Tagged: horror

The Purloined Letters

Omnivore is Glenna van Nostrand from Cambridge, MA. On her self-titled LP (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR072) the gimmick is that she records her voice through old telephones, whose small microphones presumably give her what she seeks in terms of an interesting filtering effect and a non-digital warmth. To advance that strategy, she records everything using amplified radios. Strip away that technology, though, and what we have is an odd album of acapella songs. I do like the way she has assembled her songs with much care and craft, overdubbing voice recordings to build a virtual doo-wop group out of her own personality, and making clever use of repetitions in these simple round-like compositions. She’s like a minimal version of Bobby McFerrin, even supplying her own percussion and rhythm section through voice. It would be nicer if she could manage a bit more variety in the vocals though. I’m not hoping for a Coasters-styled vocal group with alto, tenor and basso profundo effects, but everything Omnivore does is pitched at the same level, meaning that the songs lack musical depth and become monotonous. Her lyrics mystify me, but she’s plainly from the school of disaffected modernist poets, making a virtue out of inarticulacy. We are invited to enjoy the dislocating effect taking place as she apparently forms her thoughts before us, in real time. The cover image also tells us something’s wrong; but for the woman’s troubled face, it could almost be a faded snapshot from the cover of Better Homes and Gardens in the 1950s. (31/05/2012)

The double album Electric Cremation (GRAUTAG RECORDS GTR#003) by Pharoah Chromium was released in 2011. The performer may or may not be Ghazi Barakat who also records as Boy From Brazil. He did all the work here with some help from Timothy Gane, who added synths in places and recorded and mixed the album in Berlin. The large amount of material has been organised so that each side has its own distinct mood and flavour, as indicated by the titles “Atomic Side”, “Feral Side”, and so on. The record starts off with a song, and ‘L’Age Atomique’ is a splendid piece of bleak minimalist electro-beat, sung with perfectly calibrated icy precision by guest vocalist Becky Ofek. This gem turns out to be untypical of the remainder of the set though, which I would characterise as assorted forms of drone, synth sludge, distorted guitars, and noise. A few interesting sounds struggle to the surface of this swampy heap, but the cumulative effect of this formless music is smothering, and rather depressing. The generally apocalyptic tone is reflected in the track titles on sides A and B, which paint grim portraits of urban decay, ruin and pollution. I might add this is entirely in keeping with the aesthetic scheme of Nicolas Moulin, who is the curator of Grautag Records, and freely owns his preoccupation with boredom, depression and futility in the accompanying sleeve note, giving visual expression to his afflicted state 1 through his grey photographs of desolation printed on the gatefold sleeve. Meanwhile Pharoah Chromium moves on from the harsh and aggressive tones on the “Feral Side”, to wobbly and offbeat ambient drones on the “Ghost Side”, whose quasi-mystical titles represent a small window of relief from the general sense of occluded misery we have endured thus far. The closing “Arabic Side” is suitably tinged with Eastern intervals spicing up the guitar melodies. Not an uplifting album, and one which might have benefited from some editing to shorten the longeurs of certain keyboard passages, but as a coherent statement exploring a colossal sense of existential emptiness and futuristic dystopian nightmare, it takes some beating.

Tom Recchion brings us Proscenium (ELEVATOR BATH eeaoa037), his album of beautifully-crafted electronic music that is his first release since Sweetly Doing Nothing in 2006. The music has its origins as soundtrack for the work of a film-maker and puppeteer who was producing a theatrical adaptation of a story by Edgar Allen Poe, and at one level Recchion has no other ambition with these reworked versions than to create a set of suitably morbid atmospheres. Typically however, Recchion’s vision reaches farther than that and when realising that stage-bound experience, he staked a claim on the soul of each member of the audience, wishing to pass on a sonic experience that immersed them in abstract intangible murk while they were watching the play, and kept on deepening gradually until, without realising it, they were up to their eyes in bone-chilling liquid fog. Even as they went home and attempted to forget about it, this persistent globule of fear would cling to their clothes for days afterwards. A similar experience – Recchion calls it “an ongoing series of atmospheres” shall be unleashed if you dare to uncork this vinyl bottle, whose bounty extends to two sides of a thick and crusty long-player and a 45RPM single, the potent charms enscribed with evocative titles such as ‘The Haunted Laboratory’ and ‘The Mesmerised Chair’. Clearly, Recchion has studied his Poe well; music like this would make a most fitting soundtrack for M. Valdemar as we watch the decay and corruption of his mesmerised body as it is suddenly released from suspended animation. Naturally, this professional and well-burnished music – it has a presence as expensive and sleek as a black diamond – is some way from the more raw and experimental work that this creator produced as a member of the Los Angeles Free Music Society, but it still carries a similarly obsessive artistic charge. This is creepy music that stalks you, with the tenacity of a silent assassin. (24/07/2012)

