Review: Vertonen – Hostage Exchange (No Rent, Oct 18)

“What makes you think I am entitled to my own opinion?”

Hostage Exchange is easily one of the most cryptic releases I’ve encountered this year. It’s yet another instance of a No Rent release introducing me to a great new artist, but somehow I don’t think being familiar with Blake Edwards’ past work as Vertonen would be much help in deciphering the arcane sounds harnessed on this tape. Edwards sculpts janky, unpredictable soundscapes from devices and field recordings, and when I say unpredictable, I mean it; there’s a flash of punishing noise midway through the first side that scared the living daylights out of me (happy Halloween, I guess). What interests me most about this release, however, is how the disparate elements clash and the ways in those juxtapositions change how the listener feels. Recordings of soft footfalls and bird calls that might have been peaceful on their own are unseated by mechanical clicks and buzzes, casting those familiar textures in a less unidentifiable light. The battles between elements are sometimes very physical, especially during part C of the second side when Edwards literally blasts away the sounds of people murmuring and milling around with an unyielding wave of squalling noise. Needless to say, Hostage Exchange gives the listener a lot to think about.

“Damn, what the hell was that??”

Review: Charles Barabé – La Révision (Archive Officielle Publications, Oct 25)

Ever since I fell in love with Charles Barabé’s 2016 double-tape opus Cicatrices I get tremendously excited whenever I see that he has a new release out. It’s a different kind of anticipation, however, than for most other artists, from whom I usually know some of what to expect; with Barabé, I have absolutely no idea what each album will sound like. Cicatrices II had a much heavier focus on collaging and sampling than the original, this year’s De la fragilité was totally unique in its use of classical music excerpts, and now La Révision is its own beast as well. Culled from sound experiments recorded fifteen years ago, the CD’s two pieces utilize a very focused palette, a far cry from the other aforementioned releases. Each builds into thin, fragile drones, floating through mechanical darkness, electric whirring and crackling, unsettling thumps and rattles, and airy gusts that sound like they were recorded in a giant ventilation shaft. Though the album is, first and foremost, a ‘revision’ (surprising, I know), Barabé’s sampling of his own recordings manifests as fluid, natural shifts in texture and ideas, a fascinating new direction for the seasoned sound artist. I obviously haven’t spent as much time with La Révision as I have with Cicatrices, I can see it becoming my new favorite of Barabé’s.

Review: The All Golden – Harmonograph (Modern Aviation, Oct 24)

I don’t really consider myself to be a ‘visual person,’ but I can’t deny the fact that album covers heavily influence which music I try out. I realize I probably miss out on some great releases with terrible covers, but hey, I have to whittle down this never-ending barrage of new music somehow. I had no idea what kind of music I would find on Harmonograph when I saved it, but I knew I had to because the artwork (done by Sarah Batchelor) is beyond gorgeous. Thankfully, so are the songs. The multi-instrumentalist Pete Gofton performs here as The All Golden, and uses the tape as a kind of musical sketchbook; each track is a small vignette of various permutations of guitar, electronics, and field recordings. I’m unfamiliar with Gofton’s other music, but he certainly has a great ear for both melody and texture, stuffing just the right amount of each into the songs. It’s difficult to make and develop interesting compositions when the tracks fly by this fast, but each ends up holding its own amidst the flood: “Big Wednesday” braids cloying synth grit with an electronic drum loop, “Sevdah” uses simple rhythms as a springboard for constructing sunny ambience, “Harmonograph” keeps it simple with magnetic, stomping fingerpicked acoustic guitar. I do think that Harmonograph would be much stronger if there was less use of the drum machine, but the rest is well-constructed and pretty as hell. It just takes a little over twenty minutes to listen, so check it out!

Review: Matthew Atkins – Cryptic System (Falt, Oct 21)

If I’m not mistaken, this is the third release by Matthew Atkins that I’ve written about this year (a fact easily verified by searching for all instances of his name in post titles, but I’d rather use the phrase “if I’m not mistaken” instead). Cryptic System comes to us via Falt, a small independent French label with a DIY attitude toward making and presenting avant-garde music, an approach with which Matthew Atkins is quite familiar. The tape continues in the areas of object acoustics and electronic tones explored by Porous Inner Montage. Across two twelve minutes tracks, the listener is placed in the midst of the clutter created by these concrete sounds; it’s difficult to discern which interactions are taking place in the same recording and which are pasted on top, an obfuscation that gives the physical sound environments a crowded and disorienting form. But the individual elements provide a lifeline within the din of rattle and wobble; each component, whether a half-buried field recording or a plasticky whoosh like that of a waved piece of laminate, travels its own path, and following each one as they evolve through the piece keeps you grounded. The end of the second part is one of the tape’s most interesting and adventurous moments, with a dynamic swishing battling for space with the barely intelligible words of an unidentified voice. It builds a mysterious, abstract environment beyond the senses, juxtaposing the familiar and unfamiliar and landing somewhere in between. Needless to say, I’m excited for the spaces to which Atkins will take us next time.

