The latest reviews, by Richard Johnson and Steve Pescott. More coming soon.
PETER ANDERSSON Timewaves CD (Old Europa Cafe, Italy, 2018)
Raison D’Etre’s Peter Andersson has long been given to converging moody atmospheric sounds with drones, field recordings and vacillating undercurrents of tempered noise altogether ideal for a low budget horror film soundtrack or perhaps an installation aimed at making the average person feel faintly uneasy. Timewaves is no different with respect to these staples in his music, and over the course of the six pieces here we are treated to distant rumbling sounds, foggy swirls and suchlike blended in with location recordings and tonal seepage overtly intended to create that inadvertent sense of dread so many such artists attempt to muster. What’s most surprising here is just how crude and rudimentary some of this is given the fact Peter’s been at this for almost 30 years now. (RJ)
WILLIAM BASINSKI On Time Out of Time CD (Temporary Residence Limited, USA 2019)
I have to say I always enjoyed Basinski’s series of compositions based around disintegrated loops, but everything subsequently heard just sounds like ordinary ambient shimmer to me, going nowhere that Roland Kayn, Phil Niblock or Brian Eno hasn’t been before. The two lengthy pieces here similarly fall completely into this trap, rendering them in no way different to the way a tribute band operates. Of course, because he’s a ‘serious artist’, all the right people will lap it up anyway, not once daring to say anything against him for fear of losing points amongst those self-professed arbiters of taste generally given to promoting bland nonsense in the name of self-interest rather than honesty. If anybody else was behind this nobody would pay the remotest attention. (RJ)
BEWIDER Full Panorama CD (Folk Wisdom, Germany, 2019)
Although the man behind Bewider, Piernicola Di Muro, appears to have been active as an electronic artist for a number of years, Full Panorama is, I think, his debut solo album, collecting twelve cuts evidently inspired by the work of Klaus Schulze and Pete Namlook. Breezy and mostly light, everything feels like it would be perfect for a documentary about Mars as imagined by a 1970s composer just handed some modern recording equipment. Now and again, such as on ‘Last One night’, some protean beats bind everything together, but this music generally resides in that space reserved for those still holding on to their, um, tangerine dreams. (RJ)
BODIES UNDER THE WATERFALL eponymous LP (Forwind, Ireland, 2019)
Last time I heard this project of George Royle’s was a couple of years ago, when it shared a low-key cassette release with Serbia’s Svetlana Maras. Over the six cuts here similar ground is covered in that Bodies Under The Waterfall is given to dealing out hefty swathes of crepuscular electronics veering between those bound by direct rhythms and others poised for various vortexes of inner and outer space. Whilst such ground continues to be explored by all manner of artists what separates this work is a proclivity for moulding denser sounds from a scope that could all too readily be rendered more lightweight in lesser hands. The range is at once powerful, absorbing and fully immersive, possibly drawing as much from the post-industrial landscape as those more regular ambient shapes sniffed at by all from various modern electronics artists and post-rockers. The dynamism here is what makes it worth returning to as it unravels more with each listen. Another triumph for this label worth keeping an eye on. (RJ)
C.3.3. Ballad of Reading Gaol – The Cacophonietta CD (Cold Spring Records, 2018)
Test Dept.: an egoless, heavily politicised, metal-bashing collective hatched in mid-eighties Sarf London, after seventeen full lengthers and the still excellent ‘Compulsion’ 12″ incher…..Then nothing. I never saw the going of ’em and I don’t even recall any splinter groups forming in their wake. But, miles further down the timeline and like a steely bolt from the blue comes Ballad…; the brainchild of one-time TD founder Paul Jamrozy (electronics/vox), who’s aided and abetted the Roz Corrigan on various keyboards and one vintage (?) gramophone.
