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Episodes 539 & 540: October 10, 2021

A Triumphant ReturnDouble Exposure by Cole

We apologize for the time off but hope we can make it up with two episodes for this week.

The first features music from Film School, Andrew Liles, The Body and BIG|BRAVE, Immersion (fear. Tarwater), Baligh Hamdi, Brothertiger, Rachika Nayar & Nina Keith, The Notwist (remixed by Odd Nosdam), Minua, Not Waving, Michel Redolfi, Jerome, Mark Tester, and Elizabeth S. (of Eyeless in Gaza).

The second has a healthy mix of older and newer tunes by Meat Beat Manifesto, UMAN, Edward Ka-Spel, Current 93, Seekersinternational, Sylvester Johnson, Makossiri, Diamanda Galas, Brett Naucke, Lina Filipovich, Biluka y Los Canibales, and Midori Hirano feat. Atsuko Hatano.

Thanks to Cole for the creepy found photo of a double exposure.

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Forced Exposure New Releases for the Week of 10/11/2021

New music is due from Ulrich Schnauss & Mark Peters, Jana Irmert, and Sahba Sizdahkhani, while old music is due from Girls At Our Best, Tar, and Gescom.

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Saint Abdullah, "To Live A La West"

cover imageI am a bit late to the party with this project from "NYC-based, Iranian-Canadian brothers" Mohammed and Mehdi Mehrabani-Yeganeh, as they have been steadily releasing oft-killer music since 2017.  This is their first album for Important, however, and it makes for a perplexingly unrepresentative introduction to their work, taking their more industrial tendencies in an unconventionally jazz-inspired direction with mixed results.  That said, the brothers make a conscious point of attempting to "present new ideas" with each fresh release, so a truly representative album may never exist.  Instead, each album is a snapshot of their thoughts and inspirations at one particular stage of their evolution.  Similarly, the brothers are unswervingly devoted to making their music personal by rooting it in their own stories.  Conceptually, that makes To Live A La West the Saint Abdullah album inspired by the time the brothers were allowed to attend a dance after their sixth grade graduation.  The album is quite a bit harder to define stylistically, however.  While the brothers cite Jon Hassell's Fourth World aesthetic as one major source of inspiration, I cannot think of any artists who explore similarly eclectic territory to this album’s curious mixture of free jazz and industrial-tinged experimentation mingled with shades of electronic pop and Iranian music.  To my ears, this album could not be much further from the sights and sounds of a middle school dance (even filtered through psychedelic sensibility), but the best moments achieve a kind of strange beauty akin to Carter Tutti Void teaming with up some Egyptian jazz guys to record a very strange and unconventional film soundtrack.  The other moments are considerably harder to explain, as they resemble industrial jazz vamps made by an AI whose primary influence is '80s arcade game sounds.

Important Records

This is one of those albums that starts out extremely strong, then gradually unravels and yields diminishing returns as it unfolds.  If To Live A La West began and ended with "A Lot Of Kings," however, it would be damn near perfect.  The duo are joined by trumpet player Aquiles Navarro and someone named Kol for a wonderfully simmering and smoky reverie of industrial-damaged and static-strafed jazz noir.  The first hints that something has begun to go awry appear as early as the second piece, however, as it sounds like someone is throttling a modular synthesizer over an erratic, subdued, and ramshackle drum machine beat.  It still ends up being a strong piece, as it is achieves a kind of jabbering, go-for-broke catharsis of squiggling electronic bloops, but I definitely felt that lack of a solid melodic component.  The brothers next hit the mark again with the stomping, mechanized juggernaut of "Like A Great Starving Beast," as guest John Butcher enlivens the proceedings with a fiery sax solo.  From that point onward, however, the brothers are on their own and they definitely chose a mystifying sound palette.  Historically, Saint Abdullah are at their best when they aim for something akin to an Iranian Esplendor Geométrico with a strong taste for dub and sample collage, but they largely repress those tendencies on To Live A La West.  In more concrete terms, that means that this album has plenty of cool grooves and foundational motifs, but they are almost always pushed to the background to focus on trilling sprays of blooping and bleeping melodies that elude any familiar scales or patterns.  While the mechanized dance menace of "Furthermost" is a notable exception, the rest of the album lies somewhere between "chromatic free jazz shredding on a keytar," "someone loudly playing theremin over a '90s Aphex Twin album," "a Herbie Hancock album jarringly interrupting an S&M show," and "a modular synth player trying to mimic bird songs."  Strange choices one and all and rendered even stranger by the existence of companion cassette of the same name on Cassauna.  I am not sure why the brothers chose to release two similarly uneven albums in the same vein rather than a single solid one or why they did not enlist more collaborators for their ambitious jazz foray, but I do not feel they put their best foot forward here.  In any case, Saint Abdullah is a great project and "A Lot of Kings" is a great song, but this is probably not the best place to start for the curious.

