The following reviews stem from a combination of some of the items we received during 2017 and others originally destined to be published in the physical magazine planned mid-2017 (please see news elsewhere regarding this)…
PETER ABLINGER Augmented Study CD (Sacred Realism, USA, 2015)
One lengthy composition spanning over an hour featuring 16 heavily processed violins stretched beyond all semblance of their original form to sound like a swarm of bees doing Metal Machine Music. It’s effective but I cannot help but feel it’d have been far more so if kept to about a third of the length. As usual with such music I don’t know what it’s trying to say that hasn’t perhaps already been said. According to the notes inside the cover, this version of a study originally made by Ablinger before was “never intended as a work to be performed live in concert.” A pity as I think it’s in precisely this realm it’d really come into its own. (RJ)
AIDAN BAKER The Sea Swells a Bit CD (Ici D’Ailleurs, France, 2015)
Four lengthy neo-ambient pieces form this album and surprisingly, at least going by the few Aidan Baker releases I have, take us into the territory between coffee shop muzak and that tailored for hipster bars., The hints of menace have gone, unfortunately. The sea should have swelled enough to wash this one away, methinks. (RJ)
BANABILA & MACHINEFABRIEK Error Log CD (Tapu, NL, 2015)
There’s always a feeling of awkwardness attached to being given a new release by a friend whose music doesn’t always hit the spot, Almost every time I meet Dutch electronics composer Michel Banabila (several times a year usually as his wife is from Krakow and they find themselves returning to this wonderful city on a regular basis), I’m handed another CD by him and reminded of those awkward moments that so often run concomitant with this situation. Thankfully, his music doesn’t fall into this trap, though, and I’d argue that his last few releases, including two collaborative albums with viola player, Oene Van Geel, Music for Viola and Electronics I and II, have paid witness to something of a new plateau having been reached in the development of his work. Maybe he excels more in a collaborative setting, anyway? I’m not really sure, since the solo output from the last few years has likewise seen him forage soundworlds that are more honed and fully realised. After having originally cut his teeth on music that mapped styles from the Middle East and Asia with contemporary electronics, Banabila’s music has largely moved away from this during the past decade or more, emphasising more significantly an interest in field recordings, mutated electronic textures and occasional beats. Sometimes, his earlier penchant for more worldly sketches still get blended into the fray but, mostly, he’s been chipping away at his own vision of modern electronic compositions and is deserving far more recognition for this than he generally receives. Error Log is his second collaboration with Machinefabriek, and contains three neatly hewn pieces clocking at about 30 minutes total duration. Akin to much of Machinefabriek’s work, a kinda charged atmosphere runs throughout, but it’s less a gentle soaking and more restless, with even the odd sojourn into a rough and angular approach rearing up that I suspect is more Banabila’s input.
If you’ve not yet heard anything by Michel Banabila, it might well be time to redress the balance. And I say this not because he’s a friend but because I also believe his music genuinely is worthwhile and doesn’t compromise me into being in the least bit diplomatic.Error Log makes for a good starting point and is doubtlessly as limited as most CDs these days. You know what to do. (RJ)
BETTER OFF DEAD Cracked 7” e.p. (213 Recordings + others, France, 2015)
Four-tracks of sprightly if rather pedestrian punk that reminds me of The Adverts and Penetration with its female vocals and ‘old school’ sound. At the risk of being every bit the old fart that I am these days, I really don’t understand what gets into any group simply subscribing to any ‘rentapunk’ sound. For all intents and purposes this might as well be a covers group. (RJ)
SINDRE BJERGA/MICROMELANCOLIE Invisible Paths CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2015)
This is not the first time Norway’s Sindre Bjerga and Poland’s Robert Skrznski have collaborated. During recent years, they have worked together and can be found on a few other releases, including another album recorded for Poland’s Monotype in 2014. Invisible Paths sees them offering two lengthy pieces, however, which chomp their way through a fog bristling with tiny sound shards, lost voices and nascent discomfort. At one point, it sounds like the very same plumes drift over a workshop where some serious drilling is given the ‘crackling record’ treatment Gas always did. Things become hazier and less unsettled from here, but the moving between shades is perfectly agreeable regardless.(RJ)
BLOOD TUB ORCHESTRA The Seven Curses of the Music Hall CD (Phono Erotic, 2017)
CELER & MACHINEFABRIEK Compendium CD (Irrational Arts, 2015)
If I have a problem with Machinefabriek (or related) releases it’s in that there are simply too many of them and the sound foraged in each is largely the same. It’s a pleasant enough one, but I’m just not convinced I personally need it spread over umpteen albums. Having established this, I have to admit the seven collaborative cuts here with Will Long’s ambient platform work very well, evolving as they do through some measured and hazy electronic timbres occasionally punctuated by the patter of distant noises or rhythmic hush. Everything hangs nicely together and is underpinned to enough movement to keep those more tedious waters at bay when it comes to such music. Three remixes are also included, by Sylvain Chauvau, Nicolas Bernier and Stephan Matthieu, who’re artists themselves given to finding their voices in that terrain between musique concrete, glitchwork, environmental sounds and related medium. I’m not sure they add much, to be frank, but their pieces are at least warm and inviting. All in all, Compendium is a freshly washed duvet of a listen. Snug and possibly even as good as those early Biosphere albums anybody with an interest in decent contemporary ambient music already ought to own. (RJ)
SYLVAN CHAUVEAU & ENSEMBLE NOCTURNE Down to the Bone: An Acoustic Tribute to Depeche Mode LP (Ici D’Ailleurs, France, 2015)
A tenth anniversary reissue of this album whereby eleven Depeche Mode songs are reduced to the level of sounding akin to a Coldplay demo. Never been a DM fan myself, but think they deserve better than this. Terrible. (RJ)
ERLAND DAHLEN Blossom Bells CD (Hubro, Norway, 2015)
Blossom Bells is the second solo release by this Norwegian jazz percussionist in a few years. Otherwise known for his involvement in Batagraf, Madrugada and the Sonic Codex Orchestra, Dahlen is a highly adept artist who can sway from more exploratory or avant-garde realms to something resembling epic post-rock only too easily. This album, whilst sometimes across like a showcase for a man who can probably fill the seat for any such band (and more besides), is rich with ideas that spill over like a fantastic soundtrack for the most part. For all of the steps towards a more pedestrian approach evident here, the carefully interwoven details and willfully playful and boundary-defying sensibilities render this a fine listen strongly beckoning repeat plays. Always a fine thing. (RJ)
Another page turns in the annals of legendary sound brutalist/first wave industrialist Maurizio Bianchi. Now well into his second wind since that longstanding radio silence, we’ve seen a near purple patch littered with a substantial wedge of solo ventures and alliances with kindred spirits such as Cria Cuervos and Paolino Conzoneri involved in a kinda sorcerer’s apprentice role to the shadowy Mr. B’s conjurations. Though the billing in this particular case might just point to an occasional role reversal (?).
