Tagged: dark

Stove In

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The Cincinnati band Heart of Palm last came our way with the Psychopomp CDR, released on a UK label; Mayonnaise is a professionally pressed CD and even has a barcode printed on the back – even if there’s no evidence of a proper “label” behind it. It’s a pretty uncompromising barrage of darkly psychedelic improvised rock mayhem, the real stuff of bad dreams and night sweats, laid out for us to endure with no apologies. The core trio of Mike Hancock, Jay Wilson and William Davidson are here, but now they’re joined by a new drummer Jason Short who had been with them for two years when we received this package. And there’s also Karl Uchtmann who brought along his keyboards, and is doing bizarre things with circuit bending. If you’re a regular reader, you may know we have a lot of time for this highly creative band who always – not unlike Sun City Girls – seem to be doing something different with every release. I think they must work hard, practice, and play a lot. They describe themselves going through a “glacially paced metamorphosis from strictly improvisational to half improv, half songs” in their recording sessions, although it seems that Mayonnaise – mostly recorded in late 2012 – was all derived from improvised sessions.

Heart Of Palm are working more or less in a “rock” context, insofar as there’s usually a steady drum beat and conventional rock instruments like guitars, bass and keyboards are involved. But they are very strong, particularly on this release, at disguising and mutating their normal sound, perhaps through using FX pedals or post-processing, so that just about everything in the mix produces an abnormal effect of some sort. The players get so squelched up and muddified here that the aggregated sound they make can border on being grotesque and ugly, but if your stomach turns, you’ve only got to wait a few seconds before it morphs into a more approachable sensation. Besides the far-out sound, you’ve got the uncanny group dynamics, and this could be the real secret weapon of Heart Of Palm, mainly because it’s pretty much impossible to figure out who is doing what, or how they are arriving at it. This is the kind of malformed whackery that could only arise from group playing, doing it “in the moment”, and keeping at it; nobody could ever dream of arranging or pre-planning this sort of sickened, glorpy noise, and the best HOP can do is create a collaborative situation where the cobras are likely to rise from the stone floors beneath, leaving everyone to get busy with clubs and broomsticks. From this I deduce the third arrow in their quiver is selection and editing, so that they only pick out and publish the juiciest moments from these queasy and demented playing sessions, which were hopefully performed late at night and in a studio where the walls are painted red.

This is all good, and while I always like to shower effusive praises on Heart Of Palm, yet I harbour some slight reservations about this album. It feels samey and unstructured, even a tad unfinished in places. When I first heard their work some years ago, I could hear exciting possibilities in the music; it was as though a song could go almost anywhere, it was so unpredictable and open. Mayonnaise is more static, and closed-off; it’s like a dozen or so snapshots from an insomniac’s photo album, all of which are fascinating pathological studies rendered in rich and strange colours, but they don’t develop much, nor provide any further revelations as they conclude. It’s very hard to say how or where, but the band seemed to have got stuck in a loop for this record. Even so I hope to hear some semi-composed songs on the next release. From 15 April 2014.

The Brooding Brood

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I’m enjoying The Jist (VA FONGOOL VAFLP006), the album by The Jist, the Norwegian duo of Torgeir Hovden Standal and Natalie Sandtorv. Natalie wails her formless agonised and bizarre vocalising, and Torgeir plays some insane guitar noise, both of them feeding their actions through what is probably a large number of electronic boxes and effects pedals, with the express aim of transforming everything they do. Matter of fact “normal” sounds are not allowed at all, it would seem, as the pair work their way into a looking-glass world which excites and interest them. The sense of playfulness is also reflected in their six track titles, which refer to “being in between jobs”, mosquitoes stuck in the throat, and something about “being rejected at Watergate” (?). While at times Natalie reminds me of a female and more supple Phil Minton, neither she nor Torgeir confine themselves to the restrictive precepts of “classic improvisation”, and seem just as happy exploring greasy and metallic noise episodes, or even a form of angst-ridden post No Wave rock music. It took them two years of playing together before they felt confident enough to release this album, and their work is the result of a lot of effort, preparation in the set-up, and finding inventive ways to transform the sound they make. Very good. Arrived 10 April 2014.

