From Göteborg in Sweden 1 we have a package of tapes produced by the label Native Parts Records which arrived 1st June 2012. The DIY collage covers looked promising and the website follows a similar aesthetic, configured so that the scrolling takes place on the horizontal plane instead of the vertical. Skugar is Johannes Brander and his solo tape is Magic / Khands (NPR02) which is quite pleasing although I found the first track wittering on for too long with its dreamy synth runs and rather pointless droning. What don’t I like? Hmmm…maybe the root note is a bit too ordinary and the overall tone is a shade too nice, as if the music were trying too hard to please an audience. However the B side (if indeed that is correct since the sides are unmarked) is darker and more engaging. Fairly sinister edge and lots of unknown quantities. I find myself being gently pulled into a bewildering maze of slightly distorted rumbling and keening noises, a faded jungle of imaginary plants and wildlife. Skogar seems to work best when he allows himself to meander in this echoey electronic murk, a gaseous entity which is almost beyond being abstract, so lacking in definition it be. Yet there is a core of some living matter within the cloud. Pulsate! Pulsate! Skugar also exhibits some interest in psychedelic or proggy tunes, as suggested by his cover of a Bardo Pond piece, an American band whom we would associate with that early 1990s upsurge interest in “space-rock” and latterday psychey droning with guitars. Skogar works well for me when his inner skeleton is acting sullen and weird, and he should force himself down that path of incommunicative obscurity more often, perhaps by putting his head in a cloth sack 2. Also we like his interest in malfunctioning or broken equipment which was used to make the record. Strange cover art shows men in sun hats like 1930s Mexicans or Paraguyans, being dwarved by enormous plants, maybe some form of gigantic sugar beet or other local crop. There is also a luxury art edition of the release which comes with a unique painting on wood. It’s an old-ish release from 2010 but is still available.
Brander’s an able painter as shown by the symbolist cover art 3 he produced for Verfver‘s tape which is Animi / Animus (NPR24). A solo tape by Johan Gustafsson who is also associated with Tsukimono, Blessings, and Scraps of Tape. We like him well as Tsukimono, under which name he produced the memorable title ‘Moan Jar’ for a compilation. This tape doesn’t quite produce the desired chilling / pessimistic / bleak visions however. Distortion and lo-fi recording are the guiding lights behind this scrapbook of musical episodes, pages and cuttings torn from the eyes and mind of a restless soul. Verfver does manage some pleasing moments in this eclectic array of ambient, drones, tunes, piano fugues, and rhythmic avant-rock tunes, but there is too often a deficiency of conviction or weight behind his musical utterances. I’m sure there is a way to turn these wispy tones into the sort of plangent and heartfelt melancholic wails to which he aspires. He has certainly managed as much in his Tsukimono guise.
Lastly we have Crystal Crypt‘s II (NPR21). Crystal Crypt is another alias for Johannes Brander, and again the package is adorned with clippings from National Geographic magazine to form the collage cover art. The titles here certainly indicate a more “cosmic” Pink Floyd type outlook on man’s existence, with ‘Beyond’, ‘Worlds Apart’ and ‘Future Past’ pointing to his aspirations to journey into the metaphysical zones. Realised I think mostly with an electric guitar, feedback and an echo unit, though there is also percussion and other things going on. Works best when it wallows in maddening repetition and remorseless exploration of raw guitar tones. The music he makes here can also appear lonely and isolated, so perhaps at one level these tunes and their ponderous titles are metaphors for an inability to communicate 4. Although still formless, woolly and self-indulgent in places, this cloudy and clanging music does have the same sort of “Roman wilderness of pain” vibe as the Skogar tape, a mental state which Brander would do well to cultivate and explore even more fearlessly on future experiments with his psychological axe. A 2011 recording which the creator wishes to associate with ‘Heart of Darkness’, the Conrad novel which was one of the texts which fed into Apocalypse Now, still the movie of choice for all dark-hearted outcasts and pariahs of society. I often think a lot of these musicians wish they could remake the soundtrack for this film, and this tape may represent another entry in that ongoing catalogue.
- Also the home of Fang Bomb Records, our favourite label of angsty and grating Swedish noise. ↩
- I make this suggestion simply as a cheap and practical way to achieve sensory deprivation. More sophisticated methods are available. ↩
- It depicts a cathedral blighted by a witch in the guise of a black spider with multiple arms. ↩
- At times the music put me in mind of another Göteborg depressive, Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words, who likewise despairs of making himself understood by the rest of humanity. In that instance the creator suffers from borderline personality disorder. ↩