Review: Anla Courtis – Hydrockphonia (Nazlo, Sep 16)

Knowing Alan Courtis’s penchant for rearranging, misspelling, combining, and otherwise abusing various languages, as is apparent from the spelling of his usual solo alias, the title of this most recent release is most likely a neologism created by Courtis himself for the specific purpose of giving name to the music contained within. And “contained” it is, for Hydrockphonia unfolds deep underground, far beneath the bustling, life-filled outer shell of the Earth or whatever planet it is, where an oppressive, cold silence reigns. Tainting the soundless subterranean solitude of the title track, sparingly at first and then more consistently, are the massive, reverberating shifts and groans of a massive cosmic form. One thinks of hulking, austere monoliths untouched by living hands, primordial rituals of forgotten stone—and then immediately following this immersive sanctum is simply, as its title states, a recording of um hidrofone em gin-tonic (“a hydrophone in a gin-and-tonic”). The effervescent carbonation and surrounding textures like wind through full-leaved trees could have kept with the mystery and brought us closer to the surface of that planet within which we found ourselves trapped, but Courtis, being Courtis, tells you exactly what very humble, earthly source generated that sound. What’s even more jarring is that both of these tracks, as well as “KNCK,” were recorded in the same location (Yaguareté Studios, Buenos Aires)! Once again the madman silently cackles as he pulls the thousandth carefully-stitched rug out from under our feet, sending us tumbling into whatever the hell he has planned next. Which, as it turns out, is some slow whips of tape shift and ghostly drones, with the haunted faucet orchestra and cricket chatter of “OOT” bringing things to a close. Pick up a physical copy on a recycled 3″ reel-to-reel tape (because why not?).

Review: Legion of Swine – Pig for Victory! (self-released, Sep 12)

Peerless prodigy that I am, I can make some pretty convincing pig noises, snorts and whines and such, an obviously indispensable skill that has taught me exactly one thing: a lot of people hate pig noises. The wet, sloppy grunts of those plump creatures seem to be inexorably attached to thoughts and feelings of uncleanness, pestilence, and rot, unsettling many for reasons they may not fully understand, or even want to understand. No swine song makes it onto Swedish artist Legion of Swine’s Pig for Victory!, for which the album cover completes a hog-tastic trifecta, but I have a sneaking suspicion that those not partial to the chatter of pigs may have the same attitude toward the sounds that actually comprise the release: loud, unrelenting, piercing, painful feedback tones created using “[a] contact mic, a metal pedal, a reverb/delay pedal and the ‘noise hedgehog’.” It’s quite the arsenal for an album as minimally dynamic as Pig for Victory!, whose four tracks largely remain stagnant with constant, seamless screech or contorting squall while way down below in the murk hardly intelligible reverberations and detritus occasionally drift close to the surface. As the title of “You Voted for This Set of Bastards, Now Take Your Medicine,” the first track on the release that offers any sort of respite from the assaults of punishing frequencies, makes clear, many of Legion of Swine’s creative motivations are political. With that knowledge, Pig for Victory! becomes something masochistic in a way, perhaps penance for all of us, because we have all failed our fellow humans at some point. Time to take your medicine.

Review: American Cig – At Reptile Care (Commuter Disk, Sep 12)

At Reptile Care sees the duo of Nathan Ivanco and Steve Smith taking their industrial-tinged improvisations to more—dare I say—whimsical territory than February’s Nausea. Right off the bat, part one of the nearly half-hour CD bounds into existence with a great deal more bounce and pep than that last release, shakily structuring itself upon bright, ecstatic, sparring melody cells with a hint of gloom (“Eight Cut Scars” anyone?) at first and an ensuing series of woozy, surreal tape loops, warbles, slow-downs, and other manipulations. Unlike with Nausea, neither the online entry nor the physical packaging of At Reptile Care lists the materials used by the musicians, so I can’t be sure if this was tape-only, but it certainly sounds like it could be; echoing the best of reel-to-reel ravagers and cassette-clump crackerjacks like Joseph Hammer or Dilloway with their bizarre extract curation and expert sense of dynamics. There’s a great deal more use of speech as well, something that makes this release simultaneously more and less harrowing. The end of part one is sort of terrifying, even, the heavy pants and moans of what sounds like an angsty adolescent monster-being dueling with string music relayed at mercilessly variable speeds. The second half leaps into the deep end of bad vibes territory, everything moving at a sickeningly slow stumble, pseudo-aquatic burbles and subhuman seethes and apocalyptic emissions whirling lethargically in a vat of smelly, rotten honey. By this point I’m convinced there is at least a radio being used in addition to the tape-related sources; the dial is worked by an abstract ear, usually providing empty drones and mostly unintelligible grabs. I’ve loved what I’ve heard from American Cig in the past, but this feels like they’ve hit on something really special. Memorable, for sure; these will be the score to tonight’s nightmares.

