Review: Private Anarchy – Central Planning (Round Bale Recordings, May 31)

Lately, it’s rare that I get to listen to something the exact day it comes out (starting up full-time work again is kicking my privileged ass). It’s even rarer that I sit down to review something on its release date. As you can see, such an occurrence would necessitate a very special case—which is exactly what Private Anarchy’s new album Central Planning is. Private Anarchy is the moniker Clay Kolbinger uses for his one-man art punk project, which began with a small run of self-titled tapes—also on Round Bale—back in 2015, and provides an outlet for the idiosyncratic artist’s penchant for sardonic, rambling lyrics that reach new levels of deadpan and off-kilter instrumentals that are somehow tense and taut while also never seeming to be perfectly in sync. Kolbinger’s various endeavors all worm their way into my dearest musical preferences at varying locations, with Termite Acropolis providing some of my favorite wobbly DIY tape music, Maths Balance Volumes staking out a space in my most beloved outsider experimenters, and Davenport always transmitting the most beautiful of deconstructed folk music; Private Anarchy is no different, and on Central Planning even more so than the debut tape the music becomes truly enrapturing. The new record feels more developed and fully-formed, but still sounds appealingly scuzzy and stitched together, and there’s a bit more optimism to the oddball imagery and bone-dry sarcasm that Kolbinger mutters over his stumbling post-punk contraptions. This isn’t to say it’s any more accessible, however… even the shortest songs like “H.A.” and “The Catalog of Fire” explore bizarre textural worlds through their disorienting guitar interplay, and “Accumulation,” essentially an abstract tape piece whose only rhythmic consistency comes from the looping guitar strums, is PA’s strangest track yet. Private Anarchy’s ability to keep you constantly both bobbing and scratching your head is unmatched.

Review: Impermanence – Purgatory Flows (Perpetual Abjection, May 27)

Despite Bangkok artist Visarute Virojanawat’s solo moniker being Impermanence, the walls he crafts are often quite tangible and even enduring, leaving behind fragments and disturbances in their formidable wake. By this I mean you can feel the forward motion of his stagnant sonic creations (paradoxical, I know), and especially on Purgatory Flows there’s a sense of weight, of gravity, of presence, that evokes the possibility of a lasting impact. “Underflow” is reserved and meditative, but also imbued with plenty of physicality, molded with grumbling crackles and a restless, kinetic clatter that provides much of the aforementioned illusion of motion. As the track progresses, this latter element almost seems to grow more prominent, its volatile textural monopolizing the sound space. This is a good lead-in to “Overflow,” which blasts into existence with a brash yet spacially contained roil of crunching noise. The track shares its predecessor’s sense of movement, but the two differ in their posture: where “Underflow” was quiet and reticent yet concealed a physical force, “Overflow” hides its insubstantiality behind a heavy curtain of distortion.

Review: Manja Ristić – The Black Isle (Flag Day Recordings, May 24)

Artists working in the areas of field recording and electroacoustic composition will often describe certain actions taken to produce their music as “interventions,” a somewhat abstract term whose definition is not always easy to uncover. In Manja Ristić’s work, however, her interventions are at the forefront of the sounds at play, and I love it so much because the relationship between observer and environment is always given due representation (not an easy task, in my opinion). The Black Isle cements itself in physical locations, but the auxiliary sonic additions never cease to influence or directly interact with them; Ristić’s careful violin scrapes introduce tension to bubbling hydrophone recordings and whimsical birdsong, heavy footsteps crunch leaves, quiet orchestral samples unseat the natural atmosphere and cast eerie, spectral shadows over the proceedings. There’s even moments in “Black Forest” where what I think is the click of a camera shutter occasionally crops up, providing even more of the strong, established human presence that is often shied away from in this sort of thing. The Black Isle, true to its ominous title, is some of the darkest material I’ve heard from Ristić, her focus on the aforementioned duality of observation and action casting everything into an uneasy, uncanny realm of whispers and rustles and uncertainty.

Mix: Elusive Realities

If you can’t tell, I’m just a bit fascinated by the ability of creatively captured environmental recordings to convey profound emotion. With this mix I’ve compiled a collection of my favorite instances where a phonographer or composer has used unadulterated sonic vignettes to explore elements that may not have been present before, where the line between the objective reality of what’s being recorded and the much less identifiable, much more abstract presence of the music becomes blurred.

