Tagged: beats

Supermax

Retro 2038 (EDITIONS MEGO 172) from COH is Ivan Pavlov’s immaculate album of futuristic disco-tech minimalism from the later 21st-century or some such…he probably did it using time-travel methods, while also harking back with a fond eye to retro and vintage modes of pulsation and boundage techno music, about which I am ill-informed…one would have to imagine a blueprint or schematic form of graphical score for a super-imaginary work that balances perfectly astride the entire Kraftwerk-Moroder axis, albeit reduced and stripped down so that only small, atomic-sized particles remain for digestion by the hungry biscuit-muncher. I was on safer ground with 2010’s IIRON from this guy, as that was more of a noisy guitar album in the area of intellectual heavy metal. But I can see this well-produced and finely polished set insinuating its way into my system, by dint of its smooth surfaces and inhumanly clean sounds, propelled by crisp and crunchy mini-beats. “Contains no instrument samples, patches or other additives”, is the proud boast of Pavlov as he brands his work “100% home-made computer sound”, almost as if it were a product from the supermarket. From May 2013.

Minimetal are a rum duo of Swiss guys who perform on stage as a guitar-and-drum duo, apparently wearing top hats and tuxedos while doing so. They’ve gotten into music from a background in the visual arts – design, sculpture and painting, so right away one can’t help but wonder if there’s a performance-art slant to their act. Apparently they formed in 1994, and were fans of Kyuss and other stoner / rock bands of that period…they only wrote 11 songs, and their entire act consists of repeating this slightly limited repertoire to anyone who will listen. On one level they might be accused of starting off as a parody and have now evolved to the point where they’re parodying themselves, but I think there’s likely to be more going on under the surface. The songs on this record are genuinely strong examples of mesmerising and compelling rock, but they’re also performed with a precision and attention to detail which you won’t find in the music of 90% of sloppy west coast slacker bands of the 1990s. Even the vocals are a spot-on impersonation of that throaty American grunty style of singing; you might have to pause to remind yourself that they’re actually European musicians. At no time though is there any sense that Minimetal are mocking the genre, its musicians, fans, or audiences, and Never Hang Around (SPEZIAL MATERIAL SM043CD023) is a thoroughly enjoyable listen of ultra-steady rock rhythms, precision-tooled riffing and relentless syncopation. I suppose the anomalous factor is that they perform this set in art galleries rather than rock venues, but there’s nothing especially odd about that – after all how many New Wave and noise bands have performed at London’s ICA? The top hat and tuxedo gimmick might be read as a nod in the direction of The Residents, but I think it’s more likely to be another carefully-planned gesture of irony; choosing costumes that are uncomfortable and well-groomed in order to position themselves as the diametric opposite of the grunge and stoner “style”, with its comfortable leisure wear, trainers and denims, and loose sweatshirts worn over t-shirts. From 7th May 2013.

Drums and guitar are utilised in a quite different mode by Glockenspiel on their Dupleix (BABEL LABEL BVOR12108) album. The duo of Adrian Dollemore and Steve d’Enton emerge from a background in UK improvisation, and are now cocooning out of that shell into a species of ambient beat-driven jazz drone, played with Dollemore’s diffused and effects-laden guitar and d’Enton’s rather languid beats. Not unpleasant, but much of the music is a bit too smooth and cosy for me, with the exception of ‘Bellville’ which has a lot more in the way of ragged edges, discordant notes, and fire in the guts; moments of ‘Fentanyl’ work in this way too, disrupting the otherwise rather polite tone of the album. One slight reservation one might express is how dated this approach to making music seems now; Dupleix could have been made in 1996, and its aspirations towards Sonic Youth, Krautrock, and ambient music feel a bit tired and unengaging. From 13 May 2013.

