Review: Kate Carr – I Ended Out Moving to Brixton (Flaming Pines, Mar 9)

London-based artist Kate Carr’s unique soundscapes could almost be compared to paintings. In much of her work, and especially in I Ended Out Moving to Brixton, she aims to describe a physical location or environment using the variety of sounds heard within it. This new release on Flaming Pines is especially vivid, presenting Carr’s perception of the rapidly changing city of Brixton. “Rapid” also describes much of the piece; individual sounds and recordings dissipate almost as soon as they appear, forcing the listener to pay close attention. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m walking through downtown at rush hour, when everyone around me is hurrying somewhere and I almost feel as though I should be hurrying too. Carr captures this almost stressful feeling of movement with disarming panning, frequent splicing, and the layering of noises on top of each other, but she also somehow presents a feeling of comfort within the chaos; initially unfamiliar sounds are repeated throughout the piece, subtly developing an almost rhythmic security amidst the hustle and bustle. I’d say the non-diegetic contributions are the weak points here; I have nothing against musical elements within field recording based pieces like this, but the new age-esque synths and computerized percussion are so out of place against the careful beauty of the environmental sounds. But regardless, Carr succeeds yet again in painting a colorful sonic portrait, and even though I’ve never physically been to Brixton I feel like I know it a little better now.

Review: Nick Keeling & Kaily Moon Schenker – Marker (Torn Light, Jan 8)

This tape came out quite a bit earlier in the year, but I only recently got my hands on it; it was a physical-only release and Torn Light was sold out of copies. However, I had the opportunity to see this duo perform some live improvisations last Saturday, and was able to pick up Marker at the merch table. It’s the first and possibly only collaboration between musician/sound artist Nick Keeling and classically trained cellist Kaily Schenker, and is mainly composed of improvisational pieces with cello, piano, vibraphone, and 8-track tapes. Needless to say, both artists are tremendously skilled at their respective instruments, but the real treat here is the evolution of Keeling’s tape work, which is more developed than ever before. He uses a custom-built system of three modified 8-track machines, the tape circling in an infinite loop in and out of each, allowing for live manipulation of both his and Schenker’s playing. The dusty stutter of the imperfect loops blends incredibly well with the sounds coming from the actual instruments, giving Marker a unique, fragile beauty that is only extended by its exclusive presentation on cassette. I’ve been told it can be purchased from Thousands of Dead Gods’ Discogs page despite not being listed.

Review: Nagual / Tongue Depressor Split (Pidgeon, Feb 22)

Both sides of the new split tape by Connecticut-based duos Nagual and Tongue Depressor are abrasive in a way that is somehow not off-putting. The noisy, clattering guitar and effect interplay between Nagual’s David Shapiro and Ian McColm is chaotic, violent even; but it’s also inexplicably warm, and magnetic. The way these musicians sculpt string buzzes, rattles, angular notes, and hypnotic loops into detailed soundscapes is truly amazing. Tongue Depressor’s side, composed of fluid violin and fiddle drones performed by members Zach Rowden and Henry Birdsey, is equally dense despite its sparser palette. You can almost hear the resin crumbling off the bows as they are mercilessly dragged along the strings, giving the lush harmonies a jagged edge. I’m undoubtedly reminded of the organic pieces of the Dream Syndicate, but Rowden and Birdsey are not concerned with “eternal music;” near the end of the track, the notes dissipate, and we are left with jarringly percussive bowing that builds to a noisy conclusion. A fantastic showing from both artists, and thanks to Pidgeon Records for putting it all in a nice package.

Review: The Orchardist – Mercurian Vineyard Surgeries (Nonlocal Research, Feb 22)

Some might say that an element of mystery and wonder associated with underground music is lost in this age of the internet. And it’s true; there’s really nothing like finding that unmarked LP in the bargain bin that blasts lo-fi industrial sounds out of your speaker system when you put it on the table or pulling a cassette wrapped in some sort of felt-like material with no identifying information to be found out of a dusty, forgotten music store shelf. But I’d argue that I came damn close to that pleasing feeling of bewilderment when I came across Mercurian Vineyard Surgeries on Bandcamp the other day. It’s the newest tape from multimedia artist Grant Corum, under his bizarre alter ego The Orchardist – a self-described “cryptopodian composer” (your guess is as good as mine). The album itself is equally odd, with ethereal nature recordings and bubbling water flows sharing space with primitive analog tones and warm synth washes. Stated as being recorded entirely within The Orchardist’s greenhouse, the tape is joyfully organic and fluid, somehow finding compromise between painstaking attention to detail and charismatic messiness. And though a few clicks led me to a website where I could learn all about where it all came from and how it was made, my love for the unknown – one that I’m sure I share with a lot of you – was initially what spurred me to listen, and I’m grateful that still survives in some form today.

Review: Okkyung Lee – Dahl-Tah-Ghi (Pica Disk, Mar 1)

Though “Dahl-Tah-Ghi” was originally performed for a small audience of only 30, this spectacular recording allows for any number of people to experience the intimacy and power created by Okkyung Lee’s lone cello improvisations. Recorded in the Emanuel Vigelang Mausoleum in Norway, a cavernous building with extraordinary acoustic properties, “Dahl-Tah-Ghi” is an example of both how unique environments can become a part of the performances they house and Lee’s ability to interact and respond to those environments. The wide range of timbres she coaxes out of her instrument linger in the air for seconds after the actual notes are played, allowing for Lee to build upon sounds that already would have vanished in another location. Her reverent playing alternates between frantic cacophony to almost imperceptible drones and string rattles, expanding and contracting in a way that makes the 41-minute performance seem much shorter. I’m sure everyone who listens to “Dahl-Tah-Ghi” apart from those lucky 30 individuals wishes they could have witnessed it take place in person, but the care taken in recording, as well as Lasse Marhaug’s spectacular mastering, ensures that our experience is almost as amazing.

