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Human Greed, "Black Hill: Midnight at the Blighted Star"

cover imageThe third album from Michael Begg and Deryk Thomas explores the moods and sounds of the witching hour: deep, dark chasms of sound littered with shimmering tones that dot the music like stars on a night sky. This album is good by day but playing it during the still, cold hours of early morning reveal a different hallucinatory creature. Instruments morph out of recognizable shapes into extended timbres and tones, voices call from somewhere beyond and an uneasy sorrow permeates the music.


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Black Hill occupies a realm that is somewhere between the gorgeous drones of Stars of the Lid and the haunting and solemn “Symphony No. 3” by Henryk Górecki. However, unlike the aforementioned artists, listening to Black Hill is like listening to a radio that cannot stay on one frequency for more than a few minutes before drifting into some other equally compelling broadcast from who knows where. No piece ends distinctly, the various tracks all fade into each other but change enough for it to be obvious when a new piece has begun. This bleeding of music into itself forces the listener to commit the album as a whole. This is something that has been lacking in this “I’ll just grab a couple of tracks from the net and see what I think” age.

That being said, there are segments of Black Hill that stick out above the rest as being especially moving. The organ-like dirge of “Portrait of God with Broken Toys” seems to erupt from the speakers with a huge amount of force. It is an overpowering feeling like being stuck in a massive cathedral that is shaking itself apart during a performance of a particularly moving requiem. Elsewhere, the music has a gentler quality; “Dalkeith Night” has a light, airy feel to the piano while David Tibet recites a few words. He is one of a few special guests on the album: Julia Kent plays cello, Fabrizio Palumbo from Larsen is credited with treatments and vocals and Begg’s compatriot in Fovea Hex, Clodagh Simonds, lends her voice and piano playing to the album.

Thomas’ paintings must be mentioned. As well as being half of Human Greed, Thomas has also painted the iconic bunnies on Swans’ White Light from the Mouth of Infinity album and more recently the cover of The Angels of Light’s We Are Him. His apocalyptic nursery rhyme style painting that graces the cover of Black Hill continues the theme of those previous great album sleeves. Kittens, skeletons and catastrophic ruin provide a warning to all who listen to the album; this is not music to chill out to after a night on the tiles.

This is powerful stuff and takes a while to fully digest it. The oily darkness that the music conjures up gets deeper and deeper with every listen, a resonant and otherworldly tremor that is at once human and sublime.



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Review of the Day

Jeph Jerman/Tim Barnes, "Versatile Ambience"

cover image In Versatile Ambience’s second half, Jeph Jerman and Tim Barnes cobble together a sequence of individual words and short phrases from a small ensemble of speakers. As each solitary fragment, captured with varying degrees of fidelity, falls into place, a kind of instructional sense emerges from the cut-up poetic randomness: “Your voice arrested; the smithy’s forge displacing hard footfall with scrutiny of boot-leather. Attempts to redirect equally malleable.” A final exchange points the way to Versatile’s heart: “You, the anvil?” someone questions. A faded voice replies, “I’m the hammer.” Using insect and animal life, tape noise, and acoustic performances from Jacob Duncan and Ken Vandermark, Jerman and Barnes temper their field recordings like a smith tempers metal, constantly moving from ambiguity to particularity and back again, molding their music with heat and cold. Seemingly inconsequential sounds, like the dry splash of fallen leaves, become intricate explosions. The wooden hum of a violin unfurls and sinks like a wave at sea and the album sways between modes, constantly eluding the firm grip of a total view.

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