Reviews 2018

At the moment, most reviews are being written for the physical magazine, but more will be added here soon enough…

TODD ANDERSON-KUNERT A Good Time To Go cassette (Nonlinear, Australia, 2018)

Four pieces by a self-proclaimed interdisciplinary artist already known for some installation work and a feature length documentary, A Conversational Exploration of Sonic Practice, that has been included at Austria’s ARS Electronica festival. A Good Time To Go is Todd’s collection of material apparently designed to be performed live solo and ultimately given to what seems to be a simple premise of electronic swells sometimes vaguely sounding like something between a heavily processed voice or a scrunched-up ball of tones. There’s a lot of space here, too, essentially both allowing everything to breathe whilst simultaneously compounding an understated approach in keeping with the concept of quietly leaving a room or situation unnoticed. Highly effective, this album should reward any attentive listener. (RJ)

DISTANT ANIMALS Lines LP (Hallow Ground, Switzerland, 2018)

Seems to be the first ‘proper’ long player from Switzerland’s Daniel Alexander Hignell, whose two side-long pieces of drone-based foraging here at least are embellished with enough clangs, gong-like sounds and organ swells to lift them beyond the usual ‘drone-by-numbers’ fare often doing the rounds. Because of this, there’s a moodier presence to the proceedings, at once vaguely reminiscent to the soundtrack of a dusty old horror film and perhaps knowingly mindful of previous minimalist masters such as La Monte Young and Terry Riley. Clearly, Hignell has a handle on things so often missing amongst many prone to exploring such realms of minimalist music. Alluringly full of movement yet imbued with a keen ear for dynamics in abstraction, Lines arrives with a charm entirely its own. (RJ)

FOCH DELPLANQUE Secret CD (Parentheses Records, Belgium, 2017)

Electronics, real time sampling and the use of objects such as stones as percussion join what’s mostly a restrained approach to Philippe Foch’s playing of the tablas in this collaboration between him and sound artist Mathias Delplanque. There’s a nice fluidity running through the gentle setting of clangs, whirrs, metallic scrapes, chimes and hypnotic rhythms that’s far more welcoming than anticipated, instantly compounding a shared objective to these improvisations. The line between abstraction and a more direct, accessible stand firmly planted, Secret lolls into a warm enough space that can be claimed as its own for the duration, at least. (RJ)

GROUP ZERO Structures and Light LP (Touch Sensitive Records, 2017)

Solo album by Cathal Cully, who is otherwise to be found at home in Girls Names, a group based in Northern Ireland who draw from indie, post-hardcore and lo-fi. Structures and Light, however, is nothing like any of that and instead takes us through some measured electronic tracks merging beats and chilled synths in a manner perfect for the sonic landscape of the early ’80s. What sets this apart is the production and stern nodding towards the darker end of the techno spectrum, such as Demdike Stare, although some of the interwoven melodies are lightly smeared with a touch of early Autechre. It all works well, though, and serves both to remind us of some classic sounds and their place in more contemporary terms. I look forward to where Group Zero goes next. (RJ)

INTO THE SKY ‘Before the Storm’ 7″ (Kosmic Noise Records, Germany, 2017)

Already describing themselves as ‘ambient rock’ on the press sheet, the textured instrumental approach of ‘Before the Storm’ didn’t come as a huge surprise. However, it’s an affair that courts favour for its fairly sprightly nature and allusions to a number of artists once housed by Kranky or the likes of Hood and Flying Saucer Attack. Like so many others similarly attired, the smell of several dusty old krautrock records is never too far away, but there’s a contemporary indie sensibility at work that at least arrives from the side where the worst of what that suggests is largely avoided. I’m sure an album might afford them the opportunity to unfurl far more ideas, though. (RJ)

RAFAL KOLACKI A’zan, Hearing Ethiopia CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2017)

Rafal Kolacki can usually be found in groups such as Hati, Innercity Ensemble or Mammoth Ulthana, each of them dedicated to the foggy corridors found between post-industrial, psychedelic and ritual music. Let off the leash, however, he arms himself with a recorder and documents environmental sounds. Those included here are from his travels in Ethiopia and, as you might expect, amount to street sounds, animal noises, chattering people and the like, not that dissimilar from countless other places apart from, obviously, the different language(s). Maybe I’ve heard too many such albums now, but most are akin to being unwittingly shown somebody’s holiday photos. I fully understand the rationale behind such releases, but I’ve heard so many now that I fail to find them engaging. Sorry. (RJ)

MAHLER HAZE A Range of Solutions CDr (Personal Archives, USA, 2018)

