Asher Levitas is one half of Old Apparatus, an English duo who have released a number of experimental low-key electronic releases for the Sullen label since 2012. Here he is with a solo album Lit Harness (PLANET MU RECORDS ZIQ379), in which he attempts to unburden his soul of his personal affliction. For most of his life, Levitas has suffered from sleep paralysis, a condition that means that for a few moments after waking up (or falling asleep) you’re unable to move your body or even speak. This undoubtedly accounts for the extremely “anxious” tone of Lit Harness; even the title refers to a particular type of restraint that keeps the patient in a “calm place while chaos happens all around”. (I’m not clear if this refers to an actual medical procedure, or a psychological exercise.) This album starts out promisingly enough, and the opening tracks ‘Withdrawn’ and ‘In The Eyes’ are both strong pieces; the former takes a basic electronic drone and bombards it with unpleasant interruptions, inducing a sensation surely familiar to any sufferer of sleep-related disorders, and the latter takes the listener down into a deep, dark zone with an insistent, muscular pulsebeat. Unfortunately, I found the remainder of the album to be filler material, identikit dark ambient music, whose relentlessly grim tone becomes wearisome. There isn’t enough of the expected catharsis for me, and one emerges from the other end of Lit Harness with no real resolution or sense that the sleep paralysis issue has been sufficiently addressed. The cover art is very good however, and conveys a lot of the expected sensations of suffering and futility. From 15 June 2016.
Landscapes Of Fear
GERMANY GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 153 2 x CD (2015)
One to disrupt the harmony of your CD shelf is this oversized card wallet containing an obliquely labeled, monochrome OS map of the area surrounding Cologne and 2 CDs of discomfiting sound art pertaining to the themes of 1) Landscapes and 2) Fear. A simplistic summary perhaps, but given the density of the accompanying text – which will assuredly sort the men from the boys among us – some distillation is required. We might ponder the dichotomy posed by these two situational extremes: the tangible and idyllic terra firma juxtaposed with the most chaotic and disembodying of emotions; security and exile – two extremes of human existence. Framing this juxtaposition is an image of a metal fence, on one side of which is a crowd of displaced refugees concealed from view by strategically placed bushes and palm trees. On the other, two golfers conducting their game, unmolested by the nearby tragedy.
While the reference to Europe’s current refugee crisis is explicit, the universality of the title’s constituents is such that we could extend the analogy to many situations in which the ‘radically diverging perceptions and adoptions of spaces’ occur in the present day. Take for example the legally sanctioned compartmentalisation of UK homes into multiple ‘apartments’ as a means of revenue generation for landlords and private investors, added to which is the humiliation of full council tax for each (while mansion owners pay proportionately lower rates), regardless of the size of the dwelling, purely on the grounds that there is a lock on the front door. Inhabiting these overpriced shoeboxes are the many who are locked out of the ever costly housing market and who face a future of financial disempowerment.
Needless to say, we needn’t look to the contents of this collection for comfort, but we might take heart that some are watching and addressing the flagrant injustices that visit so many walks of life today. The majority of the music is drone-based; tension-fuelled dark/power ambient minefields paired with location recordings for dislocation effect; splattered with rhythmic and vocal shrapnel in reference to political assassinations and other human rights abuses, as well as – of course – the kind of drones used by Western governments to police and terrorise the Middle East. Lawrence English has produced work similar in sound and agenda, but not with the bleakness of such events as Tim Gorinski’s ‘Amuse 2’ – a controlled explosion of ricocheting beats, sirens and shouting (William Burroughs might have approved of this), or Alex Pulgar’s ‘Lujk/Flame’ – where electroacoustic flames are funnelled through a tunnel of low-fi scum noise.
Hardly content with the alienating effects of such ‘music’, the compilers have seen fit to include Lena Ditte Nissen’s dispassionate German-language narration in ‘Imaginary Orb’ – which many a non-German speaker will instinctively skip – and the uneasy listening of a pair of North American accented sat-nav devices speaking over one another in Stephanie Glauber’s and Miriam Gossing’s ‘Mercure/Mondial’. Even English speakers will find this nauseating. Indeed, our agitation appears to be the overriding raison d’etre. Where so much in the realm of high-concept music can comfortably detach itself from conceptual baggage to exist as listening material per se, works such as this promote a sense of responsibility by insisting upon a level of listener interrogation.
