Adverse Effect magazine itself will exist in physical form once again as soon as possible for the first time in a number of years. In the meantime, due to the huge amount of reviews originally intended to be published in it that there simply will not be enough room for, this page has been set up to cater for those that are surplus. More reviews can be found in the 2015 page and, of course, we are happy to receive more such material (for either the website or the planned physical mag). Please note, however, that because this is a labour of love we will only accept physical format releases. Very occasionally, we might make an exception for a download in advance of a physical release being sent to us, but generally we only want physical releases as these help express any given artist far better. They can also, of course, be sold on should we not like them or wish to keep them, thus helping us to find funds for the magazine itself and the labels. If you have a problem with the honesty here, then the answer is clear: don’t send anything. The least we can get for our time is either something to cherish or sell.
There are several writers for Adverse Effect, however, and I will always do my utmost to ensure the most suitable receive the review material. We will review anything sent to us, but our preferences sway towards the esoteric, ‘outsider’ music, psychedelia, post-industrial, avant-garde, novelty pop, improv, electro-acoustic, ethno-jazz, folk, collage, musique concrete, ‘noise’, electronica, hardcore punk, low-brow poetry readings, free jazz, lounge weirdness, art rock, moody shit, post-punk, minimal techno, interstellar surf, modern classical, one-string banjo workouts, dub and late night howl. This is not the place for metal or bog standard indie fare aimed at troubled teens who prefer computer games to books. Thanks.
Review material can be sent to:
ul. Wilenska 5/70
We also accept magazines, books (concerning music, films and related matters) and films.
All music reviews are in alphabetical order, irrespective of year, according to the name of the artist/group.
REVIEWERS: Andrew Dewar Ainslie, Anton Black, Andrew Mary Dewar, Jon Evans, Richard Fontenoy, Richo Johnson, Hassni Malik, Kate MacDonald, Steve Pescott, Thomas Shrubsole
2:13PM Anus Dei CD (213 Records, France, 2012)
Almost 40 minutes of evocative textural swirling, oscillating murmur, ebbing banks of hiss, subdued drones and occasional howling sounds by this duo of Julien Louvet and Eric Duriez playing fuck knows what over some improv sessions between 2010 and 2012. Amidst all this tempered psychedelia, where space is definitely the place, resides the idea to create a ritualistic setting where, presumably, the primal meets the cerebral in a transcendental state. Given the right setting, which I’m personally not in right now (what with it being mid-afternoon and there being a dustcart clanking away outside and all), I’m sure this could work its tonic accordingly. Nice silk-screened packaging and doubtlessly limited. Nice album from this label otherwise mostly spanning hardcore punk and noise releases. (RJ)
4:13 eponymous LP (Specific, France, 2013)
Another album featuring Julien Louvet in the trio behind it and, rather clearly, a theme concerning the name of the group involving even numbers and the number ‘13’. This time, the psychedelia soars into those places once traversed by the likes of Spacemen 3 and (the recently reformed) Loop, although the third song,‘ ‘End Prone Ship’, recalls Circle, with its multilayered vocal chanting and ‘70s guitar histrionics. The three songs on the flipside, however, overturn this with a sound more akin to Ramleh as they transmogrified from a power electronics proponent to a group fucking with guitars. Drums pound away whilst shouted vocals blur the lines between such music and its cousins in industrial and punk. The second ‘(F)rance Fort(e)’, as each of these pieces are called and duly numbered, is more subdued and atmospheric but stands out as a real triumph in these somewhat troubled waters. Ultimately, however, at this stage, these guys sound like they are still feeling around their record collections via the music they make, but it is evident that something fantastic is waiting to be hatched. Perhaps a keener marrying of the two styles into one song would help? Looks as tho’ you’d have to hunt this down on Bandcamp as well, if interested… (RJ)
ÆTHENOR En Form for Blå CD (VHF, USA, 2011)
Having witnessed Steve Noble’s phenomenal percussion work over a period of decades now, playing with the likes of the Simon H. Fell, Lol Coxhill, Alex Maguire and Derek Bailey, I do wonder if there’s anything out there that can push his work further and deeper. Watching him play solo is a beautiful experience in itself. But it comes as a surprise that he’s made an album with the likes of Daniel O’Sullivan, Kristoffer Rygg and …ummm… Stephen O’Malley. My heart sinks with boredom when I see that name. Still, working with those of different genre backgrounds can be a fruitful and invigorating experience.
The highly polished production and control over sound will prove instantly appealing to those who have come to this more lysergic end of improv music via Rock but there’s too much of a polished sheen to it. However, what is very appealing is the sheer diversity and fluidity of the music. It recalls a fearlessness of experimentation (all be it thoroughly melodic) and playing in the days before the sonic templates were forged for every damn genre under the Sun. The interaction between the members is spot on, which suggests they’ve either dedicated themselves to some serious rehearsal time or they were born to work together.
The Æthenor project has a movement to it that is specific to a world of its own making. The word ‘dark’ is all too frequently banded about to describe anything with an emphasis on the lower frequencies. Bullshit. There’s nothing dark here. What’s here is a palpably constructive engagement with sound and an invigorating collaboration. The human spirit in all its contradictory and confused beauty. Calm, considered, and even tempered. A work of maturity. As a whole, the album creates a mood rather than reveals the workings. Some may prefer that highly conservative approach, some may not.
These tracks were culled from three live shows done in Oslo in 2010.
As an aside, the first thing I thought when I played the album was ‘I wish it was Æthenor that played live in Pompeii and not Pink Floyd.’
Available as a gatefold card cover CD or white vinyl double LP. Thankfully O’Malley’s artwork is far more restrained than his usual covers. (HM)
OREN AMBARCHI Audience of One CD (Touch, 2012)
Although Oren and myself used to correspond quite regularly with each other when he was trying to promote his weirded-out punk-noise group, Phlegm, I’ve never avidly kept abreast of what this highly prolific Australian guitarist and soundsmith has done. Partly, perhaps, because Oren is yet another of these artists whose work can be found bombarding us from any given direction and traversing almost any style of music within the more exploratory realms of it. Additionally a keen collaborator, he can be found delivering all from freeform noise and improv to more mannered and academic electroacoustic work and even material that wouldn’t sit uncomfortably amongst an indie group’s b-side foray into stranger places. A good and a bad thing, one might argue, but given this man’s own schooling, not entirely surprising and, indeed, what I have picked away at myself over the years has always, at the very least, been genuinely interesting.
Which is precisely where the fantastically entitled Audience of One comes in. There are four pieces here that are found bound to the magnificent drone workout of the second one, ‘Knots’, which clocks in at just over half an hour and, even then, feels like it is still only warming up. An absolutely incredible piece of music with guitars spitting out sawdust as jazzy percussion and deep rumbles threaten to overthrow your general wellbeing at any second. This is how all drone music should be, or at least ought to carry one to those desperately sought ecstatic heights. The last ten minutes further pay witness to the proceedings folding in on themselves, sending out gasps and splutters of dissonance and general string abuse to primitively fuck with anybody’s idea of a comfort zone. An accomplishment in anybody’s book.
Before we even get to this, however, the first track, ‘Salt’, replete with some captivating yet plaintive vocals by Paul Duncan, guides us over a lolling and lulling false sense of security where strings and guitars greet each other harmoniously. A kind of abstract pop piece not unlike those plains Richard Youngs has traversed occasionally; an artist himself who’d make a reasonable bedfellow to Amabarchi in the first place to be perfectly frank. Anchored to gentle hums, it colours the rest of the album perfectly until the final piece, ‘Fractured Mirror’, delves sideways into an acoustic guitar-driven piece that recalls Eyeless In Gaza and once again compounds the diversity to be found in Ambarchi’s work.
Everything sits well together regardless, though, and perhaps this is the ultimate point? A neat album and, should you need it, not a bad way at all to become acquainted with the worlds this artist explores. (RJ)
ANEMONE TUBE Death Over China CD (Topheth Profit/Silken Tofu, Israel/Belgium, 2012)
First things first: Stop releasing albums with angled photos of European statues in black and white on the cover and images of violent history on the inside. It doesn’t matter if it’s related to the subject matter that inspired you, or that you believe it’s beautiful. About seventy thousand albums in the “martial industrial” and “power electronics” genres have come out with artwork that looks exactly like that. Putting out an album that looks like that now is the equivalent of dropping the fruits of your labour in a baggy with a note that says “we have no imagination”. In fact, that would be more imaginative.
And the thing is, having that be the first thing that someone sees will inevitably lead some to assume that the album is going to be standard, rigidly formulaic fare, which would be selling this album a little short. Not a lot short, but this isn’t your typical industrial-by-numbers fare.
Anemone Tube rely on a grinding, churning base that does sound rather like how I imagine the machine house where the labourers toiled during the industrial revolution. The first track builds slowly, almost imperceptibly, with its mechanical groans rising to an almost musical pitch. The second track grows more intense, but follows a similar format. “Similar format” is my way of saying that, while I sort of enjoyed what was going on, I did sense a sameness carrying through the whole affair.
When I heard the addition of sampled voices that sounded like snippets of public speeches (Oh boy! This must be the controversial political part!), I cringed, but I give the band credit for keeping the voices on the level of background noise, indistinct, part of the bleak scenery, until almost the album’s end. They were so close to really defying an expectation…
The music does have a dark, uneasy atmosphere that I find is done best at the album’s least noisy moments. The more the walls of static-y noise get pumped up, the more the whole thing starts to sound like a megamix of the Tesco records back catalogue. Before it gets to that point, while there are definite stylistic nods to Les Joyaux and (even moreso) to Empty Hollow-era Raison d’Etre, it maintains a more original edge.
Ultimately, it’s not without it’s charm. The music included is less predictable than the attractive but tired artwork would lead you to believe, thus proving something about judgments, books and covers that is probably more clichéd than industrial album artwork. (KM)
ANITA Hippocamping CD (Wildrfid, Switzerland, 2012)
Following a solitary compilation appearance issued by the same label, this is Anita’s debut, spreading a neat enough array of crookedness over eleven cuts (one of which is actually credited to Bulb, presumably an alias of this already mysterious enough artist) that wouldn’t seem out of place on FatCat. Rudimentary clanking, broken rhythms, skewed electronic melodies and miniscule disturbances all bind together with an accidental feel that may or may not be intentional but works regardless. Thankfully, the hints of childishness or tweedom to be found creeping in to tracks such as ‘Chat du Nord’ (which even begins with a child’s voice) are kept in check by something altogether stranger, bringing Hippocamping closer, at times, to Ranaldo & the Loaf than, say, the work of a vague contemporary such as Leafcutter John. In this latter respect, fourth cut ‘Tangora’, with its toy soldier drumming, eerie swirls and building towards a melodic bridge almost falling in on itself, serves a particular highlight. What is ultimately agreeable, however, is that are many disparate elements here that are all fashioned into something cohesive yet still sits outside conformist songwriting. ‘Dun’, by Bulb, is as close as the album gets to a more regular song, although even this fragments towards the end.
Ultimately, as far as more fractured and disheveled electronica is concerned, Anita has cooked up a fine debut. Let’s hope she continues to forage those places less easy to discern or immediately hold on to next time, too. (RJ)
AQUAVOICE Grey CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2013)
A combination of nice enough sounds and subtle noises woven into the framework of Grey help hoist this above the usual slew of releases where atmospheric electronics serve the main axis. Pinned down by occasional slo-mo rhythms and embellished at times by (possibly sampled or digitalised) strings, as well as the random and all-too-brief appearance of a voice, this album, by Polish artist Tadeusz Luczejko, reeks with confidence and imagination enough to transport it past its evident roots in post-industrial and chilled out ambient music. ‘Glassgames’, with its almost Liles-like array of surreal disturbances giving way to The Orb having a mental breakdown, is a particular highlight. (RJ)
AREV KONN Nospelt CD (Humming Conch Records, Germany, 2010)
London-based ambient electronicist Antony Harrison will be more recognisable to some under the working pseudonym of Konntinent. His synth/processed guitar work having garnered a truckload of releases over time, from labels such as Phantom Channel, Sweat Lodge Guru and Debacle. Arev Konn comes as another facet of the Harrisonian mindset; this time, however, one where the noisesome elements (buried deeper in Konntinent’s scheme of things), have now been coaxed to the foreground and then captured in glorious iron oxide on tape machinery of some forty years vintage.
Antony’s use of six-string/piano/tapes, etc. take on an almost industrialized edge, especially within the fog bank drones and garbled vocal haze of the eerie ‘Fourth Peninsula’, while jack plug crackle and the repetitious clunk of an old stuck record form the core of ‘Saffron Calls’.
However, the most intriguing (and for me the most successful) development from this approach comes in the very last piece, ‘False Starts’; this being a more measured construct which seems to contain a surge of incoming transmissions from Jodrell Bank’s radio telescope dish. These signals eventually fall away to reveal a series of bittersweet piano figures that sound as if they’ve drifted out from the confines of a Victorian drawing room.
By the way, Pit Weber, an ex Konntinent member, supplied some extra field recordings from his studio in Nospelt, Luxembourg. Hence the title…so now you know…. (SP)
ARTIFICIAL MEMORY TRACE Ama_Zone1: Black Waters CD (Monochrome Vision, Russia, 2011)
This is a stimulating and subtly surprising album-cum-travelogue of recordings derived from Artificial Memory Trace aka Slavek Kwi’s trips to the Amazon Basin. The curious investigator of this artefact is admonished on opening the booklet that ‘the music needs no context’, although its name already gives it a geographical location and a host of associations. The point is taken though, and is not meant too seriously, anyway. Assuming, then, you adhere to the rules and listen ‘blind’ you encounter a dense, crackling, croaking, clicking soundworld. Organic in complexity and sonority, yet unusual and alien at the same time. There is an element of collage and editing evident, but nothing too intrusive, and nothing to impose any particularly musical form. That the sounds are organically derived is evident, but they are fascinating enough without listening out for a particular animal, insect or even fish. Of course, as you may have guessed, the sounds of those particular denizens of the Amazon form the basis of much of these pieces – or scenes, as Kwi terms them. Indeed the main sound sources are a scrupulously noted variety animal and insectile chirps, clicks, screeches, stridulations, vibrations, pulsings and whatnot that build up a teeming sonic picture.
After an initial piece that collages together wider focus sounds of travel and city bustle (documentary and necessary to remember the mechanics of undertaking to reach such a remote region, but familiarly urban nevertheless) the meat of the album is in ‘Scenes’ 2 -11 which, interestingly, reading the forbidden liner notes again, were presented as an installation to children on the autistic spectrum. The scenes are certainly full of tactile and arresting frequencies, chirps, clicks, scrapes, howls, calls, tweets. The panoply of rainforest sound, although in this case despite protestations to the contrary, given quite definite, if implicit, context and form through the recording methods; This is very much a ‘person’s ear view’, there is no acousmatic decontextualisation and divorce from the various sound sources. Enough remains that these are, or seem, fundamentally documentary field recordings from a particular place that happens to have intrinsic interest and a wild sonic scene. The various sounds are up close to the listener, intimately captured on a hand-held digital recorder, scenes are sketched for us, sounds of interest isolated and re-presented. Various sounds are layered; some, like bat calls, are pitched down into the audible spectrum. “Re_Ality particles” (the artist’s own term for his raw sonic materials) are mediated by a human personality experiencing and relishing a rich and strange sonic environment, and whether this is intentional or not it gives the work one of its characteristics and points of accessibility.
For the penultimate track, Kwi presents us with another approach where more overt manipulation is employed. A 20 minute piece where extreme time-stretching, re-pitching and digital crunching metamorphose the synth-like blurt of bird-calls and mix them up into an electronic-sounding soup. This and some of the more ‘electronic’ sounds in the preceding tracks remind me of the genesis of Pauline Oliveros’ ‘Bog’ series of recordings in the ‘60s, which was a pond outside the window of the studio at the Mills campus, which she recalls as being filled with frogs whose stridulent croakings formed a connection in her mind with the warbles and shrills of the Buchla system and HP oscillators she was using at the time, which led to pieces such as ‘Bog Road’, ‘Alien Bog’ and ‘Beautiful Soop’. Kwi refers in his notes, which you will recall we are half-seriously directed not to read, to the ‘electronic’ character of some cicada calls in track 3. Indeed, the similarities in sonority of some of the elements in the scenes here to early electronic music and the more extreme explorations in synthesis are quite evident. Not that it should be a surprise that there is a distinct overlap between ‘acoustic’ and ‘electric’ sounds, those generated through constructed sound producing artefacts (instruments) and by naturally-formed apparatus (throats, wings, etc.). Pauline Oliveros’ ‘Bog’ pieces, as previously noted, have similarities to these recordings from the Amazon basin. The pitched-down bat sonar recontextualised on one of the scenes here sounds like the blips of a rudimentary sequencer and synth.
Kwi is keen, though, as noted, that we do not regard this album as ‘music’. Or perhaps that we do not impose too many demands of a concept of music between us and the sounds presented, rather experience them as audio scenes. Scenes perhaps subtly modified, perhaps edited to draw out details, perhaps collaged, but of an essentially documentary nature. A rough and ready concrete type approach almost, then. Concrete referring to method of construction as well as the ‘real’ derivation of the sounds presented. In fact, I think part of the appeal of this release is not only the sound sources, but the almost vérité feel of the recordings, as mentioned earlier, and the cut and paste nature: not only are you listening to a croaking fish, you are listening to a croaking fish right above the water with mosquitoes in your eyes and no David Attenborough in sight. Reality particles, definitely. I notice from Kwi’s own website that this seems to be quite a concern of his, indeed there is an ‘as it is’ series that presents un-collaged or manipulated recordings from his various trips even more unadorned or framed as well as an impressively large back catalogue of other works which I for one will be checking out further at some point.
