip of an expanding iceberg of future delights.

Self-Released

I am not sure how the vinyl or CD versions of this release sound, but something noteworthy about the digital version is that it has an extremely quiet mix (so much so that I actually punched up the gain with software).  I mention that primarily because this is an album that demands some real volume, as one of its most wonderful aspects is how Evans fluidly and stealthily blurs and transforms her moods and motifs.  The opening "Self-Portrait in Decay" is a perfect introduction, as slowly heaving cello drones blossom into a layered fantasia of backwards vocals, elusive violin melodies, and deep moaning strings.  Initially, it seems like a faint transmission of a ‘70s folk song is getting picked up by her amp, then it sounds like she is playing violin along with a lovely ballad on the radio, then it gradually emerges that Evans herself is the soulful balladeer.  It is an absolutely gorgeous interlude and easily ranks among my favorite passages in Evans' discography.  However, that swooning crescendo does not impede the evolving mindfuckery one bit. The second half of the piece dissolves that song fragment into a shimmering haze of uneasy harmonies, reversed melodies, and a menacing host of darker, sharper tones.  The following "Your Layered Silhouette, Unwinding" is similarly brilliant, as another reversed melody winds its way into a curdled orchestral nightmare, then gradually melts into a coda akin to a ravaged tape of an organ hymn.  Both pieces are fascinating and complex plunges into vividly realized and darkly psychotropic soundworlds, which makes If We Are Landscapes one hell of an album.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 05 July 2021 08:52
 

Kyle Bobby Dunn, "The Cohesive Redundancies-P1"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis is the first installment of "an ongoing album series with an undecided end point examining futility and beauty."  Those are hardly new themes for Kyle Bobby Dunn, so I am not sure why they needed their own series, but any new KBD opus is fine by me.  Dunn is a unique figure in the ambient drone milieu for a number of reasons, but the most significant for me is his unique gifted for crafting soundscapes with a very real emotional intensity at their core.  When he directly hits the mark with a composition like "Triple Axel on Cremazie" or "The Searchers," he achieves something poignant and transcendent that is damn hard to come by.  I suppose one caveat with Dunn's work is that such moments are usually hidden within sprawling double-, triple-, or quadruple-LP epics, but this latest album is a more focused and concise release.  More importantly, the bulk of the album is devoted to the absolutely sublime 48-minute "Fantasia on a Theme of Affection."  The other two pieces are memorable as well, arguably making this the closest that Dunn has come to releasing an "all killer, no filler" masterpiece.

Self-Released

"Thresholding" kicks off the album in striking and surprising fashion, as Dunn unleashes an industrial-sounding drone that oscillates slowly and menacingly.  Gradually that foundation is subtly fleshed out with additional depth and harmonic color, but the most compelling part is the murky undercurrent of dissonance that roils within.  While it never intensifies enough to consume its surroundings (it is the album’s shortest piece), Dunn does manage to resolve it in startling fashion with a nightmarishly plunging pitch-shift.  I did not expect such a cold and alienating piece from Dunn, but it is masterfully crafted, and I loved the simmering uneasiness beneath the drones.  That said, it is immediately eclipsed by the dream-like reverie of "Fantasia on a Theme of Affection."  On its surface, it is not a radical departure for Dunn, as a ghostly see-sawing guitar motif languorously unfolds over a backdrop of shimmering haze.  However, it stealthily amasses deepening harmonies and an aching poignance as it lingers in a state of billowing suspended animation.  It is the sort of piece that I could enjoy in an endless loop, as Dunn's attention to textural detail is truly something to behold.  Nearly every sound is spectral, hissing, smeared, quivering, or enigmatic in a beautifully hypnagogic, soft-focus way.  The album closes with the divergent "Pavane for the Internal Monologue," which is centered on a repeating, bittersweet piano chord and its long, lingering decay.  Eventually, a hesitant melody emerges, and the piece moves closer to the liquid shimmer of Harold Budd, yet the real show lies in the space between the notes, as dissolving tones form murky harmonies, and quiet sounds of wood and shuffling paper start to evoke an enigmatic sense of place.  While the bookends do not quite hit the same heights as the album's centerpiece, all three pieces are strong enough to make this one of Dunn's finest albums to date.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 July 2021 21:59
 

