Review: Vasoconstriction – Occupation (self-released, Jan 13)

The opening track to Vasoconstriction’s new Occupation EP, “Dixie Cups,” deserves recognition purely for how much of a bait and switch it is. Up until around the one minute mark, I wasn’t even close to sold. Grind is a genre that’s unfortunately dominated by cliches, and the opening with a misanthropic spoken word sample into a tremolo guitar intro is definitely one of them. But the New Jersey three piece throws expectations into the incinerator with the furious d-beat riff that kicks in halfway through the track, immediately putting the immense energy and aggression they bring to the table on display. That penchant for sudden, unexpected changes in dynamics crops up many other times throughout Occupation, from the free chords that disrupt the palm-muted chugging on “Springer” (and the three-second blast outro on the same track) to the unapologetic crashing-through of “Brittle Bodies,” possibly the EP’s fastest and most unrelenting cut. Occupation is a refreshing and passionate studio debut from Vasoconstriction, with as much speed and screams as a kid could ask for.

Review: Endless Chasm & Dosis Letalis – Channeling Fire (Big Pharma, Jan 5)

The dynamic movement of “Inner Fire,” the first of the two tracks on Channeling Fire, reminds me of the Shepard tone, a combination of sine waves of varying octaves that creates the illusion of perpetual tonal ascent despite the wave never actually changing. The wall is an impeccably crafted slab of crunching noise, droning electronics, and other more subtle sounds that always seem to building toward some impressive climax. But other than the crescendo at the beginning of the piece, nothing ever changes, and this seemingly paradoxical coexistence of motion and stagnancy is what makes Channeling Fire so enthralling. “Inner Fire,” despite being backed by a considerable amount of energy, is the smoldering embers that lights the inferno of “Inner Void.” The initial blast of this second piece is so punishingly cathartic, cleansing all extraneous thoughts and forcing you to focus on its monolithic construction, which reveals itself to be just as, if not more, lush and detailed as “Inner Fire.” Pretty much everything about Channeling Fire is amazing, but on my first few listens, it was the structure that stood out to me. These two pieces and the way they’re constructed could not be a better fit.

Review: Howard Stelzer & Brendan Murray – Commuter (Humanhood Recordings, Jan 3)

The past two nights have brought the most lasting snow my city has seen so far this season, and waking up in the morning to my neighborhood blanketed in drifts of sparkling white is quite a calming experience. But there’s also a mysterious energy that pervades these winter landscapes, especially when it’s quiet outside, and the only sounds are the distant hum of cars slipping and sliding on the roads and your boots crunching on the sidewalk. Commuter is the perfect soundtrack for that lonely, frigid walk on a frozen road, all of the cars draped in fluffy white sweaters. The tape is the second official collaborative release from electronic musicians Howard Stelzer and Brendan Murray, the first being 2017’s Connector on the Helen Scarsdale Agency. The two artists paint brittle, suspenseful soundscapes using a mixture of ethereal drones and more concrete electronic sounds and recordings, the latter being the glue that holds even the 27-minute closer “Let the Children Guard What the Sires Have Won” together. Lethargic clouds of fuzz breathe in and out of “Molina,” a track that fits just right somewhere in between lackadaisical and driven and might just be the centerpiece of the tape. Commuter offers a lot regardless of how much attention and patience you pay it; inattentive background listening is rewarded almost as much as actively picking apart the countless layers carefully laid to create these compositions.

Review: Johann Mazé – Deux Soleils Pour Foncer (Cocktail Pueblo, Dec 17)

On Deux Soleils Pour Foncer, French percussionist Johann Mazé conjures up metallic, rhythmic sound worlds with a variety of materials. “Trois Départs Loin d’Imli” is heavily based on steady but complex rhythms played on metal objects and bass tom. There’s palpable energy behind every hit, and the beats almost approach a level of aggression comparable to industrial music, but they’re also restrained enough to a point where other elements can coexist in the galloping maelstrom. The end of the piece introduces a vocal motif—presumably performed by Mazé himself through a megaphone—that matches the percussion in its frantic stuttering, creating almost unbearable tension that is only released when the piece ends. This tension-building is the strongest point of Deux Soleils Pour Foncer, with Mazé demonstrating his ability to sculpt several sound sources together in a chaotic mixture that can barely sustain itself. It’s arguably even more apparent on the second track, “Je Contiens Des Multitudes,” which, despite starting much less conspicuously with some quiet rattles and rustles, escalates to a frenetic climax with accelerating bass hits and metallic cacophony. I’m reminded of that video of the washing machine with a brick placed inside that tears itself apart. Amazing.