Whatever the exact status and context of the artefact and sounds, there’s plenty here to fascinate and think about. You get the sense that Kwi is continually amazed at the rich environmental sonorities here, and that amazement is effectively communicated. Fun, invigoratingly alien, immersive and quite educational, with it. Just don’t read the notes! (Or do…) (TS)
ATOM™ HD CD (Raster-Noton, Germany, 2013)
Latest album from Germany’s prolific Uwe Schmidt, who has resided in Chile’s capital for years now and has, despite his forays via (especially) Senor Coconut into music partly indebted to some of the music of that country, remained pumped up on the various strains of electronic works one generally associates with his native land. Over the past twelve or so years, and operating under all manner of different guises it’d be impossible to keep up with unless completely bored, Schmidt has churned out everything from glitch to techno and electro always underpinned by a healthily playful sensibility completely betraying the image of the cold and stoical techno boffin venturing into the domain of a white lab-coated crank. This album might not offer any surprises in that it proffers no exception to this but, somewhat benign cover of The Who’s ‘My Generation’ aside, is great fun primed perfectly for the dancefloor and long motorway drives alike. Last track, ‘Ich Bin Meine Maschine’, helped along by Alva Noto on programming, is a triumphant celebration of Kratwerk’s indelible stamp on such music. (RJ)
MICHEL BANABILA 0+1+0+1+0+1+0+1+0 CD (Tapu Records, NL, 2010)
Picture yourself in a slightly altered mental state, in a room with someone lightly playing a small African drum while an orchestra slowly begins to tune down the hall. Gradually, your mind is drawn into the mix of sound, drawing out textures and harmonies that may only be imagined, the atmosphere growing heavier and more foreboding as time passes. So begins this four-track album from prolific Dutch artist Michel Banabila – slowly, beguilingly and with a slightly sinister undercurrent. Nothing is overstated or showy but, by the end, I was struck with a profound sense of unease.
The second track builds from the rhythmic chugging of what sounds like a machine press into a lumbering rhythm that falls short of being danceable, while at the same time having an undeniable propulsive quality. The third track is likewise built around rhythm, but this time it is a slow groove with shimmering, ghostly atmospherics hanging delicately in the background. The final piece is a slow burn, distant voices and snippets of violins churning at the bottom of a cauldron.
I’ve broken this down between tracks because I find that each one is so different from the others that it’s almost the only way to approach it. The release as a whole is a collection of disparate elements. But those disparate elements are very good- hypnotizing, almost and suffused with atmosphere. I found that the third track lets the side down a little, but the others are high enough quality that I’ll forgive it.
There is an almost soundtrack-like element to Banabila’s work. I’d love to see the movie. (KM)
BANABILA/SCANNER ‘Between Your Eyes and Mine’ 7” (Tapu, NL, 2013)
Another collaboration between Dutch electronic sound artist, Banabila, and Robin Rimbaud, this time proffering something far more agreeable than the hugely disappointing 10” they did together a few years back. Over the two pieces here, clear and shifting beds of shimmer and tone serve as a backdrop to melodic keys, grizzled voices and what sounds like guitar plucks and scrapes. Once again, there appears to be more in the way of trademark Banabila signatures than much else, but everything sits well together and even hints at a very pleasant album I’m sure the pair could produce. (RJ)
BLACK SHEEP VC Orcadia CD (Fuck Off & Di, 2011)
Orcadia is a textual and musical record of Vybik Jon and Common Era of Black Sheep VC’s sojourn in the Orkneys during June 2010, and their exploration there of the incredibly rich prehistoric landscape and specifically the sonic properties of four of the many Neolithic chambered Cairns dotted around the islands. Perhaps it would be accurate to say it is also an investigation through sonic means of the character, nature and properties of the four sites visited and encountered. The Orkneys are a very special place and I’m familiar with some of the tombs the two visited, so I was eager to hear the results of their investigations.
The first thing to note is the instrumental credits. Both are credited with vocals and pebbles, but in case you worry such an instrumentation is too rudimentary Common Era also plays a mean belt on ‘Cuween’.
However, despite the relatively minimal number of instruments used this is neither a dry nor an abstract music, by which I mean that it is not abstracted from certain realms of physiognomy and physicality, from the visceral or the organic, the nature of place or space and time. Indeed from the opening, sung notes it opens up conduits to many areas, and things make an intuitive sense. There is also an immediate sense of presence, sonic presence, presence in a place and presence of the places being encountered. Neither are the sound or the chambers in any way empty, the sonic and physical space explored is pregnant with meaning and significance. Remember that the cosmic AUM is the vibration that is the becoming of everything. Ripples of mantra against prehistoric stone walls, themselves resonant areas as the two voices of the Black Sheep conduct their open-ended and kinetic improvisations.
There is clearly a sympathy and understanding between the two Black Sheep demonstrated by the vocal, body percussive and environmental interventional interplay between them and the site. As the pieces unfold ‘musical’ phrases are intertwined and juxtaposed with literal information and textural utterances, imitative calls, descriptive noises. Both musicians display sensitive and far-ranging vocal techniques that range from conch-like tones exploiting the natural resonance of the chambers to Tibetan-esque throat singing and from oral modulations reminiscent of psychedelic electronic effects to shades of the dual-vocal theatrics of metal bands of yore.
Bestial pants, growls, full-chested, almost operatic, singing. The chest cavity, the throat, the resonating chamber of the mouth is implicitly linked and acoustically compared with the prehistoric structures the Black Sheep are singing in.
In ‘Cuween’ (facetiously dubbed ‘Tomb of the Beagles’ by some archaeologists, we are informed in the notes, due to the number of dog skeletons discovered in excavations) we encounter animal calls. Sheep, cuckoos, wolf howls, animistic. Utterances shift from the imitative and descriptive (dog bark) to the musical and back again at the speed of fancy or rather site-specific intuition, individual sensitivity and inspiration. The depth of and breadth of the transcendent to microscopically physical is invigorating.
At other moments we hear declamation of modern, historical names in strange tongues, mutterings, explorations of phrase that are almost a more rural parallel to Bob Cobbing and Lilly Greenham–style sound poetry.
Rubbing hands, clicking pebbles, echoes of bagpipes, the Muezzin call to prayer are at the same time floated by rivers of tone extending back to a Neolithic shaman crouching in a bone-filled, darkened chamber. Breath. Pants. Growls. Barks. The physical scrunch of boots on the chamber floor. Blood and saliva, gargling and gagging, bellowing, howling, primal scream and scrunch. Gurgles, chattering, strangulated breaths, grunts, bestial howls and bovine lowing. Electronic sounding pulsations. Vocal drones and hand-clapping. Modes faintly reminiscent of Hindustani scales. Closely beating notes reminiscent of Hardanger fiddles. Blood-curdling screams, rhythmic panting.
Vocal utterances and words of power (mantras, chants etc.), suggested by some of the vocal techniques here, are key in many traditional shamanic and magical practices. Other diverse references suggest themselves over the course of the investigations, Tibetan chanting has already been mentioned. Other moments remind me of Native American dances and Amazonian tribal rites.
For spur-of-the-moment invention these two are hard to beat, the particular moment of this album is a moment in an ecstatically-inspired resonant prehistoric landscape at the brightest time of the year when green energies and exuberance are twining at their highest. Animal energies, too. Shapeshifiting, as suggested by the animalistic cries, as practised in witchcraft and shamanism, may well have been a component of rites or practices of those who built and originally utilised these tombs.
This exuberantly various collection of sounds, symbolisms and strands of idea of are suggested and played with over the course of the album. These places of inhumation (and ritual) imbue an energy (in mutual exchange with the two Black Sheep) that infuses the recordings and the liner notes with a vitality that proves irresistible and thoroughly convincing.
The music (it is very much a musical piece despite the potentially abstract, documentary nature) is constantly revelatory in its breadth (breadth of invention, humour, sonic luxuriousness). The range of tones, harmonies, melody, noise, texture, frequency, space, silence, contrast is impressive, enjoyable and rather inspirational. Inspirational, inspired and utterly involving. Vybik and Common Era achieve immersion and transportation with the most basic of means. Or from another view, the most sophisticated: The ancient sciences and craft that went into the construction of the chambers, the shamanic modulation of the voice to achieve certain warpings in the veil of perceptual reality. That most fundamental phenomenon, breath, which is the interface between inner and outer world, the foundation of mantra and yoga, is used to knit place and person together. The liner notes are fascinating, evocative and beautifully written. The sound of pebbles, howlings of animals, the heat and smell of hounds, the excrement and feather of sea eagles, sweating, and smoke-stained bodies crouched on the earthen floor of a darkened stone-built tomb.
I spent some days quite a few years ago, in the summer as well in fact, exploring mainland Orkney, and I can remember vividly sitting in the dark in one of the side chambers in Wideford Hill cairn, which is a pretty fantastic place. At 11 minutes through the Wideford Hill piece there is a metallic banging that I recognised must have been from the ladder you have to climb down through the submarine-like modern entrance hatch to access the chambers. Each cairn suggests its own distinctive approach and colours the character of its respective investigation. They are distinguishable as individual places with different layers of history and gestalts.
By clearly engaging with a living place and history in an unfettered, imaginative way an extra-mundane and other, not to mention physical and vital, aspect of these sites and their interrelation on many levels (inspirational, situational, mystical, shamanical, curiosity value-al etc. etc.), to living humans and the continuum of human history, birth-death-rebirth, geological and historical time is revealed. Doors are opened looking towards the pastoral, the agricultural, the rural, the bestial, the ritual, the spiritual.
“In… a … CAIRN” intones one of our erstwhile archaeo-sonic explorers at one point, channelling the mutterings of the ancestors, but also revealing the intuited knowledge of modern man marginal to the everday consciousness yet foundational to a fully formed and informed mystically aware psyche. A Jungian integration of the shadow and the fermenting archetypes. Tomb of the Eagles ends rather abruptly, perhaps landowner and excavator Ronald crawled in through the entrance to see what the ancient skulls immured there were shouting about.
The album retains an aura of rock music without actually being of it; more rock as a modern folk form of expression. Perhaps it is rock in the geological, or dare I say it, megalithic sense?
Orcadia is an admirable and enjoyable artefact, robust, sensitive, earthy, mysterious, unconventional, exuberant and thought-provoking, clad in creaking biker-leathers in these prehistoric underground chambers. Essential if you have any interest in the Orcadian landscape, a virtuoso display of imagination musical and mystical, probably not for everyone, but in no way inaccessible, it deserves to be investigated by the musically open minded and/or prehistorically interested. Vybik Jon and Common Era join a long and illustrious serpentine line of artists and seers that have been inspired by the Old Stone Monuments over the ages, stretching through Stukeley to Michel, Cope and beyond. Theirs is a welcome addition to the body of inspirational works investigating these most continually fascinating sites and is thoroughly recommended. (TS)
DEBT OF NATURE Order: Spoil the Entire State LP (Harbinger Sound, 2013)
A collection of mid-‘80s recordings by this US improvised noise group whose melding of garbled electronics, tapes, radio manipulation, screech and general clatter forever wavers between a more subtle attack and borderline chaos. On the pieces where percussion makes a grand entrance to the fray, the proceedings assume almost AMM-like shapes but for an aesthetic clearly defined by the landscape of cassettes and DIY culture they crawled from. Especially fantastic is the fact that no one sound hangs around for too long, rendering the makeshift and entirely ramshackle approach akin to collage work for the most part. Without doubt, these would have made for a great live experience, at once uncomfortable, confrontational, illuminating and downright pleasing. An incredible array of abject sonic mayhem and, indeed, a perfect command of it. (RJ)
THE DIAMOND FAMILY ARCHIVE Lakes, Meres, Ponds and Waters LP (Dinosaur Club, USA, 2012)
The Diamond Family Archive is the alias of Laurence Collyer, a reclusive Brighton-based singer-songwriter who is also responsible for running the Woodland Recordings imprint, which itself released the previous two albums by Laurence in ultra-limited edition run CDRs. Spread beautifully over this LP are eleven cuts of delicate and plaintive folk of the contemporary kind. The kind, in other words, that likes to deny that it is, actually, folk. Woven from an introspective thread, the songs here swell around stories burnt from personal observation and experience. Whilst at first listen it appears that Laurence approaches his guitar and pump organ with all the woe of the world weighing heavily on his shoulders, what shines through is the sheer hope and wonderment to be found amongst the immediate surroundings. For all of the evident sadness seeping into these songs, they ultimately voice the soul of a man who has neither given up or intends to. Aided by Johny Lamb on bass, cornet and voice, plus a drummer, Paul Cook (no, not the ex-Pistol, I am certain), on three of the songs here, Lakes, Meres, Ponds and Waters rarely rises from its hazy allure and gauze-like nature. The mere snatch of a country inflection adds a lilt to some of the songs, such as on side two opener, ‘Sleeping Under Stars’, but understatement is the dish of the day.
A solid release, then, and one that’s doubtlessly going to be hard to find by the time you read this. Laurence sent me this copy himself, along with a bonus CDr featuring more of his magnificent songs and a letter where he wryly stated I was the only person on his mailing list. Well, I feel truly honoured, and that’s no lie. (RJ)
Slip it in, turn it up. First impression: they have the heart of Ornette Coleman. Nothing is ruled out; all is viable and worthy of investigation. From the plain blut and spit of a sax to electronics, software, to the broken found objects. There’s no restricting sense of value judgements. They play through and beyond. A twist and we’ve gone from the familiar to chaotic and back again, but always focussed and open to other possibilities. When in the hands of fluent players it’s OK to let it free and see what happens.
Play, replay, invert and subvert. A familiar genre cracks and splits when smacked up against the unfamiliar. Another angle to see/hear from. They’re not averse to plunging into the pool of scree as a more abstract medium for breaking the complacency that’s all too often inherent in the world of free jazz. The sharp static electricity of fluttering saxophones cut into the electronics. There’s space; there’s room for manoeuvre no matter how unpredictable it can get.
A pause for inspection reveals a seed. Time to let it grow. A fucking smart album. There’s strong voodoo magic going on in the Polish world of free jazz and improvisation and this one’s a clear-headed example of it. (HM)
DRAGLINE SPEEDWAY Black Thunder CD (Gibbon Envy Recordings, 2013)
Like an HG Wells’ inspired return to the late ’80s, this album mostly comprises covers of songs by Scratch Acid, Killdozer, Unholy Swill and suchlike, plus features Dave Cochrane (Head of David, Sweet Tooth) on one of them. There are two originals as well, but everything simply falls in with the sludge sound of yore ‘cept with better production. Who’d have thunk Unholy Swill would end up being covered…? (RJ)
EGYPTOLOGY The Skies CD (Clapping Music, France, 2012)
Completely vile and insipid take on those worlds of electronic music once escorted by the likes of Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream and Pete Namlook, doubtlessly made by musos who sit around all day sipping lattes in ‘stylish’ cafes, one eyebrow permanently raised over their designer specs. A complete and utter waste of time unfit for anything or anybody. (RJ)
MARK FELL Sentielle Objectif Actualité CD (Editions Mego, Austria, 2012)
Overwhelmingly bland and pointless electronica, heavily inspired by house and IDM yet going nowhere not heard a thousand times before. What’s worse is that this probably arrives from a place where composer, Fell, believes it is all very clever whilst one eyebrow remains forever starched in a raised position. Coffee table crap for people who work in advertising. (RJ)
FIRE ROOM Second Breath LP (Bocian. Poland, 2013)
Third album from this American/Norwegian trio of Ken Vandermark, Lasse Marhaug and Paal Nilssen-Love, all of whom are, of course, veterans in their respective fields of improvised tumult and tumbling jazz freneticism. The two side-long pieces here, recorded live at London’s Vortex Club in late 2011, embrace both the abrasive and the haphazardly melodic throughout a tense knitting of mad electronics, sax and drums. As improvised noise stands, I’ve heard better chemistry between the players, but this still makes for a strong document of what, I’m sure, was a show worth seeing. Not quite ear-bleeding, but intense enough regardless. (RJ)
FILMS Messenger CD (Noble Records, 2010)
Who are Films, where are they from, how did they meet, what have they got to hide?
I have already given up trying to find an answer to these questions. Their website has no information whatsoever and is simply an interactive moving image of what appears to be 2 women adorned with flowers, butterflies and bubbles. This is a band that doesn’t want to be seen and certainly doesn’t want their words to be heard either, hiding them behind a pillow in the recording studio then setting the reverb to Extra Cathedral. It’s all part of the charm and seductive mystery that makes this album a perfect listen for the romantic and recently bereaved.
The album is based around an imaginary fable and using a blend of classical instruments and subtle electronics they create a musical haze which puts you in mind of an enchanted forest (think Ridley Scott’s Legend), which is impressive given that you have no discernible lyrics to take you there. Rather, the vocals should be considered an instrument and part of the arrangement as apposed to words sung over the top of a piece of music. The result is ethereal and melancholy atmospheres, part Bilinda Butcher and part Legendary Pink Dots, both out of focus. This is nebula gazing music, enjoyable and haunting.
It is quite difficult to track down a copy, and to add to the intrigue Amazon were charging £37.99 for the CD. Could it be the CD is made of hand turned mahogany with each 1 and 0 lovingly etched into place by the band themselves? I fear not.
Get it direct from Noble at a reasonable price. (AMD)
LUCA FORCUCCI Fog Horns CD (Sub Rosa, Belgium, 2013)
The back sleeve recounts the artist’s experience of hearing fog horns echo across San Francisco whilst sleep deprived, befuddled and muddled from a days plane travel. A simple but effective description of the mundane subtly transfigured by an alteration of perception; an experience simultaneously beautifully alien and tantalisingly familiar. This borderland, where the Surrealists aimed to operate, is an often transitory perceptual mode, but one that can provide lasting inspiration, and pleasingly much of that subtle delight in the unexpected reconfiguration of the normal is transmitted to the three compositions presented here.
