POLAND ZOHARUM ZOHAR 125-2 CD (2016)
Formerly known as Przed Państwem Rara, Poland’s now-truncated Rara are a trio who purvey (apologies in advance) a kind of ambient folktronica (sorry again) that weaves acoustic guitar, percussion and low-key electronic textures into moody dreamscapes – both oneiric and nightmarish – which are well-suited to the gothic whims of the Zoharum label. While their new album, W//\TR, is generally warmer and more emotive than the black metal ambience hinted at by the cover, the 10-minute opener ‘Echo Planety’ leaves us little the wiser. This, the longest of the otherwise intermezzo instrumentals, is a runway taxi of echo pedal-drenched shoegaze guitar with all the glory of the first yawning in millennia of dawn light across a distant moon. It’s a fine scene-setter for the epic theatrics that subsequently emerge from subterranean strata of crisp, ornate finger-picking, bubbling synths and deep, droney undercurrents that add drama to ambivalent chord progressions.
While much of this is to seemingly simple pastoral effect, Rara also know how to throw a ‘country’ shape or two, whether it’s affecting the slow southern drawl and wild west mise en scene of Angels of Light’s no country for old men (‘Gen Planety’) or the more rustic charms of a fair-voiced maiden (one Kuba Ziolek) singing to the night (‘Przynieś To Z Nocy’). All nice enough, though there are unsettling anomalies like the risible electro-goth segue halfway through ‘Pasaźerowie Wiatru’ or the moist male whispers that follow a plangent guitar into the ear canal in ‘Szepty W Głowie Elly Brand’. Mood killers both.
There is ear-balm aplenty however: ambient interludes that provide recovery time, and the more soothing female voice that dovetails with itchy guitar lines, recalling some of Stine Grytøyr’s plaintive contributions to Ulver’s Marriage of Heaven & Hell. In fact, W//\TR shares a good deal of that album’s mannered and musically omnivorous gothicism: primal undercurrents of tethered frustration beneath ornamented structures (and the odd power-chord pyramid), suggestive of a reservoir of archetypal power that gives form to all physical appearances. Some might find W//\TR‘s stylistic shifting a tough swallow, but Rara’s musical blending is an accomplished one, lending W//\TR a sense of fractured identity well-suited to their recent change of name.
At first glance, the European trio Bader Motor may appear to be offering us nothing more than a very knowing take on Krautrock records, with their obvious quotes from Kraftwerk and Neu! LPs, and probably other Germanic references too. However, I’ll forgive any project which has Fred Bigot as a member, considering my fondness for his solo records where he mixes electronic noise with rockabilly in a highly enjoyable manner. not to mention the unusual Melt Famas record with its over-amped guitars and drums. Bader Motor are Bigot with Arnaud Maguet and Vincent Epplay – the latter played with Jac Berrocal and David Fenech – and the three have appeared together before on Musique Pour Les Plantes Des Dieux in 2009. This record, Drei drei drei (VEALS & GEEKS VAGO17 / LES DISQUES EN ROTIN REUNIS LDRR #056), not only has the clever Krautrock pastiches assembled by these French wags, but also offers their slightly sardonic version of electropop, disco, and general Euro-murk – the sort of banal aural wallpaper that might blight your continental tour at any point between the airport, the shopping mall and the cafe. This may be what the threesome have in mind when they speak of “a new class of space [rock] and Riviera Krautrock”. Riviera Krautrock?! What does that even mean? I can’t think of anything worse than experimental music recast as another consumer / lifestyle option for the “Riviera set”, those rich buffoons wearing expensive sunglasses and swimsuits, if indeed such a thing even exists any more outside of 1960s travelogue movies, but I’m prepared to believe Bader Motor are up to something vaguely subversive and sarcastic. As it turns out, this LP is an enjoyable listen with its edgy mix of user-friendly beats and melodic drones combined with odd, queasy noises, rough textures, and outpourings of filtered glorp. From 12th August 2016; available as an LP or download.
