Review: Matchess – Sacracorpa (Trouble in Mind, Jul 27)

Matchess, also known as composer and singer Whitney Johnson, has created a reserved yet deceptively powerful album with SacracorpaShe layers her delicate, hazy vocals over minimal electronic percussion and sweeping synthesizers, yielding a sweetly hypnotic effect; from the very first minutes the music gently takes your hand and leads you on a peaceful journey through the clouds. Despite its dreamlike blissfulness and immersion, Sacracorpa is more sparse than lush. Every single one of the few elements that are present feels necessary and important, from the soft pulses of rhythm to the new-agey synths and even occasional nature recordings, and this purposeful simplicity is what makes the music so profoundly intimate. Johnson describes the music as being “dedicated to the healing love of women,” and though I and many other listeners may not be women it is impossible not to feel the love she has so reverently embedded within it. Sacracorpa is modest, wispy, even reticent, but it’s also one of the most emotionally resonant records I have encountered this year. Every listen is like a warm hug from a special someone, a bundle of comforters after a long walk through snow… it’s been a long time since music has brought me this particular type of happiness.

Review: Alison Cotton – All Is Quiet at the Ancient Theatre (Bloxham Tapes, Jul 15)

The only thing that does a better job of crafting a vivid environment than the title of Alison Cotton’s new album is the music itself. All Is Quiet at the Ancient Theatre is a mysterious, spacious album; one of the first things I noticed is the cavernous, reverb-filled production, which frames the sounds throughout in much the same way as I imagine a high-ceilinged, shadowy, dusty chapel would. Cotton’s drones, played on viola, recorder, and her own voice, ring out through the darkness, coexisting with the weighty silence as they materialize and dissipate. The compositions are lushly layered but not in a boring way; instead of simply piling each note and instrument on top of each other, Cotton operates each element individually, bringing them in and out separately to create shifting complexity with only a few components. The album is only about 35 minutes, and it’s over way too soon. I felt myself wanting Cotton to utilize her powerful voice more; the mainly vocal piece “The Bells of St. Agnes” and the latter part of the eponymous opener are hands down the record’s best moments, and they introduced a great contrast without disrupting the hypnotic atmosphere. Regardless, All Is Quiet at the Ancient Theatre is a fantastic solo effort, capturing both the majesty of an orchestra and the intimacy of a single performer.

Review: (ph)authers – (ph)authers (Polar Seas Recordings, Jul 27)

On this self-titled debut tape from Ontario duo (ph)authers, tension is built and released with masterful ears. They craft delicate but substantial pieces from field recordings, synth and guitar ambiance, even the occasional bowing of string instruments, and the dynamic movement this palette creates is breathtaking. The tape is barely twenty-five minutes long, but at its end I felt contentment and closure rather than dissatisfaction at its short duration. This is largely due to the careful dynamic structure previously mentioned; (ph)authers have managed to cultivate an incredibly natural gait within their music, both tracks ambling along at a comfortable but deliberate pace, ebbing and flowing and rising and sinking in the way only great ambient music can. With this stuff it’s sometimes easy to fall into the trap of predictability, but thankfully that hasn’t happened here. (ph)authers forego constant crescendos and cheesy climaxes in favor of organic drifts and more reserved catharsis, a perfect example of the latter being the soft recording of rainfall that emerges at the end of “Beneath the Tide;” certainly much more effective and impacting than any cliches I could think of. (ph)authers is a debut release that displays the thoughtfulness and skill of a much longer-running project, so needless to say I am excited for what the duo comes up with next.

Review: Charles Barabé – De la fragilité (Astral Spirits, Jul 27)

When Charles Barabé reached out to Austin, TX label Astral Spirits about releasing something for them, he described the recordings that would become De la fragilité as “something like a new turn in my work… and it’s quite different from what I release in the past…” Unsurprisingly, Barabé is quite correct in his assessment of his own art, and De la fragilité is quite a departure from the MIDI electronics of Les dernières confessions and even the lively collage work found on both Cicatrices releases. Instead, it seems to be more informed by contemporary classical, both by the abstract sonorities of serialism and the synthetic contortions of early musique concrète, but as always the overall style is unique to Barabé. The six movements make use of a wide range of sounds, with Mouvement III delving into manipulated choral passages and Mouvement V mixing low rumbles with sparse string plucks, but everything is unified by the consistent piano chords that provide both tension and resolution throughout the album. As someone who wasn’t a huge fan of either of the aforementioned previous Barabé releases, De la fragilité is the first instance of me truly connecting with his music, and I am excited to see where he goes next.

