Tagged: avant-rock

The Loving Tongue

JULY191

Here’s the latest outburst of mean-spirited evil acoustic gittarring hoodoo from Bill Orcutt, the guitarist from Harry Pussy who caused such a stir when he resurfaced from a long silence armed with an acoustic guitar so fierce that you could hear the very grain of the wood when he played it in his angry, restless and atonal way. On A History Of Every One (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 173) the ferocity that I seem to recall from 2009′s A New Way To Pay Old Debts may have mollified by one or two degrees, allowing us better to concentrate on Orcutt’s curious approach where he mixes primitive blues/country idioms with a very strong bent on modernistic free improvisation, so that he continues to comes across as a more forceful and grumpier version of John Fahey inhabited by a ghostly variant of Sonny Sharrock with thin reedy fingers clutching the neck like a lifeline. The sensation of hearing many poltergeists channelled through a single physical entity is reinforced by Orcutt’s eerie vocalisings on this record, which aren’t really singing so much as the sort of weird wailing that most great jazz pianists use, in what I had always assumed was a sort of guide-track to keep their keys in tune with the melody and their body in time with the swing. If you scope the back cover of this release you’ll see a clutch of titles that reflect either an appreciation of primitive swamp blues (‘Black Snake Moan’, ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’, ‘Massa’s in the Cold Cold Ground’) or allude to standards from the American songbook of Grade-A schmaltz, including ‘White Christmas’, ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’ and ‘Zip A Dee Doo Dah’ 1. And ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ may be intended as another nod in Fahey’s direction, viz. Fare Forward Voyagers or any of his works which hinted at his love-hate relationship with the Christian faith. However, as you will hear when he plays these tunes, they are by no means cover versions that remain faithful to their sources, and that’s putting it mildly, nor do they dwell in any known blues modes for more than five seconds at a time. While we’re looking at the cover, note how stark and unadorned it be with its sans-serif fonts and no images. Orcutt’s White Album, without a doubt. From October 2013.

JULY192

Another strong record from the Norwegian trio Cakewalk who we last heard with their 2012 debut album Wired; they use synths, guitars, bass and drums to produce excellent improvised instrumental work, situated somewhere more or less in the area of avant-garde rock music, but enriched with plenty of ideas, innovation, and just sheer tough-mindedness driving every note, plus a great approach to making records that ensures clarity, depth, and a straight left to the jaw for every listener. Stephan Meidell, Øystein Skar and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad work hard to escape cliché and over-familiar sounds, and they can be quite indignant if ever challenged about their supposed “resemblance” to any given band or genre of music: “chances are we’ve never listened to them”, they assert, when presented with a music journalist’s review studded with lists of references. For the most part, Transfixed (HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2526) has a sombre and heavy approach in the performances which I would liken to holding a conversation with a troupe of heavy-set tattooed wrestlers who have somehow been awarded professorial chairs at a school of advanced study, and who now hold no truck with dissenters as they lecture from the podium on their chosen subjects with gravity and authority. This is especially true of the relentless chugging motion of ‘Ghosts’, a piece of music whose stern aspect is only slightly leavened by a surface of decorative electronic trills used about as sparingly as silver balls on a miser’s birthday cake; and the controlled hysteria of ‘Swarm’, which could be used to provoke a riot in any given crowded situation, for example the New York stock exchange floor. ‘Bells’ is trying a shade too hard to be more likeable, and in places could be mistaken for a media-friendly arthouse movie soundtrack, and ‘Dive’ is a misguided attempt to do the ‘bleak ambient’ thing, which this trio are not suited for; they’re just too loquacious for effective minimalism. But the remainder, ‘Dunes’ and especially the dour title track, deliver just the right tone of steely menace, all set to a thrilling rock beat. From 07 October 2013.

  1. That last title is its own double-edged sword; it famously appeared in Disney’s Song of the South, the kitschy 1946 movie which has since been frowned upon, for what are now perceived as racist themes.

Arrival By Degree

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Huntsville
Past Increasing Future Receding
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2521 (2013)

Gentle, pensive post rock circumambulations with a penchant for sharp turns into imposing territory, an inky infusion of low-register doom/gloom motifs and the odd smattering of remorseless machine drumming, which raise tension in what could so easily blend into the wallpaper as just another genre workout. The lack of scope one finds in the field of long-form gloom-rock pieces is ultimately the elephant in the room, though it’s probably as enticing a selling point as it is an epitaph. To be clear, there’s really nothing devastatingly ‘new’ about this recording – nor many of its ilk: those days are long gone my friends. Even the last Godspeed album – one I have much time for – found redemption merely in a fresh lick of paint. That said, as an exercise in collective expression, Past Increasing Future Receding holds up well. The trickling guitar lines and now-standard echo-blurred cymbal swirls are at once trite and hypnotic, while somehow suggestive (at times) of some imagined orient.