Samples can be found here.

 

Perila, "7​.​37​/​2​.​11"

cover imageThis latest release from Aleksandra Zakharenko is a "selection of soundscapes created by throughout various stages of last year" described as "subliminal moments, suspended fragments, caught between time zones."  While that description could admittedly fit quite a lot of Perila's music, 7​.​37​/​2​.​11 has a far more intimate and informal feel than this year's previous release on Smalltown Supersound (How Much Time It Is Between You And Me?).  That uncluttered, sketch-like approach suits Zakharenko quite well, as it brings out a bit more distinctive character than her more layered and produced work.  Given that Perila is one of the more consistently intriguing artists in the ambient-adjacent abstract electronic milieu, there is plenty to like (or love) about that more produced side too, but I found this more stark and simple side easier to connect with on a deeper level, as these six songs distill Zakharenko's vision to its most pure form without sacrificing any of the beauty.

Vaagner

The opening "long dizzying air through a balcony door" sounds exactly like I would expect Perila to sound when filtered through the beautifully murky melancholia of Vaagner's house aesthetic (or at least curated with that aesthetic in mind).  It is one of the more minimal pieces on the album as well, as it is essentially a spoken-word piece over a little more than a ghostly hum that rises and falls like a slow exhalation.  The words are compellingly poetic and vaguely confessional, as it Zakharenko seems to be haltingly recounting fragmented and enigmatic memories from a past spring burned deep into her psyche.  It strikes quite a mesmerizing balance of eerie and sensuous and is easily as strong as anything I have previously heard from Perila.  In fact, I would have been thrilled if it was followed by five more pieces in the exact same vein, but only a fool would expect that, as Zakharenko's music has long featured a strong element of unpredictability.  In keeping with that theme, the following "amorphous absorption" sounds like deconstructed dub techno sourced from dripping stalactites and chopped, hallucinatory voices, while the blearily melodic reverie "haven't left home 4 4 days" evokes the melancholy of a rain-soaked and cloud-darkened afternoon.  A similarly drizzly atmosphere returns for the two pieces that close the album, but "this story doesn't make any sense" detours into a gently seething and bubbling experiment in disjointed, deconstructed, and unconventional percussion that feels like it is fading in and out of focus.  It is an enjoyable piece, but the two pieces that follow even more impressive.  I especially enjoyed “Crash Sedative,” which feels like a stoned and stumbling twist on classic Bill Evans-style jazz piano.  "1 room" delves into a similarly noir-ish jazz vein, but feels too haunted and texture-focused to exist outside an especially creepy David Lynch film.

Nearly everything on the album is both good and distinctively "Perila," however, which makes this modest release an unexpectedly satisfying and absorbing album.  On a related note, Vaagnar has also issued a considerably shorter sister EP (Memories of Log) that compiles strays from one of Zakharenko's stronger collaborators with Ulla.  I expect anyone who likes 7​.​37​/​2​.​11 will enjoy that one too, as I certainly did (particularly Ulla's sublime closer "falling water lullaby").

Samples can be found here.

 

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project, "Zombi Traditions (37 Years)"

cover imageThis enigmatic Illinois collective has never been particularly keen on revealing much about themselves, but they do have something of an origin story in which the project was birthed when they fatefully discovered a section of a film trailer in an abandoned drive-in theater back in 1983.  While I do not believe they ever specified which film they found, all signs point to a George Romero or Lucio Fulci film, as "sounds from films about fake corpses constitute some of the earliest material used by Fossil Aerosol Mining Project."  In fact, the project nearly always sounds like a hallucinatory collage of badly distressed VHS tapes of Dawn of the Dead, but the project has also released several explicitly zombie-indebted releases over the course of their long and macabre career, some of which were eventually compiled on 2014's digital-only Zombi Traditions.  As befits the subject material, those already remixed, remastered, and revised pieces have been cannibalized once more for this definitive edition.  As the previous incarnations of these songs have been purged from existence, I cannot say how well these latest versions stack up against the earlier ones, but I can say that this is easily one of the best Fossil Aerosol Mining Project albums that I have heard.  To my ears, this album is the embodiment of everything I love about this project, as it perfectly captures the imagined ambiance of a late '70s/early '80s mall where the only remaining signs of life are strains of kitschy muzak and cheery announcements of incredible bargains eerily reverberating around the ransacked, rubble-strewn, and desolate halls until the electricity eventually fails.

