Review: Grim – Lunatic House (Steinklang Industries, Aug 25)

Jun Konagaya’s music—both the material released under his own name as well as his long-running output as Grim—has been an important part of my life for a long time, from my initial discovery of his debut Folk Music to falling in love with 2015’s Maha to the release of Memento Mori a few years ago. Throughout his eclectic, multitude work, there are recurring motifs that appear again and again, and Konagaya cements his singular style with a distinctive way of integrating melody into crushing abrasiveness; these elements are so recognizable that it’s always immediately clear it’s him (there’s even a consistent organ melody that repeatedly crops up and links different releases together). The opening moments of Lunatic House are so distinctly Konagaya that it brought a smile to my face. I haven’t been able to get ahold of the tape that preceded this release, Body, but Lunatic House is a fascinatingly diverse and unique progression from the artist’s recent output, melding Grim’s dual faith to beauty and aggression into a more cohesive style than ever before. Sublime, soothing guitar strumming is overcome by cycling waves of distortion assaults on “Luna,” music-box like reversed notes evolve into a seething rumble on “Tarantula,” and on “Voodoo Drive” a meditative field recording of a humanity-filled public place gives way to one of the most consuming and terrifying amalgams of sound I’ve ever heard, a restless mass of tortured, throat-tearing yells and crushing noise. Lunatic House is a new favorite from Jun Konagaya’s excellent discography, and with a classic, tear-jerking closing track that makes me recall every bittersweet lonely night I’ve spent with Travel or Love Song, definitely made my day.

Review: Luke Lund – Pattern Recognition (Conditional, Aug 14)

For all of the hulking power and meticulous composition on display throughout Pattern Recognition, the music found on the tape has an almost aggressive plasticity to it, as if its trying to force its artificiality as uncomfortably close to the listener as possible. This makes sense when considered with the alleged conceptual background of the release, which is described as “a soundtrack to the modern dystopian reality of normalised surveillance, malicious deepfakes, involuntary data collection, the AI arms race, and so on, and so ever onwards without end.” Lund’s disorienting synth acrobatics stretch across the stereo field like cellophane around a corpse, augmented with fractured bits of decaying glitches and rumbling growls of bass, desperately concealing what ends up to be a profound emptiness. Lund also explores fragility and impermanence in his constructions, unceremoniously dissolving temporary rhythmic handholds and displaying an awe-inspiring control over the sound objects at work—the yanking motions that unseat the lumbering buildup of “Conditioning Augmentation” are enough to knock you off your feet.

Review: Шумоизоляция – Нет Радости Бытия (self-released, Aug 19)

Russian wall noise artist Шумоизоляция is particularly skilled at imbuing their music with both immersive, static crackling and a sense of motion, elements that are, unfortunately, often mutually exclusive. Энтропия, which came out earlier this month, presented two thirty-minute slabs of sputtering crackles, the first, and sparser, of which ambles along without much urgency, while the second takes the form of a sonic mushroom cloud of fast-moving distortion. Нет Радости Бытия, despite its single track being louder and more abrasive than either of those previously mentioned, possesses an unsettling claustrophobia; its sustained conflagration seems to be constricted within the stereo field, perpetually trying to spread beyond an inescapable cage. In a way, it’s somewhat of an auditory representation of the cover art, which shows a roiling mixture of deep blacks and reds trapped behind restrictive scratches of gray. Like all of Шумоизоляция’s releases, Нет Радости Бытия is almost incapacitatingly immersive; it’s easy to lose yourself in the densely layered textures and the ghosts of rhythm that emerge after extended listening, but it’s much more contained than many of the artist’s unconfined blasts of fiery noise.

Review: Snek Trio – Battement Développé (Lurker Bias, Aug 23)

Leading the charge amidst Snek Trio’s carefully constructed textural grooves on Battement Développé are Janna Lee’s restless, wide-ranging vocalizations, which climb from throaty gurgles to harrowing wordless wails. Her contributions provide a powerful element of motion for the more reserved, almost tribal undercurrents conjured by Reid Karris’s prepared guitars and Erik Sowa’s percussion. The loose freedom of the rhythmic improvisations, the mysterious, ritualistic atmosphere evoked by the vocals and scratching guitars; it’s hard not to be reminded of the No-Neck Blues Band, which I believe is one of the most meaningful compliments I can bestow. But on Snek Trio’s debut studio release the musicians aren’t content to remain in one place for long, and the ten short pieces demonstrate the large variety of styles that can be reached using their minimal approach. Moving past the dark, quiet reticence of tracks like “Ouvert” and “Raccourci,” “Manèges” and “Cabriole” occupy a more jazz-influenced realm, with escalating guitar chaos tempered by whimsical hi-hat flurries and erratic snare rolls—though any semblance of conventionality this might introduce is shattered by the increasing insanity of the vocals—and “Gargouillade” even entertains a head-bobbing krautrock groove. Battement Développé acts as an excellent template for this ensemble to explore new possibilities, though I’d love to see what they could do with a long form approach.

