Review: rhizome.s – Affinités Sélectives Volume 1 (self-released, May 17)

This album, released by the internet label rhizome.s, consists of two live improvisations. The first, “Back Feeder,” was recorded by Gaudenz Badrutt, Ilia Belorukov, and Alexander Markvart; while the second, “Gezeugt,” was recorded by Quentin Conrate, Matthieu Lebrun, Laure-Anne Pudbut, and Fréderic Tentelier. Consistent with the label’s main focus, the two pieces are quite minimal, developing and unfolding with quiet creaks, reserved electroacoustics, and the careful use of instruments. The elements of “Back Feeder” are more scattered, but begin to subtly coalesce like dispersed magnets slowly attracting into a cluster. Markvart’s prepared guitars take on an almost cello-like throatiness, only joined in this register by the electronics while wispy cacophonies clash in the high end. In contrast, “Gezeugt” is a deliberate, droning piece, its hypnotic sustained tones beautifully complemented by Conrate’s textural percussion and distant, muffled tape samples. One of the album’s most sublime moments occurs when the drone retracts and reveals a field recording of what sounds like a security checkpoint at an airport. Affinités Sélectives Volume 1 was a beautiful introduction for me into the extensive catalog of rhizome.s.

Review: Jean-Luc Guionnet & Seijiro Murayama – Idiophonic (Ftarri, May 27)

Jean-Luc Guionnet and Seijiro Murayama’s third studio record as a duo is a pretty drastic departure from their previous work. The most obvious change is that Guionnet plays a pipe organ instead of his usual alto saxophone, giving Idiophonic a much darker feel. I get the distinct impression that the two musicians were very far apart from each other while recording; the album’s three improvisations feel oddly split, even disconnected, but not in a way that hinders their impact. Guionnet’s organ playing is unlike anything else I’ve heard produced by the instrument. Instead of embracing and utilizing its natural droning, cavernous sonority, he attacks the keys in an almost percussive manner, forcing notes out of it rather than letting them escape. Murayama’s approach is similarly aggressive, his snare snarling and gnashing with disarming hostility; there’s even a point in “Idiophonic 2” where his furious rolls almost reach blast beat territory. There’s an interesting contrast present here between the artists’ vigorous improvising and the sense of separation between them; and I’d expect nothing less from these notoriously cryptic and creative musicians.

Review: Audiomat – Audiomat (Committee for Sound Research, May 26)

Audiomat is a new duo consisting of Andreas Brüning and Gerald Lindhorst, both accomplished artists in the area of adventurous electronic music. Their self-titled debut album is a joining of both musicians’ areas of expertise to form a new, unique identity. It’s dark, synthetic, and mechanical, making use of repetitive rhythms that form bases for immersive textural compositions. Opener “Ein Traum aus dunklen und beunruhigenden Dingen” is the album’s longest track and also its most ambitious. It begins with a hypnotic percussion loop that persists throughout despite subtly morphing in response to the dizzying arsenal of industrial textures and electronic drones that emerge. “Ein Traum…,” as well as the majority of the rest of the album, tempers its abstractness with rhythmic elements to keep itself grounded. It’s a balance that mirrors how each member’s contributions result in Audiomat’s singular style; Brüning’s loops and meditative monotony are a perfect foil for Lindhorst’s lush modulations and soundscaping. From the binary oscillations of “Microtonal Errata” to the harrowing, distorted chords that conclude “Kwan Jun,” Audiomat is a stubbornly neutral and rewarding album.

Review: Red Brut – Red Brut (KRAAK, May 26)

Marijn Verbiesen, also a member of Sweat Tongue and JSCA, embarks into solo territory on her new self-titled record as Red Brut. It’s a short but fruitful foray into a unique brand of do-it-yourself experimentalism, with Verbiesen stitching together haphazard compositions from fuzzy tape loops, lo-fi ambiance, and bouts of enigmatic cassette concrète. The pieces that make up Red Brut create a unique atmosphere that’s somewhere between cute and unsettling, residing in an enticing sonic uncanny valley. The sounds themselves are thin, plasticky, even novel, but when put together they make up something much more formidable. Closing track “Paracetamol” is one of the record’s strongest, built atop muffled tape loops that find harmony with out of context acoustic explorations, a murky sample of a woman softly singing (possibly Verbiesen herself), and a peaceful section of ambient synthesizer. The piece covers a lot of ground in under five minutes, but the palette used is so demure that there’s no feeling of disjointedness. And the rest of Red Brut is very much the same way; Verbiesen accomplishes so much with so little, and the record’s humility only gives it more strength.

Review: Suppression – Placebo Reality (Chaotic Noise Productions, May 16)

Suppression’s irresistible brand of breakneck, noisy powerviolence is more hectic than ever on their new LP from Chaotic Noise Productions. The long-running Roanoke project, which has been active since 1992, has been ramping up both the creativity and intensity on their recent releases (notably the Rats in the Control Room and Oblivion Riders tapes, also from CNP), and the trend continues with Placebo Reality. Running just under a half hour throughout 73 tracks, its length made me skeptical at first; Suppression seems to work best with short album durations, and maintaining such a high energy level is difficult to do. Luckily, I need not have worried. Placebo Reality is a nonstop onslaught of blown-out hardcore, comically brief noisecore blasts, animalistic growls, and surprising moments of catchiness. No, it never slows down, and no, it never gets old; when it ended I found myself asking, already? Everything is dialed up to the max, blending the perfect amount of ridiculousness with the perfect amount of brain melting heaviness to make one unforgettable LP. In my opinion, it’s the band’s best work yet.

Pick up the disarmingly fairly-priced cassette and vinyl releases here.