The very latest album by Mahler Haze, a solo project operating from Belgium mostly given to excursions through the outer reaches of contemporary psychedelia sometimes informed by moods more often found amongst certain post-industrial artists. It’s a mix that mostly works well, especially in the instrumental setting this work generally emanates from. Over the seven pieces here, you might be forgiven for sometimes thinking Jesu or Cluster have been gently ushered to the VIP room as thick blankets of iridescent fug fold in on themselves in a steady jostle for one of the outer rings of Saturn. Skullflower don’t seem so far away either, but it’s no bad thing. Such reference points, entirely my own anyway, only paint a tiny corner of a space which commands deeper listening despite the fact that beyond such micro-releases (this one arrives in an edition of 50) Mahler Haze’s work is barely promoted or pushed. Way ahead of some of the nonsense received around here. (RJ)

KALI MALONE Cast of Mind LP (Hallow Ground, Switzerland, 2018)

Seems as though Kali has arrived from the abstract electronics/noise school and has her hand in various other projects, such as one of a more dreampop persuasion. Under her own name, however, she plunges into those well-charted waters where shimmers, hums, glacial shifting and long, drawn-out tones converge in a bid to reduce the listener to the level of driftwood. I’d like to say Cast of Mind adds something new to the canon, or at least has something more personal hanging over it, but it all just drifts along like countless other such releases before it ends up in a premature ejaculation in a semi-conscious fug. (RJ)

NAKAMA Worst Generation CD (Nakama, Norway, 2017)

More improvised gurgling and spluttering from this group of Norwegian players hellbent on extracting the tiniest of sounds from the assembled double bass, violin, piano, drums and the like whilst Agnes Hvizdalek’s uses her sometimes grating voice to emulate decidedly alien sounds once in a while. The playing is tense yet understated as each dramatic exchange unfurls, the setting uneasy as it nudges modulations in and out of focus, and the combination of the academic, primal and absurd both enriching and inventive. A commanding listen by musicians whose unbridled mastery of their chosen context makes for a listening experience as unpredictable as it is challenging. (RJ)

PEST MODERN Rock ‘n’ Roll Station LP (Meidosem, France, 2018)

Nine collab tracks between a father and son who use Jac Berrocal’s classic ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Station’ as a hinge to all from surf guitar and proto-industrial electronics to old school techno and growling vocals on. What with the cartoon-ish elements strewn throughout, it’s like The Young Gods just entered some club in toytown after taking ‘shrooms before hitting the studio, although the ensuing chaos occasionally careers into something more akin to a dadaist nightmare Berrocal himself has been especially good at producing. Certainly an oddity given Nurse With Wound’s impossible-to-beat take on the original, but there’s a certain charm attached to just how impenetrably baffling this otherwise is. (RJ)

THE PITCH & SPLITTER ORCHESTER Frozen Orchestra (Splitter) (Mikroton Records, Russia, 2018)

If you’re not particularly au fait with the world of Splitter, they’re a huge, amorphous conglomeration of (largely) European composer/performers of an electroacoustic inclination, who, on past releases, have collaborated with guest composers such as Felix Kubin and A.A.C.M.’s George Lewis. Compared to their debut, Creative Construction (also on Mikroton), the rank and file have dwindled from twenty-five (!) to a slightly more manageable nineteen. And in the driving seat this time, guest composer-wise, is The Pitch; a quartet comprising of double bass, organ, vibes and clarinet players, who, by and large,, have had previous history as members of the Splitter Orchester. Small world. So, as they already know each other, things should really get on like a house on fire. And they do, but it’s more of a slow burn event really, with an organic sense of dynamics that ebb and flow without a strict adherence to the stopwatch and clipboard.

And from the get go, Frozen… reveals itself to be a dronework of (obviously) large-to-massive proportions, that leans heavily towards the deep, dark bass registers. A malevolent and slowly swelling backdrop emerges propelled by the full-throated wheeze of Boris Baltschun’s electric pump organ, which eventually yields to an expansive mid-section that makes a bid for freedom with what seems to be a morning chorus of stray birdsong that’s blotted out by the general hubbub of a roadwork crew (?). But really, most of the individual voices are immediately absorbed into the gaping maw of the eternal note, all escape routes barricaded. Perversely, over time, the most prominent figure; head bobbing above the soupy waves, is Simon James Phillips, his poignant piano lines, romantic in essence, working as a strange counterpoint to his dronist colleagues.

