Review: Espen Lund – Blow. Amplifier (self-released, Sep 28)

A lone trumpet croons notes, rough noodling hovers somewhere between melody and atonality. Will this just be another solo trumpet album? Not that I’m complaining, I just expected something more effect-heavy. I wonder — WHAM. A wave of feedback-encrusted fuzz accompanies the next flurry, as trumpeter Espen Lund and his wall of amplifiers blasts you into oblivion. Blow. Amplifier thrives on its own unpredictability, drawing equally from improvisation and punishing metallic drone, exploring the possibilities of this unique conversation between clean and distorted. The eponymously titled opening track unfolds like a wordless debate, as the unaffected trumpet meanderings lull the listener into temporary solace only to crush it with another slab of vicious distortion. Without this track, it would be easy to forget how the album’s sounds are being produced; the short interlude “White Mass” and the massive conclusion “The Great Equalizer” both abandon their origins almost entirely, focusing on the manipulation of the trumpet’s sounds. The latter conjures similar feelings of submergence and volume worship as when I saw Boris last year; no small feat for music created only with an electric horn instrument. Blow. Amplifier is an experiment to be sure, but undoubtedly a successful one, and god knows what Lund can accomplish with this formula in the future.

Review: Jürg Frey – 120 Pieces of Sound (elsewhere, Oct 10)

Lots of incredible albums came out last year, but few can claim the same amount of scope and ambition as Jürg Frey’s massive L’âme est sans retenue I, released as a five disc set on Erstwhile. Anyone intimidated by that composition’s nearly six-hour run time may find a more digestible presentation of similar concepts and ideas in 120 Pieces of Sound, which comes out next month on Erstwhile’s newly formed sibling label elsewhere. The disc presents two performances of Frey’s compositions. Stylistically, “60 Pieces of Sound” and “L’âme est sans retenue II” aren’t exactly similar. The former, composed in 2009 for an indefinite amount of performers, is a string-based piece performed by Frey on clarinet with the Boston quartet Ordinary Affects, and consists of 60 chords interspersed with pauses of silence of roughly equal length. The chords range from beautiful and calming to tense and unsettling, with the silences providing pregnant anticipations as the musicians ready their instruments to play the next chord. “L’âme est sans retenue II,” similar to the first installment, is performed solely by Frey using field recordings accompanied by bass clarinet. The sounds are different but the structure is almost indiscernable from “60 Pieces of Sound,” giving the two pieces a wonderful kinship, with the murky beauty of the “L’âme…” segments complementing the heavenly, tensile drones of “60 Pieces of Sound.” This is by far one of my favorite works I’ve heard from Frey, hitting the same spots as 2010’s Weites Land, Tiefe Zeit: Räume 1-8; and while it obviously doesn’t compete with “…retenue I” in scope it’s a wonderful release for new and old appreciators of the composer’s work alike.

Review: John Collins McCormick – One Bone in the Arm (Pan y Rosas Discos, Sep 24)

Unfortunately, many areas of experimental art, and specifically music, suffer from a lack of universality. Sound art, electroacoustic improvisation, and avant-garde composition are often viewed as more formal and academic than other genres, and as such do not reach the wide audience that they should. The two times I’ve seen John Collins McCormick perform, he has completely defied those trends: the first time, he constructed and manipulated a live installation using tape segments, a modified speaker, and ping pong balls, and the second time he played duo microphone feedback improvisations as Comment. This approach to acoustic art, further exemplified on McCormick’s new album One Bone in the Arm, removes any intimidation and mysticism, reminding us that ultimately, it’s just sound. One Bone in the Arm is full of clatters, squeaks, drones, bounces, ticks, and much more, with the unprocessed recordings following natural progressions. It’s a unique skill to be able to command dynamics with only non-musical objects, but these tracks are just as, if not more, enrapturing than anything more conventional. The low fidelity and hints of audience chatter introduce an intimacy but don’t compromise the sounds. This is really great stuff, and with a price of exactly zero dollars there’s no excuse not to hear it.

