The first recordings by freshly minted Dallas duo Total Sweetheart come at a perfect time. A host of releases by the either defunct or long-hibernating band Ascites have been hitting the spot recently, and so all it took for me to pick this one up was reading that founding member Nathan Golub was involved (and listening to about five seconds of the promotional excerpt). Regardless of expectations, Early to Bed is almost certain to surpass them; this is not only the best, but also some of the most unique and memorably idiosyncratic harsh I’ve heard in a long time. I haven’t been able to get my hands or ears on anything by Struggle Session, the former project of fellow sweetheart Ryan Jones, so it’s hard for me to tell exactly where one member’s contributions end and the other’s begin—but that kind of feels like the point. The initial rupture of the title track, the first of two half-hour side-spanning cuts, is thick and brutish, confined mostly to mono as it throbs and pummels the exact center of the skull, but the bit of the bone drill gradually widens as the session progresses, blooming into layered assaults full of pedal-gouged churn and phase, wracking and warbling modular surgery, and the amplified, mortally distorted sounds of what are allegedly medical instruments. Even beyond that last ingredient, the Ascites twinges are never out of reach, but at the same time Early to Bed is so much more active and higher-octane than the sickly crackle and crunch of Fluid Excess or Resection, and who could ever complain about that? Plus, somehow, even as it surges forth in a single punishing torrent, the improvisational duo approach ensures that every moment is densely packed with new bits and pieces to discover. That is to say, I could write a hell of a lot more about this tape. But I’m not going to, because I’m about to go listen to it again.
Durham-based Surrey transplant Dan Melchior has been making music for more than two decades now, which makes it all the more significant of a statement when I say I Bet You’ve Got Some Good Stories may be his crowning achievement. Though tightly (in the loosest sense of the word) anchored by a distinct, developed sound and Melchior’s deadpan spoken vocals, this fourth LP from the inimitable project—that also features Anthony Allman of El Jesus de Magico, Russell Walker of Charcoal Owls and the False Face Society, and Primitive Radio Gods member Johnny Brewton—plays like a retrospective love letter to lo-fi music as a tradition, evoking in turn everything from Beta Band and Sebadoh to Half Japanese and Strapping Fieldhands. A Shadow Ring comparison is almost impossible to avoid due to Melchior’s still-intact accent telling circular tales of tedium and the repetitive, simplistic instrumentals, but I bring it up as more of an endorsement than an analysis, because the Lloyd Pack’s brand of irreverent anti-rock is entirely its own, fresh and fecund and, above all, fun.
While “Sue Ryder” is a relatively conventional opener, complete with headbob-worthy acoustic strumming and idle musings on middle age, the ensuing tracks on the A side bring the weirdness hot ‘n ready: basement-cabaret singalongs on “Australia,” stereo-spanning percussion skitters beneath hypnotic harmonies on “Water Biography Babies,” plucky toy electronics on “Swaddling Jokes.” Each piece is its own stumbling, surreal experience, peddling bristles and beauty in equal measure, so it’s impossible to pick a favorite; maybe “I Have a Client Waiting” with its dirgelike xylophone plod or the atmospheric, Ivor Cutler–esque “I Won’t Hit Easter,” but why bother? There’s plenty else to think about, like what the fuck “swaddling jokes” are. In conclusion, the stories are indeed good! Listen in! You won’t be forgetting these songs anytime soon.
It’s been a while since I heard anything new from Rose Sobchak, the flagship alias of Moscow’s Aleksandr Cheskidov; a few years, in fact. It seems the project has taken a new direction during that time, leaving behind the straightforward, loud analog churn of the 2019 untitled CD-R on Heart Shaped Box in favor of a more stifled, sleazy atmosphere in the vein of Legless, Sissisters, or many of Chris Conroy’s various aliases. (In other words, to quote the release page of love shy clown, “Smart harsh noise […] decided to be a little sad.”) Though audibly recorded straight to tape—if it’s not a four track I’ll eat my Rat—Intangible Asset somehow feels remarkably well-suited for a digital-only netlabel release, especially one made freely available on archive.org. It’s all over the place and yet still quite focused, the disparate anemic assaults of feedback squeal, chunky pedal-chain bursts, radio grabs, and home-glued junk electronics threaded together by the fuzzy, limiting fidelity in which all is swathed. The first untitled piece is a bit odd on initial listen, broken up by several lengthy pauses that at first seem more like dead air between tracks than suspenseful stop/starts, but in no time at all I came to greatly appreciate it for how it obfuscates and loosens everything, especially in conjunction with the following track, the misdirect-opening of which is probably the release’s finest moment. The ten-minute closer is the most traditionally harsh of the four, and it is excellent, the final damning piece of evidence that Intangible Assert is really something special.
