Derek Bailey and Han Bennink’s live album (1972’s aptly titled Derek Bailey & Han Bennink) easily has one of my favorite album covers. And after listening to it last night, I thought about something else that makes it great: that it’s FUN. A bit scary at times, with the screaming and whatnot, but in the end it is just two creative, talented improvisers having a grand time making noise. The second studio LP from the duo of Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt, Brace Up!, shares this quality. Corsano and Orcutt are not only experienced in the art of group improvisation in their own rights, but they’ve also been playing together since at least 2013, when The Raw and the Cooked was released. You can truly hear the wordless two-person language in which they have become fluent; Corsano’s frenetic, free-form flurries are always just slightly cursed with rhythm, and some of the record’s best moments come about when Orcutt’s torturous, resonant attack of the guitar strings retreats slightly and they tease out that tiny bit of order for even a second or two. But then again, there’s no sense of convention necessary in the beautifully organic “She Punched a Hole in the Moon for Me” (which I’m 80% sure is a reference to Scott Pilgrim). Plus the album cover is hilarious, and pretty representative of what the music sounds like—but don’t be fooled; there is some gorgeous stuff on this.
Buy the LP here.
Peter Keller’s long running project Bacillus takes its name from a genus of enzyme-producing bacteria and infectious pathogens, a fitting namesake for more than twenty-years’ worth of experiments with sonic decay. Serial Infector is Keller’s first recorded work in almost a decade. It focuses on the horrifying concept of people who intentionally spread diseases and infections to others, much in the same way as Bacillus’s gritty electronics worm their way into the listener’s unsuspecting ear. The tape comes in a medical biohazard bag, which I’m not sure is able to contain the relentless, gnawing sounds that threaten to break out of their red plastic shell at any moment. The first side’s maelstroms of decomposing industrial sound, blasts of distorted feedback, and pedal noise howls come to a head with the vicious centerpiece “Bulgarian Nurses Affair,” a deafening mass of pestilence whose edges crackle with piercing glitches. Side B starts equally loud with “The Deliberate Infection of Over 400 Children With HIV,” a song I hope is not based on actual events, and “Intentional Transmission,” both of which pummel the eardrums with merciless high frequencies and squalling loops of noise. Serial Infector never relinquishes even a bit of its energy, even on the short interlude “Stolen Syringes” that sounds like a buzzing horde of disease-bearing gnats.
The first side of Fragments of Consciousness, the new tape from Bruising Pattern (also known as Peter Stipsits) on Lost Light Records, begins rather innocuously with a thin wave of static dwarfed by a guttural rumble. But by the time the first thirty seconds of the track have passed, Stipsits forces the wall into harsher territory, rolling the crackles to the front of the mix until they merge with the lumbering bass undertones. The result is a formidable, roiling slab of noise, bubbling but harsh like a boiling pot full of cement, that commands the listener’s attention for its entire 29 minutes. Hiding high above the chunks of distortion, however, is the soft clinking sound of a delay pedal clock, an element that foreshadows the higher register of the second piece and adds a new dimension to the piece. Though still up-close and confrontational, side two of Fragments of Consciousness whips up the crumbling cacophony into a tight drone, the crepitating noise concealing a more recognizably tonal hum that sets the whole wall on edge. Stipsits uses his minimal palette to find balance between arresting abrasion and anxious tension, making Fragments of Consciousness one of the more captivating wall releases I’ve encountered this year.
The Portuguese title of Federico Durand’s new album, Pequeñas Melodías, translates in English to “Little Melodies.” I couldn’t think of a better name for this collection of soft music box twinkles and synthesizer drones, muffled and broken by the decaying tapes onto which they were recorded and manipulated. The opening pair of tracks introduce cascades of flickering tape loops, portraying a powerful sense of nostalgia and dusty beauty yet entirely avoiding cutesy-ness, an easy trap to fall into when those distinctive toy-like plinks are used. “Las Estrellas Giran En El Pinar” brings guitar into the mix, and “Los Juguetes De Minka Podhájská” draws unique emotions from its reliance on fragmented playback, with the stuffy melodies sometimes dropping out for as long as a second at a time. I should also mention that Pequeñas Melodías, along with all releases on the IIKKI imprint, is a collaboration with a visual artist, in this case photography team Albarrán Cabrera (Anna P. Cabrera & Angel Albarrán). Even before I had finished my first listen of the record I was skeptical about how these intangible, elusive feelings could be augmented or even matched by photographs, but that was before I actually saw what Cabrera and Albarrán had contributed (you can view a video preview of the photo book here). Their gorgeous shots are filled with rich darkness and film imperfections, evoking distant warmth in even the most nocturnal images. The accompaniments for the longest two tracks, “Racimos de Luz” and “La Tarde Ronda Por La Casa,” are breathtaking, and somehow handily complement Durand’s immaterial works.
