The practice of desconstruction is something that’s quite prevalent in the contemporary experimental music arena, with artists contorting genres into increasingly abstract formations to find new, exciting possibilities. It’s something I’ve made an attempt to document here on this site, from Faxada’s EDM meat grinder Paraa (which occupies a level of removal even further from artists described as “deconstructed club”) to Mosquitoes’ shattering of rock music on Drip Water Hollow Out Stone to Cavatus & PKWST’s terrifying gore sculpture Ruins of Bronzemaw to even the fragmented American traditions strewn beneath the music of Buck Young. The next step is the pop vivisection of sneeze awfull, something I came across on Bandcamp completely randomly. The page has little extra-musical information other than a handful of acknowledgments and a sparse cover collage that’s both cute and unsettling—a disparate pair of adjectives which, it turns out, also describe the music itself. The mysterious group (I assume it’s more than one person due to the use of “us” in the description) smashes together an endless variety of melodies, sounds, and textures across the six tracks on their self-titled cassette, imbuing what might once have been somewhat accessible synthpop tunes with acrobatic found sound mishmashes and synthetic concrète processing. Each song flits from catchiness to complete mayhem in its own way, whether its a field recording sandwiched between stunning glitch-pop sections on “don’t evaporate” or the stabbing strings and distorted anguish that leads into the soothing coda of “learning how to cry,” demonstrating the incredible results when music so clearly defined by convention is completely dissected and rearranged.
I’m really not at all sure what is going on in Obra Abstracta Académica (which translates to “abstract academic work”). The short release appears to be a compilation of both live and studio performances, though it’s difficult to discern where and how each was recorded because this uncultured loser is unable to read absolutely any Spanish. The enigmatic moniker Curxs seems to be the creative alias of Camilo C. Cárdenas, who on Obra Abstracta Académica employs the talents of several other artists to perform an eclectic variety of liminal electronic music. Most of the tracks are quite short, which leads to the album becoming a sort of delirious collage of ideas, from the slightly occult folkisms of “Intento comunicacional nº1” (“communication attempt”) to the futuristic mechanical bubblings of “Almóh Addháa” (the latter of which blurs the line between audience and performer as the applause seems to becomes assimilated into the piece). As we progress through the studio tracks the elevated level of fidelity allows Curxs’ ambitious compositions to adopt an even more formidable and confusing presence, uncoiling strands of synthetic electronica, quirky vocal abstractions, field recording intervention, and dizzying percussion. It’s a short but almost overwhelmingly varied collection, but presiding over it all is a strangely comforting spectral atmosphere (undoubtedly helped along by the cover art).
Pressing vinyl is not cheap. For small independent labels like Jason Crumer and Rosie Rae’s No Rent Records (and John Gardner’s Wonderland Media, with whom the physical release of Buck II is split), a vinyl release is often an infrequent luxury, a special occasion to celebrate something important, something worthy of a larger physical presence. Of the three LPs that No Rent has put out so far, Crumer and Burke’s eclectic project Buck Young is behind two, spreading their sprawling collages of Americana and country-folk, scrabbling tape manipulation, blasting noise, and a host of other styles across 2017’s Proud Trash Sound (reviewed here) and now Buck II: Where Do You Want It? This two-record set expands upon and outdoes its predecessor in virtually every facet, boasting a longer list of collaborators, forty more minutes of material, and an even more insane cover design. But despite its ambitious expansion, the project’s sophomore release in no way abandons the attention to detail, elusive warmth, and well-placed moments of beauty that made Proud Trash Sound so special (the heartbreaking elegy “Murdoch” still never fails to make me tear up).
The slide guitar ambience that’s peppered throughout offers a basis for both steady pacing and an overall more reserved atmosphere—which, based on the aggressively colorful, hallucinatory cover art, I was definitely not expecting. And each artist that lends their talents to the album shines in their own way. As soon as the first outburst of piercing feedback hit on “Woke Up in Reno,” I smiled to myself knowing this is so undeniably a Crumer project; Joseph Hammer’s stuttering tape yanks are a constant source of both humor and affecting fragility; Zoe Burke’s sardonic country stomp is back with force on “Ballad of Bruce McCain,” and she brings some amazing Western vocal grit on “Long Distance Phone Call”; and I believe Alan Jones contributes much of the guitar work, clatters and twangs and noodlings that stitch everything together. Making the album even more of a team effort are the other musicians—Vanessa Rossetto, Rose Rae, Richard Dunn, Wyatt Howland, Waylon Riffs—that spike the already diverse stylistic cocktail with their own flavors. Even at 72 minutes, Buck II never overstays its welcome—though time does seem to stop within the arresting confines of “Scorpion”—and the fantastically strong set of four tracks that closes it out simultaneously wrap everything up and remind you how much there is to love about this truly unique sound that Crumer, Burke, and company have achieved.