We open with the title track, a sparkling, fizzing bath of electronics and electroacoustics. A glinting kaleidoscope of environmental sounds and academic sonic manipulations, sine waves, risset tones, snatches of conversation, bird song. A mindful atmosphere pervades the wide-eyed (or eared) combinations of material. Tambura-like drones enhance the meditative atmosphere. The melange of elements effectively conveys the borderland between hearing and dreaming. Occasional languid scratches provide a gestural scribble and link to the physical body, which drifts away as quickly into the birdsong, shifting patterns of light in a tree-shaded summer park, waves crashing on the shore. Mysterious conversations drift through the consciousness like an open window, much like the passing clouds you are encouraged to visualise intruding verbal thoughts as in some meditation practices.
The title of the second track,, ‘L’ecume des jours’, is taken from Boris Vian’s novel. A certain exuberance and lightness of touch is attributed to the book, I can’t say for certain as I’ve tried and failed to read it twice over the past few years. The title is usually translated as something like ‘Foam of the Days’, which is a supremely evocative and poetic image that marries with the pacific breakers and audio foam of the track. The coastal environment re/presented/imagined, with its cleansed-doors-of-perception inclusiveness reminds me of the shores Coil washed up on, the Amon Duul II/Neu! referencing shivering sands of the Black Light District and the golden coins dropping into the amniotic surf of MU-UR from Astral Disaster.
Forcucci manages to maintain the balances of moods and for the most part keep things open with an easy-going alertness. I can hear (an imagined, in my case) San Francisco in there, I can also hear touches of San Francisco resident, Kim Cascone (who is thanked in the credits). I can also hear the audio diaries of the Ferraris (Luc and Brunhilde). Brunhilde is in fact also thanked.
After plunging headfirst into the raging currents of the Pacific where thoughts dart like the silvery flash of fishes (somehow we seem to have strayed verbally into Steve Hillage waters) we are sucked out of the waves by a UFO mimicking a fog horn and end up in the relative (be)calm(ed) of the final track, ‘Wind’, where deep electronic drones, hisses and softly clattering rigging against masts spread out a meandering sheen of surface tension and soft tapping over a bed of bass synth melody (which truth be told is a little overstated for me), again a little Coil-esque. This track meanders in the doldrums a little, but then you can’t have dream narratives without odd corners and corridors composed of dead-ends – which fades out after 17 minutes – without incident like a swiftly phased return to everyday consciousness.
Overall, there is plenty to enjoy in this lucid and playful album of modern electronic composition and I’d be interested to hear more from the artist. Recommended for a listen, for sure. (TS)
GAGGLE I Hear Flies 7” (Transgressive, 2010)
Frenzied and riotous debut by this female-fronted group whose music, driven as it is by some punchy rhythms and a buoyant sensibility teetering between accessibility and an adrenalin-rush of chaos, makes me think of The Slits shoved firmly into a contemporary setting (especially where the production is concerned). Which is perfectly agreeable by me. (RJ)
GATTOPARDO eponymous LP (Burka For Everybody/Dama Da Noite/Nada Nada Discos, Spain/Brazil, 2014)
Brazilian group whose scuffed guitar-emblazoned songs dimly recall the likes of Nice Strong Arm, although the gratitude towards New Order and Joy Division is equally more than evident via some basslines and melodies nicked in the vain hope nobody would notice, I guess. A case of a group of young hopefuls cutting their teeth, no doubt, but there are worse ways. (RJ)
GERMAN ARMY Jivaro Witnesses LP (Burka For Everybody, Spain, 2014)
This duo appears to have been operating only for a few years yet has already amassed something like 25 albums. Most of these, naturally enough, have appeared on CDr or cassette, but there are a few vinyl releases tucked into their back catalogue as well. All the same, this is my first encounter with their work and I think it’s fair to say they’ve taken their cue from post-punk, minimal synth and dark electro. A neat blend of styles converge throughout this album yet, even with a number of field recordings sewn in for good measure, everything radiates with a natural glow. Sparse voices drift in and out, electronic pulses sway between grooves, the ghost of Ian Curtis checks in to ensure all is under control, ice-cold rhythms join forces with a travelogue of field recordings, and distilled noise shuffles towards a rich, homemade, sensibility perfect for this music. A solid listening experience and no mistake. (RJ)
BRUCE GILBERT and BAW Diluvial CD (Touch, 2013)
Both outside and since his departure from Wire, Bruce Gilbert has long been forging a rich sonic palette where angled electronic sheets and often convoluted tones are teased into settings at once as enchanting as they are beguiling. On Diluvial he collaborates with a duo known as BAW, which stands for Beaconsfield ArtWorks, who I know zilch about. Over the course of seven pieces, they weave in windy field recordings, stark tones, stuttering textures, rattling, oblique creaking sounds and a lot of tempered noises that, true to much of Gilbert’s previous output, are never going to afford the listener much comfort for too long. Akin to throwing nature’s sounds into an industrial environment, it may well be providing some commentary without making any grand statements. More likely, however, is that this album pays attention to and celebrates the sounds around us we often just take for granted. Whatever is behind it, this music is wholly captivating. Nice. (RJ)
MAX GOLDT/FELIX KUBIN/MARK BOOMBASTIK Fog Frog 7” (Meeuw Muzak, NL, 2011)
Collaborative electroid song, buoyed perfectly by a suitably bouncy rhythm, deadpan vocals and fractured yet subtle melodic signatures. Robot struts for the brain. Always a fine thing. (Richard Johnson)
ROBERT HAMPSON Répercussions/Signaux/Suspended Cadences CD (Editions Mego, Austria, 2012)
Together, this trio of releases affirms Hampson’s standing as a first-rate avant-garde composer, one which his recordings as Main always implied, and then developed under his own name on the Maps and Vectors albums. Each of the 2012 releases follows on from the earlier albums, and each audibly revels in the possibilities of processed and pure electronic sounds, whether sourced from additive synthesis or an electric guitar.
Répercussions is the big beast of this trio of releases from Hampson’s new home on the ever-exploratory Editions Mego label, packaged as a double set of a conventional CD and a DVD version of the same tracks in 5.1 surround sound for the full immersive experience. The title track crepitates and whirs almost mischeivously with pregnant intent, and in the surround version, the various (re)processed noises are not so much off as around, switching channels in a procession of deliriously-arranged placements while the weightier percussive elements heave at the low end. The stereo version is obviously not endowed with as vibrant a sense of spaciousness, but the placement of glassy ripples, clanging and brushed steel sounds across the spectrum retains much of the same sense of hallucinatory motion, both editions building to an inevitable crushing dissolution.
Appropriately enough, “De la Terre à la Lune” was commissioned for the Espace Mendès France planetarium in Poitiers, a venue which has hosted many and varied performances from a range of experimental musicians in recent years. Here, Hampson builds throbbing strata of electronics cut through with further klang, the brightness of the chimes – are they vanadium spanners or something more traditionally musical – perhaps along the lines of the junkyard bottle organ built by Lt. Doolittle in John Carpenter’s Dark Star? – and lilting tones counterpointing the (especially once again in the 5.1 mix) all-enveloping UFO wibble, engine hum and EVA suit-breathing drift; the metallic taste of recycled air and the blood pumping under pressure through the ears is almost palpably present.
This modernist use of suggestion – surely the implication of vintage space travel is one such prompted by the title? – is part of the enjoyment to be taken in such abstraction, where the sounds Hampson deploys flicker outside notions of musicality as such. So, of course, the final “Antarctica Ends Here” is, at a shade over nine minutes, a relatively brief piece dedicated to John Cale which first appeared on a split 10” with Cindytalk in 2010. Bamboo rustling in the wind tumbles around somnolent piano notes, string drones and brightly-circling feedback, providing a resonantly mellow coda to the album, one also haunted by the ghost of Florian Fricke.
Signaux appears as one track per side of vinyl, the first sputtering and chirping delicately like a slide across the shortwave radio spectrum as it opens on a cicada stutter, prefacing the glitchier warp and weft of electronics. These swap stereo channels as they construct an itchily nervous soundscape where the lower level strand hums and rises while the higher frequencies press more urgently for attention. This they get, with ever-increasing concentration demanded as their progression shifts subtly across the dynamic range, analogue synthesis and machine thrums chirruping and slithering as the nascent abstracted drama unfolds in a trimphone trill and what sounds like the the ripple of relays opening and closing in a pre-digital telephone network. By contrast, ‘Signaux 2’ rings in on the flipside with what could be wine glasses tinkling as the frangible electronics change gear into a more watchfully alert session. Here the tension levels ascend in longform claustrophobic waves of increasingly fractured tones and clicks which worry naggingly at the ears, before taking the long slow slide down through genetically-modified IRCAM territory.
Suspended Cadences hovers somewhat around Main territory, perhaps because of the guitar interaction with the warmly-cycling electronics. Each studio improvisation hums with energy; the first – ‘(Three)’, ‘(One)’ and ‘(Two)’, were live performances in Paris, unavailable on this or any other recording – bristling with febrile striations and a love for drone which pushes well beyond the simple act of stepping on a pedal and letting the circuitry sort out the stochastic results. While there’s initially something of the migraine or the heating system throb which is almost a Hampson guitar trademark, about (Three), as the piece develops an almost euphoric sense of liberation emerges on a rush of elongated, cleansing fuzz and submerged, near-implied rhythm; it’s enough to get the endorphins well and truly flowing.
(Four) scrolls by in a more concentrated, brow-furrowing fashion, loops and cyclical whirrs rolling over each other in a 360-degree driveby though outer space, though the planetary motion on display here is gritted and pocked by orbiting kipple like a satellite jarred by debris and spacedust as it tumbles towards a slow-motion re-entry and apparently unavoidable atmospheric demise. But like the psychedelic finale of 2001: A Space Odyssey, (Four) ends up in a far stranger place than the first part of the trip might indicate, located somewhere between familiar drone heaven and the coruscating higher planes of a time- and motion-free analogue nirvana. (RF)
ROBERT HAMPSON/DEAD VOICES ON AIR ‘The Blizzard Ring’ 7” (Tourette, USA, 2012)
A maybe obvious enough meeting of minds to some but, indeed, a meeting of minds it is. Hampson, now helming a reformed Loop, stabbing away at Main still, and recording solo under his own name, here teams up with DVON, otherwise known as Mark Spybey, ex-Zoviet France. Two pieces of shimmerin’ and glistenin’ late night glow emerge, full of slow-mo movement and spectral enticement. It’s music for those dreams you always want but never get, even when aided. Wonderful cover design, too, and limited to 350 copies that have probably (and deservedly) long gone as you read this. Releases like this compound how fortunate I am in being here to appreciate ‘em. (RJ)
HAPPY EVER AFTER eponymous MLP (X-Mist, Germany, 2014)
A collection of material originally recorded in ’89, I understand, by this post-hardcore gathering of like-minds including the vocalist of Social Unrest and Armin Hofmann, the founder of X-Mist Records. It’s all pretty snappy and adorned in a gruff overcoat that never once betrays a DIY sensibility, whilst some of the playing hints at things beyond the world this all clearly resides in. Actually, having not checked the speed, I originally played this at 33rpm and thought it seemed akin to Head Of David or JFK…which may well say something in and of itself. Spun correctly, however, itt bursts with vitriol and energy, plus the inclusion of a mandolin in the instrumentation is pure fucking genius. 150 copies only, in a fantastic screen-printed sleeve, on 180gsm vinyl. Smart. (RJ)
RUSSELL HASWELL Scandinavian Parts (Immersive Live Salvage Supplement) CD (ideal Recordings, Sweden, 2012)
I have to ‘fess I was expecting something a little more dynamic than the electronic noise-storm culled from four shows that’s on offer here. Haswell has over the past decade or so made something of a name for himself in certain circles as an exponent of the more, let’s say, ‘academic’ end of such music and I’m sure that he makes for a decent enough live proposition. On this album, however, which is itself designed to clearly encompass the overload of contact mics, effects units and other gadgets, everything appears somewhat one-dimensional and flat. As a document aimed at making one’s mind wander, it works perfectly, though. (RJ)
HATE-MALE Greatest Hits, 1999-2009: A Decade of Noise CD
(Dogbarkssome Discs, 2010)
Sounding more like a Victorian-era super sleuth, Lawrence Conquest; an inhabitant of the market town of Frome in Somerset, is the evil genius manipulator behind the Hate Male power noise project, which celebrates its tenth year in existence with a “Greatest Hits” collection. A spin on a much used piece of irony, inasmuch as a selection of material from eight previous releases has now undergone further brutalization/reprocessing and then been recontextualized with boxing-related sleeve art (where glove squashes face), and titles such as ‘The First Hit is the Hardest’ and ‘Intense Suffering Under a Non-Stop Barrage of Blows to the Head’.
A coupla things’ll be pretty evident on first exposure – one; it’s a triumph of mastering as it is b-a-s-t-a-r-d loud (and that’s loud) and two; this simply isn’t a hastily prepped wall’o’noise exercise where the first volley of mud slung against it will ‘do’. Instead Hits contains evidence of advanced layering techniques and an appreciable depth into which you could easily lose yourself and a small country. Both aspects being fairly rare in the noise genre of late….
Distressed orchestral segments can be glimpsed miles beneath the searing jet engine blast of ‘Teaching Robots the Queensbury Rules’ and ‘Manchurian Boxing (Get in the Ring)’, while vocal loops of Barbara Windsor and a cackling Sid James take a cheap double entendre into the eye of the chaotic electronic storm that is ‘Carry on Punching’. The two Kenneths (Williams & Connor), are also credited but appear invisible to the naked ear.
With its ‘Harsh as Fuck’ sleeve warning – you’ll find this a thoroughly punishing example of upper case noise (British rural division) where headphone usage is strictly verboten. If you need further prodding, Hate Male comes with a glowing endosement from no other than Masami Akita/Merzbow. Good Luck. (SP)
HELM Impossible Symmetry CD (Pan, Germany, 2012)
Third album ‘proper’ from London-based distiller of electronic and processed sound, Luke Younger, whose work prior to Impossible Symmetry has appeared via self-released CDRs and, additionally, via labels such as Kye, Peasant Magik and RRR. The five pieces here traverse those realms where distinctly moody electronica converges with an electro-acoustic disposition that clearly all folds into itself like a mildly psychotic episode, foam babbling forever at the corners of those junctures where rhythms try to make sense of it all. One could contend that, indeed, next to the dross that usually attempts to pass itself off as being interesting that guffs from such worlds, this is even remarkably visionary. Which is about as good as it can possibly get, isn’t it? (RJ)
HEROIN IN TAHITI Death Surf LP (Boring Machines, Italy, 2012)
An eclectic combo can be found on this mysterious debut album by Heroin In Tahiti, who’re apparently an Italian duo here, very clearly, given to weaving some industrial-strength electronica into a tapestry of foggy drones and atmospherics not entirely removed from those worlds once evoked by early 4AD releases or, say, Seefeel. Lots of chugging rhythms bind the eight instrumentals together whilst, on the odd cut, a stab at some surf guitar crawls out of a valium-induced stupor as though to prove these guys have more to offer than the rest of the pack. Which is precisely what they do.
‘Sartana’ possesses what sounds like a slowed-down version of the ‘60s TV Batman series’ theme serving its anchorage whilst all around pools of hiss and tonal spillage hang loosely in the air. It alone just about encapsulates the precise nature of Death Surf. Nicely done, f’ sure. (RJ)
DERECK HIGGINS Flyover LP (DVH Recordings, USA, 2013)
Dereck Higgins, once also a member of Digital Sex, has been producing solo electronic works since the mid-‘80s and around 13 years ago established his DVH Recordings label to house them on vinyl, CD and CDr releases. After stumbling across his YouTube channel (conducted under the name Dereck Von) in late 2013 due to his plugging of a Mahler Haze release of mine, and appreciating his often enthusiastic and energising posts concerning his passion for music and record collecting, I touched base with him and exchanged a healthy bunch of records. Amongst those he sent me were his LPs, Sonosspheres II and his very latest, Flyover. The former is credited to, simply, Dereck, and veers closer to my tastes with its slightly more abstract approach, while Flyover, in a way, dovetails perfectly with the man whose posts I still regularly feast on…or at least my perception of him. More upbeat yet infused with a subtle quirkiness and plenty of atmosphere, Flyover gathers fourteen cuts that draw from Dereck’s obvious love of electronic music from the ‘70s German pioneers to ‘90s dance and ambient realms.
Keyboard sweeps, the occasional Prog-ish grand chord gesture, generally mid-paced rhythms and sometimes spaceward-bound noodling all converge to spice up a contemporary take on an area of music that perhaps began with Cluster and Tangerine Dream before soaking up the likes of the late Namlook and moving onto those sonic pastures furrowed by Two Lone Swordsmen and Sabres Of Paradise et al. It is only perhaps because of the very nature of such music that it doesn’t necessarily all sound original, but everything is attired sprightly and with a freshness that oozes from every groove.