If you’re wondering about the project’s moniker, C.3.3. was the cell number where literary genius Oscar Wilde was incarcerated under gross indecency charges and was also the pseudonym for the publication of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which was based on the execution of one of Wilde’s fellow inmates. The curtains open with the superbly evocative tones of ‘Grassy’ Noel Macken’s ‘Prologue’, which guides us into the collection’s four-part centrepiece. ‘Blood and Wine”s oppressive faux orchestral samples merge into the relentless throb and distant earth-moving vibrations of ‘Iron Town’. While the fathom-deep cello-like drone of ‘Gallows Tree’ eventually descends into ‘The Devil’s Own Brigade’; a portal of industrial revolution-referenced hell, where a veritable storm of crackling electricity and curious whiplash sonorities threaten to almost leave the digital confines of the CD and invade your dimension in poltergeist form. At times, this anvil chorus of pounding/crunching jackhammer rhythms reduces its intensity to allow for more melancholic passages which perfectly convey the daily grind/inhuman treatment meted out by these Victorian places of correction. All in all, Ballad… captures more than enough of that brimstone-infused blood ‘n’thunder of yesteryear and, irrespective of the long time MIA, Paul’s creation can be thought of as a valuable addition to the T.D. family tree. (SP)
DEAD CAN DANCE Dionysus CD (PIAS, 2018)
Not a group I paid much attention to beyond their slightly overrated debut album, I was curious to hear how this would fare next to the praise still often foisted upon them. Honestly, I approached the album with an open mind, but it just sounds like Enya having been asked to score a film about, I dunno, angels or something after having been inspired by a mixtape of global music. The sonic equivalent of marshmallow and, well, as much as I quite enjoy that gooey muck the very rare time I eat it, this is not intended as a compliment. I’d wager the praise largely emanates from dolts whose craniums are stuffed with it, too. Fucking dire. (RJ)
DREN Time & Form LP (Zoharum, Poland, 2019)
Not the greatest addition to the post-industrial/techno crossover canon, but Time & Form is at least infused with ideas enough to give Dren the potential to go further. Yes, it’s all shaded with typical dystopian tropes, blending dark blankets of sound with drum ‘n’ bass-inspired rhythms that might seem pedestrian tho’ doubtlessly do a solid enough job live, but the occasionally foundry level obsidian punches hit home a mechanical interplay mainlined straight to the objective. This is perfectly primed for those dingy basement clubs most cities prefer to imagine don’t exist and where, indeed, the aura of the 1990s still hangs heavily in the air. (RJ)
EARTH MOTHER FUCKER I Fuck Therefore I Am CD + lathe-cut 7″ (Antigen, 2019)
Named after one of their songs, this CD collects archive work from the 1990s by the still active Ipswich-based group whose Stooges-baked garage attack sometimes recalls The Gun Club or The God Bullies (remember them? Of course you do!). It’s the kinda full-on assault of razor-wired guitars, snarled or screamed vocals and distorto-pound that always fares better live than on record, but the demos gathered here at least give a taste of the fun ‘n’ fury Earth Mother Fucker’s sound is enmeshed in. Yeah, it ticks most of the boxes proffered by untamed and sweat-drenched rock ‘n’ roll, but the noise is (un)healthy enough. The lathe-cut arrives with a limited number of these albums and was itself first released in 2009 and features two extra tracks that only add to the group’s arsenal. (RJ)
FALL INTO DRY LUNGS Buried in the Woods CD (Not On Records, Austria, 2018)
When my eyes initially fell upon the sleeve art, I thought that the group’s moniker might be a case of crossed wires in the translation department, but no, it’s simply a commingling of two record labels that are run by band members Christoph F and Petar F. And while we’re at it… one can’t fail to notice the skulls dotted throughout the digipak and disc. I make it forty-seven, which is enough for an ossuary, so Google that! Now, as Richo would almost certainly raise the drawbridge if he glimpsed the black metal fraternity coming over the hill, and as the sleeve’s typeface isn’t (a) spidery/illegible or (b) old English… the smart money then has to be on the ‘harsh noise’ sub-genre. When the beast is wrestled onto the CD player, and the blue touch paper is then lit… we hit pay dirt. Harsh noise it be.
Only drawback with this particular stylistic device is that it has surely seen better days. Those better days in question (during the ’90s, or thereabouts…) did see the advent of ‘Japanoise’, which received much froth and ravings from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, if memory serves. Masonna, Merzbow, The Incapacitants and Hanatarash, etc. all receiving the big thumbs up. But, as the ancient sages say, ‘that was then, this is now”. That initial shock of the new that I encountered with those noiseniks was, in essence, (with a few notable U.K. exceptions like Whitehouse and Ramleh…) a cul-de-sac with precious little opportunity to bust out of its self-imposed limitations. And now positioned at the end of A.D. 2018, F.I.D.L. seem to be a classic case of noise shock for noise sake. Though it does raise a smile to see that this barrage of blackened distortion and squealing oscillators is broken up into five nameless tracks. And save for the occasional cymbal splash or faux siren wail, are all roughly identical in thought and deed. Ahhh you guys! (SP)
ANTHONY JANAS Lucifer, Scooby-Doo and Me cassette (Nihilist, USA, 2018)
This is more like it! Nine tracks of ‘morphic ‘n’ molten electronics with tapes, field recordings and all manner of other appropriate sounds woven in. Not especially melodic or uncomfortable, but operating in that murky space between, the same as some of Nick Mott’s music or certain Nurse With Wound releases, where unsettled tones, fragmented swirls, near-listenable snatches and fragmentary pulses each conflate to constitute an organic and waking dream-like whole. This is the stuff good music is made of. (RJ)
ALINA KALANCEA The 5th Apple CD (Storung Records, Spain, 2018)
Romanian-born sound artist Alina Kalancea’s beginnings in electronic composition approximately began seven years back, and that interim period saw her dipping her toes into different sub-genres of the digital/analogue worlds, in order to hone an individual voice for live and studio situations. Not too easy a task to steer a way through the ever-heaving throng in the avant rockpile, all anxious for their day in the sun. But… that vast yellow orb really doesn’t get a look-in with The 5th Apple. That black sleeve art, with a grainy partial portrait of the artist in question (?), supports a compositional frame of mind where natural light is phased out in favour of all things crepuscular, with dimly-lit, yet telling contributions from cellist/arranger Julia Kent, Raven Bush and co-writer/Storung label boss Alex Gamez.
