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)