Review: Kjostad – Glacial Lake (No Rent, Sep 25)

In preparation for this review, last night I revisited Kjostad’s Frost Cracking Trees tape, released by Prime Ruin earlier this year. While I like it quite a bit and it’s one of my most frequent plays, I remembered what held me back from truly loving it. The noise is harsh but doesn’t seem to have much energy behind it, something that heavily affects how much a harsh release impacts me. I’m glad, though, because it gives the masterpiece that is Glacial Lake context. Everything I associate with Stefan Aune’s unique project is at its best here, from the damaged nature loops and frigid atmosphere to the blasts of cathartic distortion. Aune slows down his approach, with each piece expanding and contracting over a whole side of the C40, an evolution that complements the music well. The ear-splitting wall of noise in part four of “The Water’s Edge” wouldn’t be nearly as significant without the previous three parts, as Aune’s careful stitching forms a breathtaking soundscape. The temperature of this music is freezing; I once jumped into a crater lake in Wyoming, and these ice-encrusted collages of sound are such an amazing portrayal of that piercing coldness. Jason Crumer describes Glacial Lake as “a refreshing Walden-esque vision of American noise,” and I couldn’t agree more; I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say that Stefan Aune loves and respects noise as much as Thoreau loved and respected nature.

Review: Panchasila – Panchasila (Discrepant, Aug 24)

Argentinian artist Panchasila’s self titled cassette is the soundtrack to a steamy, psychedelic stumble through the jungle. Rhythmic collages are constructed from tribal percussion samples, low-quality dictaphone recordings, warm tape hiss and vinyl crackles, and clips from cumbia and other ethnic songs. Most of the sound on the album remains in the mid to low frequency range, giving everything an aquatic stuffiness that seems to hang in the air like our dear old friend humidity. Panchasila’s heady, lethargic rhythms are prominent yet hold barely any governance over the swirling sounds also present, which creates an interesting contrast — and unearths possibilities for unique progressions, as the rhythmless elements slowly align to the percussion. Closing track “Salt” is a perfect example, and also happens to be the best cut from the album, bouncing vivid bird call cacophonies and head-bobbing marimba melodies off a backbone of hand drum loops. Panchasila is nocturnal, surreal, hallucinatory…but all in that mysteriously comforting way that could only be recreated by a darkness-drenched rain forest.

Review: Faxada – Paraa (Darling Recordings, Sep 21)

Violent glitches, field recordings, samples of hip-hop songs, catchy dance rhythms, processed and synthesized sounds, various instruments… I imagine the process of making Paraa involved Faxada, aka Przemysław Wojtaszek, throwing all of these things into a blender. A massive, hulking, industrial blender. And then what you hear when you play the album is  that blender assimilating every ingredient into an overwhelming stew of sound. Despite my tendency to do so, I don’t even think I’m being hyperbolic here; there’s little other way to easily describe Paraa other than “bat shit insane,” from its opening moments that physically assault your head from all angles at once throughout the various incredible combinations that Wojtaszek constructs. The record is a significant departure from his last release, Cohost, abandoning many of that album’s conventionality and sample reliance in favor of electroacoustic manipulations and synthesis. The tracks are short — there are 20 of them in less than 40 minutes — so none of them overstay their welcome. Wojtaszek presents you with this crazy, disarmingly immersive collage of sound, and just when you start to get lost in it he completely switches everything up and repeats the process with an entirely different idea. I’m starting to disagree with my own blender analogy, because while Paraa is tremendously chaotic it’s also clear it was put together with great care. The amount of creativity in this thing is just astounding; he sculpts sounds as if they are physical objects, building haphazard junk contraptions that you’d never guess would be so beautiful by just looking at the components. I could go on, but I think I’ve made it very clear how much I not only love, but am in awe of, Paraa. Buy this thing. You won’t regret it.