Mutatis Mobilis (ATTENUATION CIRCUIT ACR 1028) is a fine item by the great Freiband (i.e. Frans de Waard), sent to us in May 2013 from this Germal label who do package their droney output in some fine tactile plastic lunchboxes for our delectation. I suppose there are two main characteristics to note with Mutatis Mobilis – its interactiveness, and its extremely recycled nature. As to the interactive dimension, Frans has timed and edited these two suites of ultra-processed drone so that they last precisely the same length; the listener is invited to open both tracks on the computer, using a suitable audio program, so that they can be played back and listened to simultaneously. And even remixed in real time, if the user entertains such proclivities. I haven’t yet tried it myself, but I expect Audacity would do the job effectively, and it’s an open source program which I recommend. However, with this release De Waard is trying to move away from strictly “digital” methods and is harking back to the 1980s when TEAC four-track machines enabled the bold experimenter to do amazing things on cassette tapes with overdubs, mixage, and bouncing-down. Matter of fact the label also released this album as a cassette (15 copies only, though) in hopes that owners of original Portastudios could get stuck in. As to the recycling element, Mutatis Mobilis uses source material created by Freiband blended with other source material from the album Mutatis Mutandis by Aalfang mit Pferdekopf, which itself was created out of sound samples provided by Freiband. This collaborative “reprocess my stuff, dude” spirit seems to be one of the mainstays of 1980s experimentation (I was just mentioning it the other day in reference to P16.D4), and Freiband are clearly steeped in that work ethic. With the multiple configurations and reconfigurations of material that are taking place here, further compounded by the possibilities that we might introduce if we open up this CD in Audacity, Mutatis Mobilis is clearly a work that is never actually “completed” in the ordinary sense of the term. From 20 May 2013.

All Grown Up

Kid606
Happiness
TIGERBEAT6 RECORDS MEOW 200 CD (2013)

Dearie me. Eleven more tracks from the noughties’ most notorious glitch-stepper: Kid606? My earlier, hype-fuelled exploration – which didn’t leave me a fan – returns sharply to mind: from the eclectic, frenetic electric playroom antics of Kid606 and Friends through to the mutant dancehall volley of Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You (which I did rather like, truth be told); I wearied further with each release until giving up. His haphazard and hyperactive drill n’bass antics struck me as overly prolific, provocative and disposable. I imagined him laughing about gullible Wire readers with his Tigerbeat6 mates, after hours: hardly the most illustrious artist/listener relationship potential. Admittedly, there have been moments when his irreverence has hit the spot beautifully: his bastard-pop cut ups of NWA and Eminem for instance, but for the most part the electro-punk sensibility yielded more exhaustion than exhilaration. Even Mike Patton’s heroic act of pre-career cartography – sifting through 10 hours of recordings to compile the Kid’s Ipecac debut, Down With The Scene – proved for me a gruelling and often forgettable experience. Thus, apprehension weighs heavily at the arrival of this dirty-booted revenant. Thrown-together cover art? Check. Waggish track titles? Check. Hesitantly but obligingly, I slip it on, knocking back a shot for good measure.

Sixty-four minutes later my mood’s transformed – rather as (the Kid’s alter ego) Miguel de Pedro’s appears to have, allegedly effected by his migration to sunny LA – into something vaguely triumphant. There’s no mistaking the author of these light-hearted, pastel-tinted melodies, but what surprises is how successfully they’ve been integrated into the glitchy atmospherics that might once have consumed them. Sunny centrepiece ‘Party Gambas’ best exemplifies: finely diced seagull samples add an authentic air of seaside leisure to the rolls of summery synth stabs that drive it like a beach party that doesn’t end in pools of vomit and a summoned ambulance. But nor does it become too responsible. Combing the same coast from dazed sunrise to hazy twilight at a moderated pace for much of the album, the Kid shifts gears now and again but never grinds them as he so often used to. I’m reminded in my newfound admiration that manic as it was, ‘Down With The Scene’ had just as much in the way of pastoral charm as it did aural demolition, yet impressions of the latter proved most durable.

