Reviews: Sick Days, Pool Pervert (Vacancy, Aug–Sep)

The most interesting, well-curated homemade/small-batch labels come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and aesthetics, but especially all locations. I’d wager one could stop a spinning globe on any random point there’d be a good chance something to this effect is going on somewhere nearby, whether it’s tapes and CD-Rs tucked in scribbled-on paper sleeves or zine exchange networks or alleyway film screenings, and most will probably go completely unnoticed by the other 99.999% of people in the world; which, of course, is usually part of the point. Some places, however (for reasons as various as art itself), become unlikely, often ramshackle hubs for one or several convergences of fringe interests, and one of those places is southern Ontario, a fecund patch of lakeside tilth for DIY sprouts and shoots. From Fossils/Cardinal Records (as well as David Payne’s Offensive Orange project and Middle James Co.) to Thoughts on Air/Low Orbit and Beach Vicodin/Hamilton Tapes, the Hammer is definitely a hotspot, but a bit farther south in Niagara resides Vacancy Recs. and its associated artists, a new favorite of mine that’s having a modest but superb year so far.

Sick Days – The Calm Before (Aug 19)

The work of woodshed sound art project Sick Days comprises much of Vacancy’s output, of which The Calm Before is the latest. Like the 2020 self-titled double CD, the release that introduced me to the project, a simple formula of taped field recordings and choice effects comprising a sort of stripped-down performance installation. There’s little variation for much of the two 45-minute sides, the minimal yet enthralling soundscapes lulling with homespun hypnosis; I’m reminded of Jørgen Brønlund Quartet in that the passivity and agency of the nature being observed is retained, but there are just enough details that it’s apparent human intentionality is at play. Not only do both untitled cuts seem to dissolve time with their careful, artful simplicity, they also have spare moments of dynamic shift that will leave any close listener breathless (I won’t spoil… hear it for yourself). I can already see this being one of my most-played tapes this year.

Pool Pervert – Young Sleep Whispers (Sep 20)

Disregarding any less than ideal connotations with which the artist’s name might imbue it, Young Sleep Whispers is a fitting, if still cryptic title for this new tape from the prolific Dutch newcomer—this reticent near-hour feels not just dreamlike and hushed but also embryonic, forming movement and emotion before it even forms (or is formed) itself. In part one, meditative cross-currents of simmering moonlit water, blurred piano musings, and rhythmic respirations from somewhere beyond settle into place with the organic, unhurried ease of the tides themselves. The surface of this distilled primordial soup is later brushed by what could either be windswept branches or cosmic clouds of ice, widening the music’s spatial presence even further; the results are at once massive and miniature. The following part is even looser, more earthy and psychedelic (though don’t take that too literally—the binaural voice snatches at the beginning will have you looking over your shoulder the whole night).

Review: mockART – views | interrupted (self-released, Sep 2)

Though much more of a concise, focused work than its sprawling predecessor Men Who Lost Their Heads (reviewed here last November), the new full-length from nebulous Frankfurt project mockART is every bit as unpredictable and thoroughly strange. The cynical late-capitalist imagery continues with the cover of views | interrupted, a color-saturated photomontage depicting a dreamlike, oversimplified, pop-filtered image of the apocalypse; and though there’s no magical window to greener pastures in real life, something akin to that saccharine optimism shows up in the music as well, a kind of liveliness that’s sickly and broken at its core. This first shows up in the form of the classically minded flute phrasings that comprise much of th first three tracks, bleeding out in the shadows of some unknown cavernous space where machines whir and electronics hum. The last of this opening triad, “White Window,” shifts more attention to warm, wet synth transmissions, denser but by no means happier, ringing out major-key intervals rendered as a somber lament. It’s also a great example of the central logic that structures views | interrupted, a (paradoxical) penchant for conventional harmony and subversive detours both textural and tonal. “Parklife” might be the standout, bringing together everything previously introduced with space-distorting field recordings of footsteps, forest fare, and absent-minded percussion fiddling. The way these disparate elements form soundscapes that actually make sense needs to be heard to be believed. And in fact, beneath the layers and façades of bright-eyed synthetic sheen, there’s a current of genuine hope to be found. I hope.