Self-Released

Given this project’s mystery-shrouded nature, I cannot say for certain what their working methods were back in 1983 or if they have evolved at all over the ensuing four decades, but it definitely seems like the collective has an extremely purist approach to how they use their material.  It seems fair to say that one of the project’s self-imposed constraints is that all of the sounds they use must be scavenged, so the difference between a middling album and great one lies in how well the fundamentally non-musical material lends itself to musicality (and how ingenious the collective can be when the material does not).  In practical terms, that means that the essence of Zombi Tradition's aesthetic is murky ambiance conjured from hiss, garbled samples, and industrial hum, but that foundation is often enhanced with enigmatic vocal fragments, snatches of ads, and bits of repurposed muzak.

When they hit the mark, the results can be wonderfully creepy, immersive, and hallucinatory in a very unique and distinctive way.  In the case of this album, those moments mostly tend to be the longest pieces.  For example, the seething slow burn of "Damaged Years Ago" steadily swells to a haunted crescendo of inhuman-sounding backwards voices and a promise of "all the most popular brands."  Elsewhere, "Italian Resurrection" evokes the swaying industrial ambiance of a massive engine slowly churning in an enigmatic miasma of footsteps, tape hiss, and eerie vocal fragments ("help me") that bubble up from the depths.  Later, "The Shopping Mall Has Long Since Flooded" sounds like a broken radio playing flickering, unintelligible, and creepily reverberant emergency dispatches to a long-abandoned and partially submerged food court.  A couple of the shorter pieces are excellent too though.  I especially love the hiss-ravaged muzak phantasmagoria of "1983," which has the creepy, sad, and playful feel of some recent Aaron Dilloway albums.  That said, the whole album casts a wonderfully unbroken spell and the execution is unusually strong for FAMP (presumably because the material has been reworked so many times).  Given the grisly and oft-schlocky source material being repurposed, I was pleasantly surprised by the bleak beauty and subtly morbid humor of these pieces, as they never err into oppressive darkness or easy kitsch (even when a cheery voice is encouraging me to "visit often").  To my ears, this is one of the true jewels of the Fossil Aerosol Mining Project discography (if not the project’s culminating achievement).

Samples can be found here.

 

David Chatton Barker, "Twelve Stations"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a4065780320_10.jpgOver the course of ten days twelve railway stations were visited and at each a thirty second sound recording and photograph were taken. During the train journeys, compositions were sketched onto scores and later recorded at one rehearsal evening with The City of Exeter Railway Brass Band. The twelve short tracks reflect those brief encounters, hint at the unrealized possibilities and fleeting nature of human life, and seek majesty in insignificant events. Less than eight minutes long and organized into two sections, a reissue of Twelve Stations is overdue.

Folklore Tapes

Listening to this recording is like walking along a dark street in winter and hearing a band playing in a hall half a mile away, or removing one brick from a wall in a rain-swept cemetery and straining to hear faint echoes of sound trapped for half a century. But my enjoyment of the brass band sounds, the chuff chuff, platform announcements, tracks clattering, unknown sounds fading, and the clever short duration of this piece, is one thing; context is quite another. I hesitate to compare Twelve Stations with Chris Watson’s El Tren Fantasma, but it can belong in a context also containing Flanders and Swann’s "The Slow Train” — that of a lament. David Chatton Baker's effort is a more abstract encapsulation of time passing, whereas Flanders and Swann are specifically lamenting the closure of many small railway stations in the UK as a result of a government report (March 1963):

"No one departs and no one arrives
From Selby to Goole, from St Erth to St Ives
They've all passed out of our lives."