His excision of blast beats and second-rate scribbling is a breath of fresh air for listeners as jaded as myself, and while there’s nothing that’s exactly anthemic it’s still a remarkably high hit count. ‘Happiness’ is of an ilk more akin to the Kompakt stable – exhibiting confident, life-affirming warmth that builds on the delicate, melancholic atmospherics of releases such as his Mille Plateaux debut PS I Love You (2000). Though supposedly a signal of his auspicious relocation to warmer climes, to my ears the eponymous ‘Happiness’ arises from a rapprochement between the Kid’s inner child and critic. Where the former once ran rampant, crayoning walls with sometimes serendipitous abandon, the other seemed very much the ‘no hang ups’-chanting hippy/laissez faire parent. Granted I’ve a few years of missed releases to catch up on, but I’m glad to witness the timely onset of the Kid’s maturity, even if he views it askance himself, as suggested by the shadowy final title ‘Man: The Failed Child’. Others might disagree with this cynical sentiment, or perhaps it’s a further sign that the earlier sense and sensibility of irreverent humour still prevails.

Instant Satisfunction: a bewildering set of beat-dominated looping rhythmscapes

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Rioteer / Urbanfailure / Gotharman / Axiomid, Instant Satisfunction, Slovakia, Urbsounds Collective, CD 26 (2012)

Four acts come together to release this set of sixteen beats-dominated rhythmscapes ranging in sound from techno, noise and industrial-lite to abstraction and experimental rhythm-based sound art. The whole recording can be a bewildering experience and an exercise in holding your mind together as it struggles with the influx of brutal and often punishing technoid music soundtracks. The music moves with an inhuman machine-like spirit created from the incessant repeating beats, chattering tones and murky rhythms that when combined together must achieve some level of self-awareness and conscious purpose. It reaches out to make contact with the nearest carbon-based life-form – which happens to be the unwary listener who thinks this recording is just going to be another compilation of club-friendly break-beat hardcore techno stuff.

Rioteer‘s “From Better Times”, a pugilistic puncher up against a languid loop of warbling female voice, and Urbanfailure‘s repetitive “Caught in Humankind”, a study of multi-looping machine stutter, set the bar high for others to follow: some stumble and others flat-line but the one consistency among all of them is that they confound expectations about what to expect. Highlights include Gotharman‘s sometimes creepy “Attacked by Mosquitos” (sic) which appears to feature precious few mozzies but lots of squiggle, bubbling sounds and something frothing in the background; and Rioteer’s battleground piece “Space Collider”, complete with machine-gunning loops and breakbeat rounds. “Space Collider” is a lively track at least if not in all-out attacking mode. Axiomid‘s “Pilot is missing” plays about with aeroplane hums and roars.

Perhaps because the album usually jumps from one artist to the next, rather than clump tracks by the same musician together, the tracks betray no individual style that might set their creators apart from other people on the album and after a while tend to bleed into one another irrespective of their originators. The heavy emphasis on repetition in the beats and rhythms means that music composition is a bit at a stand-still; there’s no sense of progress or direction on several tracks. As the album continues past track 10, I sense a deterioration in standards as some pieces opt for knock-about rhythm bombast and machine beats and loops allowed to run away with no attempt on the artists’ part to control where they romp.

This album ends up quite playful if at times gleefully harsh in sound, even glorifying in being brutal for its sake alone. I’d have preferred an album of many moods and atmospheres with the odd unstructured space-ambient tone poem over a recording that relies rather too hard on the well-worn template of looping repetition.

Before & After Skynet

multistab-coverDRAFT2

Frank Bretschneider
Super.Trigger
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 149 CD (2013)

Returning to some of the then-groundbreaking sounds of the early ‘90s – among these, the Warp-championed ‘Artificial Intelligence’ – it’s less surprising how dated much of it sounds now than how charming such a pejorative adjective can be. Aphex Twin and Autechre fared better than most, and have gone on to fashion stimulating, retroactive works such as ‘Analord’ and ‘Oversteps’, which sort of ratifies the notion that being ‘dated’ or ‘of its time’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s possible to watch Star Wars for instance, and still be charmed by the resourceful special effects – such is not the case with the CGI on those egregious prequels though.

Hearing Raster Noton’s ‘Archiv 01’, which accompanied an issue of The Wire in 2005, was a real lightning bolt for me, emerging as it did during the first or second tidal wave of sub-par ‘bedroom’ electronic music, which effectively castrated the DIY democracy value stemming from a new glut of affordable equipment. Clinical in its administration of sound elements and events, and palming the devolutionary baton of techno minimalism from Plastikman, Mille Plateau and the like, the pared down Raster Noton sound alluded that a more ‘authentic’ form of AI had been born: a striking notion, even now.