As you can guess by now, the feel and substance here is far too quintessentially continental to be corralled in with those big city note-stretchers like La Monte Young, Tony Conrad and Charlemagne Palestine, but to these ears perhaps, we may have located a modern successor to Urban Sax, that weird, masked gallic flash mob of the seventies and eighties. (SP)

JAMES PLOTKIN The Joy of Disease: Demos and Remixes LP/CD (B.F.E., Spain, 2018)

On the LP there are seven pieces originally sketched in 1995 for the Joy of Disease LP on John Zorn’s Avant label. These themselves, recorded at Mick Harris’ studio in Birmingham, assume a variety of guises, from protean gush-driven works anchored to the kind of electronic rhythms perfect for stapling anybody to a late night sofa and on to moody post-dancefloor grooves Soma once held the master keys to. For sure, the fact these are a little rudimentary and from over two decades ago shows, but there’s an irresistible charm to the proceedings that definitely works in their favour. Whilst side 2’s ‘Yes Well No’ hints at a less earth-bound approach that I’m sure could have been explored much further, it simply exemplifies Plotkin’s yearning to push and poke at a variety of different sounds in an evident quest to simply see what might happen. The fact that Mick Harris was there doubtlessly fed this gathering of loops, beats and electronic sprawl, but at least the minds were synchronised. The accompanying CD includes several Plotkin and Harris/Scorn remixes perfectly expanding on the scope whilst in the latter’s case retaining that all too important individual stamp. Nice. (RJ)

RAMLEH ‘Procreation’/’Religion’ 12″ (Il Silenzio Del Rumore, Italy, 2018)

By and large, remixes, or even the idea of them, tend to divide peoples opinion. Perfectly understandable given just how many seem absolutely devoid of any purpose whatsoever beyond being something of an ‘add-on’ to a release that doesn’t have enough confidence behind it to exist in its own right. Outside this, they can work and, indeed, can make for an interesting take on the music, sometimes casting a spin on it unimaginable to the point of sacrilege. Let’s not sidestep the fact they can simply be ‘fun’, too, and accordingly perhaps should not be so heavily weighed down by their detractors. For Ramleh it is something of an unusual step, which may well be precisely why they agreed to this on the first place, especially when considering the fact both Parrish Smith and Black Seed, here given one song over a side each to conjure new spirits from the tracks, approach the sonic waters from different shores. Parrish takes huge rhythmic blocks and serpentine electronics that via the Grand Canyon bassline add up to a dancefloor stomper very much removed from any expectations one might have regarding new Ramleh material, despite Anthony’s pronounced passion for some proper head-crunching techno. Black Seed’s version of ‘Religion’ (nothing to do with the classic PIL song of the same name from their first album) emphasises the psychedelic whorls generally embedded  in the group’s work yet throws up an entirely different narrative in the process, melding moonlit middle-of-the-night fire dance nods to an array of digital drizzles apparently otherwise primed for a journey of their own accord.

Both pieces, in their original form, are to appear on the next Ramleh album, now due in 2019, so these two remixes are as close as we’re going to get to a preview for now; another perversity I’m sure both Gary Mundy and Anthony Di Franco are tickled by as much as the black disco bag and accompanying info sheet that house everything. The idea that Ramleh appear to be at least three or four groups in one unit has never been clearer. A fucking good thing as far as I’m concerned. (RJ)

THE SAND RAYS Remembered Vol. 1. CD (Zhelezobeton, Russia, 2018)

So far, The Sand Rays have been survived by three e.p. releases, two of which are digital and one that is a limited run CDr. The name is also another alias for Jim DeJong, whose work under the name The Infant Cycle is all that I am familiar with. The tracks here appear to have a little more depth to them, though, and are generally more expansive in that the hushed tonal pieces have more movement and also sometimes make way for more rhythmic pieces that draw from glitch but are more full-bodied. Everything suggests DeJong pretty much knows what he’s doing and aims for a somewhat higher plateau than his peers. It’s a strong collection that deserved to be put together on a disc, anyway. Sounds like a recommendation from me, for what it’s worth. (RJ) 

SUGAI KEN UkabazUmorezU CD (Rvng Intl., USA, 2017)

Crystalline murmurs, pirouetting tones, distant digital clanging and occasional nods to what could be a soundtrack to some cartoon or slapstick comedy form the framework to Japanese sound artist Sugai Ken’s fifth album in seven years. Each and every nuance is tacked into place by a keen sense of atmosphere and burst of playfulness that, whether completely intentional or not, sets this music apart from so much of the more desiccated, austere nonsense that constitutes much of the medium. I’m not sure it’s quite enough to elevate it completely, but it’s an admirable enough rung to stride from. (RJ)

SPLASHGIRL Sixth Sense CD (Hubro, Norway, 2018)

Something like the seventh or eighth album from a Norwegian jazz trio whose arrangements tend to loll towards the more dramatic end of the spectrum, by and large. Following a relaxed and gentle start, the electronics, piano, (double) bass and drums assume tauter posture at once alarmingly hypnotic and veering into almost schizoid territory both more uncomfortable and borderline abstract. It’s at such junctures Splashgirl illustrate a keen sense of exploration, but it is always held back by a sense of caution perhaps tacked into place by a professionalism that favours the ordinary over the extraordinary. There’s a steep classical influence sometimes recalling the approach of many a prog rock group, tho’ tiny folkish refrains make their presence felt along the way and perfectly offset a decidedly contemporary, and rather polished, approach to the medium. It all adds up to an interesting album, but one whose restraint perhaps ultimately goes against it, unfortunately. Maybe I’m missing something? (RJ)