GERMANY RUN UNITED MUSIC RU18 2 x CD (2016)
As part of Heimatlieder aus Deutschland, an initiative funded to shed light on the ethnic and musical diversity of modern-day Germany, producer Gudrun Gut has been commissioned to set up symmetrical, speaker-friendly setlists of eight re-recorded ‘traditional folk’ songs for the magpie-minded Vogelmixe; going on to give each a rhythmic makeover into the bargain. While first impressions suggest this pan-global melange is more vapid-minded cocktail bar than boudoir, Gut’s choices are apparently as informed by history as by personal taste: each of the songs tracing its ancestry as far back as the 15th century to nations to have immigrated to Germany and which can thus be regarded as contributing to the country’s current ethnic identity. Each nation (Turkey, Cameroon, Morocco, Croatia, Cuba, Portugal, Transylvania and Bulgaria) is also represented in the pool of musicians to perform the ‘original’ songs; the streamlined format of which ensures that such ‘confusing diversity’ will in fact prove pleasing to listeners with and without a studied interest in the multi-coloured purview of the much-loved ‘world’ music label.
While this visible striving for authenticity might seem at odds with the remix disc’s aesthetic of electronic beats and textures and melodic extrapolations, it’s just as easy to reflect on the ‘cover tune’ simulacra nature of the pieces themselves. These aren’t preserved in amber, but subject to the prerogative of whomever happens to bring them into the present moment, though by all accounts a good deal of care went into sourcing musicians as part of ‘an extensive research and recruitment process’. The underlying theme of ‘unity’ putatively runs through all songs as expressions of a trans-continental ‘melting pot’, bringing dynamic equilibrium to which must have been a task for the compiler, but who better than the DJ to effect such a transfer?
One further motive of the remix treatment is to address the supposed lack of representation of traditional folk music in modern German electronic music. Qualifications regarding cultural appropriation aside, Gudrun’s remixes are both inventive and light of touch, making adroit use of dub, club and electro-pop motifs. Her poly-stylistic subtlety is not completely removed from that which made Honest Jon’s Shangaan Shake selection such an interesting event, though it does lack that collection’s the producer headcount advantage. Under Gudrun’s watch, generic 4/4 beats collide into thorough deconstructions, tightly-wound Thomas Brinkman-sized samples loop-based rhythms and an almost hymnal resonance that bleeds from the past into the present. While not every piece is likely to please every listener, it is nonetheless a tasteful arrangement that can be enjoyed from many a distance.
GERMANY CELLULE 75 CELL-1 LP (2016)
Jemh Circs is the latest alias of Marc Richter, the producer also known as Black to Comm. For this project, Richter has gone poking about in YouTube and Spotify with his special record-producing scissors, snipping out countless vocal samples from contemporary pop songs and stitching them all together in nine brightly-coloured, glittering patchwork quilts of pop/drone/ambience.
The overall effect is quite remarkable. Each track is like a hologram of pop music itself, a tiny part that reflects the whole. You almost feel that you could open them out and re-create entire popular music cultures. We’ll be grateful for that when the next solar storm fries all of our hard drives.
Opening track ‘Comp’ sets the pace, a blend of autotuned spirit voices, alien transmissions and sentient machine chatter that, somehow, still sounds like pop music. ‘Ordre’ takes it further, the invisible choir ascending in pitch across static bursts and bleached-out beats that nibble away at the edge of your awareness. ‘Va’ sends a kosmische synth fragment through a series of bizarre mutations, whilst ‘Arbre’ provides another synth figure that you might think you’ve heard before, somewhere. Possibly in a dream you had after a heavy night at a Cinderella Rockefella’s disco in 1984.
All of the tracks, incidentally, have these terse, one-word titles. It seems to be a bit of a thing these days, and I kind of like the no-nonsense, take-it-or-leave-it feel they provide. I very much like what Richter has created here. Seek it out, dive in and enjoy.