Black Panorama comes as a shared disc with Deison (a.k.a. C. Deison), who’s a veteran circuitry manipulator of two decades standing, with over thirty releases to his name, including collaborations with Lasse Marhaug and Macronympha amongst other notables… With the now de rigeur sombre sleeve art, the accompanying half dozen pieces, culled from the M. B. archives, were, perversely cut (w/ further embellishments), during the summer of 2013. But as anyone who is au fait with Maurizio’s game plan will attest, the listener will be faced with a descent into a cold world of stifling darkness populated with imposing monolithic constructs. The unforgiving drones of ‘Cavernous Blackness’, occasionally mirroring the user-unfriendly passages of T.G.’s ‘In the Shadow of the Sun’ and the ersatz harmonium wheeze and insect stridulation of ‘Inert Darkness’ surely confirm this. Though ‘Glimmering Twilight’ might suggest an atom or two of optimism and hope, its seismic rumblings and steel on steel sonorities form the body electric of the most uncompromisingly powerful piece on show and, of course, the title reveals itself to be a cruel joke at the expense of anyone within earshot, myself included, naturally. (SP)
DIETER MUH Live at Gangeviertel 3” CDr (Sound Holes, 2015)
Steve Cammack’s Dieter Muh has been assembling a neat mix of garbled electronics, field recordings, collaged noise and frayed loops for a number of years now, following his work with Lincoln’s industrial duo Ideas Beyond Filth. This ultra-limited CDr (20 only!) documents a 22+ minutes live recording of organic and rich textures, sometimes soft and at other times more intense, only giving way to voices sometimes emerging from the morass. Highly effective and engrossing, it illustrates only too well how adept Cammack is at this particular game. Very nice. (RJ)
DIETER MUH Hanging the Blind Dog CASSETTE (Hanson Records, USA, 2015)
Another goodie from Steve Carmack’s ongoing project, this time offering one piece per side which splices together molten electronics, snippets of dialogue and at one point even an all-encompassing drone poised to drench the listener in glorious sound. The more I hear his work, the more I’d like to see him live. Stunning work. (RJ)
DIETER MUH Feeling a Little Horse CD (EE Tapes, Belgium, 2016)
Considering the fact that the first time this album was ‘available’, back in 1998, it was courtesy of a CDr released by the short-lived Mouth label in an edition of 15 copies, this reissue is more than justified. Catching a lengthy live recording spanning over 35 minutes by the duo of founder Steve Cammack and Dave Uden, there’s an alluring array of squelchy or hissing electronics here vaguely recalling H30 before being escorted through perhaps moodier terrain. Rhythmic pulses and heavily distilled voices keep everything tacked into place whilst moonlit tidal tones and firmly harnessed stabs and rumbles eventually converge with the voices and build up to something poised to consume everything in their way. Powerful, mesmerising and with an insert proudly proclaiming these gents recorded this with “no overdubs, no tarting about” it is only too apparent they know their game. The disc also features three shorter bonus cuts, previously issued by EE Tapes on a couple of CDr compilations, from around the same period that serve as perfect accompaniment. Packaged in typical EE ‘7″ single’ style sleeve, too. Pisses on most such artists prone to “tarting about” in the studio, that’s for sure. (RJ)
HEXA Factory Photographs LP (Room 40, Australia, 2016)
Originally commissioned for David Lynch’s ‘Between Two Worlds’ exhibition in 2015, these ten pieces by the Australian duo of Lawrence English and Jamie Stewart glide stealthily between ominous rumble-driven fog crunchers and other such post-industrial gestures. With much emphasis on rhythmic textures and dramatic atmosphere, it isn’t difficult to see how these sounds could sufficiently accompany any world connected to David Lynch, but there are enough ideas wedded for them to be taken on their own terms as well. I don’t know how they compare to Stewart’s own other work, but they certainly appear a little weightier than the often understated approach of Lawrence English’s. Fine stuff indeed. (RJ)
RUDOLF EB.ER, JOKE LANZ, GX JUPITER-LARSON and MIKE DANDO Wellenfeld – For Amplified Brainwaves” CD (Fragment Factory Records, Germany, 2015)
The first time I chanced upon a recording where an artist had that lightbulb moment in which one’s own brainwaves could be used as the bedrock/trigger of an experimental piece was an album from composer and Mills College prof David Rosenbloom called Brainwave Music (A.R.C. Records, 1976/EM Records CD reissue). Filters/modifiers and all manner of electronic paraphanalia were deployed to give all that grey matter its ‘voice’. Without being mired down in too much lab-coated technical spec, I should imagine that’s pretty much the same template used at this performance during the three-day Extreme Rituals/Schimpfluch Carnival, based at Bristol’s Amolfini Centre, back in 2012. Meaning that aktionist noiseniks Rudolf Eb. er, Joke Lanz, Hater-in-chief GX Jupiter Larson and Con-Dom’s Mike Dando, all hooked up to electroencephalographs, have their resulting data transformed into sound, which then surrounds the audience via a ring of eight speakers. There is no escape.
The sleeve art portrays the quartet sat sitting there, buddha-like, much as you’d expect really. However, this static display with the accompanying relaxed state of collective mind (cue to various meditational disciplines), reaps its own sonic rewards. I had half expected a fusillade of theremin-like whoops, chirps and judders, but instead what is produced by these combined electrical juices comes on heavy like short wave radio interference which swells in a somewhat agitated fashion to reveal something akin to a dozen or so oscillators, stretched on a rack, squealing in cyber-agony. This later development (I guess?) eventually finding ‘the sender’ firmly in the driver’s seat, gaining control over his transmissions by listening to the results of his own brain activity.
A pretty diverting noisefest all told, standing out from the pack possibly, by virtue of its rather individual sound sources. By my reckoning, the next release, by person or persons unknown, in this ultra-niche genre should be ready by 2054 as the crow flies. (SP)
THE EX At Bimhuis (1991 – 2015) 2CD (Ex Records/Bimhuis, NL, 2015)
Spread over these two discs are 24 mostly collaborative songs by this uncompromising Dutch group who started out in the anarcho-punk/squat scene of the early ‘80s. To this day, they remain informed by the predominant spirit surrounding those early years, too. Similar to the worlds both Crass and even Dead Kennedys operated in, a space was afforded where freedom reigned over musical ability or inhibition and the ideas guiding their songs were bigger than their means of expression. In the truest sense, this was independent music created by independent thinkers working outside the usual and typical straitjacketed rock demographic even countless peers of the time succumbed to in their effort to forge a career.
The Ex have consistently remained principled and almost Calvinistic in their attitude to work and the ideas it is adorned in since those days, plus are committed to a sense of freedom and exploration rarely found elsewhere. One such embodiment of this is found in the group’s having always been open to collaborations or featuring guest appearances by musicians from what may appear to many as very contrasting backgrounds, such as jazz, brass bands and traditional African music. A tight unit themselves, the group are fluid yet bound to a muscular rhythm section capable of taking on all from fully blasted dissonance to jazzy lounge interludes and everything in between. It is music with a strong improvisation sensibility yet steers well away from being pompous or overblown. For all its experimentation, the raging and dissatisfied punks beneath it never stray too far. And it’s precisely this that makes their music so fucking effective and infectious.