  1. One of the proposals he advances is that we should adopt “Grautag” – literally, “Greyday” – as a day of the week in our calendar.
Heart Of Palm

Standing Waves

Heavy dark drone of the day comes from Ural Umbo, the fourth release from this very productive Swiss-American team who continue to enact their uncanny studio-bound rituals and bottle the results like so much bubbling black tar. The Umbsters have always exhibited a predilection for peering into the dark occult realms through the magic mirror of their intensive pitch-black drones, but with Delusion Of Hope (UTECH RECORDS URLP070) the scrying activities seem to have taken a much more pessimistic turn. For sad visions of the end of the world, and constant reminders that all our hopes for improvement will turn out to be completely delusional, tune in here. While ‘Initial Magnetization Curve’ puts us in the required apprehensive mood in anticipation of things sinister, ‘Sych’ hints at violence and bloodshed with its cruel drumming and psychopathic electric guitar bursts, wielded like a sharp scimitar or claymore. Survive that slicing, and scan ‘This Dead and Fabled Waste’ for an utterly bleak and blasted heath of a landscape, a zone unfit for human habitation, and populated only by a nameless slime whose grotesque voice murmurs darkly and mumblingly throughout most of the track. After that dramatic opening, the remainder of the album offers mostly various shades of ambiguous drone music to salve our wounds, although ‘Self Fulfilling Prophecy’ has gritty textures and undertakes to give the listener a prolonged bludgeoning. In its grandeur and weight, this cut can be reckoned as a splendid example of the ingenious and excessive studio craft of Mader and Hess. Put simply, they add layers upon layers, paying no heed to the restraints of good taste. In this instance, the method produces a living thing that simultaneously crawls, groans, sings, writhes tentacles, and smashes ivory hooves upon the charred earth. It’s a sprawling bundle of wrath assembled from the parts of many creatures, escaped from both natural and mythological worlds; at their best, Ural Umbo put the theories of Dr Frankenstein and H.P. Lovecraft into grisly practice. The only thing missing from the package is the beautiful photography of Rik Garrett, who has been an important part of the visual identity of this band, but Alexander Binder’s “octopus” motif does exert a certain weird influence on the retinas. This is a vinyl release (my copy is a promo CD) but you get a CD version thrown in if you buy a copy. From February 2012.

Another grim and sinister dark music project which references H.P. Lovecraft is Kreuzweg Ost, whose Gott Mit Uns (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR141CD) I happen to be spinning as I write these lines. Well, the reference is a bit buried, but this album was recorded in 2009 at the Miscatonic Acoustics studio 1. This Austrian trio is led by Michael Gregor who calls himself Silenius and might be better known as a member of Summoning, plus Oliver Stumming and Ronald Albrecht, and while they’re not exactly prolific (this is their third release in 12 years), it’s fairly evident they pour a lot of effort and imagination into the assembly of these bizarre, over-the-top hymns of darkness and dreariness. Every track is like an 8-minute excerpt from a wild horror movie, laden with voices, dialogue, sound effects, and dramatic musical shifts, which allow the listener to imagine incredibly vivid and elaborate cinematic visions 2. After hearing nine of these intensely theatrical concoctions in succession, your head will be teeming with gothic visions of flying vampires, dark-haired maidens whispering urgently, ruined castles full of spectres, oppressive stormy skies, insane chanting monks, and armies of desperate men on horseback equipped with swords ready to cut you into beefsteak tartare. You may also find yourself suffocating under the weight of the remorseless layers of synths, virtual choirs, martial drumming, and embittered minor-key melodies on this album, but it’s certainly an experience you won’t forget in a hurry. As title and sleeve art indicates, Gott Mit Uns is invoking assistance from Jehovah, but it’s a clearly a very vengeful Old Testament God they have in mind as they embark on their semi-occult Holy War against the forces of Evil. Not Black Metal as such, apparently it more correctly belongs to genres called “martial industrial”, “darkwave”, and “deep ambient”. Whatever the name, this is strikingly original and overwrought work. “It is I who say it – I!” 3