Seattle Phonographers Union

00:00. Daniel Löwenbrück & Marcellvs L. – second untitled track from Stallgewitter (iDEAL Recordings, 2014)

03:54. Toshiya Tsunoda – “Seashore, Venice Beach_31 July 01” from Ridge of Undulation (Häpna, 2005)

07:13. HDL – “Laying Eggs in the Exhibits” from Whales Have Hind Legs (Sacred Tapes, 2018)

10:28. Yeast Culture – “IYS*” from IYS (Petri Supply, 1989)

15:20. Abby Lee Tee – excerpt of “Simulacrum I-VII” from Imaginary Friends I (Czaszka, 2018)

19:44. Joe Colley – “Icewater.05.02” from Desperate Attempts at Beauty (Auscultare Research, 2003)

22:35. Seattle Phonographers Union – fourth untitled track from Live on Sonarchy Radio (Accretions, 2003)

26:24. Lucas Norer – “Das Unerreichbare Dort” from Portbou (self-released, 2018)

30:20. Szara Reneta – “Cmentarz żydowski w Czarnym Dunajcu” from Dawne Cmentarze Żydowskie 2 (Szara Reneta, 2018)

37:04. Ola Saad – “Cairo-Rec1” from her Soundcloud page (self-released, 2019)

Review: Pourbon – Pourbon (Mevzu, May 23)

Pourbon’s self-titled debut release hovers around the oppressive, nocturnal gloom of their guitar tones, which, unlike many chaotic hardcore bands, are muffled and sludgy rather than crunching and jagged. Opening track “Entreé” delivers pretty much the exact opposite of the promise its title implies, because the solitary guitar meanderings leave you starving and raving for more by the end. Thankfully, Pourbon delivers, and the remainder of the album embarks into the punishing combination of pounding, low-end heavy drums; vocals that jump between disconcerting growls, anger-filled screams, and desperate spoken interludes; and, as mentioned previously, the pervasive darkness that seeps from every strike of the guitar strings. There’s plenty of thudding rhythms and high-pitched screeches, but Pourbon doesn’t shy away from adopting a more eclectic palette, and many of the driving blast beat sections are accompanied by tremolo guitar and howled vocals and approach something not at all far from black metal. Clocking in at around twenty minutes, the first proclamation from Pourbon provides a satisfying range of hardcore chaos, from the suffocating brilliance of the “Regular Sheikh” trilogy to the filthy groove of “Lector System Failure.”

Review: Jo – Bumblebee (self-released, May 11)

The story behind Jo’s debut album Bumblebee is one that’s been experienced, in infinitely varied iterations and circumstances, by any practicer of phonography, found-sound composition, or concrète music. The artist traveled to Iceland and captured countless recordings to be examined later, a process they describe as “discovering [their] own musical terrain.” Bumblebee is a brief but dense exploration into the adapting, processing, and combining of recorded sounds into something completely new, the eclectic array of snippets and vignettes assembled with the help of Jo’s unique, indiscriminate ear for natural melody. The provision of the identities of the elements used is helpful, because although there’s very little effects or alterations used on each, the abstract, sculptural manner in which they are put together clouds the original sources. Consistent with the principles of musique concrète, composition is the final step in Jo’s process, which results in musical products that distance themselves from any individual sound; but the inclusion of these clear identifications of their sonic repertoire establishes an interesting connection between listening and assemblage, emphasizing the importance of each auditory event among the others with which they share space. Jo’s songs often approach something otherworldly and alien in their abstractness, venturing into almost synthetic sounding restless pulses on “Wayfare the Broondocks” or disarming marriages of electronic and natural noises on “I Have Done”; but occasionally the only thing removing the final result from its source is the musicality that is coaxed from the most unlikely of materials, such as the cascading scales played on a bridge pillar in “Gewgaw.”

Review: Stephen Cornford – Constant Linear Velocity (Consumer Waste, April)

