As with the Crackle! mix I posted a bit ago, this one has a record that sort of exemplifies the concept. In this case, it’s Reynols’ 2000 release Blank Tapes, a collection of sublime collages constructed from the amplified sounds of the titular materials. To work with magnetic tape as a sound production source is to also work with insubstantiality, to carefully manipulate a fragile medium to repeat, change the speed, or otherwise alter a variety of sounds, and nothing captures that tenuous atmosphere than the use of tapes with hardly any recorded sound at all. This mix assembles my favorites of these adventures into the barest and most delicate of sonorities.
00:00. Reynols – second untitled track from Blank Tapes (Trente Oiseaux, 2000)
I’m sure many of you would agree that record labels, even small independent ones, are often the source of the some of the most eye-rollingly hyperbolic and pretentious pieces of music description out there. I get it, you have to push the music, but personally, hearing that this release is “the end of forty years of hardcore’s aim” or that it’s “an aural abomination of near-incomprehensible horror” (yes, those are both real quotes) isn’t going to sell me on anything. On the other hand, the owners are often the best equipped to write about releases, because they are hopefully passionate enough about the music to distribute it. I think this is the case with Polish tape label Pawlacz Perski, who really nail it with their description of Ostrowski’s newest outing Further Fluctuationsas an artificial entity that “gradually begins to behave like a living organism and make unpredictable decisions.” Though the album is firmly planted in its electronic beat music roots, with soft, bleepy percussion loops slowly evolving amidst ambient elements, there’s also an acute natural quality that goes beyond the beats themselves. The way Ostrowski layers several at a time to create kinetic amalgams with their own autonomy, flowing freely past any rhythmic constraints to approach complete fluidity. From the dizzying bedlam of “Chaotic Inflation” to the soothing atmospheres created by centerpieces “Projection” and “Cepheid,” Further Fluctuations is a lush tour-de-force.
Admittedly, I didn’t listen to this the day it came out, but it turned out to be a great belated birthday present. Thanks Mr. Calhoun.
The first release I heard from Naps, the ambient project of Philadelphia artist Jason Calhoun, was his split with Ben Lovell’s Lung Cycles. While both sides impressed me, I was immediately drawn to the delicate atmospherics of Naps’ drones and field recordings, the two components introducing beauty both on their own and through their textural interactions. Better to Givepicks up right where the split left off, with Calhoun exploring how found sound can affect and alter the presence of the ambience he so masterfully constructs. “Blind” is an almost disarming introduction, with closely captured crackles and crunches of leaves establishing an unusual contrast with the weightless drone that lurks behind. Better to Give doesn’t waste time with aimless experimentation, though; other than some tape hiss and occasionally tactile recordings, the pieces are dominated by Naps’ trademark sublime, seraphic tones that seem to simultaneously shift and stay the same. This isn’t meant to understate the value of the more abstract inclusions. Rather, Calhoun elects to accompany his sleepy hums with just the right amount of auxiliary elements to keep the tracks engaging, allowing for Better to Give to score a late-night drifting off or a midday reading session with equal effectiveness.
Although Italian composer and sound enthusiast Renato Grieco has an impressive resume in the world of contemporary sound art—his musical and artistic ventures include Double Goocher Shop, whose self-titled tape on Regional Bears was one of my favorite releases last year; countless collaborations with improvisers and electroacoustic musicians such as Giovanni Lami, Valerio Tricoli, Olivier di Placido, and Elio Martusciello; and the founding of the Phonurgia association with fellow artists SEC_, Giulio Nocera, and Andrea Bolognino—his solo offerings are surprisingly few and far between. Other than a short cassette on Falt last year, Alta Moda Animaleis Grieco’s only studio release on which he is the sole composer. And considering how amazing it is, I hope it will be the portent of many more. The word that primarily comes to mind across the seven adventurous pieces is “deconstructive”; Grieco breaks down recordings of anything from musical performances, in which he plays double bass with several other musicians, to abstract electronic cut-ups and mysterious vocal samples both organic and synthesized. My favorite moment has to be the end of “Matta Nettipattam,” where a robotic text-to-speech voice mechanically imitates a drum beat with disjointed utterances of “kick… snare… snare… kick snare…” The ceaselessly eclectic LP recalls the surreal machinations of classic musique concrète, the indiscriminate dada collages of LAFMS heavyweights like Le Forte Four and Joseph Hammer, and a host of other notable influences, but ultimately Grieco carves out a niche that is all his own, finding unmatched beauty in the disorientingly disparate.
Since their formation in 2011, French quintet Pauwels (from what I can gather, their ranks increased from four to five members when drummer Bob K joined in 2013) has populated their discography with a somewhat sparse but unquestionably consistent series of releases. Perhaps the best of these is 2015’s Elina, certainly my favorite from the band, which embodied the zenith of their eclectic blend of raucous noise rock, meditative grooves, and elements borrowed from a wide variety of genres such as sludge metal and hardcore punk. Poena Culleiis Pauwels’ first release since their split with Uns in 2016, is an extremely well-recorded live performance that burrows even further into that hypnotic rhythmic sensibility. The forceful drumming sculpts the band’s noise-laden soundscapes of guitar feedback and electronics into driving motorik and complex tribal pulses, and all five members display a knack for knowing exactly when to release the tense atmospherics they’ve so masterfully constructed and embark on headbang-worthy percussive excursions. The almost pensive nature of many of the drum patterns make Poena Cullei feel much more elusive and mysterious than the albums that preceded it, a marked evolution in presence that perfectly complements the band’s indefatigable idiosyncrasies.