One of the sonic architects, Frank Bretschneider – Raster Noton co-founder – has continued to refine (though not necessarily redefine) his sound over the years, and this process culminates (for the time being) in this menacing, techno-splicing platter. Full stops bolted into track titles such as ‘Over.load’ and ‘Mean.streak’ offer visual analogue to the intricately machined nuts that connect countless strata of drilled and ballistic, cross-directional rhythms, which in their entirety resemble the densely layered traffic networks envisioned in comics such as ‘2000 AD’. But he doesn’t reveal it at once: Bretschneider is calculating in his administration: each piece whirrs into life like a robotics factory that slowly gains sentience; there’s an incremental shift from cold mechanical repetition to self-assured robo-funk, which seems to mimic the very genesis of consciousness. On every side, rhythmic components vanish and reappear capriciously, as though Teo Macero were our ghost in the machine.

Is it formulaic? I suppose, but attentive listeners will perceive the ‘patterned’ connotation, as opposed to ‘repetitive’. The ruse of the mechanical opening might serve to delude credulous listeners, before the piece’s beating heart becomes apparent in one exultant flash. Subtle stylistic shifts separate one piece from the next, but the whole is peppered liberally with ground Detroit techno particles; entailing a cocktail of dread and awe as the final product – like some replicant – parades its unique, physical perfection for its short life span. Divine in proportion, these tracks display a seeming immortality, which will probably seem quite quaint a decade or two down the line. Will it have been supplanted by something even more lifelike? For that matter, will we?

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Senking
Capsize Recovery
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 152 CD (2013)

If Bretschneider brings us the birth of machine intelligence, then Senking’s soundworld is the ponderous and skull-crushing dark nightscape of the soul after the Terminators have declared war on mankind. Taking as his prima material a dread-inducing low-frequency rumble that other producers might misuse as a welcome mat into their post-techno exhibitionism, Senking claws deep into the darkness to excavate an eerie array of disconcertingly familiar motifs drawn from dubstep to dub-techno. It’s an uneasy listen: partly because it threatens to yield to one or other of these well-worn styles (though never quite does) and because it expresses all the emotion of a sociopathic cyborg.

Most tracks kick off with an uneven, shuffling meter that calls to mind the inner-city prowl of Hyperdub stalwarts King Midas Sound and Burial, or Squarepusher’s electro-jazz superlative, ‘Plaistow Flex Out’. To this solid-but-shifting foundation he adds layers of growling lazer beams, drunken snares and the odd, disconcerting allusion to a known subgenre, such as on ‘Cornered’, where the cocksure bass reverberation suggests dubstep, which does get my spider senses tingling admittedly. Elsewhere, delivery is of a colder, more ‘Blade Runner’ bent, such as on ‘Nightbeach’, which evokes the silent stalk of a seasoned serial killer on a breezy midnight.

I never bothered to decipher the contents of The Fall’s ‘Dr Buck’s Letter’, thus its meaning remains unknown to me, though its filthy bass oozes through each of the eight pieces heard here. Another mystery is how capsizing could possibly affect a vessel as bottom-heavy as Senking’s, but he is evidently a more seasoned nautical engineer than myself. Perhaps the force encountered is that of the storm itself, and the perpetual malaise that informs every melodic gesture is the true indication of peril. With that in mind, and serious flooding affecting England on an unprecedented scale of late, and much speculation about our future of inundation, Senking’s aquatic apprehensions provide me with an apposite soundtrack to the heralding of end times.

Kwjaz (self-titled): lush soundscapes of Sixties / Seventies psychedelic nostalgia

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Kwjaz, self-titled, Not Not Fun Records, CD NNF 238 (2012)

Originally released on cassette, this self-titled debut from one-man project Kwjaz had to be issued on vinyl and CD due to the attention it garnered in the musical underground. Easy to see why too because even on first hearing I was instantly transported away into a hidden universe of strangely soft-glowing ambient colours and lush forests of shrill glittering sound and light textures. Kwjaz is the brain-child of San Francisco native Peter Berends so one presumes that this is the music project he was called upon by Kismet to direct; with his background steeped in the popular music and culture of that fair city, and that cornucopia of fine sounds Aquarius Records located not far from his neighbourhood, he really had no choice. The CD version of the album comes with the original two 20+ minute tracks plus two bonus pieces. (Dontcha just hate that when you’ve already bought the cassette?)