"Strain Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List Volume Two (Germany)"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageAs a longtime Nurse With Wound fan, I have always been a bit amused and perplexed by the almost-religious reverence that people continue to have for Steven Stapleton's famous list.  For one, it is hard to process that there was once a teenager in the '70s who was so cool that adults all over the world would spend the next forty years trying to replicate his record collection.  Secondly, it seems like any underground bands from that era who have managed to remain obscure until now have probably earned that fate for valid reasons, as there have been plenty of blogs and reissue labels tirelessly unearthing and championing freaky sounds since the advent of the internet.  Consequently, when this series was announced, I wondered what could still possibly be left undiscovered.  That said, the idea of a Stapleton-curated tour of the most outré and adventurous prog, jazz, and avant-garde artists of the early- and mid-1970s still packs quite an appeal for me, so I am delighted that this better-late-than-never series exists.  It admittedly took me a while to warm to the French volume, as I tend to run screaming from proggy indulgence and unfiltered Dada antics and there was plenty of both, but there were definitely some gems as well.  Unsurprisingly, this stronger second volume features an even higher proportion of such gems, as it is not a mere coincidence that krautrock had a larger cultural impact than its French counterpart.

Finders Keepers

Much like the first volume, this latest one is packed full of unfamiliar names, which is an impressive feat given how deeply fans have mined '70s German music for killer obscurities.  I was, however, vaguely familiar with Wolfgang Dauner and Limpe Fuchs beforehand, probably because they are responsible for some of the album’s most weird and cacophonous moments and that tends to be my wheelhouse.  Dauner's piece, for example, sounds like several fusion bands falling down a flight of stairs, while Anima-Sounds' piece captures a (possibly nude) Fuchs wildly free-drumming and yelping along with a sliding and blurting chaos of homemade instruments.  It is easy to see how the latter would have blown some goddamn minds at the time, though it does leave something to be desired in the realm of songcraft.  The bulk of the album's other luminaries tend to exist in a gray area where jazz, prog, and psychedelia all blur together into unfamiliar new strains.  For example, Association P.C.'s "Scorpion" resembles a Miles Davis-less Bitches Brew session,  while the feral-sounding Exmagma call to mind Richard Hell or James Chance fronting King Crimson.  Elsewhere, My Solid Ground evokes a baffling collision of This Heat and early Coil with the organ bombast of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.  I dearly wish the latter element was absent, but the non-organ passages are right up my alley.  That said, the most wonderful surprises are the two lengthy jams that close the album.  In Thirsty Moon's "Big City," a very NWW-sounding percussion motif steadily builds into a heavy rolling groove flavored with subtle elements of sound collage that rivals much of Can's stronger work.  Gomorrha's "Trauma" is similarly driven by a muscular beat, but instead blossoms into a molten tour de force of spacey psychedelia.  Yet another favorite is the hallucinatory marching band mindfuck of erstwhile Neu!/Kraftwerk member Eberhard Kranemann's "Fritz Müller" guise.  The rest of the songs make a compelling and varied suite of inspired oddities, but the Gomorrha, Thirsty Moon, and Fritz Müller pieces all felt revelatory enough to trigger an immediate album-hunting binge.  While Steven Stapleton has been one of my favorite artists for ages, it is now dawning on me that he is one hell of a great curator as well.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 July 2021 07:06
 

