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.
In contrast to Face Always Towards the Sun, Blithe Field’s previous album, Days Drift By sees Spencer Radcliffe leading a diverse ensemble of featured musicians. This is a much lusher and more ambitious record, but it still feels just as personal. Field recordings of bubbling brooks and chirping birds share space with beautiful piano melodies, glitchy electronic augmentations, and the rich drones produced by Ben Austin’s cello. Despite the expanded lineup and larger range of sounds, the music on Days Drift By is welcoming and intimate. Its loose, organic climaxes and distinct colorfulness beckon you to join in, and doing so is the auditory equivalent of rolling around in soft grass on a warm summer day. Luckily, the album also avoids tedium, which can happen with even the sunniest music. The contrast found between the first two tracks provides a great example of the variety that’s present here; the soft effervescence of “Prelude” dissolves into the much more abstract contortions of “Bubbling Cauldron,” yet the underlying atmosphere is always constant. Days Drift By is making even me wish for summer, especially since the weather outside right now belongs more to January rather than early April.
As any fan of strange, adventurous, or unique folk music will know, Kemialliset Ystävät (Finnish for “chemical friends”) is a hard name to miss. The loose collective, led by Jan Anderzén, has spawned an inordinate amount of projects whose reach extends far past the borders of Finland, including Lau Nau, Kiila, Avarus, Islaja, Es, and Anderzén’s own solo moniker Tomutonttu. The vast pool of artists who intermittently come together as Kemialliset Ystävät bring a dizzying range of styles and influences to the table, giving the group a formidable eclecticism that is rivaled by few. Siipi Empii, their newest album, may be their most accessible effort yet. Though the music is still as uncompromising as ever, there are woozy but defined rhythms that tie everything together. A phrase I often use to describe Kemialliset Ystävät’s sound is “density without weight;” that is, there is so much going on at any one time, but it’s all carefully layered in such a way that it still sounds light and whimsical. It also helps that Siipi Empii’s production is incredibly well-handled and clear, giving each element room to breathe as they endlessly tumble over each other, spinning and shooting between your ears. As with all of their records, I find myself disoriented but in an enjoyable way; and unique to Siipi Empii is its airy pulse that keeps me grounded.
On FORAMINIFERA, Marco Colonna’s breaths reign supreme. There are hardly any conventional notes produced by his clarinet throughout the entire album; instead, the focus is placed on other sounds. We hear the clicks of the keys, guttural inhales, and bass-filled drones, a truly bizarre range of noises that makes it seem like Colonna is more doing battle with his instrument than playing it. Even when notes are present, they’re not really the center of attention. Instead, the listener is drawn to the mechanical clanks and percussive blows that produce the notes. Sometimes, the almost futile-sounding exhales that produce no tones strike me as similar to Anthony Braxton’s playing on the legendary For Alto; but where the latter’s attacks eventually claimed victory and broke into atonal flurries, Colonna’s often fail completely, providing us with an entirely unique set of textures to explore. While FORAMINIFERA is the first thing I’ve heard from the young musician, it cements him in my mind as a capable and captivating improviser, which will no doubt be supported by the rest of his impressive body of work.
The Ithaca-based doom folk collective Timber Rattle’s self titled cassette is dark, hypnotic, and apocalyptic. Constructed upon the simple combination of acoustic guitar, synth drones, and pastoral vocal layers, it’s an album that reaches something far beyond its humble beginnings. Timber Rattle is definitely repetitive, but not to a fault; instead, the focus on atmosphere rather than significant progression induces an almost trance-like state. The lyrics are unintelligible for the most part, but according to the band they are written about “land and bodies and life and death and magic and language and ritual and myth and space and cycles and animals and plants and food and poison,” a range of subjects that mirrors the music’s raw, primal nature (interview w/ Potlista). And even if the lyrics are hard to make out, the vocals possess incredible power just from their deep, primordial sonority. Yes, there is a clear oppressiveness in this music, but it’s somehow soothing, and seems to celebrate the unspoken energy contained in the things we cannot control.
Join me in seeing the band live, along with DREKKA and Dr. Zapata, at the Fuse Factory this Saturday (link to event).
Despite Simon Whetham’s initial plan to take a break from composing in order to focus more on installation and performance work, the idea of a “format-specific piece” intrigued him. According to Whetham himself, “mechanism, magnetism, friction, rotation, failure, repetition, fragility, ephemerality…” were all key words that inspired the compositions found on Open and Closed Circles, his newest tape out on Mappa Editions. Clearly, many of those key words can also be applied to the cassette format, and help to draw comparisons between the similarities of the physical tape and the music it contains. Open and Closed Circles is full of scraping, grinding, churning, creaking sounds that are sequenced and layered in bizarre ways. Whetham’s compositions haphazardly but purposefully bind the timbres of unrelated objects together, creating brashly physical soundscapes that are unpredictable and erratic. But there is also a clear rhythm to the album, a subtle rotary pulse that mirrors the turning of cogs, the repetitive motion of a mechanical loop; and even though I wasn’t able to actually listen to Open and Closed Circles on cassette, it’s impossible to deny how crucial the format is to its identity.
Experimental artist Gianluca Favaron’s Variations is a masterclass in sound sculpting. Using a variety of sources including nature recordings, portable tape recorders, hydrophones, contact microphones, and physical instruments, he creates dense, abstract collages that are expertly manipulated and shifted throughout. The presence of both active and passive recording techniques is intriguing, and is the basis for a multitude of contrasts upon which the album is built: natural vs. mechanical, beautiful vs. abrasive, harmony vs. dissonance. Though Favaron’s thought process and purpose behind Variations is not made readily available, he does include this Arnold Schönberg quote in the album description: “Even variation is a form of repetition.” It seems that the music sets out to either support or challenge this claim, or possibly even both. Each fragment is presumably constructed with the same tools, and definitely bear unmistakable similarity to each other. But the unpredictability of said tools introduces an irreplicability, and guarantees a certain uniqueness to each piece.
Buy the CD here.