More akin to an art gallery experience, Landscapes of Fear attains a kind of surrealism as a home-listening product. The simultaneous in/coherence of the selection, defined largely by the wilful austerity and disparity of the artists’ methods, would effect a collapsing of borders between internal and external phenomena; occasioning a discomfort that would remind us of the atrocities that take place daily beyond our psychological blinkers, in a world in which even the horror of events like Donald Trump’s inexplicable popularity achieve a circus sensationalism at which most of us can but shrug our shoulders in resignation. At the same time, the experience should also remind us that far from getting downhearted and downhearted at such horror, a constructive response is always possible.
This whole “Krautrock thing” sometimes seems to have grown into something monstrous and uncontrollable…it’s been twenty years since I began this stupid music magazine venture, and in my first issue I was full of enthusiasm with the “rediscovery” of what was for me mostly new territory, and wittered in insane, fatuous ways about the music of Faust, Popol Vuh, Amon Düül, Neu!, and Tangerine Dream. The 1990s were a good time to be doing that, as so much of the back catalogue of prominent Kraut idols was being reissued on compact disc, and more discoveries kept coming to light as record labels maintained the programme of intensive vault-excavations. Since then there’s been books and articles galore fixing “Krautrock” as a viable genre in our minds, and nowadays the term is applied loosely by music journalists and press agents to any contemporary combo trying anything that’s vaguely experimental. Likewise, many bands and musicians are quick to apply it to their music themselves, without any prompting. We think we understand the term as shared currency, but do we? If only we could all agree on what “Krautrock” actually means…there’s so much variety and ground-breaking material that emerged from parts of Germany through the 1970s, so much of it with very little common ground.
I mention this with no prejudice whatever towards Solaris, and their rather nifty CDR called Summer Edits (LINEAR OBESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR 0069). The headline is that these 12 instrumentals are heavily influenced by “Krautrock”, but the band come clean about this, and the influence has come about in a rather roundabout way. Also, to their credit, they are nowhere near as smarmy and “knowing” about their references as the awful Stereloab, or Julian Cope on Skellington. Further, Solaris quickly transcend the influences, and end up creating great and original music all of their own, and the inventiveness and ingenuity on offer here is impressive, each track revealing new ideas and fresh surprises.
The team of Mark Sanderson, Mark Spybey and Richard Sanderson claim that they formed Solaris in 1974, when they were all teenagers. They shared a love of Krautrock music during these glorious years when Can LPs were selling in Woolworths and The Faust Tapes could be had for 49p from a Virgin Megastore. Solaris never made any records or cassettes, however, and the present release represents the efforts of these fifty-something English fellows as they “reformed” the band. Recordings were made in 2010 and 2012. The notes here state in a euphemistic fashion that “the musicians have matured in the intervening decades”, but I think the process that is relevant is that both Sandersons and Spybey have lived through many interesting developments and shifts in musical culture in these isles, and followed separate paths too; both Sandersons were members of a post-punk band called Drop, but Richard followed the shining star of free improvisation in the 1980s and has never looked back. I have met Richard in London a few times; I still recall him saying “I didn’t fight in the punk wars for this!” a propos of some recent musical development which he didn’t approve of. This is what I mean by “a roundabout way”; Solaris have returned to their Krautrock roots after 42 years, and filtered it through their adult selves. A process of distillation, one might say.
Music here as noted has much to savour in terms of its inventiveness, sense of discovery, even a sense of fun…music soon escapes the traps of genre pigeon-holing and becomes a living thing. Contributing factors might include (1) lo-fi recording quality in places, adding a sheen of authenticity without feeling like a spray-on atmosphere effect; (2) slightly ramshackle playing, where instruments and timing don’t quite marry up, but the rough edges make it just perfect; (3) evidence of strong rapport between the three, creating events and moments which many musicians would gaze on in envy, showing that their friendship has held good after a long time. Hugely enjoyable…gets better the more I listen. Expect scads of lively avant-rock, bizarre mystery drones, strange outer-space sounds, tasty organ licks, and more. Free experimentation influences mixing in with the project. In one instance (‘The In Section’) they even liken themselves to The Mnemonists. But there’s a lot of originality, and rarely if ever do they settle for a commonplace noise or an overused digital sound for any reason. Great! From 24 June 2016.
