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.
The music on 5 Clocks, 5 Musical Pieces, 1 Museum comes from audio constructed by artist Mauro Sambo for a sound installation of the same name, located in Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice. Sambo worked with recordings of the five recently restored clocks on display at the museum in addition to samples of works by five Italian composers that correspond to the appearance and sound produced by each clock. The result is a fascinating intermingling of concrete sound and the lofty, spectral arrangements of composers such as Domenico Cimarosa (“Diana”) and Luigi Cherubini (“Well”). Each segment weaves the rhythmic ticks and metallic clinking of the clock mechanism into the classical pieces, delving into territory distinct from the others. “Diana” bonds the metronomic rings of a green marble and gilt bronze clock with both formless drones and synchronized rhythms from Cimarosa’s work, even briefly exploring the amplified sounds of museum-goers that were presumably picked up when Sambo was recording the clock. Even though the album provides only part of the installation’s full effect, there is still a profound and well-crafted sense of space, sometimes identifiable like the aforementioned recordings of passerby on “Diana” to the mysterious environment created by stereo manipulations on “Lyre.” 5 Clocks, 5 Musical Pieces, 1 Museum masterfully captures the beautiful and the uncanny, the alluring pregnancy of historic objects and art, the unyielding force of time.
Sunn Trio further explores and refines their unique brand of Arabian-informed raw drone-rock on Fayrus, their second studio album after last year’s self-titled LP. Looking at the liner notes, I can’t help be reminded of the hilariously overstated credits included with Sun City Girls’ Torch of the Mystics, which included, among other things, ‘algebraic percussion,’ ‘ambient and terminally fatal ear poison,’ ‘blood of the moon lute,’ and ‘forward subliminal messages.’ The influence of the Girls on Sunn Trio’s distinct style is undeniable, but as far as I could tell every instrument listed was used on this ceaselessly eclectic record, from gongs and tamburas to shortwave radios and Gameboys. “Shayatin” and “Al-Rijal Al-Khafiya” start things off with a fiery bang, threading hypnotic harmonic minor unison riffs into fluid drumming that seems half rhythmic and half freely improvised. The next two tracks venture into some darker, electronics-heavy soundscapes, which only makes the furious loose grooves of Al-Ghayb even more incendiary. As if Fayrus wasn’t diverse enough already, “Mukhbir” takes us into swinging bebop territory, with saxophone solos and walking bass gradually being drowned out by radio interference and dissonance. At every instant on this album, every performer seems perfectly in sync with and aware of each other, no matter how disparate their playing is, and it’s this unity that keeps the ecstatically overstuffed LP from falling apart at the seams.
(f)lute songs is a collection of pieces composed by artist Mary Jane Leach, almost entirely written for sustained tones played by flutes and voice. Trio for Duo, composed in 1985, features four components, of which only three are present at a given time. The notes, created by alto flutes and voice (I had no idea there were any other sounds other than flutes until I read more about the album; the vocal drones are nearly indiscernable from the others), phase in and out of the stereo mix. Carefully played glissandos create slight dissonance, bringing natural, fluid tension into the cascading strings of pure harmonic tones. The constant movement of the separate parts allows for simultaneous resolution and introduction of new, subtle agitation; the harmonies that arise are beautiful and uneasy, never one without the other. Dowland’s Tears (2011), for nine flutes, explores similar territory, but with more movement; each instrument plays a somber descending melody at differing intervals, again creating fascinating phase effects. Semper Dolens (2018) uncovers light from darkness, with gorgeous chords rising from the melancholy phrases—the higher notes entering at around the three minute mark are breathtaking—and Bruckstück (1989) is possibly the most beautiful piece, letting the listener hear the soft breaths of the performer as they play each note. (f)lute songs is truly wonderful, captivating music, whether you want to read about the techniques used or not.
Some of you may have read my review of Mosquitoes’ Drip Water Hollow Out Stone 12″ that came out earlier this year, in which I gushed about its bizarre, broken groove jaunts and unique deconstruction of the rock format. In fact, I still gush about that album to most people I talk to about music; it’s that good. Komare, a newer project that consists of two members of Mosquitoes (I can’t find much about the identities of the members of either band), explores similar territory with an even more detached and alien approach on their self-titled debut. The same unintelligible vocalizations are muttered and groaned over sputtering, half-formed industrial rhythms, with the spidery bass work also returning. The soundscapes built with this sparse palette are cold and intense, and range from the short burst of loud, confrontational dissonance on “Orientation” to long form atmospherics with creeping synth buzz and vocal effects that sound like a crowd of dying robots on “Ice Belt”—and these two tracks are right next to each other! Komare covers a lot of ground, but it always keeps things patient and restrained, with something unfamiliar always lurking in the shadows. It’s a distinct project from Mosquitoes, with entirely different things to offer, but the two are still a bit similar in that they are the only artists that can create this immersive and harrowing atmosphere.
Variations on the Letter H, or most of Olan Mill’s work for that matter, is far from what I would consider “my kind” of ambient music. The project, conceived and led by musician Alex Smalley, deals with the intersections of ambient with neo-classical composition and largely produces airy clouds of reverb with a beautiful and slightly haunting atmosphere. Not really my style, but Variations on the Letter H is apparently one of Olan Mill’s last official releases, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did; Variations subverts any tropes about which I’d usually have reservations, swapping out long and indulgent tracks for short, digestible vignettes. The sonic palette on display here is nothing new or terribly exciting, but you’ll be too caught up in the warm, seraphic beauty to really notice. Processed pipe organ melodies, soft warbles of buried field recordings, and even less identifiable elements are layered to create spacious, shifting soundscapes that drift with brevity and purpose. Smalley continues to work with shorter song durations, a decision that complements his compositions well. Each piece takes its own direction; for example, the largely stagnant “E” brings in gorgeous high-pitched tones, and “G” persistently rises to a peak above the clouds. “I” couldn’t have been a better closer, with its throaty low drones pulling everything back down to earth. Recommended for insomniacs.
Youth Attack is one of those labels that rarely surprises me, but I wouldn’t want it any other way; the thrash-punk/modern hardcore sound that dominates many of their releases never gets old—or even close to old, for that matter. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve spun Vile Gash’s Nightmare in a Damaged Brain LP from earlier this year, and Cadaver Dog’s Dying Breed is one I’ve been coming back to a lot lately. Creep Stare adds to the 2018 roster with their mini-album Pain Game, presenting ten short tracks full of misanthropic punk fire. Creep Stare’s style is fresh and exciting, but it also harkens back to old-school hardcore in a variety of ways and fills a different niche than the faster and brasher aforementioned releases. Josh Everett’s vocals occupy a perfect middle ground between NY gruffness and harsh, shrill bite, ranting over the galloping drums (played by James Trejo, who is also the sole member of Cadaver Dog) and crunching guitars. There’s something that just clicks about this tried-and-true combination, especially on tracks like “Said and Done” where well-placed crashes synchronize with the vocals, unifying all the elements into a steamroller of sound. Accentuated with a decidedly modern edge, Pain Game will be filling many spare 7-minute stretches for me in the future.