Heart Of Palm are the Cincinnati trio whose deranged take on avant-rock psyched-out freak-music has been a firm favourite with us since around 2008, a time when they were still called Hearts Of Palm. It’s enheartening to know I am not their only fan in the UK, since last year Ian Holloway of Quiet World released their Psychopomp (QUIET WORLD TWENTY FIVE) album. Holloway also publishes the online journal Wonderful Wooden Reasons, which we should have investigated ages ago as it’s a splendid resource replete with snappy reviews of records, books, and films. On Psychopomp, the core trio of Wilson, Davidson and Hancock are supplemented by the musicians Tim Moore, Mark Milano, Nebulagirl and Dave Rohs. Listen in amazement as they allow us to enter their private world. These 13 tracks document an almost fragile, living thing, a breathing laboratory of music where the slightest wrong influence (window left open or curtains not properly drawn) is apt to break the spell, and cause these benign agents of divine musicality to withdraw back to the Elysian Fields. Percussion, electronics, guitars, and voices – all familiar elements are being reinvented and refashioned as we behold, refracted and distorted through echo chamber, phasing machine, and other disorienting effects. Singers invent mangled glottal languages as thickened tongues refuse to unstick from roof of mouth. Musicians with silver fingers suddenly discover magical sequence of notes like alchemical secret, but it can only be played for 30 seconds and then vanishes forever from the earth. All creators involved improvise freely yet never settle for rolling around in a musical bed of infantile dribble, and many of the cuts are quite short – making their statement in two minutes time or less. The music is half-grotesque, half-absurd, always beautiful; you feel that nobody is afraid of making a fool of themselves, and all pretensions to high seriousness in art are dissolved in this almost ideal, ego-less atmosphere of free play. Given that it’s very difficult to make these music collective situations work at all, it always seem miraculous to me how Heart Of Palm manage to sustain the production of such gloriously demented and out-there music, that withstands replaying and reinvestigation. Highly recommended if you like early Faust, the original Amon Düül, Red Crayola, and Sun Ra Arkestras from the early 1960s. With suitably acid-fried cover art by Bruce Riley.

  1. The Miskatonic University was the fictional starting point for many of Lovecraft’s fantasies. Visit http://www.miskatonic-university.org/ for evidence of Lovecraftian fandom spinning out of control.
  2. As Harlan Ellison has remarked, listening to horror stories on the radio enabled him to conjure up visions of castles in his mind that were far more terrifying than any visual equivalent ever built, at enormous expense, in a Hollywood studio.
  3. See The Beetle by Richard Marsh.

Serve In Silence

Here’s a spoken-word curio which showcases the poetry of Zbigniew Herbert, who I learn was one of Poland’s foremost post-war poets. Pan Cogito (INSTITUTUL POLONEZ) is a double-CD set with 52 short readings of his poems, all recited in Polish, and the book of notes is also in that language, so I’m at quite a major disadvantage…however I see that Robert Piotrowicz was involved, and he has impressed us before with his Guitar Granulizer and made a terrific record of apocalyptic dimensions called Rurokura and the Final Warn. I think he was responsible for creating the low-key dissonant musical backdrops that accompany each piece on this set – lots of uncertain piano and percussion droplets, mingled with washed-out ambient murk, all of which induces instant anxiety and depression in the listener. The readings themselves, delivered in a world-weary monotonous male voice, aren’t exactly designed to inculcate merry-making sensations in your bosom either. But Mr Cogito, the central character in this story, is no barrel of laughs, and some literary critics read him as a “petty and mediocre” citizen and that this work is one of Herbert’s most pessimistic commentaries on the failings of the 20th century. According to one critic, Mr Cogito is “a modern intellectual who reads the newspapers, recalls his childhood, his family; he also muses on pop-art, America, alienation, magic, an aging poet, the creative process.” Sleeve is decorated with various desolate photographic images of the countryside and the city that effectively convey a sense of futility and lonely, pointless journeys. What a great start to the year…