Kink Gong, "Zomianscape I -II"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageIt is quite a daunting task to keep up with Laurent Jeanneau's massive, continually expanding, and oft-challenging discography, but his vinyl releases always tend to be strong and focused statements worth investigating.  In that regard, Jeanneau is having quite a great year, as this latest LP is his third excellent album of 2021 (Kink Gong's Zomia Vol. 1 and Sublime Frequencies' Mien (Yao) being the other two).  Zomianscape continues Jeanneau's fascination with "Zomia," which is a half-conceptual/half-geographic term for the ethnic minorities in the hills and mountains of Southeast Asia who live outside national laws and customs.  The term was first coined by historian Willem van Schendel in 2002, but it was James C. Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia that particularly struck Jeanneau, as he conceived of the Zomia series as a "mythological soundscape inspired by a semi-utopic region where state rules don't apply."  The raw material for these first two longform "Zomianscapes" was recorded over ten years in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and China, but the boundaries between individual cultures, field recordings, and Jeanneau's own contributions are beautifully dissolved into a mesmerizing stew of hallucinatory sound collage.  I suppose Zomia Vol. I achieved a similar end in more bite-sized doses, but this follow up offers a deeper, more immersive plunge.

ESITU

Even with the aid of Jeanneau's thorough notes about the content of each piece, it is a hopelessly impossible task to try to describe what happens in either of these two Zomianscapes in any kind of detail.  For the most part, however, both pieces are a shape-shifting swirl of traditional lutes, hand percussion, panpipe-like mouth organs, and a wide array of singing and speaking voices from a cast of talented contributors such as "Bulang Lawa Man and Drunk Wife."  In the album description, Jeanneau mentions that he simultaneously (and fatefully) discovered the Ocora and GRM labels as a teen, which concisely conveys significant insight into the unique collision of impulses shaping the Kink Gong aesthetic.  In practical terms, Jeanneau's ocora-inspired devotion to recording and preserving rarely heard traditional music means that the absolute baseline for any Kink Gong album is "there will probably be voices, instruments, and melodies unlike anything I have ever heard before."  Naturally, each Kink Gong album is shaped significantly by the character of the recordings Jeanneau uses as well as the degree of GRM-style electronic experimentation.  The latter is abundant on Zomianscapes, as each piece is vibrant, hallucinatory, layered, and endlessly in flux (and both pieces are great).  The warbly mouth organ in the opening piece calls to mind a traditional Laotian variation of Fennesz's Endless Summer in its early moments, but soon embarks upon a trip through a lysergic fog of fragmented voices and twanging strings en route to a hypnotic finale of looping vocal melody.  The second piece is even better still, as it slowly blossoms from metal percussion into a haunting chorus of chanting women over quavering drones.  For his final trick, Jeanneau then dissolves it all into a smeared and hissing crescendo of ringing metal, clapping hands, and an escalating roar of garbled voices and murky dissonance.  While I have only experienced a mere fraction of Kink Gong's 100+ albums at this point, this one is definitely a favorite among the ones I have heard.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 05 July 2021 15:50
 

Limbs Bin, "Burnt White Elephant"

E-mail Print PDF

cover image Western Massachusetts' loudest deadhead Josh Landes has followed up his live set Unrelenting Barrage of Flowers and Amethyst Energy from last year with a new studio album (well, at 18 minutes, it counts as an album in the noisecore world) that furthers his legacy of intensity and absurdity.  Balancing electronic blowouts with creative field recordings, it is another disc of explosive fun.

Damien Records

Admittedly, these 23 songs (that are only around 30 seconds each in length) sound like broken up segments of three longer pieces rather than individual pieces.  They flow consistently into one another, with each track marker opening with a vocal outburst and what sounds like Landes restarting the max BPM drum machine.  Beyond that, the sizzling electronics and sputtering noises continue uninterrupted from one short burst to the next. Burnt White Elephant makes for the most chaotic of his albums that I have heard thus far, with the erratic electronics blasting from beginning to end, but never in the form of loops or anything sequenced.  It is more like Landes set his gear up and just rolls it down a hill, and I mean that as a compliment.