Review: Nathan Corder & Tom Weeks – Anaconda (Noise Pelican, Apr 5)

On Anaconda, the newest offering from Florida label Noise Pelican Records, abstract virtuosos Nathan Corder and Tom Weeks’ improvisations coil and slither just like the album’s titular serpent. The unlikely pairing of Weeks’ very harmonic, scalar saxophone playing with Corder’s bizarre electronic spasms is an interesting one. But after “Knot,” the short and schizophrenic opening track, it starts to become clear that the contributions of the two musicians do not create as much of a juxtaposition as it would originally seem. “Lean” begins with a jazzy serenade by Weeks, which is slowly joined by brief, segmented electronic bursts that begin to build in intensity. I’d describe the piece as more of a conversation than anything; it almost seems like the artists are learning from each other as it progresses, with the saxophone becoming more frenetic and atonal to match Corder’s increasing presence. And the rest of the record is no different. From the explosive, body wracking intro to “Swallowed” to the mechanical oscillations of “Cycle” (where the moments of unity between the cracking electronics and saxophone flurries are some of the album’s most mind-blowing), it all cements the alluring chemistry of these two improvisers.

Review: Cryptonym – Automated Predation (Castle Bravo, Jun 1)

Automated Predation is short but sharp as a rusty nail. The new project, which I know pretty much nothing about, combines the aggressive, distorted synths and pounding rhythms of industrial techno with the dark atmosphere and anger of black metal. None of the EP’s nearly twenty-minute run time is wasted, as Cryptonym explores and experiments with the wide territory this combination of styles makes available. “Cavern of Mirror” starts strong with a bitcrushed blast beat and twisting synthscapes, only becoming more awesome when the vocals kick in with a snare that sounds like two giant pieces of sheet metal being smashed together. One of Automated Predation’s main strengths is its use of catchy synth arpeggios, a unifying element across all four tracks despite each one being pretty different. Even on “Speak to Flames,” where a more formless approach is taken, the distinct dark effervescings still push through at the end. And on the EP’s centerpiece, the driving title track, anyone who thinks an electro-infused black metal track can’t get stuck in their head will be proven very wrong. Automated Predation was the tape I was most skeptical about among Castle Bravo’s eclectic mid-year lineup, but ended up being a pretty awesome surprise.

Review: Gnawed – Ruin (No Rent, May 21)

Along a bike path near my home town there is an abandoned, burned down powder factory. Its dilapidated exterior and ominous empty windows have loomed over me every time I’ve passed it, and the only thing stopping me from exploring inside is that it is quite heavily patrolled (baffling, I know; God forbid kids be allowed to explore an extremely dangerous and unsupervised environment). But if I ever were to step inside, I imagine I would hear a lot of the same sounds as are present on Ruin. Gnawed (Grant Richardson) paints an uncanny dark, industrial landscape, steeped in unsettling anticipation and a visceral feeling of dread. Though the shouted vocals and relatively faster sections on the A side were enjoyable, I found myself much more immersed in the more patient passages. The track that makes up the majority of Side B is definitely one of the most impactful death industrial pieces I’ve heard, creeping along at a lethargic but deliberate pace, with the metallic creaking of machinery conjuring images of terrifying, rust filled urban caverns. Richardson could not have picked a better titled for Ruin; every minute of the tape exudes age, decay, and death.

Review: Chris Pitsiokos Unit – Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years (Clean Feed, May 11)

Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years is American saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos’ second record with his Unit, and improves upon the first in virtually every way. It’s an atonal adventure through arrhythmic free improvisation, invigorating broken funk grooves, and astonishing displays of musical rapport. An early highlight is the eclectic “Orelius,” which begins with an inferno of instrumental chaos before retracting into a mesmerizing stew of sax noodling, electronic gurgles, and crunchy guitar spasms that quickly builds into another cacophony. The extended lengths of many of the songs is a welcome change from Before the Heat Death, and give the band more time to flesh out these fluid improvisations. It’s so entertaining to hear the way these tracks progress; it almost sounds like the musicians are trying to outrun each other, forcing their peers to follow along at disorienting, breakneck speed. In other hands this could be disastrous, but it ends up giving the record a whimsical, energetic, and ultimately exhilarating atmosphere. Then there are the moments of structure during the bass and drum jams of “Once Upon a Time Called Now” and the title track, placed just right so that the whole thing doesn’t fall apart. As someone who hasn’t had much luck with new jazz this year, Silver Bullet is the breath of fresh air I desperately needed.

Review: Stimulant / Water Torture Split LP (Nerve Altar, May 18)

Like a lot of other hardcore fans, I was under the impression that I wouldn’t ever hear any more new material from Water Torture. The New York trio disbanded almost three years ago, just months after releasing their only full-length, 2014’s brutal and brilliant PillboxBut fortunately there wasn’t much to complain about; members Thomas Leyh and Ian Woodrick moved on to form Stimulant, a powerhouse of sludge-filled grindviolence whose self titled LP last year blew any of Water Torture’s releases out of the, erm, water. But fortunately, both bands appear on this surprising split release from Nerve Altar, and there is no mercy to be had throughout these 35 pummeling minutes. Stimulant’s side continues everything I loved about their previous record, fusing metallic noise bursts and harrowing sample interjections with furious blasts and blown out vocals. In my opinion, the duo is at their best on their short songs, and there are plenty of those here; but the three minute “Strangled Thought” that closes their half is equally vicious. Water Torture, by contrast, seems to take things slower. Their brand of body wracking, noisy sludge feels as fresh as ever, but by the end I felt myself wanting them to let loose more. The vocals are the most unhinged part but even they seem held back by the middling tempos and riffs that aren’t nearly as heavy as they should be. A bittersweet release, because as far as I know this is Water Torture’s swan song; but personally I am much more excited for where Stimulant goes next anyway.