Two agonizing years after Philadelphia grind band Fluoride’s first self-titled release, they are back with a vengeance on Disentanglement, their official label debut. It’s hard to picture how things could be improved significantly from their inaugural outing, with its no-frills brand of vicious, stabbing grind and crushing doom breaks, but that deficit in imagination will no doubt be cleared up the second “Degrade” kicks in. Somehow, the band has fine-tuned and expanded virtually every element of their sound. The sludge elements are both better written and more effectively integrated, as the band moves seamlessly between hypnotic, head-banging, lethargic riffs and breakneck blast beats. The production cements itself within an ideal compromise between sharp-edged angularity and a slightly muffled mids-heavy fog, the latter of which gives the band’s furious metallic excursions a presence not unlike the acrobatic riffs of classic emoviolence. This is another area in which Disentanglement far surpasses its predecessor; everything seems much more emotional, with every member playing their absolute heart out, the desperate vocals tearing through a wall of unhinged aggression.
These are the sounds of unease, suspicion, apprehension, that subtle but irrepressible feeling of foreboding when you hear a mysterious sound when home alone. On The Visit of the Stranger (2017-2018), Paco Rossique’s eerie cocktails of piano plinks, squeaking floorboards, ghostly drones, and carefully processed recordings conjure a world that draws from both the comfortingly familiar and the unexplored shadows just out of sight. He turns the magnifying glass to the minuscule sounds we take for granted every day, the rattles and creaks and pings that are always present but hardly ever appreciated in our homes, occupying a sound-world somewhere between the domestic subliminity of Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet’s The Breadwinnerand the perturbing terror of Climax Golden Twins’ Session 9 score. But like both of those works, The Visit of the Stranger becomes something much more than simply an atmospheric assemblage of concrète sounds. Instead, it touches on something truly uncanny that is difficult to qualify but also undeniably human, a quality that becomes impossible to ignore once voices are brought into the mix on the “Smooth” tracks that begin side B. And with the second of those, “Smooth V Number 52,” the album even looks inward onto itself with musings about the tuning of a piano. Rossique has created something absolutely fascinating and dense with The Visit of the Stranger, an album that is sure to reveal countless layers as I continue to listen again and again.
Bitter Energylives up to its title. Its taut grooves and hypnotic, repetitive song structures swathe a raucous vitality in skittering tension and pregnant anticipation, making its moments of catharsis all the more satisfying. The sextet is tangentially related to fellow Cincinnati band Crime of Passing, but though both acts are undoubtedly indebted to the golden age of post-punk, that’s where the similarities end. While the latter is all frigid coldwave suspense and brooding atmosphere, Mardou allows the vigor of a large band to really shine through in their songs, and even at their most controlled they toe the edge of joyous chaos. Things start off relatively reserved with the crisp, succinct rhythms of “Red Lights in the Sky,” but the facade of control breaks down in ecstatic disarray on tracks like “Csunya,” “Elephants,” and “Immersion,” with barely-held-together gang vocal choruses and an unhinged colorfulness that pairs well with the angularity that’s maintained throughout the album. It’s easy to underestimate Bitter Energy, what with its somewhat short length and inconspicuous beginning, but that would be a grave mistake. The tape is fun, memorable, and yet another fantastic entry in the ever expanding post-punk revival canon.
Tim Thornton’s newest tape as Tiger Village, Modern Drummer, is a colorful romp through complex rhythms, off-kilter percussion, and occasional mangled fragments of arrestingly beautiful melodies. Much like its overstimulating cover art, the tape is a bubbling, shifting amalgam of elements both synthetic and organic. None of its components are anywhere close to quiet or submissive, so each track plays out almost like an auditory grudge match between disparate drum loops and plasticky synth patches, fighting against each other as well as Thornton’s jagged, unpredictable sampling technique. Despite the heavy emphasis on rhythm, many of the songs become so complex and saturated with indifferently brash ingredients that they turn into something much more formless, drawing abstractness from structure in a way that’s fascinating and unique—closing piece “Tightly” is a great example of this. But Modern Drummer isn’t all dizzying, disorienting blasts of electronic mayhem; Thornton also has a great ear for the sublime, and knows when a respite from the insanity would be appreciated. Tracks like “Modern Drummer II,” with its pleasing, subdued kick drum stampedes, or “Beat Tape,” which enthralls with its slow disintegration, offer opportunities to breathe amidst their more frenetic neighbors, making Modern Drummer feel like a well-composed and complete album despite its concise length.
A problem I’ve always had with industrial techno is that much of what I’ve heard from the genre just isn’t as aggressive as I’d like it to be. The big names in the genre, like Surgeon and Regis, are enjoyable enough for their stripped-down hypnotism, but to me “industrial” implies something truly abrasive and crushing. With recent releases like offworldcolonies’ Iconoclast, DJ Speedsick’s Nothing Lasts, and now Domenico Crisci’s new 12″ Velvet, however, my thirst for violent, hammering four-on-the-floors has been more than quenched. Velvet frames its repetitive beats with a forcefully minimalist approach, each track subtly expanding the elements that are squeezed and squashed into submission at the outset. Also contributing to the restless tension are the polyrhythms that are slowly introduced, off-kilter beat augmentations that throw off the steady 4/4 pulse and cast the track into disarray. On songs like “You Are Hot,” these rhythmic distortions make the return of the pounding bass throb even more impacting, the catharsis provided by the return to order amplified by the vanquished disruptions. And even outside of the compositional tools Crisci uses to flesh out his cuts, this is simply some of the most ferocious techno I’ve heard in a while—just listen to the first few seconds of “Valzer” or “I Lost Myself” if you don’t believe me.