It was sad news last month when London deconstructed rock trio Mosquitoes announced they’re closing up shop, issuing the Outlines / Infinity Fault 7″ on Digital Regress as their final recording. How good those two tracks are alone makes a non-negligible dent in the gaping vacuum the legendary project left, and less than month later there’s an even more expansive step forward in this resolutely singular realm of avant-garde music, one that, at least for now, isn’t an endpoint. But, much like Peter Blundell and Dominic Goodman’s previous material as Komare, there is plenty of “end” throughout Grace to Breathe That Void—and, in fact, “end” is even more apropos, because the tape’s title is taken from Ill Seen Ill Said, one of The End author Samuel Beckett’s later prose works. This connection isn’t necessarily new, either; I brought up Beckett in my review of the duo’s LP The Sense of Hearing, not due to any explicit link but because there are very few, if any, other comparisons to make when artists venture this far into the nothingness.
Ill Seen Ill Said is full (empty?) of the near-subjectless ontological meditations for which the late author is renowned, but it tellingly begins with humanity, however removed, a “she” that both exists and observes: “All this in the present as had she the misfortune to be still of this world” (7). Similarly, Grace to Breathe That Void never leaves the human nor the human-adjacent completely behind, even as it burrows deeper and deeper into total abstraction. Blundell’s vocals are the most purely textural they’ve ever been, curling in from the corners of the left and right channels like creeping shadows, conversing with and fending off queasy timbral twinges and errant ambience. Birdsong also plays a curiously prominent role, its trembling presence emphasizing the wrongness with which these disparate pieces of familiarity are sewn together. The third unnamed track, though the briefest, is also one of the most succinctly atmospheric, smearing something that was once concrete into ephemeral rays of sickly light, now evoking the scraping shovels of metaphysical graverobbers or the desperate rattling of a cosmic cage. And in a (perhaps unsurprising) final twist, the arguably optimistic closing of Ill Seen Ill Said, from which the titular phrase comes—“No. One moment more. One last. Grace to breathe that void. Know happiness” (59)—is subverted in favor of harrowing, delirious monotony… Grace to Breathe That Void. No happiness.
Ducks are slippery creatures (and not just because our lakes and rivers are at least 50% oil by now). As lowly humans it’s difficult for us to fathom such power, so most make the rookie mistake of underestimating our webfooted planetmates, tossing them stale chunks of bread and other food that’s terrible for them in a last ditch effort to maintain authority. And it works, for a bit, until you come home and find the remains of everyone you’ve ever loved broken and twisted together into a gruesome, gory throne, your true overlord quacking atop it; and as he cocks his head to the side and opens his bill, this is what you hear: wing-activated pedal gnash cranked high in the red, squawking sheets of feedback, the end of everything.
Despite being a remote process/remix project like some of Mallard Theory’s other recent collaborations—e.g., the the B-side track with NJ9852 (RIP) on April’s Muscovy Supremacy and [redacted] with Audible XXY in this very Detachment batch—A Duck’s Building Constructed Out of the Bones of Its Enemies somehow sounds significantly more visceral and direct-action. Both sides are stuffed full with densely packed howl and crunch, but “No Regrets When the Mallard Reaper Cuts,” comprising a Mallard mix of Lackthrow source material, is segmented and hyperactive, operating in the most turgid territory of the cut-up spectrum. “Duck’s Weapons of Destruction,” on the other hand, is no-holds-barred wallish harsh onslaught, Lackthrow whipping up whatever Mallard sent over into a maelstrom of delay chop, contact mic squall, and tectonic rumble. C16s almost always have high replayability, but this one is on a new level. Definitely not just Flockholm syndrome either. I swear.
There are a few reasons why I’m catching up on these mid-May releases so late; the most relevant to me at the moment is that I’ve been out sick the past week, but even beyond that a lot of material just takes longer to reach me now. Whether you’re an artist, label, or distro, please send me stuff (can be digital or physical). I want to build and grow a mutually beneficial network now more than ever.