The musicians adjusted themselves to a mutual crawl over the course of three days as their presences resonated in the capacious blackness of Emanuel Vigeland’s barrel-vaulted Mausoleum in Oslo, their lack of hurry a suitable inhabiting spirit for those available dimensions. So clearly are the acoustics rendered on record that the room is said to have constituted a de-facto fourth member (I don’t suppose this has been said before, has it?). Of those hours, these thirty-four minutes are the revealed portion, and there is beauty in this brevity: one anomalous in a genre that checks its watch so infrequently. Of the three pieces, ‘The Flow of Sand’ captures the elements in their finest form: the dull, telltale throb of a buried siren and a stray banjo strumming vaguely middle-eastern modes. If you like this sort of music, then I imagine you will enjoy this recording as well!

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Niski Szum
Siedem Piesni Miejskich
POLAND MATHKA NO NUMBER (2013)

At times a spindlier, more mournful proposition than Huntsville, Niski Szum (aka Marcin Dymiter) favours long stretches of the same monologue-spliced, slowly ascending chord progressions as many post-rock heroes of our constellation, driving plangent pins into listeners’ hearts upon a tidal wave of resignation. Yet in spite of the audible familiarity it still manages to sound pleasant and virtually epic at times. Virtually, as in ‘not-quite’, that is. Still, Dymiter sustains the drama the way slow period dramas can do, and ameliorates the impatient with an ear for variety (by degree): eschewing excessive theme-and-variation laziness and escorting us through climes of differing murkiness: a Penderecki-esque purgatory of strings on one journey; elsewhere a vision of hell across an unforgiving Midwestern landscape with windblown shards of guitar clang and a brittle violin lament. Surely as worthy of a place on the Hubro label as Huntsville, but perhaps these two labels are one and the same?

ION (self-titled): awe-inspiring and soaring post-black metal psychedelic transcendence

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ION, self-titled, independent release on CD (2014)

At the time of writing this review, I knew very little about ION apart from the fact that this trio is based in San Francisco and that this self-titled album is the band’s debut recording. The musicians’ days of being obscure may soon end if this album becomes better known. With each passing day, that happy state becomes all the more likely as “ION” is a soaring example of post-black metal psychedelic transcendence.

That the music is intended to be a totally immersive experience is apparent from the way the five tracks are linked together to form one over-arching work that encompasses many contradictions, dualities and polarities in musical structure, atmosphere and sound. Bursts of blast-beat aggression chaos give way to wide expanses of space interrupted only by squiggles of tone and echo background wash. Starkly sorrowful melodic riffs ebb and flow like waves upon a beach before dissolving into seas of buzzing guitar noise and frantic percussion. In short, the ION musicians range far and wide exploring their musical territory – and what a vast and varied territory that is, taking in wide plains of ambience, hills of frenzied tremolo guitar chord squiggle, chunky melody and rhythm mountain ranges and blast-beat torrents.

As the music progresses, the contrasts become ever greater: the loudest, angriest hyper-blasting black metal can calm and reduce right down to the softest acoustic-guitar twang, at times inaudible save only for reverb effects. Tones and effects may be suspended in a murky space, their connection to one another uncertain and occurring randomly, until with effort a melody may form as if from spontaneous generation from sound fragments. On occasions the music can be very pretty and shapely but this is not shoegazer post-BM: its ambitions are much grander and the path it must take tends towards high and low extremes in emotion and atmosphere.

Interstellar space ambience (“Embers”) proves to be no barrier to ION’s musical quest and aspirations; listeners may be confronted with the immense nature of the sonic universe looming in their heads and their own place within it. The music is at its most psychedelic, abstract, improvised and disorienting in later parts of the album where we are thrust into deep inner (or outer) space. As the space trip nears its destination, the guys exert themselves heroically to deliver an exhilarating and dramatic summation of all that’s gone before. The one thing that’s a little bit lacking here is a very thunderous percussion back-up as the drums at this point are a bit thin and tinny, and the guys have to rely on chunky guitar barrage and UFO lift-off and landing effects to make their way through the climax.

Fittingly for such an awe-inspiring musical landscape, there are no fewer than two lots of vocals, one typically BM-raspy and the other a deeper guttural death metal vocal. At this point in the band’s history, I am not sure what the lyrics of three tracks are intended to refer to and listeners are at liberty to interpret them as they wish: they hint at some dissolution of an individual’s material state to reveal that which is most essential about that person and whether s/he ascends to a higher plane of existence or something much lower, darker and baser.

The band that most often comes to mind for me when I hear this music is the UK-based Fen, especially in ION’s sound when the guys are at their most melodic and melancholy. Other bands that might be referenced as points of comparison include Altar of Plagues (their White Tomb phase), Wolves in the Throne Room for passion and drama, and other North American BM bands like Ash Borer, Fell Voices, Panopticon and Skagos who deliver strong BM with ambient elements and mystical, shamanistic themes or social messages. A non-BM band that springs to mind is Samsara Blues Experiment which engages in similar psychedelic space metal head trips but ION far out-strips that band for risk-taking. Fans of all these bands should listen to ION’s debut if they can get copies. At this time of writing, the album was self-released but Aquarius Records in San Francisco may still have some copies.