The opening spoken-word piece ‘Imbalance2’ immediately sets out its stall. “The more we give, the less we have, imbalance is the only privilege we have…”. The insidious, whispering tones hovering over analogue burble, reminiscent of Robert Moog’s early tinkering. Other poems/recitations, like ‘Fears’ and ‘Devil’s Lullaby’, seem to mine the same chin-on-floor despondency and come sandwiched between atmospheric instro pieces; leaning heavily on the blackened drone option.
All in all, a lack of tonal colour, unfortunately, seems to be this releases’ Achilles heel. Unless of course, the intention was to construct a suite of compositions where only one mood was dominant? However, there is light at the end of the self-imposed tunnel, in the shape of ‘Poisonous Girl’. This being the most successful venture by far; its partly sung/partly spoken delivery and its Kentian cello score recalling certain sections of Helen Money’s ‘Become Zero’ album on Thrill Jockey. A golden ticket out, for sure, which hopefully means that those character traits will transfer themselves to A.K.’s future projects. (SP)
CHRISTINA KUBISCH Schall and Klang CD (Fragment Factory, Germany, 2019)
Assembled somewhat like a radio play (that I cannot understand due to the language barrier) this is German sound artist Kubisch’s homage to the life of Hermann Scherchen, who was a conductor mostly dedicated to modern classical works and later founded a studio for electroacoustic musicians. Snippets of dialogue punctuate Kubisch’s propensity for creating largely shimmering yet deep and immersive tones from electromagnetic sounds and location recordings that here combine to paint a portrait of the man himself. Alongside related photos and sleevenotes providing further information on the concept and on Scherchen himself, this makes for a nice addition to an already incredible canon of releases from the prolific Kubisch. (RJ)
MABEL KWAN Trois Hommages – Georg Friedrich Haas CD (New Focus Recordings, USA, 2018)
Being so used to a group dynamic, if I was faced with a ‘piano only’ release in days gone by, I would have made my excuses and quickly headed for the door marked ‘exit’. But in the intervening years, I’ve gently eased myself into this somewhat isolated discipline by listening to the solo pianistics of Brit avant jazzers like Howard Riley and Mike Taylor; a different kettle of fish to Trois… I’ll admit… but in hindsight that was the closest I ever got. Sorry.
But to merely reduce this CD into a two thumbs, eight fingers and eighty-eight keys scenario simply won’t do. As the three pieces here, written by Austria’s leading ‘Spectralist’ composer are for one pianist playing two pianos, tuned a quarter-tone apart. The ivories are still tuned in twelve equal notes an octave, and played together, sound a twenty-four scale. A sound that’s slightly at odds with western sensibilities, in which a slight disconnect occurs that you just can’t put your finger on. Tipping the cap to a trio of leftfield composer types such as Ligeti, Reich and the lesser-known Josef Matthias Hauer, it’s a case of dilated-pupil repetition with s-l-o-w-l-y evolving changes. The longest cut, the pummelling ‘Hommage a Georg Ligeti’, clocking in at 30:06, tells us in no uncertain terms, that we are in this for the long haul. A round of sandwiches and Kendal Mint Cake might be considered as a nutritional boost should you start to flag half way in….
