Review: Ona Snop – Geezer (Rip Roaring Shit Storm, Aug 24)

I’ve been itching to write about this album nonstop since the band sent it to me, and I’m even more excited for people to hear it. Geezer is the first LP by the U. K. fastcore band Ona Snop, and it’s everything a debut release should be: succinct, heavy, exhilarating, and bat shit insane. Across eighteen tracks in nearly twenty minutes, these lovable manics tear through a maelstrom of schizophrenic hardcore, switching on a dime from sludgy head-banging breakdowns to dizzyingly fast thrash-punk blasts to catchy hard rock guitar licks and back again. When it’s over you just wonder how the hell they fit all of it in. For those worried by Geezers eclecticism, have no fear; it’s pulled off tremendously well and avoids being annoying in favor of straight-up hilarity. I can’t help but burst out laughing after opening track “In Pieces,” when what sounds like the beginning of a completely new section ends abruptly after less than five seconds, and am then immediately silenced by the light-speed assault of “Total Both,” which kicks in immediately afterward. The pacing is perfect, and the two longest tracks (both around three minutes) are well-placed at the middle and end, offering a break from the blender without sacrificing any energy. I feel like I’m not fully communicating how much I love this record, but luckily it’s so short that you have no excuse not to listen to it!

The digital album is out now on Ona Snop’s Bandcamp. The CD will be released later this month on No Bread!, with LPs shipping in August via Lixiviat, Rip Roaring Shit Storm, and Here and Now.

Review: KBD – Idyll (self-released, Jul 5)

Getting to see Ohio-based improvisational collective KBD last week was a treat. Though performances and recordings most often consist of Michael Kimaid’s drums and electronics and Gabriel Beam’s modular synthesizer, that night they were joined by Ryan Dohm on trumpet and electronics. KBD takes a do-it-yourself, less formal approach to the spacious, sometimes noisy electroacoustic improvisation style pioneered by groups like AMM, Morphogenesis, and Gruppo d’Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, with some pieces even approaching the former’s ideas of “meta-music.” Idyll, a tour c40 that features Kimaid and Beam, presents fluid instrumental conversations between the experienced collaborators and, like many other albums, demonstrates the power and possibilities of the drum and synth combo. Beam takes the lead most times, his patching resulting in percussive oscillations and almost gunfire-like chatter, and the versatile synthesizer provides a sustained atmosphere with dynamic textural interjections. Kimaid’s playing is more subtle but no less rich, with the softly tapped drums and droning loops flitting between foreground and background. I couldn’t help but smile at the voices heard near the end of side B; whether from an actual radio or not I’m heavily reminded of Keith Rowe (whose biography was featured in the background of a picture showing these very tapes).

 

Review: Validine Chronus – Transdermal (self-released, Apr 20)

It’s been a while since this tape actually came out, and there’s not really any excuse for me waiting this long to write about it other than I just recently was able to really dig in. I bought it after hearing (and enjoying) the twentieth anniversary reissue/remaster of the first Validine Chronus album, Ultia. The long-running solo project of composer Eric Bertrand incorporates a plethora of experiments and styles in each release, and Transdermal is no exception. These pieces unfold in a controlled manner, especially in relation to their haphazard construction from “samples, field recordings, and partially finished tracks,” each one exploring a particular sonic pairing or progression. The longer compositions on side A, as well as the nearly ten-minute “Digital E. coli” later on, are patient drones, with the former built on sustained tones that are surrounded by curling, washing strands of mechanical sound, while the latter slowly descends into beautiful, distorted chaos like a dying machine. It took me a while to come around on the rhythmic elements on “Tiny Hands” and “Atomic Clock,” but once I did I realized that they advance in equally interesting ways, with the structure provided by the percussion collapsing as each track becomes more and more hectic. Transdermal is a long album but doesn’t feel like it, and with so much ground covered across the nine pieces it’ll be one I’ll return to many times.

Review: Foresteppe – Mæta (Eilean, Jul 7)

I first came across Foresteppe, the alias of Siberian musician Egor Klochikhin, through his collaborative EP with you c, Seven Sleepers. The hypnotic atmosphere created by his reel-to-reel tape loops drew me in instantly, and led me to discover other great releases on the short-lived label ШАΛАШ, including Foresteppe’s other album with Bisamråtta and Nikita Bondarev’s epic three tape set Untitled. Mæta is Klochikhin’s newest release, and sees him finally reaching the full potential of his unique musical toolkit without assistance from collaborators. He’s come a long way since No Time to Hurry; here, the loops are the driving force on the tracks, providing a woozily beautiful basis for added layers of metallophone, bells, synth, and strings. Each section of the fifty-eight minute album is lush in such a delicate way, the pieces floating along at a reserved pace, with new elements naturally fading in and out and introducing just enough variation to remain engaging. Mæta is only as substantial as you want it to be; it’s just as well-suited for background music for reading or studying as it is for focused, active listening. It’s quite the achievement to make such a quiet ambient album so enthralling; the stylistic honing Klochikhin has been performing since he began making music has paid off in the best way. I can’t wait to fall asleep to this tonight and then wake up to it tomorrow.