Strange record of electronica by Bromp Treb in the form of Concession Themes (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 243)…Bromp Treb is a solo act named Neil Young Cloaca, who has been releasing music under this name since 2002, sometimes on his own label Yeay! Cassettes; his Loop Rotator Pool from 2010 contains no fewer than 77 tracks, which may be an indicator of something. Cloaca favours home-made and broken lo-fi sounds, producing everything with tapes, synths, samplers, and mics, and passing most of the results through cheap distortion techniques. He certainly doesn’t lack for a sense of fun, as can be readily gleaned from the cartoony cover art and insert, and the jolly titles such as ‘Pennies from The Back Of Displeasure’ or ‘Pest Promenade’, the latter of which would have made an excellent theme for a 1930s Silly Symphony animation. The press notes for this release invite us to consider Bromp Treb’s work as a form of dance music, but one that subverts the norms and stereotypes of the genre; “what if…you threw all those beats and tempos at the ceiling and then just let the pieces fall wherever?” is the rhetorical question posed by Angela Sawyer. Concession Themes is presumably the answer. Quite good fun and vaguely unusual sounds, and throwing pieces in the air is always a good working method, but this LP is thin on substance and extremely wanting in production depth; each track is more like a doodle than a finished work. Many of the generated sounds, which Sawyer politely describes as “whimsical”, strike me as just plain nonsensical. From 17 May 2016.
Last noted Klara Lewis with her Ett LP for Editions Mego, a memorable black pulser of rigid electronica abstraction in an all-black cover. Her newie Too (EDITIONS MEGO EMEGO 210) is on the same label, and again arrives in a black cover this time adorned with a line drawing by Klara herself. A woman’s head is superimposed with another head (perhaps two heads, even) until the layers of drawing multiply the intense eyes glaring in deathly fashion at nothing much at all. Klara has been continuing to perform her audio-visual show (music and projections) for the last two years apparently, and has now formed an association with Simon Fisher Turner, who contributed to two of the tracks here.
In this work, I’m continuing to enjoy what I read as a slightly aloof stance, and there’s a vague sense of detachment that exudes itself through this immaculately-polished set of layered electronic music with processed field recordings. Klara Lewis seems to keep “meaning” at bay, through her one-word titles that refuse simple associations, and her music that somehow remains disguised and ambiguous as to its true intent, even if it risks turning into wallpaper. Occasionally, as one the title track and ‘View’, rhythmic pulsations drive the track along, or rather seem to propel it like an unseen underground river; she’s never a one to over-state anything, and disinclined to mix her “beats” to the forefront of this very abstract art music.
Then there’s the even more abstracted episodes, like the dream-like ‘Beaming’, a charming and mysterious piece with its incredibly subdued tones punctuated with a mix of radio signals, distorted voices, and mixed field recordings. On paper that sounds like an uninspiring technical exercise, but ‘Beaming’ is a charming view through the fourth-dimensional mirror into another world, surreal, occluded, amazing details barely glimpsed. From 25 May 2016.
Curious slab of eccentric dubby electronica is Sno Dub (HEYREC heyrec22) from the duo Hey Ø Hansen. Helmut Erler and Michael Wolf are self-proclaimed proponents of a genre of music they call “Austrodub”, which is something to do with their Alpine origins – they began as some sort of European rock-steady combo in the 1980s, playing their take on reggae music in Innsbruck and the Tirol area. When they moved to Berlin in the 1990s, they formed their own Heyrec label for releasing their own records and defining the “Austrodub” profile. This might be best represented on the compilation Sonn Und Mond, which appeared in 2009 on the Pingipung label, and collated their various efforts from demos, compilations, cassettes and TV commercials since 1995.