500 only on purple splatter vinyl, plus packaged with much attention to detail. You could do far, far worse than invest in a copy of this. (RJ)
DERECK HIGGINS Murphy LP (DVH Recordings, USA, 2014)
Another album of synth and software pieces sometimes anchored by hefty bass possibly owing more to Dereck’s work in more post-punkin’ outfits. This is generally breezy material, though, with an occasional nod to his beloved YMO or even Vangelis, but it’s spacey and even veers into Carl Craig-esque house at certain points. As with his previous LP, Flyover, the emphasis is on atmospherics, yet clearly of a more upbeat and positive inclination. Makes a change from the usual moody and insular shit received round here, anyway. Nice combo of grren and purple coloured vinyl, too. (RJ)
IGE*TIMER Ice Cold Pop LP (Everest Records, Switzerland, 2010)
Three pieces by this Swiss duo of Klaus Janek (double bass, laptop) and Simon Berz (handmade sound generators, etc.) which, rather successfully, reflect their encounters with Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Orleans following a US tour. Over their course, highly expressive improvised electronic swirls, shifting banks of murmur, and oceanic babble over an often plaintive set of scrapes, whirs, thuds and cracks remain poised to capture these moments as broadly as their imaginations allow. ‘New Orleans’, the first piece, is imbued with, as perhaps expected, a series of jazz-inspired signatures, ‘Baltimore’ takes on the stance of a stomping robot with a chip or two missing, and ‘Philadelphia’ leaves one feeling trapped in a subterranean network of tunnels before stumbling upon a crazed scientist’s laboratory. Quite whether this was the intention or not, or what this all has to with the latter two cities, I’ll never know, but as debuts go, this is a smart one well worth investigating. (RJ)
CHRIS IMLER ‘Vorwärts’ 7” (Meeuw Muzak, NL, 2011)
As far as I know, the debut solo record by this German drummer, ex-Golden Showers and now usually to be found in the mutant hip-hop/electro duo Driver & Driver, with what’s akin to Kraftwerk having been taken into the jungle by cannibals on the title track and a severely mutated electro-punk cover of Chris Montez’s ‘Let’s Dance’ on the flipside, ‘Tanzen’. Another delectable oddity from this great label then, basically. (RJ)
FRANCE JOBIN The Illusion of Infinitesmal CD (Baskaru, France, 2014)
Three rather subdued pieces hewn from shimmering, light yet warm, tones and smooth textures by this Canadian artist already known for her sound art and installations. Whilst this work may not sound readily distinguished from so many others of a similar disposition, there is a depth to it obviously arriving from a deft hand. The fact that Lawrence English has his hand in this via the mastering job likewise indicates a wholesome grasp on matters, too. Most pleasant. (RJ)
K11/PIETRO RIPARBELLI & PHILIPPE PETIT The Haunting Triptych CD (Boring Machines Records, Italy, 2010)
The first meeting of the minds between Livorno-based multimedia artist Pietro Riparbelli (K11) and field recordist/sound manipulator/multi-collaborator; Philippe Petit (who’s also the label kingpin of Bip_HOp and Pandemonium RdZ). As the title would imply, the duo’s intention being, to create an imprinted atmosphere where a touch of the creeping terrors and a quivering puddle of ectoplasm continue to linger for a considerable time after the final curtain.
With K11’s shortwave radio ouija-boarding and intrusive microphone placements, certain portentous atmospheres have already been extracted from the ‘Great Beast Aleister Crowley’s Thelema Abbey in Cefalu and deep within the lower basilica of Assisi. So, even without a specific geographical focus on this
occasion (?), a notable icy-finger-down-the-spine frisson is maintained by deploying snatches and blurred afterimages of a disembodied chorale, that’s interspersed with jarring knife edge synthetics and landslide-presaging underground rumbling. It’s as if mid-period Coil were commissioned to
reinterpret the Quatermass film scores whilst being holed up at a studio in the nearby Hobb’s Lane. (SP)
SVEN KACIREK The Kenya Sessions CD (Pingipung, Germany, 2011)
The advent of high quality digital and highly portable recording devices has democratised the idea of audio travel diaries and ethnomusicology. Where once it was the likes of Alan Lomax and those with a sturdy back who would carry heavy recording devices, the devices now fit in a pocket. A reel-to-reel recorder becomes a handheld device; a pinhole camera evolves into a snappy digital camera.
This convenience has resulted in a deluge of pictures and recordings, all taken on the fly and ultimately meaningless. The means of communication and recording are open to all and somehow that’s rendered meaningless. More importantly, maybe it’s revealed to us that what we have to say isn’t so important after all? But once you get past that understanding, that’s when the more interesting work begins. Engaging with the format and the system leads to a refining of purpose and understanding.
The result is that music from all over the world, and from all time periods, is now easily available, be it online or on a physical format. Different ways of working with sounds, different traditions of music cross over not in some sort of hideous ‘fusion’ but as a collaborative possibility. It’s always been there, for example when Ornette Coleman played with the Master Musicians of Joujouka, but now the possibilities have now spread. A soprano singer from 1910 or a Lebanese folk singer from the 1950s is a mere click away.
The German percussionist and composer Sven Kacirek was invited by Goethe Institut in Nairobi to record and work with musicians across Kenya. What you have here are the field recordings he made which he then worked with back in Hamburg. Ordinarily I’d rather have heard him play with the musicians rather than add to their work at a later date but the results aren’t as bad as you’d assume. His work is tempered and sensitive to what the musicians are playing. There’s a lightness which maybe detracts from the original recordings but if you’re going to do what he did – add electronics and rhythms- then it could’ve been a lot worse. I’d still much rather have heard the original bare field recordings or even hear him collaborate live with them.
It’s not my kind of thing. It’s over-produced in places (like on ‘Too Good to be True’) and his additions are, ultimately, unnecessary but his heart’s in the right place. It won’t be replacing my Honest Jons or Alan Lomax albums any time soon.
It’s a digipak with a fold out cover of sleeve notes and a few excellent pictures of the musicians. (HM)
KAPITAL No New Age CD (Bocian, Poland, 2014)
Six pieces by the Polish duo of Kuba Ziolek and Rafal Iwanski, who’re both very active in the new music circles in Poland and of whom’s Iwanski’s X-Navi:et project is a particular highlight for me. These pieces were borne of an improvisation session utilising guitar, samplers, synth, voice and other electronics, but veer too much towards the safety nets afforded by soft-focus neo-ambient drifting and early ‘70s-inspired stirrings to be of any real consequence. It’s okay, but rather too polite and goes nowhere especially new, like some retired old cardigan-wearing pipe-puffer’s idea of an attempt to plummet the depths of electronic music without realising his splutterings have all been beaten into shape a thousand times before. Only the final piece, with its polyrhythmic underpinning, hints at something beyond, but it is too little too late. Yes, Richard Pinhas (of Heldon) is thanked on the cover, possibly due to his being some kind of inspiration here, but No New Age barely takes us beyond those areas mapped by him decades before, unfortunately. Apparently, Kuba is something of a sensation in Poland, too. I have no idea why, if this release is anything to go on. (RJ)
KINETIX/PYLôNE Sonology CD (Sound On Probation, France, 2010)
A highly suitable split-release by these two exponents of minimalist post-industrial sound-design. Kinetix, a.k.a. Gianluca Becuzzi, here offers two lengthy cuts combining shifting timbres, frosted oscillations, eerie shimmer, micro-scrunches, noise swells, voice cut-ups and space-whisper of the kind only the best of paranoid minds can produce. Pylône, one of Sound On Probation’s very own Laurent Parrier’s many projects, delivers four cuts of an equally twilight-bound persuasion, snagged perfectly between a Plastikman-esque post-techno world of psychomania, collaged weirdness and the digital soundtrack to a ketamine comedown. All in all, another fine release from this label whose dedication to all forms of contemporary electronic music often remains, somewhat bizarrely, overlooked. (RJ)
TOMASZ KRAKOWIAK A/P 7” (Bocian Records, Poland, 2011)
Another incredible entry in this Warsaw-based label’s series of 7”s devoted to artists operating in the wings of avant-garde, improvisation or other such areas of sonic expression. Tomasz Krakowiak is a percussionist who presently resides in Canada and has collaborated with many artists over the past ten years, including John Oswald and Phil Minton. On the two short pieces here, his drum treatments are maximized into realms where tempered musique concrete drifts into emotionally charged static. A nice insight to the possibilities beyond instrumentation used in its regular capacity. (RJ)
MARTIN KüCHEN The Lie & the Orphanage CD (Mathka, Poland, 2010)
Human. The breath from within expelled through these objects – baritone and alto saxophones. A sound turned inside out. A means of understanding a physical presence (our stinking bodies) and how we interact with the outside world until one becomes indistinguishable from the other. Surely this is all that ultimately matters? Not a performance, not a premeditated process with predictable results, but an intuitive action that is more about understanding connections where one becomes the other, and the other becomes one. If you see what I mean. At what point is that glass on the table a separate object from the table, and at what point do you see them both as one? And by extension at what point do you become part of that whole?
These things happen when you use sound or art or words. A shift in understanding of definitions of what is perceived to be real, and what our relationships are. A placement of objects, a movement in space, an awareness of the passage of time can be enough of a method towards the beginning of making music worth working with.
Martin’s work with his instruments, which also include the whoosh of a pocket radio, are so clearly deeply personal that, as an outsider looking in, you’re hearing a unique individual who isn;t performing; he is ‘being.’
If you’ve ever been moved by hearing the solo work of Roger Turner, Lol Coxhill or Alan Tomlinson, then Martin Küchen will come as a reassurance that there are even more people out there with a heart and spirit. To my utter shame I haven’t heard his work before but listening to the album has been an overwhelming experience.
The CD is presented in a 7″ sleeve. (HM)
HANNO LECHTMANN Unfinished Portrait of Youth Today LP (Karlrecords, Germany, 2013)
Meanwhile, in Germany, evidently ‘glitch’ is still the thing. Has this guy been in a coma for a decade or something? (RJ)
LESBIAN RAINBOWS/IRMAOS BROTHERS split-7” (Dead Old Tree Records, Portugal, 2012)
Some crossover gear going on here, I believe, as one or two of the guys involved appear in both groups, possibly explaining the fact there’s little to distinguish one from the other. Both tumble somewhere over the line where tumultuous, almost Finnish-like, psychedelia with an improv axis waves an angry metal fist ready to bludgeon the senses like there’s no tomorrow. Absolutely unlike anything I’ve paid attention to since about, well, 1986. 100 only. (RJ)
ANDREW LILES Honey Monster 7” (Quasi Pop, Ukraine, 2011)
While many may now contend that Liles has gone beyond overkill with his releases, whether solo or via either his involvement with NWW or Current 93, it’s a testament to his apparently forever expanded mind that one can never still know precisely what’s in store with any one of his releases. On this limited edition single from the always interesting Quasi Pop label, the title track appears to scrunch up everything Kraftwerk once achieved by throwing a heap of electronics and programmed mulch against a nightmare perfectly fitting the theme of the ‘Monster’ series of releases he commenced last year. On marbled purple vinyl and with a colourful sleeve adorned by Liles suitably mirth-making artwork, this makes for another truffle well worth sniffing out. (RJ)
ROBERT LIPPOK Redsuperstructure CD (Raster-Noton, Germany, 2011)
I would contend that liking Robert Lippok’s solo work rests largely on where you stand on To Rococo Rot, the trio he has been involved with since the mid-‘90s. Personally, although often pleasant enough, I have always found something missing in much of To Rococo Rot’s downtempo electronica; whether amongst the often jaunty and airy sonic interplay or in the overall feel of the music seeming constructed for fashion designers or whatever. Redsuperstructure, Lippok’s second truly solo album, is graced with a similar breeziness but there’s a little more shading teased into the proceedings. Beginning with two cuts of a slightly darker persuasion, ‘Unfold’ and ‘Inphase’ respectively, the third piece, ‘Sugarcubes’ (a homage to Bjork’s old group, possibly? I have no idea!), soon sees things lunging towards the more familiar ground of convoluted rhythms, funky basslines, jazzy key signatures, bubbling ambience and so on. There are undoubtedly nice and interesting enough phrases sewn into everything and, again, they even give rise to a little twilight meandering from time to time, but it’s all just a little too easy listening for me. I guess it’s supposed to be, of course, but considering how the press sheet makes play of the fact Lippok was partly inspired by drum ‘n’ bass, it’s a pity there is little in the way of real dirt on here. If only there were more cuts like the way-too-brief yet crepuscular ‘Ultrared’ to help save the day. (RJ)
FRANCISCO LOPEZ Köllt/ Kulu CD + DVD (Störung, Spain, 2010),
Francisco Lopez is well established as a force in the world of experimental music and sound manipulation, his oeuvre spanning everything from pieces almost below the threshold of hearing to walls of carefully constructed noise, assembled from field recordings and manipulated in studio. This CD and DVD combination features two pieces, each about a half hour to forty minutes in length, both in an audio only and in an audiovisual version.
The sonic terrain will be familiar to those who have followed Lopez in the past, taking full advantage of the human hearing range, at times so quiet that it appears more as a sensation than as actual sound, while at others it roars with a volcanic ferocity.
The first track is particularly an exercise in extremes, starting off with a barely audible buzz which is interrupted (spoiler alert) by hammering percussion. The leaps from one to another are jarring at first, until the percussion takes over, crashing away until it sounds remarkably like what I imagine it would be like to be trapped under a waterfall.
The second track, Kulu, is more restrained, the movement between sound and silence a little gentler and oddly remote sounding, particularly after the intensity of the first piece. It seems to send one drifting backward and makes an excellent experience on headphones.
I’m a firm believer that this type of music is actually meant to be experienced either live or in a sort of void- on headphones, in the dark, without the distractions of the rest of the world- because it’s so easy to miss the composer’s intricate sense of detail. Including a visual component is an interesting choice, but I think that the music stands up just fine without it. (KM)
MACHINEFABRIEK Veldwerk CD (Cold Spring, 2011)
The trouble with artists such as Rutger Zuydervelt, a.k.a. Macinefabriek, is that they just seem to continually churn stuff out. Barely a week goes by without yet another low run CDr or collaborative release appearing, which is all very well up to a point but one can’t help but question the artistic integrity of many such artists when it appears they can simply comply with each commission by tweaking a few of their studio presets in order to conjure up yet another album. Thankfully, however, Machinefabriek evades falling into completely workmanlike mode by forever pushing what is generally a subdued environment into new spheres whereby absolutely anything can happen at any given time. Whilst there may not be any real surprises tucked into Machinefabriek’s work, it does not fall towards typical ambient fare and, thankfully, steers well clear of all that cheesy post-industrial moodiness many an artist turns to in a wholly vain and ridiculous attempt to be profound. With elements such as guitar, field recordings, dialogue snatches, cut-ups and even a hint of musique concrete or burst of white heat applied to a hazy brew where symptoms of psychosis are never out of reach, Rutger Zuydervelt’s platform, which has remained prolific since 2006, has much to offer those so inclined.
Veldwerk itself is a collection of pieces that previously appeared on a single and CDr releases that were, in a few instances, originally commissioned for an installation and film festival (circuits themselves Machinefabriek is often found operating within). Each of the six cuts provides expansive insight to those areas often embraced by Rutger Zuydervelt yet equally sit comfortably together. Which might well serve the key to the path this unstoppable Dutch artist remains magically locked on. (RJ)
MACHINEST Of What Once Was CD (Moving Furniture, NL, 2011)
Two lengthy pieces of hazy electronic murmur and subdued crackle of a typical post-industrial nature by this Dutch artist who appears to have been at it via a string of mostly CDR releases since about 2002. It’s not bad at all, but only really stretches beyond its field of vision on the second piece, the title track, where a guitar adds carefully hewn ebbing and flowing distortion to the mix (although isn’t cranked up enough, in my opinion). Be nice to hear where Machinest, otherwise known as Zeno van den Broek, goes from here, at least. (RJ)
MARIO MARIANI Elementalea CD (Ala Bianca/Zingaroton, Italy, 2012)
Recorded in a hut built in a pine forest, these nine compositions are dedicated to the ‘spiritual creatures of nature’ and are intended to be listened to in either solitude and tranquility, preferably with headphones, or ;outside’ and close to ‘nature’ itself (I’d contend that even our urban environments are ‘nature’, but we know what Mariani is driving at). Taking the piano as the main (and perhaps only, although other embellishments seem to creep in from time to time that may have been derived from some of its strings being hit or treated) instrument here, each piece is built around soft, quiet and unimposing melodic refrains of an unhurried and sparse design. Everything is gentle and lulling. Relaxation is the order of the day here, and is presumably poised to evoke a certain idyll whereby someone can be at least close to the type of ‘nature’ they are entirely comfortable with, such as the edge of a pine forest where the only company to be found will be the chirruping of insects and birds calling to each other. In this sense, Elementalea works beautifully. Whilst nature might not itself be teeming with ‘spiritual creatures’, and is far wider-ranging than such tender notions, there can be no denying that it does have its pipe ‘n’ slipper moments. (RJ)
MATTIN & RICHARD FRANCIS Lisa Says LP (Auf Abwegen, Germany, 2012)
No idea what NZ-er Richard Francis has been up to since his Eso Steel platform ceased activities over a decade ago, but Mattn is an unstoppable force in the micro-cosmos that forms the world of the contemporary artist dedicated to pushing what he or she believes constitutes an envelope. Lisa Says, a collaboration apparently, appears to have been conceived of low rumbles, some static discharge, the occasional life-support machine bleep and a very young girl’s farts. When hungover and in the need for something doubtlessly ‘conceptual’ yet painless, it might just work, but I have heard far better from work with Mattin’s name attached. Neat interview insert, plus numbered edition of 300, anyway. (RJ)
MATSUTAKE Singin’ Skin CD (Mathka, Poland, 2010)
Straight in with a Kozmische music pastiche to set the tone of proceedings, the playful album takes the ideas of what we know about the genre and has a bit of fun with it. Melodic, bouncy and with occasions of knowingly off-kilter playing that suggests there’s a smarter mind at work here, the album taken as a whole is a lighter run through familiar territory.
Evgeniy Gorbunov hides his deceptively tight musical skills under cloak of light heartedness. Now I want to hear what he does when he knuckles down to more personal work.
I can’t say I’ll be playing the album again any time soon but it’s nice hearing someone having fun for a change.