Review: SEF III – Selling SEF III (Ehse, Jun 1)

Concept albums, story albums, sound operas, whatever the hell you want to call them; they’re hard to get right, and even harder to really get right. Especially when the story you’re telling is about a mortal struggle between a guy named Phil and his computer, and the accompanying music consists of surreal electronic compositions. But no one is better equipped for this task than the trio of Max Eilbacher, Duncan Moore, and Alex Moskos, who are now known under the same name as the artificial antagonist: SEF III. Selling SEF III is a much more cohesive and complete offering than their last release on Ehse, and manages to pull off both the ambitious narrative and the bizarre sonic elements. “Introductory Remarks From the Musicians,” temporarily absent of any spoken word, instead presents exactly what its title would imply: a demonstration of the breadth of sound the trio can conjure up, raising fluid mechanical chunks that immediately overwhelm. “The Machine’s Theme” introduces the villain through an ominous sung mantra, and from then on the listener is sucked into the quirky sci-fi adventures of Phil and SEF III, in which both humor and unease are always present in equal measure. “Three Counts and You’re Damned at a Subaltern Party,” the penultimate and longest track on the record, ends the story with what I’d interpret to be the victory of SEF III, with metallic electronics swirling and leading into a reprise of the theme from the beginning, which is so much more disquieting this time around. Selling SEF III neither takes itself too seriously nor ever gets unappealing silly, and is certainly one of the most unique and rewarding things I’ve heard this year.

Review: Anna Wise & Jon Bap – geovariance (self-released, Jun 27)

Art R&B crooner Anna Wise and soul experimenter Jon Bap quietly released geovariance, a completely unexpected collaboration album, back in June. If it hadn’t been for Wise’s guest appearance on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly – an album I’m not super into but many of my friends are – it might have completely passed me by, which would have been a real shame. Thankfully, it didn’t, and I was able to experience this incredibly unique record, which, even coming from the combined creativity of two ambitious young artists, is pretty damn weird. The album’s style is cohesive but hard to pin down, with many of the songs ending up as eclectic collages of dusty ambiance, spastic glitches, and distorted voices. Despite its variety, the whole thing has a distinct lo-fi, bedroom atmosphere, which is a surprisingly complementary frame for these sounds. “it was 6am. we were in your car… and you looked cute with my shirt on,” with its shifting delay-soaked harmonies, creaks and clacks, beautifully broken guitar strums, and overall looping wooziness, is a perfect representation of how gorgeous geovariance can be. It’s not as consistently fantastic as this song would make me hope, but it’s promising and high-reaching, and bodes well for the future careers of both Wise and Bap.

Review: Nima Aghiani – REMS (PTP, Jun 29)

I’ve listened to REMS so many times already and still don’t really know what to say in this review. The album, which as far as I can tell, is Paris-based violinist and producer Nima Aghiani’s first full-length release, is somehow just as elusive and mysterious as the sleep phase for which it is named – despite how loud and grating it often is. Aghiani’s unique fusions of violin melodies, blasting electroacoustic glitches, and pounding bouts of distorted rhythmic crunches are just as, if not more, diverse as that description would imply, making the 33 minute REMS a fulfilling and multifaceted release. It’s split into seven tracks but is best experienced as a whole, with each part naturally evolving into the next. The first few steadily work to craft a metallic, artificial atmosphere, but one that’s disarmingly lush despite how inorganic it all sounds; and then “Khaovyn” arrives to smash any remaining solace into oblivion. This short track’s power noise contortions are among the most brutal things I’ve heard all year, and ahead of the slower-paced rhyming pair of “Qamyn” and “Bamyn” it’s a perfect mid-album purge. This latter, long form piece is nothing short of incredible, and on my first listen through it was what really brought me around on the sleep connection; the rumbling breaths of bass and distorted spoken samples are like waking from a nightmare, the fear still present but the details and memories just out of reach. REMS occupies the perfect middle ground between deafening viscerality and reserved exploration, and despite its short length it’s an enrapturing journey through Aghiani’s creativity and talent.