Around these short blasts, he includes a series of field recordings captured around the Berkshires region, something like "Wormholes and Megaliths" featuring what sounds like rain and passing by a jazz band, while "Van Deusenville Railroad Blues" is exactly what it sounds like:  the sound of trains passing through.  The album closes on “Harry Bids You Goodnight” which is just shy of one minute of a snoring cat.  Intentional or not, Burnt White Elephant seems like a day in the life of a noise artist:  harsh, distorted art outbursts punctuated with the quiet mundane nature of life.

Like every Limbs Bin release I have heard, Josh Landes again blends the intense with the absurd.  His work is as aggressive or violent sounding as any great harsh noise/power electronics/whatever genre release should, but devoid of the macho posturing or juvenile provocation.  Instead it is just the right amount of silliness that makes the chaos and hostility fun, without dulling its impact in the slightest.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 05 July 2021 08:54
 

Band of Pain/SRMeixner, "Priti Deceit"

E-mail Print PDF

cover image Taking a cue from the politicization of the COVID pandemic, Band of Pain (Steve Pittis) and Contrastate's Stephen Meixner teamed up for this collaborative single, with each taking the lead on a solo piece, and then a balanced collaboration to conclude.  Heavily based on samples of speeches and news reports, it is certainly a politically charged work, but one that remains heavily rooted in both artists’ post-industrial and absurdist sensibilities.

Dirter Promotions

Band of Pain's "Priti Vacunt" is pretty overt in the target of their ire:  UK Home Secretary Priti Patel.  A self-described right wing hardliner, Patel was involved in a lobbying scandal around COVID-19 contracts, which is where most of this disgust comes from.  The piece itself is a myriad of echoed speech samples and bent electronic tones.  The droning, open spaces are unrelentingly bleak, with an insincere sounding sample of “sorry” punctuating the less identifiable moments.  In the closing minutes Pittis brings in a thin, distorted rhythmic thump that is all too short.

On the other side of this 10", the Meixner helmed "Deceit" opens up with some pummeling drum programming, but soon the focus is shifted to some American evangelical preacher’s ranting about the disease and vaccination as a noisy, somewhat melodic passage is paraded through.  What sounds like even further treated voice samples become an additional element, and Meixner utilizes an intentionally jerky stop/start dynamic throughout.  The concluding collaboration "End Result" features less in the way of obvious voice samples but instead fragments of speech or other sounds, pulled apart and reconstructed into something entirely different.  The layering is complex and the ambiguity is unsettling, bordering on creepy.

Contemporary political and social criticism aside, the two Steves have created a compelling single that certainly falls in line with their other works as Band of Pain and Contrastate.  Idiosyncratic processing, heavily treated samples, noisy outbursts and even the occasional hint of rhythm feature heavily here.   Tempered with just the right amount of black humor (fitting the topic at hand perfectly), the final product reminded me of the unconventional and challenging sample heavy music that was coming out of the UK industrial scene during the mid 1990s (which makes sense given the inception of these projects), but still sounding completely contemporary, nicely hinting at nostalgia while staying modern and fresh.

Last Updated on Monday, 05 July 2021 08:56
 

Keiji Haino / Jim O'Rourke / Oren Ambarchi, "Each side has a depth of 5 seconds..."

E-mail Print PDF

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a2652108554_16.jpgRecorded live at Tokyo’s Super Deluxe club in 2017, this trio's 10th release is dedicated to Hideo Ikeezumi, founder of the incredible P.S.F. label and Modern Music store who died the same day. Mr.Ikeezumi was a fierce and relentless advocate for Japan’s underground scene and an early champion of Haino. For this concert, the three agreed their unrehearsed improvisation would be “electronic” but not which instruments any of them would play. Haino also uses a double-reed horn, the suona, traditionally used in a variety of settings and rituals including funerals, producing blaring, high-pitched sounds for both the living and the dead. I find this a bold, delicate, fascinating, and ultimately rather moving, album; albeit with a title far too long to mention in such a brief review.