Presented in Mathka’s by now familiar and much loved (by me at least!) 7″ fold-out cover with enjoyably colourful artwork. Who’s doing all the art for these covers anyway? (HM)
MERZBOW & Z’EV Spiral Right/Spiral Left CD (Cold Spring Records, 2010)
Apparently 20 years in the planning, this meeting of the minds achieved its swell purpose in 2010 or thereabouts. In theory, the convergence of Masami Akita (better known as Merzbow, one of the great over-productionists of modern experimental music) and Stefan Joel Weisser (Z’ev, a derivation from his Hebraic name, and one of the original members of the enclave known as “industrial music”) should bear strange and wild fruit. The harvest, although bitter and sweet, is blighted.
Essentially a musical chain-letter, as so many collaborations seem to be, I’m left in doubt as to whether the pair actually occupied a recording studio at the same time. Side One (sorry to think in such anachronistic terms, but we have only two tracks here, both clocking in at exactly 22 minutes apiece) appears to be Z’ev remixed by Merzbow. A squall of noise, the Merzbow sound, seems to cloak rather than enhance the percussive attacks and cadences that are the stock in trade of Mr Weisser. Although Z’ev is capable of achieving great intensity on his own recordings, the Akita treatment entombs his ritualistic gongs, metals and bric-a-brac beneath a topsoil of nagging, stuttering electronics, often showing little relation to the material being immured; it neither modulates or is modulated, effectively sounding like a shortwave radio caught between channels. At around the ten-minute mark, some of the squelch is withdrawn, allowing an aural glimpse of the percussive underpinnings, which are potentially intriguing… it is but a brief respite and we are again plunged into the merciless Merzbow onslaught which refuses to relent until we come to the end of our wearying journey. One can’t help but think that an opportunity has been lost.
The second track fares no better. Presumably Akita remixed by Weisser, there is even less Z’ev in evidence, if that is not too absurd a claim. Texturally darker with more ground noise and sub frequencies, it’s a grubby, claustrophic landscape with a smattering of subsumed events sprinkled very sparsely throughout. By this point, aural fatigue inevitably sets in, compounded by the almost complete lack of dynamics evinced on this record. Conscious listening becomes a chore. The cacophony ensures that it’s even difficult to ignore; it constantly tugs at the ears but refuses to say anything, like a pub bore with a cleft palate.
Ultimately, one is left exhausted and annoyed. What could have been a transcendental journey has, in fact, been a tedious task of commuting, an overlong Atlantic ferry trip through a drizzly fog. It is difficult to imagine exactly who will be satisfied by this record, although I dare say any of the strange souls who collect the more than 350 (!) Merzbow releases will find this a worthy companion to place upon their sagging CD shelves. (JE)
MERZBOW ZaRa 10” (Licht-Ung, Germany, 2011)
Anticipating yet another release by Masami Akita that would just tumble through the motions, the two cuts here blasted away such low expectations by virtue of their being more akin to a BBC Radiophonics Workshop experiment gone awry colliding with what might well be the merest hint of guitar on ‘Za’ and some drums being warmed-up on ‘Ra’. Of course, the quota of sometimes impossible and impenetrable electronic squelches, hissing, zapping and farting is buoyed at the usual high level, but what works here, ultimately, is the fact they are held at an agreeable distance, especially on ‘Ra’, and are not as obtrusive as certain Merzbow output. Limited to 290 on this quietly weird ‘n’ wonderful German label. (RJ)
JOACHIM MONTESSUIS Chapel Perilous LP (Fragment Factory, Germany, 2012)
Twenty-three short pieces (the longest spanning almost five minutes but the majority clocking in at around the one minute mark) by this French artist who is renowned for audio/visual works but here delivers scrunched-up voice-led concrete pieces. Anybody familiar with Sudden Infant will have a handle on this, although Chapel Perilous is more condensed and impenetrable than much of Joke Lanz’s veerings into similar ground. Not a comfortable listen, by any means, but I’m sure it’d be great live. Meantime, the often strange looks I get from my neighbours are, I suppose, firmly justified. (RJ)
BARBARA MORGENSTERN Sweet Silence CD (Monika Enterprise, Germany, 2012()
Some ‘sweet silence’ is precisely what I craved after listening to this one-way trip to electronic pop blandsville. Music for the kinda people I prefer to avoid. (RJ)
PAAL NILSSEN-LOVE Chiapaneca LP (Bocian, Poland, 2012)
Two side-long live improvisations by the prolific Norwegian free jazz percussionist/drummer, here generally sweating it out big time over some intense and dynamic playing that manoeuvres between the frenetic and subdued with all the ease of a well-greased machine. When not hammering the hell out of all presumably within his grasp, Nilssen-Love caresses all manner of sounds from them, both abrasive and gentle yet imbued with a glowering menace like a volcano about to puke its contents. It’s not easy listening, but illustrates very clearly the skill of a musician on top of his craft. Wonderful stuff. (RJ)
ROBERT NORMANDEAU Palimpsestes CD (empreintes DIGITALes, Canada, 2012)
There is a whole lot of contextualising information, explication, background information, biographical information and more crammed onto the packaging of this release. Amongst the words we find Robert Normandeau’s potted summary of his own work, that he concentrates on acousmatic music focussing on a ‘cinema for the ear’ where meaning and not just sound is an important tool through which to ‘elaborate his works’. On listening through to the album and reading the notes to the various tracks I take that to mean that, essentially, he is also playing with overall mood, atmosphere and theme while utilising tools and effects from other types of music instead of conducting purely concrete sound researches. Melody and rhythm, then, play quite an important part, as do recognisable, wide-focus sounds, not divorced from their original context. What we are presented with in essence is a hybridised, fusion concrete, almost; loaded with textual and compositional background and information, but aiming at accessibility through the deployment of recognisable sounds with their own associations and musical gestures and forms from other genres.
In the way the sounds are deliberately assembled and placed and in the flow and palette utilised there is an instant familiarity from a broad range of electronic musics coupled with a subtle but omnipresent melodic sensibility that keeps things from being too forbidding. That generally means floating background themes that could be within throwing distance, over a wall, of some Aphex Twin or Autechre melodies that have lost their way in a surreal landscape, coupled with a steady subliminal tempo that keeps things ticking over. Palimpsestes itself even deploys a bassline, albeit one made up of pitched down voice. Despite unusual sound sources and non-generic from and arrangements this is a music that sits surprisingly comfortably alongside more popular electronic forms, the outer edges of electronica and techno-based musics.
The title track is exclusively based breath and voice derived sounds, puffs of exhalation and hesitant, close-mic’d vocalisations that are woven into a superficially abstract yet fairly propulsive structure. There is the feel of a consistent tempo ticking away inaudibly underneath the forest of vocal sounds insinuating themselves the spatial co-ordinates in the soundfield above. Regular digital delays and widely spaced bassy booms of pitched down sound like hits of a kick-drum impart a tension and anticipation that is never resolved in overall outburst, instead each wave of pitched down and chopped voice ebbs away to be replaced by the next section of digitised chattering. Rolling bass, the hits of sound and the almost subliminal sense of pulse, ready to kick in in earnest at any time, strangely almost give it the feeling of the breakdown in a dance record. It works pretty well, actually!
‘Murmures’ is perhaps the track that cleaves closest to purist acousmatic music and is also one of the more successful pieces on the album for me in the way it sidesteps more broad-brush musical gestures and concentrates more on texture and small accretions of acoustic and digital sound to create an auditory illusion where both begin to sound like each other. Making the literal connection between cinema and sound Normandeau utilises the talents of Foley artist Marie-Jeanne Wyckmans to create a piece deliberately comparing and contrasting differently generated sounds and sound environments. Digital crackle is superimposed on and contrasted with various acoustically and electronically generated backgrounds. Recurrent hollow, moaning synth hovers in the background anchoring the piece, providing the ‘musical’ contrast to the acoustic environments (old, identifiable, favourites like traffic noise and thunderclaps) that are inserted as alternate backdrops. The most pleasing acousmatic trompe l’oreille occurs when the digitally derived crackles are emulated and played against by various small sounding objects being manipulated in close-up (boxes of shells, rattles, metal scraps) until they begin to merge and exchange places.
‘Jeu de Langues’ involves breath, textures, resonances with sounds sourced from the periods between the playing of notes on various wind instruments. Wet, lip-smacking gasps (supposedly erotic, according to the notes) and purrs interject over repeating synth-like motifs (which may be sourced from breath flowing through the instruments). Intimate due to the proximity of the microphone to the human subject, but distanced by pacing and digital clarity, coming on more like a haunted fluorescent lightbulb than anything particularly erotic (this of course may well be intentional). This is a particular characteristic of the album. The digital manipulation and processing of sounds, despite their organic provenance, ends up sounding very artificial and creates a weird tension, almost a sense of digital unheimlich. Similar to computer generated visual environments imperfectly rendering a too-smooth simulation of a physical world with blocky geometric constructions, texture mapped surfaces and oddly coloured artificial skies, these pieces feel like genetically modified robots constructed from Teflon and plastic.
That kind of sound or investigation isn’t an aesthetic or listening ideal of mine at the moment, and a pursuit of the organic or natural could be viewed to some degree as a chimera in recorded sound, but when it comes to musique concrete and acousmatic music with an environmental concern and plenty of meaning give me the lucid and beguiling sonics of Luc Ferrari’s cinema for the ear any day (and let’s not forget what appears as immediate and natural in his recording has been very artfully rendered that way with technique and manipulation, just of a different sort). As I said, though, that preference is a matter of taste (and of course as such subject to revision). That aside, the fact is that the cybernetic detournings of reality presented here are full of incident, craft and a degree of invention that deserves attention, especially from newer generations of digital manipulators and their listeners who may not be familiar with Normandeau’s work. People listening to new artists investigating virtual sonic realities or using digitally processed body sounds, breath, voice etc. should pay attention to what Normandeau is saying, too, especially on the title track. After all, he’s been doing this a while, and does it plenty as well as other recent releases here.
And if anyone feels that their curiosity hasn’t been adequately piqued, the final track is a bizarre symphony for brassy FM synth, reversed digital bell tones, gothic-sounding chorus and a wailing baby. (TS)
YUI ONODERA & CELER Generic City CD (Two Acorns, USA, 2010)
Collaborative release by the prolific duo Celer, whose Will Long operates Two Acorns as a place to publish and release music as well as films and books (with this album being the first CD on it), and Yui Onodera, an artist with a string of mostly low-key releases already behind him. Built around all manner of exchanged field recordings and instrument treatments, Generic City brings together four pieces of organic and atmospheric shimmer that allow the original sources of everything from bird and machine sounds to rainfall, traffic, conversation, rubbed metal, etc. to make their presence felt unobtrusively. Not unlike some of Lawrence English’s work, the essentially soft-focus refrain serves everything well, ultimately leading to a listen that both finds calm in all the environmental noise around us and, indeed, successfully accentuates the beauty amongst its otherwise ignored details. (RJ)
ORPHAX De Tragedie Van Een Liedjesschrijver Zonder Woorden CD (Moving Furniture Records, NL, 2013)
Oprhax is the name given to Sietse Van Erve’s solo work, which he’s been chipping away at since about 1998 via some rather tasty excursions into tempered yet abstract drone territory. The six pieces on this new album (whose title translates as ‘The Tragedy of a Songwriter Without Words’) released on his very own (and equally alluring) Moving Furniture label and representing his first away from the land of MP3s and CDRs, might not in and of themselves throw us any big surprises but do at least arrive from the better end of the spectrum. Often expansive textures sometimes pinned down by slow-mo throbs and sweeping arcs of glistening hiss pull us into a murky world not unlike dipping into a flotation tank and then being slowly freeze-dried there once the threshold of consciousness has begun to ebb away. An undoubtedly pleasant removal of the senses, anyway. The fifth piece, ‘Ochtendgtoren Boven…’, is padded out with some subdued crashing sounds and what appears to be an arctic wind working its way through, illustrating more clearly than ever just how much movement and detail is woven in to all of this. I await the next Orphax release with pleasure. (RJ)
ANDREW PAINE & RICHARD YOUNGS Rotten Masters e.p. 7” (Sonic Oyster Records, 2012)
Latest in a series of collabs between these two that have mostly appeared on Cdr via Paine’s own Sonic Oyster imprint over the past few years. This features three tracks of a lo-fi pummel nature. The first, ‘Tomorrow’s Story’, is akin to a metal group trying their hand at Throbbing Gristle whilst stuck at the bottom of a pot of Marmite, and the next, ‘Endless Cold Despair’ is noise-driven punk rock. The third cut, ‘Wisdom’, maintains the thread perfectly. Not sure if this is simply a harking back to the roots, a matter of them maintaining such sensibilities, or simply their having some fun…or all three. 250 only, though, so get digging. (RJ)
PEOPLE LIKE US & WOBBLY Music for the Fire CD (Illegal Art Records, USA, 2010)
Now members of the sound collaging/plunderphonics elite, People Like Us and Wobbly, a.k.a. Vicki Bennett (U.K.) and Jon Leidecker (U.S.A.) respectively, have been collaborating for well over a decade and this current project, culled from numerous live recordings, has been pored and obsessed over for a considerable period of time, years maybe…
With its sleeve art coming from the tricel/bri-nylon era of the early seventies, a buttoned-up, middle class couple are pictured basking in self-satisfaction from the comfort of their lounge. Music… aims to plant a stinkbomb under the dralon-upholstered sofa of this stylized happy home by plotting a story around a relationship’s early promise to its eventual disintegration.
By employing a dizzying melange of crazed splicery with a (heavily laden) raft of self-help/orchestral schlock/m.o.r. pop samples, segments like the icky ‘Giant Love Ball’ and ‘Partners’ expand on the loving side of ‘couple x’. The latter’s devilishly clever Burroughs meets Edward Lear cut ups detailing a bizarre dating/mating ritual (or an x-rated version of Twister), in which one is
instructed to “…slap all over your partner’s area”. As you do.
The spectral form of Karen Carpenter however, is summoned from the great beyond to herald the break up, her heavily processed vocalese on ‘Goodbye’ can be seen as creepy/sick, cloying and even sincere at one and the same time. Even though the mood there is suitably downbeat, it really doesn’t prepare the listener for ‘Pain’, where references to the “rope around your neck” gives the idea of the need to “move on” short shrift and instead embraces, again, in modern vernacular, an unexpected closure. Ulp. (SP)
PHILIPPE PETIT Henry: The Iron Man CD (Beta-Lactam Ring Records, USA, 2010)
That much maligned cultural artifact, the concept album, is alive and well as never before. What was once dismissable on the grounds of pretention, at least when presented by semiliterate rock stars with immoderate drug consumptions, is now standard in our post-post-modernist times. This accepted, it should come as no surprise that Philippe Petit’s album is inspired by a dream within a dream, or more precisely, a dream in which David Lynch’s Eraserhead became crash-mixed with HYPERLINK “http://www.google.com/url?url=http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0875354/&rct=j&sa=X&ei=w_-pTcicGYbNswap4bWZBw&ved=0CCcQggkoADAA&q=tetsuo.&usg=AFQjCNEmhwHYOEnGmUMKkhYKyLefgDUJTg”Shinya Tsukamoto‘s Tetsuo:The Iron Man. The results are engaging.
Philippe, a man with a diverse but devoted background (this man has been DJ’ing, interviewing and releasing artists since before most of us were born), has taken the raw elements of Alan Splet, the pioneering sound designer of David Lynch’s groundbreaking films (Eraserhead, Elephant Man, Blue Velvet…you idiots), permanentised on the vinyl release…12 inches are a burden…but can be remixed…and given us a new universe. Three tracks only. Do they compel? Yes, they do.
Whatever the sources, they are assembled in a no-nonsense linear sense…tracks pass from introduction to theme to apotheosis. The modern audience is not neglected: we desire seduction and are given it, in the form of beats, repeated motives and general ‘groove’. This is a modern record, one in tune with our expanded listening desires.
Entirely in keeping with our soundtrack expectations (in which the film is re-experienced or even ‘seen’ for the first time through the music), the record follows a narrative path, blending foreseen events with a temporal narrative that still surprises and delights…cinema for the ears. The usual reflex that drives a body to click on to the next track is stilled here…this record rocks, has its own logic and momentum. Regardless of its inspirational background, this is an engaging and exciting journey. Ultimately, the listener creates their own movie, one in which the nagging moments of tension are balanced with the familiar satisfactions. There are recognisable elements here: a squirt of Morricone, a lot of muscle, grit and gristle and a splat of Splet. The usual post-modernist events are here: vinyl clicks, surface noise and dust…incomplete (all too complete) but incorporated into a logical and pleasing whole. This is a record for all seasons, and one which functions beyond its purported aspects: thumbs up! (JE)
PIETNASTKA Dalia CASSETTE (Sangoplasmo Records, Poland, 2011)
Never a huge lover of this format, despite my own dalliances with it in the 1980s, but must concede that I would rather this to a download release. Anyway, founder of Pietnastka , Piotr Kurek, handed me a copy of this cassette whilst I was in his home city of Warsaw during late 2011 and, having already been impressed by Kurek’s work before, was eager to hear what he’d get up to in a setting whereby modular electronics, accordian, guitar and sparingly used drums (courtesy of Przemyslaw Osiewicz) are employed to absorb a diverse range of styles. Although firmly retaining its own sound throughout the eleven cuts, Dalia absorbs all from jaunty children’s song melodies, fractured folk and the cyclical axis of early Glass or Michael Nyman’s Decay Music. Although this cassette represents the debut by Pietnastka, and can only be found in a hand numbered edition of 150, I have been left wanting far, far more. And, indeed, it would be great to see this album itself caught on vinyl or CD at some point. I’m not sure my antiquated cassette deck can hold out for many more repeated plays of this! (RJ)
PIIPTSJILLING Wurdskrieme CD (Experimedia, USA, 2010)
The occasional granularity only tentatively and rarely breaks up the polished sheen of performance. All well and good if what you’re looking for is a clearly defined atmosphere that leaves no room for doubt or re-interpretation on repeated listenings but then that isn’t the purpose of the album. It’s very much a fixed presentation of isolationist poetry and sound.