Review: Charles Razeur – Charles Razeur (Lost Light, Jan 5)

A few months ago, I wrote about Damien De Coene’s tape The Present Is a Hostile Place on Geräuschmanufaktur, and its haunting focus on absence and silence even when it is surrounded by noise. Charles Razeur is a new project from De Coene, one that takes that subversive wall composing approach to new extremes on its self titled debut release. The first track is dominated by tape hiss, sparingly punctuated with cloying bits of static and low rustling. It is unlike any other wall I’ve heard, both in its presence and construction. Every element of the incredibly minimal composition contributes to a feeling of isolation and fear. It’s not fear in the visceral, confrontational way, an emotion that is frequently evoked by wall artists; instead, De Coene approaches elusive feelings of ghostly presences and old rooms pregnant with the souls of those that came before. “I” rewards listening to its full duration more than most other pieces I’ve heard; its unique atmosphere and unpredictability almost seem to imprison me. “II” retains the sparse textural palette, but with a much more liberal application of the crackles over top of the hiss. It’s a great foil to the first, and while I think “I” is definitely the centerpiece of Charles Razeur, the tape is overall a fantastic and singular debut release.

Review: Bandit – Warsaw (self-released, Dec 30)

Philadelphia ‘gutter punk’ maniacs Bandit snuck this new EP out right before the end of last year, and as a result it went unnoticed by many people, including me (okay, I don’t know if ‘many’ is accurate, I just want to project my obliviousness onto others). But all it takes is one listen of Warsaw for it to lodge itself inside your head. The short eight-track set expands upon the chaotic grinding punk cocktail the band cooked up on their last major release, Self Inflicted, in virtually every way. From the four count blast beat that topples into “Lomza,” the energy never dips, and every single track is short and fine-tuned. Songs like “New Rochelle” and “Satisfaction Denied” introduce a hint of a mathcore element with the chunky guitar chugs and rhythm changes, but thankfully there are no indulgent breakdowns or sludge meanderings to be found; any periods of slowness are almost immediately ground up and pushed into a wood chipper. Warsaw falls short of even as many minutes as songs it has, but there is a formidable amount of creativity and emotion poured into these songs, with plenty of badass lyrical moments (“In my mind I’ve watched you die countless times” comes to mind). Nearly three minutes of the EP’s run time is reserved for an excerpt of what I’m pretty sure is Irena Santor’s “Ej, Przeliciał Ptaszek,” a fittingly contrastive outro that feels more than earned—and by the end, I’m ready to listen all over again.

“The hopeless romantic, dreaming of the guillotine.”

Review: Fissures – Rituels (self-released, Jan 2)

Admittedly, I use the word ‘spellbinding’ quite often—it’s a great word. But with Rituels, there are few other words that better represent how much the music draws you in. Belgium-based improviser and field recorder Ludovic Medery, also known as Fissures, combines the synthetic, glinting rays of sound so often found in acousmatic music with a host of more recognizable, tangible recordings, creating a unique, varied sound world that is every bit as dark and mysterious as the underwater forest on the cover. The piece progresses and expands naturally; there’s definitely a central idea, with material sounds such as churning gears, dripping water, rustling leaves, and the creaks of old boats interacting with a set of more processed elements. It’s interesting that the composition is so firmly based in physicality; even in its most ethereal, withdrawn moments there is always a hint of concreteness. Above all, though, the beautiful soundscape formed by these recordings (collected in Perpignan, France in September 2015) is powerfully immersive, and conjures an abstract environment all its own, tied to but distinct from the source material.