New York composer Howard Stelzer is mostly known round these parts for his fab label Intransitive Recordings, whereon he released many smouldering gems of mysterious electroacoustic composition, field recordings, tape music and noise. While a few snippets from his career have come our way, I don’t have much of his solo work to hand, so this collection The Case Against (MONOTYPE mono073) is most welcome. Title tracks indicate it’s a suite in five parts, so one might read it as a lengthy meditation on various heavy matters – the overall tone is sombre, and the music is extremely abstract for the most part, excepting some segments where recognisable fragments of real-life everyday noise seep into the mix.
Most notably this happens on ‘Rip It Up’, a brief montage where the sounds of a crowd of people take on a very puzzling hue in the context of so much droning soarage. Did I mention he does it all using cassette tapes…he calls it “cassette music” and his approach to composing with these cronky oxide lengths of magnetic hue is very maximal, using intensive processing and editing to create incredibly rich and dense fields of solid grind. What evocative track titles too…’Accumulated Background Radiation’ might almost be preparing us for a post-nuclear devastation landscape, always a popular trope with industrial musicians, while ‘The Last Scattering Surface’ contains a poignant air of finality, and serves up over 17 minutes of single-minded metal-enriched airy droning tones. When the noise ceases to make way for clouds, birdsong and the noise of the artiste fumbling with his microphones, it’s almost a shocking shift from the abstract to the real, emerging into daylight from the end of a deep pit. This moment, and other parts of the album, show how sensitive Seltzer is when it comes to contrasting timbres and deploying them for maximal effect.
The cover art is by comic strip artist Tony Millionaire and depicts a wrecked hulk on the beach, a forlorn image which is highly suitable for the somewhat lonely and desolate air of this release. From 21 June 2016.
Fluid To The Influence
AUSTRALIA ROOM40 RM464 LP/CD (2016)
This recent solo release from Chris Abrahams – one third of the ever-prolific Necks trio – is bamboozling in its eclecticism; a seemingly semi-digested bag of oddball juxtapositions in which concrète sound art and sine wave stasis sit aside laconic, ring-tone piano meanderings like ingredients set by for a mystery stew. One might easily see such obfuscation as a playful raspberry directed at devotees of the Necks’ all-assimilating ambient jazz, though the aptly titled opener ‘One Liter Cold Laptop’ clarifies Abraham’s sincere interest in the oblique relations between distinct elements: an aimless churn of electric organ and barbed wire guitar brusquely interrupted at the halfway mark by a length of hair-raising radio screech; itself rejoindered by the nuanced, luxury spa piano lines of ‘Scale Upon The Land’.
A pianist by trade, Abrahams’ playing takes a range of leading roles: in ‘Trumpets Of Bindweed’ an electric organ of some description flickers and swells in a half-lit, metallic dissonance, while waves of pellucid piano dance softly in the more watery setting of ‘Clung, Eloquent’. The sense of ease and direction remain unknown quantities throughout. Just as his main group make a virtue of blending all manners of exotic into room-temperature air freshener, Abrahams is apparently more concerned with tweaking the tensions found at the border level, as per his recent geometry-threatening collaborations with sound artist Alessandro Bosetti. Yes, his purposes are ever puzzling, but they’re worth puzzling over all the same.
Clara de Asís
Uno Todo Tres
FRANCE PIEDNU PN0116 CD (2016)
Clara De Asís is both a new name to me and a refreshing voice in the well-inhabited drone world, to which the Spanish-born / France-based guitar player brings a temperament informed by her interests in electroacoustic composition, collaborative improvisation and something of a psychoanalytic approach to sound construction. Proust’s home country is surely a suitable base of operations: her work often concerns the uncertain relationship between memory and experienced reality; her compositions tool for tapping the hidden potential of sparse sounds. Uno Todo Tres continues to plumb the the prepared guitar’s phenomenological depths, and is annotated by such ontological epithets such as ‘A sound that raises awareness of the profound silence and in extinguishing leads into the depths of this silence’. The piece consists of a tremulous, organ-sounding tone that materialises from and returns to nothing over forty-four minutes. Its meditative properties might help the listener to make sense of Asís’ binary-smashing rumination, but it leaves the listener in a sense of emotional completion with its deep examination of tonal extremes.