“Once in Babylon” ranges far and wide in musical inspiration and influence but the most interesting part comes about the 8th minute with a languorous beach-combing rhythm strolling by while space-lounge tone effects flutter about and a trumpet trills overhead. Our beach-comber soon reaches a discotheque and from there on it boogies sedately along the dance-floor. Little spaceship noise squiggles wobble high in the pulsating atmosphere and trumpet tones parp-parp by. Next think you know, you’re underwater in a funny sub trawling along the sea-floor while gloopy green currents of water slide past the port-hole. The track seemingly describes various experiences that inhabitants of a Golden Age of Mass Culture and Consumerism enjoyed over 40 years ago: there’s plenty of muzak and elevator music to pig out on.

Needless to say, “Frighteous Wane” is the flip-side to “Once in Babylon” in concept as well in the album’s original cassette format: it’s queasily psychedelic, a bit cold and clinical in parts – it’s the music that might delineate the hangover that comes from too much consumption of the most banal and mediocre experiences and material goods of the decades in which restraint, good sense and taste, and foresight were prominent by their absence. Nightmarish drones of a deliriously deranged kind are beguiling in their own way and even though you know you’re going to feel a bit sick, you can’t help but follow the music where it will. Withdrawing would give you anxiety attacks. You know you’ve made the right decision because the music does take you into some wondrous dimensions of jewelled sound and mood melody, all veiled with a slightly sinister atmospheric veil. The best moment comes about the 15th minute with a detour into an odd world of childhood tinkle toy jewellery box nostalgia and kitsch Oriental gardens of neat pagodas, little bridges over artificial streams of goldfish and carp, and cherry trees in perennial blossom. The whole vista is a little nauseating.

Of the bonus tracks, the unexpectedly short “A Certain Sprout” dallies in Sixties lounge nostalgia with analog synth melodies made a little creepy with touches of cold ambient space tone. “Elevation: Elation / Jah Wad” consists of a chain of various musical snapshots that might have come straight from an old-time late Seventies radio station playing songs straight through with no station announcements or commercial breaks. Overall though the bonus pieces don’t add anything new to the album that we don’t already know from the original pieces and some of the music on “Elevation …” echoes “Once in Babylon” with its mixture of beach-holiday ambience, lazy tropical rhythm and wistful nostalgia.

This album is the most intriguing of journeys into a realm that initially seems very familiar and nostalgic but threaded through with uneasy-listening elements that force you out of your comfort zone to confront perhaps some very uncomfortable truths about what the world you grew up in really was like. The best moments of the album are its most alien, the darkest and most ambivalent.

A Stab in the Dark

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International Surrealist Bulletin
Ten Wounds Wiser
USA EPHEM-AURAL P01 CD (2013)

International Surrealist Bulletin describe themselves as performing something called ‘psychedelic accordioncore’, and after a few days of wrestling with this release, this is still a better term than anything I can come up with. A few spoken word samples aside, this is instrumental music, and, without any other frame of reference to compare this to (my knowledge of the no doubt burgeoning ‘psychedelic accordioncore’ scene is non-existent), I find myself thinking in terms of movie soundtracks.

The big surprise to me, is that this album appears to be the work of a New York musician, as it sounds incredibly European. The bulk of the songs are constructed around a solid core of rock drumming and bass grooves. Occasionally, as on the first couple of tracks, the bass is treated with some kind of flanging effect which brings to mind ‘80’s/’90’s arcade game music, but more often it sounds like the backing for some Goblin score. Laid on top of this however, we have very Gallic sounding accordion and vibraphone. I can’t help thinking that if Dario Argento had decided to make an Inspector Clouseau film, this would have made a perfect score. And if that isn’t a surreal image, I don’t know what is.

At 50 minutes, I did find this album rather lacking in variety, as each track tends to cover similar ground, but it’s certainly unique.

