Review: Giovanni Lami – In Chiaro / In Guardia (Sounds Against Humanity, Oct 19)

From just looking at the cover of In Chiaro / In Guardia, one would probably have a sense of what they think the tape will sound like that is very different from how it actually sounds. The reaching, clear sky, kite-flying people, and rolling green hills imply an atmosphere of comfort and nature. But the soundscapes created by sound artist Giovanni Lami on this new tape are as subversive as always, almost entirely concealing any of that organic source material below shifting layers of dusky drones and synth textures. The latter half of the first side, “In Chiaro,” is quite illustrative of that mysterious reticence, as hints of luminous beauty struggle to rise above a blanket of reverb-drenched clacking and clicking; it’s especially elusive after the beginning of the piece, in which these more participatory elements are less prominent. As a huge fan of Lami’s work, I am beyond excited to see these two areas colliding — those being unprocessed field recording soundscapes and the profound dark greyness of concrète works like Bias—on one album. “In Guardia” pushes the palette even farther, agitating a bubbling hum of electricity with muffled object sounds and what sounds like some buried environmental recordings. Though the physical setting of In Chiaro / In Guardia initially seems important to its identity, the tape ends up examining far more abstract and intangible sound worlds, a realm in which Giovanni Lami thrives.

Review: SkullxPiercer – First Degree Murder (Bruxism, Oct 14)

First Degree Murder is LOUD and FAST. And if you’re anything like me, that’s enough of a description to give it a shot, especially considering that the transnational duo SkullxPiercer’s debut tape is only eleven minutes. Stuffed chock-full with samples that are equal parts silly and terrifying, furious blast beats, heavily distorted shrieks, and brief interjections of squalling noise, it’s an exhausting but exhilarating ride. With song durations ranging from almost two minutes to a mere one second, First Degree Murder establishes an unyielding momentum that barrels mercilessly through the entire tape, stubbornly grasping onto every last bit of energy. Even on tracks with whiplash transitions — like penultimate pummeler “Cannibal Hamburger Nightmare,” in which a guy nonchalantly describing cutting up crack whores in his trailer to make his ‘special meat’ splits time with crusty sludge riffs and blasts — the murderous vigor and volume never budges from pushing hard against the far right of the dial. Check out First Degree Murder if (a) You’re tired of fun, spooky Halloween festivities and want something truly evil and terrifying, (b) You’ve got some crack whores to slice up and need some brutal hardcore for a soundtrack, or (c) you want music that is LOUD and FAST.

Review: O Yama O – O Yama O (Mana, Oct 5)

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting when I pressed play on O Yama O’s self titled album, but I am sure that I was not expecting what I heard. As you may know, Rie Nakajima is one of my favorite sound artists and creatives in general, but what I usually enjoy about her work is its formlessness and textural inclination, examining the sounds of objects and how they fit together without concerning itself with conventional structure. But on O Yama O, the debut studio release of her project with Cafe OTO co-founder Keiko Yamamoto that has been performing since 2014 (and has somehow remained completely under my radar until now), Nakajima’s object orchestras are molded into odd folk songs, providing whimsical bases and flirtations with Yamamoto’s impassioned vocalizing. “Oni” is an early example of the two artists’ unique and successful intermingling, blending rollicking clatters of small items and toy wind instruments with the joyful cries of the titular word, which means, if I am not mistaken, ‘demon.’ This persistent contrast of fun, happy stamping and the alien unknown plays out in various ways throughout the record, venturing farthest into mystery on tracks like “Iroha” that probe dark, uncomfortably intimate timbres.

Buy the physical LP here.

Review: Bob Drake – l’Isola dei Lupi (Morphius, Oct 4)

No one, and I mean no one, writes vocal harmonies quite like Bob Drake. The first track on his new LP l’Isola dei Lupi, “Isola dei Lupi,” is almost entirely composed of his own layered singing, with exquisitely crafted chords introducing tension and dissonance that is resolved almost immediately. This impatience is what makes Drake’s music so unique and special. Across his now ten albums, songs longer than five minutes are extreme rarities; Drake chooses instead to focus his songwriting on a miniature scale, often developing an impossible amount of elements within songs that end before you even knew they started. l’Isola dei Lupi goes a much more folk-oriented route than the maximalist glam-pop of Arx Pilosa, with the angular, space-filled guitar lines and wistful piano being more reminiscent of his earlier albums. Its more reserved approach prevents it from being as immediate as some of my favorite records of Drake’s, mainly Medallion Animal Carpet, but I have no doubt that his unparalleled attention to detail and meticulous songwriting/production process will reveal countless idiosyncrasies upon further listens. “Ycnarr’s Rock Collection Pleached Path to the Cliff” is one of his best songs ever, a bombastic prog number condensed by a junkyard crusher into a two-and-a-half minute powerhouse of evolving melodies, and penultimate centerpiece “The Ascension of Greyfoot Badger” gives me the same gleeful catharsis as “I Wish It Had Been a Dream.” As always, even when l’Isola dei Lupi is at its most serious it’s still a ton of fun, and there is something here for pretty much everyone.