Review: Sial – Binasa (La vida es un mus, Sep 20)

The deeper you get into hardcore the more you come to fathom the dizzying amount of this stuff there is out there. Sure, it’s daunting at times, but it also means that when you find something amazing, it’s that much more satisfying. Binasa, the new 7″ by Singapore band Sial takes inspiration from the brash, noisy brand often dubbed Japanese hardcore, upping the ante on the already intense style of last year’s self-titled LP. Legendary hardcore mastering engineer Will Killingsworth ensures that every sonic aspect shines to its full extent: the tempos are faster, the guitars are louder, the drums sound like jagged junk metal being played with rusty knives, and the vocals are even more tortured. This latter element might be the most crucial; the raw fury in vocalist Hafiz Mohammad Shamsudin’s shrieks is palpable, emanating from her vicious words in waves. Binasa is truly a punk record: from the socially progressive lyrics to the hand drawn cover by drummer Izzad and disregard for flawless technicality in favor of all-out assault, it’s filled with more anger and aggression than many albums four times its length.

Review: Graham Dunning – Tentation (White Denim, Sep 2)

When most people think of techno music, it’s the four-on-the-floor bass, dance-oriented, rave type techno — which, don’t get me wrong, is still pretty awesome. But artists like Graham Dunning show that the genre can be far more nuanced, pushing the boundaries of this hypnotic, repetitive type of electronic dance music. On Tentation, the rhythms Dunning creates using his mysterious “mechanical techno machine” are so minimal, almost insubstantial; he strips down techno to its barest form, crafting patient pieces that easily persist throughout their extended durations. The music is so bare that Dunning’s processes and live, improvisational decisions are perceptible, and it’s this natural development of the progressions and variations that makes Tentation so engaging despite its unapologetic sparseness. Ragged tape loops, delay pedal feedback manipulations, and bass glitches are the subtle flavors that interact with the incessant percussion, allowing for natural evolution that is usually only found in music much less reliant on rhythm.

Review: Collin McKelvey – The Golden Ass (No Rent, Sep 17)

“The Knave,” the second track of Collin McKelvey’s ambitious new C78, The Golden Ass, has moments whose uncanny beauty is difficult to put into words. The reserved composition employs manipulated string drones, digital processing and synthesis, and source-obscured recordings, all tools with which McKelvey often works; but here the combination reaches incredible depth and resonance, as the woody drones flit across what sounds like a creaking ocean liner until they are the only thing remaining in the mix, the tones stretching, straining between your ears until the track ends quite unceremoniously with an unsettling clip of laughter. “The Knave” is only one of four tracks on The Golden Ass, but it is perhaps the best possible representation of McKelvey’s mastery over the sounds he uses. The music throughout the tape is well-composed, almost approaching contemporary electroacoustic composition in scope, but with a pleasing roughness and grit that makes it much more personal. Even in the quietest stretches there is a captivating coexistence of tension and beauty, and you’re never sure whether the grainy constructions will spiral out of control or softly vanish. Don’t be intimidated by the length; McKelvey makes these 75 minutes feel like much less. This wonderful journey awaits you.

Review: Carlo Giustini – Manifestazioni (Lontano Series, Sep 28)

The first release I remember really loving this year was Carlo Giustini’s La stanza di fronte, the Italian sound artist’s debut tape on ACR. Since then, Giustini has released over five hours of music across three ambitious tapes further exploring and refining his unique harnessing of the acoustics of minimally treated, low-fidelity tape and contact microphone recordings. Manifestazioni is his latest and best, achieving new, gorgeous heights in its dusty nebulae of analogue hiss and reverb, the same elements that made the aforementioned albums so great. As with those, Manifestazioni is based on an environment; where La stanza di fronte captured the haunting creaks and groans of an old house and Sant’Angelo magnified the organic beauty of its eponymous gardens, it takes us through abandoned streets in Giustini’s home town of Treviso, whose sonic qualities are both desolate and comforting. The muffled passing of occasional cars, distant unintelligible voices, the solitary bark of a dog far away; all the sounds contribute to a rich blend of textures, each distinct yet still obscured by the murk of the medium, painting pictures of lonely alleyways and crumbling house fronts that hide in the mist.