Just yesterday I wrote a bit about the power of silence, and how it can be used to elicit discomfort and even fear in the listener. The silence that English artist Simon Cummings uses on his new album 間 (pronounced “ma”) is not as immediately intimidating as Soddell’s, but it is no less unsettling. The record was put together during a very negative period in Cummings’ life, a context reflected in its aching, hopeless atmosphere. The source material draws from recordings he made during Anglican sermons, which were edited down to the quiet moments of limbo between activities and then heavily processed. On the first track, whose probably overly poetic title fittingly begins with “mightily forgetting,” a startling organ chord decays in somber slow motion; establishing acute feelings of despair and dread from the very beginning. And on the album’s longest piece, “from Silence, of Nothing,” wispy bundles of noise rise and fall from oppressive silence, sometimes reduced to meager clicks and rumbles amidst distant whooshing sounds. The album is quite the emotional roller coaster, and at the end I’m not really sure what to feel. There are fleeting moments of hope, passages of empty indifference, and overwhelming despair of course; an impossibly wide range of sentiments that is rivaled only by what I’m sure Cummings was feeling when he made it all. 間 , a Japanese word, can be translated as a space between or a gap, and hopefully that is exactly what this difficult time in his life turned out to be.
Month: April 2018
Review: Thembi Soddell – Love Songs (Room40, Apr 13)
Love Songs begins with nearly complete silence. And it stays there for a while too, almost to the point where I was convinced nothing was actually playing. Then, almost imperceptible clicks and electronic noises emerge, building into an expanding tower of abstract sound that rises in a logarithmic crescendo (so don’t get impatient and crank your volume at the beginning; you’ll regret it later) before collapsing under its own weight. This first track, “Object (Im)Permanence,” demonstrates the unique power of artist Thembi Soddell’s newest release: its tremendous dynamic range. Sometimes, the volume changes are gradual; but they are also often disarmingly sudden, plucking powerfully loud, layered sculptures and replacing them with nothing. But even though looking at the waveform diagrams of the tracks would show this, on Love Songs the silence is just as invasive as the clamor. It gets under your skin, makes you uneasy even though you’re not quite sure why, almost makes you long for it to replaced with some sound, anything at all… And just when you think you’re about to go crazy, Soddell raises jarring electroacoustic collages from where there was once no sound at all. Love Songs is enthralling and ambitious, and is without a doubt one of the most fascinating albums I’ve heard this year.
Review: Jeroen Diepenmaat – LOK (self-released, Apr 9)
At some points during the 55 minute duration of LOK, it’s difficult to tell if it’s actually there at all. Dutch sound artist Jeroen Diepenmaat constructs a fragile balance between the active and the inactive, creating beautiful soundscapes using only tape and piano. Sometimes, like at the beginning of the C side, the piano takes the reins, with Diepenmaat’s tense phrasings presiding over dusty tape hiss; and other times, such as the latter section of the B side, it is the recordings that evolve the music. But in each case, one is eventually overcome by the other, always maintaining the delicate equilibrium of textures. The sound of clear, clean piano notes degrading into the gritty wooziness of a cassette recording is devastating in a way I can’t really describe – and it’s only one of the many unusual composition techniques of which Diepenmaat makes use to produce this sparse, lofty music.
Review: Wrong – Feel Great (Relapse, Apr 13)
Miami-based rock outfit Wrong’s new album is an unyielding slab of sludgey noise rock. Feel Great is a more melodic and diverse record than the band’s self-titled debut, adding a muscular edge that reminds me of the better parts of early-2000’s alt metal; but it stays faithful to that album’s mercilessness. The production is fittingly muddy and turbid, with sections of surprisingly bright lead guitar and anthemic vocal lines occasionally pushing through – such as on one of the record’s best tracks, “Come Apart Mend”. Wrong certainly sticks to their guns on Feel Great, but it takes enough risks that it feels entertainingly fresh. I could’ve done without some things though, like the guitar solo on “Zero Cool” that sticks out like a sore thumb (although it precedes one of my favorite sections on the album: an arrhythmic noisy breakdown that is a welcome lead-in to the final tracks). It’s a promising release that looks to both the past and the future.