The collaborations here, all pulled from fairly regular stints at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis venue during the last 24 years, include a huge array of improv jazzers and avant-garde artists too vast to list here but with notables such as Phil Minton, Ken Vandermark and Jaap Blonk amongst them. The songs are brazen, energetic and burn with an attitude simultaneously warm, open, celebratory and pissed off. Outside the usual confines of what has been described ‘punk jazz’ (or ‘jazz punk) over the years, it spans something deeper and wider. Releases of live music might well mostly be aimed at those with a huge love of any given artist prone to doing them, but The Ex at Bimhuis demonstrates just how powerful and commanding this group, and their many friends, still are in such a setting. It is hard not to listen to any of this without wishing to see them all performing live right now. Which must, surely, be partly the point. To say this music is incredible is something of an understatement. (RJ)
EX YOU eponymous CDr (self-released, Serbia, 2015)
Four sprawling pieces of organic jazz-free splurge courtesy of a Serbian guitar, electronics and drums trio. The emphasis appears to be on a kinda understatement knocked into line via shuffling patterns of sound and sparse rhythms themselves haphazardly falling between something ur-like and busily intricate, depending on the general mood. Random electronic ripples grapple with guitar shards and abstract noodling over these instrumentals, creating a mesmerising setting I’m sure would be fantastic live and deserving the attention of some label backing. These guys know what they’re doing, that’s for sure, and it makes for a welcome change to a lot of the usual slop thrown this way. Impressive shit. (RJ)
ADAM GOLEBIEWSKI In Front of Their Eyes CD + booklet (self-released, Poland, 2015)
If you ever lay awake at night wondering what a set of binaural microphones and a drum could sound like if performed live together at an installation, then this release should set things right. As you can guess, without the context of the actual original setting these sounds were recorded in, something is perhaps missing. Without that, even the nicely presented booklet of related artwork and sleevenotes does little to detract from what otherwise sounds like a rusty chain being slowly cranked up a mineshaft while a robotic cat claws at a nearby window. Oh well. (RJ)
ERIK GRISWOLD Pain Avoidance Machine CD (Room 40 Records, Australia. 2015)
I ‘believe’ John Cale axed one to death, Ann(e)a Lockwood burnt one at the Chelsea Embankment in 1968 and in the film L’Age d’Or, surrealist artist Sal a row of ’em. But thDali jammed a number of dead donkeys inere have been less psychopathic intentions towards the poor piano. Instead, some experimentalists took on a more restrained approach by merely subverting the keyboard’s tonal qualities. Obviously the key figure in all this being John Cage; who thought little of jamming choice purchases from his local hardware store into the instrument’s liver and lights. The resulting doctored notes (to me) always seemed to take on a kinda oriental tone as all the west’s natural sustain went east, so to speak. And, following on from these investigations, American avant gardist and now Aussie resident Erik Griswold, back from a two-year stint in multi-instrumental composition, has decided to return to the comforting, real wood’n’wires world of the prepped piano. The Pain Avoidance Machine project, recorded at home on a German ‘Lipp & Sohn’ model, sees Mr. G. attacking the keys with a rare and driven gusto which thankfully never descends into downtempo or ambient realms.
Those fractured and dampened notes, sometimes dulcimer-like, some resembling the languid thwack of rubber bands supply the rhythmic undertow, while recognisable and more rounded piano lines supply brief and haunting melodic quotes amid tense and suspenseful punctuation, (see “The Persistence of Memory” and the fringe-systemic “Pale Yellow Frontier,” for example). And it’s that suspenseful air which permeates the majority of the fifteen tracks on offer; especially so on the excellent ‘Hammer and Tongs’, where those of a delicate sensibility, prone to attacks of the vapours, would seek to find immediate refuge behind the nearest sofa at the stroke of its very first broken note. (SP)
HAND OF STABS Barnfield Pit CD (Astrakhan Bellhorn Music, 2015)
This Medway-based trio has long been breaking away from urban environments in order to delve into a kinda rural form of electroacoustic music in equal parts organic, sinister, earthy and suggestive of unearthly rituals tucked away in shadowy groves. Barnfeld Pit is their first ‘proper’ release, following a number of low-run CDRs mow impossible to find, and comprises an almost 50-minute long improvisation where sparse percussive sounds, metallic scrapes and presumably dented pots and pans flesh out what sounds like a violin being very slowly eviscerated and subtle pitter-patters of indiscernible origin. Whilst it all brings to mind Morphogenesis having been ground through a Wicker Man-esque sensibility, it’s hard not to overlook the fact something magical, or even magickal, is clearly at work here. Melodies and signatures are eschewed in favour of a cranial flow of sounds that don’t once relent from being powerfully hypnotic. This truly is like being led into the heart of the unknown, which is always, always damn fine thing. 100 only, so probably now equally hard to track down.(RJ)
HATI Metanous CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2015)
Now expanded to a three-piece, at least for this album, Hati once again prove just how adept they are at producing a kinda ritualistic take on mostly metal percussion-led atmospheric music. Using a wide range of other instruments, (often equally percussive) sound sources and electronics, it’s fair to say that Hati’s music can be a little hit-or-miss sometimes, but Metanous proves itself as one of the best albums thus heard by them, bringing with it a high-reaching sense of quality and craftsmanship that’d leave certain contemporaries downing their tools in abject resignation. If you want trance-like music that’s guaranteed to compel you all the way, you won’t go wrong here. (RJ)
HEADBUTT Raindrop CD (Radiowave Recordings, 2015)
Archival release of a live gig by this English ‘Industrial Noise Rock’ (Not my words, but the words of the Press Release) band from the ‘90s. I didn’t know of the group beforehand but, nevertheless, spinning the disc resulted in instant transportation to a particular corner of the aforementioned decade, for good, ill and other shades of hair dye in between. On this evidence there may in those halcyon days have been something in the air or water, or indeed stuck to the carpet. Scouring the back catalogue it seems other archaeological evidence includes a neglected album on Dirter amongst other things. At any rate this manages to effect a Proustian regression whether you were there (Rennes, in this case) or not to that alternate time-zone, that eternal bubble of particularity, where noise-rock, metal, punk and ‘industrial’ (rhythmic rather than atmospheric) swilled and swills still round small venues (and any carpeted areas in them) like cigarette butts in the dregs of a stale and slaver-diluted pint of lager. Pre-Mayan apocalypse, pre-millennium bug, even, this is; just smell the innocent sounds of stomping and throat-abuse, revel in the atmosphere. And I, for one, love a party with an atmosphere. An intimate venue; medium-high spirits; two drummers utilising dustbins and the like; two bassists, one of whom also handles yelling duties. The sound is a chummily belligerent chug n’ thump of mildly fluctuating fidelity – very appealingly documentary in nature, in fact. The sense of aural veracity to this long-past tribal ritual is, as mentioned, apparent. The feedback-ing basses and things being hit translate very pleasantly in the lower-middle frequency range through even consumer-grade audio reproduction devices, all sounding like good, honest, noisy fun. The players display(ed). In the past, this is. Don’t forget) a solid and moderately wiggly line in simple and raunchy bass riffs – albeit as swift to sublime into the pre-millennial aether and/or backdrop of feedback as seemingly effortlessly as they are plucked from the collective bran-tub marked ‘rawk’ – alongside a propensity to lurch into various double-drum tub-thumping percussion grooves at the drop of a mallet. Almost Adam and the Ants meet Test Department, they certainly, on this showing, did stand and deliver. The goods. If the goods you were after were a surprisingly jaunty noise-rock knees-up with a bass and percussion focus*. Whilst it exudes inclusiveness rather than alienation, fun with frequencies rather than gruelling grind and perhaps suffers from this approachability and un-finessed image in comparison with some of the other names that might spring to mind in the same sprawling temporal and sonic area of operations there’s definitely something to be said for the punk disregard and broad-strokes approach. There’s also value inherent in investigating a previously unknown side of the once familiar, threads of musical continuity temporarily outside of current discourse, perhaps, that subtly alter perspectives on prevailing zeitgeists. Perhaps by definition a minor document, as such, it’s still always nice to be reminded that there are always more scenes, groups and individuals plugging away at things than any one currently popular narrative encompasses. Oh and there’s an awful bi-lingual joke from the singer about half-way through, as a bonus. (TS)
* There’s a video up on YouTube of Headbutt live at The Camden Falcon which presents in grungy VHS fidelity another angle to the live story, an anarchic and shambolic show hinting of affinities with the Day-Glo irreverence of Japanese Noise Rock of the time, such as early Boredoms, Melt Banana etc.