I guess the question on a few lips (perhaps?) is whether the interpretations of American Mabel Kwan (of Restroy and experimental three-piece Uluuul), are faithful to the intentions of Herr Haas and that’s one I can’t answer (so shoot me!), as the Spectralist canon remains a tantalisingly elusive one to yours truly. I guess there might be a clue in the genre’s name? I will say, however, that those looking for new thrills originating from hitherto unchartered territories should find something of interest here, but gentle reader, it’s not an immediate fix… (SP)
LA MERDE Dood En De Merde CASSETTE (self-released, Belgium, 2018)
This is a great collection of seven songs dovetailing, for the larger part, kinda semi-spoken or sometimes shouted folk poetry with ravaged looped sounds, location recordings, distant thuds and a guitar strummed from a fissure in the cosmos. Imbued with a late night, lo-fi hue that only adds to the overall tone, this all adds up to something both beguiling and quite special, making me think of the weird ‘n’ wonderful records Father Yod cranked out in the 1990s. The information accompanying this tape doesn’t say a great deal, but I really hope to hear more from this Belgian group. They deserve another release. (RJ)
LUNAR ABYSS DEUS ORGANUM Khara-Khoto CD (Zhelezobeton, Russia, 2019)
Evgenly Savenko’s Lunar Abyss project has existed, I think, for almost 20 years now in one form or another, but this is the first album I’ve heard. It collects eight tracks of moody post-industrial mulch where babbling abstract sounds converge with envelopes of drifting tones and a ritualistic or tribal undertow commonly found amongst such music. It’s proficient and does what it sets out to do very well, but I invariably end up feeling just about all music of this nature is akin to being the heavy metal of so-called ‘experimental’ music in that it just doesn’t especially go anywhere new. Maybe it is not trying to, though? The very fact Muslimgauze is no longer around might mean there’s a place for this, but I always found Muslimgauze records somewhat lacklustre on the whole, too. When the voices begin to kick in on second cut ‘Lama Chenno’ it at least feels like the edge of a new dimension is being sniffed at. It’d be good to hear this expanded on. (RJ)
JEFF MORRIS Featuring Ulrich Maiss & Eric KM Clark With Strings CD (Ravello Records, USA, 2019)
Second album from this electronics artist who here works with his chosen medium in real time, along with a sampler dedicated to Ulrich Maiss’ electric cello, on six cuts, and a further three revolving around a similar approach to Eric KM Clark’s violin. Ulrich Maiss already has a rich pedigree to his name, including work on several albums with the always outstanding Zeitkratzer, so it is no real surprise that his pieces with Morris offer a high-calibre contemporary take on Bach’s music that sees it transformed into a kaleidoscopic patterns of digital sound where texture and form playfully jostle for attention. The three pieces with Clark carefully pick their way through similar territory, a place itself that suggestive of new tangents opening at any given moment, ultimately rounding off an album unafraid to jar those expecting a completely easy listen from their well-worn perches. (RJ)
PAAL NILSSEN-LOVE/OTOMO YOSHIHIDE 19th May 2016 CD (PNL, Norway, 2018)
As the title suggests, this is a live document of these two heavyweights of the avant-improv world performing at a venue in Moscow. There are two lengthy pieces, spanning just over an hour and as positively electrifying as one would expect as they pull more subtle spells into tumultuous and sometimes seemingly jagged shapes as white hot as they are merciless. Although I would have personally preferred to hear Yoshihide’s turntablist manoeuvres alongside the giant of freeform drumming that is Paal Nilssen-Love, his often blistering 6-string attack, itself recalling that of Donald Miller or Stefan Jaworzyn, makes for worthy accompaniment. Typical of such releases, the music here makes one wish they’d experienced it real-time, but maybe that’s half the point? (RJ)
PLANET B eponymous CD (Ipecac Recordings, 2018)
This US duo produce a relentless attack of noisy hip-hop and hardcore punk crossover, resplendent with manic bleeps, alien sirens and other digital detritus, which might well recall all manner of other groups who previously worked in the same area but here at least sounds like the fresh take it oughtta be. With an array of special guests including Kool Keith, Sonny Kay and Martin Atkins, you know these guys are deadly serious about what they’re doing, too. Screamed, shouted, scatter-rapped, chanted and torn vocals blaze away over an intense backdrop of aggro-loops and demolition rhythms only themselves helping to hammer home just how fucked off with everything Planet B are. Which is exactly what you should want from this kinda music. On one hand, I’m reminded of the likes of Public Enemy, The Beatnigs and Gunshot, whilst on the other I’m guessing these guys have a handle on the way Mark Stewart assembled the fiery patchwork to his better albums. Am sure this would be brutal live. (RJ)
PUNCTURED CORPSE eponymous CASSETTE (Independent Woman Records, New Zealand, 2019)
