Review: Bob Drake – l’Isola dei Lupi (Morphius, Oct 4)

No one, and I mean no one, writes vocal harmonies quite like Bob Drake. The first track on his new LP l’Isola dei Lupi, “Isola dei Lupi,” is almost entirely composed of his own layered singing, with exquisitely crafted chords introducing tension and dissonance that is resolved almost immediately. This impatience is what makes Drake’s music so unique and special. Across his now ten albums, songs longer than five minutes are extreme rarities; Drake chooses instead to focus his songwriting on a miniature scale, often developing an impossible amount of elements within songs that end before you even knew they started. l’Isola dei Lupi goes a much more folk-oriented route than the maximalist glam-pop of Arx Pilosa, with the angular, space-filled guitar lines and wistful piano being more reminiscent of his earlier albums. Its more reserved approach prevents it from being as immediate as some of my favorite records of Drake’s, mainly Medallion Animal Carpet, but I have no doubt that his unparalleled attention to detail and meticulous songwriting/production process will reveal countless idiosyncrasies upon further listens. “Ycnarr’s Rock Collection Pleached Path to the Cliff” is one of his best songs ever, a bombastic prog number condensed by a junkyard crusher into a two-and-a-half minute powerhouse of evolving melodies, and penultimate centerpiece “The Ascension of Greyfoot Badger” gives me the same gleeful catharsis as “I Wish It Had Been a Dream.” As always, even when l’Isola dei Lupi is at its most serious it’s still a ton of fun, and there is something here for pretty much everyone.

Review: Excretion Geometry – Household (Absent Erratum, Oct 2)

As an amateur phonographer, I spend a lot of time outside with my headphones plugged into my digital recorder, just listening to the sounds of rustling trees, birds, and distant voices. This ambient environmental sound is what opens Household, the first and only release (as is Absent Erratum’s MO) by anonymous project Excretion Geometry. “Home of Embers – Prelude” presents an unprocessed recording of a windy day, the gusts of air intermittently filling the low end of the frequencies; and just as your patience begins to wear thin, an interjection of overheard conversation leads us into “Home of Embers.” When this wall — fence might be a better description — emerged on my first listen, I uttered an audible gasp. It’s one of the most subtle, meditative static noise pieces I have ever heard, throwing stuttering, distorted blips at each channel. This stereo-reliant approach without a central basis in the form of a rumble or drone is unconventional to say the least, and simultaneously disorients and lulls. The following “Bramble Guardian” explores similar territory, with the intensity slightly amped up; but that contrast is dwarfed by the punishing “Flux,” which shatters the fragile constructions of the previous tracks with an unstoppable wall of chunky distortion. “Interstitial Malfunction” backs off slightly, but maintains the intensity. I’m not sure whether the prelude at the beginning of the album was the source material for these walls, but regardless of where they came from, every single one is hypnotic in its own way.

Review: Mosquitoes – Drip Water Hollow Out Stone (ever/never, Jul 13)

This one came out quite a while back, but I only recently discovered it — and liked it so much that I felt the need to write about it. “New-ish” UK project Mosquitoes picks up where many bands in the short-lived no wave scene left off. In my experience, no wave revival mostly takes the form of irreverent, angular noise rock with deranged vocals, and most of the records I have heard don’t offer much in the way of new territory in either a modern context or with reference to the original movement. Mosquitoes, however, takes the deconstructed rock formula explored by acts like DNA and Mars even further, using conventional instruments in unconventional ways on their debut release Drip Water Hollow Out Stone. In this case, unconventional is a gross understatement; if DNA dropped rock music on the hard concrete floor and worked with the broken pieces, Mosquitoes kicks those pieces around until they break into dust. These unsettling, hulking “songs” build themselves on rickety foundations of rattling drums, stumbling bass, hypnotic vocal repetitions, and unpredictable guitar interjections. On opener “Drip,” tremolo guitar drones unseat a tentative groove created by a disjointed rhythm section, while the vocalist forces ragged cries out of a resistant throat. “Out” is a bizarre masterpiece, with disintegrating guitars and indecipherable words in an alien language building to a violent climax. I could go on and on; Drip Water Hollow Out Stone’s 24 minutes are stuffed with surreal density that even after listening to it every day for the last week or so I’m still discovering new things.