Modern Ghanaians: a compilation of fusion Ghanaian / Western pop music genres

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King Ayisoba, Modern Ghanaians, Netherlands, Makkum Records, CD MR8 (2013)

Apparently this album is a compilation made after 2006 of King Ayisoba’s most popular songs from other recordings released on the Pidgen Music label, which would explain why the music is relentlessly upbeat and doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary for me. This is very highly rhythmic music with a lot of call-and-response singing from a solo singer and a chorus, and it’s very light in its instrumentation. Several instruments may be playing at once but all are usually following the same melody and rhythms; they can hardly be said to be in harmony (European-style, anyway). The music lends itself easily to dancing; of course a lot of people would say, well, it’s Ghanaian pop music, it’s rhythmic, so it should be dance music, shouldn’t it? – but I have heard some (though not much) African pop music that is undanceable, so I never jump to conclusions about something simply because it comes from one particular region of the world.

The best tracks on the album are those that feature instruments unique to northern Ghana where King Ayisoba hails from: “Don’t joke to your father” features an acoustic stringed instrument (I think it’s called the kologo) which has a quality rather like a plucked violin that doesn’t resonate well but sounds a bit on the raw side – it lends itself to very intense emotive singing. On the next track, “Baaba poore”, the kologo again figures and there is another instrument providing some muted rhythm (it sounds as if someone is rubbing something to produce a sound like a muted barking dog). The singing on these songs verges on raucous but is usually restrained; it rarely breaks out into spontaneous chaotic celebration.

Other songs on the album are a mix of Western pop styles from different time periods which might be a bit disconcerting for those of us who think we’ve seen and heard everything there is to see and hear, and that old styles of popular music no longer hold much creative potential. Think again, folks: melodies and rhythms that might have sprung from the disco or reggae scenes a hundred years in the 1970s undergo sudden rejuvenation when juxtaposed with West African styles of singing and rhythms, and local instruments. The style of music featured is referred to as hip life which features hip hop and dancehall elements (and which should not be confused with hi-life which is an older style of pop music from West Africa). Lyrics are often in English (though delivered in Ghanaian accents) and refer to topics and social issues relevant to Ghanaians in their daily lives: for one, families pleading for the return of their fathers (“I want to see you my father”) who are enjoying themselves with mistresses at the expense of their children. Of these more Western-oriented songs, the best is “Don’t do the bad thing” which has a strong driving bass-heavy rhythm against which more delicate instruments such as flute and a stringed instrument flutter.

I must confess that after hearing Congolese bands like Konono No 1 with their blend of folk music traditions, electrified instruments made from scrap and junk materials and hypnotic beats and rhythms, this album does very little for me. I have the impression though that King Ayisoba’s music might be representative of an emerging style of music stripped right down to its basics to appeal to a wide urban Ghanaian audience whose origins are extremely mixed and who have particular needs and demands of popular music: a style of music drawing inspiration from traditional music forms and the latest overseas imports.

Two Sides to Every Story

L.E.G.
The Dogs In You
TANUKI RECORDS #5 CASSETTE (2013)

Just under 20 minutes of experimental trip hop/noise from Belgium collective L.E.G., a band whose moniker is presumably an acronym for something, but despite the best efforts of Google search, exactly what it stands for is a mystery to me.

This cassette release is, perhaps appropriately for the format, very much a tale of two halves. I’ll take the less obvious route and discuss the ‘B-Side’ of the tape first, as it’s the side I feel most comfortable discussing. There are no song titles here, so I’m not even sure if what I’m listening to is one long song, or a number of shorter ones. Whatever it is, it starts with a slowed down rumble of ominous noise, before the mood is lightened considerably after about 30 seconds by some chilled-out keyboard stabs. A regular wobble of thunderous sound flutters in and out, sounding not unlike Rolf Harris on distorted wobble-board (possibly he is making an un-credited guest appearance, but I wouldn’t bet on it). Random distorted snare hits puncture eardrums like gunshots. A backwards trippy drum machine comes and goes, before the snare hits return, this time with someone yelling ‘blood!’ in the background. Wind chimes offer a soothing note above a more violent storm of electricity. Finally the piece is stripped back to isolated bass riffs played out against ethereal sung voices. In short, this is interesting, unpredictable experimental noise, and I liked it a lot.