Those closures arose from what I refuse to call the Beeching Report since Ernest Marples better personifies the Conservative government, with clear conflicts of interest to road construction projects. who had it drawn up. "The Slow Train" was written in July 1963 and it depicts perfectly the sense of loss which was widely felt. On August 8th, 1963, an equally infamous Great Train Robbery occurred of an overnight from Glasgow to London with 72 people on board sorting the mail by hand. The robbers, who grabbed the equivalent of $75 million, had downed phone lines in the area and escaped in getaway cars. One brave rail-man got off the mail train and onto a passing goods train before raising the alarm at a nearby town. The gang, tuning in on VHF police radio heard "A robbery has been committed and you'll never believe it — they've stolen the train!"

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Baligh Hamdi, "Instrumental Modal Pop of 1970s Egypt"

cover imageThis latest collection continues Sublime Frequencies' impressive hot streak of releases this year, as Hisham Mayet has curated a selection of elusive instrumental pieces from "a towering figure in Arabic cultural history."  Unsurprisingly, I have not knowingly encountered Hamdi's work before, as SF is always way ahead of the curve in digging up revelatory artists unfamiliar to most western ears, but Mayet and the songs he selected make a convincing case that Hamdi was indeed behind "some of the hippest music coming out of the Middle East from the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s."  It was rare for Hamdi's work to surface under his own name, however, as most of his success and influence came from composing for a host of famous Arabic singers or scoring films, plays, and television.  This collection, however, focuses on a very specific era of Hamdi's career in which Mayet believes the composer and his Diamond Orchestra perfected a modernized "international music" that elegantly combined "Eastern tinged jazz, theremin draped orchestral noir, and mid-east and eastern psychedelic exotica."  Naturally, most of the original albums are exasperatingly elusive and expensive, but the rarity of these songs is secondary to their quality.  This scratches roughly the same itch as other classic SF "pop" compilations like Bollywood Steel Guitar and Shadow Music of Thailand.

Sublime Frequencies

While Hamdi is technically the star of the show here, he is actually only one of two legends on these recordings, as Sublime Frequencies favorite Omar Khorshid was one of the many luminaries recruited for Hamdi's Diamond Orchestra.  Naturally, there are plenty of cool guitar parts as a result, but no one member of the Diamond Orchestra stands out as particularly virtuosic or essential.  Instead, the beauty of these pieces primarily lies in their deft blurring of modern and traditional styles, their inventive arrangements, and the tightness and fluidity of the ensemble.  The opening "Ghada" provides an especially impressive example of Hamdi's "modal pop" vision, achieving a delightfully propulsive and swinging blend of surf guitar twang, Bollywood dance party, and bittersweetly soulful Arabic melodies.  Obviously, getting all of those elements to fit seamlessly together in the first place was the most revolutionary part of Hamdi's vision, but the execution is also rather dazzling in a general sense, as melodies are constantly traded between instruments while the band nimbly navigates exacting rhythmic variations without breaking a sweat. 

For the most part, "Ghada" is very representative of everything that follows, so if that one does not connect, the rest of the album will probably hold no further appeal.  Similarly, anyone who loves "Ghada" will likely be thrilled to find eighteen more bangers in a similar vein awaiting them.  Within that rich vein lie some delightful variations, however, such as the swooningly romantic strings of "Mawal," which approximates the soundtrack to a imagined Bond film where he teams up with sexy Egyptian dancer/double agent.  Elsewhere, "Chaka Chico" initially sounds like the theme for a Spaghetti western ghost story due to its theremin melody, but fluidly shifts tones until it sounds like a love story set in an Middle Eastern cabaret.  The closing "Love Story" is another surprise, as Hamdi and his ensemble gamely spice up Francis Lai's famous melody with Arabic instrumentation and inventive fluorishes until it resembles an Egyptian mariachi band crashing an Italian wedding.  Beyond that, I was also delighted by the pieces where the orchestra abandon rock rhythms in favor of more Arabic-inspired percussion, as they do on "Gazairia."  Just about everything here is great (and fun) though, as Instrumental Modal Pop of 1970s Egypt sounds like some of the coolest and most forward-thinking musicians around teamed up to unknowingly make a flawless and hook-filled surf/exotica/Bollywood masterpiece.  I can certainly understand how Hamdi came to be so revered in the Arab world if he brought this level of heat to even his non-hits.

Samples can be found here.

