The growler box of heavenly grunts

American crusader of loon-boon cut-up mayhem Ros Bobos returns with his release for this year, Mandatory Astral Projections (NO NUMBER CD). This fine digipack release is decorated with four of the composer’s unsettling collage artworks, making odd juxtapositions of imagery that parallel the compositions on the record. 11 cuts of quietly subversive tape-collaging confusion which create strange, drifting layers out of old records, radio broadcasts, field recordings, ethnic music, and spoken word fragments. As ever with material of this sort, one sometimes wonders how Bobos manages to unearth these choice nuggets which apparently document the further reaches of human endeavour. If there’s an underlying theme to this release, it may have something to do with religions, cults and occult beliefs – many tracks represent evangelist prayer meetings, sermons and homilies, monks singing vespers, and collide them with their diametric opposites such as satanic worship, pagan chants, and populist TV journalists exposing the occult undertones to a video game. I particularly like the front cover, which illustrates an out-of-body experience presided over by a masked magus figure.

Some of those themes mentioned above may resonate with Stephen Thrower, a UK musician who has recorded with Coil and scored some excellent CDs as one half of Cyclobe. Their 2001 release The Visitors was especially rewarding, drawing sonic connections between John Dee’s astral work and extra-terrestrial visits, in a swirling dreamlike array of rich ambient drones. Thrower’s new project is UnicaZürn, and on Temporal Bends (uZu MUSIC UZ01) he teams up with David Knight to produce four tracks of keyboard-based electronic composition. I wasn’t overly impressed on first spin, but today the lengthy title track – divided into four movements and ending with the mysterious ‘Black Glass Mask’ – seems to have a mesmerising abstracted charm which I had overlooked. Thrower’s studio skills never result in anything less than a beautifully polished surface of sound, but the musical direction seems more focussed than ever, forsaking the wild sweeps and scary dynamics of The Visitors in favour of something more minimal and intense. The actual Unica Zürn was a German artist who was the wife of Hans Bellmer, so perhaps this album is attempting to reflect some of the glorious obsessiveness and perverse beauty of the work of those two disturbed geniuses.

American player Chris Forsyth has made a totally beautiful LP of acoustic guitar-based music called simply Dreams (EVOLVING EAR 23). Four gorgeous instrumentals on offer here, showing the other side of this gifted musician who has helped to create such unforgettable and disturbing trance-noise records as one third of Pee-Ess-Eye. In case you’re inclined to dismiss this as another in a series of John Fahey imitators, bend an ear to Dreams and you’ll find remarkable variety and invention which doesn’t owe a tremendous debt to blues-based instrumental music. ‘Soft History’ is more like a Terry Riley composition with its looped motifs, and ‘String Haters’ is like a Ry Cooder soundtrack to one of those disturbing Horror-Western hybrid movies which only exist in your imagination. One to keep alongside his solo record Live Journal at the Mice Machine VIP Dance Floor from 2007, which also made heavy use of the 12-string acoustic. 100 copies only of this LP released in September; seems to be still available for purchase from the Evolving Ear website. Recommended!

Very fine sombre and melancholic acoustic chamber music from The Big Eyes Family Players, a small team of talented players led by James Green. Instruments such as harmonium, cello, violin, autoharp, piano and organ are put to the fore on 10 instrumental tracks of poignant bittersweet perfection on Warm Room (PICKLED EGG RECORDS EGG 72), a record which is a strong contender for being the lost backing tracks from an early Kate Bush LP that was never made. The intention seems to be to create some sort of experimental hybrid that exists midway between traditional English folk, klezmer, and dance music. Composer Green (who also did the evocative sleeve drawings) may not have a talent for realising a memorable melody, but the CD creates a strong and distinctive rain-soaked atmosphere, perfect listening for the grey November days. A subdued album overall, compared to the usual upbeat fare we get from this label.

The Truth About Frank are a combo from Leeds, creating underground soundtrack and experimental music in an electronic vein; Neon Fractured Night (WEIRD AND WIRED 027) is six tracks of fractured and emblackened semi-industrial grindery, laced with many relentless loop-rhythms, horror-show percussive attacks, and generally sickening synth tones. Very impressive stuff executed with economy and precision, and all the music here conveys strong sensations of oppression, isolation, and constricted movement. Each episode appears to be nocturnal, lit only by flickering street lights, depicting depressing psycho-dramas which are invariably enacted with a smoky factory in background, while all the participants draw polluted sooty air deep into their lungs. This whole set is available as a free download.

All the above arrived in the Sound Projector claws around September-October 2009.