This is another release that took me a while to both get my hands on and fully process (pun intended). Constant Linear Velocity is a recording of British sound artist Stephen Cornford’s ambitious installation of the same name, which has since been lost in transit. In line with the defiance of waste permanence that is central to Consumer Waste’s philosophy as a label, the sculpture consisted of hundreds of repurposed computer shells and DVD drives, constantly being rearranged into new iterations for each presentation. At play in the work’s sonic profile are the distinctive hums, clicks, buzzes, crackles, and glitches of an intimate digital landscape, the sounds of the mechanisms once hidden behind the functions they were designed to perform now fully deconstructed and brought to the forefront. In the booklet included with the CD, Danae Stefanou identifies Constant Linear Velocity as a formidable entity, both in its physical and auditory forms: “Its sounds denoted another, more fragile and transient layer of presence. This assemblage of disused equipment emitted a complex and unsettling pulsation: long stretches of stillness interrupted by moments of increasingly erratic density. CD trays sticking out and quietly retreating; like exhausted mechanical tongues, in anticipation of an ever-suspended finish line.” On their own, the sounds of the installation are fascinating and immersive; when thought of in relation to their tangible source, they become a hulking testament to the endless mountains of electronic waste that we are producing every day, a forgotten byproduct of humanity that is anything but silent.

Review: Marco Colonna – The Second Coming (Plus Timbre, May 13)

Last year, clarinetist Marco Colonna’s previous release on Plus Timbre, FORAMINIFERA, stunned me with its visceral explorations of extended techniques and the versatility of the player’s breath. Though The Second Coming continues Colonna’s delightful subversion of woodwind conventions, the forceful valve clacks and almost painful-sounding failed exhales are replaced by an approach that is quieter but no less unique. The most musical The Second Coming gets is probably in its opening track “Under Pressure,” a series of dainty, nearly melodic flurries that only hint at the affecting physicality that will come later. The artist approaches the clarinet a bit more delicately this time around, his breaths yielding unusual timbres due to their weakness rather than a blustering strength. Tracks like “Dust” and “Inside” delve into an uneasy balance between the presence and absence of actual notes; the tonal elements sometimes trade off with the airy noises of whispered breath, and other times share space in a volatile amalgam. Other pieces are much more abstract, with almost granular textures emerging on “Subinterference” and a percussive conversation between lever presses and rattling blows materializing in “Masque.” Though the introductory text on the album page makes it sound a bit more, erm, intimidating, The Second Coming is another humble and intimate sound adventure from Marco Colonna.

Review: Andy Ortmann – Eye of the Beholder (Meditation, May 15)

Andy Ortmann and the other musicians who have performed and recorded as Panicsville are no stranger to organic material; as is proudly stated on the NIHILIST Bandcamp page, “early shows consisted of pelting the audience with items like dry ice, meat, blood and insects.” The piles of raw, fatty meat and smattering of eyeballs that adorn the cover of Eye of the Beholder are about as repulsively biotic as you can get, but Ortmann’s interest in the often unsettling mixture of the artificial and the natural doesn’t end there. In a similar vein to fellow concrète collagers Rudolf or Dave Phillips, Ortmann’s restless, physical compositions occupy a sort of auditory uncanny valley, where mysterious and unidentifiable elements mimic the most undignified of human noises a bit too well. Sticky dragging textures evoke the uncomfortable but familiar sound of chewing; prepared guitar rattles clack like chattering teeth; saxophone skronks form wordless, despairing moans. The artwork already implies that Eye of the Beholder won’t be the most calming listen, but this dedication to such an abstract, disturbing sonic palette makes for some truly scary results, yet you’ll be unable to tear your ears away. Human life is noisy, and—as argued by “4’33” After Death”—the absence of that life is just as much so.

Review: Butoh Sonics – Flickers of Light (Lurker Bias, May 14)

The three extended improvisations on Flickers of Light find their footing in clunks, clatters, and caterwauls, conjuring erratic soundscapes shrouded in oppressive shadow. The mysterious group known as Butoh Sonics doesn’t rely on reliable structural elements such as drones or repeated motifs to construct their music; instead, it often seems that the only persistent presence to latch onto is the darkness that encases every strained prepared guitar coax or metallic rattle. Needless to say, this makes Flickers of Light quite a disorienting experience, and listening to it ends up feeling like a stumble through some terrifying abandoned junkyard. Each piece clocks in at around fifteen minutes, and though the performers seems to have quite the arsenal of sound-making devices available at their disposal, they stick with seemingly stagnant cacophonies that progress at a nearly imperceptible pace. It’s often only the subtle introduction of a new texture that pulls the heavy, lethargic body of noise along, slowly dragging it across a jagged floor of scrap metal, broken effects pedals, and who the hell knows what else that gets picked up along the way. Flickers of Light is an intense and immersive journey through Butoh Sonics’ subversive sensibilities, a ravaged landscape of crumbling machinery and rusting remnants harnessed through the ears and bodies of creative improvisers.