Review: Aries – Naturalismo (Colectivo Casa Amarela, 2017)

Naturalismo is a painful album. Not only because of its quick and surprising transitions from near-silence to loud, crushing distortion, but also because the raw emotion behind the music is palpable to say the least. Though the wordless language used by Portuguese artist Aries to convey these things is one I’m not sure many could translate, I’d argue that anyone who listens can understand. Naturalismo is filled to the breaking point with despair, defeat, anger, with brief islands of hope and peace appearing amidst the roiling ocean of sound. But these are just words; there really isn’t any way to verbally convey how I felt when a colossal tower of noise grew out of the barely audible glitches in the first part of “Precisamos de espelhos,” or the uneasy calm elicited by the lush ambient drifts of “Todo o tipo de ossos excepto o osso que eu queria.” It all just needs to be experienced.

Review: Matthew Atkins – The Subtle Silence (Midnight Circles, Mar 11)

German cassette label Midnight Circles describes their main focus as being on “sound and occasional music.” This happens to be a perfect description for Matthew Atkins’ The Subtle Silence, one of their newest tapes. The London-based artist, who also operates under the alias Platform, coaxes fragile beauty from soft patchworks of processed sounds and loops. Scrapes, brushings, the clinking of chimes and other metal objects, reverb-y recordings of cavernous environments; these are only some of the elements that come together in uneasy harmony across the six songs, a harmony that is placated by achingly gorgeous piano chords and wistful drones. The short album is more episodic than continuous, each track a self-contained development; but this is by no means a disadvantage. It’s pleasing to see how each evolves from different starting points, from the airy shuffles of “Sunken Shell” to the oddly rhythmic pulse of “Illuminated Index.” I couldn’t be more grateful that the “music” is only occasional amidst the “sound;” that only means I appreciate it so much more when it does appear.

Review: Farwarmth – Immeasurable Heaven (ACR, Mar 12)

Immeasurable Heaven is somehow just as poetic as the album’s lofty title. It’s an entirely instrumental release that conveys a stunning range of emotions, probably due to the elaborate layering of both textures and melody that young musician Afonso Arrepia Ferreira constructs. The young artist provides both elements, his expressive acoustic piano playing drifting in and out of noisy ambiance created by synth patches, keyboard, and processed samples. Other musicians who lend even more diversity include Victoria Mailho (flute), Bruna de Maia (cello), Guilherme Tavares (additional sampling), and Filipe Baixinho (bass), allowing Ferreira’s ambitious compositions to achieve their full potential. Described as being based on the connection between humanity and the cosmos, Immeasurable Heaven is an album that somehow embodies both the earthly and the celestial; its supernal atmosphere and weighty, dense harmonies often reveal the more modest and intimate sounds within. The record emphasizes the beauty of being such a small part of something much larger, the bittersweet reality that our lives are so insignificant, yet reminds us that we still matter.

Event: Nick Keeling & Kaily Moon Schenker Live Performance and Demonstration (Herzog Music, Mar 17)

This Saturday, March 17, experimental musicians Nick Keeling and Kaily Moon Schenker will be performing at Herzog Music on Race Street, in downtown Cincinnati (full address in Facebook event). The duo just released a cassette called Marker on Torn Light Records (listen to a sample here), and to celebrate they will be performing as well as demonstrating and taking questions about their unique music made from cello, piano, and custom-built tape machines. If you’re anything like me and love to see the actual process behind such unique sounds and compositions, this will be fascinating and a lot of fun. I’ll definitely be there, so come hang out.

Review: Brett Naucke – The Mansion (Spectrum Spools, Mar 9)

Chicago-based experimental electronic musician Brett Naucke is an artist who clearly loves his craft. Even passive listens of the various albums he’s released over the past eight years will reveal an attention to detail that can only come from an individual who is truly passionate about what they make. This couldn’t be more evident on his newest LP, The Mansion, which is probably Naucke’s most ambitious release yet. It explores a wide variety of unique textures amidst his usual palette of lush electronics, every sound meticulously placed within an almost disarmingly physical space. This is aided by some of the best production I’ve heard this year. The panning is jaw-dropping; clips of field recordings, bizarre glitches, and impossibly well-crafted concrète collages shoot in from various angles, somehow never obscuring each other in the mix. I wouldn’t say that The Mansion is necessarily playful or light-hearted as a whole, but it’s undeniably fun to listen to, rivaling some of my most treasured “headphone albums” in that regard. And, somehow, atop all of this density is a bewildering melodic sensibility, one that gives each of the songs a remarkable staying power and subtly bolsters the impact of each element. It all seems like a recipe for an overstuffed mess, but believe me when I say that The Mansion is some of the best-developed music I’ve heard in 2018 thus far, and cements Naucke as an exciting new artist in the equally exciting contemporary avant-garde climate.