Black Truffle

Other than the suona, it is not always possible to know who is making which sound, and that does not really matter. The important thing is to hear the trio responding to each other brilliantly, without flashiness, and feel the music retaining it's intensity even as the longer pieces take their time to develop. These improvisations have (known and unknown) creative methods by which elements of harmony, melody, and rhythm are achieved. The group's abstract expressionism, unpredictable, coherent, and deliberate, allows gives plenty of opportunity for subjective interpretation. At times I imagined an airtight module in space, at others un-manned train trucks engaged in dubious activities far beneath a mountain. I heard traces of bleeping static buzz and pictured a dystopian wilderness, stalactites thawing and dripping in a radioactive cave, locusts crawling inside air ducts, an astronaut's life support system going into crisis mode, a security patrol blasting horns five light years away, and the feeling of waking from a nap to find the launderette is flooding. As with several albums by the group, it is possible to see Haino as the central figure, perhaps like an actor in a film, with O’Rourke and Ambarchi setting up the lighting, or changing the scenery, but on the other hand things seem nicely balanced, with perfectly equal exchanges. For example, as the suona wails with longer and longer notes like a grief stricken bird crying out into eternity, alternated with passages where Haino must be catching his breath, O’Rourke and Ambarchi provide deeper and lower tones, some gong-like sustain, a section of higher-frequency twinkling and pulsing, slow bass notes and a fading signal.

The shorter final track (of four) is full of whooshing, crackling, echo: a beautiful coda as if the machines somehow continued to play after the trio had gone, suggestive perhaps of a residue of life, or the detection of brain wave activity after physical death. By the way, Dewey Redman used to play the suona (which he called a “musette”) as did Mick Karn, who listed it as a “dida.” I must add that the album cover is stunning - Lasse Marhaug’s photograph from Norway, of the Ellingsrudåsen station on the Oslo metro, line 2. The last stop on the line; the exit that goes into the forest.

samples available here

Last Updated on Monday, 05 July 2021 18:07
 

Jon Collin, "Music From Cassettes, Etc., 2008-2017"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageI initially slept on this album, as the prosaic title made it sound like a collection of old and orphaned songs rather than a minor sound collage masterpiece.  The former would be just fine by me (in a non-urgent way), but the fact that this album is actually the latter completely blindsided me.  As the label puts it, Collin pulled "shining diamonds from his discography" and put them "in a new context with more recently recorded segments."  In more practical terms, this means that the album beautifully bleeds together ephemeral highlights from Collin's discography into a soulfully mesmerizing, endlessly evolving impressionist fantasia.  In its most striking moments, Music From Cassettes, Etc. makes me feel like I am a Dickensian ghost experiencing all the warmest moments from Collin's life through a flickering projector.

Fördämning Arkiv

The first side rolls in as a fog of tape hiss and crackle that sounds like a ravaged dictaphone recording of a bus tour somewhere in some exotic tropical place.  Soon, however, a simple twanging acoustic guitar piece starts to fade in.  It is quite a warm and deeply emotive performance, so I was sad to see it go as it gradually became consumed by a slowly oscillating hum that later dissipates into enigmatic dictaphone hiss once more.  That theme of slowly dissolving vignettes is the heart of the album, but the variety, beauty, and cumulative power of them is what makes this album transcendent and bittersweet.  On the A side, the dream parade makes further noteworthy stops at deconstructed blues and something akin to a tribute band that accidentally double-booked themselves as both Pink Floyd and The Dead C, but valiantly blurred them together to give everyone the concert of their lives.  The playing near the end is absolutely amazing, as Collin whips up a rapturous Orcutt-level firestorm of wild hammer-ons and swooping slides for the volcanic finale.  The second side offers a similarly mesmerizing but completely different phantasmagoria of fragmented delights.  Sometimes I find myself at a languorous campfire jam in which lupine howls harmonize with a sliding melody, while at other times I am catching the fiery performance of a noise rock band from a reverberant alley.  Elsewhere, Collin's collage sounds like a ravaged tape loop of an organ mass backing a demonic squall of white-hot electric guitar catharsis.  Throughout it all, Collin maintains a perfect balance of soulful melody, lo-fi ruin, and sharp-edged feral intensity, the latter of which definitely surprised me (he sounds absolutely possessed during some of his solos).  The whole album is great from beginning to end, as Collin hits one perfect moment of tender melody or viscerally howling noise guitar incandescence after another with nary a lull between them.  This is an instant classic.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 June 2021 18:06
 