HERCULES II Herculaneum LP (Radiowave Recordings, 2015)
As you might expect from a group featuring ex-Headbutt members and other noisenik affiliates, this album delivers like a juggernaut of psychedelic stormin’ and bass excess. If you’re looking for variation, you’re in the wrong place, though, as each of the seven cuts churns, bludgeons and does its utmost to bury you in fully amped, cranked-to-the-max, sound overload. A coupla basslines reminded me of The Stranglers, but that’s no bad thing. The vinyl is streaked clear and I daresay this baby’s limited, so don’t deliberate over yr temptation for too long. No idea where you can find it, however, as the label has no website. Check Facebook and Discogs, etc. (RJ)
HEY COLOSSUS Radio Static High LP (Rocket Recordings, 2015)
Sounds like a generic hard rock group trying to do the whole interstellar thing to me. Stripped away of the overdriven psychedelic textures, this would just reek of guys in denim with acne and bad hair. Dishwater music. (RJ)
HIROSHIMABEND dddirzzz CD (Klanggalerie, Austria, 2016)
A copy of this album, along with a coupla other releases by the same artist, was thrust into my withered claws at this year’s Wroclaw Industrial Festival by the person responsible for the music. Operating under the guise Puppy38, this Texan-born chap is these days a resident of Vienna and responsible for thus far having released many, many CDr albums since 1998 on his Opiumdenpluto imprint. Arriving from the school of tempered electronic music, there’s a deft amalgam of tethered beats, rolling atmospherics, dreamlike tinkling sounds, post-industrial gauze and molten dancefloor nods at work here. Might not be anything especially new amongst it all, but there’s a nice and, dare I say it, ‘mature’ feel to the way everything hangs together that I’m sure works even better live. There are some collaborators here, but Puppy38 clearly knows what he’s doing. This album pays testament to that. (RJ)
HOLLYWOODFUN DOWNSTAIRS Tetris CD (Antena Krzyku, Poland, 2016)
Third album, I believe, by this New Zealand group. Following Poland’s neat Antena Krzyku label’s CD reissue of their second album, Reactions, also from 2016, which was originally released by NZ’s Press Gang imprint on both vinyl and cassette formats, this third release houses another twelve cuts of blistering post-punk-inspired noise cooked up by a trio of moody guys whose inside cover photo’s stance is only betrayed by a moustache that looks like it was rented from a ’70s hustler. Once past this, the sound is a full-on inferno of tumultous guitar-damaged and screaming vocal-driven attack dimly akin to a slightly more restrained Rudimentary Peni chugging it out with No Trend. Only ‘Reverse Ahoy’ is pared enough to reveal almost classic Ozzy-like vocals, which in and of itself isn’t entirely a bad thing tho’ the less anything is inclined towards metal (even rudimentary metal, such as Sabbath) the more my tolerance level at least remains stabilised. I’m sure these would be a blast live, though. (RJ)
IF, BWANA The Ice Moons CD (Nefryt, Poland, 2015)
Al Margolis’ If, Bwana has been producing music since the mid-‘80s, when the project first emerged from the burgeoning cassette scene with a number of releases built around sometimes crude loops, oscillating analogue electronics and industrial noise. Often driven by a slightly dadaist approach, more akin to NWW than the moodier set, this music didn’t necessarily stand out from countless others initially but at least illustrated that Margolis was serious about his work until it was honed and began to chart its own course. Whilst it’d be practically impossible to keep up with everything released since the early days, I have found myself dipping into If, Bwana’s waters from time to time and always enjoying where his work now takes us. The Ice Moons is one of the latest albums and brings together five lengthier pieces, sometimes aided by guests adding different sound sources (such as voice, cello, saxophones and a dulcimer). The results are more tempered and possibly have more in common with the likes of La Monte Young and Tony Conrad than those earlier peers, yet each one is imbued with a rich and organic flavour at once warm, mesmerising and confounding all expectations. What this lacks in the dadaist approach of much of the other work is more than compensated by this being a wonderful addition to the minimalist composition canon. A very good release, typically packaged in Nefryt’s now standard oversized card wallet sleeve. (RJ)
IT IT ANITA Agaaiin CD (Luik Records, Belgium, 2016)
Beefy guitar-driven noise-rock duals with the kinda cosmic excursions towards pure brain-mulch territory The Strangulated Beatoffs were likewise prone to. When the terribly named It It Anita shed themselves of the more obvious dressing and follow patterns presumably made by spacecakes things become far more interesting. However, when not indulging thus everything’s boiled down to a sweat, grime ‘n’ gristle strategy that’s powerful enough but just doesn’t add anything to the sprawling canon of such music already overflowing from every conceivable corner of almost every city of the planet, unfortunately.. (RJ)
THE JAZZFAKERS Hallucinations CD (Alrealon Music, USA, 2016)
Just what I needed, and I’m being literal rather than facetious. Eight new tracks from this NYC group who’ve been active for almost 10 years now and have a few albums behind them already. This one is produced by the legendary Martin Bisi, a figure whose activities have long been pronounced on the New York scene by virtue of his production work for Swans, Bill Laswell, John Zorn and Sonic Youth et al, plus several solo records. It would appear he has long worked with The Jazzfakers, too, and I daresay it’s easy to understand how they’d forge a strong working relationship given the delphic noise conjured up in this almost No Wave-inspired free jazz setting. Between the eight tracks, presumably improvisations that bring together electronics and synths as well as bass, percussion, violin and sax, there’s much in the way of restrained headiness that takes on avant-strutting through alien landscapes before looking poised to spit acidic foam in some kinda post-apocalyptic meltdown. This is how modern jazz should be; untamed, volatile and unpredictable, with a galvanised approach that takes no prisoners even in its milder framework. And mostly, again, Hallucinations places much emphasis on nuance and a sense of discipline or space. For all the warmth embedded, however, The Jazzfakers are not apparently here for our comfort. Rather, they soundtrack our confused, convoluted, desperate and disparate times just perfectly. I need to get their other records right now. (RJ)
JFK/THE GREY WOLVES Assassin LP (Peripheral Records, 2016)
Reissue of these six collaborative recordings from 1988, neatly pressed onto red vinyl. Anybody familiar with Anthony Di Franco’s JFK project, especially from around this period, will know he specialised in rudimentary, factory hammered, rhythms melded with electronic, sometimes bass heavy, textures. As such, it’s difficult to discern the power-noise duo The Grey Wolves’ involvement here as any cranked-to-the-max overload is at best buried or kept to a more mannered distance. The rhythmic approach tends to dominate, but this perfectly okay. It’s only that it seems more of a JFK release than a collaboration. (RJ)