Three items from the LF Records label in Bristol landed 6th May 2016.
Norwegian Sindre Bjerga wows crowds everywhere through his manipulation of cassette tapes. We heard him doing it for this label in 2014 with Black Paper Wings, a highly effective combination of warped speaking voices with twisted electronic spew. We also heard him as one half of Star Turbine, on the fabbo record Inner Space / Outer Space for Attenuation Circuit, and on Invisible Paths for Zoharum. Here on For The Automatic People (LF057), we’ve got 28 minutes of him mangling tapes and machines at a live set in Nijmegen. No doubt it offers a sensationally chilling experience, pushing the listener through the other side of a distorting mirror where the once-familiar world is transformed into ugly, threatening shapes. But for most of the time Bjerga is treading water, letting the tapes unspool in suitably ambiguous droney and crackly scapes but not doing much to exert himself as a performer; I prefer the brief moments when he gets his hands stuck right in, and does something to manually retard the rotation of his own capstans, to devastating effect. Even so, this growly beast fully lives up to label claim of “magnetic tape abuse, bleak drone and dungeon crawler electronics”.
When it comes to “hands-on” performances, you could do worse than turning your spotlight on major loon Yol, the English performer whose ugly and slightly confrontational work has crossed our path on two unforgettable CDRs. Is It Acceptable (LF056) contains four instances of his voice-centric noise, and will likely sear its way into your life in just 30 mins with as much assurance as a truckload of spoiled food or garden debris tipped onto your front lawn. Yol spits and vomits out primitive poetry right there on the stage, mauling and mangling his own larynx into hideous forms while doing so; unpleasant imagery abounds in his texts, many of them vivid descriptions of life on a bleak on a housing estate, and it’s like meeting an urbanised Stig of the Dump crossed with a heroin addict clutching a can of Special Brew in his hairy paw. To accompany these caustic, abrasive voice attacks, Yol uses broken debris as percussion – could be chains, metal tins, broken glass…as if using the remains of industrial society to make his point. Can’t help but concur with label assessment: “Yol infests speech and sound with a plague-like bubonic mass that explodes spores into the atmosphere”.
Both the above releases tend to confirm label owner Greg Godwin’s view of contemporary British society as broken and incoherent. The next record is slightly more “musical”, though that’s probably stretching the envelope a bit more than we should. It’s a split album (LF050) between Robin Foster and Henry Collins, with both cuts mysteriously timed at exactly 18:02. Foster turns in ‘Spill Lynch Corrosiveness’, a long and brooding episode of nasty guitar noise, which he executes with a coldness of purpose that borders on malevolence. He makes that feedback hum creep along the studio floor as though it’s a slowly-seeping pool of acid, soon to be lapping around our ankles. There’s also evidence of his skill with pedal manipulation; not a second goes by but a potentially “normal” sounding guitar lick is mutated into a hideous blob of ugliness by means of distortion or delay, pushed to wild extremes. If there’s a coherent statement to be extracted from this lengthy bout of waywardness, you’d be hard pressed to find it; Robin Foster is determined to short-circuit logic and common sense at all times, pushing back and forth between the modes of twangy free-form plucking and pure noise generation.
Henry Collins’ exploits are even more insufferable. His ‘Frostlike, Neighbourly Aversion’ makes it plain, in both title and sound, that he wishes to explore his own personal sensations of alienation. His assault on the guitar, if that is indeed the instrument in question, is violent and crude; for the first seven minutes the listener is repelled rather than engaged, forced aside by an ugly chattering of coarse metal-electric filth. Things progress from that point, into insane explorations of wayward feedback apparently taking place inside an industrial metal cannister, some 30 feet high with no possibility of escape. It’s genuinely alarming to hear; this noise perfectly evokes the maddened frustration and claustrophobia of the mentally ill, clawing helplessly at the walls of their self-made cage. One of the more impressive scabs to have been torn from the gangrenous knee of the LF Records label; for those with a thirst for more Foster and Collins, they also perform as a duo under the name of Tippex.