Richard Skelton, "Four Workings"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis latest album from Skelton seems intended to be a major new statement, though not quite a formal follow-up to last year's These Charms May be Sung Over a Wound, as double LPs are a real rarity in the prolific composer's discography. If it was not intended as such, it certainly has the ambitious conceptual framework and focused power of his strongest work.  For these four pieces, Skelton used a self-devised divination deck of Proto-Indo-European word roots for inspiration, making the album the fruit of an occult-tinged and antiquarian word game.  Skelton also maintained the same restricted palette and duration for each piece, yet the tone varies significantly between them, as he treated each composition as a meditation upon a single, unvoiced question.  To some degree, Four Workings is an especially ambient-minded release, as the hypnotically repeating melodic fragments are reminiscent of Celer's most loop-driven fare.  The similarities mostly end there, however, as the billowing ambiance is often a smokescreen for a more sharp-edged and sophisticated undercurrent that slowly emerges from the murky depths.  This is an unusually strong suite of compositions for Skelton's current phase, and the first piece in particular is probably among his finest moments to date.

Aeolian

The opening "[ ken- ] commencement" initially takes shape as a slow, sad melody of distorted string swells that languorously unfolds.  Notably, however, the notes start to accumulate a shimmering wake with a sharp metallic edge.  That element ultimately steals the show, as it merges with some deep drones around the piece's halfway point to blossom into a quavering crescendo of complex, bittersweet harmonies.  It calls to mind a spectral orchestra playing an achingly beautiful slow-motion symphony of notes that lazily streak, quiver, and break apart.  It is a damn-near perfect piece.  The central melody, dreamily fluttering core, and frayed textures all combine to leave a deep and haunting impression.  The following "[ aus- ] radiance" is a bit more billowing and soft-focused, evoking the flickering play of sunlight across a bank of dark, slow-moving clouds.  The third piece ("[ aus- ] radiance") initially has the same aesthetic, but unexpectedly blooms into yet another album highlight.  At times, it evokes a time-stretched recording of an organist soundtracking a silent horror film, but with a twist: the lovelorn organist unconsciously transforms everything into a wistful reverie.  Gradually, it turns into an angelic yet steadily darkening haze that cocoons the oblivious organ melody.  The closer ("[ ghē- ] releasement") takes more time than usual to get going. What begins as a glacially see-sawing pulse weaves through a fog of quietly roiling noise to become a hazily remembered/half-imagined ‘70s synthy space ambient album a la Tangerine Dream.  While I wish that final piece was more of a dynamic culmination than a vaguely meditative comedown, the previous pieces admittedly set the bar unfairly high.  If something like Four Workings is what results whenever Skelton makes up his own archeologically themed divination deck, I would see little incentive to abandon that strategy.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 14 June 2021 06:57
 

Nurse With Wound, "Barren"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis double album had the misfortune of being released near the end of 2020, so it lamentably did not quite get the attention that it deserved (and being a live album probably did not help matters much either).   Granted, it has admittedly been a while since the NWW camp dropped an album that I would breathlessly proclaim a stone-cold masterpiece, yet the project's current era features quite a formidable lineup.  In fact, most United Dairies/ICR releases in recent years have been refreshingly solid for an entity with such a vast and historically erratic discography.  Barren happily continues that trend, documenting two performances from differing lineup configurations that have been deemed "amongst their most unusual performances."  In this context, however, "unusual" means "very professional-sounding longform works conspicuously free of sinister whimsy."  Significantly, the two performances are almost unrecognizable as NWW despite cannibalizing a pair of studio releases.  They make for quite a satisfying deep-psych/spaced-out ambient release in their own right, however, as there is no rule stating that albums need to be representative to be enjoyable.

