Review: Veldt – Prima Facie (A R C H I V E, Jan 21)

Like Cody Lobbestael’s previous two releases as Veldt, one of which (Skin Solutions) was also released on Archive, Prima Facie is a collection of brooding, formidable industrial techno. Rather than aiming for punishing hypnosis and aggression, Lobbestael relies on nuance and minimal composition as the driving force behind these tracks. Though each explores varying energy levels and sounds, we’re provided with a reliable constant in the form of the bass back beat, whose tone remains unchanged throughout the album. It gives a sense of unification throughout the four pieces that comprise Prima Facie, from gluing together the stabs of distorted electronics that begin “Male Disorder” and providing a backbone for the meditative, evolving loops of the slow-burning “Thistle and Thorn” to framing the incessant tension-building of “Gated Expression.” Though almost all of the textures and elements harnessed by Lobbestael are relatively clean and sterile, the things they evoke are anything but; the cloying scrapes that mark the decay of “Gated Expression” are mysteriously affecting, organic, even vulnerable, and they make the grimy pound of “Roots (You Are Dead to Me)” seem even more vicious.

Review: Galaxxu – Every Meanest Particular (Orb Tapes, Jan 24)

Every Meanest Particular is always moving. In each of the three pieces, Alexander Adams’ percussion provides the rusty, rickety wheels that haphazardly propel the chaos forward. He’s soon joined, if not already, by the rest of the lively instrumentation, which includes saxophone, flute, upright bass, electric guitar, and piano, each slowly adding squeals, noodles, and malformed melodies. The pieces are also heavily influenced by the instrument member Cory Lyons chooses to play. In the session that yielded “Bootleg Gourmet,” he plays piano, conjuring an active but reserved chunk of whimsical cacophony; while “Ghggghgghrog (Jumper Hound),” recorded on the night of the U.S. midterm elections last year, bursts into fiery clouds of noise right from the get-go, led by Lyons’ distorted fretboard attacks. There’s a lot of chemistry between these four musicians, palpable in the ways they sort of direct where they each want things to go; for example, to lead into the rollicking climax of “Care Bears Countdown,” the drums tumble into perceptible unison hits that increase the intensity tenfold. On Every Meanest Particular, the young ensemble finds footing somewhere between the arcane timbres of freely improvised music and the passionate decay of free jazz, making some truly joyous noise in the process.

Review: Vessel of Iniquity – Void of Infinite Horror (Sentient Ruin, Jan 25)

Let me paint a scene for you. It’s the first day of the semester. You walk into the classroom where you think your first class is and look around for signs that it’s where you’re supposed to be. Can’t find any? Guess you’ll just wait it out. And hope there’s not that embarrassing moment where the professor says “this is Music Review Writing 101, just to make sure everyone’s in the right place” and you have to get up and walk out in front of everyone.

I’m sure a lot of people know that feeling, and it’s not exactly a pleasant one. Luckily, Void of Infinite Horror is pretty much the complete opposite. You’re sure to find out whether or not you’re in the right place within the first five seconds or so of “Invocation of the Heart Girt With a Serpent,” whose vicious blast beats and suffocating blankets of pitch-black noise set the stage for the pervasive, impenetrably dark atmosphere explored throughout the record. Void of Infinite Horror expands upon the half-formed experiments of the project’s self titled debut EP in pretty much every possible way. It’s immediately clear that there’s more energy, more evil, more evisceration. The album ably conveys that pestilent, coffin-encased darkness that the EP only hinted at, folding layer upon layer of tortured screams, endlessly reverberating guitars, and the howling winds of death (all of these things can be found on “Void of Infinite Sorrow,” which is pretty much the auditory equivalent of getting dragged down into a bottomless abyss by an army of corpses). Yeah, yeah, me with my hyperbolizing again, I know… but you listen to this thing and tell me it doesn’t make you want to gush about it.