More futility on Failing Lights (INTRANSITIVE RECORDINGS 036), which is a superb solo work of creeping horror from the hands of Mike Connelly of Wolf Eyes and Hair Police fame. Note the fiery Hades-like colour scheme on the artworks (cave paintings executed in acid-tones of orange) and prepare yourself for a journey to the Saturnine realms. It’s designed as a single musical event in five sections and its anti-symphonic movements gently drag the unwilling listener deeper and deeper into a grim mental abyss. The fact that such abject terror is rendered as largely quiet and apparently unassuming music should not deceive you; pure evil lurks in every shadow here, and the sounds become increasingly repulsive and unrecognisable as the album progresses, until we reach the ultimate ghastliness which is the 18-minute closer ironically titled ‘The Comfort Zone’. This final supernatural non-zone of deathlitude and agony administers the coup de grace by piling on layers of grotesque, ill-matched organ chords in a relentless onslaught of slow torture. An excellent construction that explores the far reaches of psychic misery in ways that others cannot follow.

Gotten a nice promo version of Locrian‘s The Crystal World (UTECH RECORDS URCD056/057), which I think has since been issued in November 2010 as a two-disk set; I have only a copy of the first disk clutched in my tongs, which means I’m missing the epic 58-minute version of ‘Extinction’. Also my artwork is different, but I’m providing an image of the final version with its haunting supernatural visage. Here, the American duo of Terence Hannum and André Foisy, who make most of their gloom-craking eerie sounds with imaginative use of ectoplasmic guitar and vampiric keyboards, are joined by the drummer Steven Hess, who as I have said before is a competent enough player, but unfortunately I find his work turns this otherwise distinctive terror-project into just another stoner rock band, weighed down by plodding beats. However, there’s still many enjoyable passages of the distinctive suffocating Locrian blend to make this a worthwhile listen, for example the 11-minute ‘Pathogens’ which creates the effect of a deep mining shaft which is in imminent danger of collapsing on our heads at any moment. The band are joined by Gretchen Roehler’s violin and the anguished vocals of Erica Burgner on ‘Elevations and Depths’, another convincing portrait of world-ending events delivered as a slow and remorseless howl of pain.

Boy, will I be glad when this day’s over…Merzbow and Z’EV aren’t offering me much in the way of balm or relief for my bruised soul as they deliver 18 megatons of crashing metal and digital smashery on Spiral Right / Spiral Left (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR133CD), wrapped in a cover whose 16th-century engraving depicts lakes of fire wrapped in a cloud of fog, seen in an aerial view. Actually this churning admixture isn’t really like feeling the dead hand of pessimism laid down on your sensitive inner being, but it is very dense, about as dense as molten lead being smelted in a foundry of titanic proportions. The two creators involved are also pretty titanic themselves, in terms of prodigious intellect and the quantity of their created output, and it seems they’ve been planning and honing this particular project for 20 years, scheming by means of fax and email. The final mutual remixes of the respective contributions were realised in London and Tokyo and are now set forth to roar in the world like lumbering monsters. Two long tracks of high-energy excess, and one can’t help but read the title as some sort of mystical instruction involving movements and passes that could be utilised by a Renaissance magician or an Egyptian sorcerer.

Emblems of Horror

We received a number of “Dark Dans” from Cold Spring Records this Autumn. Here are four of them which I have managed to find in my scattered boxes. Fire In The Head is the work of Michael Page from Massachusetts, and it’s an “industrial / experimental” project he’s been doing since 2004. Confessions Of A Narcissist (CSR120CD) blasts out 13 tracks of smothering, raw nihilism with considerable assurance; ignoring conventional song-form structure, the open-ended tracks roll forth relentlessly to accumulate numerous layers of compressed and reverbed digital filth, creating the effect of slamming into a brick wall. On the top of these rich and intense instrumentals, Page sometimes add narrated vocals describing scenarios which are probably as horrific as their titles – ‘Get The Rope’, ‘Home Invasion’ and ‘The Machinery of Death’. The same degree of grisly attention to detail has been poured into the shocking cover collage. Purty darn intense…