Contact: Aquarius Records, ION

Darkspace I: setting the controls aiming for the heart of the universe – and finding sheer dark space

DARKSPACEI

Darkspace, Darkspace I, Haunter of the Dark, CD001 (2003)

Finally I’ve been able to hear the first album in Darkspace’s trilogy of cold immersive space-ambient BM albums, mainly for the sake of completion. In comparison with the other Darkspace albums, this first set sticks closely to militaristic black metal, delivered a little too efficiently in the manner of machines inhabited and driven by an insane and malevolent spirit. That’s meant to be a compliment to the Darkspace trio of musicians themselves. All three recordings are inspired and powered by a vision of space and the cosmos as essentially indifferent, and maybe even hostile, to the existence of humanity; the message is that we are on our own and if we are to continue to exist, we must do so without help from external powers. A supreme God will not save us because such an entity does not and has never existed.

The beast is born in utter black cavernous emptiness amid shifting, groaning echoes, sighing whispers and cries of lost spirits. Suddenly the music jets off into the high atmosphere, all bristling noise and crunching jagged guitar battery riffs, eerie background synthesiser tones and a cacophony of gabbling demon voices caught up within the tight maelstrom. In the second track there is a sample of dialogue from the Stanley Kubrick film “2001: A Space Odyssey” in which the computer HAL is interviewed by the BBC and states that it looks forward to working with humans. As the track progresses, the music speeds up to a frenzied and extreme level, the screaming grows more demented, drums and cymbals are pounding away, and the synths sigh on as if in a frozen catatonic state.

The musicians concentrate in the main on building up an overwhelming, enveloping structure that sweeps up listeners and carries them aloft on an interstellar journey between their ears. You can’t help but be absorbed by it all. The evil and deranged atmosphere completely swamps you. Within the music, hideous beings converse and plot the course of the spaceship careening through the cosmos at multiple times the speed of light. One mistake, the ship lurches in another direction and the monsters scream and howl their lungs inside out and back gain. Lead guitar hollers away in a wormhole and drums bang on in a non-stop frenzy.

Admittedly the music is not varied and tends towards the obsessive and extreme in its single-minded focus. That’s the whole point of the recording: its very derangement and seeming lack of anything resembling human nature or anything organic mean that there is no concept of limitation where the music is concerned. Whatever direction is set for it, it continues relentlessly down that track. Everything takes place in a nihilistic universe; concepts of good and evil are neither here nor there. You’re not asked to love the music but you have to admire it anyway for its pure nature, steeped in what we would consider evil and malevolent.

It’s only in Track 1.6 that we get the first hints that the music might be slowing down just a little and a certain despair, a moment of bleak desolation, appears beneath the layers of compulsively grinding guitar texture. But these hints lead nowhere as the maelstrom moves with a force even it can’t control. On and on it goes, and even when the album appears to wind down and the music fades away, there’s still a sense of a never-ending journey into infinity and beyond.

Nevertheless whether this journey ever has an end or not, it is a journey worth taking for those brave enough to question the nature of the universe in which we live and who want to know more beyond what they’ve been taught to believe and found wanting.

Contact: Haunter of the Dark

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 1 of 3

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Last heard from Trophy Wife with their eponymous EP from 2011…here they are now with Stella, My Star (PRIVATE LEISURE INDUSTRIES PLI-5), two songs which show this Tennessee all-girl band now reduced from a quartet to a trio and continuing their themes of haunted suburban angst which they deliver with lo-fi post-punkish guitars and synths and wispy washed-out vocals. Have to admit this is an improvement on the earlier EP which didn’t know where to put itself and wound up like a fakeified Goth-lite mish-mash of ideas, despite some spiky highlights in the playing. Here, the title track is a jumble of words which are hard to decipher, but it’s clear a sinister story is being unfurled and there’s no happy ending to it; matter of fact the song just stops dead abruptly with no formal warnings, leaving the listener a tad stunned. The disquieting tone of the instruments here, and the uncertain chord changes and key of the song, create the correct degree of unsettling paranoia. A dense and opaque nightmare in the daylight. B side ‘Frankie’s Song’ is certainly more limpid, and the dark nursery rhyme of the repeated lyric is incredibly basic, but the payoff to this “tale of childhood love gone wrong” feels as trite as a Hollywood teenage horror flick. I think this band have potential, but they gotta stop striking so many poses that don’t quite fit, and strive to be themselves a bit more. Arrived 10 April 2012.