It’s a rather melodic, harmonic, ponderous and wholly gentle album by the poet Jan Kleefstra with music by Mariska Baars, Romke Kleefstra and Rutger Zuydervelt. What’s interesting is hearing how similar the players are in approach. It leaves little possibility for the unexpected.
The melancholic tone of the album is maintained for the duration. Although poetry always leaves me cold (and therefore I am the wrong person to be reviewing this album) I found the sheer tone of Jan’s voice very moving. His poetry is reproduced in English and the language of his native Friesland but I enjoyed merely hearing his voice.
If the miraculous ever happened and this album gained from word of mouth, it would be well deserved. I can see why it would prove to be enormously moving for listeners of the ambient end of things -you sensitive souls you- but it’s all far too slick for me.
Available on 180g vinyl and a fold-out card sleeved CD. (HM)
THE PITCHSHIFTERS ‘Goshen’ 7” (Meeuw Muzak, NL, 2011)
My introduction to the work of Japanese electronics artist, Hideto Aso, I have to ‘fess leaves me somewhat cold. Analogue keyboard squiggles, a little hiss around the edges and the merest hint of a voice edging into the proceedings add up to a mere sketch. Maybe the albums are better? (RJ)
PMDS Processor Modulation Density Sequencer CD (Thisco Records, Portugal, 2012)
Well, I’ll say this: Whatever you’re expecting from this release, it won’t be that.
Sadly, that’s probably the most positive thing I can say. And take it for what it’s worth: hardly anything comes as a surprise to me anymore. My palette is old and jaded and I probably start lots of music conversations with the words “I remember back when I was young” without even realizing it. So that is something. It just isn’t much.
From the outset, I was definitely left wondering what the heck PMDS were trying to do exactly. In some places, the plodding rhythm and chunky sampled guitars sounded a little like a throwback to ‘90s industrial dance music. Think of the less memorable WaxTrax releases. Think of some of the side projects of Frontl Lne Assembly members. The artists who were banking on the fact that their music had a bit of an edge (although it didn’t), but that they were still approachable enough that they had a potentially broad appeal. Chances are you don’t remember any of those bands even if you were into music at the time, which makes me wonder why anyone would want to recreate that sound.
Of course, at other times, PMDS seem to veer uncomfortably close to music termed “adult contemporary”- basically industry speak for pouring sonic Quaaludes in your ear. It burbles along with inoffensive melodies and then, out of nowhere, it spins off in another direction. Sometimes, there are some individual elements that are pleasing, or intriguing, but the artists never seem to do anything with them.
I salute the band for wanting to embrace diversity, but they don’t seem to have grasped the difference between diversity and dabbling. There are a lot of different things at play here, but there isn’t any sense of overall composition or direction. And it makes a huge difference.
Despite all of the “surprises”, I have to say that as I listened to each track, my reaction was “In ten minutes, I won’t remember what this sounds like”. And, indeed, other than recalling how it was bravely trying to incorporate all the things into one release, there isn’t anything that has stayed with me. (KM)
EMANUELE DE RAYMONDI Buyukberber Variations CD (ZerOKilled Music, 2012)
Knowing nothing about the artist or what to expect from this CD, when turning the digipak over and reading the statement that it was based on ‘clarinet improvisations; recorded in a 10 seconds reverberation room’ and that ‘no additional reverbs or effects were added in the mix’, my mind conjured up a rather enchanting (although sketchily drawn) sort of John Butcher or Evan Parker breath/harmonic exploration of woodwind sounds, perhaps stretched out even further with the 10 second reverb.
I was brought up short when I pressed play, then, to find not long-form evolving acoustic drones but a flurry of computer micro samples arpeggiated and snipped in time-honoured melodic clicks and cuts fashion. That initial divergence from the more experimental expectations foisted upon it by me (and to some extent the press-release and presentation) initially wrong-footed, but taken on its own terms there are things to interest here. Much depends on your listening proclivities at the moment, I imagine; there is a quite specifically German electronica sensibility to the computer manipulation that makes up the structure of the tracks here. The clicks and cuts of prime Mille Plateaux and even more so the ‘roster of Raster’ (Noton), in particular the Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto collaborations, provide a good reference point to the approach employed. There’s also a tendency towards nods to more dance-based rhythmic structures on some tracks, mainly earlier on. Tricky post-2000 IDM rhythmic flourishes are made at least a bit more interesting through their acoustically-derived-sample nature, even so when the music resists beats and snippety rhythm and slows down to investigate the acoustics of the clarinet and room (such as on track 5) it becomes more individual.
As the album moves on and we hit track 6, the approach becomes less beat-driven and more Reichian, Glass-y, even Nyman-esque, and Wim Mertens-y, through the use of repeating arrpegiations. Interesting scrapes and textures derived from over-blowing and pressing of the clarinet keys are overlaid in a pleasingly engaging way. In the remaining tracks we encounter sinuous mysterious melodic clarinet lines; closely recorded breaths through the instrument remove the sound from a totally nostalgic clicks and cuts approach, connecting it to the ‘living, breathing’. On track 9, with the (as advertised) 10 second reverb, a kind of ECM remixed vibe emerges. Silky, vaguely eastern sounding phrasing and melody, a la Jan Garbarek, or even more so John Surman, is chopped in a consciously laptop-manipulated manner as non standard textures tones, hiss, gong-like percussives and glassy bell tones obtrude from underneath. One track (number 8) even introduces some welcome dissonances.
Less abstract than first assumed, with a definite year 2000 electronica approach and form, this still manages some less generic treats. Where it resists overt beats and investigates texture more fully it is more appealing to me. But it’s definitely not an unpleasant listen and there’s enough here to reward repeated plays. (RF)
RELLA THE WOODCUTTER The Golden Undertow LP (Boring Machines, Italy, 2011)
Passable enough second album by this songwriter traversing those forest areas where moonlit campfires fuel proceedings, despite the appearance, sometimes perhaps intrusively, of occasional additional instruments to the entire schtick. Mostly, it is a downbeat affair, with a heart poured out over a guitar in a dishevelled or scuffed manner not unlike someone such as Will Oldham, but certain songs stand out more than others in their furrowing of this man’s psyche. ‘Black Universe’, which is beaten into shape via the aid of drums, and the clatter ‘n’ psych-driven ‘Drugtime Family’ illustrate only too clearly that Rella The Woodcutter has more cards to play, proving without doubt he is an artist to watch grow. This must be about the third release of his I now have, what with a CDEP owned (also on Boring Machines), and each and every one suggests there is a great album waiting to happen. Hope it comes before that ol’ campfire burns out. (RJ)
REMORA Mecha CD (Silber Records, USA, 2010)
The first thing that strikes you about about Mecha, which is about the tenth album by Silber Records’ founder Brian John Mitchell’s recording alias since its inception in the mid-1990s, is the stickered metal box the CD is housed in (alongside another sticker, a mini-comic, and equally miniature information sheet). Very Metal Box, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends with Rotten’s PIL, although Mecha, like PIL’s second album, represents a departure to Mitchell’s usual sonic strategies. Guitars and post-rock atmospherics are dropped in favour of a gloopy electronic approach that draws from folk, downer pop, electro, machine musik and even the very same post-punk sound that PIL themselves helped map out. In fact, if this was laced with German vocals instead of Mitchell’s heavily medicated and deadpan ones, Mecha wouldn’t sound too out of place on a dancefloor dedicated to early ‘80s mutant-punk. Not that you can dance to much of it unless heavily medicated yourself and merely think that you can. But this is a nice album, full of little twists and surprises amongst its otherwise intoxicated and broken robot blend. Extremely nice. I only hope Brian’s frame of mind is generally better than this suggests. (RJ)
REMORA Scars Bring Hope CD (Silber Records, USA, 2011)
Another album by Brian John Mitchell’s own platform, but this time the first to move out of the DIY setting of the previous releases and into a studio ‘proper so that the usual scuffed edges are given a little more sheen’. As with much of Remora’s other work, a firm love of those areas where atmospheric post-punk meets post-rock are proudly exemplified by the slo-mo late night candle-burn melody refrains and insular vocals that narrate stories with all the bitter delivery of a heart having been ripped out and dissected. While the rhythms generally shuffle along, stories concerning alien invasion or dedicated, in one case, to H.P. Lovecraft’s people of Innsmouth, sit restlessly besides Remora’s more typical fare of failed love or hopes gone sour unfold as layers of guitar and other sounds drive them along. At times, a vague waft of Michael Gira’s solo works can be snatched within the overwhelmingly bruised and sometimes slightly more confrontational approach ensnared on the endearingly titled Scars Bring Hope, but I’m being purposely lazy here in order to hopefully encourage a few people to the world Remora occupy. And this album is a mean way to get yrself acquainted. (RJ)
LORENZO SENNI Dunno CD (Presto!?, Italy, 2010)
Described by the young composer as “pure computer music”, this is the first official album from Lorenzo Senni, who has already made a name for himself collaborating with a number of artists operating in the experimental scene (C.M. von Hauswolff, John Wiese, John Hudak, Lasse Marhaug, etc.).
In fact, Senni has basically done my job for me, because “pure computer music” is really the best description I can think of for this. Every sound is alien, razor-sharp and almost atonal, with even the roughest elements suffused with that pristine quality of purely digital sound. Much of it is harsh in that shrill way that only computer-generated audio can be, something which I personally find extremely difficult to take.
The tracks are almost all quite short, meaning that there seems to be little thought given to development. As a result, the listening experience is akin to being poked with something repeatedly- it’s a bit of an irritant and it doesn’t ever escalate.
There is certainly an audience for this sort of sound, although I’m not it. While there may be (and I suspect there is) underlying compositional skill at work, I can’t get past the fact that it sounds a little too much like noodling, like something created just for the joy of hearing what strange sounds can be produced. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with the joy of sound, but I personally need a little more depth in recordings. (KM)
SHHH… Afterglow 3” CD (Thisco, Portugal, 2012)
Three tracks represent this fourth release by Shhh…, who inhabit a world where pulverised electronic rhythms and noise are nudged aside by quieter, more sober, affairs hewn from hiss, lapping oscillations, melodic interludes and general descents into moodiness adorned in dramatics. There is nothing here that will surprise, really, but it is executed with a self-assuredness that’s at least strong enough to make up for the awful name given to this project. (RJ)
SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE/(R) ‘Shivers’ split-7” (Tourette, USA, 2012)
A split release dedicated to a song both Ben Chasny and Fabrizio Palumbo cherish, originally penned by the late Rowland S. Howard in something like 1978 for The Young Charlatans before it was usurped by The Boys Next Door. The original song, of course, is fantastic and as much a bona-fide classic as ‘Atmosphere’ or ‘Marquee Moon’, and some might argue that it is therefore ‘untouchable’, but both Chasny and Palumbo, here operating under his (r)) moniker, have worked some magic into it without destroying its core elements. Chasny has taken its very heart into a folk-ish setting, complete with plaintive trumpet and backing female vox, whilst Palumbo’s take is an even gentler strum-along. As covers go, these serve the original well and it is clear the song means much to both. Which is as it should be. Red vinyl and limited as well, of course. (RJ)
THE SLEEPER HAS AWAKENED s/t CD (Thisco Records, Portugal, 2012)
Here’s a short teaser from Portuguese artists, The Sleeper Has Awakened. I have to admit I struggled a bit for how to describe this…. Kind Crimson meets Skinny Puppy? It has the programmed percussion bursts of the latter and the buzzing, chiming guitar chords of the former.
There’s an interesting enough mix of sounds to keep the brain engaged; instruments, garbled voices, shortwave radio bursts. But somehow the tracks seem like less than the sum of their parts. Even within relatively short songs, there are often abrupt changes. Some might say that’s daring, that it’s evidence that the musicians want to keep you on your toes and guessing.
To me, however, it sounds more like a kind of auditory ADD, an inability to develop an idea over the course of five to six minutes. Making abrupt changes may keep me on my toes, but that’s not an especially comfortable position from which to enjoy music. It’s just something that’s easier to do than working through a single idea and making it interesting enough that I engage with it.
I do think that there are some interesting ideas at play here and I might be interested in hearing what these guys get up to a couple of albums from now. I just don’t think they’re at the stage yet where they’re my cup of tea. (KM)
THE SOMNAMBULIST Moda Borderline CD (Acid Cobra, Italy, 2010)
The Somnambulist are a part-Italian trio based in Berlin given to moulding vast blocks of powerful yet sometimes sinewy noise from regular rock instrumentation as well as additional sources such as a piano, theremin, violin, oud and ‘objects’, etc. At times, they weave everything around heavily angled and muscular Gang Of Four-esque rhythms, yet mostly they traverse those plains responsible for hatching what became known as post-rock; a region once dominated by the US post-hardcore punk sounds spearheaded by certain Chicago-based groups, Mission Of Burma and so on. Not especially surprising when taking into account the fact Moda Borderline, their debut release, appears on the label operated by Ulan Bator’s Amaury Cambuzat. As debuts stand, the eight songs proffered are bold and weighty enough, plus point towards The Somnambulist being a force well worth catching live, but unfortunately remain bound to a noise-rock sensibility both too polished to do it any real justice and so generic at times that it negates all the promise to be found elsewhere. It would be good to see this group push all the other ideas they clearly have to the fore and move as far away from the regular rock anchorage as they possibly can without losing its essence.
A song such as ‘Quinto Mistero Della Gioia’, with its perfect blending of atmospherics, vaguely art-rocked nods and spaced-out melodic bridges, or the This Heat-ish elements of ‘God Is Not A Good Shot’, perfectly indicate what these pups are capable of when they put their minds to it. Coupled to a neat line in experimental flourishes to be found at the beginnings of most of the songs, there’s very clearly something decent afoot here. I look forward to them spreading their sonic wings accordingly. (RJ)
SPRINGINTGUT Where We Need No Map CD (Pingipung, Germany, 2013)
Third album from Andi Otto’s electronica project since his debut for this same label in 2004 collecting fourteen compositions led by his modified cello, which has sensors attached to the bow and he calls a ‘fello’. Pretty much on the light side throughout, a kinda coffee table foraging of easy listening electronica and downtempo rhythms provide the overall stance. Complete with an occasional jazzy hue, this is music for those rooms in clubs I prefer to avoid and, indeed, people weaned on The Cinematic Orchestra or Morcheeba and their ilk. Ultimately destined for those with questionable tastes, basically. (RJ)
STRINGS OF CONSCIOUSNESS From Beyond Love CD (Staubgold, Germany, 2012)
This is a collaborative effort based around the work of Philip Petit and Herve Vincenti working with a number of other artists in a mélange of electronics, voice and acoustic instruments.
It starts off with ‘The Drone from Beyond Love’, featuring vocals by Julie Christmas and a melody sustained largely through organ and cello with dissonant electronic washes in the background. It has some of the lumbering power of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor in its structure, jumbled with Bjork with an undeniable Film Noir tinge to it.
The second track, with Andria Degens providing the vocals, plays like a cabaret out of the nightmare you have after eating leftover Chinese food and watching David Lynch movies all night. Seriously, that’s what came to mind. If you’re not familiar with that feeling, think of the Film Noir genre filtered through your strangest dreams, how that element of the bizarre would shape it.
The dreamlike quality carries on through the third track, an oddly syncopated affair featuring Wire alumnus Graham Lewis. Again, it has a boozy, jazzy quality that works extremely well for late night listening.
From there, Cosi Fanni Tutti takes over the vocal duties for the album’s “darkest hour”, the uneasy interval between the night before and the grand climax and crumbling denouement of ‘Hurt is Where the Home Is’ featuring Eugene Robinson and Lydia Lunch. Comprising a third of the album on its own, it’s an epic rise and fall that caps things off nicely.
I’m particularly impressed at how the album manages to employ the talents of a lot of different artists, move between worlds of sound and still come off as a cohesive whole. Even the parts that I’m not as fond of personally feel like they ‘click’ with the rest of the album. It speaks to a solid base and encourages me to follow any forthcoming releases. (KM)
SUPERBUGGER Aku CD (Heart & Crossbone, Israel, 2012)
Album debut proper by this New Zealand group with only, otherwise, two very low run CDr releases to their name prior to this. Unsurprisingly, for a NZ group, lo-fi is the order of the day (it’s as though they’re all on some kinda reactionary punk rock mission down there, or maybe the simple truth is that nobody has a decent studio. Who knows?), but the somewhat badly named Superbugger churn out six distorto-guitar-heavy slabs of ur-rock with nods towards those very same acid-drenched psychedelic assaults all from High Rise to most of the early Noiseville Records’ catalogue likewise hit us with. Everything is cranked up to virtually molten levels of overload, muffled vocals sometimes fight their way through, tumbling drums compete, and somewhere amidst the melee at least one guitar occasionally thrusts forward like it wishes to be in a metal group. At least the poor production values, intentional or otherwise, prevent it from doing just that. (RJ)
MACIEK SZYMCZUK and SLOWTION Ways CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2011)
Following several CDr releases, a few downloadable ones and his collaborative albums with Lukasz Szalankiewicz (a.k.a. Zenial) under the Aabzu moniker, Ways represents another of Maciek Szymczuk’s collaborations; this time with UK artist Julian Coope, formerly of Spleen (who appeared on a comp. 7″ of mine years ago and featured Dual/Spintered connections). Featuring, presumably, Maciek’s wife, Joanna, who adds vocals to five of the eleven cuts here, and Julian on guitar duries, Slowtion proffers a mixture of moody and atmospheric pieces drawn from subtly interwoven electronics, the occasional hint of crackle, tempered yet minimal beats and long distance strolls towards a horizon forever shimmering. What with the gentle guitars and often haunting vocals, there’s a nice soundtrack feel to the entire album that is better than this reference may do justice to. Replete with just the right amount of carefully considered contours and healthily checked invention to keep everything from sliding into a coma, this makes for a far more worthwhile and engaging listening experience than certain others stoking similar ground who’re gaining more attention these days. (RJ)
ROBERT TURMAN Flux CD (Editions Mego/Spectrum Spools, Austria, 2012)
This is actually a recording from 1981, although the sound wouldn’t make you think that. It was released as a double album in 2012 as part of Editions Mego’s Spectrum Spools series, for which it was (exceptionally well) remastered.