Review: Three Bulb Cyclist – Digging for Diameters (Rota Frangitur, Oct 2)

The digital-only Digging for Diameters collects seven pieces by the enigmatic artist Three Bulb Cyclist, released over the course of 2018 across four releases on Rota Frangitur Records. It is also my first encounter with their music, and after the first two tracks I wasn’t quite drawn in yet. But upon the opening synth spirals of “La Chicle En La Boca,” a 16 minute piece with a mind all its own, I was hooked. The free-form electronic synthesis (I don’t know enough about this stuff to identify modular vs. granular or whatever) tumbles and whirls over itself, phasing in and out from dissonant sonorities to gorgeous plasticky twinkles. It’s hard to imagine a human executing these manipulations; the progressions are so natural that it almost gives the sense that the sounds were programmed and then just let loose. “La Chicle En La Boca” and the ensuing compositions explore synthetic tones and beauty amidst stridency and tension, in the same vein as some of my favorite adventurous electronic records (I was frequently reminded of Animal Collective’s brilliant Danse Manatee and even the electronic stochastic music of Xenakis), but Three Bulb Cyclist employs a subtle lushness, a hint of profound color, even in the collection’s sparsest moments.

Review: Depleted – Conjurations of Void (Nailbat Tapes, Sep 21)

Many types of metal benefit from a scrappy, do-it-yourself approach. I’m not partial to the idea of a one-person, lo-fi tech death record or something like that, but the more emotionally intimate subgenres pair much better with such a format. Conjurations of Void, the first and, as of now, only tape from Portland project Depleted, is an up close and personal bedroom doom release that infuses formless harsh noise textures into the standard riffs and beats. Initially, I was disappointed that opening track “Spent” doesn’t introduce any of these elements until its conclusion, which leads into the rhythmless swirls of “Depletion.” But upon further listens, this lower level of integration accomplishes something entirely unexpected; it’s almost like the noise is eating away at the music that precedes it, dissolving the slow guitar chugs into howls of distortion. The reverse happens at the beginning of “Void,” which emerges out of a deafening wave of effect-ridden vocals. This time, however, the noise stays, albeit subtly, a hint of tension underneath the ensuing death doom sludge that rises like a leviathan from the murky depths of tape hiss and fuzz. Would I have liked Conjurations of Void to be longer, and further explore this interesting duality? Yes. Is it awesome the way it is? Definitely.

Review: Damien De Coene – The Present Is a Hostile Place (Geräuschmanufaktur, Oct 7)

The HNW series of Jan Warnke’s Geräuschmanufaktur label has been regularly churning out tapes filled with some of the most innovative work in the genre. Most releases have a unique approach or style that it explores (e.g. Constructionis, which I reviewed here a few months ago, and 2017’s Clavilis Muri, which pairs dark static with piano). But none have hit me in the way that Damien De Coene’s tape The Present Is a Hostile Place did. Loneliness, whether meditative solitude or crippling desolation, is a feeling frequently elicited by wall artists, but “Homesick Orphan” makes me feel completely isolated, like I am in a dark hole by myself and can barely make out the things passing overhead. This profound stifling is accomplished through the masterful use of stereo space; amidst the crackles — which on the left crumble into a deep, earthy rumble and on the right stay in a higher range — is a gaping hole, a complete absence of sound that calls as much attention to itself as the noise beside it, a physically oppressive darkness. “The Benefits of Destructive Behavior,” beginning with an odd synth sample, adopts largely the same structure, but with enough variation that it is distinct yet just as hypnotic, along with some muffled glitches that subtly disrupt and distort the wall. The Present Is a Hostile Place will put you into a trance; the 60 minutes feel so much shorter, and at the end it’s like stepping out of a pitch black cave into the sunlight.

Review: Candy – Good to Feel (Triple B, Sep 28)

And the award for the grooviest, angriest hardcore record of 2018 goes to…

Good to Feel sounds every bit as fiery as the graphic album cover. The guitars, while chunky and full with plenty of low end, have a sharp flaming edge to them that blasts right through the mix, only matched by the furious vocals. Though Candy largely abandons the beatdown-indebted sound of previous releases, Good to Feel still slams unfathomably hard, with each track offering fast-paced punk pounds, invigorating mid-tempo chugs, and deliberately slow breakdowns that drip with sludge. The latter element is probably the record’s standout feature: the breakdowns are fucking amazing. Unlike many more metalcore-informed bands, when Candy slows down the anger doesn’t; even during the most sluggish sections a palpable, electric fury remains. Because of this, the longer tracks like “Distorted Dreams” hit just as hard as the brief blasters such as “Burning Water.” Good to Feel is only 17 minutes, so it doesn’t have time for mercy. Whether you’re banging your head furiously to thrashing hardcore or more slowly while that distinctive “oh man this is heavy” expression spreads across your face (I challenge you to listen to “Human Target” without doing so), Good to Feel drives a hot metal spike straight into the amygdala.