This self-titled album is the Swedish band The Skull Defekts’ final release, a swan song to close out nearly fifteen years of continuous activity. According to founding member Joachim Nordwall, the group’s initial goal was to make “circular, ritualistic, monotonous rock music.” It’s pretty poetic, then, that their final album is their most fully realized success at this task yet. It’s a work of intense passion, but in an entirely singular way; every second is full of barely restrained aggression and emotion, struggling to escape but never succeeding. The grooves are nocturnal and hypnotic, Henrik Rylander’s percussive drumming almost never leaving the toms as he builds to imperceptible climaxes amidst cutting feedback, guitar interplay, and the dual vocal powerhouse of Nordwall and Mariam Wallentin. The Skull Defekts is equal parts frightening, awesome, sultry, abrasive, and ecstatic in its defiance. It’s an incredibly fitting end to the band, a monument to the members’ chemistry despite mounting tension, and a touching thank-you note to everyone that has been involved along the way.
Yes, this album literally just came out today, but I’m so excited about it that I’m already writing a review. Midnight Colours is the newest tape by ambient/drone musician and composer Rafael Anton Irisarri, one of two officially announced for 2018 so far (Sirimiri will be released by Umor Rex on March 16). It elicited one of the most positive initial reactions of anything I’ve listened to so far this year, which was surprising considering I was not a fan of last year’s The Shameless Years. From the first seconds of leading track “The Clock” it is breathtakingly beautiful, as ethereal drones and warm vinyl-esque crackles pervade the lush soundscapes. Despite the consistent prettiness, Midnight Colours does not suffer from the mindless simplicity of “laptop ambient.” Instead, it is well constructed, detailed, and possesses a unique identity among music that is so often plagued by homogeneity; the same music, coincidentally, that is making 2018 a great year so far.
Transfigure Eighteen is an album of beautiful angst. Asher White‘s lyrics are troubling and cryptic and everything in between, their raw vulnerability matched by her frail, androgynous vocals, which often take center stage. The instrumental arrangements are wispy and fragile, every element within the pleasingly messy stitching possessing its own unique texture. It’s an album that’s difficult to read. It all seems so melancholy, with the brushed drums and weakly plucked guitars and ghostly voices; but it’s also gorgeous, even hopeful. From the organic climax of “Seasons Change” to the soft head-bobbing groove of “Reasons I Freaked Out in My Room” to the wrenching catharsis of “Nudes,” Transfigure Eighteen resides in a middle ground between many emotions, and it is wondrous to behold. Maybe the record is White’s declaration of optimism amidst hardship, or something else entirely, but for now I’m happy to be uncertain. One thing’s for sure, though: this is an astonishingly realized work from a young artist, and all but assures that the rest of her career will shine brightly.
1. Dalot & Sound Awakener – “A Good Day to Be Alone” from Little Things (Facture, Jan 31)
2. Fossil Aerosol Mining Project – “Aestas Anatis 2016” from August 53rd (Helen Scarsdale Agency, Feb 23)
3. Michel Banabila – “Hope (Disquiet 0271 Prison Sky)” from Just Above the Surface (Tapu, Jan 10)
4. Erik Levander – “Åter annalkande” from Couesnon (Katuktu Collective, Jan 26)
5. Lucas Norer – “Korridor” from Portbou (self-released, Jan 18)
6. Tariq Anwar – “Museum Notes” from Soundmaps for the Dreamer II (Sonospace, Jan 26)
7. Thomas Tilly – “Post-Explosion II (Phonography)” from Codex Amphibia (Glistening Examples, Feb 22)
8. Lea Bertucci – “At Dawn” from Metal Aether (NNA, Feb 9) [Conversation with Olivia Block on National Sawdust Log]
9. Dedekind Cut – “Spiral” from Tahoe (Kranky, Feb 23)
10. Jason Sharp – “Stand Above the Streams, Pt. 1B” from Stand Above the Streams (Constellation, Feb 23)
11. Grant Evans – “Her Smile” from Ergot Dogs (Adversary, Feb 1)
12. Wim Dehaen – “Ústí OST” from 12 Elegies for Pierre Boulez / Ústí OST (ACR, Feb 12)
Listen to a recording of the show here:
With origins dating as far back to the mid-80’s, Fossil Aerosol Mining Project seems to be a name I should have heard much earlier than now. Though the group was on hiatus for most of the 90’s, they have been working and releasing recordings since 2004, mainly utilizing found sounds, field recordings, and signal processing to create imaginative soundscapes. August 53rd is their most recent record, a seven track LP that represents one of the most detailed sonic constructions I’ve heard this year. The stuffy, lethargic atmosphere projects a pronounced solitude, the wistful tape loops and airy sound bits fleshing out a hauntingly beautiful environment that never stops closing in. Every element used is so enigmatic; no one sound is immediately identifiable or obvious, but everything seems to fall into place perfectly. The photograph featured on the cover could not have done a better job of representing the music contained within.
On Codex Amphibia, Thomas Tilly lets the field recordings take the reins. Collected in Guiana in late 2016 as part of a field research project with the French National Center for Scientific Research, the mostly unprocessed selections paint vivid pictures of a lush natural environment. Leaves rustle, water bubbles, and the ribbits of the titular amphibians are just a few of the sonic elements that comprise the organically dense collages, and the masterful production ensures that everything is heard clearly. The digital version comes with a few photos that I assume were taken during the recording process, and it’s a testament to the album’s clarity that they’re almost exactly like what I was picturing in my mind while I was listening. It’s one of the most intensely immersive albums I’ve ever heard, with Tilly’s subtle additions in the form of sine waves and quiet drones keep anything from seeming too stagnant. Codex Amphibia is a truly awe-inspiring work, one that I’m sure will reveal more layers as time goes on.
I bought Couesnon in a three tape bundle from Katuktu Collective’s Bandcamp for $12, which is probably among the best decisions I’ve ever made (free domestic shipping too! Only three left, get them while you can). Haven’t gotten a chance to listen to the other two tapes yet, but Couesnon honestly made the purchase worth it all on its own. Ambient musician Erik Levander creates achingly beautiful, noisy soundscapes that expand and contract effortlessly. Textural and melodic elements exist in perfect harmony, as equal a balance as the abrasive elements have with the gorgeous drones and ethereal ambiance. There’s more than enough diversity across the five tracks to warrant multiple listens, which I have definitely been taking to heart; I can’t seem to get enough of it.