It begins with a delicate repeating loop of what sounds like an electrified thumb piano – delicate but effective, that is. It’s a great example of how simplicity and serenity can be very engaging to a listener. Although there isn’t technically a lot going on, I felt myself drawn enough by the melody that I was savouring the full sound of every note.
I can actually picture this release being a soundtrack, because the plaintive melodies do have such an emotional quality to them. Each plucked note seems so deliberate, so important that it makes you focus on the unadorned sound. More music should aim for this. Part of me wants to listen to this in bed and let its soft tones lull me to sleep, but another part thinks that I’d end up getting too wrapped up in what was happening, as deceptively simple as it is.
As the album progresses, I find the parts that are strictly, recognizably piano a little less interesting, although that’s possibly because I personally don’t love the sound of pianos. There’s nothing that makes these parts objectively better or worse. Even those, though, maintain that emotional, touching quality that elevates the album as a whole.
Mego has definitely unearthed a gem from before its time with Flux. It’s astounding how many artists are making a name for themselves doing exactly this kind of thing thirty years later. It’s nice to have the sonic reminder of their origins. (KM)
UK DECAY New Hope for the Dead CD (Rainbow City Records/UK Decay Records, 2013)
Many years ago, at the very cusp of the ‘80s, if anybody was to ask me to reel off my favourite groups in that perhaps typical teenage way I could readily justify at the rime, UK Decay would have been one of those mentioned (alongside, most likely, Killing Joke, PIL, The Cure, The Birthday Party, Crass, The Cravats and The Dead Kennedys). Without knowing too much about them beyond a couple of fanzine interviews, I not only saw them a few times in London but also managed to secure an interview with vocalist Abbo in his Brixton flat (shared with, at the time, Andi SexGang) for the debut edition of Grim Humour fanzine, published in early ’83, just after the group broke up and Abbo & co. ventured into new music via Slave Drive and Meat Of Youth for one-off compilation appearances before launching new group, Furyo. At the tender age of 17, I felt deflated by UK Decay’s collapse, yet simultaneously excited by the prospect of the new…especially something further removed from the all too obvious punk that UK Decay forever remained quilted by. Still loving the energy and ripples created by punk, I craved something that cut elsewhere (whether The Cure’s pissing off of most of their fans by playfully ‘going pop’ or my having been introduced to The Residents and loving absolutely everything about them!). Punk was no longer relevant outside its context as some kinda major starting point…a lit fuse, if you will, to disparate minds going to even more disparate places. Which is one reason I have largely avoided the countless groups presently riding the reformation waves…
So what, then, to make of UK Decay’s comeback album, after 30 years since they last released anything and following a few years of their once more playing together with the original lineup (minus drummer Steve Harle, who died in 1995) on the current punk revival circuit? What to make of a group whose music remains wholly anchored in an area I only occasionally still generally return to when driven by a pique of nostalgia?
To begin with, and before getting to the music itself, the packaging is wonderful. No standard digipak or jewel case here. Instead, an oversized sleeve embossed with US and UK flags in suitably grim grey invites us to the music within. UK Decay’s music, 21st-century style…a cascade of punk-powered punches heralded in by the meaty ‘Shake ‘Em Up’, which largely sets the tone for everything beyond. Bass-heavy, beefed-up textures and barbed wire guitars buoy along Abbo’s concerns about the state of the world as it presently stands, politically and otherwise, throughout. The pictures painted of US imperialism, bigotry, history, totalitarianism and the like burn deeply, whilst the production harnesses everything well and never lets up the sheer relentlessness of the emotions at work.
The music has less in common with the Decay of old yet still retains the drive and penchant to drench the listener in a complete avalanche of often savage sounds. Only ‘Next Generation????’, ‘Revolutionary Love Song’ and ‘Shout’ are threaded with the slightly more angular approach they once cut their teeth on. ‘Woman With A Black Heart’, one of the album’s two truly weak moments, likewise points at this, owing as it does something to the early Antz they were once inspired by, but at once feels cumbersome and ordinary, providing a suitable companion to the burst of overbearing and cloy positivism that is ‘I Feel Good’, which merely seems like filler fodder. ‘All The Faces In History’, meanwhile, a more stripped down and poetic interlude, wouldn’t feel out of place on an LP by The Astronauts.
All in all, though, this is a strong album. Somewhat beefier and more obviously punk than expected, but it hits everything home that deserves to be. Closing track, ‘Drink’, another punchy affair, perhaps with its cocktail of keyboards and violins more prevalent in the mix pointing to their next steps, should there be any. Either way, there is no denying the reformed UK Decay still have much to say, which was always one of their biggest strengths. (RJ)
U.S. CHRISTMAS Salt the Wound CD (HCB Recordings, Israel, 2012)
Reissue of long o/p debut by this US outfit that here appear to be on a mission to forever fan those flames once ignited by Hawkwind’s In Search of Space via the even meatier punk rock attack of Black Flag. Following the opening cut ‘Lazarus’, appearing somewhat like a distant and bastardised cousin to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Nile Song’, things generally gravitate towards the heavier side of things. For sure, it is not groundbreaking or even especially attempting to do anything more than the task it has set out to tackle but, on the odd track, such as ‘Norpo’, there are snatches of subtlety and refinement that nudge at better ground. Since this album first appeared, U.S. Christmas have released at least five more. It’d be nice to think they have expanded on their finer points. (RJ)
VLADISLAV DELAY Vantaa CD (Raster-Noton, Germany, 2011)
Having kept one eye on Sasu Ripatti’s work since he commenced Vladislav Delay at the end of the 1990s, it is by no means an exaggeration on my part to claim I always look forward to it. As one of the most sonically interesting and rewarding artists to have arrived from the field of pristine glitch-based electronica, he has been found blending in all from more abstract and complex improvisational sounds to typical (for the genre) dub grooves into his palette to considerable effect. Vantaa, his tenth album, comprises of seven (or eight on the MP3 version) cuts ranging from the rather streamlined opener,’Luotasi’, through the angular yet plaintive ‘Lipite’, to ‘Lauma’’s wonderfully gilded glide through Basic Channel waters, where ripples of urban dub collide with a hammer attack of electronics that then give way to something poised even more dangerously. An evoked false sense of security, for sure. And perhaps this is why Vladislav Delay excels? The balance between the calm and the storm is straddled
perfectly; a sense of unease is never far away from those temptingly meditative pools of sound Ripatti always succeeds in pulling you towards. Only the last cut, ‘Levite’, composed from swirls of industrial hiss, a key refrain too polite for its own good, scissor-rhythms and a neat enough pulsebeat, appears a little ordinary by comparison. In fact, it reminds me of the now defunct Locust’s early
delves into IDM. This aside, however, Vantaa makes for another grand entry in Vladislav Delay’s canon. Power to him. (RJ)
VULGAR FASHION eponymous 10” (Handmade Birds, USA, 2013)
Texan synth pop with electro inflections which seems good humoured enough. Some Ultravox, some early Ministry, some Eurythmics filtered through a more modern sensibility and production aesthetic (also not too dissimilar to certain previous ‘waves’ and ‘clashes’). Some nice touches here and there, encroaching industrial-ish textures intrude pleasingly on track 3, some feedback on track 4. It’s never going to replace your early Nocturnal Emissions (as it were) in that department, though. It’s primarily party music. Whether you’d want to go to that party is another matter. There’s a fairly streamlined dance attitude, and it certainly finds itself riding the crest of a ‘wave’ (ahem) with the current fashion for gothy female vocals and brittle drum patterns. Within the format there’s variation and it’s done with enjoyment and a modicum of verve – not to mention a steely eyed pop focus. Plenty of hoary ‘fashion’ and synth-wave clichés from some nebulous eighties neverland are deployed viz. icy detachment, disdainful hauteur, portentous ‘being boiled’ riffs, skeletal (fashion, see?) drum machine rhythms, gothier than thou posturing. All that is undercut by the dancefloor-aimed BPMs and the sense that it’s pretty much good-time music and they’re having too much fun to take it too seriously (hopefully). Some bits err towards the goofy, but there are some ‘serious’ touches as well. How much you enjoy this might well depend on how seriously you intend to take the whole ‘fashion’ shtick or the appeal umpteenth generation retro-revivalist synth dance has for you. It’s plenty catchy in parts, though, especially the more Italo-esque riffs as on ‘Golden Showers’ (a tribute to Holly Johnson, perhaps?), and probably bouncy enough for your next catwalk collection. In the Eighties. Probably. (TS)
BOLESLAW WAWRZYN I CDr (BDTA, Poland, 2013)
The debut, I understand, by this Polish artist who meshes field recordings together. The seven pieces here were recorded at various war memorials located at cemeteries and the like in different parts of Boleslaw’s native country. They collect birdsong and the buzzing sound of insects or wind rustling through the trees clearly designed to both capture the ambience of such places and contemplate over. The tumultuous yet soothing sounds of nature itself are used to mask a greater turbulence, encapsulating what has passed whilst both simultaneously asking why and celebrating the present. Thoughtful and commanding, this makes for a fine release. Limited to 66 that have long gone, but a second edition appeared and, of course, a download is available. (RJ)
SIMON WHETHAM & FRIENDS Meditations On Light 2CD (Monochrome Vision, Russia, 2011)
For several years now, UK sound-artist Simon Whetham has been moulding foggy textures together from field recordings and subtle electronics successfully enough to not only find homes on labels as diverse as Entr’acte and Trente Oiseaux but also land him countless workshops, installations and festival and radio appearances. Hardly surprising, if the two lengthy pieces, ‘Lightspace’ and ‘Darkerspace’, that make up the first disc on this set are anything to go by. Inspired by paintings of the cosmos and infinity by UK artist Kathryn Thomas, we are treated to gentle ebbs of subtle sound primed perfectly for gazing at the stars. Hewn from a lulling sensibility that manages to evoke both our microcosmic wonder and a modicum of calm, these pieces drift in and out of the periphery of consciousness like a school of floaters over the retina. The second disc, meanwhile, is given over to a collection of shorter pieces by Richard Lainhart, Philippe Petit, Scanner, David Wells, Yann Novak, Lawrence English, and others, who have reworked some of the components to varying degrees not, in most cases, so far removed from the original feel behind them. Petit’s amalgam of bass-heavy timbres and tones, Maile Colbert’s scrunched-up and broken voice transmissions and wormhole melancholia, plus Iris Garrelfs merging of vocals and background swirl each stand out as rather more inventive, though, while Scanner’s electronic rhythm-bound piece does little to cast aside my belief that his work was always pedestrian and overrated.
Ultimately, this 2CD is worth investigating if you’re after something mellow. Which, fortunately, I am right now. (RJ)
WOLFRAM Atol Drone ± CD (Bocian, Poland, 2012)
Comprising seven cuts originally released on a CDr in 2002 on the now defunct Polycephal label and a lengthy enough newer one, Dominik Kowalczyk’s Wolfram platform here presents a surprisingly pleasant array of suitably atmospheric tempered electronic pieces only betrayed by the later cut, ‘Back to the Atol’, spiraling headlong into more heavily dissonant places. Buried amongst the hazy and often warm textures are what sound like sparse guitar sounds, micro-pops that occasionally assume a vague rhythmic stance, lots of crackle, amplifier hum, submerged snatches of dialogue and the kind of moody keyboard chord changes one finds stamped throughout Andrew Liles’ work. Everything sits well, though, and the attention to both detail and the constantly morphing undertow really helps sets this apart from those operating in similar realms.
As noted, the final piece overthrows the setting completely by delving into quasi-sonic overload closer to Hijokaidan than those areas the previous pieces furrow. Whilst it might on one hand seem out of place, it does illustrate the scope of Kowalczyk’s work. And, only having heard it here for the first time ever and using this release as a starting point, it appears that far more Wolfram needs to be checked out. I’m on the case, anyway. (RiJ)
X-NAVI:ET Brain Overloaded CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2012)
A nicely packaged third album ‘proper’ from Hati’s Rafal Iwanski’s solo project, which is completely removed from his group’s penchant for treated gongs and metal percussion and, instead, veers towards neatly curdled instrumental electronics pieces snatched from the edge of a black hole. Opening with a piece that sounds like a siren warning as a robot recharges its batteries and contemplates its existence, the seven pieces maintain this kinda sci-fi-ish feel (helped along no end by titles such as ‘Artificial Landscape’ and ‘Total Overproduction’) where oscillating deep-bass rumbles and electronic tones and occasional swells into dissonance serve the main fray. Some nods in the direction of post-industrial hiss and tempered clanking run their course, too, but, largely, Brain Overloaded is well hewn ambience with a multiple personality disorder eagerly poised to create maximum discomfort. Noodling squiggles and rhythmic undertow not unlike something you’d find on a more wayward Basic Channel cut bring things healthily into the 21st Century, whilst the dying throes of space junk and mining vessels keep the proceedings partly rooted to the place whence they were born.
As late night listening goes, this is neither uneasy or easy but always, without doubt, eventful. Good going. (RJ)
YRSEL 2LP (213 Records, France, 2013)
With titles such as ‘Basilides’, ‘The Origin of Evil’, ‘Secretum Templi’ and others adorned in Latin or what could be Crowley-esque incantations, you’d be forgiven for believing this to be some kinda black metal set of songs. Instead, however, we are treated to some music by one of its cousins in a tempered and atmospheric ambience presumably designed to chill whatever’s left of one’s tattered soul on a late wintry night when the electricity has mysteriously been cut off and only flickering candles and a howling wind outside serve any modicum of company. Such atmospheric music has, of course, been done so much before now that it is difficult to find anything wholly surprising in it, though. For sure, there are some subtle dynamics and neat enough sounds tucked away into what is going on here but, ultimately, you cannot help taking it all for what it is. Perhaps it’d resonate more if I was not as old as I am and hadn’t heard all that Cold Meat Industry stuff back in the ‘90s? (RJ)
JASON ZEH & BEN GWILLIAM Dots CD (Korm Plastics/Brombron, NL, 2010)
The smallest of things. An unforeseeable result of process and movement. A scratch delineates silence from presence. Sections form and fall with the emphasis on placement rather than linear a projection.
From here spills a churning flow; machine wheels spin out tonal harmonics. Tape break. High end tone and a slight undertow to shift the panorama.
Rather than using tape to record, the tape – or the medium – becomes the instrument in itself. Through manipulating, heating and freezing the tape it becomes an active object rather than a passive medium which is merely recorded. The magnetic fields altered and warped, fucked and burnt. Processing and machinery. The realigning of magnetic fields on tape through these ‘other’ more physical means are a process worth working with.
Tinnitus and the sound of your room play a part. Another useful release in the immaculate Brombron series. (HM)
Contact: Korm Plastics, Acaciastraat 11, 6521 NE Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Extrapool, 2E Walstraat 5, 6511 LN Nijmegen, The Netherlands
ZENIAL Connection Reset by Peer CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2012)
Starting with a recording of birdsong this CD soon segues into its main mode of approach: laminate constructions of precise digital buzz and scrim underplayed by deeper thrums and drones. The superficially noisy building blocks are slotted so neatly and fade in and out so steadily as to render the overall effect rather ambient. Phrases tend to the cyclical and the pacing is stately within the churn. Palette-wise there are some sonic similarities to early digital Merzbow (A Day of Seals, etc.), but strapped comfortably into a more overtly rhythmic, loop-based framework. Sometimes the effect is akin to what I imagine listening to a bandpass filtered didgeridoo run through Guitar Rig might be like.
The short, repeating phrases and steady tempo might trigger memories of other vaguely noisy rhythmical, loop-based artists like Muslimgauze or Zoviet*France (perhaps with less overt focus or thematic concerns, though) especially as the music never boils over into anything too unhinged or abrasive, content to ride the cycles. Overall, in contrast to the aforementioned artists, the textures are resolutely digitally sharpened, prickling and fizzing with laptop attack.
I remember as a teenager being very intrigued by a review, possibly not intended to be entirely complementary, that likened an album (it was an AX album, incidentally) to being trapped in a washing machine. I liked the sound of that, although years later when I happened to pick up the CD second hand it didn’t sound nearly washing machine enough for me. Perhaps my expectations were raised by the washing machine in my parents house at that time, I remember it having a very bass-heavy, grinding main cycle. In some ways the music on this album could slot into a hypothetical washing-machine-machine canon (Further suggestions to the Ed.); there’s an uneasy, mechanically-derived soporific-hypnotic quality to the looping buzzes and whirrs that seem to emanate from the stereo a lot like the subliminal cycles of active domestic appliances.