Review: Stefan Roigk – Suffering for the Promised (Fragment Factory, Jan 1)

It’s always a good thing when the time, dedication, and sheer love put into a piece of music by the artist is palpable to the listener. And according to Fragment Factory, Stefan Roigk’s composition “Suffering for the Promised” has a hell of a lot of all three. Roigk has worked on the piece for the past fourteen years, constantly revising and reimagining it despite its relatively short length, and the artist’s level of commitment to his craft truly shines through. The sixteen minute track, released as a single-sided LP, is dominated by uneasy sketches of processed sound, barely discernible vocal recordings, and the occasional touch of real-world environments. It’s easy to be reminded of the concise, ambitious concrète works released on Jérôme Noetinger’s Cinema Pour L’Oreille mini-CD imprint; Roigk adopts a good amount of influence from some of those releases, whether consciously or not, largely in how the piece is structured. The whole thing is unified by its powerful, haunted atmosphere, but it mainly progresses by moving through short segments (or, to pay homage to Walter Ruttman’s concept of the film for the ear, ‘scenes’), loosely sewn together by a ghostly drone. Roigk also masters the sense of physicality that I associate with Noetinger and others, yanking structural collages of sounds from near-silence and carefully building upon them. I can almost guarantee that Suffering for the Promised will make you feel things… though I can’t guarantee they’re things you’ve ever felt before.

Review: Steve Roden – Red Lath Work Paths Criss-Cross the Garden (A R C H I V E, Jan 21)

Silence is a thing often associated with Steve Roden. The California-based sound artist is most famous (and infamous) for his pioneering of lowercase music, along with the composers associated with the Wandelweiser group. His early works are mainly concerned with amplifying extremely quiet sounds, creating a unique feeling of hollowness in his music, or, as I like to call it, ‘audible silence.’ That being said, there’s not much silence on Red Lath Work Paths Criss-Cross the Garden, a tape released nearly twenty years after such genre-defining works as Crop Circles or Four Possible Landscapes. Instead, the C60 shares more qualities with Stars of Ice, perhaps my favorite of Roden’s albums. Apart from the spaces in between segments (the two side-long tracks are split up into short vignettes), there’s hardly a quiet moment; instead, Roden paints vivid soundscapes as vibrant and colorful as the artwork on the cover, conveying a peaceful, organic atmosphere with a wide variety of sounds. I find it difficult to get the title of the album out of my head when listening, because the small compositions’ airy drifts and calming harmonies really do evoke the image of a garden. Even the more synthetic, electronic sources used feel just as natural as the nature recordings and objects. The way they waltz woozily together is what gives Red Lath Work Paths its pleasant charm, a quality best heard at the end of “Cut Up Twice and With Orange Stars,” which swirls up a mixture of chirping crickets, electric buzzing, washing synth melodies, and soft waves of delay feedback to ease you into a warm, deep sleep. But you should probably wake up at some point to listen to side B, because—surprise!—it’s just as good.

Review: Morso – Lo Zen E L’Arte Del Rigetto (Dischi Bervisti, Jan 18)

The first time I listened to Lo Zen E L’Arte Del Rigetto, my only consistent thought throughout the eleven songs was what the fuck—in a good way. A very good way. Apart from the insane and overwhelming cover, I didn’t really know what to expect, but it turns out that insane and overwhelming are fitting descriptors for the record as well. As far as I can tell, it’s the debut release by Italian quartet Morso, who combine blindingly fast thrash gallops and angular breakdowns with eclectic interjections of sensual pop rock. The entire thing is a constant whiplash of on-a-dime changes in mood, tempo, and style, bolstered along by the powerful, versatile vocals of member Guido. His delivery ranges from ragged, barely discernible shouts to masterfully tonal pop croons, and you don’t need to understand Italian to absorb the passion that’s been stuffed into this music. With such a profuse album as this, I’m not surprised that I found myself latching onto this single element on my first time through; but upon (many) further listens it’s clear that each member of the band fills a very specific role in the carefully composed maelstrom. Matteo’s snare fills and crushing down beat pounds on “CMC,” the dizzingly technical interlocking bass and guitar work on “Non Si Muore Ogni Dicembre,” and—oh my GOD—the flawless bonding of two completely disparate styles on “Il Fine Giustifica I Mezzi”… yeah. This is good stuff.

Review: Concrete Colored Paint / Tap Water Split (Lighten Up Sounds, Jan 19)

On his side of this new split tape from Lighten Up, Peter Kris of German Army glues together chunks of heavily processed field recordings taken while on a trip through Portugal. “Lost River” is much more subdued than any of the industrial or minimal synth heavy releases Kris has put out as German Army. With Concrete Colored Paint, rhythm is abandoned, and the sounds settle into a lethargic flow of decay, hiss, and murk. Some of the elements are more recognizable than others, such as the slightly slowed bird calls near the end of the piece, a quality that places “Lost River” somewhere in a sonic uncanny valley. It’s equally haunting and comforting, conjuring up familiar scenes of cavernous, echoing museum halls and mist-drenched city streets. This rich atmosphere isn’t exactly shared by Tap Water’s contribution to the split; where “Lost River” is aquatic and stuffy, the duo’s untitled track is dry and unpredictable. The two sound-plunderers bounce whimsical modular blips off of distortion and playback manipulation, almost completely abandoning the flooded organics of “Lost River.” That is, until around two thirds of the way through, when a stack of spectral, effects-laden tape loops swirl into the fray, bringing the track to a close not unlike the A side. It’d be easy to say that the two sides of the tape don’t share much common ground about thirty minutes in, but as a whole, they stand quite well together.