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Shivers – a trio of players using just clarinet, drums and “logic” – have produced a splendid self-titled album (MIASMAH RECORDINGS MIACD028) of improvised droning noisiness which is palpably alive with threatening, dark energy. When it’s not doing that, it produces a monstrous groan-drone effect not unlike some sleeping ogre who is going to chomp you in two with his big tusks when he wakes up. I for one enjoy the ruthless distortion of the sound, which produces a very attractive abrasive surface for the music, while at the same time running roughshod over the “traditions” of recording improvised music with accuracy and precision in mind. The performances are not half bad, neither. That’s Gareth Davis on the bass clarinet, and Leo Fabriek on the drums. Davis has played quite a lot with Machinefabriek and is also a member of A-Sun Amissa, Birdt, Maze, Mere, and The Whalers Collective, and Leo Fabriek has also drummed with Rutger Zuydervelt’s fine Dutch combo. That’s Rutger Zuydervelt supplying the “logic”, which could refer to computer programming, but his interventions are strong and powerful for Shivers, and he’s not just providing some polite background murmur with black boxes. Rather his role is strongly transformative, making their music into an exciting take on the “electro-acoustic improv” trope. I would say his actions are most successful on ‘Ash’, ‘Otomo’, and parts of ‘Rabid’, where he’s adding joyous abstract black sheets of filth, but on ‘Spacek’, where the trio opt to play a sort of movie-soundtrack suspense cue complete with a taut syncopated rhythm as the victim ambles innocently up a dark alley, it’s Zuydervelt who treats the whole track to give it an attractive muzzed-out patina so that the music can masquerade as some piece of dub-ambient-techno. As to the cinematic vibe, the band are explicitly paying homage to the movies of David Cronenberg, in particular his early “body horror” films with their nasty (though unique) ideas about the transformation of human flesh. From April 2014.

Update 12/01/2015: Rutger Zuydervelt writes “Thanks for the nice review on Shivers, the trio I’m part of. To clarify: the “logic” in the credits is the software program Logic, which is uses to transform/edit/process the recordings from Gareth Davis and Leo Fabriek and create the compositions.”

Purge

PKM MAY 2014022

G*Park
Sub
USA 23FIVE 23FIVE 018 CD (2013)

G*Park is the musique concrète project of American artist Marc Zeier, and this item is two discs of brutal, detourned field recordings. Zeier is a member of the Schimpfluch-Gruppe, and when interviewed by Chain D.L.K. website, describes Sub thus: “the manifestation of amorphous conditions that lead (or interfere with) representational forms or states of being”. Okay then. Let me give you an overview of how Zeier does this.

On disc one, there is an overarching feeling of everything being submerged. Zeier uses actual sounds of submersion. You imagine him weighed down on a scuba diving excursion with as much waterproof electronic recording equipment as he can hold. There are some approximations of a submarine’s echo locator pings and the suspicion that a lot of these sounds are made through a diver’s respirator. On the second track, the sounds develop into things breaking off other things. Possibly ice. The sound of icebergs calving? Or rock-falls while pot-holing? The third track features the sound of demolition recorded from one end of a very long tunnel. The next piece augments all of this with a loud burst of static and an electric motor accelerating. Tents unzipping. The final track sounds like a cloudswarm of bees which cranks up the anxiety factor. Throughout there are dispersed sudden sound events of tape rewinds, rock crushing, distant buzzing, often much higher in the mix, cloudy, hidden, obscured. I’m imagining a graphic score of irregular grids where the intersecting lines denote each sound event.

The second disc starts with a queasy tape manipulation effect, a computer process effect that sounds to me like Windows Sound Recorder used to sound like when you slowed files down. Then a jet aeroplane engine powering up. I don’t know where G*Park is taking us but we’re not off to Marbs for a beach holiday that’s for sure. Somewhere populated by giant robotic insects perhaps. The second piece is like a deep sea gamelan. Or the slowed down sounds of a marina at night. The third track pairs nocturnal wildlife and moving crockery about, while the next foregrounds burning/smouldering ashes, wind noise and very effective reverse effects.

All this is shot through with a cloudy veil of paranoia. So if you like your field recordings with a healthy splash of disquiet, Sub really delivers.