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Romvelope has a seven-incher Catomountain / Hodmandod (ADAADAT ADA0025). This is the electro-acoustic sound-artist Bjorn Hatleskog, a man with feet planted in both Norway and Scotland, who performs with handmade sound sculptures in what could be deemed a rather eccentric performance setup. He’s built an electric organ that can be played with a remote control, a guitar that strums itself, and an item called the “robotic bongo” which I take to be his personal rustic update on the drum machine, and hopefully a convoluted device that is far more complex and time-consuming than some facile piece of programmable machinery. Hatleskog also generates his own unique form of live electronic sound by processing and amplifying the otherwise inaudible buzz from fluorescent lights. This might be akin to the methods employed by Atsuhiro Ito and his optron, but I’m prepared to be corrected on that. It’s probably no surprise to learn that he’s done it in art galleries around the UK and mainland Europe; this kind of thing just begs to be seen in a confined space. Reading about his quirkoid inventions makes them appear rather brilliant, but as sound art, this record is tame and unadventurous, a dreary series of random clops and buzzes; the endearing “clunky” feel to the recording is the only factor that appeals to me, as though Romvelope were presiding over a workshop of charming wooden toys that are gradually coming to life. However, neither Pierre Bastien nor Bruce Lacey will be losing any sleep. Limited to 200 copies, arrived 8th July 2013.

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MHFS is one of two items we received from the fine Emerald Cocoon label on 30 January 2013. This is Mark Sadgrove, a New Zealander based on Tokyo who is also an atomic physicist. The Grey Lynn Homeless Set (EMERALD COCOON EC006) was originally delivered in response to a commission from the label, who asked Sadgrove to perform a support set for Metal Rouge’s debut live show in 2006. He was too busy working on his thesis on quantum mechanics to attend, and instead turned in the recordings on this seven-incher, requesting that they be played over the PA. Well, I spun this item at home and have at first been massively underwhelmed by MHFS’s baffling outburst of arbitrary, meaningless noises. Now as I wrote this I find I can’t wait to hear it again. It’s short to the point of abruptness, the sounds generated are lazy, dull, and broken, and all the mistakes in the process – Sadgrove uses an incredibly primitive setup which can barely be called “musical” in any sense of the term – are exposed for all to hear, and indeed incorporated into the finished work. Apparently it’s all very deliberate; his selection of recording locations that allow for maximum leakage of environmental sounds onto the tape, his detuned and de-assembled acoustic guitar that has been strung with six low E strings, and a system of recording that is programmed, perhaps using mathematical methods, to deliver the certainty of randomness to a high degree. The other appealing element is that none of the above is “explained” on the recordings, which simply burst on stage and make their brief statements underscoring the absurdity of existence, before vanishing into the nearest wormhole. The A side of this item will be more “shocking” to those who crave form or structure, while the B side may win you over with its bizarrely distant voice elements and its additional textures, which contrast quite sharply with the stark minimalism of the A side. Marginal in extremis, the ultra-simple approach of MHFS calls into question more elaborate forms of sound art, making them appear labour-intensive and wasteful by comparison. This is #4 in the label’s “Alone Together” series.

Jute Gyte / Venowl: microtonal mayhem and madness

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Jute Gyte / Venowl, self-titled, Black Horizons, cassette BH-78 (2014)

For those who prefer their Jute Gyte in half-hour dollops or less, this split with fellow American noise-maker Venowl might be just the ideal serving. Each act has a side of the release (my copy of the split is on cassette) all to itself. The one thing Jute Gyte and Venowl have in common is their use of microtonal scales in their music: Jute Gyte uses a Fender Squire guitar retro-fitted by Sword Guitars to play 24-tone scales on two tracks and Venowl employ guest musician Troy Schafer on a microtonal violin on their one-track contribution.

On Jute Gyte’s side, the music can be dizzying and demented in sound, seemingly out of tune and slopping all over the place. There are definite melodies and riffs though and after you have listened to this cassette a few times, you’ll realise they’re perfect as they are and can’t be played in any other scale. After a brief quiet introduction, the jagged metal proper begins and JG man Adam Kalmbach takes us on a trip into some very heavy, black near-industrial soundscapes, all chunky with riffs being churned out in solid, hard-edged slabs and with lead guitar tones coming off as large flat shards of metal.

The first track is regular with looping riffs and there are sections in the music where the apparent chaos quietens down considerably. The second track is more relaxed and while the tones can still be weird, the music is not difficult to follow. Kalmbach’s vocals are the sickest, most hellish thing here: never did a denizen of the underworld sound as raspy and bad-tempered as Kalmbach’s voice does. There’s a violin in the music somewhere (or it could be that microtonal guitar in disguise). Plenty of hard loopy (and looping) metallic rifferama abounds as well, much of the time barely keeping together but all grinding and cranking away under that crabby vocal to the end. A highlight of Track 2 is a relaxed section in which watery choirs sing in the background and the atmosphere is pleasant and very balmy. Is Jute Gyte starting to mellow at last?