Ten tracks of low-slung careering between the kinda junk-noise Crank Sturgeon’s always excelled at churning out and what could pass as David Jackman doing a soundcheck in his garden shed. Jason Williams, also known by a handful of people as Deepkiss 720 and for his involvement in countless other projects, including Andrew Clare’s now defunct I’m Being Good, is the man responsible for Punctured Corpse. Is it a one-off? Who knows or even especially cares? Only 30 copies of these beauties ever existed and, well, some might contend that this is, indeed, pretty fitting, but it’s ultimately another great little spurt from what might well be New Zealand’s finest label right now. (RJ)
SA-INT Ihmiskunnan Historia + Lauhat Sateet CD (S.A. Records, Finland, 2018)
Hardcore punk, Finnish style, from a group who’ve existed since the mid-’80s. Just listening to this makes me think of sweat-drenched mohawks and huge battered boots on people virtually upside-down in a lake of pumped up adrenalin, grimaces and smiles, whilst the band does its utmost to channel the spirit of the early S.F. or Washington scenes. It’s hardly original nor is it trying to be, but at least the group look like they’re the kind who’ll drink beer and have some fun whilst being pissed off with everything. I rarely receive anything like this these days, so it makes a refreshing change, even if it won’t leap ahead of my Germs’ records when in the mood for such music. (RJ)
SLEAFORD MODS Eton Alive CD (Extreme Eating, 2019)
The very latest album from this anomaly of a duo has arrived not only on the cusp of yet more turmoil on the political landscape but also at the same time as fissures appearing in the group’s own camp. No longer working with manager Steve Underwood of Harbinger Sound, who helped steer them from playing in rundown toilet cubicles to a bemused audience of two or three people to huge festival appearances and tours that take on large capacity venues, I can only guess how this will affect them in the longer term, but for now they have another huge tour looming and have once again produced an album brimmin’ with the very same allure that made them stand out so much in the first place. 2017’s English Tapas, the one and only album they did for Rough Trade, paid witness to Sleaford Mods’ return to a greater emphasis on the often grazed funk grooves also in the mix from the start, plus less in the way of Jason Williamson’s snarling through broken windows and more of his slightly ravaged soul singing. Yes, the spit-drenched approach was still intact, but from the very outset the man has made it perfectly clear there’s as much love in his affectations for Otis Redding or Al Green as there is for Johnny Rotten or The English Dogs’ Wakey. It’s a blend that’s always worked and on what’s the group’s fifth album ‘proper’ is pushed even further. If there’s any difference at all it is only in that there’s better control over the voice now and I’d be very surprised if he’s not had proper singing lessons over the past few years. It works well, anyway.
The wry commentary and snapshots of life in modern Britain (which can translate way beyond, of course, hence their continually growing international appeal), interlaced with often black comedic couplets beamed from the same place as Shane Meadows or Harold Pinter, also remain embedded firmly in their approach. A good thing, of course, as Jason has a way with words far outside the scope of many. It’s a fine blend of absurdity, presumably still snatched from overheard everyday conversation in mundane everyday situations, and seething frustration that has a more pronounced binding to the old delivery on songs such as ‘Top It Up’, ‘Flipside’ and ‘Big Burt’.
Andrew Fearn’s contribution, often overlooked due to Jason’s having slipped so easily into the role of charismatic (yet slightly unhinged) frontman prone to speaking his mind (which’ll always score points as far as I’m concerned!), has also been teased further despite barely deviating from the chewy yet seemingly simplistic slant the music is anchored to. Vacillating between the kinda 3am grooves Andrew Weatherall proved a master of and occasionally dirtier and nastier beats, tiny nods to widescreen tastes in music can be found more directly on a cut such as ‘O.B.C.T.’ and its Stooges’ ‘No Fun’ lilt into dancefloor territory. On this very same track what sounds like a kazoo also makes an appearance. Not only that but it works. It is almost a perfect metaphor for the group themselves because, when one breaks them down to their individual parts, they sound like they shouldn’t work. It is precisely this that lends them a punkiness not only firmly brought up to date but adds layers of charm to them not to be found so readily against the indie competition they’re now up against.
The entire album is richer than before, buoyed along by more subtle embellishments than usual, and whilst it doesn’t seem so instantly connected to the more boozy and class A-sodden work of yore, and isn’t punctuated by so much swearing, it displays a maturity that’s still in step with everything that led to this point without betraying the fact the group are now in a better place than all the concomitant nefarious baggage that arrives with some of the shit they’ve been through in order to get there. Playful and serious in equal measure, Eton Alive makes for a serious contender in the run up to the year’s many best albums…and we are only just over a month in.