ICR

On the first disk, Steven Stapleton, Colin Potter, and Paul Beauchamp warp and deconstruct "Letter From Topor" & "Eyes Of A Scanning Girl" from [Sic] in a 2012 Florence concert.  On the second, Andrew Liles replaced Beauchamp for a 2013 show in Karlsruhe that mangles "Opium Cabaret" from Terms and Conditions May Apply.  The two pieces feel like they spring from the same vision, however, and that vision is one quite fond of extremely slow-burning psychotropic drones.  More bluntly, that means both halves of this album take a while to catch fire, as it seems like the trio is recording, mixing, and subtly adding new layers in real time (the first disk is even called "Confluence").  As such, Barren demands some patience, as each drone-heavy performance seems to unfold on a supernaturally stretched time scale.  In fact, Barren feels akin to a deep space ambient album a la The Magnificent Void, except there is a dimensional rift and a cacophony of lysergic bird songs, garbled voices, found-sound pile-ups, space crickets, exotic pop songs, and heavy electronic buzzes kept bleeding into the cold emptiness.  The more eclectic second disk ("Transfiguration") is the stronger of the two and "Transfiguration 2" is probably the most stand-out piece on the album, as it follows the faint strains of a ghostly cabaret chanteuse into a shape-shifting mindfuck of smoky noir jazz and wah-wah-drenched desert psych oases.  Both disks build into sufficiently surreal and vivid crescendos to justify their duration, however, as the overall trend is that each gets better and better as they unfold.  Epic length aside, my only other caveat is that the all-enveloping drones dilute too much of NWW's essence to make this a crucial release by normal Stapleton standards.  That said, it is nevertheless a very likable one-off plunge down a deep space rabbit hole, roughly resembling either a Black Stars-era Lustmord remix of a NWW album or its reverse.

Samples:

Last Updated on Monday, 14 June 2021 10:37
 

"Mien (Yao) – Cannon Singing in China, Vietnam, Laos"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis collection of (mostly) acapella field recordings from Kink Gong's Laurent Jeanneau truly emphasizes the "sublime" part of the Sublime Frequencies vision, as this is quite an eerily lovely and mesmerizing album.  While the recordings span three different countries (China, Laos, and Vietnam), they are all roughly rooted in a single cultural milieu: the Chinese hill tribes known pejoratively as the Yao ("dog" or "savage").  Understandably, a large number of these tribal folk prefer the name Mien ("people"), but they are a multifarious bunch that have spread beyond China into Southeast Asia and evolved into numerous distinctive and divergent subcultures.  The first half of the album is devoted to very pure and simple canon singing ("an initial melody is imitated at a specified time interval by one or more parts"), while the second half offers some compelling and more fleshed-out variations.  While the "raw, ethereal, and cosmic" performances that Laurent captured need no additional enhancement to captivate me, the variations are every bit as great as the undiluted essence and give the album an impressively strong dynamic arc.