The Quellgeister #2: Wurmloch (INTERSTELLAR RECORDS INT039) LP by Austrian artist Stefan Fraunberger is part of his Quellgeister series…he does it by performing on “semi-ruined organs in deserted churches”. At one level what we hear is a fascinating wheezy acoustic drone, as he attempts to force sound from these old, broken devices. He’s not attempting to make music or play hymn tunes, rather create a conceptual form of sound art. The tones he creates are quite eerie, and the distressed keys and dilapidated pipes are clearly generating just the sort of effects he’s seeking. Even the performances are “broken”, refusing conventional form and veering from recognisable modular chords to freely-improvised passages and moments of purely abstract noise. So far, very rewarding and highly unusual set of rather disconcerting half-musical sounds emerge from Wurmloch, and we could probably locate Fraunberger in a lineage with other artists who discover ruined pianos in odd places and try and force a noise out of them, such as Russ Bolleter or Annea Lockwood.
Stefan Fraunberger is doing it in Transylvania, in churches that are about 300 years old. One of the things that interests him is the profound changes history and migration has wrought in this area, whose German population have mostly moved on since the collapse of the Berlin wall, and where the small villages are now inhabited by Sinti and Romani gypsies. The churches he visits were built during one of the many Ottoman wars, and are more like fortresses. Fraunberger sees the buildings, and the organs themselves, as the last surviving remnant of a forgotten purpose, a “pre-modern, forgotten future” as the press notes have it. He proposes to reinhabit and colonise this admittedly rather vague zone with his own modern, radical ideas, through the possibilities of sound…the record is a document of his spontaneously created “organic sculptures”. While “organic” is an overused word in our field, it’s entirely appropriate to the all-acoustic nature of this sound art, music which is somehow aspiring to reach the “abstracted spirit of electronic music”. Not just because it involves wood and other natural materials and the passage of air wheezing its way through the pipes in irregular bursts, but something of the rottenness and decay of the organ itself has passed onto the grooves. You can almost see the dust, smell the mould.
Visit Franunberger’s website for further examples of his forward-looking and rather abstruse ideas about art and language, and its place in society…through his extensive travels, he seems to be trying to discover things about the meaning of contemporary culture through signs of change and decay, and finding clues in the most unlikely places. The photo of heavily-rusted satellite dishes is strangely evocative in that context, for reasons I can’t explain. From 3 May 2016.
Kassel Jaeger, Onden, Belgium, Unfathomless, CD U37 (2016)
If you enjoy the soothing frying sounds of electromagnetic fields captured from lights and cables, and want something of the ambience of Japanese cities as well, you’ll feel at home with this surprisingly calming urban soundscape of field recordings made by Kassel Jaeger in various locations across Tokyo over a six-month period in 2015. The material has been spliced into one continuous flowing track of layers of droning textures, all frying away and intriguing in their sonic pointillism, each dot of sound complete in itself as a tiny mini-universe and all of them joined up in long extended linear strings that are more than the sums of their minuscule atoms. Jaeger lets these sounds speak for themselves, not trying to shape them into structures with recognisable beats or rhythms and the result is a leisurely sinuous, almost organic river of metallic or sparking textures brimming with alien life and energy.
The actual sounds are very difficult to describe and yet they can remind listeners of all sorts of objects and memories: a hydrofoil coming into a bay and settling down beside a wharf to deliver its passengers; a leaf-blower in the far distance from where you’re sitting; cargo trains passing in the night; machines laying asphalt on a road; and probably lots more besides, depending on the individual listener’s own past experiences. No sound in particular evokes a mood or feeling and as a listener you tend to passively observe the sounds passing by rather than feel engaged with them. Yet these soundscapes can be very hypnotic and through their mesmerising quality keep boredom at bay. Some listeners may even find a spiritual dimension in the sounds, especially near the end of the recording where deeper tones begin to resound amid the receding textures.