This information-free cd comes encased in a nice slip cover – no track titles, no timings, but there is a cryptic list of things (not people) Zeier wants to thank: “a singing chimney”, “some happy pigs from Chants” and “a drowning Piemonese wasp” being only the first three.

Transcendence Through Bonding of Psychedelic Phenomenon: an acid trip seeking light beset by darkness

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Sleep Deprived, Transcendence Through Bonding of Psychedelic Phenomenon, Acephale Winter Productions, cassette AWP013 (2014)

For the insomniacs among us, here comes a band whose name holds promise of a panacea to end those long stretches of dark, tired wakefulness – yet which might deliver far more than what we wish for. The duo Sleep Deprived purveys a soundtrack of sprawling unearthly and bewitching cosmic ambient psychedelia, murky in intent, dark in beauty, ghostly at times and frequently delirious and close to complete derangement. Though its sound is very good, the music is simply far more than its cassette format can hold and I surmise the reason it’s on cassette is that AWP cannot afford more than that at the present time. People who know the AWP label might be expecting something black metal in nature but at a strict technical level this release does not fall into that category. What must have attracted AWP’s attention though is the slightly sinister style of the music that might hint at a malevolent potential and which suggests that chaos and evil are never far away.
Innocent souls on quests to understand their purpose in life and who think to take the easy route via experimentation with hallucinogenic substances are possibly in danger of falling into eternal blackness and the madness that might exist within. Since spiritual transcendence of a kind based on hope that ends in downfall falls fairly and squarely within the ambit of black metal, it should be no surprise that a black metal label has released this work.

The whole recording covers a narrative of an acid trip from start to uncertain finish and possibly no escape. Once begun, the protagonist is at risk of being revisited by the same visions even years after the initial journey. Strange and stranger synth-drone odysseys that embrace listeners fully and draw them deep into their meanderings, taking subjects far beyond dull reality, are at every step, every bifurcating path. Each track is a wormhole into another plane of existence. As might be guessed at, the best music is often the deepest, the darkest, the most spacious or the most mysterious – and sometimes all of these. There is an impression of extreme isolation which may be another reason AWP picked up the recording. While sounds seem long and tedious, always in search of melodic or rhythmic certainty and direction, the music does have its own logic; of course it’s unfathomable to us so we must trust it as our guide. Therein lies the danger for who knows if our guide is fickle, full of whimsy and not quite sane?

Generally the A-side of the cassette is faster and more varied while the B-side is slow, more amorphous and pensive as well. The second half of the recording doesn’t hold as many surprises as the first half and seems more predictable, content to tread water.

Altogether the album clocks in at about 100 minutes but it does seem a lot longer which depending on the point of view may be good or bad. Not all of it is enthralling and as it progresses, it does become a test of listeners’ endurance to hear it all. If we’re to be serious space travellers, we must take the long monotonous stretches of sailing across the universe in our stride.

Contact: Sleep Deprived

Contact: Acephale Winter Productions

Regarde Les Hommes Tomber / self-titled: following the fall of humanity in BM doom sludge fusion

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Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, self-titled, Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions, CD AO09 (2013)

With a sonorous name like Regarde Les Hommes Tomber (the English translation “See How They Fall” not possessing quite the same epic and fatalistic resonance), this French band promises something special on its debut album. Right from the start with a pounding drum beat suggesting that the End of the World As We Know It is Nigh, these guys put everything they have into the music. The band’s music is a combination of atmospheric melodic post-BM and hard-hitting doom sludge; whether the style of music preceded the naming of the band or the name came first – it’s actually derived from a movie made in the 1990s – probably doesn’t matter as somehow it’s hard to imagine any other style of music (apart from perhaps the most apocalyptic forms of black metal) being appropriate.

The instrumental prelude, slow and majestic, placing the band’s stylistic bona fides on the table for all to hear, is done with in just over four minutes and from then on, you’re either with the band’s program or not. The album proper begins with “Wanderer of Eternity”, more typical of what RLHT offers, with roaring gravelly near-BM vocals, a sound not too distorted yet not that clean either, and air raid siren lead guitar over a solid rhythm backing. The overall ambience is often very sinister and filled with foreboding of what hellish terror may come. In most songs, the lyrics dominate the music and they tell of humanity’s hubris in presuming to be the equal of God and building the Tower of Babel which God subsequently topples, causing humans to be divided among themselves by various languages and to serve Him in abject bondage through false religion a thousand years hence.