Venowl’s contribution is a burner of grinding feedback guitar, see-saw violin and some of the most insane pig-squealing vocals you’ll ever hear. The track is structureless and is an odd mix of super-low industrial doom metal, improv and 21st-century avant-garde formal classical (because of that violin) all rolled together. It’s more lumbering than lethargic in pace and threatens to collapse into large slabs of doomy metal tombstone slabs. The texture of the music is rough and gravelly, pitted with lots of holes and sharp edges in-between. Halfway through the music starts to froth and clouds of noise and foghorn bass feedback pass through the speakers in almost pulse-like waves. Voices scream for their life. The music’s single-minded, obsessive intensity increases unrelentingly – compared to this band, Khanate might as well be soft rock.

While Venowl’s track “Snowbed” features some undeniably doomier-than-doom metal, the 27-minute running time can be a hard road to travel, especially with such incredibly heavy and unstructured music. There’s no point in the track where you can pause the music so you can freak out for a while, spend time in a strait-jacket and then undergo psychological therapy before returning to the fray.

I hesitate to compare Jute Gyte and Venowl as each band’s particular brand of hellish scariness derives from very different musical approaches – Venowl going for super-low, super-heavy and super-long, and Jute Gyte preferring a deranged, layered and chaotic sound – so it’s a matter of personal preference as to which of the two you least want to meet late at night before the witching hour. Should these guys unite again for another record, they should play together instead of separately – now that would be a match made in the deepest of hells!

Contact: Black Horizons

Verwüstung: a work of depressed black metal / ambient devastation

Verwüstung

Moloch, Verwüstung, Acephale Winter Productions, cassette AWP011 (2014)

For sheer consistency and abundance, very few bands can beat this Ukrainian one-man black metal ambient act who has released at least ninety recordings including splits and boxed sets in a ten-year period. This is the twelfth full-length album from Moloch and the second (and presumably not the last, not by a long shot!) recording for 2014. Bookended by two all-instrumental brooding and sinister ambient drift tracks, the album is a harsh and intense beast with grim, ragged BM vocals, an aggressive sound, pounding drum-beats and an atmosphere of anguish and hopelessness.

“Blutmond” leads the way with a tight if chaotic presentation: the vocals are screechy and running amok while drums gallop and chainsaw guitars churn away. The feeling is desperate, close to hysteria. “Spiritueller Selbstmord” seems a bit more settled, a little less chaotic but vocalist Sergiy howls with the desperation of one who knows he is damned forever. The song has a tragic air close to haunting majesty. “Negativitat” is a solid track, alternating between fast and medium-paced, with a droning low-end guitar, a sense of extreme despair and some excellent drumming that mixes up its beats and rolls.

The next three songs are of equal length (just over 4 minutes) and the Burzum (“Filosofem”-era) influence is apparent in the thrumming tremolo guitar textures and rolling rhythms on a couple of these. The singing is as heart-rending as ever and Sergiy totters on the edge of hammy over-acting. The second of these songs is almost comic in its increasing vocal loopiness as the pain and intensity escalate.

The title track is a completely different beast altogether: whereas previous songs were tight and well-composed, “Verwustung” is unstructured and holds together loosely. It is quiet and restrained where the rest of the album was noisy and verging on excess. Experimentalism with sound and space replaces raging music. The piano sound is very clear and has a stark uncompromising sound.

After churning out 90 – 100 recordings, you might think Sergiy must have overworked himself with little left to give but this album is a raw and intensely emotional creature, almost with a mind of its own. The ambient tracks are at a far extreme from the rest of the album and provide an insight into Moloch’s musical range and compositional skills. The songs slump a bit after the halfway mark with too much screechy singing from Sergiy’s shredded tonsils. The desperate mood throughout the album seems sincere and the album holds together as a unit in spite of the musical contrasts. The production may not be the best (although listening to the album on cassette with its limitations isn’t ideal) but most instruments can be heard clearly and the vocalist’s pain and desolation are very keenly felt by listeners.

Anyone who has yet to encounter the tower of releases made by Moloch would do well to start with this album and work backwards through his 90 or so recordings if you need something to keep you off the streets.

Contact: Acephale Winter Productions

Crystal Gazing

Big French are an underground American rock band who play bizarre songs and their Downtown Runnin’ (WHARF CAT RECORDS 006) LP was sent to us from Brooklyn 23 July 2013. It’s mostly the work of Quentin Moore, who wrote the songs, sings them, and plays guitar, while the frantic tunes are filled out with some very fluid lead guitar lines perhaps played by Colin White, and some freaky synth blat from the fingers of Zach Phillips. Given the brevity of most of the songs – few last beyond two minutes – it’s much to their credit that the band members find room to express themselves at all, and mostly they do it by overplaying their lines against each other in exciting ways, and pile their colourful riffs on top of the effete and mannered vocalisings of Moore, who sings in quite a high range. A bit like hearing Russell Mael sing alongside Brian May’s guitar, yet the whole shebang is happening in the context of an album which, if released by SST in the 1980s, would now be regarded as a fine example of experimental rock-pop music. Sorry if I appear at all equivocal, because I kinda like this one; while Moore’s work is an acquired taste, it’s catchy; the more you listen, the more addictive do the songs become. It’s on vinyl, but I have a promo CD copy.