Hey Ø Hansen are clearly well aware of the ironies of being white Europeans from Austria, home of the most stiff and morally uptight people in the world, playing around with the laid-back rhythms of rock-steady, dub, and reggae – forms of music which which are unlikely to ever be associated with the inflexibility of korrektness of any given Austrian military aristrocrat, in his heavy regimental coat and waxed moustache. I doubt if we’re expected to take the notion of “Austrodub” entirely seriously. Nonetheless, parts of Sno Dub are enjoyable and inventive. The main characteristic of the music appears to be the laboriously slow pace, with ultra-retarded beats and a leaden pace, very suggestive of mountain life – for instance the image of an abominable snowman attempting to dance in a heavy snowdrift, wearing snow shoes, comes immediately to mind. Clumsy, clunky, and a million miles from the syncopated snap and bounce of even a third-rate dancehall record from Jamaica. From this unpromising starting point, Hey Ø Hansen execute daring dynamics, gaps, and echo effects using what appear to be extremely primitive methods – cheap synths and toy keyboards, very artificial echo effects, and even slowing the tapes by hand, apparently.
Erler and Wolf have a clear mission to remain minimal and basic at all costs, a purity almost; but their charming simplicity could also be mistaken for amateurishness. None of this would have cut the mustard with the ultra-polished sound of the glitch mob and the boys in Cologne in the 1990s. This naturally makes the Hey Ø Hansen proposal all the more appealing to me. More power to their pitons, I say. From 3rd May 2016.
Excellent set of minimal electronica-glitch computer music things from Phil Maguire, an English musician who has been quietly seeping out the odd cassette and Bandcamp release since 2014…this this (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL LOR 078) is one of his rare physical releases and in some ways an unusual item to find in the LOR catalogue. The album collects two “suites”, the five parts of the highly alien minimal buzz-drone of “This This”, and the even more dry, desolate and stark purrings of “th at ti me wh en”, which originally emanated in 2015 on his own This This Recordings imprint.
Maguire’s sound art is notable for originating mostly in the guts of a Raspberry Pi, which is the cheap circuit-board miniature computer that’s been creating quite a stir in the world of “digital” these days…a versatile piece of kit which even I can operate (I made mine into a media player) and features in a small range of dedicated computing magazines in the high street, full of articles suggesting DIY projects and teach-yourself-coding exercises. Maguire plays the Raspberry Pi to create wholly abstract and non-human noise, but somehow this this is not a harsh or hostile release, and it doesn’t take long at all for the listener to become acclimatised to its strange tones and start to enjoy or appreciate the textures and patterns inside this tiny world. It may feel sealed off, claustrophobic even, but it’s a good zone to visit for four or five minutes at a time.
The sleeve notes refer us back to the mid-1990s when, if you recall, “glitch” music was one of the big things in vogue. What I remember of it (and I do still enjoy the “genre”), a lot of glitch was associated with European labels and artistes, particularly in Vienna and Cologne. It may have had some lineage with Techno and dance music, and its production involved hacking into synths or (if feeling more radical) experimenting with sound files on a laptop. My verdict is that Maguire owes practically nothing to dance music, and has arrived at his extremely reduced and introverted abstractions by other means, perhaps more processed based methods. If I’m right about that, then Phil Maguire’s music might fit in on the Hideous Replica label in some ways, although I’m not sure if their aesthetic choices overlap exactly. As to the hardware and production aspects of glitch, evidently Phil Maguire has taken it further by bypassing musical instruments and keyboards altogether, and even surpassing laptop music, by working with such a compact and tiny instrument as the Raspberry Pi.
If we were going to start a cultural war of one-upmanship over this, it could be argued that Maguire’s exceptionally modest set-up makes the average laptop with its weighty OS, software bloat, and hundreds of MP3 files look like the excesses of a Rick Wakeman multi-keyboard array. Recommended…this release is a 50 copies limited press CDR with a Victorian photograph inserted, and a downloadable PDF of notes from the website. From 24 June 2016.