As the recording progresses, the stark apocalyptic ambience that embraces the whole work might come to hang heavily over listeners as well, drawing them into its hellish world where humanity toils in poverty and thrall to an oppressive ideology. The music is in service to the album’s theme from the almost hypnotic tribal drumming to the doom-laden riffs, the resounding doom guitar tones when they occur, the oddly disembodied chanting in parts and the almost hysterical lead and tremolo guitars. The vocals have that warning quality of a prophet come from the wilderness, having received divine messages and now bringing them to the attention of the unbelieving masses. In later parts of the recording, the band make effective use of reverb and space in and around the instrumental passages to suggest the darkness that pervades the world in which the music plays.

Given that this is a debut album, and a concept album as well, you expect there will be flaws here and there, and especially in the danger zone after the halfway mark where filler material is most likely to proliferate. But RLHT have that problem licked with “A Thousand Years of Servitude”, one of the more melodic and emotional songs here. The momentum built up flows into the final track “The Fall” which expresses humanity’s defiance towards a false and weak God that has oppressed people for too long – until now.

Hard to believe that all of this happens in just under 40 minutes: so monumental and epic is this recording that your head feels that it’s been blasted with heavy doom music slabs for twice that length. The story is dark and overwhelming in its sadness but a glimmer of hope appears near the end. This recording is not for the faint of heart but it offers plenty to reward those who can follow it.

Contact: Les Acteurs de l”Ombre Productions

Dark Rituals: steeped in the spirit of DIY black metal and creativity under trying circumstances

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Xarkrinur, Dark Rituals, Psalm 88, cassette Psalm002 (2014)

From Psalm 88, the new sub-label established by Acephale Winter Productions, comes this curious novelty. Xarkrinur is a solo digital black metal project by a 14 or 15-year-old boy calling himself Xyklen who lives in Dhaka, in Bangladesh and “Dark Rituals’ is the debut album. Running at 18 minutes in total, with very modest and minimal artwork to boot, the tape iss certainly worth a small review if only to get a glimpse of how inventive some people in some of the more underprivileged parts of the world can be to express their love of black metal.

The music is not varied and falls into two camps. First track “Forest of Mist” and the title piece represent one side of Xarkrinur: rapid-fire, cheap-sounding tinny and brittle imitation tremolo guitar shredding and rubbery percussion accompanying gravelly mechanical vocals shat by an old IBM mainframe computer afflicted with internal fungal rot. The title piece is slightly more animated than “Forest of Mist” with slightly more organic chant and a definite hacking industrial beat. The other side of Xarkrinur is more steamy bass-heavy music. “When Angels Cry” features a mechanical looping trot and whispery voice: structurally monotonous, it does sound amateurish. The final long track, taking up the whole B-side of the tape, is a bleary depressive BM work of simple droning loop, distorted reverb wobble and slack percussion. Concentrate on the background texture and you will find it interesting and hypnotic; over the course of the track, the wobble background, distorted electro-industrial in sound and texture, is very entrancing.

If it had been billed as blackened industrial, this tape might have had a higher profile. As it is, because all the music, black metal in style and attitude though it be, was done entirely with digital electronics, it is not completely accepted in various metal and black metal circles. Apart from that issue which is certain to become a major one as more people try to recreate the black metal sound and attitude using non-metal instrumentation and techniques, this little tape definitely shows black metal and depressive doom influences on one side and industrial ambient trance on the other. By no means is this release great but it’s steeped in the spirit of lo-fi DIY punk and black metal, and our man Xyklen (well he will be once he’s old enough to get his driving licence and voter’s card) shows much ingenuity in using crappy electronics to create work that can be surprisingly atmospheric and stylistically striking.

