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Pjusk, "Sval"

cover imageThis is one of the cases where the artists’ environment clearly comes across in their recorded output.  Hailing from Norway, the duo of Pjusk weave digital soundscapes that are cold and icy, yet have an inviting warmth to them, like a fireplace heated cabin amongst the frozen tundra.  Their second album is a gloriously minimal piece of subtle melody and texture that reveals more the closer it is listened to.

 

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Pjusk - Sval

Immediately upon its opening, "Valldal" tosses sheets of torrential rain in before pulling back, leaving just the most barest of ambient pastiches intermingling with low bit rate percussive crunches, soft static, and electronics pulsing away.  While it has a sparse, frigid quality to it, it is still compelling and inviting.  Weather makes its way into the short track "Juv," with its lo-fi ambience, static, and icy winds, and "Vidde," where it is heavily panned and has a metallic, almost industrial quality to the sound.

My personal favorite moments come with the more textural studies of sound, like the warm, campfire like crackles of "Skygge" that glow amongst digital buzzing that’s panned around, acting like a bit of chaos next to the relative calm.  Similarly, there is some great rhythmic textures at the end of "Glimt," which proceed a wide variety of sounds, resembling massive church organs, chimes, bowed cymbals, and even a bit of lonely guitar that shines through.  "Demring" also has a slight rhythm, but it is obscured by thick clouds of sound, echoed rattles intertwining with what sounds like a Hammond organ.

While it never reaches any level that it could be danced to, some of the tracks do show tinges of conventional electronica.  The clicks that resemble horse gallops on “Sus” develop in complexity but are wrapped in gauzy ambience and lush melodic passages.  Melody also dominates "Skodde" and "Skumring," with the latter underpinned by deep percussive pulses, static-y distortion, and lonely piano notes.  On "Dis," soft and gentle female vocals appear alongside piano and swelling oscillators, creating a spaciousness that is sparse, but at the same time captivating.

Like a warm refuge in an arctic winter, Pjusk creates inviting digital ambient music with a shimmering natural glow.  Even when the sounds of the cold Norwegian environs appear, they never take on a dark or unfriendly character.  The result is a beautiful combination of subtle melody and texture study that is a very diverse, yet coherent work on its own.  Now that spring is rearing its head in the northeast US, it’s a fitting soundtrack, but I know I’ll keep this one near when the days begin to get shorter again.

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Review of the Day

hirsche nicht aufs sofa (reissues part one)
Dom Elchklang
Something happened first when in Aachen, Germany, in the year 1886, in the shadow of Aachen Cathedral (aka the Dom!), one of the most legendary Gothic pilgrimage churches, Mies van der Rohe, modern architecture's wunderkind, was born. Almost a century later, the next generation of Aachen art royalty was birthed through the collaboration of Christoph Heemann and Achim P. Li Khan. In the shadows itself, of the Dom's pointed arches and Miesian glass-box skyscrapers, Heeman and Khan's Hirsche Nicht Aufs Sofa was a group on the cusp of contemporary experimentation and one possessing, in equal bounty, an almost Gothic, grotesque quality. This rare hybrid, present also in the likes of Nurse With Wound (to which H.N.A.S. is often compared), produced music that effortlessly resists sounding "dated," and is in many cases some of the best likely to be heard. The Dom Elchklang and G. Gonge labels are set to reissue a brand new batch of H.N.A.S. (and related) recordings. These first five, however, are considered by many to be the group's "classic" albums.

Abwassermusik of 1985 was the first H.N.A.S. LP and was culled from the duo's earlier cassette works. Credited to H.N.A.S. and Mieses Gegonge, the record is the most raw of these first five, relying heavily on the manipulated loops and cut-ups that ground the H.N.A.S. sound, and less on the unique instrumentation that dominates the next three records. A rudimentary industrial sound carries over most tracks, but here elements of kraut-rock and tinges of surrealism do emerge. The album's long centerpiece recalls Throbbing Gristle at first, though evolves into a chorus of tribal drums, chirps, and theremin flourishes. As on most all of these Dom reissues, an album's length of bonus tracks has been added here, most very early, very sparse tape works. Exceptions and highlights include a pummeling live track from Mieses Gegonge, sounding something like 50 drug-addled Faust-ians grooving in the bottom of a lake, and the first H.N.A.S. vinyl release, an early showcase for Heemann's elegant drones.


Melchior, released by United Dairies and featuring Steven Stapleton and wife Diana Rogerson, is the first in the great trilogy of early H.N.A.S. albums. The increased influence of surrealism is notable from the start in a brilliant faux-lounge number complete with Rogerson's twisted croon. The record is indulgently theatrical in many places; humorous shouting bits and guitar flourishes fill the gaps between more overt kraut-rock borrowing (surprisingly Achim has said at the time the band "knew nothing about Faust, Neu! and all the OHR/Kraut bands...") and handclap-ful post punk jogs. The whole mess is beautifully paced with soothing guitar lines and Heemann's incomparable drones rescuing each moment of acid-headed confusion. Bonus tracks are mainly '85/'86 era H.N.A.S. tunes, including one of the first (and best) songs recorded by the Melchior line-up, a gnarled landscape of trumpet squeal and organ pulse with the spoken refrain, "Listen to the sun rise, hear the birds scream." Experimentation with a variety of unlikely instruments is at a high among these tracks, creating an atmosphere so difficult to place that it belongs solely to the ageless obscurity of the Dadaists.


Recorded around the same time as Melchior, Küttel Im Frost is often described as the most pop of H.N.A.S. records. According to Achim, its primary influence was early Chrome, but where it is at all similar, Küttel towers above its peers. Rogerson's vocals return, but they've gone from surreal chanteuse to psych screamer. The astounding title track marks a peak in kraut-rock similarity without giving an inch; it's quickly and artfully unclear how much of a mockery Küttel's mish-mash of raucous pop and noise-burst is supposed to be. Bonus tracks all come from H.N.A.S.' first of only two live appearances. The concert is an excellent addition to this disc as much of the performance comes from the Küttel album.


Im Schatten Der Möhre, the third of the truly amazing early H.N.A.S. works and the only one Heemann has felt necessary to reissue on his Streamline label, combines the tenuous, staged beauty of Melchior and the twisted jubilation of Küttel to glorious effect. More dense and cohesive than its predecessors, Im Schatten is also less humorous and more demanding. As such, the album could be the group's most substantial. Bonus tracks here continue on Im Schatten's more abstract bent, fore-grounding Heemann's future work in Mimir and Mirror. Most are compilation tracks or studio outtakes from the '89-'91 period, samples, tape loops, and guitar licks (courtesy of Heeman and brother Andreas Martin) have never been harder to peel apart or label.


The release that should be the least substantial, 1988's The Book of Deingenskirchen, comprised of the group's unaltered '86 - '88 studio leftovers, is oddly one of the most entertaining. Understandably more choppy and raw than Aberwassermusik, Book features a bare-bones industrial sound with elegant, even playful interludes and spoken female vocals throughout. Despite its being essentially a trash heap, Book is the most soothing of all early H.N.A.S.; comparable to falling in and out of sleep during an old German art film. The bonus material here is by far the most various, collecting obscure compilation tracks from '85 to '92. Bizarre Melchior-ian swing tunes line up next to driving kraut grooves, pseudo-surf tracks, alien drones and absurd found sounds, all effortlessly pieced together in the way only H.N.A.S. can, or would.

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