 

Centrum, "För Meditation"

cover imageI probably do not follow the contemporary psych-rock scene as closely as I should, so this 2019 side project from Sweden's Hills managed to elude me for a couple of years.  On one level, the leap from Hills to Centrum is not exactly a dramatic one, as För Meditation arguably resembles a Hills album with the electronic guitars and jammier tendencies excised.  On a deeper level, however, the spell that Centrum casts is very different from that of most modern psych bands, as För Meditation feels like a lost classic from the late '60s/early '70s nexus where hallucinogens, Pandit Pran Nath, and eastern religion collectively transformed the more adventurous fringes of rock forever.  In more practical terms, that means that För Meditation is full of droning, chanting, and raga-damaged psychedelia great enough to earn Centrum a place in my personal pantheon of Swedish psych/free music titans like Parson Sound and Träd, Gras och Stenar.  They clearly also learned a trick or two from more recent bands too though, as they do an impressive job of sidestepping the genre's more indulgent tendencies and beautifully channel the killer ride cymbal grooves of classic Om (albeit opting more for hypnotic repetition than muscular intensity and virtuosic flourishes).

Rocket Recordings

The album's description begins with a quote from David Lynch about transcendental meditation and its tenet that "true happiness lies within," but Centrum seem to enthusiastically embraced the Zen ideal of ego death as well, as the band's enigmatic line-up is given only as "members of Hills and Weary Nous."  That anonymity admittedly makes sense here, as the focus is not on individual performances so much as it is on the band members seamlessly converging in perfect harmony for a series of great droning grooves.  Or, as the label puts it, "beguiling tapestries of drone-based hypnosis, mantric vocal chants and ritualistic folk along with field recordings" (the latter made by the band in India).  The opening "Vid Floden" is a representative introduction to that aesthetic, as a slow, heady groove of pulsing Shruti box swells, muscular bass riffage, hazy chanted vocals, and a cool flute hook unfolds for ten straight minutes with minimal evolution.  There are some subtle effects and a decent amount of guitar soloing (both clean and distorted), but the magic primarily lies in how the various musicians interact and embellish the groove without ever breaking the spell with indulgent missteps.  Instead, elements like the smoldering guitar solo in the following "Sjön" serve more of a textural and dynamic purpose than a cathartic or melodic one.  That said, that solo does inject a soulful intensity that plays a significant role in making "Sjön" one of the album's strongest pieces.  Of course, the warbling wah-wah improvisations and heavy ride cymbal beat play crucial roles as well (especially once the tambourine kicks in). 

The remaining two pieces are unsurprisingly devoted to variations on the same themes.  The brief "Stjärnor" is the closest thing to a single, as it distills the Centrum vision to a tight five minutes and enhances it with a melodic violin theme, but it also breaks the hypnotic spell a bit with a very prominent wah-wah solo in its final moments.  The closing "Som En Spegel," on the other hand, heads in the opposite direction and stretches out for twelve epic minutes with little threat of derailing.  Initially, it feels a bit too fast and too muscular to quite hit the raga/drone comfort zone, but it gradually blossoms into a masterful slow burn with the addition of tambourine, serpentine flute melodies, and a very cool finale of dub-inspired percussion flourishes.  Aside from the mixed success of "Stjärnor," För Meditation is a damn near perfect album in my book.  While it is not terribly hard to find other psych-rock bands who look to the east for inspiration, very few are able to match the natural chemistry and sublime execution that Centrum bring to the form.

Samples can be found here.

 

Sarah Davachi, "Antiphonals"

cover imageIn my review of Cantus Figures Laurus last month, I half-jokingly noted that Sarah Davachi's creative arc seems unavoidably headed towards composing a full-on Mellotron-driven prog rock opus.  While she has not quite reached that dubious culminating achievement yet, Antiphonals is arguably another significant step in that direction, as it is very Mellotron-centric and the vinyl release features a sticker comparing it to a prog album with everything removed except the keyboard parts.  For the most part, however, the change in instrumentation did not inspire any particularly dramatic stylistic transformations, as Antiphonals mostly picks up right where Cantus, Descant left off, which is somewhere best described as "like a blurred, stretched, and deconstructed organ mass."  In keeping with that theme, both an electric organ and a pipe organ are featured (along with plenty of other instruments), yet the resemblance to an organ mass is more spiritual than overt this time around.  In more concrete terms, that means that Davachi's sound palette has broadened a bit from Cantus, but she is still very much focused on somberly meditative moods, glacial melodies, bleary drones, and subtle harmonic transformations.