Contact: Psalm 88

The Stolen Bacillus

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Three cassettes from Jeff Surak‘s Zeromoon label in Chevy Chase arrived 24 February 2014. Two of them have unique hand-torn collage covers and they all exist in very small editions. The one by Jeff himself, credited to J. Surak, is called Skull Cloud (ZERO 160) and features a long live recording made at The Pyramid Atlantic in 2013, which passes on a vision of Jeff on stage performing a miniature firework display – he’s surrounded by pops, bangs and whizzes all happening at once in a vaguely structured patterns, the fizzing spew occasionally punctuated by random voice samples from TV. From this chaotic sprawl, musical and sonic information gradually assembles itself into coherent shapes, like pieces of a cosmic jigsaw. The B side contains three dark-mode tracks, including the title track and ‘Rebirth’ and ‘Etude #43′, and these represent his characteristic sinister electronic droning work, the monochrome and unbroken surfaces broken up by distortion effects or diabolical pulsating tones, and underpinned with an abiding sense of inescapable terror at all times. Small wonder that many regard him as Chester Hawkins’ evil twin brother.

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Salarymen is the duo of Jeff Surak with his friend Gary Rouzer. It seems they both have day jobs in Washington DC and on their lunch breaks they set up their spontaneous “electro-acoustic events” on traffic islands, street corners, or nearby certain popular landmarks and monuments in that city. 1 They then proceed to make sound art using their small electrified objects, and the whole mess – including plenty of external traffic sound, sirens, chattering voices of the populace and made even some stray radio waves – is recorded and served up for us to enjoy on Out To Lunch (ZERO 156). The creators are proposing “a different kind of urban music”, and it’s certainly something I would like to align with the work of Zan Hoffman or Aki Onda, both wild creators who make strong use of found sounds and the sounds from the street. The title is also something that cuts both ways – they did it on their lunch breaks, but the phrase also means “crazy”, particularly in the mouth of a jazz hipster who I assume was saying it long before it became codified as the title of one of Eric Doplhy’s finest LPs. Crazy this tape most certainly is, but also highly compelling to listen to, a continuous stream of fascinating, messy, semi-ordered aural information. Recommended; if you can’t buy the cassette tape, the music is free to download at freemusicarchive and at archive.org.

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Back to J. Surak solo now for his Harmonium Bacterium (ZERO 158). This is two side-long suites called ‘Mectpyo’ and ‘Seesawa’. The A side is an alarming series of scuzzy long-form noise tones that gradually resolve themselves into harmonic forms, making their way through a whirlpool of echo effects, while the slow back-and-forth internal rhythm of the piece resembles waves breaking against the shore – except the ocean has strangely turned into treacle, so it’s all happening very slowly. I’m disappointed to learn he didn’t play this using an actual “Harmonium Bacterium”, an instrument which in my imagination would be a bellows-driven keyboard that is capable of infecting the musician with nine types of lethal bacteria, the combinations and doses he receives directly aligned with the chords he plays, allowing the deadly viruses to pass through the keys into his fingertips. Instead all the music is made with a modified autoharp and something called a Califone, which I find is simply the brandname of a particular manufacturer and could apply to anything from effects pedals to computer microphones. An impressive piece of process-based sound art, realised using a lot of intuitive methods to produce highly painterly effects in sound. The B side is strangely enough somewhat more approachable, and presents a monotone chord in a sumptuous drone, as if Surak were shooting for a one-man version of old Vibracathedral Orchestra records. It’s here that the autoharp origins of the piece become more conspicuous, where on the A side they are heavily disguised.

  1. It may be significant that it’s one of the few American cities I have visited that I found at all pedestrian-friendly; in fact it’s feasible to spend the day walking around the centre.

Temples of Boom

PKM MAY 2014017

Hati
Wild Temple
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO062 CD (2013)

First exposure to the sleeve photos and text and it seems clear that Hati come on like some kind of three-man Z’EV 1. What looks like a collection of at least one example of every kind of struck metal percussion fills the dank chambers of “Fort I”, wherever that is. On the cover is a photograph of the multifarious percussion objects set up inside the fort, windows open, in daylight. Inside, the mood is sombre with a shot from the same position with Slawek Ciesielski, Rafal Iwanski and Rafal Kolacki poised mid-strike over same instruments, shadows threatening to subsume everything. The sounds issuing forth from the disc contribute in no small part to the feeling of unease and foreboding. Relentless hammering, skilled and unskilled, contradicting rhythms, splashes of cymbals and gongs, tam-tam, bells chime ominously – this urgent and dangerous music (or something close to it) could have been performed centuries ago. Martial drums, spindly rattling – this is the sound of collapse, mental and physical. What have we done to deserve this treatment? Like the sound of invading Vikings in the moments before they stepped on our shores for the very first time.