Whatever happens in the aftermath of Sleaford Mods’ current situation, the music at least is strong enough to endure. Whether more D.I.Y. or housed on a bigger label this is what counts, after all. (RJ)
SPLINTER REEDS Hypothetical Islands CD (New Focus Recordings, USA, 2018)
This quintet use oboe, clarinets, bassoon and saxophones, besides occasional other sound sources, to generate a rich and dynamic music not necessarily easy to listen to at all times, but certainly full of depth and colour. From the awkwardness of ‘Auditory Scene Analysis II’, with its tempestuous, almost free-jazz, approach to Eric Wubbels’ original piece to the distilled noise particles driving the title track of Yannis Kyriakides, this album playfully seems like it could tumble into a deep crevice of its own making at any point. Instead, everything remains carefully controlled, bridging the gap between taut interplay and something entirely more organic just perfectly. This might well add up to a deeply commanding listening experience, but it is one that likewise pays off each and every time it is indulged. (RJ)
STALE STORLOKKEN The Haze of Sleeplessness CD (Hubro, Norway, 2019)
Anybody already familiar with the output of this label will be aware of the fact it specialises in the worlds explored by contemporary jazz and classical artists prone to blurring lines not only between those two spheres, but plenty of others too. Storlokken is no exception. He is a keyboardist who here uses several synths and organs, as well as (less often) other instruments or his voice, to decorate a vestibule between prog-ish gyrations, mellow enough voyaging through space flotsam and the kind of music one would expect a hipster cafe to have fleshing out the background. For what it is, these compositions reflect the work of someone clearly open to widening his palette, but they’re just a little too close to the likes of ELP, or whoever, simply attempting to display their skills rather than pushing for something truly extraordinary. (RJ)
SUNN O))) Life Metal CD (Southern Lord, 2019)
Another four songs by the group whose music is aimed at those who think they’re too clever for more regular metal slop. Hildur Guonadottir’s voice is a nice touch but, otherwise, it’s business as usual with the slo-mo riffs cranked to eleven and the fleshing out of what’s largely a monochromatic sound with strings, organ, samples and so on. It all just ultimately sounds, like most rock-based music, rather ordinary, really. I just can’t listen to such music without picturing the miniature Stonehenge forming part of the stage set, no matter how moody and mysterious Sunn O))) like to portray themselves behind all that dry ice they’ve borrowed from The Sisters of Mercy. (RJ)
TEETH OF THE SEA Wraith CD (Rocket Recordings, 2019)
The sixth album from this London trio who in some ways remind me of The Necks due to the protracted journeys through a spectral meshing of psychedelic textures, slo-mo rhythms, haunting brass arrangements and gentle gestures to those same grand plains once traversed by Ennio Morricone. Although often melancholic, each song not only draws from all from dub and trip-hop to the motorik ends of krautrock, but retains a widescreen cinematic approach both rich in colour and at least suggestive of some kind of hope in these troubled times. Everything adds up to an expansive sound where all emotional cards are laid bare, perfectly displaying an earnestness to Teeth Of The Sea’s heavily pronounced prowess. Utterly enchanting. (RJ)
ASMUS TIETCHENS & FRANS DE WAARD Oordeel CD (Aufabwegen, Germany, 2019)
Although I enjoy a lot of earlier works by Tietchens, and indeed find some of Frans de Waard’s own releases perfectly listenable, the eleven short collaborative pieces constituting Oordeel seem like they’ve been assembled on autopilot. A typical meshing of tones, frazzled electronics and occasional whistling sounds throughout its duration, it just becomes a little dull and ordinary sounding. At first I thought maybe I simply wasn’t in the right mood for it. I then tried a second time and found my mind wandering completely. The sounds permeating my home from outside started to dominate and, ultimately, were more interesting. I tried a third time, but found myself reaching for something else from my record collection very soon into it instead. I think that’s largely my problem with most such releases, to be honest. I can’t see anybody being moved to grab this from their collections at any point in the future. Tell me I’m wrong. (RJ)
CHRISTOPHER TRAPANI Waterlines CD (New Focus Recordings, USA, 2018)
Waterlines comprises a handful of contempo/new music works by composer/NY resident Christopher Trapani, whose CV includes obtaining a masters at the Royal College of London, working with IRCAM, Paris, and also with spectralist types George Friedrich Haas and Tristan Murail. His scores, meanwhile, have been performed by the sinister sounding ICTUS, ZWERM and the more innocuous BBC Scottish Symphony Ork amongst others. The collection’s flagship opener and title track is built around the tragedy of 2005’s ‘Hurricane Katrina’ which, if memory serves, was largely ignored by the George Dubyah administration. A major catastrophe that wasn’t catastrophic enough obviously. As New Orleans was the focus of this storm, it only seems right and proper that the blues, the state’s first musical language, should be used in the construction of this piece. That involved Trapani sifting through pre-/post-war blues and country recordings for a telling couplet or a particularly meaningful stylistic device or two. Those expecting dreadful cut ‘n’ paste hackwork a la Moby’s hijacking of blues records some time back needn’t reach for the tranquilisers. Instead, standing centre stage is soprano Lucy Dhegrae’ backed by the twenty-strong N.Y.-based Talea Ensemble.