Late Music

As was previously the case with Cantus, Descant, Antiphonals' title plainly states the compositional theme of the album.  The term is usually applied to liturgical or traditional choral music and roughly means that two choirs are singing different themes that interact with each other.  While there are not any choirs here, the album’s overarching aesthetic seems to be sketchlike compositions in which Davachi brings together two simple motifs to rub up against one another in interesting ways.  I say "sketchlike" because she does not seem particularly interested in crafting strong melodies or complete compositional arcs for most of these pieces, opting to instead zoom in closely on harmonies and textures that tend to come to an abrupt end when a piece has run its course.  That said, the album does feature one (somewhat) fully formed and melodic centerpiece ("Gradual of Image") that combines minor key acoustic arpeggios, a quietly gorgeous organ melody,  and fluttering, dreamy layers of Mellotron.  That is Davachi's most "prog" moment and it executed beautifully.  For me, however, the album’s zenith is the ghostly drone of "Magdalena," which sounds like a spectral brass ensemble conjuring slow motion waves of aching melancholy.  It is a masterful slow burn, gradually revealing shifting patterns and warm harmonies.  In fact, it may be one of the most perfect pieces that Davachi has composed to date, so the album's primary allure is "one killer drone piece and a very promising prog detour," but a couple of the remaining pieces are compelling as well.  For example, "Border of Mind" initially sounds like a murky tape of a small string ensemble trying their damnedest to acoustically replicate Sunn O)))'s gnarled and blown-out drones, but it quickly dissolves into a hallucinatory coda of smeared flutes and uneasily dissonant harmonies.  Elsewhere, "Rushes Recede" takes the opposite route, as bleary flute-like Mellotron drones gradually blossom into something resembling a sublime organ mass.  For me, "Rushes Recede" feels like the third and final highlight of the album, yet fans who are more enamored with Davachi's recent indulgently minimal "ancient cathedral" direction will likely find Antiphonals to be a worthy successor to Cantus, Descant.  While this is admittedly not my favorite side of her work, I can still very much appreciate the way she is slowing down and burrowing deeper, as though she is tenaciously peeling away layer after layer of craft to get to the pure essence of her vision.

Samples can be found here.

 

Lawrence English, "Observation of Breath"

cover imageOne of the many surprises of the last few years has been the current pipe organ renaissance unfolding in the experimental music world (your days are numbered, modular synths!).  Thankfully, we still seem to be in the honeymoon phase of that phenomenon, as the vanguard of Kali Malone, Sarah Davachi, and Lawrence English are all fairly consistent in exclusively releasing strong and/or interesting albums.  This latest release is English's second (after last year's Lassitude) to focus entirely upon pieces composed on an 19th century organ housed in Brisbane's The Old Museum.  This is a very different album than its predecessor, however, as Lassitude was comprised of homages to Éliane Radigue and Phill Niblock.  On Observation of Breath, English instead derives conceptual inspiration from Charlemagne Palestine's "maximal minimalism" as well as the mechanics of breathing (quite relevant when pipe organs are involved).  There is one more favorable similarity to Lassitude, however, as this album also features one stone-cold masterpiece that spans an entire side of vinyl.

Hallow Ground

As English amusingly notes in his album description, Observation of Breath was composed and recording during a soft lockdown in which he "spent many days playing to an empty concert hall."  He also states that he considers these four pieces a collaboration between himself and the pipe organ, which is not intended a mere nicety, as he viewed their interaction similarly to the mind/body dialogue of breathing (hence the album's title).  In essence, English was consciously "breathing" for the pipe organ, as he strove to achieve a compelling balance of power (exhalations stacked in unison) and "elegant uncertainty" (the moments when breath becomes unsteady and fading).  Knowing all of that failed to fully prepare me for the harrowing "The Torso" though, as English unleashes deep bass drones augmented with plenty of hiss, industrial ambiance, and nightmarish whine (I especially enjoyed the parts that sounded like a seasick air raid siren).  The following "A Binding" is considerably less radical, lying somewhere between "textbook drone done well" and "multiple drones with differing oscillation patterns ingeniously intertwined."  To my ears, it is the least strong piece on the album, but I still like it.  And I love “And A Twist,” as it feels like a hallucinatory organ mass that keeps tying itself into murky knots of dissonance.  Sadly, it clocks in under three minutes, but is easy to imagine an extended version rivaling Catherine Christer Hennix’s The Electric Harpsichord for the crown of "best album that sounds like a vampire on hallucinogens blasting out a sinister solo in his lonely mountaintop castle." 