Another unusual item from Intangible Cat, an obscure Illinois label whose output I would never otherwise hear were it not for their frequent mailings and the power of the mailbox. Dog Hallucination is the duo of D. Petri and Doggy P. Lips, and when we heard their 2011 record Bob Hallucination we felt quite a buzz from its unpredictable zanery and cut-up pranks, even when this was mostly due to radical remix work and hackerment from cutting devices of said Bob, whom they specifically asked to reprocess their recorded work. Serving Two Masters (CAT-19) is completely different to that experiment, and comprises just six short tracks of unobtrusive yet exquisite guitar-based ambient music. I say “ambient”, but if that word triggers associations involving droney background synths, then check out the door right now, bubba! Dog Hallucination create gorgeous tapestries using strum and glide on guitars, processing them to the exact degree that gives them that underwater, misty-morning, gauzy distance that they’re looking for. In the process, they are extremely careful not to lose definition of the overall image, and the sounds of the chiming strings ring clear and true even at low volume. By the time we get to fourth untitled track, it’s clear that this subtle strategy is paying off, and allows them to create a passable (and highly compressed) impersonation of Popol Vuh. They tell me this EP is just the prelude to an entire album on these lines, to be called Mitzi, which was due in later Summer of 2013 and which we look forward to hearing. The enigmatic and elaborate package includes inserts and “fabric dyed with beet leaves and stems & pressed sage leaf from D. Petri’s garden”. From 09 July 2013.

Jonas Gruska is a sound artist from Czechoslovakia who studied composition in Poland and The Netherlands, and whose main work as Binmatu involves computers and electronic music. There’s a visual side to his work too, hence the multi-media release Crystylys (KVITNU 28), a pressing which includes video files alongside the audio content – what’s more the same musical content is served up in multiple formats, including WAV and MP3. My computer isn’t sure where to navigate next, and as a human being I’m not faring too well either. On one level, it seems Binmatu is all about the process – he exhibits an interest in “complex air pressure modulations” and enjoys the “brain-twisting modulations of oscillators”, effects which are matched to some degree in the computer-art abstract visuals he generates in the movie files. Yet on another level, Binmatu intends to pass on a “greater spiritual theory”, using “sound as an intimate power” and performing a “holy purpose”. He regards himself as a “priest of sound”, which is quite an ambitious statement. He wouldn’t be the first to have made claims for the spiritual dimensions to be found in minimal droney music – Terry Riley and Charlemagne Palestine spring to mind – and it’s a commonplace now among many writers to ruminate on the connections between trance states, prayer, and repetitive, monotonous sounds. Gruska’s mysterious drones are pleasant enough, but unfortunately I find he’s unable to sublimate his processes in any meaningful way. I feel he’s got a long way to go before he achieves the transcendence and depth he’s aiming at, but maybe I need to devote more time to exploring these works. From 22 July 2013.

Heavier Than Air

Drive My Temple Car

Got the fourth album by Queen Elephantine, a distinctive metal band who are situated at the “experimental” end of the genre, but working hard to martial their forces and weave a potent doomy brew from their massed guitars and two drumkits, while still retaining the iron grip of sturdy “minimalism” – in so far as that term can apply to rock. The band originally formed in Hong Kong in 2006, but only the guitarist Indrayudh Shome remains from that first line-up, and the band now reside in Providence, suggesting that the band now comprises a mix of Asian and American doomsters. Scarab (HEART & CROSSBONE HCB 047) contains four lengthy and lumbering cuts, all of them pushed along by drumbeats as hard as concrete, and where much effort and sweat is expended on summoning up a vague form of “tribal-ceremonial” vibe while still keeping all four of the elephant’s feet planted on the grim and doomoid terrain; it’s as though the religious procession and all its priests and pilgrims were being slowly dragged down into a deep black marsh, to the accompaniment of hammered gongs and the rich scent of incense. If that sounds depressing, remember that they died willingly, for a cause they believed in. Queen Elephantine’s group sound isn’t actually as ponderous as I make it appear; none of that excessive amplification and distorted guitars malarkey for them, thanks very much, and all their notes are uttered with a deathly, minimal precision, much like a slowed-down and less uptight version of Om. If this team were archers, then you’d better be wearing body armour. The presence of the tanpura (played here by Srinivas Reddy) certainly adds an additional exotic / psychedelic flavour to the general unhinged drone, while an uncredited vocalist adds a harrowing plaint from his perturbed throatal zones, paying scant regard to matching the tune or rhythm, just as long as the haunted tone is in the correct area. It’s also mightily impressive how the band maintains their murderously slow processional pace throughout, even in the teeth of pain and suffering; fans of interminable torture-filth like Khanate are advised to check in, and prepare for an endless ride on the Ratha Yatra temple car (or juggernaut, as some will have it). The quasi-mystical cover artworks are by Adrian Dexter. From 01 July 2013.

