Poison Berries / Covered Mirrors

Very happy to receive three excellent discs from Hospital Productions, the NYC label and record store run by Prurient, and home to much that is good in the areas of extreme noise, Black Metal, and dark experimentation. Burning Star Core always gets unreserved recommendation from this magazine, and Inside The Shadow (HOS-212) is a characteristically great set of solo performances from C. Spencer Yeh. The opening version of the title track has layers of ominous lower-depth droning overlaid with percussive metal fragments, while ‘Now United’ shows BXC in fine improv-noise fettle as he unleashes evil shimmering tones from his violin with customary quicksilver elbow action. The striking cover artwork makes a visual pun, turning a cobra into a human ribcage and spinal cord.

Further visceral anatomical visuals (exposed muscles, nerves and arteries) on the cover of Severance (HOS-253) by Carlos Giffoni, another NY musician who has been impressing me mightily in recent times with his sombre and serious-minded electronic solo works. These seven heavy-duty experiments with basso analogue synths, purring and growling like gigantic panthers, are guaranteed to flatten out the roughest edges from your crisp morning suit as you roll yourself in sonic tar and chew sticks of charcoal like bubble gum. Did I mention that Hospital Productions has opted for high-gloss paper on the artworks for this one and the BXC CD, perhaps in an attempt to offer our eyeballs the deepest possible shade of black that a printer can muster from his presses.

The Cremations (HOS-248) release by Cold Cave is quite another sort of beast, 20 quite short ventures into the world of blackened electro-pop songs and instrumentals, about as bleak and minimal as it’s possible to get without going back in time to the days of 1980s cassette projects from Poland or Manchester. What Cold Cave does with his beat boxes, echo chamber and keyboards will both chill your marrow into frozen yogurt while simultaneously offering some sort of sterile, repressed dancefloor thrills. On the front cover Mr Cave manages to exude an outsider-isolationist vibe that suggests he has taken up permanent residence in a basement where he can tend to his introverted experiments in private. Cremations is a compilation of work from the last three years (an EP, an LP and a cassette), and of the three here I can guess why it appeals strongly to Prurient, if the latter’s recent experiments with twisted voice effects are anything to go by. Unsurprisingly, Cold Cave and Prurient have already toured and collaborated, and there’s a new vinyl LP called Stars Explode resulting from this joint venture.

Electric Orange are Dirk Jan Müller’s combo of Krautrock copyists who have improved enormously since I last heard Morbus in 2008, even if they still remain a little ‘jokey’ in tone, as the title Krautrock From Hell (SULATRON RECORDS st 1001) suggests. The band go to some lengths to recreate a convincingly lush 1970s sound, playing only authentic prog instruments including the Hammond organ, mellotron, and Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars. What’s also improved is the dynamics of their playing, particularly on the long tracks like ‘Chorg (Cpt. Gyrok’s)’ and the 25-minute ‘Neuronomicon’ monster; far from simply churning out formless jams, Electric Orange exhibit as much concern with structure, change and forward movement as the great Agitation Free.

Fountain (ROOT STRATA RS57) is a pleasant acoustic guitar album from Danny Paul Grody, a San Francisco musician making his first solo statement outside of the bands Tarentel and The Drift. His slow and gentle playing is sometimes beefed up with delicate backdrops of organ or feedback drone, and he draws influences from African kora music as well as the usual Takoma back catalogue. However, on the eight-minute ‘Eve’ he makes a successful foray into drifty ambient music which delivers many beautiful moments, and where the guitar is just one voice in a chorus of exquisite sounds.

Equally drifty and ambient is Tamagawa‘s CD Plus Tard, Le Meme Jour… (NOECHO RECORDS NE-011) which uses lots of slow electronic and guitar layers to produce very familiar sounds and pressing very familiar buttons in the press release, such as ‘hypnotic’, ‘faraway’ and ‘washed out ambient dreaminess’. Hard to get very excited about this somnolent record, despite its assured playing and polished surfaces.

Stian Skagen‘s CD of The Inward Rising (PRISMA RECORDS 704) is just over 17 minutes long, but that brevity should not deter you from investigating this immersive piece of Scandinavian sound art, originally realised for an art installation work of the same name exhibited at the Henie Onstad Art Centre in 2008. The colour photos of the event are certainly intriguing, presenting some sort of glowing white crystal squatting inside a psychedelic space, and resembling an unwanted visitor from outer space much like The Blob or the Terminator’s time machine. I’m slightly disappointed to learn that it is in fact not much more than a piece of process art, something to do with colour pigments, light sources, and patterns shifting according to a program – not very original at all. However, perhaps the video document of the event will yield more information than the two still photographs on offer here. While Skagen’s brand of splintered digital droning doesn’t quite measure up to the musical benchmarks set by Xenakis, Stockhausen and Subotnick (as he appears to hope it will), the core of the music does have a dangerously charming malevolence and bleakness that I seem to recall hearing in his work for the dismally beautiful records of Ryfylke.