Review: Moth Cock – Whipped Stream and Other Earthly Delights (Hausu Mountain, Sep 2)

Of all the ruffianic stalwarts on Chicago weirdo electronics purveyor Hausu Mountain’s roster, Moth Cock have always been my favorite, perhaps in part because it was they who brought me to the prolific label in the first place, thanks to their split LP with Ren Schofield’s Form a Log back in 2016. Since then (and even before; 2014 full-length debut Twofer Tuesday and 2012 live tape Bremmy are among the very first releases) the irreverent Kent-based project of Doug Gent and Pat Modugno and their peerless brand of surreal, plasticine MIDI-jazz have both become a fixture of Hausu’s output and spread elsewhere, notably to Cleveland imprint Unifactor as well as leaking through several self-released, digital-only outlets. Nothing, however, could prepare even the most dedicated fan for the sheer breadth of Whipped Stream and Other Earthly Delights, an XR dose of the duo’s best and most adventurous work yet that spans three C70s and nearly three and a half hours. The previously NNM-reviewed (and still excellent) If Beggars Were Horses Wishes Would Ride was already a significant step up from the less refined early sound, but this is something else entirely, mashing together everything they’re already good at and a heaping helping of brand new territory.

For the most part, this album is surprisingly built on drones, in one way or another at least; I never thought I’d be comparing this band to Natural Snow Buildings in any capacity, but the lengthier tracks here really do remind me of some of Daughter of Darkness in the way they seem to create their own gravity, bending time itself with gargantuan weight. But if Daughter is a black hole, Whipped Stream is a rainbow dwarf star, or maybe a miracle singularity of all the world’s Casios, plastic horns, and old game cartridges. Opener “Castles Off Jersey” is an immediate illustration of all that bleeping, burbling color stretched by the expanse of space: meditative bowed-cello loops introduce a core coziness that persists even when slow-building entropy arrives in the form of strangled sax and ersatz bit-trips—listen to this one in the sun, if you can. The first tape closes with the (relatively) shorter “Leads to the Yellow Courts,” a stumbling trudge through psychedelic haze that feels much more traditionally Moth Cock, anchored to ground level by the humidity of tropical birdsong and sopping wet delay even as the smoke rises to the stars. Despite most, if not all of the material here being collected from Twitch streams and recurring local performances, it feels like an album through and through, and a temptingly replayable one at that, which might be more of a feat than if it were all recorded in sessions specifically for this purpose. It’s impossible to even pick a favorite cut; right now I’m all about the Black Dice–esque groover “Mineshaft Full of Caspers” and the immersive apocalyptics of “Take Two and Lose Your Phone,” but I guarantee that will change next listen.

Whipped Stream has already received well-deserved mainstream coverage from Pitchfork and other sources, so it should be a testament to its quality that I still felt it necessary to chime in. One for the ages, no doubt about that.

Review: Jürgen Eckloff – Diese, Nichts & Solche (Fragment Factory, Sep 1)

Diese, Nichts & Solche is Berlin sound artist and active Column One member Jürgen Eckloff’s first release since 2016’s Angeflantschte Fugenstücke, a record that made a deep, lasting impression on me when I first heard it. Unsurprisingly, this is true for this new tape on Fragment Factory as well; across both sides of the C46 a complex, cerebral slice of meticulous concrète-collage unfolds in a way not unlike a dream, its logic at once well-defined and utterly indefinable. Wriggling bits and pieces ripped from context, speech and slime and slurry, interdimensional phone calls and complete hogwash… all of these multitudinous elements somehow converse, even cooperate with each other, following rules well outside comprehension as they spasm and slither with an uneasy, skittering kinesis—much along the lines of the work of Eckloff’s labelmate and colleague Alice Kemp, or perhaps a more surgical Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck, especially with regard to the skin-crawling eroto-terrorscape that begins side B. (Though innocuous on their own, I can’t say I’m a fan of the inclusion of the Žižek samples, but I suppose it works with the rest of the sluice of perverse nonsense.) Diese, Nichts & Solche is indeed unsettling at some points, extremely intense at others, but through it all there are ever-present threads of pretty much everything else: humor, horror, rhythm, ruin, wonder, despair, one, none. Don’t listen alone, or at night… or at work.

Review: Ghost Dance – 1000 Instances of Grief (FTAM, Aug 20)

Important note: if at all possible please listen to the album at least once before you read the review. I don’t want to rob anyone of the experience of hearing it for the first time.

It doesn’t take much time into “Carlisle Indian Industrial School” to realize that 1000 Instances of Grief, the first full-length from Indigenous noisemaker Travis Dodge’s Ghost Dance project, is something very different from the gnashing direct-action power electronics of Indian Babies: How to Keep Them Well. Most of the opening track relies on audio from Rebecca Nagle’s This Land docu-podcast, in which Nagle explores both systemic and direct injustice toward Native people in the U.S. (in this case, she gives an account of a memorialist visit to the titular historical site). The simple delay effect placed on her otherwise unprocessed speech seems strangely banal at first, but soon the overlapping echoes take on a certain kind of unity, loosely knitting into a chorus in the past’s looming shadow, and it becomes clear what 1000 Instances really is: an elegy. All the abject grief and weary rage of generations upon generations living and dead saturate the closing burst of contact mic scrabble, erupting without warning once Nagle most directly states the true nature of Carlisle and countless institutions like it; it’s a truly indescribable and unforgettable moment.

