Covering as much new music as I do allows me to classify groups of releases based on some pretty inconsequential similarities. Astor’s The Aubergine Dream and Moth Cock’s newest tape If Beggars Were Horses Wishes Would Ride don’t share many qualities (apart from the fact that they’re both quite strange), but nonetheless one can associate them based on the hilarious text-to-speech introductions featured on each. On the latter the computerized deadpan is provided by Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and honestly could function as a capable review of the album were I to transcribe it in its entirety—which I actually tried to do but the accent of the vocalizer makes a lot of the words unintelligible. If Beggars Were Horses continues the duo’s evolution into a style that brings together toy percussion patches, processed breath instrument skronk, erratic electronic freakouts, and God knows what else to create a roiling stew of noise. Even the most abrasive noises that Moth Cock conjure are swaddled in a smooth, synthetic outer coat of shininess, and much like their previous album 0-100 at the Speed of the Present the compositions often tread through territory that resembles meditative ambient music. After a tumbling and tumultuous A side (the latter quality is especially present in the volatile sonic amalgam of “If Beggars Were Horses”), the tape concludes with a pair of twelve-minute tracks that prove how truly bizarre yet infectiously magnetic Moth Cock’s creations can be. From the way “Wishes Would Ride” starts it definitely doesn’t seem sustainable over that long of a duration, but the bouncing rhythm loop soon reveals itself as a base for steadily unfurling waves of squalling distortion and effervescent pulses as its propulsive hi-hat hits drive everything forward—that is, until around the halfway point, when it all breaks down into frenetic chaos. The incendiary drumming and cavernous atmosphere of “If Bayonets Were Turnips” bring this wonderful release to a fitting close.
Aside from the name itself, many examples of experimental music evoke the controlled explorations and examinations of a scientific laboratory environment, from the almost industrial whirs and crackles of Andrea Borghi’s VHS machine dissections to the dynamic sterility of Keith Rowe’s arcane setups of pocket fans, objects, tabletop guitar, and other devices. I and many others greatly enjoy the sonic results of approaches like these, because while the sounds themselves may not contain much humanity they’re always introduced and manipulated with a distinctly human level of control. Filtro, the duo project of Italian sound artists Angelo Bignamini and Luca de Biasi, presents two extended pieces that certainly embody what I’ve just described on Forma. The two musicians rely on the limitless possibilities of “concrete sounds and electrical interferences” as sound sources for their improvisations, the material “treated with extreme dynamism using a reel to reel recorder and a modular synthesizer” to produce the shifting mass of buzz, hum, flit, and clatter that spreads itself across the two tracks. The warbling tape manipulations are flung into the fray like multicolored fishing nets, harnessing the lush combinations of found sound in maneuverable physical form while darting clouds of electrical static and radio noise are carefully woven throughout. Forma finds itself somewhere between call-and-response improvisation and collective cacophony as Bignamini and de Biasi form an immersive mass of sound through their interactions.
While I’m often told that my musical intake is above average, my equally above average amount of free time is nonetheless limited. I can’t listen to everything people send me, and regrettably I even sometimes turn off albums when they’ve barely begun because I can already tell I won’t like them. Unfair dismissiveness in the name of efficiency, a tale as old as time. This was almost what happened with Catriel Nievas’ newest solo release, which was brought to my attention via Tone Glow honcho Joshua Minsoo Kim’s top ten 2019 albums list (check it out, it’s a good one). The use of plucked guitar in ambient music is hardly ever something I enjoy, so right away I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about my opinion of El Lago de los Seis Lugares. For once in my life, however, I exercised some of that elusive virtue we sometimes call patience, and I’d recommend anyone who listens to this album do the same because it definitely pays off. The level of calm and therapeutic stillness that Nievas evokes here is astounding, and the intermittent interjections of guitar harmonics or delay-affected chords are a splendid addition that provide an important counterpoint to that wispy, peaceful atmosphere. The three untitled pieces are largely unconcerned with drastic dynamic progression; instead, they rise from silence to float languidly in midair as Nievas gradually adds delicate layers of found sound, effects, and other complementary ornamentation. El Lago de los Seis Lugares hardly reinvents the wheel when it comes to abstract ambient music, but I come to this sort of thing to be lulled, not amazed.
Oakland DIY duo Breeze truly put the “no” in “no wave.” Their irreverent brand of anything-goes improvisation isn’t entirely indebted to the archetypal no wave sound, but more often than not Jackson Blumgart and Max Nordile find themselves falling into the lumbering, not-quite-in-time grooves, nonsense vocalizations, and razor-sharp guitar skronk that we all know and love. I first encountered the band through their short digital-only release The Guilty Baby, which luckily was not that long ago so I didn’t have too much time for new music. Of the two releases with which Breeze graced us on November 26th, Toad Crossing is definitely noisier and harsher, frequently delving into straight-up terrifying territory as the two friends summon unholy frenzies of punishing synth noise, piercing saxophone wails, ear-splitting feedback, and completely unintelligible ranting and raving. This 26-minute release is greatly helped by its high volume and substantial dynamic range, which both imbue the music with a sense of dangerous instantaneity. Hulking cacophonies of rusted metal and studio detritus threaten to collapse at any moment, and any brief respite from the madness is unceremoniously pulled away on the most fleeting of whims.