The third piece, “Wild Temple”, is a more sedate affair although this quasi-Imperialist Western idea of co-opting the spirituality and perceived aura of peace and restfulness of temples (from ANY religion) is slightly misleading. How different would this music be if it was performed in a Methodist church in Merthyr? Or even the Burgess Hill Tesco’s aisle 10? Not very, I suspect.

By track six, “The Last Breath Of Ra”, it has become an out of control machine; an industrial lathe or machine vice. Not until the final track, “Limbus”, does the onslaught stop. “Limbus” is closer to what you’d expect from a Nonesuch Explorer lp of gamelan music. Its steady minimal melodic clusters – although to describe it as melodic may be pushing it slightly – bring the listener down and back up to earth. Whatever, this sure is 51 minutes of essential listening. Immerse yourself in a world devoid of file formats, processing speeds, hard disc options and the like; this is timeless pure analogue music, simultaneously advanced and primitive; only the sound of wood hitting metal sounds this evocative.

  1. Interestingly, Hati have collaborated with Z’EV on the album Collusion on the Belgian Idiosyncratics label, which came out in 2013. It was described here by Michael Holland as “death-gamelan”. Appealing.

Insertion Loss

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Héctor Rey is the owner of Nueni Records, who sent us his label’s first release After (NUENI #000) from Berlin in January 2014, though he also has a base in Bilbao. Maybe he picked up the “Anti-Copyright” approach from Bilbao’s famed dissident activist, Mattin; at any rate he encourages sharing and downloading of all of the content he’s produced to date. After is a contemporary improv team-up featuring Ilia Belorukov along with three players who I think are all Polish – the percussionist Harpakahylo, the saxophonist Patryk Lichota, and Kim Nasung (i.e. Mateusz Bakala), who is one of those genre-straddling sound artists interested in electro-acoustic, noise and field recordings but on this occasion settles for playing the guzheng. Result – 15 minutes of very good rough-edged and lively acoustic tumbles through semi-hostile terrain, where every sound stands out crisply as a stalk of crunchy celery and every detail of the topography of the landscape can be felt by your sensitive bare feet. None of your over-processed ambient drones here…in fact that’s a style of music which Héctor Rey personally deplores, to the extent that he explicitly requests that no submissions of this nature be sent to his door – an attitude which does him credit.

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Luminance Ratio are an Italian four-piece who have been releasing an intriguing series of seven-inch splits lately, doing so with Oren Ambarchi, Steve Roden and Yannis Kyriakides. These were released under the joint impress of Fratto 9 and Kinky Gabber. Their Reverie (BOCIAN RECORDS bcLR) album is a showcase for their contemplative, slightly drifty mode of working with guitars, electronics and percussion, producing a somewhat more approachable and less mannered version of Polwechsel. Their somnolent track titles – ‘Comatose’, ‘Before The Dawn’, ‘In Dreams’ – are clear indexes of their underlying preoccupation with Morpheus and all his doings, and the semi-melodic syrupy music drapes itself over your body like a fine silken sheet. All the pleasant Slumberland cuts are arranged on side one, while side two exhibits a vague darkening of the mood, realised through more distortion, vaguely disquieting background sounds, and a general uncertainty in the playing. Nuits Blanches A Suivre…from January 2014.