Review: Wetkoff – He Is Lying (self-released, Sep 12)

Recently, I’ve become fascinated with “musical” releases that don’t seem intended for human ears, or at least ears that are expecting to hear something conventionally finished, coherent, or even palatable. Like teasing the serendipitous poetics from verbose instruction manuals or evaluating sketches and abandoned drafts as completed pieces of art (I probably possess more “unfinished” works that finished ones), it’s usually not too far of a reach to unearth the beauty in unadulterated sonic extras, leftovers, rinds. None of the individual sounds featured on He Is Lying, a recent release by Asheville, NC artist Wetkoff, are necessarily abrasive or unappealing to the average listener, but overall it certainly fits the bill with its scattershot assemblage of warbling electronic malfunction, small slivers of feedback, and insubstantial loops. There are often perceptible notes but they sound more like the dying breaths of a brutally dissected Casio than anything. I find it difficult to pick up on anything that appears to be concretely intentional, which is actually what makes He Is Lying so compelling; it feels like something uncovered, forgotten until now, left to rot in an ancient archive for so long that all traces of humanity have long since dissipated, leaving only a passive, dispassionate document behind. Layers clash and chafe without much, if any concern for one another; fragments repeat incessantly and imperfectly like a badly damaged record left running on an old turntable; haunting undercurrents lurk underneath the colorful garbage. A superb release, constructed so as to be artfully, and even rivetingly lifeless.

Mix: Temporary Places

This is a collection of mostly abstract pieces that seek to converse with both natural and industrial surroundings in ways well beyond simply documenting them. The title comes from Nicolas Snyder’s recent release of the same name, which also provides the first track of the mix. Each of these tracks has its own unique world or environment of direct field recordings, skeletons of melodies, wistful drones, spidery percussion, assorted audio detritus, crackling auxiliary textures, low frequency rumble, and other elements, beautifully coalescing into semi-stagnant meditations, immersive excursions, temporary places.

Additional artwork for ‘Temporary Places’

00:00. Nicolas Snyder – “CLAYhands” from Temporary Places (Shhpuma, 2020)

07:29. Daphne X – “First the Mouth” from Água Viva (tsss tapes, 2020)

09:43. Ximes – “like some gamelan of the dead” [excerpt] from Zener_04 (Sensory Leakage, 2019)

12:58. @c – “76.4” from Music for Empty Spaces (Baskaru, 2010)

17:20. R. Schwarz – “Wind 4” from Wind 4-7 (Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere., 2018)

21:27. Small Cruel Party – “La Poussière des Murs Détruit le Passé” from An Accident in Substance (Harbinger Sound, 2012)

25:08. Manja Ristić – “Autumn” [excerpt] from The Nightfall (Naviar, 2018)

30:56. Radio Cegeste – “1897, Detail (Song for Richard Henry)” from three inclements (Consumer Waste, 2014)

Review: Unknown Artist – CKQ (Spricht Editions, Sep 9)