Further variations on a theme are provided in the penultimate track by a live extract, that although seemingly rather arbitrarily snipped out has some more exciting concrete tones and bass vibrations that I ascribe to its recording in a live setting, the bass making good on the otherwise apparently sonically unrelated Jah and Lion of Judah references in other track titles (although a ‘dub’ perspective could come at third hand as it were through nods to the approach of industrial artists themselves referencing dub technique, viz. Muslimgauze).The album finishes with a short remix that acts as an effective coda to the 40 minutes that have preceded it, Michel Banabila abruptly stops the omnipresent cyclical hum a minute or two in, leaving the album to fade out in a forest of digitals chirrups, a neat echo of the album’s opening. (TS)
ZENIAL Chimera LP (Zoharum, Poland, 2013)
From what I gather, the five pieces forming Zenial’s first foray onto vinyl here were generated by his use of an old analogue synthesiser during a short residency in Stockholm in March 2012. Whether these recordings are realtime or not, however, remains unclear, although as they squelch and shimmy along there’s certainly an organic quality only given shape by robotic rhythms and something like an alarm sounding out on a cranky old ‘50s space vessel. Rather reminiscent of some of the old EMS experiments of yore, or the antics once heralded by the BBC Radiophonics Workshop, these cuts throb and pulse away like a rusted sci-fi film soundtrack. Occasional whirrings and flutters apply themselves to the general movement at work, whilst the production nods at this all being of a contemporary nature rather than anything cooked up like its cousins in the not-so-distant past. (RJ)
V/A The (Almost) Insanely Happy EP 7” (EE Tapes, Belgium, 2012)
Essentially a split record comprising three songs each by Subject and Human Dance; two groups I know nada about beyond their featuring Alain Neffe, who is known for his Insane Music label and involvement with other groups such as Bene Gesserit, Pseudo Code, Human Flesh and Japanese Genius, amongst others. I’m guessing this collection of songs has been dredged from his own archive, where once again minimal synth-pop, quirky electronics and a sensibility that could almost be ‘indie’ (shudder!) would reign were it not for the sheer oddness factor forever kept in check. I have no idea when these songs were recorded, but the ingredients they work with lend themselves to a contemporary setting rather nicely. Limited to 250 and, as I write, becoming harder to track down. (RJ)
BRUME/OUBLIER ET MOURIR A Year to Live split-LP (Silken Tofu, Belgium, 2012)
Neatly packaged limited edition white vinyl release capturing a five-part piece by Christian Renou’s long-serving Brume platform, three tracks by Oublier Et Mourir, who is usually to be found at home in Anemone Tube, and, on the same side as the latter, a collaborative work between the two. Listening to the Oublier Et Mourir side first, it is immediately apparent how far ahead of the game Renou is by comparison. Whilst imbued with some nice ideas begging to be developed further, the Oublier Et Mourir cuts remain slightly caught in the same corner as much of Anemone Tube’s own work. The very same corner now prodded and poked at by just about every artist who has sucked on the withered teats of industrial culture since it commenced with Throbbing Gristle’s own, perhaps unwitting, steering of it all into some kinda shape over thirty years ago now.
Not to say that Oublier Et Mourir’s side is bad. It isn’t at all. In fact, as far as such music is concerned, it is apparent that Anemone Tube’s own having been around since the mid-1990s has likewise touched this work with a deftness often missing in material of this nature. The archetypal late night swirls and malodorous drones of the first piece, ‘A New Thought Is Born, Another Will Arise’, continue to stamp their presence over the remaining tracks, but from the second on there’s a far greater array of elements teased into the mix, including voice treatments, broken rhythms and random snatches of abstract frah, that then even assume a virtually David Lynch-type morass of jazz-tainted ‘scapes which wouldn’t seem outta place amongst some Barry Adamson demos by the time we get to the eponymous third cut . Although perhaps held back by their being a little rudimentary, it is amongst these ideas that Oublier Et Mourir has something from which to propel stronger work.
The collaborative track, ‘A Year to Live (Practice Dying)’, continues this thread before dissolving into a monotonous rhythm fleshed out by vocals. It is hard to ascertain where the two minds met here precisely, though, and I have to concede I anticipated a piece less like the preceding three.
Brume’s ‘The Simple Way’, on the reverse, is broken into five parts, the first of which is a glacial sweep of shimmering tones and protean timbres wholly unlike the next one’s being built around a gentle and minimal melodic refrain over some keyboard sounds lending themselves perfectly to its overtly filmic nature. It’s here, amongst these pieces, that Renou immediately illustrates his having progressed beyond the more obvious trappings to be found amongst his contemporaries and, indeed, even his own earlier work. While many artists of a similar leaning are driven towards soundtrack work, few can ever completely shake away the clumsy stabs at ‘moodiness’ inherent throughout their back catalogues. Few refine it or render it more complex. Brume, however, excels at this and, what’s more, I wouldn’t be too certain that he’s even necessarily striving to.
The remaining three parts of ‘The Simple Way’ maintain the filmic stance without delving into the obvious, and work themselves around lulling chimes, more distilled yet forever tidal timbres, subtle splashes of sonic flotsam, and hints of imagery a good film could do much justice to. Without doubt, it is indebted to minimal composition and Renou’s own background as a sound-artist and electro-acoustic composer, but the maturity present here shines fantastically.
All in all, a good record that unintentionally showcases a master at the top of his craft and, quite possibly, an apprentice who’s at least on the right path. (RJ)
FLINT GLASS/ARX KAELI Circumbaikel split-7” (Sealt/Brume, Russia/France, 2011)
Two tracks by these, respectively, French and Russian projects, although all four combine scrunched-up electronics, jarring rhythms, skyward-bound tones, samples and the like to an affect not far removed from semi-drunkenly falling down a flight of stairs. Neat screen-printed white leather sleeve, too. And only 197 produced. Of course. (RJ)
Some more reviews here by, so far, Richard Johnson (RJ) and Kate MacDonald (KM). More will be added over the next few weeks. If interested in having anything reviewed, please note that we only accept physical formats. We welcome music, books, fanzines and other related ephemera. Send to the address on the home page.
PETER ABLINGER Augmented Studies CD (Maria de Alvear World Edition, Germany, 2014)
Contemporary classical compositions by this Austrian whose work here is centered around an assortment of flutes played by Erik Drescher. Over the four pieces here, we are subjected to layers of clipped and rhythmic glissando or polymorphic gusts from an otherworldly wind. On one hand, it is hard to fault the complexity of these pieces but, on the other, and given as I am to awkward and difficult music, I have revisited Augmented Studies several times now and find it cloying and annoying. I’d like to hear more of Ablinger’s work, but this is not the introduction to it I was anticipating. (RJ)
ATOM™: HD CD (Raster-Noton, Germany, 2014)
Kraftwerk. KRAFTWERK! Krrraaaaaaaaaaafffttweeeeeerrrrk!!!
I listen to this album and with each passing note, the echoes of the German pioneers reverberate more through it. It is so heavy with their influence that it becomes distracting. I find my mind drifting off and wondering what Herr Uwe Schmidt would have done if there had never been a Kraftwerk. Actually, chances are he would have done plenty, because he’s recorded under more aliases than most people have hairs on their head, but chances are that Atom™ wouldn’t have been among them.
The album isn’t empty mimicry, however. Schmidt may use the same sort of minimalist electronic structure and emotionless vocals, but there is a grooviness and a warmth that Kratwerk absolutely never possessed. It’s Kraftwerk passed through the veil of minimal house music, trailing those accented rhythms behind. The end product (and it somehow seems appropriate to think of this as product, without meaning any insult) is smooth, slick, a perfectly polished pop nugget. If you’ve heard music from the Raster-Noton label before, this fits nicely on its more accessible side.
One of the things that marks much of Atom™’s music is cuteness. Schmidt’s Señor Coconut project may have a more obvious sense of humour, but there are plenty of cheeky winks to be found here. A “cover” of The Who’s ‘My Generation’ features the original pushed through machines and emerging an electrified version of itself. The problem with those sort of gestures is that they’re really only amusing for about the first two minutes and then it starts to occur to you that you’re listening to what’s basically a disco remix of classic rock.
More successful is ‘Empty’, which is musically (but not lyrically) a cover of ‘Warm Leatherette’. Like much of the album, it’s pop music talking about pop music in a pop culture way, with sound-bite phrases and rallying cries. Less successful is ‘I Love U (Like I Love My Drum machine)’. which made me want to cut my own ears off to escape. I’m sure that there’s a point being made about incorporating R&B style vocals and the pristine syncopation, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear it.
My guess is that people will like this if they like their music clean, sleek and served with a heavy wedge of irony. I’m not nearly so hip. (KM)
MICHEL BANABILA/OENE VAN GEEL Music for Viola and Electronics CD (Tapu, 2014, NL)
Another release from the prolific Banabila, here collaborating with fellow Dutchman and violinist Van Geel on five pieces of subdued, hazy and textural ‘spherics. The electronics are understated while the violin itself takes centre stage in a bid to lull us, little jazzy or folk-ish signatures aside, like a fresh ‘n’ warm duvet on a cold winter’s night. The aural equivalent of a glass of decent mulled wine. (RJ)
ALEXEI BORISOV and ANTON MOBIN Try to Crawl Out of It CD (Mathka, Poland, 2014)
I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but looking at the artwork for this album, I was left with the sense of something that might have been the soundtrack to a futurist horror film. And, indeed, that’s not a bad starting point for coming to grips with the album, which is mechanical and vaguely sinister and at the same time being a bit like a lumbering relic, a view of the future from a hundred years back.
The work of the two artists is divided, with Borisov contributing electronics and occasional vocals and Mobin credited with “cassettes”. Of the two, I’m only familiar with Borisov’s independent work and I can certainly hear some of his slightly spastic glitch and offbeat sputtered vocal style in here. The overall structure of the music, however, doesn’t resemble what I’ve heard from him before; it’s much more of a complex noisy fence. Not a wall, because it doesn’t have that thick solidity you get from the real Japnoise masters. This is multilayered with static-y bursts cutting through it, often at frequencies that seem chosen to irritate or discomfit and elements that compete with rather than complement each other.
Listening on headphones is an absolute must if you want to get the full effect, because a lot of care has been taken in the production to place sounds in the fore- or background, to build a three-dimensional sonic field. This sort of conscientious detail, along with the use of random tape loops and jarring electronics reminds me more than anything of earlier Nurse With Wound. It vacillates in that same way between the mad and the moody. It seems to move from the former to the latter as it goes along.
Being reminiscent of Nurse With Wound does not mean being equal to it. Where I find the album bogs down a bit for me is that it lacks Steven Stapleton’s sense of composition. Some of the tracks seem to meander, and the duo never hits the level of either madness or moodiness of which Stapleton was capable. If you want something in that genre, something to give your ears a bit of a workout, it’s worth a listen. If you want something with a bit more finesse, it might be best to stick to the classics. (KM)
GAAP KVLT Void CD (Monotype, PL, 2014)
Following a cassette album and several low run CDr releases on Poland’s BDTA label, Void represents Gaap Kvlt’s first album ‘proper’ and, whilst remaining bound to ideas this Polish solo project doubtlessly took its initial cues from, delivers like a serious statement of intent. With titles like ‘Birth of Golem’, Ritual’ and ‘Might’ pinned to a backdrop of skewed and stuttering electronics, brooding rumbles and mean yet minimal rhythms, there’s no denying this work sways towards the murkier side of things, but that’s perfectly fine if handled as well as this. It’ll be good to see how Gaap Kvlt develops, anyway. (RJ)
JOB KARMA Society Suicide LP (Requiem Records, PL, 2014)
Job Karma hail from Wroclaw in Poland and are essentially a duo who’ve been operating since the late 1990s. Often lazily and unfairly described as being similar to FSOL, there may be some similarities up to the point where both groups employed highly produced molten electronics to forge their sound from, but Job Karma are of a more post-industrial extraction and, despite carefully woven shading, prefer to operate in a collapsing urban environment blanketed by thick sulphuric smog and acid rain. Tucked into the nine cuts here are faint nods to EBM and the kinda surrealist psychedelic approach of later Coil, replete with deadpan vocals (sometimes aided by a range of guests, including Thom Fuhrmann of Savage Republic and Autumfair, and Polish group The Magic Carpathians), neatly threaded tempered noises and loops sourced from all manner of different places. This is their seventh album and whilst it might not elevate them to the same attention as those artists who doubtlessly inspired them, it is mature, bristling with ideas and a fair representation of their live sound. (RJ)
KAYO DOT/TARTAR LAMB II Krakow 2CD (Instant Classic, PL, 2014)
A disc each by a US group and duo, respectively, from it which is each given to weaving lengthy and dramatic improvised psychedelia, drawing from jazz, The Velvets and the same spaces many a progressive post-rock outfit occupies. Both sets were recorded when they hit Krakow in early 2011, but for some unfathomable and now forgotten reason I was not able to attend. I’m sure I’d have enjoyed the actual experience of seeing them live far more than listening to these documentations, despite the cumbersome, stodgy passages and often annoying vocals, anyway. (RJ)
MICHAL RATAJ/JAROMIR TYPLT Skrabanice / Scribbles CD (Pol5, Czech Republic, 2014)
Absolutely astounding collection of thirteen collaborative pieces by two Czech Republic soundsmiths given to moulding various objects, acoustic guitars, voices, electronics and other such sources into acousmatic shapes not far removed, at least aesthetically, from Robert Ashley’s Automatic Writing. Buoyed by the notion of eternal movement in a setting simultaneously subdued, disturbed, fragmented and wholly atmospheric, everything is kept to a level where nothing is particularly invasive but rather works its way keenly and stealthily towards those corners of our mind usually reserved for a fucking good dream. Clearly both artists are adept and come from an academic persuasion, but the language of their music is invitingly warm and replete with so many nuances repeat listening is tactfully commanded instantly. I know little about either beyond Rataj having once appeared on the now defunct AudioTong as a solo artist via an album in 2012. If this music was recorded real-time, it makes it even more impressive, though. I would relish seeing a live performance regardless. Fantastic work. (RJ)
SISTEMA BEZOPASNOSTI Swan Song CD (Heimdall Records, Russia, 2014)
There are a few actions that suggest themselves to me when presented with a release the uses the descriptor “dark folk”. The first, of course, is suicide, because you can’t be cast adrift on a sea of wine-soaked imaginary Northern European nostalgia if you’re dead. But I usually reconsider, because I like me and don’t want me to be dead and because I don’t want to be someone who prejudges everything. That becomes very difficult when dealing with certain types of music, however, especially with something like dark or neo-folk, which seems to be made up almost entirely of people who should spend their days walking around with a sandwich board that reads: “I take myself too seriously”.
One of my great issues with music branded “dark folk” is its obstinate ignorance of what constitutes folk music. Swan Song begins with a sparse piano melody and my immediate reaction is to wonder why no one ever writes about the traveling piano minstrels of Olde Englande. I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t take liberties, but could we at least have a rule that music that’s called “______ folk” should have some sort of basis in a folk tradition?
I realize (thanks to the liner notes) that this was recorded in a home studio, but the tracks are surprisingly raw even taking that into consideration. They sound more like demos rather than finished songs, and not particularly “folk” in any sense. It’s more how I imagine Kurt Weill drunk in the middle of the night and banging out a few ideas to be developed later might have sounded.
The somewhat overwrought and extensive liner notes inform me that Swan Song is the tale of “the tragic fate of a man who enters a thorny path of transcendental experience. The main character, the bearer of an inner conflict, not only witnesses the clash of the titans, but he is also involved in the battle of powerful supernatural forces.” The songs are split between those that that are a more personal and emotional analysis and those that demonstrate “macro-catastrophe of colossal scale” (a phrase, which, incidentally, is an excellent description of itself).
While I’m sure that the composer was clear on the purpose of each track (there are ten to correspond to the ten branches of the Kabbalah), the flatness and roughness of the production and the stilted nature of many of the melodies – one group of instruments doing their part and being replaced by another, with precious little to tie them together – means the effort is in vain.
I know how hard it can be to find someone to work with, but this is the sort of work that screams out for a more experienced helping hand. Possibly, it’s the sort of thing that screams to be made into prose rather than music. It’s crying out for something, certainly. (KM)
WIEMAN The Classics Album CD (Baskaru, France, 2014)
Hiding behind the virtually unknown name Wieman are a couple of faces very well known to the experimental music community: Frans de Waard and Roel Meelkop. And rather than the “greatest hits” compilation you might expect from the title (although “greatest hits” is a questionable term with this sort of thing anyway), the album is new material made up of repurposed classics, a style that the label dubs “meltpop”. Their website offers the following helpful description of what “meltpop” is, for the seven billion odd people who haven’t heard of it yet:
“…complex constructions that can at time sound like pop/dance songs, made entirely out of samples drawn from a very specific and predetermined corpus. More insidious than plunderphonics, rounder around the edges than sound collage, and infinitely trickier than a DJ set!”
I would say that including the term “pop” in the descriptor for this album is a little misleading. It is pop insofar as sections of it have beats, which is, admittedly, more pop-like than I’ve heard from any other de Waard projects, but still a long way off even the most liberal definitions of pop music. In fact, the rhythms in this case seem to throw things off-kilter, rushing in unexpectedly, doing their own thing and then retreating from once they came. It won’t be tearing up dance floors at your local clubs anytime soon. (If it does, though, I want to know, because that would be the kind of club I’d travel to visit.)
There’s a great deal going on in the tracks, much more than you might notice at first, since some of the elements are quiet or placed deep down. Hearing the whole work is infinitely more interesting than skimming the surface, so I’d recommend either headphones or loud volume on a quality sound system to get the most out of the listening experience. Some of the samples are immediately recognizable: a twisted clip of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ that, interestingly enough, does sound a bit like it’s melting, winnows through a section of the opening track; the fourth track crumbles into a snippet of piano from ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (the sample sources all reference classical music styles in their titles). Most of what you hear, however, is taken so completely out of context that the source is unidentifiable. You can always have a go at the “name that sample” game, though. This is definitely expert level.
The sound itself rests on hypnotic loops that swell and disintegrate like waves (sound waves, yuk yuk yuk). The swells can be jarring at times, but there is a delicate but strong background that keeps everything pinned together. The overall result is surprisingly beautiful, with punches of the unexpected. I am, apparently, a meltpop convert. (KM)
Adverse Effect began in 2000, following the demise of Grim Humour fanzine several years before. The same as its predecessor, it is dedicated to music, film, literature and art generally emanating from those less explored or documented areas of contemporary culture whilst, at the same time, it remains open to supporting those who have equally impacted on us over the years.
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