Review: Manja Ristić – The Nightfall (Naviar, Apr 26)

Anything involving the passage of time through the four seasons inevitably reminds me of one of my favorite movies: Kim Ki-Duk’s masterful Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. While The Nightfall and Naviar Records in general are more concerned with the connection between Japanese haiku and music, and the aforementioned movie is about Buddhist monks in Korea, I view their portrayals of the seasons to be quite similar. Ristić, a Serbo-Croatian sound artist whose previous release Fairy & the River Teeth was reviewed here last February, weaves together a variety of sound elements to create immersive, poetic interpretations of each season. Like nature itself, these pieces are beautiful and detailed, yet unwavering; they pass without concern for anything else present, a passive backdrop. Sure, I can sit and listen; thunder rumbles in the distance, birds chirp and children play, the faint rustle of leaves in the wind touches my ears… but The Nightfall gives the unique sensation that it would all still be happening even if I wasn’t around to experience it. This approach bears similarity to that of Kim’s film, where nature is a rewarding but impartial force, sometimes comforting and others terrifying, the only consistency being the steady, unyielding passage of time.

Review: Amuleto – Misztériumok (Three:Four, Apr 6)

Amuleto’s third album, Misztériumok, continues the duo’s explorations in unique blends of electronics, acoustic instruments, and recorded sound. Expansive drones are forged from resonant strings and sputtering manipulations, seamlessly moving between beauty and intense, primordial darkness. There never seems to be a ton of things going on at once, but every moment is thick and lush; even on closing track “Nebeltanz,” when a single droning cello and occasional bassy clunks are the only elements present, there is a pronounced, warm density to the music. It’s hard to tell whether these pieces were improvised or composed; I would guess a combination of both, because each track is very fluid and free-form but the overall movement and dynamics seem more tightly controlled. Regardless, Amuleto members Francesco Dillon and Riccardo Wanke demonstrate their abilities as masterful sonic craftsmen, layering sound objects in just the right way to conjure a vivid atmosphere. The musicians were apparently inspired by photographs from early twentieth century Europe, and their depiction of “an ephemeral serenity with an imminent sense of crisis and loss”; a profound, intangible state that is somehow evoked equally well by the music on Misztériumok.

Review: Sectioned – Annihilated (self-released, Apr 27)

There’s a reason a lot of hardcore “full-length” albums are very short. It’s difficult to maintain such a high energy level for so long; and on the listener’s end, that many breakneck tempos, blast beats, and screamed vocals in one sitting can be exhausting. Scottish band Sectioned, however, apparently doesn’t give a fuck about any of those reasons, and for that I am grateful. Their debut LP Annihilation is 42 minutes of ruthless, pounding mathcore, full of angular guitar work, infectious breakdowns, and some of the heaviest drums I’ve ever heard. Vocalist Jamie Christ is also a highlight, his guttural shouts rivaling everything else in the mix. The pace of this thing is absolutely relentless; it’s established from the get-go and never lets up. Some of the breakdowns let up on the assault somewhat, but you’ll probably be too busy headbanging like a madman to notice. Writing it all out here, it really doesn’t seem like Annihilation has the right to be as long as it is, but I really couldn’t imagine it any other way. The well-integrated noisy electronic textures help out in this area too, adding variety but never seeming out of place (excluding the bizarre beat tacked on the end of “Starved Lives,” which actually somehow works). I really can’t believe this is the band’s first full-length because it is so well put together and cohesive. It just came out today and is already a contender for my favorite hardcore album of the year, and even my favorite in general. So don’t let the length discourage you; check it out!

Review: Xtematic / Kazuya Ishigami – Tokoshie No Oto Split Tape (NEUS-318, Apr 21)

The two sides of Tokoshie No Oto are both very different approaches to composition using found sound, and both are done very well. Xtematic’s “Silens – 28.4.2016” was put together from field recordings he made in a shoe factory, but the source material is mostly unrecognizable, twisted and contorted into rhythmic techno beats. Though the unique process used to produce the track – and most likely the following “Assemblement” as well – is largely obscured by the final product, the pieces still have a uniquely enigmatic element to them that would not be found if a less adventurous technique was used. In contrast, Kazuya Ishigami’s contribution, “Drone Shrine,” largely makes its origins clear. The constant chirping of crickets, deep cavernous yawns, and electric crackles form a track that sounds exactly like the title; a mysterious, decrepit soundscape steeped in forgotten memories and displaced souls. While I enjoyed Ishigami’s side more, both artists brought great things to the table, and it is always pleasing to see the principles of musique concrète still being explored and expanded.

Review: Joana Gama & Luís Fernandes – At the Still Point of the Turning World (Room40, Apr 6)

At the Still Point of the Turning World establishes tension from the very beginning. An ominous lone bass drum pulse is the only sound heard at the start of “Neither Flesh Nor Fleshless,” before it is joined by bursts of skin crawling strings. When piercing, Tilbury-esque chords and shifting noises enter the fray, I find myself deeply immersed and waiting for a satisfying release of the tension – but it never comes. This trend continues throughout the album, as Gama and Fernandes stack layers of dissonance upon each other, so much so at some points that the song seems too strained to stay together. The only catharsis obtained on At the Still Point of the Turning World is a frustrating one; it’s satisfying to witness the meticulous constructions decay and fall apart, but you’d expect at least one epic climax. That’s the thing, though – Gama and Fernandes have no interest in doing what’s expected, and it is this that makes the record as tantalizing as it is. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments I would call beautiful, especially the lush harmonies used on “Perpetual Possibility”; but ultimately it is these talented musicians’ admirable patience and reservations that keeps me coming back.