Spricht Editions, run by prolific Danish sound poet and artist Claus Haxholm, semi-frequently upload mysterious albums to their Bandcamp page with no artist listed. Since the last instance of this, Past Vocalisms, was eventually claimed under the label operator’s abbreviated solo moniker c.haxholm, one could probably assume that CKQ is his work as well, but until it’s confirmed the artist remains unknown. Two mid-length pieces comprise the release, the first consisting of nonverbal, senseless utterances like those used for Past Vocalisms and brief moments of fleeting lingual lucidity pitted against what sounds like writhing connection crackles. But it’s quickly revealed that this is, for the most part, a single “speaker” at the mercy of an extremely overblown, low fidelity recording, with occasional cleaner layers added. What follows is a bizarre revue of lip-smacking nonsense, incoherent babbling, and mimicry of alarm tones and/or cuckoo clocks delivered too-close-for-comfort into a broken microphone. The clearer voice recording occasionally resurfaces, but for the most part it’s an abrasive, confusing stumble as you process the moans and cries of this creature who may or may not be human, even the moments where it seems like actual words are being said blocked and shattered by the oppressive static. The second track’s auxiliary elements take the opposite form of more clarity, unseating the original performer’s presence with bassy rumbles and the humming, scratching distance of a broken tape player. It’s at this point the piece becomes truly mesmerizing, mining the evocative essence of dead frequencies and errors in a way not dissimilar to 010001111000 (if CKQ is Claus’s doing, he’ll definitely be happy to hear that comparison). Things don’t stagnate for long, unsurprisingly, and the extradimensional fanfare concludes with a final series of slurps, shrieks, and slaps. A wild ride in just over 22 minutes. What are you waiting for?

Review: Osmiroid – Zener_15 (Sensory Leakage, Sep 7)

Osmiroid’s most recent cassette is a heaping helping of pungent “audio gruel,” too gunky to be just audio milk but without enough lumps to be audio porridge, boiled trappings of an old dwelling’s supernatural remnants. I say “supernatural” because while Zener_15 isn’t entirely nightmarish and actually has a subtle sense of humor, the sluggish, smeared, shadowy sounds chosen to swirl in this congealing stew—muffled bass drones, chattering static, pitched-down speech like the slobbering jowls of some dream-beast, wobbling delay pedal loops, obscured, distant radio grabs—all feel spectral, haunted, emitted from some place beyond our perception. The physical tape also comes with an old Xeroxed photograph by an unknown photographer showing a one of the more harrowing examples of paranormal occurrences “caught on film” (the Bandcamp page for the release provides a thoughtful and involved analysis of the image by H Downing, which is also read by an automated voice on “The Astral and the Infernal”), adding to the spook factor of the whole affair. Osmiroid’s slightly cold but lovingly prepared gruel is poured out in various forms across the album, from the lethargic slug-drag of “untitled_improvisation_ live_in_orbital_april_the_ twenty-first_two_thousand_ and_eighteen” to the horror-organ-melody-turned-synth-frenzy, squalling feedback, and distant, ominous, near-unintelligible spoken word, which is most likely delivered using a text-to-speech program, but it honestly sounds like a human voice at times. Creepy. I won’t spoil what happens in the closing track, which I think greatly benefits from surprise. Fans of Lindus, e. mordrake, the Abandoned Chamber in Batman: Arkham Asylum, and other mysterious, spooky channel openings, look no further.

Review: Odoacer – There the Vultures Will Gather (Church Road, Sep 4)

When a black metal album starts out with an extended, subdued stretch of atmosphere-building, I can hardly ever shake the fear that it’s not going to go anywhere. That thought didn’t even enter my mind upon my first listen of “Den of Fossils,” the opening track of Odoacer’s debut release There the Vultures Will Gather. Even though its full intensity doesn’t kick in until about halfway through its nearly seven-minute run time, the sense that something big is about to happen is never absent; the minimal guitars subtly crescendo between climbing repetitions, and moments of silent rest only cause more agonizing tension to amass before suddenly, gloriously, we are thrown into a dense nocturnal maelstrom. “Dirge Unto Nemesis” is the first of two 16-minute tracks that comprise the meat of the tape, and is one of the first songs in a while to which I feel comfortable applying the descriptor “cinematic”; after nearly eight minutes of sludgy, hypnotic, mid-paced plod the rug’s pulled out and once again only a solitary distorted guitar remains, intertwining with a barely intelligible but still quite harrowing spoken word sample until the sky crackles with apocalyptic electricity and the cathartic waves of pounding drums and lushly smeared tremolo chords return. This climactic coda features some of the album’s strongest vocal performances, and also made me realize that I don’t think there’s a single blast beat in the entirety of “Dirge Unto Nemesis”—just goes to show you how much else it has to offer for me, who is probably the closest to being a human blast beat if there were ever such a thing, to enjoy it so much. “Left Only with Your Grief Amongst Carrion” has us covered, though, only waiting about 30 seconds before rocketing into loud, dissonant, labyrinthine guitar work with vicious snare at a breakneck pace. I don’t think the production job on this could have been any better; it’s loud and clear but still plenty dark and dirty, full-bodied enough to sufficiently bolster the anthemic moments yet rough-edged enough to render the stretches of high-speed riffs even more blurred and cacophonous. Finishing off with the epic closer “Cyclops,” There the Vultures Will Gather cements itself as one of the best debuts I’ve ever heard in this genre.