Review: Saåad – Présence absente (Hands in the Dark, Apr 13)
Though it makes use of many of the same tools and styles, Présence absente is a very different album from its predecessor Verdaillon. I had pretty high expectations going into the French duo’s newest, mainly because I think their previous release is a modern ambient masterpiece. But even if I didn’t try to avoid comparing albums to ones that came before, it would be hard to do in this case. Where Verdaillon was dark, earthy, and spiritual, Présence absente adopts a much more naturalistic approach. The songs rise and fall organically across their extended durations, seeming to focus more on evoking emotion rather than representing an environment. The use of field recordings is sparse, restricted to some occasional bird chirps and reverb-heavy clunking sounds, placed so that the textural contrast they create is much appreciated. Other than that, the record largely consists of weighty, effect-laden synthesizer drones, a choice to which I would usually not be very partial; but it’s all handled so well that I greatly enjoyed myself. I think the key here is that the songs are still very active, and it’s clear that members Romain Barbot and Greg Buffier put a lot of their own emotions into the music. One thing I’m sure about is that Présence absente is a much less immediate album than Verdaillon, and I’m sure that with time I’ll come to love it just as much.
Review: e. mordrake – anomalies (Kirigirisu Recordings, Mar 17)
According to mostly uncorroborated legend, Edward Mordrake was a 19th century man with a unique deformity: he had an extra face on the back of his head. The strangeness of this deformity, and his disturbing pleas to have the face removed due to it whispering awful things to him at night, has led to a fascination with Mordrake’s case in some areas of popular culture. Though the mysterious anomalies is clearly based on him, the entirely instrumental and textural music explores the legend in an entirely unique way. The short album drips with darkness and fear, the reverb-filled tape drones and tense feedback loops creating a persistent feeling of uneasiness (and the unnerving album art helps quite a bit as well). Despite its minimalist approach, anomalies envelops the listener in a shroud of macabre terror over its brief duration, constantly implying that something terrible will happen…but nothing ever does. The only information provided about the album, which was written by A. T., is an ominous poem titled “An Exit,” whose final two lines are: “Remember the self is a door / An exit.” In conclusion, I’m sleeping with a night light for the next few days.
Review: Taneli Viljanen – Metallisilmä, Haaksirikko (Glistening Examples, Apr 11)
Metallisilmä, Haaksirikko sounds almost exactly like its cover art, with Finnish artist Taneli Viljanen knitting together various textures into patchwork quilts of sound. And just like a quilt, none of them really go together when you look closely, but the final product is something unpredictably beautiful. Viljanen draws from a variety of sound sources, utilizing anything from untreated sine tones to field recordings of what sounds like a cafeteria. More noises enter the colorful collages as the tracks progress; on “Helmiäiskallo, Myskimalva,” an unidentifiable soft scraping dominates the mix, darting back and forth between the left and right channels atop the aforementioned elements and the sound of a horde of chirping crickets. That is, until it all cuts out, and we’re left with a recording of a child playing, the sudden transition reminding the listener just how many layers had been piled on. On the album page, it’s stated that Viljanen wanted to explore several contrasts. Some of these, such as “the mundane and the uncanny,” are easily picked out; while others, like “the abstract and the visceral,” could be said to be represented by many different things. The latter I find most intriguing. While many of the other binaries are portrayed by the juxtaposition of different sounds, many of the elements used are both abstract and visceral on their own, such as the soft scraping noise I mentioned earlier; its prominence and persistence causes an immediate reaction, but when I try to analyze it further it evades me. These are the strange questions that Metallisilmä, Haaksirikko raises and encourages; and even if you don’t like to think about such things while you listen, the album is immersive, chromatic, and gorgeous all on its own.