Review: Élg – Vu Du Dôme (Editions Gravats, Apr 6)

Élg’s Vu Du Dôme is an truly unique album. Taking a very different direction from Laurent Gérard’s already diverse body of work, Vu Du Dôme is sculpted from heavily manipulated acoustic sounds that pile on top of each other in bright, colorful collages. Gérard’s full, Chanson-esque vocals and lyrics are also a significant element, with the bizarre electronics shaping themselves into something more organized and rhythmic every time he sings. From what I understand, the lyrics are part intelligible French and part nonsense, exploring both denotative and more syllabic, sound-focused approaches to poetry. As you can probably tell, this is an ambitious record, and covers a ton of ground in its 30 short minutes, but feels totally complete and contained. Gérard forges the most successful balance between abstractness and pure, joyful fun, making Vu Du Dôme a record that I imagine everyone can appreciate.

Vu Du Dôme is available on streaming services, and the physical version can be purchased here.

Review: Paul Nataraj – You Sound Like a Broken Record (self-released, Apr 8)

It doesn’t take a lot of deductive reasoning to gather that You Sound Like a Broken Record was made by manipulating and sampling recorded material. But sound artist Paul Nataraj has a much more unique methodology behind the music on this album. He interviewed fourteen volunteers, who each brought a single LP that was personally significant to them. Nataraj then meticulously carved the participant’s stories onto the records they donated, poetically immortalizing them onto the medium which made the impact in the first place. The carved records were then used in the fourteen compositions found on the album. Predictably, the source material is oftentimes heavily obscured, but there are also times when each LP’s original contents surface amidst Nataraj’s abstract cut-up collages, a unique coexistence of old and new. As someone who has a very personal relationship with the music I listen to, You Sound Like a Broken Record has a concept that hits close to home, and I’m sure many of you share this with me.

Review: Anteloper – Kudu (International Anthem, Apr 20)

On Kudu, experienced improvisers Jaimie Branch and Jason Nazary embrace the use of synthesizers to shatter the limitations of their simple lineup of trumpet and drums – though it must be said that even without the electronics, the duo’s fluid chemistry seems to already accomplish that task. Kudu flawlessly alternates between free-form textural explorations and invigorating jams, the seamless transitions helped along by Nazary’s gentle injection and withdrawal of concrete rhythm. The synths and spacious treatment of Branch’s trumpet playing give the album a cosmic, psychedelic atmosphere, a perfect background for these meditative improvisations that never lose their sense of direction. While I’d very much like to see Anteloper further explore the more abstract elements found on Kudu – as of now, I’d say that the beginning of opening track “Oryx” and the droney ambiance of “Seclusion Self” were by far my favorite parts of the record – there’s no denying the power of the wide range harnessed by these two skilled musicians.

Review: Hastings of Malawi – Visceral Underskinnings (Sub Rosa, Apr 20)

(Just to clarify, I believe this was digitally released back in March, but the LP and streaming came out today.)

Hastings of Malawi, initially a project connected to the infamous Nurse With Wound, released their first album Vibrant Stapler Obscures Characteristic Growth back in 1981. It’s as strange as the title implies, drawing from the harsh industrial sounds being experimented with at the time as well as composition elements more associated with avant-garde classical music. Nearly forty years later, the group has returned with a new LP that stands out just as much today as Vibrant Stapler did in ’81. Visceral Underskinnings is composed of two extended audio collages, establishing an impenetrable and surreal atmosphere with the use of manipulated field recordings and found sound. Actually, I don’t know if “found” really conveys the noises that are stitched together throughout the two pieces; a more fitting word might be “scavenged.” It sounds like these samples were the ones no one else wanted, dug up from the very bottom of a haphazard pile of others: a glitchy answering message, cracked organ tapes, etc. They’re damaged, dusty, and absolute gold in the hands of these skillful sound sculptors. Visceral Underskinnings is billed as a “film without sound,” a normally hyperbolic descriptor that I actually agree wholeheartedly with here. The two tracks are disjointed, confusing, and utterly terrifying, but undeniably convey a detailed abstract story that I don’t think would be half as impactful if it were told with visuals.

Buy the LP version here.

Review: Jackie-O Motherfucker – Bloom (Textile, Apr 8)

Well, this was a surprise. The west coast-based experimental collective Jackie-O Motherfucker (hereafter JOMF) has been one of my absolute favorite artists for a very long time, but even I was unaware that they had released a new album earlier this month. The release was quiet, but the music is anything but. Spliced together from a massive amount of material recorded in and around stacks of steel pipes, Bloom is one of JOMF’s fullest sounding records. Though I’d cite the skeletal, wispy atmosphere on many of the band’s records as being one of my favorite things about their sound, it actually really works here. In fact, I found myself liking Bloom for many reasons that are the complete opposite of what I normally identify with JOMF. The songs are relatively brief, structured, and rhythmic; and the vocals/lyrics play more of a role in the music than ever before. But even though it appears that they’re going in a much more conventional direction on this record, it definitely doesn’t feel like a step back. Instead, they just seem to be applying their usual freedom and colorfulness to a different format. Notably, “The Strike” might be one of the weirdest songs they’ve made since their early days, and to my delight the horns take center stage – almost Evolutionary Jass Band style. Greenwood’s less than flawless singing is much more welcome this time around, his earnest croons conveying emotions in a pleasingly indirect way. I might have to get over my initial excitement (and bewilderment) to form a more complete opinion, but as of now I’d place Bloom as one of JOMF’s best albums since Flags of the Sacred Harp, and I couldn’t be happier that they are still up and at ’em.