There are actually two very different soundtracks here on the album: the more obvious urban-generated soundtrack of electromagnetic humming and droning, and people going about their daily business in the city; and the world of birdsong, insect ambience and other murmurs of the natural world that acts as a counterpoint and commentary on sounds generated by humans and their machines.
I do find this a very likeable recording though its length and obvious lack of musical structures won’t endear it to most people. You’d be hard put to find another recording of droning metallic noise drone that’s just as serene, majestic and impassive as it rolls by.
Recently we noted The Quietened Village from the English micro-label A Year In The Country (AYITC), a compilation which limned allusive portraits of English pastoral idylls. Here is the same label with another not-unrelated compilation called Fractures, which they dub #3 in a “series of explorations” called Audiological Transmission Artifact. Once again there’s a concept at work; the compilers propose that the year 1973 was a pivotal year for the UK, where a “schism in the fabric of things took place”. The manifestations of this change are reflected in the following list: power cuts, the three day week, the release of the film The Wicker Man, the making of the children’s sci-fi TV series The Changes, and other scattered references. I suppose the main disaster for AYITC was the departure of Delia Derbyshire from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. There are also references to faded psychedelia and corrupted ideals, but the level of engagement with 20th century history hasn’t gone much beyond reading a few headlines and rummaging in a very eclectic shopping bag of cultural effluvia, mostly derived from watching the telly.
I’m all in favour of this kind of alternative history, even if the concept feels a little undeveloped in this instance, and whatever substance it has is mostly reflected in the press release rather than in the actual music on offer. At least on The Quietened Village, some of the musicians were making an attempt to reference real English villages in their sounds, titles, and field recordings; on Fractures, the music’s relation to the central concept is less easy to discern, other than a vague feeling of disquiet and paranoia in some cases. There’s a lack of specificity which troubles me a little. However, Fractures works well as an entertaining spin on its own terms. My favourite pieces include ‘The Osmic Projectors / Vapors Of Valtorr’ credited to two separate projects, where the vaguely sinister purr and spangly electronica of Circle gives way to a deliciously haunting melody concocted by Temple. I also enjoyed Time Attendant and their ‘Elastic Reform’, which like most of the stuff here lacks a real tune, but at least uses repetition quite effectively. It goes on for a long time and insists on itself to the point of creating a nice mysterious ambiance.
Semi-supernatural suggestiveness is to be had from Keith Seatman on ‘Seeing The Invisible’; the sounds are interesting, but the construction is weak. It feels like someone is attempting to summon spirits; buried children’s voices emanate from the quasi-supernatural murk. Polypores are attempting something slightly similar on ‘The Perfect Place For An Accident’; eerie voices are mixed together with off-kiltre keyboard murk, and the technique is like an attempt to conceal a murder mystery where voices of the innocent continue to haunt the guilty. Neither of these are genuinely horrifying though, and feel more like the pale ghosts of certain Central Office of Information films. With their extremely fragile narrative elements, these might be tunes we could match up against the hoped-for associations with BBC TV of the 1970s. Slightly more explicit in making such references are Listening Center 1 with ‘Triangular Shift’, a piece which begins with outer-space suggestions of missiles and satellites at play, and then leads into a jaunty Schools & Colleges type-tune.
With all of these Radiophonic Workshop clues floating about, I’m a tad disappointed that none of the creators make much of an effort to emulate their heroes; I mean that I can find no evidence they have studied the techniques or methods of these highly original and inventive creators who worked in such a physical way with tape construction and sound mixing, and instead are content simply to imitate their surface sounds. In some cases, not even doing that very convincingly. But it’s harsh to level this charge at the creators here, as I refer to a name-checking syndrome that’s been afoot in the UK for many years now. Likewise, I don’t quite get the fixation that everyone continues to apply to The Wicker Man, often to the exclusion of any other English horror movie made in the 1970s. It’s a form of tunnel vision to single out this very unusual movie, and often so many of its adherents seem to lack the contextual understanding of film theory or cinematic history that might help us to see it in perspective.