KINSKY Copula Mundi 2LP (Antena Krzyku, Poland, 2015)
This arrived as a nice surprise before xmas, kindly sent by the label owner to me as a gift after his knowing just how much I’d enjoyed seeing this reformed Polish group live twice during the year before. I can only credit my fiancee, Iwona, for having introduced me to them, however. Prior to seeing them at Alchemia in Krakow, I knew zero about them, despite my having explored a considerable amount of Poland’s punk and related scenes over the years. Iwona, knowing my tastes, convinced me they’d be worth seeing and she was absolutely right. Seeing this group in Alchemia was jaw-droppingly good and not just because of the music but because of the actual performance, too. Kinsky merge theatrics with their music, meaning a couple of costume changes, dadaist manoeuvres, audience participation and the singer, Pawel Sulik, diving into or running through the crowd like a youthful Jello Biafra combined with Buster Keaton and a homicidal maniac. Absolutely captivating, he leaves no room to even ponder the fact he must be in his middle years. All the while, the music is tight as fuck and, obviously, that’s exactly all we can focus on right here on this lovingly repackaged and remastered reissue of the group’s 1993 album (the original CD of which could set you back the cost of a couple of decent meals in a mid-range restaurant).
How to describe the music, though? It’s taut and draws from a grinding yet angular punk sound whilst remaining infused with a touch of the avant-garde, spooky keyboard signatures and a keen sense of the unpredictable. At its toughest, the rock strand is somewhat reminiscent of Gore and is all powerful bass strut and deeply anguished vocals, tho’ thankfully devoid of their metallic crunch. When this relents, however, we’re dragged into a twilight zone of disembodied voices, fractured hiss and the kinda electronics more befitting of an industrial group. All round it’s a great combination and still sounds fresh enough despite the 23 years that have passed since this album’s original inception. I really cannot fault anything here beyond the fact the magic this group cook up with their live show obviously cannot be fully served any justice on record. I really hope they record again and, of course, once again take to the stage this year.
Some groups deserve to reappear. Kinsky are another living example of that. (RJ)
GRISHA LICHTENBERGER La Demeure; Il Y A Péril En La Demeure CD (Raster-Noton, Germany, 2015)
Warm glitch-infected electronica of the kind we’ve already heard before countless times. I realise it’s increasingly difficult to bring something new to a well-worn table, but even a touch of personality would at least help. I just do not know what the point of this is. (RJ)
LIMBS BIN 18 Rack Demo cassette (Torn Light, USA, 2017)
FRED LONBERG-HOLM / KEN VANDERMARK Resistance CD (Bocian, Poland, 2015)
Five pieces bringing together these two mainstays of the contemporary improv scene, Lonberg-Holm on trademark cello and electronics and Vandermark sweating over a tenor sax. Dynamic yet mostly set in the uneasy listening zone, the sax aims straight for a sucker-punch to the cranium whilst electronics occasionally splutter and gurgle away and Lonberg-Holm sounds like he’s fighting with his strings. Sometimes everything drops for a more melodic interlude, at once illustrating the duo’s chemistry and range, but Resistancelargely sounds exactly as the title suggests and delivers both sonorously and aggressively to superb effect. Anybody wanting their freeform lashing straight for the jugular will find much to savour here. (RJ)
MAP 71 Sado-Technical-Exercise CD (Foolproof Projects, 2016)
It is extremely rare that something comes along that moves me from my sultry position of jaded fucker, but Brighton’s Map 71 have done just that with what must be their fourth album (if first to appear on a format other than CDr or cassette). This is truly stunning music that’s virtually out there on its own these days, combining as it does spoken word/poetry by Lisa Jayne with percussion and electronics from Andy Pyne, As with the debut solo release of the latter (also reviewed here), the music itself has a neat tendency towards the avant-garde yet thankfully steers clear of stuffiness through a raw and earthy post-punk feel, ultimately serving an incredible backdrop to some great poetry readings themselves falling somewhere between personal, observational and abstract. Sometimes the music nods towards the kinda minimal synth work the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were peppered with, with more emphasis on structure and mood setting, but elsewhere ideas abound that tear convention completely. If I have one criticism it’d be directed towards the delivery of the vocals, which although effective are mostly in the same dry and almost flat style. Of course, this adds an agreeable punk-ish edge to the proceedings, but only the final track, ‘Void’, subtly plays around with the voice, unfortunately. It’d be good to hear the voice and the actual delivery of the words perhaps pushed more, a la Anne Gillis or somesuch. All the same, I’m hooked anyway and, well, if you ever liked D&V and crave something from similar, if less angry, waters then you really won’t go wrong with this. I hope my recommendation is clear. (RJ)
MAZZSACRE + 2CD (instant Classic, Poland, 2015)
Jerzy Mazzoll has long been a leading presence on Poland’s contemporary improv jazz and avant-garde scene. Forever open to pushing his music into new worlds in order to perhaps redefine the language of his clarinet and the many stories it has to tell, it is only a shame that he’s not renowned on the international landscape. Along with a group here, +brings with it seven new pieces of always taut yet outward-bound flex neither afraid to fluff out its musicianship or break convention. Fluid all the way, the lineup (including electronics besides bass, guitar and percussion) conveys raw chemistry and illustrates only too well just how on form Mazzoll still can be when in a decent enough setting. The bonus disc captures a live recording that’s often more raucous and heavy but equally bound for some fantastic cosmos-churning. Only surprised he’s never been granted a Tzadik release, really. (RJ)
EMMANUEL MIEVILLE Ethers CD (Baskaru, France, 2015)
Following a few more releases since 2007’s rather fine collaborative disc with Eric Cordier on Malaysia’s Xing-Wu Records, Ethers collects four field recording-based pieces representing Paris-based Mieville’s sixth album (and fourth ‘proper’ if we’re to include two early CDr releases). Similar to fellow Frenchmen Cordier and Eric La Casa, his work revolves around the idea of drawing together disparate environmental sounds to create compositions that either form narratives or at least sketch out ideas formed from this premise. Collating recordings from his travels to places as far apart as Hong Kong and Morocco that take in all from various sounds of nature to those borne of the city as his foundation, Mieville appears to be taking us on a tour of paths already well traveled but perhaps not paid attention to enough. Little details help embellish this but you’ll also hear on the final piece, ‘Island Ferrysm’,’ a heavily processed saxophone tugging us along hypnotically. Overall, Ethers maps out an engaging, and firmly engaged, listening experience. What the hell is it about the French being so damned good at this particular craft…? (RJ)