Review: Excretion Geometry – Household (Absent Erratum, Oct 2)

As an amateur phonographer, I spend a lot of time outside with my headphones plugged into my digital recorder, just listening to the sounds of rustling trees, birds, and distant voices. This ambient environmental sound is what opens Household, the first and only release (as is Absent Erratum’s MO) by anonymous project Excretion Geometry. “Home of Embers – Prelude” presents an unprocessed recording of a windy day, the gusts of air intermittently filling the low end of the frequencies; and just as your patience begins to wear thin, an interjection of overheard conversation leads us into “Home of Embers.” When this wall — fence might be a better description — emerged on my first listen, I uttered an audible gasp. It’s one of the most subtle, meditative static noise pieces I have ever heard, throwing stuttering, distorted blips at each channel. This stereo-reliant approach without a central basis in the form of a rumble or drone is unconventional to say the least, and simultaneously disorients and lulls. The following “Bramble Guardian” explores similar territory, with the intensity slightly amped up; but that contrast is dwarfed by the punishing “Flux,” which shatters the fragile constructions of the previous tracks with an unstoppable wall of chunky distortion. “Interstitial Malfunction” backs off slightly, but maintains the intensity. I’m not sure whether the prelude at the beginning of the album was the source material for these walls, but regardless of where they came from, every single one is hypnotic in its own way.

Review: Mosquitoes – Drip Water Hollow Out Stone (ever/never, Jul 13)

This one came out quite a while back, but I only recently discovered it — and liked it so much that I felt the need to write about it. “New-ish” UK project Mosquitoes picks up where many bands in the short-lived no wave scene left off. In my experience, no wave revival mostly takes the form of irreverent, angular noise rock with deranged vocals, and most of the records I have heard don’t offer much in the way of new territory in either a modern context or with reference to the original movement. Mosquitoes, however, takes the deconstructed rock formula explored by acts like DNA and Mars even further, using conventional instruments in unconventional ways on their debut release Drip Water Hollow Out Stone. In this case, unconventional is a gross understatement; if DNA dropped rock music on the hard concrete floor and worked with the broken pieces, Mosquitoes kicks those pieces around until they break into dust. These unsettling, hulking “songs” build themselves on rickety foundations of rattling drums, stumbling bass, hypnotic vocal repetitions, and unpredictable guitar interjections. On opener “Drip,” tremolo guitar drones unseat a tentative groove created by a disjointed rhythm section, while the vocalist forces ragged cries out of a resistant throat. “Out” is a bizarre masterpiece, with disintegrating guitars and indecipherable words in an alien language building to a violent climax. I could go on and on; Drip Water Hollow Out Stone’s 24 minutes are stuffed with surreal density that even after listening to it every day for the last week or so I’m still discovering new things.

Review: Three Bulb Cyclist – Digging for Diameters (Rota Frangitur, Oct 2)

The digital-only Digging for Diameters collects seven pieces by the enigmatic artist Three Bulb Cyclist, released over the course of 2018 across four releases on Rota Frangitur Records. It is also my first encounter with their music, and after the first two tracks I wasn’t quite drawn in yet. But upon the opening synth spirals of “La Chicle En La Boca,” a 16 minute piece with a mind all its own, I was hooked. The free-form electronic synthesis (I don’t know enough about this stuff to identify modular vs. granular or whatever) tumbles and whirls over itself, phasing in and out from dissonant sonorities to gorgeous plasticky twinkles. It’s hard to imagine a human executing these manipulations; the progressions are so natural that it almost gives the sense that the sounds were programmed and then just let loose. “La Chicle En La Boca” and the ensuing compositions explore synthetic tones and beauty amidst stridency and tension, in the same vein as some of my favorite adventurous electronic records (I was frequently reminded of Animal Collective’s brilliant Danse Manatee and even the electronic stochastic music of Xenakis), but Three Bulb Cyclist employs a subtle lushness, a hint of profound color, even in the collection’s sparsest moments.