Review: Jean-Luc Guionnet & Miguel A. García – Siticidelhous (Moving Furniture, Oct 19)

Siticidelhous feels like it might explode at any moment. Across two long-form pieces, improvisers Jean-Luc Guionnet and Miguel A. García build countless layers of tension that swirl and simmer beneath the fragile surface tension of dissonant drones and electronic tendrils. While this sort of setting usually finds Guionnet on the alto saxophone, here, like his duo record with Seijiro Murayama earlier this year, he plays the organ, while García sticks to his electroacoustic manipulations. ‘Play’ doesn’t seem to be the right word for how Guionnet coaxes sound from the instrument, however…it’s more like he squeezes it like an almost-empty toothpaste tube, forcing thin clusters of piercing high notes from the pipes that prick the listener’s ears like small needles. Despite both the musicians’ sound sources having the ability to produce loud cacophonies, they persist with a largely reductionist approach, and the busiest either piece gets is probably the soft interplay that emerges two-thirds of the way through “Lomburthstific.” But even then, as the crackling electric embers and anxious organ get louder and louder, none of that exquisite tension is released, remaining trapped forever within these barely substantial walls of delicate sound.

Review: Tom White – Run Amok (Glistening Examples, Oct 17)

With Run Amok, a gorgeous new CD out on Glistening Examples, artist Tom White examines the volcanic landscape of Lanzarote, a Spanish island west of Morocco in the Atlantic. Lanzarote was the location where Werner Herzog filmed his absurdist black comedy Even Dwarfs Started Small. The 1971 movie, featuring the ridiculous escapades of a group of dwarfs as they rebel against the nameless institution in which they are confined, has a unique and elusive atmosphere despite its whimsicality, largely due to the mysterious environment in which it was filmed. Herzog and White each capture this environment in their own way, the former with beautiful blacks and whites and a wanton mixture of shaky camera work and static shots, and the latter with carefully mixed audio recordings. Though White doesn’t rely heavily on the use effects or processing techniques on these recordings, they are largely unidentifiable, spinning up into tactile, rocky whirlwinds like gravel in an air-popped popcorn machine. He makes use of many small scraping sounds, overlaying them and playing them backwards to create crackle collages that are both gritty and effervescent. When effects are used, they only increase the alien-ness of Lanzarote’s sound palette, whittled down to a dark, electric meditation on “Del Rio.” With ten tracks, White presents a lot of ideas, each distinct but naturally evolving into each other. While I’m not sure that Run Amok would make a good score for Even Dwarfs Started Small, the two works demonstrate how the attributes a physical place can be communicated in different ways.

Review: Uboa – The Sky May Be (Art As Catharsis, Oct 18)

If you let your mind wander for even a minute or two while listening to The Sky May Be, you will most certainly be surprised at how much ground it has covered during that time. Not that it’s even easy to lose focus; Uboa’s new record, “a work about poverty, sex, anxiety, and love,” commands every bit of the listener’s attention. It is equal parts nightmarish and comforting, angry and peaceful, pessimistic and hopeful, juxtaposing noise freakouts and brooding drones with lush, even pretty ambience. “Salivate on Cue” is a cut-up masterpiece, blasting the ears with schizophrenic contortions of screeching feedback, while “Dementia,” the first part of the “The Sky May Be” suite, combines backwards-played melodies, reverb, and processed vocals to conjure a uniquely gorgeous nocturnal soundscape. This latter track is just breathtaking, even more so when tortured, distorted shrieks emerge toward the end, cracking the already fragile foundations of beauty and crumbling into the piercing metallic squeals of “Entropy.” Despite its eclecticism, the powerful driving force of Xandra Metcalfe’s versatile voice unifies even the most disparate elements, grounding a monster of an album that threatens to break its chains at any moment. I challenge anyone to find a track this year as cathartic as “Extus.”