Based in New York since 2013, sound researcher and performer Devin DiSanto has sporadically but deliberately crafted a select body of work focusing on objects, space, timing, and choice. Earlier projects like his duo CDs on Erstwhile with Nick Hoffmann and Taku Unami sketch preliminary formulations of a distinct style, but nothing I’ve heard has been as fully realized as Waiting and Counting: Domestic Ritual for the Stereo Field, DiSanto’s first full-length solo effort in nearly a decade. Released as a handsome CD run by South Korea’s newly minted Rope Editions, Waiting and Counting, in the artist’s own words, “is based around a performance determined by a partial system of cues (max patch) that occur ‘randomly’ and are intended to be listened for and responded to by a performer or small group. This activity is occasionally juxtaposed with brief sections of recordings from different waiting areas I’ve made over the years.”
The allure of DiSanto’s music has always been its algorithmic nature, sound with a core of simple mechanisms that radiates much more complex consequences, and these 15 short pieces are humbly illustrative examples. “A” and the other letter-titled segments are granular exhumations of the original sessions, their plasticine texture-stretch and spatial inversions adding further dimensions to the unmanipulated numbered extracts, which range from supermarket and sine-tone ambience (“1”) to sparse shuffle and clutter (“8”). With the simultaneous preoccupation by what’s happening inside and outside of the performance, I’m reminded of comparably radical documents like Eric Laska’s Presets & Studies or Jean-Luc Guionnet and Thomas Tilly’s Stones, Air, Axioms / Delme: down-to earth, democratic sound art with one ear to the ground and the other to the sky.
Triple Negative is one of those bands that with each successive release not only reminds one of how fantastic they are, but also present and explore new facets of their sound. Most, if not all of the recordings that comprise the just-arrived Rodez Island Cyclone cassette edition will be brand new to fans, but the age of the music itself varies widely; the tracks that make up the two side-long suites are plucked from unreleased material and live performances captured well before the project’s recorded era, while others were tracked just this year. Even more lo-fi and rough-edged than the already slipshod Precious Waste in Our Wake and God Bless the Death Drive LPs, the near-formless delirium of A-side (‘La La La Haine’) cuts like “Overhead Pane Stane” evoking the best of that elusive early aughts homegrown psychedelia, from the moldy corner–dwelling group improv of NNCK to the woozy, sun-dusted drones of Sunroof! and Burning Star Core. These recognizable elements are still present in Triple Negative’s current output—albeit more thoroughly assimilated—so it’s fascinating to hear such foundational pieces of the band’s singular sound in a raw, unrefined state. Newer listeners like myself will feel right at home amidst the cacophonous tribal percussion and vocal abstractions of the early bits of side B (‘The Hares’), especially “Your Face Is Written Off All Over Your Face,” but the breadth of eclecticism soon grows even more with nods to early post-punk both implicit and explicit—the collection concludes with a breathless cover of “Karen,” one of The Go-Betweens’ first recorded songs. It should already be obvious, but as usual all of the song titles are incredible, their sensical nonsense and idiomatic half-subversion echoing the equally ambiguous yet familiar music.
Melbourne band HTRK’s output has undergone significant stylistic changes in the fifteen years since the 2007 major-label release of their debut Nostalgia with its self-descriptive opener “Hate Rock Trio” (much of which occurred in the wake of moving forward without bassist and drum programmer Sean Stewart, who died in 2010). By the band’s own description more than a decade on, the music they’re making now is “not as sad anymore because we’re not as sad.” But the minimal, nocturnal, smothering rock music of their first few records still stands as a great achievement in the long-running tradition. This mix collects material by other artists who dive to the depths of convention to create (conjure? summon?) apocalyptic heaviness. More doom and gloom than so-called “doom” itself. Rock ’n roll left out in the cold. It doesn’t want to be here. It’s angry that it has to be here. It hates you. Until it doesn’t.