Goatvargr‘s Black Snow Epoch (CSR126CD) is the second full-length collaboration betwixt Swede Lord Nordvargr and the American player Goat (Andy O’Sullivan), and the album’s themes are replete with bloodthirsty antics, hunting expeditions, unpleasant weather conditions, and unholy alliances formed with certain key members of the animal kingdom (hint: one of them could be a goat). As the duo play with fire, occult destruction and mayhem is but one heartbeat away. Sonically, the musicians also opt for the anti-structure approach of Fire In The Head, but their strategy also includes the use of numerous pounding hammer-beats thrown in to make the listening experience as difficult and painful as possible. Plus feedback, hailstorms, fire and raging tornadoes added in. Quite an evocative cover suggestive of Satanic rituals, but this record is quite some way from Black Metal and leans more towards some strain of intensive industrial noise-filth.

Also favouring the blood and sweat of the primal hunting man archetype, tenhornedbeast offer us Hunts & Wars (CSR130CD) – the third album made for this label by Christopher Walton. About the most approachable item in this list, the record is a set of experiments in cold ambient and spine-freezing atmospheres that owes a great deal of its inspiration to the supernatural literature of Robert E. Howard and Lord Dunsany. In its own way however, no less claustrophobic than the records above. The high-quality foldout cover is decorated with the familiar emblems of forest, mountains, cryptic sigils and a detail from a Celtic bronzework, all to reinforce the Nordic roots of tenhornedbeast and suggest that he could go ten rounds with Grendel and still get home in time to down a flagon or two with Odin.

The bleak black record by MZ.412 is In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanas Luciferi Excelsi (CSR136CD), a reissue of a 1994 record by this Swedish project whose previous efforts have somehow passed me by. This is all set to change thanks to the Cold Spring reissue programme, and those with a taste for this sort of violent, abject horror-noise should investigate the five-CD box set which should be out about now, or purchase the records separately one at a time. Henrik “Nordvargr” Björkk (see above) is the ringleader of this notorious band, credited with inventing the “black industrial” genre in the 1990s. Perhaps surprisingly, I found the music here not as relentless as this might suggest, in fact the overall approach to composition and construction strikes me as highly inventive and dynamic, pitching pagan drumming against smothering synth / electroacoustic passages that are about as lethal as nerve gas. This is music that can freeze you as instantly as stepping into a tank of nitrogen. The real stumbling block comes with the taboo subject matter (mainly expressed in song titles and taped voiceovers) that gleefully wallows in 18 forms of ritualistic Satanism and sexual depravity, violating all that’s holy with the remorseless attack of a rolling tank. Not hard to see how they achieved their cult status in short order!

Eight Vaitrecemonatims of Vinyl

Inward come these Vinyl Vaitrecemonatims, nothing stopping their flight from the pressing plants of Europe and America to line my aural throat like so many multicoloured pastilles. First we have three new platters from Germany’s Dekorder, whose owner Marc Richter is s a man who loves anything that’s crowded, maximal and thick as frozen grapefruit crush. Nary a minimalist or clinical recording slips out from his stampers. Iibiis Rooge (DEKORDER 043) struck me immediately as kosmik klutter of the highest order, souped-up instrumentals supping deeply from the rock music roots but also nourished with golden electronic drones. Of these four lengthy workouts (‘Dancing In The Sun’ occupies all of the B-side) nothing has any real centre or root note you can pin your hopes on, yet it’s possible to immerse my lardy head in these thick broths and come up well-fed and watered. A delightful surprise to learn that Neil Campbell, now calling himself Astral Social Club, is one half of this online collaborative band; the other contributor is High Wolf of Not Not Fun Records. Diffuse inspiring music emerges in a torrential flow from their multiple limbs, a phenomenon illustrated by two fuzzy photo-collage mandalas printed in green on the covers.

The record by King Kong Ding Dong may be construed as evidence of the quirky path currently being trod by many avant-rocksters from the USA. Everything on Youth Culture Index (DEKORDER 041) sounds to me like it was played and recorded “sideways”, by which I mean that youthful imaginations in the studio are so fired-up with experimental derring-do that nothing they touch can long remain set in the “normal” mode. One can also hear post-punk and Krautrock aspirations in these entertaining short instrumental mis-shapes. But it’s mainly non-threatening weirdness from these Philadelphia zanes; those looking for the dangerous and distorted attack of Hospitals or Hearts Of Palm had best seek elsewhere.