It’s not uncommon for bands who have crafted a unique or eclectic style, or even labels that cultivate a singular aesthetic, to carve out a “personal genre” for themselves (R.I.P. David Markson) with some crazy name. Some personal favorites of mine are “vapor punk,” “fog electronics,” and “shitgaze.” Self-classification, however, is notoriously unreliable, and many of these artists’ music ends up failing to meet the expectations that such creative titles evoke. I thought for sure this would be the case with the “death Appalachia” that allegedly graces Fruits from Saturn, the new collaborative tape from Deathbird Stories and Vadim Budman; there’s no way anything could sound that cool. As you can probably guess, I was dead wrong. The pairing of these two musicians spans the quite large expanse of ocean that separates the U.K. from Canada, a geographic scope that is somehow matched by the formidable racket the duo conjures. “Gone to Croatoan,” perhaps fittingly named for the word found carved into a tree after the mysterious disappearance of the island colony of Roanoke, is among the tape’s shortest tracks, but doesn’t waste any time whipping up a howling storm of distorted guitar gunk. Whether Deathbird and Budman are getting right to the point on “Gone to Croatoan” and “Moons of Gomrath” or constructing massive sprawls of harrowing, dissonant atmospherics on “The Word for World is Forest” and “Tindalos,” their ability to swirl various sound sources into gargantuan drones that rival the apocalyptic meditations of Daughter of Darkness is pretty astounding. The length may intimidate some of you, but personally I hadn’t even looked to see how long Fruits from Saturn actually was until about two-thirds of the way through and was baffled to see how quickly the time passed. I assure you, listening to this hefty slab of true “death Appalachia” will be eighty minutes well spent.
Most questions along the lines of “what’s the best ______ ever?” are pretty damn difficult to answer. But when someone asks me who I think is the best guitarist of all time, my response is an absolute no-brainer: Derek Bailey. No other practitioner of that classic instrument has seamlessly combined sublimity, technical skill, and uncompromising originality with such aplomb in a staggering variety of contexts. Across enrapturing solo performances (Aida, Standards), unconventional experiments (String Theory, Music and Dance), mind-blowing collaborations (live album with Han Bennink, Mirakle with Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Calvin Weston), and even more conventional ventures like Arcana’s Arc of the Testimony, Bailey created an impossibly idiomatic musical language, the impact and legacy of which reverberate long past the musician’s death in 2005. On Dis-Ordnance, Welsh artist Ash Cooke (also known as Chow Mwng) pays homage to every avant-garde guitarist’s hero with a style he calls “Gwrth-gitâr,” which translates to “anti-guitar” in Cooke’s native language. For Cooke, “Gwrth-gitâr is free playing in the sense that anything goes. It does not explicitly reject standard Western tuning, melody or harmony, but it does reject the need for such things. It seeks to explore new ways of using a traditional and universally familiar object to paint an alternative view of the world. It is unrehearsed and leaves as much to chance as it does to the ability of the operator. It has no interest in being reproducible.” In the case of Dis-Ordnance, Cooke seeks to paint more than just an alternative view of the world; he grounds the five elusive improvisations that comprise the album in specific locations around the mountains of North Wales, using found objects to coax unfamiliar timbres from his acoustic guitar and fragments of more traditional playing to retain an element of conventional harmony amidst the abstract explorations. The recordings are focused on the assaulting sounds of the guitar, but snatches of the surrounding environment often sneak in, and can be viewed as either auxiliary elements of the improvisations or as their sources of inspiration. Dis-Ordnance is simultaneously familiar and alien, personal and primordial, intimate and grandiose—a series of paradoxes made possible by the all-encompassing ideology of Gwrth-gitâr.
Looking at the credited musicians for Lumb (Boney Dog Davis and Sleepy Sugar Thompkins) and the absurd list of instruments, which includes anything from “possum fiddle” and “git’r” to “tall tales” and “crunch and twinge,” it’s just as hard to discern what’s actually real as it is in the music itself. Do any parts of those aliases come from the artists’ real names? Is there really audible use of a “hobo sack” in any of these recordings (because yes, it’s entirely possible, if a hobo sack is what I think it is)? Where exactly do the “gravy samples” stop and the actual musicianship—a term used quite loosely here—begin? But the answer I, and you, should give to these questions is who cares? The newest tape from the enigmatic Sugar Pills Bone project is about as intellectual an affair as you make it to be, but by the time you come across the… gratuitous “Without Me” sample on “Greasy Piece E” I’d venture that you won’t want to lean too heavily into some astute critical analysis. Like Proud Trash Sound, an album with which Lumb shares some notable qualities, the primary goal here is fun, and it’s not hard to have it as you submerge yourself in these jittery junk piles of frantic bluegrass blasphemy, startling noise blasts, disorienting tape-sample tendrils, hilariously recognizable snatches of pop songs and who the hell knows what else. I implore you not to just take my word for the astonishing heights of absurdity this thing reaches; at the very least just listen to “Cain’t Deny My Wormhole, Buckaroo.” It’s always great when you enjoy music because it cracks you up—something that’s very hard to pull off. If I end up grabbing this tape it’ll go with Horse Cock Phepner in the “Jack just needs a good laugh” pile.