00:00. Ukiah Drags – “Intro” from In the Reaper’s Quarters (Wharf Cat, 2014)
02:19. The Dreebs – “I” / “Reese” from Forest of a Crew (Ramp Local, 2018)
06:24. HTRK – “Look at Her” from Nostalgia (Fire, 2007)
10:54. Raime – “Your Cast Will Tire” from Quarter Turns Over a Living Line (Blackest Ever Black, 2016)
16:01. Snowman – “She Is Turning Into You” from The Horse, the Rat and the Swan (Dot Dash, 2008)
21:34. IT IT – “The Garage Pt 2” from Living Doll (self-released, 2018)
24:17. YC-CY – “Stalker” from Every Time I Close My Eyes (X-Mist, 2021)
27:24. Moin – “Elsie” from split with Pete Swanson (Confessions, 2012)
31:14. Dive and Dissolve – “Assimilation” from Abomination (Dero Arcade, 2018)
34:55. HEALTH – “Perfect Skin” from HEALTH (Lovepump United, 2007)
One of those names unknown to most but ubiquitous among few, Small Mercies is a relatively new CD-R label operated by Justin Lakes (Shredded Nerve et. al) that sporadically surveys the best the US noise scene has to offer. Its stylistic focus is specific yet still eclectic, drawing from artists at both ends of the extremity spectrum—e.g., the first of several appearances by Roman Leyva’s Plague Mother was followed up by a comparatively tranquil full-length by black-metal-turned-industrial act Mistletoe. While the still-fledgling imprint has already doled out a sizeable share of quality noise, this newest batch might be my favorite so far.
Country Gun – Drunk & On Drugs
“Images drift on the drugstore window. The wind has blown the smell of cattle into town. Our eyes have been driven in like the eyes of the old men. And there’s no one to have mercy on us.”
—William Gass, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country
The abstract idea of “the country” means something different to everyone, but there’s not too much ambiguity with regard to what approach this new duo of Matt Boettke and Kyle Flanagan takes (hint: less Little House on the Prairie, more Calvaire). Drunk & On Drugs is a moody, smogged-over debut, the dual sludge of electronics and tape is psychedelic in a lethargic, delirious kind of way, like the final throes of exposure. “Angel Poke” is an odd but fitting choice for a centerpiece track; displaced drones and pinched synth pulses simmer in mud-pit stasis, languidly expanding and contracting rather than steadily building toward a climax. But then, unexpectedly, “Boys Gone Wild” is just that, a cathartic howl of junk metal screech that leaves the fields blackened and barren. And it gets better every time. Plus, I mean, just look at that cover.
Lapse – Powerline
The 27th entry in the Small Mercies catalog is also the fourth appearance of Lakes’ own Lapse project, and the first in nearly two years, since 2020’s Weaponization. The alias often delivers some of the label’s most abrasive material, and Powerline is no different, comprising four assaults of crunchy, dense harsh that’s both brutish and textural. Opener “Solvent” is loud in itself (surprising, I know), ripping torrents of crushing analog gunk across a low-end floor that’s so blown out it’s almost rhythmic, but “Glue Trap” is louder. Like, whatever machine this shit was recorded on is scrap now louder. It’s glorious. The entirety of the 18-minute scorcher is actually quite varied, with plenty of new layers and frequencies and volume levels (sort of) to keep things interesting, but it never loses the savagery of its initial blast. There’s no respite or cooldown or any of that nonsense to be had in the last two tracks, and “Veronica” especially is just incredible. I’ve listened to this every day since I got it and don’t plan on stopping… and if preferring routine to change makes me a rat, then I’m a fuckin’ rat.
Though the works that first exposed me to Halifax’s Crow Versus Crow—Shit Creek’s The Land of the Remember and Cahn Ingold Prelog’s Accelerate—were comparatively less voice-centric, the label’s most recent output has traced a piecemeal but still comprehensive survey of the best of U.K.-based babblers. Sophie Sleigh-Johnson is probably not as familiar of a name to most (at least compared to prolific stalwarts like Posset, Yol, and Brandstifter), but her debut(?) tape Nuncio Ref! is all the introduction you’ll need. From the cryptic Nyoukisy liner notes to the devoutly specific source material and structural logic at work in the actual music, these “first-baked tape works” (Sam and Ella? sorry, never heard of them) are both individually and collectively superb sonic arcana, the overall suite landing somewhere in the mutual outskirts of surreal radio play, hermitic tape collage, and text-sound. I firmly recommend that anyone even remotely interested in any of those art forms check this album out in its entirety, but if you really need a sample, look no further than “Napoleon’s Violet,” an easy standout that offers everything from dictaphone skronk and tactile clutter concrète to elastic speech glitching that would make Mr. LPC proud. In summary, really excited about this one. So gather ’round children, “it’s feeding time at the revised pit.”