MONKEY PLOT Angaende Omstendigheter Som Ikke Lar Seg Nedtegne CD (Hubro, Norway, 2015)
As far as I can tell this is the third album by a Norwegian trio whose earthy improvisations derived from acoustic guitar, double bass and drums possess a snug and intimate feel. The music itself has an avant-folk leaning, constantly shifting yet never too far from the point where it remains entirely accessible and thoroughly engaging. Whilst it keeps things interesting and isn’t afraid to explore tangents, this is music that not only expresses great interaction between the players but welcomes the attention of those listening, too. Am sure this’d be good in a cosy pub backroom on a wintry evening with an open fire blazing away. I’m all for that. (RJ)
Capturing a live event: Is it even possible to truly capture something sonically that existed in ways that reached all the senses? Live albums have always tried to recreate the experience of a performance, but how can it be the same when you can’t see the artist in front of you, or smell the air in the venue, among other things? Tempo is a mammoth undertaking in this regard, attempting to render the bulk of a four hour improvised performance in sound. The project was conceived especially for the venue where it took place, the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, where the members of Mural had performed on two previous occasions. On the afternoon of 27th of April, 2013, they played for over four hours, inviting the public to stop in and listen at their discretion and to experience the performance in their own way. Tempo brings us three of the four hours (the first was not included) and a twenty-minute codex where the passion of the moment took the band beyond the initial four-hour time frame.
The recording does a good job of bringing us the music and something of the venue’s atmosphere – there is even some additional sound added by the storm that pounded Houston that day so, yes, this does make for a good document of the live experience. And the nature of the music means that there was likely little rock-band showmanship, so the loss of the visual element may not be as drastic as it would be in other places. This is most likely the result of the two-year mixing process undertaken to bring the raw recordings to their final state. Although presented on three discs (the last one including both the final hour and the codex), the artists’ advice is to listen to the entire release as if it were a single piece, since that was how it was created and manifested. Whether or not you want to listen to a single release for three and a half hours is something you’ll have to figure out for yourself, but I do get their point: the breaks between CDs are imposed by the format and have nothing to do with the music itself.
Getting a recording of this music must have been a trick, to say the least. The first twenty minutes of the first disc are just barely audible under normal listening conditions, and even when things do pick up a little, they fade right back to their sonic mumbling. In fact, great portions of the album lack any dynamism at all. That might be something that is more evident on the recording than it was in the chapel, but that only takes us back to the question of whether it’s even possible to document such a performance accurately.
The effect of so much of the album being a strain to listen to makes it seem a bit selfish. The crescendos, and I should add that the performance never becomes tremendously loud, offer the listener a moment, but then things fall back into their normal quiet. It’s difficult to relax and engage with music when you have to fight to hear it most of the time. Francisco Lopez arguably pushed the envelope of this type of recording to its extreme in the late ‘90s, but fans of his recordings of that era may find themselves drawn to this.
It’s a little surprising that,with three musicians playing half a dozen instruments (most of which are easily identifiable, since the album doesn’t rely on processing) should have created something so timid sounding. There seems to be a reluctance for anyone to take the lead and to build something from the forest floor they’ve created. No one wants to impose himself on the others and as a result, there are long stretches where it seems the musicians are waiting for something to happen as much as the audience.
Even the 20 minute final piece, where they were supposedly so engrossed in the moment that they simply lost track of time, shows nothing of the sort of energy one would expect from that statement. It sounds more like they simply kept waiting for more to happen and forgot to stop playing. If you want to feel passion from your music, this is not going to be your cup of tea.
The other thing that Tempo has working against it is just its sheer scope. It is three and a half hours of music that doesn’t stray too far, which means that there aren’t great differences between its different sections. I think that if the band had released the third disc on its own, I would have felt more kindly towards it. One gets a sense of all the sounds present from the final third of the release and it comes off as more dynamic. That, of course, would be less true to the live experience, but more adapted to the realities of listening to music at home. (KM)
MURMURISTS I Am You, Dragging Halo CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2016)
NEGATIVE SCANNER eponymous LP (Trouble In Mind, USA, 2015)
Hard not to recall early Siouxsie when listening to Rebecca Valeriano-Flores fronting the songs on the debut by this US punk outfit. The similarities are quite remarkable, really, despite the songs themselves being of a different disposition. This music veers closely to dissonant indie at times, but is stamped heavily with that DIY aesthetic which truly put the punk into early punk. Energetic and powered along by a great rhythm section, this makes for a fine start all round. (RJ)
HENRYK NORDVARGR BJORKK / MARGAUX RENAUDIN Anima Nostra CD (Cold Spring, 2016)
Bjorkk is possibly mostly known for his martial industrial project, Folkstorm, which might well be inactive now, and being a mainstay in most of the circles surrounding EBM, post-industrial, electronics and related music. The eight collaborative cuts here with Renaudin, who is unknown to me and will probably stay that way, draw from most of this in order to create a brooding environment where low growling vocals rise from ominous swirls or metal clanging from somewhere deep and cavernous strive for the ‘horror film’ effect so many such artists seem to crave. Some of the growled vocals, themselves either a form of throat singing or at least partly inspired by that, are quite effective, but most of the music goes nowhere I never heard before on those old Cold Meat Industry records I used to get sent in the ‘90s by groups themselves all wishing to be Lustmord. Of course It’s proficient, and to be honest I’d expect nothing less from an artist who has been chiseling away in this particular corner for so many years now, but it doesn’t evade that pervasive ‘doom ’n’ gloom’-by-numbers approach it is positively drenched in, unfortunately. I don’t want to appear too harsh as I’ve only heard Folkstorm before from Bjorkk’s many different projects, tho’ the work under that moniker failed to generate a bead of enthusiasm in me, too. Ho fucking hum. (RJ)