Fortunately, the closing title piece makes a great consolation prize for that missed opportunity.  "Observation Of Breath" initially sounds like a viscous fog of dread oozing across a deep sustained drone, but English gradually enhances that with more harmonic color as the piece glacially unfolds.  The truly inspired part comes when English begins to "explore the sonic qualities of different frequency spectra," however, as the piece blossoms into an all-enveloping and seismic drone juggernaut that feels like it is tuned to the resonant frequency of the earth (or at least of my apartment walls).  As such, the primary appeal of this release for me is that it contains one of the greatest drone pieces ever recorded, but it is a damn strong album as a whole too.  English is in peak form here.

Samples may be found here.

 

Porter Ricks

cover imageNewly reissued with different artwork, Porter Ricks' second album is a fitfully compelling and somewhat perplexing mixed bag that I somehow managed to never hear until now.  My befuddlement is largely due to the fact that the first Porter Ricks album (Biokinetics) is an all-time dub techno classic, so I would have expected Andy Mellwig and Thomas Köner to expand further upon the formula that they had perfected to great acclaim.  Instead, the duo took a more stylistically fluid approach, occasionally returning to Biokinetics-style dub, but also dabbling in dark ambient and some unexpectedly funky strains of house music.  That said, it is probably wrong to view Biokinetics and this album as intentional statements or clearly delineated phases of a linear artistic evolution, as both releases are compilations of singles and EPs and Biokinetics got all the great Chain Reaction ones from 1996.  This one collects all the Force Inc. EPs from the following year, so these pieces could be anything from Chain Reaction-era outtakes to stylistic experiments to a stab at greater accessibility (though that is hard to imagine, given the cold bleakness of Köner's solo work).  In any case, there are still enough strong pieces to make this an enjoyable album, but anyone hoping for the focus and distinctive vision of Biokinetics will probably want to moderate their expectations a bit before diving into this one.

Mille Plateaux/Force Inc.

This uneven and eclectic collection of songs makes a lot more sense if one considers how they were originally released, as the album is essentially four stand-alone singles and their flipsides.  And in classic dub fashion, the B-sides tend to be variations of the raw material from the A-side, so there are basically four separate thematically unified clusters of songs here.  There is one notable exception, however, and it is the album's longest and strongest piece: "Scuba Lounge."  I do not believe it ever surfaced on a single before appearing on this full length (the Trident EP featured a different "Scuba" piece), but it definitely sounds like it should have been on Biokinetics.  It opens in deceptively formless fashion, elegantly blurring together burbling scuba sounds and ominous industrial ambiance, but soon coheres into a killer menacing groove of gurgling bass and seething, slow-motion crunch.  The other pieces closest to the Biokinetics vein are "Redundance" series from the Vol 1 and Vol 2 EPs.  My favorite of the lot is "Redundance 3," which combines the relentless forward motion of its shuffling beat with an impressively gelatinous and gnarled sounding synth motif.  The remaining four "Redundance" pieces are a surprisingly varied lot, taking roughly the same themes in very different directions, as Köner and Mellwig alternately veer into hissing, coldly futuristic ambient ("Redundance (Version)"), a sensually kitschy vintage burlesque show groove ("Redundance 5"), and—weirdest of all—a Bo Diddly beat ("Redundance 6").  Similarly wrongfooting are the pieces from Explore/Exposed and Spoil/Spoiled.  For example, "Explore" sounds like a New Jack Swing groove augmented with a very insistent wah-wah guitar theme, which the flip resembles guitars from The Church mashed together with a hypercaffeinated, percussion-heavy, and out-of-control strain of synth pop.  That said, "Spoil" is inarguably the biggest shock of the album, as an unrelenting house thump barrels along with a very in-your-face funk bass line and some jangly guitars.  It sounds far more like a purposely ham-fisted house remix of an A Certain Ratio single than anything I would expect from Porter Ricks.  The smeared, hallucinatory, and submerged-sounding flipside ("Spoiled") is right up my alley though, approximating a building-shaking rave as heard from a neighboring alley.  While I wish I loved more than a handful of songs here, I am delighted that this reissue called my attention to a few old classics that were new to me, as Porter Ricks has a tragically lean discography for an influential project that has now spanned a quarter century.

Samples can be found here.

 

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