Mix: Japanese Hardcore, Old and New

While I think it’s strange to classify genres by the nationalities or races of the artists who fit under them, there is definitely a specific sound that comes to mind when I think of “Japanese hardcore.” It’s usually more aggressive, noisy, and eclectic, with many bands blurring boundaries between straight-up hardcore punk and other areas like noisecore, crust, and grind. Here are some of my favorites.

00:00. Gauze – “エッサホイサッサ” from 面を洗って出直して来い (XXX, 1997)

01:52. S.O.B. – “Hysteric to Temptation” from Don’t Be Swindle (Selfish, 1987)

03:22. Crow – “混沌神” from 血涙 (Prank, 2005)

07:21. Outo – “正直者は馬鹿を見る” from 正直者は馬鹿を見る (Selfish, 1987)

08:52. Lip Cream – “No Rules” from Kill Ugly Pop (Captain, 1986)

11:14. Friendship – “Rejected” from Hatred (Southern Lord, 2017)

12:25. Colored Rice Men – “Tumble Wind” from New Animal Life (Blood Sucker, 1999)

13:59. Kriegshög – “Heathen (Code Z)” from Kriegshög (La Vida Es Un Mus, 2010)

15:38. Kuro – “X / 絶望” from Who the Helpless (Blue Jug, 1984)

18:14. The Stalin – “水銀” from 虫 (Climax, 1983)

21:40. G.I.S.M. – “Document One” from Detestation (Dogma, 1983)

24:32. Boris – Third untitled track from Vein (Important, 2006)

26:12. Setsuna – “Worst Enemy” from Senseless Apocalypse (Conspiracy Evolve, 1997)

Review: Andrew Fogarty & David Lacey – The Wig (Fort Evil Fruit, Jul 20)

The mind-numbing ennui of a corporate office workplace is reshaped and manipulated to yield unexpected beauty on Andrew Fogarty and David Lacey’s new collaborative tape The Wig. Mostly composed of recordings collected via “ingenious subversion” on company time, the two artists stitch together the mundane and dubious sounds of copiers, printers, shuffling boxes, and others I can’t place, using synthetic tones and crackles as needle and thread. While the unremarkable origin of the recordings is, in my opinion, crucial to the final product’s strange appeal, each sound is merely an ingredient, used on equal footing with the others to create unpredictable texture collages. It’s this coexistence of method that makes Fogarty and Lacey’s approach interesting, not really neatly fitting into either the principles of musique concrète or the area of field recording exploration. But, of course, uniqueness is never almost never a bad thing, and I’d say that the inscrutability of The Wig is what will bring many back for repeated listens, as we try to unravel these mysterious sounds.

Review: Marlowe – Marlowe (Mello Music Group, Jul 13)

The most beloved, enduring producer/rapper hip-hop duos are the ones whose members bring out the best in each other. With their debut self-titled record as Marlowe, Solemn Brigham and L’Orange have joined the greatest of these, and I couldn’t imagine a better pairing for both of these artists. Despite the difference in experience – L’Orange has been actively producing for over seven years, and this is the first full-length release on which Brigham has appeared – both work together to create something greater than either could have accomplished on their own. From the very beginning, Marlowe is playful and theatrical, but in an abstract way; Brigham’s messages are heavily veiled in his cryptic, cascading bars, and the occasional crackle-marred sample interjections don’t further illuminate anything. But I prefer it this way. There are few things I dislike more in hip-hop than annoying transparency, and I love the fact that I have to actively try to figure this record out. I recognize that not everyone shares this opinion, and the fact that Marlowe is just as strange in style means it’s probably not for everyone – but those who will like it will really like it. Brigham’s droning, monotone delivery is perfect atop L’Orange’s dynamic and driving beats, with both always pushing each song along at a meditative pace. I found myself bobbing my head similarly to when I listen to Neu! or Boredoms, and I’m grateful that I’ve finally found a hip-hop record with this sort of rhythmically hypnotic effect. The skits are short, entertaining, nondisruptive; the pacing perfect; the ending conclusive and satisfying despite my never really knowing what was going on. I really can’t say enough good things.