Review: Shirts – Shirt Noise (Moon Myst Music, Sep 4)

I’ve been thinking about consumer fabric a lot lately. I was recently exposed to the horrors of the fashion industry’s environmental impact by some admirably committed friends, so I’ve become much more wary of where I buy clothes and other textiles (if at all) as well as what I do with them once they’re no longer wearable. To be honest, the only articles of clothing I ever really buy anymore are t-shirts, which are usually not produced via the most sustainable means, but do support the artist or independent designer. I’m not sure what kind of shirts that Shirts uses to produce their music; maybe they’re graphic tees or single-use throwaways or collared shirts or V-necks or weird thrift store denim shirts or cotton undershirts or blouses or some hodgepodge arsenal with every type you could think of, but it doesn’t really matter, since on Shirt Noise, ostensibly the project’s debut release, it all congeals into a homogeneous gunk of chunky, overblown distortion, presumably the result of contact microphones plugged into inputs turned up to the max. There doesn’t seem to be much processing, though; the restless tactile sifts are not run through many, if any pedals or other electronics, live or in post-production, and instead whatever dedicated, patient musician (or—although I think it’s unlikely— musicians?) is behind Shirts relies solely on the raucous rumble of muffled wrinkling, folding, crumpling, dragging, and thumping produced by their irreverent improvisations (I assume these are not composed pieces) with a generous helping of gain and brief but scary twinges of feedback. It’s noisy, but it’s also stuffy, claustrophobic, unsettling in its often overwhelming motion, hypnotic in its humble totalism. And it’s all shirts! Holy shirt!

Review: Tasting Menu – Mueller Tunnel (Full Spectrum, Sep 3)

What a lovely piece of art this is. Mueller Tunnel offers a different sort of escapism for me amidst this collective isolation than, say, Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure?, instead following a trio who aim to become one with surroundings far from civilization. Tim Feeney, Cody Putnam, and Cassia Streb, along with photographer Eric Basta, “hiked in with a wagon full of recording equipment and instruments strapped to their backs,”all of which appear to have been harnessed to create this final product. “windward” begins with the familiar sound of a creaking door—familiar, that is, in a domestic space, but contextually it seems strange in a half-buried mountain tunnel. That’s only true if you’re aware of the recording location before listening, however. Unlike many performances I’ve heard in singular, meaningful spaces, the geometry of the tunnel is largely kept a secret, the oppressive stone walls smothering any reverberating remnants. Shuffling plant matter, chirping birds and other animal noises, receding and approaching footsteps, intimate object clatter, inhales and exhales, the rumble of distant traffic, a train rushing by almost too close for comfort, tentative but sublime violin scratching; all of these elements, whether incidental or intentional or perhaps both, form the three delicate soundscapes that comprise Mueller Tunnel, each its own natural, ebbing coalescence of various sounds, large and small (mostly small, I’d say). The expanse between those large and small sounds is often jarring, especially in “warren,” when the up-to-that-point-constant metal/concrete swirl abruptly ceases, leaving only a distant, ominous, slowly encroaching rumble. From there it evolves into more kinetic, involved improvisation (a term I use cautiously and conditionally, considering the pieces have corresponding graphic scores), miniature rock-slides and cave-ins, space both stretched and punctured by a consistently moving body and the incessant xylophone ring, respectively. Once the fragile ray-of-sunshine string chord drone kicks in, I’m a goner. This album is exactly what I needed this month. Heart eyes (or heart ears? I suppose both, because of the photos) 100%.

Mueller Tunnel can be purchased as both a digital download or a limited edition art book with CD featuring Basta’s photographs here.