It’s to John Twells in his Xela guise that we must look should we wish to seek out something ectoplasmic, something from the dark side. The Divine (DEKORDER 042) is the second part of a “trilogy” presumably begun with The Illuminated, his previous release for this label, and suggests all manner of occult movements and spiritual disruptions across two sides of moody, atmospheric and highly layered spacey noise. As I’m slowly learning with Xela, his use of recorded human voices is one of his secret weapons, as he drops in half-glimpsed shadows and whispers across the music to suggest cryptic messages from beyond the grave. The classical statuary on the cover further advances his “ancient” yearnings as he rewrites the history of early civilisations to reveal alternative religions and unknown mystic cults. The A side is muffled and disturbing, the B side has a little more depth in its super-dark ambient questings.

Cape Fear is a solo project of Laurent Perrier, the French multi-tasking creator who puts a great deal of care and attention into the high-quality releases on his own Sound On Probation label. Winds of the dead air (LP SOP 015) blows in like a Harmattan with five tracks of suave and intelligent electronica rich with beats, loops and other insistent repetitions that work overtime to milk the minimal melodies from the udders of the sophisticated jazz-beat cow. Perrier composed, recorded, played, produced and mixed everything, and then supervised the mastering process himself, the better to deliver the cleanest and crispest sound quality that a recording engineer could ever dream of; in another time and place, Perrier would have risen to become the right-hand man of Rudy Van Gelder in short order. With its vaguely supernatural titles such as ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Haunted’, Perrier is probably aiming at something quite different from the threatening murk proposed by Xela, yet still this jazz-noir record carries a sharp and sinister edge like a Parisian Apache carrying a concealed switchblade. Mince de chic!

Also from France, two miraculous records which combine the glory days of 1970s French underground jazz-rock with contemporary sounds, bruits, and actions. Empan‘s Entraxes inégaux (BLOC THYRISTORS 0040) just sounds completely bonkers as soon as the bewildered stylus touches the tumescent red vinyl, delivering an impassioned blast of avant-jazz stompery in the RIO vein which follows no rhyme or reason, and is driven into even further corners of joyful insanity by the assured, mannered scat-piping vocals of Judith Kan. Veteran prog drummer Jean-Noël Cognard supplies the unrestricted percussive elements, and I love the melancholic cello work of Béatrice Godeau on the slower chamber-prog tracks. But the real coup is Dan Warburton on violin and keyboards, and (wait for it) Jac Berrocal on trumpet! Just ask any French connoisseur about this glorious period of their musical culture, and they will happily take you home and unveil their secret shrine that puts an effigy of the amazing Berrocal on its central pedestal, closely flanked on either side by Pierre Bastien and Pascal Comelade holding wreaths of respect and awe. Many listeners found a way to Berrocal through Nurse With Wound, others through the Alga Marghen reissues, but we all know there simply isn’t enough of his genius to be had on vinyl. The situation just improved substantially with this beautiful release. Look at the incredible silkscreen sleeve too, by the award-winning Mounir Jatoum who did the unforgettable cover for LE PETIT MIGNON LPM01 (see here for our immediate impressions of that blaster).

The same label has put out the equally sumptuous package for another LP by TANKJ, who created one of my fave vinyl vloggeroos from last year. On Craquer Les Liants (BLOC THYRISTORS 0050), Cognard strikes again, this time with the help of Jérôme Noetinger using his Magneto Revox as if intent on cracking apart every paving slab the length of Boulevard Saint-Michel. Fast, energised, free-form jazz rock enriched with brass, double-bass propulsion, junk, and electronic barbs, all make this another essential listen. Another silkscreened package of warpoid beauty from the same art collective as above, this time calling themselves Jörg Morning. Many thanks to Jean-Noël for sending these certified beauts which are co-releases with Bimbo Tower, the centre of all things that guarantee weird and colourful fun in marginal Parisian culture, and from whose shop you can nab ‘em (but be quick, only 300 copies exist); also inserted in the covers what do I find but a poster for an astonishing musical event headlined by Lard Free, and featuring Marteau Rouge (with Jean-Marc Foussat), Salmigondis, and Evan Parker; with Steve Stapleton doing a DJ act. This took place last December in Brussels. I missed it.