Review: Imperial Cult – Spasm of Light (Amor Fati, Aug 23)

Even disregarding the music found within Spasm of Light (which is not at all something I intend to do) the context of the relatively known ensemble Imperial Cult reads like a who’s who of the pioneering Dutch atmospheric metal scene: members congregate from projects like Turia, Solar Temple, Cryptae, and Iskandr, all of which have released some truly amazing music—a trend that definitely continues with this release. According to one source, the propulsive blast beats and fretboard-climbing riffs are largely improvised, but it doesn’t come across as an arrhythmic congealment like Spit Forth From Chaos; instead, what sounds like a well-versed trio of musicians simply loosen the strings of a more strictly composed piece to create this fluid mass of meditative darkness. Luckily, the track remains engaging throughout its 34 minutes, relying on hypnotic repetition and subtle changes in dynamics to support itself. The metronomic blasting is nothing short of trance-inducing, barely letting up until about halfway through when a more plodding section enters, acting as a brief reprieve before a driving snare build signifies that the inferno’s return isn’t far behind; and return it does, whipping up scathing sonic winds into a forceful, droning ambience that rockets forth until it breaks apart under its own weight.

Review: E L U C I D – Every Egg I Cracked Today Was Double Yoked (self-released, Aug 19)

It’s a testament to Chaz Hall’s skill as a producer—and as an musician in general—that an album made “while floating between various hotels, airport terminals and bedroom closets” and based upon material tracked using laptop mics and iPhone recordings sounds this lush and fleshed-out. The enigmatic hip-hop creative has carved out a name for himself with a large audience via his work with Milo as Nostrum Grocers and with Billy Woods as Armand Hammer, but his most revolutionary releases, including Cult Favorite’s For Madmen Only and his self-released solo endeavors, continue to fly under the radar. Unfortunately, I doubt that Every Egg I Cracked Today Was Double Yoked will enjoy any greater attention, seeing as it’s probably Hall’s most experimental venture yet, but for fans who enjoyed the enrapturing atmosphere of Shit Don’t Rhyme No More this is a godsend. Some incredible variation is present despite the release’s short length: driving, snare-heavy drum grooves cut through a dense haze to bolster the rapper’s commanding flow on opener “Honestly, Aight,” while on “Colony” it’s his complex, interlocking bars holding everything down while atmospheric sample abstractions reach for the sky. With wonderful surprises like the piercing sax skronk on “Careen” or the glitchy stereo agitations of “A Gruv,” Every Egg… is yet another document of a truly inspired artist, who is certainly one of the highlights of the thriving hip-hop underground.

Review: Shots – Private Hate (Careful Catalog, Aug 16)

The music of Shots—though, true, “music” doesn’t always seem to be an entirely accurate descriptor—takes the form of an unapologetic statement, an unanswerable question, an irreconcilable truth. Dan Gilmore puts it perfectly when he places the material on Private Hate in context with the album cover of Can We Win: “that thing was clearly embedded in broad daylight, defiantly real and on display as if to antagonize whoever saw it into coming up with an explanation.” Like that pink-clad, unsettling, uncanny valley-residing thing, Shots’ creations are modest yet unyielding in their impenetrability. As with past releases, the stabbing injections of erratically struck percussion and other trivial objects melds with whatever environment surrounds them, but on Private Hate the sense of place is more important than ever—in that the increased presence of location somehow makes the recordings even more difficult to define. We hear the distant hum of traffic and honking horns, rushing air currents that may be from concentrated wind or manmade vents, but there’s absolutely no sensory physicality to any of it, and we’re left floundering as we try to steady ourselves in a room with no floor. The conclusion of “PH1” is filled with empty space, but the abrasive squeaking and clangs of metal make that irrelevant as the listener is encased in a concentrated claustrophobia; it’s even more disorienting in “K&K,” where a distinctly human setting is challenged by concentrated contact mic scrabbling, any comfort that  familiarity might provide vacuumed out by this spacial distortion. As always, the sound itself is truly and purely sublime, but it’s not an easy beauty, and with Private Hate more than ever Shots prove their mettle in an area of abstraction that no one else seems to occupy.