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the disc is full of many more of those: the breaks into haunted ambience before the noise escalates into full-fledged vocal assault on “Kamloops”; the brief “Unmarked Grave” and its aching, almost lifeless dirge; the many cuts and collapses of “ALM,” titled after a Navajo–Cherokee child whose adoption by a white family opened new avenues for state-sanctioned genocide. The hypnotic traditional chant featured in Indian Babies‘ “Against the Liquor Curse” reappears in the concluding “No Pride in Genocide,” once again buried beneath layers of distortion and choppy digital artifacting; in part, the crude but affecting soundscape paints an aural simulacrum of the profound cultural erasure leveled against Native people throughout history, which the remainder of the track subjects to a varied, expertly executed gauntlet of good old-fashioned PE destruction. By no means an easy listen… but this is important and essential music.

Review: Jordan Deal – GOGO Underworld (Cor Ardens, Aug 5)

GOGO Underworld exists on the physical plane as a limited run of cassettes housed in hand-set wax boxes with a glass window. Five, ten at most, you’d probably guess. But no, there are a hundred of these objects in the world now, an impressive and admirable feat to say the least—and an illustrative one as well, for the care and dedication that went into crafting the sound’s few vessels in conjunction with the goal of reaching many happen to be quite representative of Jordan Deal’s creative approach itself. These are the first recordings from the Philadelphia-based interdisciplinary artist, but they join an already formidable body of work spanning performance, video, collage, and sculpture. Somehow, these diverse modes of expression are all present on GOGO Underworld in one way or another; this music is gestural, vivid, eclectic, tangible, resonant. The “Intro” is a reserved yet complex welcome to the vast expanse of sonic material from which Deal draws throughout the following tracks, its delicate kaleidoscope of textures blooming into “Lawd!”, a standout piece that rolls together voice, field recordings, radio, and choice electronics into a transcendent, crystalline psychedelia. Earthen fragments that together comprise something otherworldly are a consistent presence, from the fluid communal bricolage of the “SHOUTS” diptych to the phantasmagoric chorus of “dreamARCHIVE.” This latter section features some of the most poignant of Deal’s spoken poetics, quotes from which have remained steadfast in my brain since the first time I heard them (e.g., “We have colonized potentiality”). It’s just one of many examples of how the “multi-dimensional energy worker” excels with both abstract and explicit evocation, existing together in sublime symbiosis. “Your rebirth will be revolutionary.”

GOGO Underworld is a bold, unforgettable first step in Deal’s multimedia project to explore “how the memories and mythologies of the Black diaspora can be used as conduits of historical and cultural preservation, tracing its global footprint—disrupting Western colonial thought modes and deploying dreaming as channels for potentiality, non-linear modes of intercepting time and space, and celebration as resistance.”

Mix: Heartwood Stomp

The specific essence these tracks share is difficult to define, but I hope that gathered together they’ll do that for me. Let’s pound our heels into the floorboards until we leave our mark, clap the day’s work’s dirt off our hands and scrub the rust from our joints; dance until the eave-dust rains down on whatever’s below us. Folk music from and for hard-beating hearts.

00:00. Amps for Christ – “Branches” from The People at Large (5 Rue Christine, 2004)

02:11. Exuma – “Damn Fool” from Exuma II (Mercury, 1970)

05:53. Scatter – “Alternations of Pasture and Urban Conurban” from Surprising Sing Stupendous Love (Cenotaph Audio, 2004)

10:24. Holy Modal Rounders – “Bound to Lose” from The Holy Modal Rounders (Prestige, 1964)

14:39. Megafaun – “Gather, Form & Fly” from Gather, Form & Fly (Hometapes, 2009)

18:56. The Woes – “The Secret” from Heaven Knows (self-released, 2009)

22:57. Drakkar Sauna – “How to Approach an Accident Victim” from Rover (Marriage, 2004)

26:20. Big Blood – “…Is All We Have” from Dark Country Magic (Don’t Trust the Ruin, 2010)

31:19. Peter Stampfel – “Oomalooma Messy Dessy” from Dook of the Beatniks (PFAM, 2009)

34:53. The Ebony Hillbillies – “Cream” [Prince cover] from 5 Miles from Town (EH Music, 2017)

Review: Arek Gulbenkoglu – fissure, fissure, fissure (self-released, Jul 26)