The Rebel is from England and while the cover art of his bizarre solo LP may be quite some way from the fine-art stylings of those French screenprints, I think you’ll own it’s highly striking in its peculiar way. The Incredible Hulk (JUNIOR ASPIRIN RECORDS ASP 019) is an LP of extremely odd songs which to begin with reminded me of John The Postman (full marks if you ever heard the home-made records by this amateurish singer from the post-punk era), but that impression may result simply from the highly idiosyncratic Postman Pat story which graces the first side. The rest of this curio by Ben Wallers (from Country Teasers) is unpeggable in the best sense, veering wildly from lo-fi ramshackle madness to well-constructed dark electro pop songs created with effortless crackpot skill. Like Xela, hidden messages can be teased out from the grooves of this one by those patient enough to untangle the skeins of layered muttering voices. For those with a taste for the furthest reaches of mental decay, a record like this is pure gold; you won’t believe what you’re hearing as you let its warped grooves unspin and slowly cloud over your cranium. 500 copies.

Lastly we have the dark horrors of Near Death Experience (ERRATUM MUSICAL EM006), an LP in a charred gatefold cover adorned with mirror-writing on the back cover and close-up photos of the extreme genius that is Bryan Lewis Saunders. While I’m still finding previous listen Daku quite an indigestible proposition, there’s a chance my ears can worm a way into this vocal fright-fest as I follow its oneiric, surrealist trails; although known for his viscerality, Saunders also likes to record himself speaking as he dreams and perhaps unlock secret chambers of the mind thereby, in fine Andre Breton style. Nevertheless the shouted and intense vocals on here, not to mention the overall accusatory and hysterical tone in which these toxic utterances are delivered, will make this LP a tough experience to sit through even for hardened fans of apocalyptic music. “I myself have only listened to it once on a great system in the dark”, reveals Saunders in an accompanying letter, in which he describes the release as a collection of “extreme autobiographical stories”. Where Daku featured Z’EV’s music, this one offers numerous co-creators, among them John Duncan and Marcelo Aguirre and five more, all of them contributing suitably sick and demented backdrops of unpleasant sound. Capable of generating extreme physical reactions in the listener, this record represents the sort of material that a wimp like me normally steers clear of, but I do respect the all-or-nothing qualities of Saunders’ performances; everything to him is truly a matter of life or death, with no hyperbole! A splendid presentation from this French concrete poetry label; purchasers of this item get a link to download the whole LP plus nine extra tracks as MP3s, and a PDF of texts. Like the man says, pure “PCP Poetry!”

Ghost of a Chance

Some distinctive and astonishing songs from Nalle on The Wilder Shores Of Love (ALT.VINYL RECORDS AV019). The album is built around the songs and singing of Hanna Tuulikki, who also did the basic arrangements with her Resonator guitar and building tripartite harmony vocal layers with her keening and nasal voice. The trio is completed by Chris Hladowski and Aby Vuillamy, who together with guest musicians (including Ben Reynolds and Alex Neilson) add stark and twisted instrumental backdrops with percussion, piano, and strings, mostly contrived to produce effects that are harrowing, dark and mysterious. Hanne’s voice belongs firmly in the “once heard, never forgotten” category, and she draws influences from Loren Connors, gospel music, Henry Flynt, Patti Smith, Mongolian folk song and Nick Cave. The gorgeous gatefold package is decorated with her own line drawings in white on black backgrounds that are every bit as intriguing and symbol-laden as her songs.

From Debacle Records in Seattle, three marginal examples of what’s currently abuzz in the murky underground of the United States of Getta-Loada-This. Squim‘s No Blade of Grass (DBL 030) is seven tracks of lo-fi distorto noise concocted just the way I like it – grim, surly, bad-tempered and as uncommunicative as a petulant teenage heroin fiend. It’s lurking inside a gatefold wallet strewn with hateful bad-acid trip visions of lumpy, shapeless human anatomical impossibilities. Second release from this Squim character of Portland who debuted on Olde English Spelling Bee.