The ‘A-side’ of the tape however, is a completely different kettle of fish, being to my ears pretty much straightforward trip hop. There’s little of the sense of experimental nature of the other side of the cassette, with looped regular drum beats, and what seemed to me to be a very traditional rap about ‘cosmopolitan hip hop’. What confused me slightly, is that despite seemingly originating from Belgium, the vocalist still manages to rap in what sounds like an American accent. Maybe it’s a genre thing. Be aware however, that hip hop/trip hop really isn’t my thing – so if this sounds even vaguely interesting to you, go check it out on the label’s website.

Cold Mission: into the far reaches of experimental dark techno abstraction

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Logos, Cold Mission, Keysound Recordings LDN042CD (2013)

London-based producer James Parker comes from a grime / dubstep dance-club background but this solo debut is far removed from the more rhythmic tendencies of that scene; “Cold Mission” has much in common with minimalist dark techno in its structures, moods and ambience. He lulls his listeners into a false sense of familiarity and security with the intro track and then throws them into entirely new territory with gruff lion-roar sounds, dramatic warm synth flourishes, imitations of chirping birds and skittish percussion (“Statis Jam”). The dark brooding spaces Parker creates become the background against which he plots his almost skeletal course of sound, melody and rhythm experimentation. Whatever warmth and security might exist here are very fleeting and are to be found in the sounds he splashes about on his black velvety canvas.

Parker uncovers some very gorgeous vistas here: “Swarming”, a collaboration done with a musician called Rabit, features beautiful crystal tones that trick you into thinking you’ve entered a giant hard and sparkling glass cathedral of myriad mirrors reflecting colours and sounds. “Seawolf” is a defiant number of Mexican stand-offs of duelling sets of drones, ripples and bass whoops with crackling samples of guns being cocked. Two guys Dusk and Blackdown help cut out abstract geometric shapes with stuttering bell, voice samples and crispy crackle percussion effects on “Alien Shapes”.

Later tracks seem less experimental, more rhythm-bound and of less interest. I guess there has to be the obligatory dystopian futuristic Bladerunner-esque alienation / dehumanisation / trans-humanism piece that is the title track. “E3 Night Flight” leaves me cold with its insistent rhythmic inanity. The third collaboration, “Wut It Do” featuring Mumdance, restores the album’s reputation with an aggressive attacking intensity and shifting rhythms. Outgoing track “Atlanta 96 (Limitless Mix)” is a little disappointing after “Wut It Do”, losing some of its predecessor’s energy, but it seems to be a summary of what’s gone before and at the same time it’s champing at the bit and anticipating more experimentation on future solo Logos releases.

The album has its ups and downs, and sometimes I have the feeling that Parker retreats back into familiar structured rhythm territory to please his fans and let them know he hasn’t entirely forgotten his origins. At least the first half of this album is very brave in its experimentation and shows much skill on Parker’s part in describing a new, quite alien world in which we must rely on our own resources to navigate its reaches, find a foot-hold and discover unexpected comfort and joy. Here’s hoping he can go much farther in sonic time and space on subsequent recording excursions.

Contact: Keysound Recordings / Cargo Records

Dead By Dawn

Twitch Of The Death Nerve

Stefan Jaworzyn has been a thorn in the side of many, be it listeners, fellow musicians, readers of his Shock Express magazine, or even customers who buy rare records from his “Scum List” who, while they receive a good service, are affronted by his outspoken and embittered descriptions of the music. Even his guitar work has sometimes been an audible “screw you” to the audience, whether as a founder member of Skullflower or as part of the intense guitar-drum duo Ascension. But it’s all because of his extremely high standards and principles, on which he has never compromised one iota, often at great personal cost to himself. I was surprised as anyone when in mid-2013 he recently decided to turn his hand to electronic music, and what’s more he relaunched his dormant record label Shock Records to release the results. EP1 (SX035) is two sides of this new strain of noise, two sides of brutal analogue filth titled simply ‘The Fucker’ and ‘Dr Smegmatic’. Right away the titles clue us in that the creator’s personal bile levels are still bubbling away at an all-time high. The music is similarly repulsive and is guaranteed to appeal to absolutely no-one; conventional fans of “experimental” music will be appalled. But what’s also striking is how original it is; not only is the sound (thick, clotted, wiry) completely unlike anything released in the so-called “electronica” genres, but the approach to the music’s production is characterised by a hard-headed determination to push an idea to the very limits of its endurance. And ours, I might add. ‘The Fucker’ side has a drum machine battering everything in sight like a robotic house-demolishing machine which has just wrecked your kitchen and is thinking about starting on you next. On top of its demented rhythm are piled squiggles, squeals and bleeps from grotesque synthesizers permanently tuned to the “ugly” setting.