Fear and Loathing in Stockholm

In the same envelope, we gots a reissue of I, Guilt Bearer (HCB 046), a 2012 album by the Swedish black-sludge death metal combo This Gift Is A Curse; it’s a joint release with Discouraged Records (MMICD19), Black Wave (BWP003), and Ecocentric (E.R. #185), and includes four bonus tracks taken from the band’s self-titled EP. This Stockholm four-piece specialise in serving up large gobbets of hatred and abomination, flailing wildly as they scream out their extreme alienation, disaffection, and mean-spirited contempt for the world and all that’s in it. Even the label (which has a deep love of unlistenable, obnoxious grindcore) admits it’s a pretty “punishing” listen, while revelling in its psychotic qualities, and while most of that pathological evil stems from the constantly-hysterical screams of singer Jonas, the guitarist Patrik supplies a good deal of musical horror and alarm from his pitch-black instrument, veering wildly from full-on paranoia to terror-stricken claustrophobia. You get the feeling he could start a panic attack just by walking into a music shop to buy a new set of strings. I’ve no problem with confronting all of these wild negative emotions running around the room like red and green speed demons, but I still find this album a bit of a monotonous listen; every track is tuned to the same root note, pretty much played at the same speed, and the dynamic range throughout is extremely – erm – limited. It seems churlish to complain on these grounds though, as this is probably largely the point, and I’d imagine that great catharsis awaits any listener with the fortitude to endure to the end of this “hell ride through the disparate sicknesses of mankind”. Cover is adorned with various ritual Satanic imagery, involving bloodshed, flesh piercing, etc. in a forest at twilight. From 01 July 2013.

Godzilla vs The Kremlin

While still partial to the taste of excessive guitars and drumming, I turned with some delight to the Moweton mini-album Guitaroid Vs Megadrumster (INTONEMA int007). This duo, charmingly named as FX’d Ibby R-ock G-uitar and Trashy Soft, manage to squeeze 26 ultra-short tracks onto their 3-inch CD, and perform a strange species of mega-fast experimental hardcore mathrock, tempering the overall mayhem with unexpected jazzy major seventh chords, funky riffs, and avant-garde electronic noise. It defies rational sense how they manage to get away with violating so many musical taboos in such a small space, but they pull it off with gusto and zeal. The listening experience alternates between having six-inch nails hammered into the forehead at great speed, and being force-fed a series of small energy pills about the size of Smarties. A vitamin-enriched painfest it be. Moweton illustrate their work with one of the naffest and trashiest sci-fi disaster movie airbrushed visuals ever created, but don’t let this prevent you from investigating their insanely hyped-up music. This record sent from Russia is packaged together with…

Tickling Valmiera, performed by Astma featuring Edgars Rubenis. Just one track on here, shy of eight minutes in length, performed by the wonderful Alexei Borisov and Olga Nosova, joined by said Rubenis. This strange growling murk, enlivened with multiple swarms of electric bees, was made using guitars, bass, percussion, effects and electronics, and it inhabits a curious zone – a zig-zagging gaseous stormcloud of musical noise, throwing out strange bolts and shimmering like a vast, inedible fruit jelly. Apparently it’s an edited fragment from a concert the trio performed in Latvia in 2011. Why haven’t we got the whole gig? Maybe it was deemed to dangerous for human consumption. Now that I look at the cover drawing by Erik Shutov, I have to admit that his perceptive pen has come very close to illustrating the exact nature of the spiky abrasive sound herein. Very good. From 01 July 2013.