TRONDHEIM VOICES + ASLE KARSTAD Rooms & Rituals CD (Grappa, Norway, 2018)

Twelve pieces, collected from several performances, by this Norwegian group of improvisational singers, here recorded and produced by Asle Karstad, whose background resides in contemporary classical music. Accompanied likewise by some occasional electronics where the voices are filtered through a specially devised system called maccatrols, essentially an electronic box each singer wears that can be used to manipulate their voice, the arrangements here amount to a bewitching setting of movement and control wholly atmospheric in its execution. For the most part this positively entrancing set of voices assumes a softer hue, but it is angled enough to proffer a dramatic edge that sometimes strays deep into the unknown. ‘Room #6’, for example, is a triumphant blend of haunting rhythmic swells and deranged vocalisations, whilst the following song, simply called ‘Hymn’, is based on a traditional hymn and clearly illustrates the emotional prowess of the performers. Ranges are  further explored throughout the remaining pieces, sometimes teased into shapes many might deem unearthly, but it’s impossible to not at least appreciate the depth, beauty and indeed deep-set sense of mystery at work. A triumphant release, then, that can only pay the best of tributes to precisely how beguiling these must be to see live. (RJ)

URUK Mysterium Coniunctionis CD (Ici D’Ailleurs, France, 2018)

The second album by this collaboration between Tim Lewis, a.k.a. Thighpaulsandra, and the prolific Massimo Pupillo, who is known for having previously worked with a wide range of artists, including Gordon Sharp, Paal Nilssen-Love, Caspar Brotzmann and Oren Ambarchi. Given the pedigree here, it’s only surprising that the two lengthy pieces on offer amount to rather formulaic strolls through what seem like dark ambient presets presumably prodded at whilst doing something far more interesting, like doing the dusting or whatever. I certainly expect better from Tim, whose work is usually capable of hurling one against all manner of different ideas themselves often contorted into new patterns. I’m not so familiar with Pupillo’s work, but given his being a bassist prone to improvisation I’d have hoped at least some of that intuitiveness would have seeped into into this. Disappointing. (RJ)

ZUPERNAUT The Psyker at the Gates of None CD (self-released, 2018)

Six tracks by a Portugese keyboard player and programmer who seems to have a thing for the sounds Klaus Schulze and Edgar Froese once explored whilst on some kinda industrial mission as imagined by a blunted Bernard Szajner. This is hi-drama synth-scaping perfect for a light sci-fi show aimed at the whole family. Outside this, I’m not sure what the point of it is really, although track three, ‘Egoist’, accompanied by punk-ish vocals and Goblin-esque organ, is world class comedy. (RJ)



The prolific Zuydervelt, known chiefly for his work as Machinefabriek, here collaborates with Belorukov from Saint-Petersburg and fellow Dutch sound traveller Aquarius on a soundtrack to Jessica Gorter’s The Red Soul, a documentary film released in late 2017 concerning the influence of Russia’s ravaged past on the nation’s present. Ghostly choir and folk song snatches from Russia, plus other such embellishments, slowly drift in and out of a slightly troubled sonic gauze of windswept tones, subtle knocking sounds, quietly chattering electronics, indiscernible murmuring and wheezing noises kept to a low tide. Each detail’s presence is kept understated before it ebbs quietly back into the distance, somewhat recalling William Basinski’s work in feel if not in execution. Having not yet seen the film itself each piece here conjures images of starkness, pensiveness and melancholy. It’s the sound of misery, failure and regret tacked to several wispy strands of hope. In this sense it the album works beautifully. I need to see the film. (RJ)

V/A Pavilion/Paviljonas CD (MIC Lithuania, Lithuania, 2018)

This collects a piece each by eight Lithuanian audio-visual and sound artists dedicated to recording various locations in order to, as so typical of any gathering of field recordings, engage the listener in, gosh, the ‘here’ and ‘now’ of the given environment perhaps otherwise ignored. None of them are treated in any way and, as such, we get the usual selection of natural sounds, traffic, chatter, a dog barking and so on. As much as there have been exceptions over the years, I’m honestly finding such artists as increasingly lacking in anything even vaguely  indicating integrity these days. Field recording artists are up there with drone artists. What’s worse is that you can expect any one of them to appear at an arts grant subsidised ‘event’ that may attract up to 30 people anytime near you soon. The fact these people are from Lithuania might set them apart to a certain degree but it doesn’t excuse them. No point in noting the names as nobody will especially care anyway. (RJ)


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