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Hoor-paar-Kraat, "Graduating from Clocks to Watches (Eureka Tapes Vol. II)"

cover imageWith well over 20 releases to its name, Anthony Mangicapra's Hoor-paar-Kraat project has taken on many guises over the years, containing no less than 14 different collaborators over the course of its varied discography. No matter the personnel though, the unit has consistently pushed at the boundaries between drone, noise and musique concrète to masterful effect. Here, Mangicapra teams up with four cohorts and comes up with a beautifully consistent and thematically realized piece. That it has been printed in a relatively large run (for this sort of release anyway...) of 200 is good news, but unfortunately not so good that anyone who wants one can afford to bide their time should they desire a copy. Such is the tape world I suppose; c'est la vie.

 

Peasant Magik

Consistent with the standard working mode of the band, this release tip-toes around the darker precipices of its various genre dabblings without ever submerging into total blackness. Spread across the six lengthy tracks are thick and tactile dronescapes, disturbed vocal babblings, and creepy guitar dirges atop squawking synthesizer cries. This dark and mysterious atmosphere, consistent with the group's enigmatic existence, is hardly a dip in the relatively safe waters of the overdone doom and gloom rock pursued by so many though; Hoor-paar-Kraat merely use this as a starting point from which to uncover deeper pockets of mystery. That they never tell their listener exactly how to feel is one of the great--and ultimately frightening--strengths they display.

Each track here more or less represents a single approach, and the patience exhibited in working within those specific and relatively limited fields makes each piece its own whole without becoming so cluttered as to take away from the album's sense of focus. The first side, for example, opens with "Lacking a Cast Shadow," a slow and smooth drone buildup that shimmers with gray stillness as swathes of air bellow beneath scratching claws and tiny bells. Nearly unmoving, the piece serves as a palette cleanser, easing the listener into the decidedly more elusive and eerie version of bleak pursued on "Habit and the Smooth Sailing of the Psyche." That this too finds its groove, opting for odd tape clatterings and distant, crawling gamelan moves that keep the descending trajectory of the album as restrained and patient as possible.

If the first side of the tape is the journey downward—especially with the closing "departure of the Icicle Man" and its dark and knotty drone loops—then the second side is the arrival and subsequent blind exploration of that realm. "Relics of the Inheritance" features odd guitar string tuggings and hollowed out verbal ramblings that leave little to grasp on to. That the group is willing to do so is wholly unsettling, and remarkably effective as a logical progression from the hints of this amorphous approach presented on the first side.

Perhaps the most oblique and overtly gloomy material on the tape is found on "The Broken windows of a Fertile World," whose bird calls and playground chatter hover menacingly under austere guitar explorations. This is a sparse and dismal landscape indeed, but Hoor-paar-Kraat handles it as delicately as it does everything here; the piece never erupts with anything near a climax, instead floating with delicate hostility whose unending patience grinds any safety net to a pulp, leaving you fully unsuspecting of the harsh blasts of static din that erupt on the closing "The Self is an Onion-Self."

The keen sense of timing and clear division between approaches on each side marks the basement academicism of the release. While many artists working in this vein achieve liftoff with nearly every track, it is refreshing to hear a unit at work that understands the power of sonic confinement and the dire connotations of time. While the title may suggest a technological move forward, it also means that the clock is always present, counting down the hours one by one to be monitored at your convenience. And this is just the sort of dark momentum forged from track to track as this fully realized outing unfolds.

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Review of the Day

radian, "juxtaposition"
Thrill Jockey
Radian's third full-length album is an unexpected (and excellent) surprise, appearing only months after the releases of Ballroom by Trapist (Martin Brandlmayr with Martin Siewert and Joe Williamson) and Die Instabilität der Symmetrie (the collaboration of Brandlmayr and Siewert with Werner Dafeldecker and Stefan Németh) and mere months before Jealousy and Diamond, the Kranky debut of the band Autistic Daughters (Brandlmayr and Dafeldecker with Dean Roberts). Juxtaposition is a seemingly appropriate name for the album as the recordings were completed in a process which is nearly backwards to what would seem most logical: beginning with the synths and electronics (in Vienna) and completed with the recording of live drums and bass guitar (by John McEntire in Chicago). Unsurprisingly with two drummers (Brandlmayer and McEntire) having so much influence on the album, it's a very rhythmically charged record. "Shift" opens the album with an aggressive tune of driving percussion over chopped up electronics. Even here on the first track, the brushes of cymbals and thud of the real bass guitar combined with the forward melodic motion are sounds I've wanted to hear come out of this scene for years. These are the elements that make the perfect use of the last ten years of laptopery. Sure, those Mego and Raster-Noton acts had good sound patches but the picture was always incomplete without good composition and variety. Juxtaposition is more of a pop record than the other releases in this blossoming scene, as it's comprised of nine approximately five-minute songs instead of four-five 10-20 minute long pieces like some of the aforementioned records. The instrumentation remains a consistent well-balanced interplay between the three musical elements (drums, bass guitar, and electronics) while the variants from song to song are of tempo and structure. While the sounds themselves aren't completely natural, it's not an alien pop concept to have an upbeat tune (like "Transistor") followed by the downbeat song ("Helix") and a subsequent droning bit ("Ontario") before launching into another upbeat jam ("Tester"). I'm now even more eager to hear the upcoming Autistic Daughters release and am increasingly anxious to see some of these people live but whether or not this blossoming scene has caught on well enough to bring them over is yet to be seen. 

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