Review: Borgne – [∞] (Avantgarde Music, Mar 30)

Though at this point Borgne has technically been around for over two decades, the project has only been operating consistently since 2007. Originally solely consisting of multi-instrumentalist Bornyhake, the new record welcomes Lady Kaos on keyboards. I would never guess that the band is a duo, however; [∞] is an astonishingly detailed and lush record even without considering the fact that it was made by only two people. Each track is uniquely oppressive, piling countless icy layers atop pummeling blast beats and Kaos’s grandiose synths. The compositions are contorted and disorienting, but the atmosphere is never sacrificed; Bornyhake’s tortured vocals intertwine with harmonizing tremolo riffs and sludgey, dense chords that maintain an overwhelming darkness that presides over the progression. Unsettling electronic textures are also frequently added, almost throwing everything off balance; yet it only adds to the anger and uneasiness already present. [∞] is quite an ambitious album, but most of the risks it takes pay off ten times over. Insane moments like the noisy industrial beat that kicks in at the end of “Comme si ça s’arrêtera / Stone” giving way to the majestic symphonics of “I Tear Apart My Blackened Wings Pt. 1” shouldn’t work, but man, they really do. I am excited to listen to [∞] many more times, and to see where this creative project goes next.

Pick up the LP here (ships April 8th).

Dual Review: Jiang XiaMeng – Pieces / Myra Siewert – Dream Journal (self-released, Feb 19)

Reviewing two albums at once is obviously not something I usually do. But the mysterious Bandcamp page listed under “Louis Schumacher” on which I found these releases instructs listeners to experience the two in tandem. Both albums are roughly 22 minutes in length and make heavy use of field recordings, but that’s about where the similarities end. Pieces, composed of four parts mostly containing very short songs, is described as a “commentary.” The miniature tracks are isolated portraits of various environments, ranging from conversation excerpts to recordings of zippers to occasional electronic overlays. They pass by at breakneck speed, blocking any opportunity to analyze the mysterious sonic snapshots in any significant depth; that is, until the final track “IV.” It’s a long form electroacoustic piece, barely making use of any field recordings at all; certainly a significant contrast to what came before. It’s an interesting choice to induce such immersion within this track, while the previous three parts allowed none; the explanation behind which I am still trying to figure out. Dream Journal, in contrast, is a “purge.” Almost instantly, it’s clear that it’s quite different from Pieces; the recordings are layered and sculpted rather than fragmented and sequenced, the songs taking on a (fittingly) dream-like quality. The sounds are always shifting in and out and around each other, forming a fluid collage that is a perfect foil to the tension-filled conclusion of Pieces. For the most part, these albums and their connection to each other are still uncertain, but it sure is fun to speculate. And at the end of the day, both releases are great in their own right, and I’d highly recommend trying them out.

Review: Ljudvägg – Varande (Purlieu Recordings, Mar 1)

Ljudvägg is a new alias of Swedish sound artist Filip Forsström, who has also released music as Tegelbruk. My efforts to learn more about Forsström were largely unsuccessful; unfortunately, my dizzyingly vast repertoire of talents does not include being able to read Swedish. As far as I can tell, however, he works with both found sound and piano, both of which were used to create his newest tape Varande. From the first track it was already clear that I wouldn’t make it through with dry eyes. The lilting arpeggios of “Hem” sigh like a weary spirit, slowly revealing subtle environmental sounds buried beneath the rich notes. This duality in composition is explored throughout the rest of the album, as Forsström’s expressive playing engages in beautiful battles with various field recordings and textures. An incredible climax is reached on “Textur” when percussive electronic processing gives way to the tinkle of chimes and soft drones, eventually rising to breathtaking heights with the help of jittery hand clapped rhythms and harmonica. None of the facets that make up Varande are particularly unfamiliar, yet together they create a unique musical language that defies description – and makes my eyes quite watery.

Review: Ungfell – Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz (Eisenwald Tonschmiede, Mar 23)

Ungfell, primarily Zürich-based musician Menetekel with help from occasional other members, won my heart last year with TôtbringæreIt blended many of my favorite aspects of black metal, including aggressive vocals and rawness, with others I don’t usually enjoy very much. such as melodic elements and folk instrumentation. It wasn’t a combination that sounded appealing to me at first, but the record quickly became one of my favorite metal releases of the year. Here, on Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz, Menetekel works with the same toolkit, but manages to create a final product that is distinct from its predecessor. The folk passages are more isolated and fleshed out, and this time around would be better described as actual songs rather than just interludes. Ungfell’s distinct lo-fi charisma is still present with the fuzzy guitars and full-bodied shrieks, but the songwriting is much more refined and the melodies better integrated. On my first listen, this seemed to be a drawback, but after revisiting I’ve once again changed my tune. Despite initially seeming to disrupt the album’s flow, the folk songs are a welcome ingredient, mixing well with both the atmospheric passages and the catchy tremolo melodies. The stylistic melting pot found on Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz is undeniably magnetic, and is sure to draw in fans of all sorts of music.

Buy the LP here.

Review: Anne Guthrie – Brass Orchids (Students of Decay, Mar 23)

The music of Anne Guthrie is difficult to pin down. Despite the fact that much of it is composed of usually identifiable found sounds and Guthrie’s unmistakable French horn playing, the end result is never so transparent. Both Perhaps a Favorable Organic Moment (2011) and Codiaeum Variegatum (2014) are among the most abstract and cryptic records I have ever heard, a trend that is continued with Brass Orchids, Guthrie’s second release on the Cincinnati-based imprint Students of Decay. But while the impenetrability of the two former albums was always something that obstructed my enjoyment, it has quite the opposite effect on Brass Orchids. The album’s five tracks are murky and abstruse, slowly exposing various sounds amidst a consistent darkness. Muffled voices, wispy horn blows, distant clatters, and almost alien-like whirs are all interwoven into the nocturnal, recondite tapestries, creating an atmosphere that is immersive and ominous. The feeling of something lurking in the dark just outside of your vision, the uncomfortable sensation of being surrounded, an uneasiness you can’t really explain; these are all sensations elicited by this opaque, mysterious music, and are what draws me back to it again and again.