Airless and suffocating as this is, it’s also strangely exhilarating, like a bracing blast of frosty weather in the face. The ‘Dr Smegmatic’ side is somehow even more diabolical. It’s like the very sound of repression, redolent of ideas being throttled in the brain before they can even reach a form of expression; nasty, niggardly synth phrases are squeezed through filters and repeated ad nauseam. This miserly outpouring is a cruel and sadistic satire of dance music, filtered backwards through industral-ish sensibilities, becoming an absurd parody of all genres associated with “beats”. One can envisage the cruel “Dr Smegmatic” as a scientist torturing small laboratory animals, and this record is the sound of their writhing agony. Locked in neutral (as is the other side), this ghastly music proceeds remorselessly for an entire side of vinyl at 33 rpm, creating impossible rhythms which even Brion Gysin couldn’t stomach. Faced with this perverse record, Savage Pencil has declared “You could dance to it!”, but I imagine if you tried playing this record on a dancefloor, a lynch mob would assemble in seconds, and you’d find yourself hanging upside down from a lamp post in short order. Others may boast about their “uncompromising” music, but even the most hard-core avantsters are fundamentally softies, and still want their audience to love them. Stefan apparently couldn’t care a whit, and he knocks all that bravado into a cocked hat. He’s since released EP2 in this series, also a limited 12-incher. Prepare to have your entire hide spread thickly with caustic gobs of toxic waste as you endure these electronic monsters!

Enter Your Sarcophagus

Here’s good old Nick Hoffman again, this time teaming up with Aaron Zarzutzki on a live performance recorded in 2009 in Chicago. Psychophagi (PILGRIM TALK PT8) is another one of Hoffman’s “what’s going on” records, where the mysterious sounds remain unidentifiable, and even the mode of performance itself sometimes makes you wonder “have they even started yet?” I am gradually coming to terms with Hoffman’s ultra-radical approach in the performance arena, which defies almost all known conventions of improvisation, in favour of keeping an extremely low profile which allows him and his collaborators to pursue something so fleeting and invisible that the process almost seems absurd – futile, even. For the sake of structure, the work has been divided – most likely after the fact – into three parts, hence the “Three Grotesques”. As we contemplate the imaginary faces of these uglified demons, we can also ponder on the meaning of the “Anti-metaphysical propaganda of graveyards”, another conundrum which has been inserted in the title. Death and disaster (and the occult) are rarely far away when Hoffman picks up the performance gauntlet and activates his recording mics.

If you can find your way past any of these obstacles, it is well worth your time girding your loins and going five rounds with this intensely difficult sound art; it may be appear to be embracing all that is cold and macabre, but I suspect the artists are actually doing their best to wrestle with the forces of the night, to hammer the Devil back into his cage, and to beat the Grim Reaper six ways from Sunday with his own scythe. Perhaps the best way they can do this is by recognising the limitations of much so-called “free music”, and forcing themselves to be as quiet and meaningless as possible. Aye, it’s a living personification of T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’. Bear all this in mind, and the ghastly non-musical sounds on this record (vague squeals, clatter, groans and rustling all rendered in quiet and unobtrusive fashion) will eventually cease to seem so absurd, and become almost beautiful and liberating in some way. If life is a game of cards with Satan (or a game of chess with Death), then Psychophagi proves the best way to win is to invent your own peculiar game, bound by its own mysterious rules – but don’t tell anyone what you’re doing.