Last heard from Sturqen in 2012 with their Praga album for Kvitnu, the label that loves all things heavy and dense…the Portuguese duo of Cesar Rodrigues and David Arantes have been active since 2008 and continue to carve their own furrow in the swirling world of dark techno-mechanical blackness. Their Cura (KVITNU 45) shows they are still preoccupied with machines and their work remains themed on the idea of industrial mayhem, described here as a “journey through grimy machines”…consequently, a black and airless world is what they create, with remorseless hammering drum beats sucking up the air and the only relief to our plight is offered by electronic devices and synths occasionally treated to resemble the howl of an electric guitar.
Cura is also a “concept album” of sorts; the title means “cure” in English and an enclosed note muses on the idea of what modern medicine can really offer us by way of effective treatment, perhaps thinking of such aggressive techniques as chemo-therapy to cure cancer. Sturqen propose a radical alternative to mainstream medicine with their music, calling it a “negation of the negation that suppressed that which is strange to a healthy system”, and offer the album to the world as “an act of healthy violence”. Presumably this is all a metaphor. I don’t think they seriously intend Cura to be played henceforth in hospitals everywhere over the PA system, thus causing ill patients to leap from their beds instantly, but their argument has not been fully thought through. It seems simply to be a rather solemn and over-elaborate way of saying “take it or leave it” when you hear their music.
This aside, there is a lot to enjoy on Cura, and I like the stern and unblinking qualities the pair are capable of unleashing, even though their sounds are not quite as dark and violent as they evidently seem to think. From 8th June 2016.
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS mono088 CD (2016)
Previously noted in these pages for a ‘serious lack of force’ and a ‘melange of analogue and digital synth porridge’, Komora A can’t be said to have effected any radical stylistic changes of late, but seem to have honed such attributes into a more virtuous expression of the radiant modular ambience they call home. Their ongoing fixation with the nebulous, titular ‘Crystal Dwarf’ suggests a conceptual kind of continuity. Perhaps it’s simply a case of fine tuning: the Polish trio comfortably dis-locate themselves in a zone that is neither gloomy ‘Dark Ambient’ nor wayfaring IDM, but rather a mildly agitated compromise between the two. Offering reassuring yet fleeting signs of human life, Waking Up’ is a crystalline, drip-dripping pattering set to industrial drone and more erratic fragment congregations – a chaos / order harmony that is neither man nor machine. Subsequent tracks offer more sinister assemblies of their signature ingredients: disembodied pulses, thickening meteorology and subtle accretions of electronic scream and chatter; all amounting to something like a child-friendly form of Pan Sonic’s more ruthless mechanical holocausts.
PORTUGAL CRÓNICA ELECTRONICA 111-2016 CD (2016)
Now sixteen albums down the line, Portuguese duo @C continue to refine their own brand of subatomic click n’cut ambience with Three-Body Problem, which began life as Agapornis – another puppetry piece soundtrack (like Ab Ovo before it); one inspired by the writer Anaïs Nin. The title symbolises the logistical synergy of three phases of development: the first, a kind of bi-polar dialogue between two female puppets – described at least partly by the pairing of harp and trumpet – informing the initial structure. This underwent considerable post-performance revision in phase two, when musical collaborators (João Pais Filipe (cymbals and bells) and Ricardo Jacinto (cello and electronics)) added their voice, while still somehow facilitating the distillation of twenty-one tracks into just nine.
While clearly thus a collaborative effort, no effort has been spared into merging all of the participants and themes into highly schizomorphic panoramas; a near-seamless continuum of rattling, electronic textures that sprout, tremble and bifurcate in every living moment; miraculously managing to avoid the perils of overpopulation. This ever-transformative morphology also informed the 3BP’s video-based third phase, which while not part of the album itself, is nonetheless intrinsic to both the group’s visuality. Some striking abstractions and patterning offer a distinctive visual description of @C’s detailed processes – and attest to their collaborative creative process, which unfolds beyond the needs of the individual in an ever-fluctuating galaxy of pure possibility.