Review: Dosis Letalis – Confronting the Inhuman (Breaching Static, Jan 12)

Wall noise is difficult to review, and to explain in general. I often find that I am unable to eloquently justify my enjoyment of it, despite it being an area of music to which I listen frequently. One thing I can confidently say, though, is that while an individual wall track may be homogeneous, the overall genre is anything but. Nothing better proves this than the widely varied and idiosyncratic work of Serbian artist Nemanja Nikolic, who most often operates as Dosis Letalis. His walls draw from a large pool of sound elements, including assaulting harshness, wriggling electroacoustic manipulations, and more. Confronting the Inhuman is a particularly soft and meditative album, its muffled field recordings slowly unfurling under a kinetic yet oppressive layer of noise. As with most Dosis Letalis releases, there is almost no progression throughout the duration, which for some may be a significant downside. But Confronting the Inhuman‘s organic, natural constitution lends itself well to stagnancy, and the album is anything but boring as I unpack the various layers whirling in my ears.

Review: lojii – Lofeye (Youngbloods, Mar 23)

I recently mentioned that lojii & Swarvy’s Due Rent was one of the only hip-hop albums I loved last year. While I was initially drawn to its dusty, inventive production, it was lojii’s entertaining flow and lyrical earnestness that kept me coming back. His chops have only improved on his new solo record Lofeye, tackling less concrete subject matter with dizzying rhyme schemes and endlessly creative instrumentals. lojii employs a wide variety of producers across the album’s 14 tracks, with results ranging from Thook’s dark atmospherics on leading track “Spook Who Sat by da Floor” to the schizophrenic musique concrète of Marc Rebillet on “Run It Down,” which probably has the craziest beat I’ve ever heard in a hip-hop song. Despite the much larger talent pool, everything on Lofeye feels like it fits; it all has a smoky, shadowy feel to it, and lojii’s smooth bars are always center stage. It’s a lot to take in at first, but Lofeye has already well exceeded my expectations, and I’m hoping that further exploration will only cement its quality.

Review: Lauren Tosswill – My Home in the Year (Enmossed, Jan 31)

There’s an almost uncomfortable tactility to My Home in the Year. In the monstrous opening title track, heavy metal objects are dragged and feet clunk on hardwood floors, juxtaposed with heavily manipulated loops of Tosswill’s spellbinding voice. The sounds are never fully unveil their identities, yet are present enough that the listener can fully explore them. This balance is key to the album’s amazing composition, with the unique timbres evoking a variety of emotions as they build in volume and interlock with each other, always hiding just behind a shield of enigma. Even the vocal elements are mysterious despite their origin being known. Tosswill’s wordless scrapes, grating inhales, and Yoshida-esque oscillations introduce incredible textures, allowing for an entirely a cappella track like “Kes” to be equally as captivating as any of the others. Despite making use of a relatively sparse sonic palette, My Home in the Year is impossibly lush; on the album page, it’s explained as residing “beyond the eye’s eye to our depths,” and somehow that arcane description kind of makes sense. Don’t ask me why, just listen.

In addition, Ms. Tosswill did a fascinating interview about her work with ATTN:Magazine. Also, all proceeds from Bandcamp sales of My Home in the Year go to Maine Inside Out, a nonprofit that works with incarcerated individuals to put on theatre productions.

Review: Rafael Anton Irisarri – Sirimiri (Umor Rex, Mar 16)

It seems like not too long ago that I was reviewing a Rafael Anton Irisarri album (that being because Midnight Colours came out less than a month ago). Not many artists can maintain such a frequent release schedule and consistent quality at the same time, but Sirimiri will silence the skeptics. Where Midnight Colours was bright and chromatic, Sirimiri is cool and nocturnal, with Irisarri’s masterful drone sculpting taking on an icy edge. The lush constructions and attention to detail has not been abandoned, however; every track draws from a variety of ideas, moving through and layering each of the elements in a way that feels very natural. Closing track “Mountain Stream” is one of my favorite things Irisarri has done, its cold synth melodies and shifting wintry ambiance somehow masking a hidden warmth. It evokes an alluring snowy landscape; but one that is viewed safely from a warm living room. Really wish I would’ve picked up the tape before it sold out, but what can you do.

Review: Setsuko – The Shackles of Birth (Dog Knights Productions, Mar 6)

I had a strange experience with The Shackles of Birth today. Towards the end of my first listen, the realization of how awesome it really is sort of crept up on me, a pretty uncommon thing in very in-your-face, immediate music like this. I was confused, until I realized that my delayed acknowledgment of its badassery was due to my brain automatically filing it away as a hardcore classic that I listen to regularly, rather than a new album I just discovered. Yes, the record is that good; it’s short, furious, and to-the-point, the gritty yet dynamic mix bowling you over like a freight train. The Shackles of Birth has everything I could possibly ask for, with vocals that sound more like tortured howls than screams, powerful drums that pound away blasts and d-beats alike, and dissonant, angular guitar interplay that stops things from even coming close to boring. It’s been a long time since I’ve been just plain excited about an album, but this one is seriously an accomplishment. And I guess my brain was mostly right; I will definitely be listening to this regularly, and it is most certainly classic material. You can pick up the physical LP here.