At Jennie Richie have stumbled our way before courtesy of Stan Reed’s PsychForm Records, but haven’t really made a lasting dent on my leaden cranium with their uncertain brand of noise-antic. Vaudeview Over for Blackened Tea and Hashishans (DBL 036) is a compilation of cuts previously issued on low run CDRs or cassettes for Stentorian Tapes and White Rose Records. It does have its moments of cruel thug-like attack and mesmerising throbbery, but for the most part I find it a baffling, almost faceless listen; most of the work appears unfinished and unclear in its intent. The core duo of Happiness and Forever are joined by Dick Flick and Johnny Mumbles guesting, and Matt Waldron (the Steve Stapleton acolyte) did the cover art.

Physical Demon is where to invest your PayPal dollars if you want to hear a truly imaginative and spectacular approach to nightmarish noise. Hyperdrift (DBL 039) contains three long tracks to permanently darken your day, of which ‘God Has Eaten Man’ is an impressive construct of screams, dissonant electronic brew, and crushing machinery at work; and ‘The Empire Never Ended’ is a similar jumble of chaotic layers pulling every which way, suggesting a cyborg-like entity at war with itself. Originally recorded in 1983, this work is very much in thrall to all the usual Industrial Mayhem suspects from that era, but it’s still a satisfying listen for lovers of bleak, ungodly violence and deathly horror-noise.

An intriguing package sent to us by Martin Jones from Retford is Ghost of a Hurt (NO LABEL). Jones is part of The Sinister Insult, a project that includes Oliver Tomlinson and Anthony Fielding, and the painter / writer Rik Rawling who happens to contribute his work to The Sound Projector magazine. This limited CDR of 90 copies is a mix of field recordings, dark ambient electronic sounds, and wayward guitar stylings all in the service of a complex supernatural mood piece. Location recordings were made in very specific forest and hill sites, and through painting, photography and narrative text, Rawling spins a dense horror yarn enriched with the sort of recondite historical and fictional references that Alan Moore would be proud to have scribed. The best touch is inserting a page from an Algernon Blackwood paperback, and mocking up the DVD box to look like a creased pulp paperback complete with a charity-shop price sticker on the cover. This release may be pressing a number of buttons that only work for true believers in 1970s UK culture, but fans of cult TV such as The Changes, Children of the Stones, The Tomorrow People and The Owl Service should snap this up.

Skif++ are a very interesting example of how the whole Austro-German axis of laptop electronic music is continuing to impact in other countries; the trio comprises the American player Jeff Carey (87 Central) and two Dutch artistes, Robert van Heumen and Bas van Koolwijk. Exhibiting little of the control-freakery and clinical approach we might expect from some exponents of the Cologne school, the trio deliver lively and unpredictable digital high-energy bursts by working in a very dynamic and inter-active environment, where one’s merest gesture or thought is transformed instantly into powerful sweeps of crackly texturised beltage. This may be determined to some extent by the visual side of the project, which uses technology to transform sound into patterns across the video screen (as done in the 1990s by ECM 323, to name but one). Most of the ugly and noisy material on .next (CREATIVE SOURCES RECORDINGS CS 175 CD) spews out on the short opening five cuts, but listeners with an ear for delicate and refined minimal pointillism may prefer the 26-minute ‘[thinner]‘. Fine work which transcends many of the clichés and pitfalls of laptop music.

My crushed and battered body was just beginning to recover from the last assault by Hate-Male (a.k.a. Lawrence Conquest) when along comes Live In Studio 20th May 2010 (DOGBARKSSOME DISCS DBSD17). A single 36 minute work recorded live in a single take with no overdubs, this monstrosity shows you just what this man can do with his sickening use of repetition as he tortures his sequencer into breathing its final gasps of digital breath. An incredible cascade of sound, where digital reverb has ceased to be simply a decorative studio effect and is mutating into some sort of living creature, writhing like a gigantic horned python inside a coil of flame. Whatever this scaly beast may be, you can be certain it means no good towards mankind. The brilliantly shocking cover depicts an ancient doll with a highly distressed plastic head and equipped with a loathsome set of dental snappers, like a survivor from that repellent scene in Barbarella. This record represents the pared-down no-frills approach of Hate-Male (as opposed to his lush, production-heavy technique), and as such will inject your veins with a dose of the rawest possible chemical strain of max-strength virulent noise. Once infected, you can prepare for a rush on a cosmic, never-ending rollercoaster of death, a ride which will doubtless conclude with a painful and bloody finish. Available as a free download; a mere 10 copies of the physical version are available for sale!