YUI ONODERA Semi Lattice CD (Baskaru, France, 2015)
One of at least three releases by this prolific Japanese artist who has been creating molten ambient works for at least ten years now and has many releases behind him to prove it. The seven pieces that form Semi Lattice combine watery field recordings, hushed tones, melodic key passages and timbral swirl to a seductive enough effect. Tending towards the gentler side of things, everything ebbs and flows with a natural grace absolutely perfect for sinking into your favourite armchair. What this music lacks in surprises is more than compensated for the relaxing lull it’s clearly made to pull you into.(RJ)
OWL RAVE eponymous LP (Interstellar, Austria, 2016)
Debut by a trio from Austria whose own background can be traced back to hardcore and garage punk. Here, however, they’ve ditched the brash sounds of their former groups to spin seven cuts of a more gloomy take on some of the ideas inherent in the Twin PeaksOST. Some of this hints at a Portishead demo, whilst the rest is more akin to bog standard post-industrial ambience with some of the worst and most flat vocals I’ve had the misfortune to listen to in a considerable while. To counteract this, the same vocalist clearly cannot resist his old urge to shout and emit some primal grunts over one piece, too. Like the fucking name wasn’t bad enough. (RJ)
PHAERENTZ Autofinger CDr (Phaerlag, Czech Republic, 2015)
The only thing I’ve got against this release, which itself is the second full-length one from CZ-based artist Petr Ferenc (of the now possibly defunct Birds Build Nests Underground), is the fact that it only exists as a doubtlessly very limited CDr and not as something more suitably substantial. Over the course of almost 50-minutes, a minimalist slant takes hold over a motif of subtle melodic keys and carefully honed electronic haze that bobs along gently until it later greets a more dynamic and intensified swell of rhythmic pounding. Wrapped in a hand-painted foldout sleeve, too. Very nice. Let’s hope somebody picks up on this because it certainly deserves it. (RJ)
REGOLITH I 2LP (Rock Is Hell, Austria, 2015)
Four lengthy slabs of heavy and multilayered drone pummel not far removed from some of Branca’s earlier symphonies. There’s a nice and absorbing dynamism to this duo’s pieces I’m sure would be even more effective live and everything’s conducted with a mean conviction firmly counterbalancing the fact the sound itself isn’t entirely new. Cannot say I know much about Regolith themselves, but it’d appear they’ve had a number of low-key releases out during the past few years. Would certainly like to hear more and, indeed, would gladly seize the original vinyl of this if I could rather than having to suffice with a crummy CDr copy aimed at those of us reviewers! (RJ)
JOCELYN ROBERT The Maze CD (Fragment Factory, Germany, 2015)
The Maze is the latest sound release from interdisciplinary Quebec artist Jocelyn Robert. Robert has an impressive pedigree in the world of experimental contemporary art – working in computer art, performance, music, and writing among other forms. He’s also actively involved in helping shape future artists, having taught in Canada and the U.S., including his current position as director of the School of Visual and Media Arts and Laval University in Quebec City.
He describes The Maze as “imaginary sound maps and subjective audio landscapes”, enticing listeners with the promise of discovery of new musical lands. However, what the listener discovers in this album is going to depend on their mindset and environment.
The first question to ask oneself before embarking on this sonic excursion is: “How do I feel about experimental music?” If your definition of that genre includes more structured acts like Faust or assaults like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, or anything that might also apply the label “ambient” to itself, you might want to approach with caution. The Maze creates a geography of sound through exquisite detail and carefully placed sounds that gives a kind of 3D effect. But it doesn’t contain much that could be termed “musical”, doesn’t rattle you with its rawness or energy and isn’t suited to background or “mood music” status. Which brings us to the second question a prospective listener should ask: “How much do I like silence?” Unlike so-called “ambient” music, this album is minimalist in the extreme. It functions by juxtaposing moments of sound with stretches of near-complete silence, setting up a contrast between the two, so that a few notes on the piano come crashing through with the force of a canon. Getting the most out of the release, with the exception of one track, requires a superior sound system and even then, you’ll need dead silence all around (yes, even if you don headphones), or the final sound will be muddled and you won’t get the full effect that the artist evidently intended. You also have to be fairly comfortable with stretches where there is simply nothing to hear, and to be ready to listen actively, so that the effect of the sound-against-silence isn’t lost.
The music is more a piece of art than what would normally be found on CD. It has the glacial pace and meandering quality that people either love or hate about experimentation. Robert uses crisp, acoustic instruments (piano, guitar) sparingly to create something that is minimalist in the extreme. It’s likely that those who have found themselves drawn to other artists who practice in multiple disciplines will appreciate The Maze as well.
There is a shock in store, however, in the form of the album’s third track. Entitled ‘San Francisco #1’, it’s a monstrosity of digital glitches that will test the speakers and the patience of most listeners. After two decades or more of listening to things that a lot of people would argue isn’t even music, I’ve grown pretty inured to the shock that comes with a blast of noise, but even I wondered if the disc was malfunctioning when this came on. This is the sort of thing I really can’t see anyone liking. Rather, I think they’ll fall into one of two categories: those who skip it whenever they put the album on and those who can endure it.
Given the challenging nature of the music and the challenges associated with being able to listen to it properly, I think this is likely to be a release with limited appeal. Those who are drawn to minimalist experimentation and who can find a way to enjoy everything it has to offer will be pleased. Others are better off looking elsewhere for their musical fix. (KM)
FRANK ROTHKAMM Wiener Process 24CD set (Baskaru, France, 2015).
A German avant electronix composer, now based in Los Angeles, Mr. R’s gargantuan project, contained within a handmade lucite box, in, no doubt, a hideously expensive limited edition of 24 (!) points to a new conception in music, a zone where there is no beginning nor end and no linear development, statistically designed so that the listener will not remember a jot of what was heard a few minutes ago, and what they hear will seem different on each occasion.