At any rate, those who delight in the pagan elements of The Wicker Man are bound to find interest in the tracks here by Sproatly Smith and The Hare And The Moon with Michael Begg. Sproatly Smith’s ‘In The Land Of Green Ginger’ is trying very hard to be romantic, English, and pagan in a way that would attract the approval of Julian Cope and his acolytes. I do like to combination of traditional folk-song elements with the doodly electronic interventions, but the tune lacks melodic strength and is badly sung. ‘A Fracture In The Forest’ by The Hare And The Moon appeals to me even less, with its solemn recits about about lifting the veil and catching sight of the God Pan. But it plugs into a continuum of dark Industrial folk music that has its supporters, a strand which I suppose has its beginnings with David Tibet, who has appeared on at least one Human Greed record recorded by Begg. To some extent, The Rowan Amber Mill are also perhaps aiming for a folky vibe on their ‘Ratio (Sequence)’, with its vaguely pastoral melody mixed with modern electronica.
The comp ends on a very downbeat note. A Year In The Country offer us ‘A Candle For Christmas’, a very sombre construction which I enjoyed. It seems to exist in parallel with a wholly unrelated musical sub-genre, that of Cold Depressive Black Metal; but for all their pessimism A Year In The Country never succumb to that sense of complete futility we associate with the latter. Their non-specific valedictory hymn is entirely unique to the label aesthetic, and to this compilation. I’m slightly less taken with David Colohan’s ‘Eldfell’, which amounts to a generic atmospheric drone with wailing voices. It ain’t exactly Popol Vuh, but the unassuming tone and mock grandeur is unmistakeably English. Fractures exists in two editions, of which I received the Dawn Edition on 22 April 2016.
- Why is their name spelled the American way? ↩
Ted Lee is co-owner of the Feeding Tube Records label in New England, that part of the United States generally associated with a resurgence in underground noise, free rock jamming and freaky-folk of all stripes over the years…as regards his own musical contributions to culture, we were less than impressed by the Zebu! record in 2014, tho’ had more time for the scrambled gibberish of the Curse Purse record in 2015 where he appeared as one part of a trio. Seems he’s also performed with Egg, Eggs (though one cynical riposte there might be “who hasn’t?!”) and Sunburned Hand Of The Man. Now Ted Lee has made a solo record, and a fine statement of mystifying art-drone-noise shoutery it do be. Appearing here as No Sod, Lee has seen fit to press his record in blue vinyl, manufacture only 100 copies of it, and call it 1:11 / 11:11 (FTR 223), a mystical numerical equation that may mean he’s inviting us to find parallels with Alan Sondheim’s Ritual-All-7-70, or not…it’s something to do with ratios…he’s also included a monochrome printed booklet of baffling artwork daubs, some of them resembling human heads, most of them distorted and stretched in the computer in some way…so far, a lot of “artiness” abounding.
I enjoyed what’s in the grooves, though. Each side equally abstract and puzzling, but packed with dense noise, drone, and feedback…the first side opens with some beautifully delicate chords, which is a way of ushering us into the main event…said main event being a protracted bout of free drumming and semi-crazed vocal yawping, an entity writhing like a trapped fish in the sea of humming noise and distortion…it’s a much more successful bid at what I always expected Sunburned Hand Of The Man to deliver, but they never did. As No Sod, Ted Lee has evidently decided that the best art music is primitive, inexplicable, and utterly spontaneous. Don’t look for hidden messages in this primal goop, but enjoy the warm, blood-filled presence while it still throbs and vibrates your torso…if we’re still dropping ESP-Disk references, maybe the Cromagnon or Mij LPs would align themselves at this juncture too.
The B side feels kinda more refined after that caveman gorge-fest of fire, blood, and bones, emitting a strange multi-layered chilling drone for some 15-20 minutes that feels like a glimpse of infinity, or least a view round the immediate upcoming corner. Somehow it manages to evoke very mixed emotions, of simultaneous dread and happiness, without really doing much to vary its general continuum. While not as roary as its flip side, this No Sod endorsed drone is nowhere near the over-processed, polite and synthetic drones that tend to emanate from mainland Europe and the million and one laptops that pass for musical instruments in these grim times. Instead, it’s as rough-hewn and cranky as a Claes Oldenburg slab of painted plaster, or a Rauschenberg canvas packed with found images and detritus. Good stuff. I always wondered why Alvaro kept on mentioning Ted Lee and his ever-present bottle of maple syrup, and now I know. From February 2016.