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Drag your carcass through a splendid set of dark ambient lo-fi experimental noise drone on the album Blacked Out Passages (VISCERAL MEDIA RECORDS vmr009), a dank and scarifying broth produced by the husband and wife team who call themselves Lost Trail. So much atmosphere on here you could cover a 20-acre farm in deep fog and still have enough left over to create a thick pea-souper in a Sherlock Holmes TV episode. Chilling use of voice samples they do make; I myself have a real soft spot for this sort of lost and forlorn music where recorded and distorted voices struggle to make their messages heard, murmuring like ghosts in a swirling mist. Zachary Corsa and Denny Wilkerson Corsa hand-craft their effects by wisely eschewing modern technology, with its digital methods, over-familiar sounds and multiple presets. Instead, they favour old analogue equipment and obsolete recording devices, working hard (hopefully in a derelict garage at midnight) to create their own personal badging of the lo-fi aesthetic. The wispy and genuinely haunting music is supplemented with pianos, organs, and guitar drones, plus stray field recordings, all layered into an intricate collage assemblage. Fans of Philip Jeck will appreciate their use of tape loops and distressed old recordings, and in some ways it might be convenient to regard Lost Trail as a more benign and humanistic version of Crawling With Tarts, another duo who were preoccupied with abandoned records and malfunctioning equipment, but who usually finished up making very sinister and obsessive statements on record. Lost Trail do not dwell exclusively in the twilight zone however, and those with a taste for the strong meat of loud guitar noise should enjoy the roaring tones of ‘Rooftops / Spires / Valleys’. For me though this record is at its strongest when it exhibits its delicate and fragile side, instantly summoning up vistas of snowy landscapes and abandoned cities, while the forgotten voices and footsteps of the past echo around in melancholic fashion. Genuinely moving and heartfelt music. Arrived 3rd February 2014.

Placebo Earplug Fire

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We’ve heard from Chester Hawkins in his Blue Sausage Infant guise, most recently with Manitou (a deranged bad acid trip of heavy drone) and Negative Space (his twisted take on dark progressive rock); both involved collaboration with other players, but Semisolids (INTANGIBLE ARTS IA016) has been released under his own name, and every sound was produced by Hawkins alone, plus he did the cover design and wrote the texts too. The album is terrific – a great slab of grisly, monotonous thumping and drones, shot throughout with semi-evil vibes and palpable atmospheres. If I can go off on a tangent, I’m reading the David Stubbs book on Krautrock 1 just now and Stubbs observes how one of the achievements of German 1970s underground music was the persistent attempts to escape the clichés and restrictions of blues-based rock music and its four beats to the bar patterns…a trait which manifests itself in exciting ways across the music of Can, Neu!, and most especially Faust. It’s a quality which Hawkins – a known and self-confessed Krautrock fan – might well be trying to emulate on his album, especially the first two tracks here ‘Iodine’ and ‘Nematode’, both of which use endless and primitive repetition which the determination of a mad sewing machine, reprogrammed to go on stitching blindly into an eternal dressmaker’s Hell. Indeed Hawkins’ propensity for pulsing out these delirious, mindlessly throbbing repetitions is stamped across most of this album, and he executes them with tremendous craft and well-honed studio skills…the stereo synth rhythms of ‘Isle of Dogs’, for example, are nothing short of hypnotic, and ‘Proximity Fuze’ wrong-foots the listener at every turn with its intricate network of sequencer patterns. A few tracks buck this trend towards utter simplicity and no-tune dirge and drone effects, such as ‘Malattia del Sonno’ which has an identifiable melody and is explicitly intended as Hawkins’s tribute to Italian horror movie soundtracks of the 1970s; and ‘Slender Loris’, which in the context of the rest of the album’s broody atmosphere emerges as a form of easy-listening electropop with its user-friendly drum machines trying to persuade you that these twisty and windy thin synth shapes that we perceive are not in reality evil serpents dropping from the ceiling to bite your ankles. In his press notes, Hawkins duly acknowledges his debts to Conrad Schnitzler and Cluster, but as ever this shrewd creator from Washington DC continues to assert his own unique identity, stamping it on every note he plays and records. One of his hallmarks is his taste for all that’s macabre and dark, but unlike some strung-out and mournful latterday industrial musician Hawkins remains fundamentally sanguine, and embraces the blackness of everyday living with good humour and gusto. The other subtext to this album is connected with drugs and/or disease, as indicated by the anti-venom serum artworks photographed in lurid film noir shades, and the Burroughs-like texts which sprawl across the folded panels of the digipak, packed with grotesque images plucked from the realm of nightmares. Indeed at times the listener will sensate the experience of a sleepy chloroform trance, as we drink deep from this heady brew. Arrived 21 January 2014.

  1. Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany, Faber.