As is often the case, I’d be remiss if I didn’t introduce this new disc from idiosyncratic Australian sound artist Arek Gulbenkoglu by quoting his own description of the work: “fissure, fissure, fissure is a 37 minute piece documenting various failures in language and extrapolations of voice; machines that whir, slap and clap; and in-jokes that don’t go anywhere.” Like last year’s Lexicon Nil—this one I still haven’t heard… if anyone’s selling a copy please hit me up—it’s self-released and comprises a single track (and is mastered by the prolific Giuseppe Ielasi), but the composition shares plenty with other entries in Gulbenkoglu’s discography as well, featuring the unpredictable segmentation and artful monotony previously explored on ReoccurrencecDDe, etc. Here, however, these points of interest are magnified to new levels of extremity. Indeed, part of what makes all of the artist’s material so beguiling is that it’s full of paradoxes, that words like “extremity” are often just as applicable as ones like “banality”; and fissure, fissure, fissure, perhaps more so than anything preceding it, is both apathetic and devout, bizarre and familiar, abstract and concrete. There are unaccompanied machinations, clandestine field recordings, text-to-speech jargon, tape-driven deconstructions, and more, but each and every episode is driven (ironically) by a somehow sanguine inertness. To be more concise: it certainly goes nowhere, but it takes its sweet, captivating time getting there.

The links here lead to the Shame File (AUS) website, but copies have already also made it to Penultimate Press (UK) and Derek Baron (US).

Review: Hydra – Your Name (Everyday Samething, Aug 1)

Your Name on a business card… I mean, the jokes write themselves. Which, I’m sure, is part of the point. And no, not a business-card 3″, but the actual regular old paper kind, printed in a small run of 25 with the album artwork on the front and a QR code on the back (Paul Owen’s doesn’t have that now does it), then scattered throughout “selected shops and bargain bins around the UK.” At a point in time when physical music is much more ritual than utility to most, Everyday Samething’s sly-eyed pseudo-soliciting is a new and distinct way to network with new listeners (I say “network” because while this method could be thought of as an enticing offer from the mysterious stranger in a low fantasy novel, it can also be something entirely banal, an ongoing hey, check this out) even when the music itself is hosted online. Similar things have certainly been done before, of course—I own IT IT’s Formal Odors in the form of a small rectangle of handmade paper embedded with broccoli seeds—but it’s far from just the distribution concept that makes Your Name so fascinating.

I know next to nothing about Hydra, but I do know that whoever’s behind it has an ear for both the conventionally sublime and the brashly abstract. “Air Force Ones” [sic] immediately has the sound of something one found by scanning a random QR code, its initial roar of digitally distorted field recordings gradually calming to accommodate new elements, namely a meandering melodic synth and high-pitched feedback blasts. “Real Power” is somehow even weirder, and reminds me of some of the self-described “deep internet” material that I most enjoy: the Infant Jesus Church’s Finally the Instant Is Here, the Memory Preservation Institute’s Had to Get This Off My Mind. I really can’t believe how much is happening in Your Name despite how short and minimal it is; among other things, there’s some truly spectacular scald-psychedelia in the last two tracks, adding C.C.C.C. fans to the long list of people who will find plenty to love in this bite-sized tour-de-force. Thankfully, you won’t have to wait until you stumble across the album’s tangible tether in the wild to listen, because Everyday Samething is generously allowing me to include the MediaFire link.

Review: Low Textures – untitled (Lo-music, Jul 15)

This (I think?) debut release from Low Textures is equally likely to put you in a deep trance as it is to give you a splitting headache. But if such a risk were at all concerning to you, you wouldn’t be on this site, so don’t come crying to me when your brain starts dripping out your nostrils. A great way to go out anyway, if you ask me; if there’s a bottom of music, this is damn near close to it, and then you can tell everyone else in hell all about your exploits. Not dissimilar in spirit or in textural palette to the previously NNM-reviewed Stunad and Emergency in Six Movements, these two lengthy tracks take such radical sonic minimalism even further by significantly restricting the amount of information in the actual audio files, to an extreme 56kbps (the full hour-and-a-half release takes up less than 40mb). In this regard the album fits right it on Lo-music, a netlabel with an imposed bitrate cap of the same number—other artists have put out recordings at as low as 3kbps—but here they’ve contributed the most effective exploration I’ve heard yet of the possibilities (or lack thereof) when working with this constraint. Both halves deal heavily in teeth-rattling low-end, especially 1 with its persistent bass frequency that transforms the surrounding strands of static into edges that cut into its sluggish thickness, and then wall heads will immediately feel at home once the glacial crackle-drone of 2 kicks in. What could easily be dismissed as a gimmick is proven to be anything but; I’m definitely keeping an eye and a structurally destabilized ear out for more bedrock-trawling “music” from Low Textures. For fans of Sachiko’s “Don’t Stop”, floppy disks, and ungrounded receivers.