Because there are twenty-four hours in a day, the Wiener Process comprises of twenty-four distinct one hour pieces and each disc is artworked with a twenty-four hour clock with the missing number signifying a particular volume. With the promo disc, I expected a segment, say, of three minutes from each c.d. but on closer examination, it shows that all of the numbers are intact and perhaps inevitably (?) the CD doesn’t play at all. Nothing. Nada. It appears that I’ve been custard-pied by a conceptual in-joke! and, yes, gentle reader, my sides have just split. So it’s all down to the accompanying crib-sheet. The work apparently begins in silence, builds to white/pink noise, which eventually develops into a tonal zone of melodics, which over time, lose their integrity and then enter denser harmonic planes. Things then come to a close with a field recording called ‘Hyperacusis Man, Opus 82’. Or so it sez…. I for one shall never know – two dozen times over. (Stefan McPeacock)
JON SEAGROATT & IAN STAPLES with BOBBIE WATSON Deathless CD (Future Vinyl, 2015)
Spread over this disc are thirteen pieces of a mostly instrumental nature by Comus’ Jon Seagroatt, known also as clarinet player for Current 93’s present lineup, and improv jazz group Red Square’s Ian Staples. each of them dedicated to the story or even plight of the minotaur as re-imagined by Steven Sherrill’s 2004 novel where it is now living in a trailer park. Aided by Comus’ Bobbie Watson furnishing two of the pieces with spoken word, they are mostly based around an ominous and haunting mesh of growling drones, guttural reed jabs, unearthly electronic sounds and fragmented improvised melodies trailblazing the ether. Owing as much to modern classical composition as to their own backgrounds in improvisation, jazz and the more frazzled end of psychedelia, Deathless delivers like a perfectly executed concept album where the story is almost wordlessly buoyed throughout. Rich, complex and completely engaging, it’s hard to not be pulled deeply into its folds from start to finish. (RJ)
SKELETON WRECKS eponymous CD (Gibbon Envy Recordings, 2015)
Meantime, David Yow has joined Godflesh to create the kinda din Al Jourgensen once used to. Includes a somewhat surprising remix by Gary Mundy of Ramleh/Kleistwahr, which at least shows the trio that is Skeleton Wrecks possesses good taste. (RJ)
SKULLFLOWER The Spirals of Great Harm 2CD (Cold Spring, 2017)
SLEAZE ART Infra CD (Bocian, Poland, 2015)
If I’m not mistaken this is the first album by French bassist and dronesmith Kaspar T. Toeplitz under the Sleaze Art guise since the late ‘90s. Typically comprising additional bass layers by a few collaborators, Infra amounts to one long piece that begins as a low rumble, swells enough to make the walls shake with sweat and gradually ebbs into the distance. At over 70 minutes long, I feel Toeplitz could have achieved far more with less, and even though the execution of the concept itself is hardly original there’s no denying the sheer weight and intensity here. (RJ)
STARA RZEKA Chien Chmury Nad Ukrytym Polem 2LP (Instant Classic, Poland, 2015)
Looks like this is a reissue of an album originally released on CD in 2013 by this Polish alias (meaning ‘Old River’) of Jakub Ziolek, a multi-instrumentalist and composer also known for his work in Kapital. Stretched over the four sides of white vinyl here seems to be something for everybody; a dash of avant-folk, several seams of drone, a bout of tumultuous noise and even a cover of Nico’s ‘My Only Child’. The man is clearly talented, but this music sounds too restrained, on the whole. Less heartfelt and more akin to an advert of his prowess to budding collaborators. Something to return to, perhaps, but not in a great hurry. (RJ)
STARZY SINGERS Ombreola 2LP + CD (Antena Krzyku, Poland, 2015)
Remastered reissue of this now defunct Polish group’s debut album from 1997. Frayed melodic punk with a leaning towards what was once known as college rock (maybe it still is? I have no idea!), although most of the songs are frenetic and charged with more power than that might suggest. A neat enough weirdness element is threaded into the sound, too, sometimes even recalling Sun City Girls when at their punkiest. That’ll always win a vote round here. (RJ)
ANDI STECHER Austreiben/Antreiben LP (Heart of Noise, Austria, 2015)
Debut by this Austrian percussionist now residing in Berlin whose four pieces here, inspired by European mask traditions and themes of transition and our relationships with nature and so on, gravitate between a bowed, rasping tonal approach and more pulsing rhythms. At times recalling the stark treatments served by Eddie Prevost and at others diving into realms not unlike that of a kinda stuttering minimalist tribal techno, there’s much to be said for these incredible explorations into thematic sound. Good to see that an old Krakow-based buddy, Norman Teale (a.k.a. The Norman Conquest), was handed a credit for the mastering job, too. A release I’ll return to for definite. (RJ)
GEIR SUNDSTOL Langen Ro (Hubro, Norway, 2016)
SIMON WHETHAM What Matters Is That It Matters CD (Baskaru, France, 2015)
Typical for this French label, we’re presented here with another sound artist whose work is focussed on space and utilising anything within it to create a tapestry of hums, tones, rasps and suchlike alongside an array of subtle field recordings. Rather subdued on the whole, these compositions sway between a sometimes chilly and breezy filmic haze and those swollen with movement and hints of dissonance. Whilst Whetham’s work doesn’t necessarily stand out from that of countless others operating in the same area, the obvious deftness and sense of shading at least keeps it evocative. Somewhat more interesting than the other cuts is the title one which pulls in some gentle and minimal melodic signature possibly, and hopefully, sourced from real strings before it makes way for a neat bank of steadily controlled noise. A whole album of such pieces would go down very well round here. (RJ)
KARMICIEL WSZY Isdalskvinnen CDr (Anoplura, Poland, 2015)
During the past year or so, this Polish artist has been keeping himself busy with putting out a number of low-run and often self-financed cassette and CDr releases. This particular one only appears in an edition of 30 or 40 and was mostly used as a promo or given to friends, etc. Housed in an oversized foldover card sleeve, it collects nine softly hewn dark electronic pieces that are kept interesting enough via the shifting plates of sound at work and their occasionally ebbing into more intensified forms. There are no tricks up the sleeves beyond this, unfortunately, but everything hangs together nicely enough regardless. As often the way with such music, I feel far more could be achieved by the introduction of disparate elements. A turning of the corner in this respect could make this really worthwhile. (RJ)
ZEITKRATZER Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music CD (Zeitkratzer Productions, Germany, 2014)
If you’re not already familiar with this German orchestra’s work at least courtesy of their two releases focussed on the music of Whitehouse, then here’s another perfect chance to try and redress the balance. Of course, you should all know Lou Reed’s classic album,Metal Machine Music, and have doubtlessly read all the stories concerning it. Regardless of those, it is a good album in its own right and serves as something of a link between the minimalist droneworks by La Monte Young, Tony Conrad et al and the more industrial music inspired delving into noisestorms of a purely electronic persuasion. What Zeitkratzer have done, however, is to arrange the array of feedback loops and often harsh tones of the original for a 10-piece ensemble of strings and percussion. This itself could only too easily fall flat, but the attention to detail and all-encompassing layers sweating out here are irresistible as they move steadily from one part to the next entirely naturally and without losing sight of the original’s sheer power. This collects live recordings and only serves to make one wish they’d been in the audience. Beautiful and utterly mesmerising.(RJ)
JOHN ZORN Pellucidar A Dreamer’s Fantabula CD (Tzadik, 2015)
Whilst I’ll concede he’s got a talent for at least working with some great musicians, has some interesting enough ideas of his own and certainly champions some interesting work that would otherwise remain buried even deeper in obscurity, I’ve never been a huge fan of Zorn. This album, replete with its catchy title and Ikue Mori photography, is just fucking annoying. Lounge music played with one eyebrow locked into an arch that should be demolished. Instantly and as painful (as this music) as possible. (RJ)
VARIOUS ARTISTS The Harbinger Sound Sampler 2LP (Harbinger Sound, 2017)