Now it’s not that tight-assed/overly formalised as that set-up might suggest as Lucy’s folk-shaded tones show a sure-footed empathy for the twelve-bar genre and that really comes to life with ‘Devil Sent the Rain Blues’ (with text by pre-war blues legend Charlie Patton and the Lonnie Johnson-derived ‘Falling Rain Blues’ with its perfect backdrop of digital haze and stray electric crackle. Being considerably more of a statement piece (as mentioned before…) the title track does put some of the other compositions in the shade somewhat. However, ‘Visions and Revisions’ has enough high-register neurosis to warm the cockles of Bernard (Psycho) Herrmann’s heart and then there’s also the ectoplasmic trails of ghostly piano on ‘Passing Through, Staying Put’. But it’s ‘Cognitive Consonance’ that easily secures this disc’s silver medal and again showcases The Talea Ensemble, conducted by James Baker. Employing customised and traditionally constructed Turkish zithers, elements of classic ethnic-tinged Krautrock, Limbus 4, mid-period Embryo and even Kalacakra crowd the mind, bringing this to a pleasing and somewhat surprising conclusion, all things considered… (SP)
TRANSTILLA Transtilla I CD (Opa Loka Records, Germany, 2019)
The five pieces constituting this collaborative album between The Netherlands’ Anne-Chris Bakker and Romke Kleefstra, who’ve already produced a sizable body of work together during recent years, is a pleasant enough meshing of ambient textures, gentle guitar melodies and occasional banks of deeper and darker sound that thankfully fall short of cliched post-industrial moodiness. Instead of the latter, the music is given to some surprisingly deft touches where ‘morphic and crystalline shimmers glide into each other over a swamp of gloopy electronics poised with the stench of threat. ‘Poasen’ is especially good, simultaneously bringing to mind Main’s later works and the idea this could be very absorbing live. (RJ)
UGLY ANIMAL Unco-ordinating CDEP (Foolproof Projects, 2019)
Three new songs from percussionist Andy Pyne, more commonly found as one half of the incredible Map 71, that once more illustrate just how fine a musician he is. As in Map 71, electronics are utilised to flesh out inventive drumming that is as good as anything Charles Hayward’s ever done, but it’s the title track, with its effectively hypnotic voice sample, that really stands out here. The other two songs are really strong as they likewise weave themselves into spaces only Cut Hands touches on, tho’ ultimately the fact this release is anchored to brevity amounts to a huge desire for more anyway. Well worth checking out Andy’s own Foolproof Projects label, too. (RJ)
ULEX XANE Stances/Semblance CD (Cipher Productions, Australia, 2018)
As far as I’m aware, Ulex Xane has been a fixture on the Australian hinterland where electronic noise, abstract music and musique concrete meet since the 1980s. He’s been involved in many groups over the years, but is more generally known for his having founded the Extreme label in 1984, which doubtlessly shines a light on where his own interests lay as an artist. On Stances/Semblance, his first album released under his own name for several years, he picks his way through a carefully woven conflation of microscopic flecks, alien utterances, tempered background clanging, misshapen pockets of noise, field recordings and the sounds of screaming and, later, laughter (reminding me somewhat of Leif Elggren’s effective collaborative album with Thomas Liljenberg, 9:11, from 1999) to an astonishing degree. Like the work of the late Walter Marchetti, who Xane states was his biggest inspiration, this is a highly absorbing listen hard to be distracted by even if, conversely, it would appear that part of its own DNA is distractive sounds moulded into a whole that’s simultaneously unpleasant, beautiful and rife with all kinds of meaning. (RJ)
VIDNA OBMANA Soundtrack for the Aquarium CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2019)
Hailing from Belgium, Dirk Serries’ Vidna Obmana project has been fairly prolific since beginning as a sometimes noise-driven post-industrial project in the mid-1980s. Between then and now it has largely transmuted into an outlet for more subdued and ambient sounds, however, sometimes themselves aided by collaborators such as Steve Roach, Asmus Tietchens, David Lee Myers (Arcane Device) and others. Like so much such music I’m always left wondering how much anybody might actually need given just how much of it shimmers, swells and glides into similar spaces, but every time I hear anything by Vidna Obmana I invariably end up appreciating the craftsmanship at work to the point it resonates way beyond the realms usually proffered by these spheres. The seven pieces that constitute Soundtrack for the Aquarium, a reissue of an album which first appeared in 2001, certainly breeze snugly alongside the title anyway. Each of them merges diving bell tones, carefully honed ripples and the kinda sonic gauze Lawrence English has equally chiselled a career from to an effect that, just sometimes, makes for a calm and relaxing divergent to the usual noise around us. Perfect music for the mind’s eye’s very own tropical fish. (RJ)