Review: Giovanni Lami & Glauco Salvo – Ife (Dinzu Artefacts, Jan 15)

There are a lot of words I could use to describe the patient, reserved tape music of Ife, a collaboration between Italian artists Giovanni Lami and Glauco Salvo. One that immediately comes to mind is ‘simmering;’ especially with the track that occupies the entirety of the A side, there is a tense, quiet energy that seems to always be on the edge of boiling over. The loudest, most intrusive elements of the track are the clear electronic pulses that occasionally emerge, and even then they are neither loud nor intrusive on their own. These thin, fragile drones are a sound I’ve come to heavily associate with Lami’s work, but here they are tempered and thickened by Salvo’s tape playback and water recordings, and the resulting music is more dense than, say, In Chiaro / In Guardia from last year. But Salvo’s contributions don’t really inject a sense of naturality or invoke a real-life location; instead, they push the shifting mixtures of sounds into a unique physical environment of textures. Even on the sparser beginning of side B, Lami’s soft reel to reel manipulations are forced to occupy a very different role than they would on their own, with the looping bleeps and fractured rhythms again creating a defined structure, this time a hollow framework that seems to softly tumble along. While I was unfamiliar with Salvo’s work prior to Ife, the tape is certainly the most impressive collaborative outing I’ve heard from Lami, and yields much more than its relatively short length would imply.

Review: Offworldcolonies – Iconoclast (Offworldcolonies Ltd., Dec 19)

The best industrial techno doesn’t just crush you with oppressive repetition and hard-hitting mechanical rhythms; it has teeth, bite, sharp edges that introduce tension and provide much-needed contrast. Iconoclast is oppressive and hard-hitting, sure, a fact apparent from the very first moments of opening track “Leviathan.” It’s the longest track on this newest LP from Swedish techno project Offworldcolonies, and evolves through its eight minute run time with rolling, kinetic percussion loops and some less confrontational elements that are gradually pulled out and developed. The title is perfect for the song; like most of the tracks on Iconoclast, “Leviathan” conceals a hulking energy beneath its minimal structure that is teased out through subtle escalation. It’s a format that’s expanded upon throughout the remaining tracks, albeit in more compact time frames. Higher-register elements like the checkout scanner-esque beeps of “Ravening” or the piercing pulses of “Execration” add more than just teeth; they also serve as a counterpoint for the dark, brooding rhythms, introducing a quite unexpected level of color to the mix. “Rend,” however, is a hypnotic, punishing closer, bringing the album to a close with the same sort of ultra-strength beat contortions that began it. An excellent release from Offworldcolonies on the label of the same name, and one not to be missed.

Review: Tarab – HOUSEKEEPING (self-released, Dec 27)

Over the course of avant-garde music history, the ‘symphony of objects’ has always been a mainstay in unconventional sound sourcing and composition, bolstered along by such landmark works and recordings as Luigi Russolo’s 1913 manifesto The Art of Noise, Group Ongaku’s domestic improvisations on the archival release Music of Group Ongaku, and Michael Siegel’s Sounds of the Junk Yard recordings for the Smithsonian Folkways label. The use of items we see and use every day to create new, separate, even alien sonic constructions is an often rewarding paradox, as demonstrated by Tarab’s HOUSEKEEPING, an album in two parts derived from a multimedia installation presented in 2017. “Rather than a documentation of an installation, this iteration has been arranged from the debris collected during the process of making one.” HOUSEKEEPING is an agile, dynamic work, embracing the potential of the smaller sounds we often take for granted. Part I begins with breezes of tumbling impacts, the high level of processing still retaining each individual object’s weight and motion. Later in the piece, it progresses into less manipulated recordings of what is presumably the performance of the original installation, which is phased in and out with cut-up style clatters of pans and utensils, an interesting and disarming contrast that still maintains the energy of the items chosen. Part II resides in a much more spectral atmosphere; we are kept in the shadows, listening from a distance or from another room as clunks and clanks reverberate through the heavy air.