I recently wrote about Ami Yoshida’s fantastic Tiger Thrush, a personal favorite of mine, for another site, focusing on the ability of mouth and vocal sounds to elicit visceral discomfort in a listener. Sindre Bjerga works with similar techniques at the start of Jan Ken Pon, an unedited live recording from his 2016 tour, cutting and mangling abstract vocalizations with hiss-marred dictaphone manipulation, creating muddy soundscapes of moans and gurgles. As I view it, the portable tape recorder is such an effective tool for producing collage-based music such as this because its low fidelity introduces a distinct element of intimacy, that can either enhance the comforting nature of familiar sounds or the formidable horror of unfamiliar ones. Bjerga plays with both throughout the half-hour performance, with the same syrupy tape distortion dripping from high-pitched delay pedal feedback, object improvisation, and field recordings. The homespun cacophony swells with movement and tension through the piece, culminating in a stripped down finale with only some murky loops, clatters, and ascending feedback that sounds like a tea kettle about to lose its lid. My only complaint is that it ends rather abruptly; but then again, I feel like any ending to these uneasy sounds would feel unceremonious.
I operate under a sort of plausible deniability when it comes to lyrics, especially in regards to hardcore music. They’ve never been a very important aspect of music for me, but if they’re bad or cringe-inducing they can quickly ruin the whole package. So usually, if I can’t hear or understand what the vocalist is singing, I don’t make an effort to find out. But Great Reversals vocalist Aaron Whitfield’s passionate bellows are always completely intelligible on Stalactite, a discovery that made me wary…until I realized how great his words are. Abstract imagery and introspective angst have equal footing, exemplified in the final line of the titular centerpiece: “Meet me between two unseens, I need to know I have value in your eyes.” Whitfield often leads the charge, but none of it would work without the meaty, dense riffs, filled with plenty of palm-muted thrashing and harmonizing leads, and the dizzying drum work of Eric Scobie, whose mastery of the bass and toms manifests in the textural paintings of “The Rattlesnake King,” arrestingly sparse breakdowns, and galloping d-beats. Stalactite is a safe but refreshing take on NY and metalcore influenced hardcore, with none of the shortcomings that often plague those styles.
Right away, Ke I Te Ki feels more spontaneous than Suzuki and Onda’s last collaboration, Ma Ta Ta Bi. According to Onda’s insightful abstract for the album, Ke I Te Ki was recorded live at the Emily Harvey Foundation in New York City, a notable landmark of the American avant-garde. The gallery’s exhibition spaces are very open and unrestricted, allowing the duo to perform in their preferred environment; i.e. one where the audience is not confined to one place and the performers are not completely separate. Suzuki and Onda’s fondness for unusual sounds that occupy a space in distinct ways comes across well in these excerpts, and the excellent recordings give a sense of both the intimacy of the materials used and their acoustic properties in the much larger surrounding environment. The title track expands on squeaking textures presumably made by Suzuki’s Analapos, while quiet scrapes of metal and rustling plastic provide a softer undercurrent. “Yo Ru No To Ba Ri” takes us to a dark, aquatic soundscape, with the Analapos providing wistful whalish wails and what sounds like responses from Onda in the form of what I think is an electric fan, and some field recordings of seagulls later in the piece. Funnily enough, the only sounds of which I knew the origin for certain was the occasional beeps and honks of cars outside the building, which introduce a unique feeling of isolation to the music. These two artists clearly enjoy the work they do together, and that passion comes across even in the album’s sparsest moments.