ZOOANZOO Neck Out CD (Beau Travail, Germany, 2018)
If you ever wondered what trip-hop might sound like if thrown against an array of noisy pop or punk-inspired songs, and there’s absolutely no reason why you should, then the second album by this terribly named group will help no end. Not sure who this is aimed at, but it sounds stilted and lacks the hooks and deep atmospherics the prime movers of early trip-hop built their craft on. It sounds like music primed for the hipster festival circuit which, let’s be honest, is an aspiration best staved by public execution. (RJ)
CONFLUX COLDWELL/TOMONARI NOZAKI Angry Ambient Artists, Vol.4. CASSETTE (Forwind, Ireland, 2019)
Another nifty entry in this series of releases from a label that swerves mostly between the gentler end of abstract electronic music and hazy guitar experimentation of a moody, late evening disposition. Of course, it’ll sometimes go elsewhere too, but Forwind seem to be on a mission to unearth as much of the good stuff from these spectrums they can afford to. On this tape, featuring two tracks from Leeds-based Conflux Coldwell one side and three from Tomonari Nozaki on the other, only the latter is familiar to me as he’s already had a CD released by Forwind and has a number of digital releases there, too. Here, Coldwell, who so far only has a string of digital releases and one cassette behind him, slowly furrows his way through a crepuscular meshing of heaving sounds, iridescent spatters, steadily drifting tones, snatched voices, portentous digital fog and what might well be time-stretched bells to considerable effect. Nozaki tends to manoeuvre in similar realms, assuming the position of an artist who knows how to sonically paint bleak enough pictures of any busy and modern urban landscape without resorting to too many post-industrial tropes. Although shorter, starker and even at times more intense, each piece is packed with enough movement to keep everything engaging, but of the two I have to say I feel it is Coldwell who is suggesting greater things. Whatever, as expected from two artists happy to submit their music to a series titled Angry Ambient Artists, neither want the listener to get too comfortable and, well, that can score big points where I’m from. No lie. (RJ)
V/A Fiction Circuit LP (Attenuation Circuit, Germany, 2019)
Sascha Stadlmeier’s Attenuation Circuit imprint has for a number of years now dedicated itself to apparently documenting all kinds of unknown artists operating in the worlds of abstract electronics, ‘noise’, electroacoustic and location recording-based sounds on such a regular basis I can’t imagine who can keep up with everything. Mostly releasing low-run CDRs or, these days, digital works, the label sometimes strays beyond and puts out a ‘real’ CD or even vinyl album. To my knowledge, the latest of the latter, however, Fiction Circuit, has been the first such release for a considerable while. Limited to 300 and pressed on marbled dark green vinyl, it collects a piece each by names slightly better established amongst the basement lab hordes, PBK, Gerald Fiebig, Artificial Memory Trace and Sascha’s own Emerge. Using AMT source material on the first side and PBK on the second, each artist works their way through a largely atmospheric but sometimes grizzled arrangement of jutting blocks of carefully hewn noise, deep space signals, metallic rasps and swirling static hum. It’s all pretty effective, but as with so much of this type of material all of the pieces slot together like they’re the work of any one of the contributors. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, and although I’m often sceptical about so many such artists not necessarily bringing anything new to the table, it’s impossible to deny the conviction of those who’ve been doing it for so long, against all the odds, such as the four of them here. In fact, it’s precisely because they’ve each been at this for so long now that all of the pieces sound considered and are possessed of the kind of depth so many others of a similar disposition aspire to. I’ve personally long liked Philip B. Klinger’s work anyway, so it’s nice to have the chance once again to hear what he’s doing. Beyond that, Fiction Circuit might well be one of the best releases of its kind for quite a while. If you’re going to dip your toes just once into these waters, whether for the first time in a while or for the first time ever, this LP is a grand way to do it. (RJ)