Columbarium

Another curio from those crazy Canadians who call themselves Tetrix. Not unlike their previous release Tetrix 11, Tetrix 12: The Time Travellers is a species of radio play with musical interludes – every other track is a short snippet of an unfolding drama, alternating with the songs and tunes. In the story, the band Tetrix meet up with their future selves who vouchsafe to them an enigmatic riddle or paradox, and the present-day Tetrix spend the rest of the album attempting to get safely home across a bewildering array of cartoon-like events, each more preposterous than the last, unfolding in a dayglo urban landscape replete with vivid sound effects and jaunty explicatory dialogue. It’s all amiable stuff and the band present themselves as a slightly more streetwise, post-modern and cynical version of The Monkees, acting in an extended fantasy episode of their own TV show. Will the band survive this adventure and make it home safely? Buy the CD and find out! As to the time travel motifs, the story-tellers borrow heavily from recent-ish Hollywood movies on the subject, including the Back to the Future “trilogy”, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, whence they copied the device of the phone booth as a time travel unit. Musically, some of the songs are clearly Tetrix’s warped attempts to do old-skool hip-hop, a trick which they pull off with their characteristic mix of effortless technical skill and tongue-in-cheek parody; other songs are unclassifiable, freely match-’n’-mixing around genres and styles such as psychedelia, heavy metal and electropop, such that the listener will soon feel themselves caught up in a vortex of musical time-travelling. Whatever mask or disguise they slip into though, the band’s gift for melodic invention always shines through, despite the cluttered and eccentric production. I realise not everyone likes this band – it seems they come across as a little too clever for their own good, and their overall sound is extremely artificial, processed with many studio effects – and their sense of humour may not always travel. But I enjoy and admire the way they manage to produce such dense and layered conceits in their work, creating puzzles in sound which are fun to solve, and which repay multiple further listens. I sometimes wonder if history will adjudge these tricksters as the Canadian equivalent to Sudden Sway; they have the same elusiveness, the same quirky pop-charm, and this album could almost be their Spacemate 1. As usual, the release is packaged in an attractive and elaborate sleeve, with a psychedelic illustration of a dinosaur printed on card; you have to lift the die-cut upper jaw of the beast to get to the record. From 30 May 2013.

An absolutely first-class record is Helgoland (GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 109) by Lasse-Marc Riek, and one of the finest field recording items to have reached us for a long time. I’d go so far as to say it sets a benchmark in the genre, both for the clarity of its intent, and the excellence of its realisation. Helgoland is Germany’s only ocean island, an archipelago in the North Sea which has, against all odds, developed into a haven and breeding ground for all manner of seabirds. The area is well-loved and visited by ornithologists, naturally, but Lasse-Marc is one of the few sound artists who has made it out to the island to capture a collection of recordings, apparently at some personal discomfort to himself (it involves crawling into caves and other tight corners), and he devoted two years of his life to this project. The results are beautiful; cries of birds such as the kittiwake, the guillemot and the gull are presented here in vivid detail, along with the bracing sounds of the wind and the ocean surf. Each recording has an honesty and raw vitality; there are no edits, no processes, no tricks. Additionally, there are a few recordings of grey seals near the end of the album, which may reassure those of you who find the strange voice of the seabird too reptilian and alien. Many have remarked how the voice of the seal can resemble the human voice, and tracks 13-14 here do indeed inspire remarkable empathy; they should make you sit up and pay attention like a March hare. The release is published with a high-quality booklet with sumptuous full-colour photographs of animals and landscape, and there are illuminating written notes from Stefan Militzer, Cheryl Tipp from the British Library 2, and Tobias Fischer. Aurally, visually, intellectually – this release satisfies on many levels, and these superb recordings are a tremendous testament to the power of life, the beauty of creation. Essential. From 20 May 2013.

No Compass: Solter resets Friedlander (SKIPSTONE RECORDS SR104) is a short set of remixes derived by Scott Solter from the music of Erik Friedlander. We’ve enjoyed the music of the gifted cellist for many years now, last digging him with the excellent Bonebridge album in 2011. The music here has been reprocessed using the Broken Arm Trio album as a starting point, where Erik played with the drummer Michael Sarin and the bassist Trevor Dunn. Solter’s approach to the art of the remix is radical; he slices the music open like a cadaver, pulls out all the bones and reconstructs everything from the ground up, using as a guidebook the works of Andreas Vesalius combined with the writings of Timothy Leary. ‘Full Chroma’ refashions the all-acoustic trio as a semi-functioning beatbox, left abandoned to sputter away in a deserted Chicago meat-packing warehouse, while ‘Columbarium’ extends stray and overlooked notes into an intense reverbed drone-distort marathon. ‘Assault by St. Wolfli’ is a manic piece, two minutes of mayhem almost as deranged as the mind of its namesake Adolf Wölfli, the famous Outsider artist with his private language and unplayable music scores; here Solter performs his surgery with deep cuts of the knife and unexpected sutures, and the end result is like being dragged through a briar patch. Only ‘Steppe Dub’ is mildly disappointing, for the way it drifts into more familiar territory with its over-processed ambient sounds, but even so it’s blessed with a tricky internal pulse that will baffle the dancing feet of many a dance-floor rhinoceros. The title No Compass suggests that Solter was working in an intuitive manner, setting his sights by the stars as he navigated these strange waters; at the same time, it’s a deliciously perplexing “off-the-map” listen for us, with many inscrutable and baffling moments to savour. It’s as though Solter has created a “secret identity” for Friedlander; now all he has to do is live up to that alter ego. From May 2013.

  1. Blanco Y Negro BYN8B, 1986.
  2. She contributes to the excellent Sound and Vision blog.