Sublime Frequencies

The opening "Lan Pan Moon" is a haunting and chant-like duet between two Laotian women (Keo and Na) centered upon a droning root tone.  While the piece could not be much more simple melodically, the two women achieve an otherworldly beauty in the way they harmonize around the hypnotically cyclical motif.  In fact, it feels akin to a harmonic dance, as the two voices keep diverging then reconverging into quavering unison, and the whole thing feels akin to a Lucier-ian feat of phase manipulation.  The following "Kai Tian Pi Di" is a similarly unaccompanied duet (from China this time), but it shares some common stylistic ground with old African American work songs (there is even some bluesy note-bending).  The album's second half kicks off with another piece from China, but it seems like an especially virtuosic version of the form, as the lead voice embellishes the central melody with a host of unusual bends, stammers, and ululation-like flourishes.  The closing "Dao Cham" (from Vietnam) is still more divergent, however, as the heart of the piece is the clanging and rattling percussion of a lively ritualistic street procession.  Gradually, the voices of the singers grow more prominent, yet the real beauty of the piece lies in how the various voices (singing and otherwise) lysergically drift in and out of focus.  While I am not sure how intentional that was on Jeanneau's part, I certainly enjoy the effect, as it nicely blurs the line between field recording and sound collage.  Due to the propulsive rhythm, the metallic physicality of the cymbals, and the surprise psychedelic elements, "Dao Cham" is my personal favorite on the album, but every single one of these pieces could be a revelation for adventurous ears.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 June 2021 09:45
 

Dagar Gyil Ensemble Of Lawra, "Dagara - Gyil Music of Ghana's Upper West Region"

E-mail Print PDF

cover imageThis mesmerizing and unique gem from Sublime Frequencies documents some killer field recordings made by Hisham Mayet in the Upper West region of Ghana back in 2019.  I knew absolutely nothing about gyril music before hearing this album, but the most salient detail is that the primary instrument is a traditional xylophone used by the Lobi people.  That does not even remotely convey how strange and wonderful these recordings are, but SF's description includes phrases like "long form trance music" and "acoustic techno," and those seem to hit the mark in spirit.  To me, this album sounds like a ritualistic drum circle, but way more sophisticated, melodic, and psych-damaged than anything I would expect from actual communal percussion.  As with a lot of field-recorded Sublime Frequency fare, it is very easy to dismiss this album as just an interesting window into an underheard culture from a cursory or casual listen.  Once I listened to Dagara in a focused way, however, it quickly revealed itself to be something quite transcendent, as it seamlessly merges the otherness of great "experimental" music with an almost ecstatic visceral intensity.

Sublime Frequencies

This album is ostensibly composed of two separate pieces that each span one side of vinyl, but the digital version is presented as a single 40-minute track, and the latter is exactly what it feels like.  You can drop the needle anywhere on Dagara and roughly expect to get the same thing every time: vibrant percussion rhythms and unusual-sounding, interwoven xylophone melodies.  That is primarily because no one piece of the puzzle stands out as particularly brilliant or memorable on its own.  That said, the insanely complex web of overlapping rhythms and processed-sounding textures is legitimately amazing.  And so is the way that the piece subtly and organically transforms like a dense cloud of migrating birds effortless shifting direction in perfect unison.  It all cumulatively amounts to something psychedelic as hell, leading me to both envy whatever wavelength these cats are on AND marvel at how they managed to get there in perfect harmony.  This is total hive mind, wheels-within-wheels territory in the best way.  Beyond that, I would describe the overall aesthetic as "a tropical steel drum band went to India to study classical raga and Eastern spirituality and returned home completely unrecognizable and waaaaaay into psychedelics."  That is a compliment (I would totally listen to such a band), but it also feels like that hypothetical band was then grist for a killer sound collage by a great tape artist.  While I assume this was recorded entirely live, the smearing, deep vibraphone-like tones and the stammering, hesitating melodies sound alien and hallucinatory, similar to a serendipitous pile-up of unrelated loops locking gloriously in sync.  There is much happening and all of it is interesting.  In fact, I would be truly hard pressed to think of a "complex polyrhythm" opus from the 20th century avant-garde that could beat this ensemble at that game. Albums like this are exactly why I love Sublime Frequencies, as Dagara is a richly immersive tour de force of constantly shifting, interwoven patterns.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 June 2021 09:46
 


http://soundcloud.combrainwashedcom


Donate towards our web hosting bill!
Shop
		at the iTunes store