Today is a great day to buy stuff from Glistening Examples; in honor of the late Harrison Lescalleet’s birthday and the anniversary of the original release, curator Jason Lescalleet’s emotional opus The Pilgrim is available for the fitting price of $4.11. Also, a promising new album by Caroline Park rounds out the release batch.
Review: Dosis Letalis – The Culture of Fear (Hellscape, Mar 20)
I can’t stop listening to The Culture of Fear. It is not only my favorite thing I’ve heard from Dosis Letalis so far, but is now one of my favorite wall noise releases ever. Nemanja Nikolic has achieved something that, at least in my experience, is extremely uncommon within this area: he has made an album that feels complete. The two twenty-minute tracks that make up The Culture of Fear contribute to this by being completely distinct from each other. On the A-side, “Fearmongering I” enters with a staggering initial blast of harshness, presenting an unyielding slab of brutally abrasive noise full of chunky, shifting textures. Despite the lack of progression, the track feels well developed and contained, and I neither wished for it to end or for it to have gone on longer. “Fearmongering II” is similar in this regard, but sonically it is not merely a continuation of the sounds explored on the first side; instead, the track is much quieter and reserved, drawing from subtle, crackling electronic sounds and mechanical drones. It’s a pleasingly meditative conclusion after the aggression of part one, but is just as impactful. I’m finding it difficult to describe how well the pacing is handled in The Culture of Fear; though, describing anything else about it isn’t much easier. Please listen, and witness these raw, powerful expressions of emotion and frustration.
Review: Dreamend – Dreamend (Graveface, Apr 6)
The day Ryan Graveface announced a new Dreamend album was a good one. The self titled LP is the project’s seventh full-length release and the first in six years, the last being 2012’s And the Tears Washed Me, Wave After Cowardly Wave. Unsurprisingly, it sounds like a ton of work was put into this music. Though almost every instrument is played by Graveface himself (with the exception of the percussion work, which was handled by TW Walsh), Dreamend sounds full-bodied and detailed. The production is considerably denser and more meaty than previous releases. I’m not so sure this is a good thing; I, for one, fell in love with the haunted, ghostly atmosphere present on many of Dreamend’s previous albums, and it’s sorely missed here. But overall, I’m glad this album is a step forward for the project, rather than a retread. Graveface’s songwriting is the best it’s every been, finding a middle ground between textural exploration and more concrete structure, two elements that could never quite seem to get along in his songs prior. I’m completely open to the fact that I will warm up to Dreamend more as time goes on, and that right now I’m focusing too much on the past. Regardless, it’s definitely an enjoyable album, and is Graveface’s most fully realized and well constructed work to date.
Dr. Octagon – Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation (Bulk, Apr 6)
Dr. Octagon is here once again. Though the release of Moosebumps doesn’t exactly mark the long-awaited return of Kool Keith, who has been releasing music rather consistently since 1996, it feels like something important. Dan the Automator and DJ Q-Bert, masterminds behind the production and beats of the project’s sprawling debut opus Dr. Octagonecologyst, are both back and in top form on Moosebumps. The “active DJ” feel is sorely missed in many recent hip-hop projects I’ve heard, but it’s here in spades, with Q-Bert’s dusty percussion loops and tasteful scratches providing lush backdrops for Keith’s dizzying bars. Moosebumps is a more laid back and less brashly bizarre album than Dr. Octagonecologyst, but it still has no shortage of charisma and weirdness. Keith sounds like he’s having as much fun as ever (and who wouldn’t when someone’s “playing with [their] scrotum like a hi-hat”). A guest appearance by Del the Funky Homosapien is a welcome addition, the two MCs’ chemistry making “3030 Meets the Doc (Pt. 1)” one of the record’s best tracks – and hopefully we’ll get a “Pt. 2” at some point. Though it’s hard not to think of Moosebumps as a reunion album, especially with the various callbacks to the debut (when the porn sample interlude surfaced somewhere in the middle I burst out laughing, remembering countless weird looks from people to whom I tried to show Dr. Octagonecologyst so long ago), it stands well on its own and is truly a fitting followup.