“No Rent stocks the black vinyl, tapes and CDs. For wholesale and color vinyl inquiries please visit Wonderland Media.”
Convergence Zone is certainly less noisy and abrasive than Nima Aghiani’s previous release, his 2018 solo debut REMS on Purple Tape Pedigree, but it is by no means any less disconcerting. Though Aghiani seeks a more meditative and even calmer atmosphere with the approach he takes on this new EP—this time around, the sounds extracted from conventional instruments are often at the forefront, giving Convergence Zone a sort of deconstructed band feel at times as string drones wail and percussion samples are split open and spread out like a citrus peel—those feelings of massiveness, claustrophobia, and threatening tension are still present beneath the densely constructed compositions. “Humachine” is a (relatively, of course) accessible opener, stringing taut cables of electronic noise and violin over a complex rhythm loop that, despite that complexity, provides a concrete handhold for the listener. Further in the vein of accessibility, there are some truly beautiful moments on this EP, from the drifting melodies of “In the Flesh” to the simmering, nocturnal majesty of “Attract/Repulse,” but true to form Aghiani is always ready to dismantle any comfort, this time with the harrowing dissonance and punishing drone of “Submit, Defy.” The conclusion of this final track is probably my favorite thing in all of Convergence Zone, falling somewhere in between the unforgiving darkness and bright sublimity that are explored throughout.
You probably don’t have to worry when you walk out your door. Will you be judged? Will you get comments? Will you get stares? Will you feel helpless? Will you be followed? You’ve got to walk in pairs. Don’t we have anything else to offer? You only see the surface. Your unwanted opinion is worthless, but not harmless. Our looks, our bodies, are none of your fucking business. We don’t exist for you to appraise, not a compliment, no fucking thanks.
– Punch, “Worth More Than Your Opinion”
Correction: The artist behind 964 Pinocchio, whose wonderful “I Pledge Allegiance (For Cassowary’s Honour (Yeah, right))” was previously included in this mix, has asked that the track be removed because their music does not feature female vocals. A perhaps thematically fitting reminder that despite my best efforts to recognize my own privilege I still fall back on the narcissism of assumption. My apologies.
00:00. Punch – “Worth More Than Your Opinion” from They Don’t Have to Believe (Deathwish, 2014)
01:23. Cerce – “Weary” from Cerce (Solidarity Recordings, 2012)
03:16. Fluoride – “Host” from Disentanglement (Nerve Altar, 2019)
04:47. NØ MAN – “Man + Wife” from Devils Cast Long Shadows (Quit Life, 2018)
06:00. Strafplanet – “Verlierertyp” from Freizeitstress (Contraszt, 2018)
07:29. Blind Girls – “Dormant” from Residue (Zegma Beach, 2018)
11:43. Rape Revenge – “Illusion of Property” from Paper Cage (To Live a Lie, 2012)
12:31. Vasoconstriction – “Coke” from Occupation (self-released, 2019)
14:05. The Heads Are Zeros – “VIII” from The Heads Are Zeros (self-released, 2017)
16:12. Not Your Friends – “Abort” from Constructing a Mental Breakdown (self-released, 2019)
17:15. Closet Witch – “It Doesn’t Feel Free” from Closet Witch (Halo of Flies, 2018)
18:24. Frail Hands – “Kernel Panic” from Frail Hands (Middle-Man, 2017)
Divergent and even contradictory adjectives bounce around in my head when I think of how to describe Iniciação: comforting, monotonous, withdrawn, familiar, lonely, minimal. It’s the stubborn yet personal neutrality of the music that gives rise to this descriptive blockage, something I’ve experienced with only a few other artists whose work occupies a similarly elusive milieu (Darksmith, Alyssa Festa, Bob Desaulniers). Not much happens over the course of the album’s eighteen-or-so minutes; the unmistakable sonorities of hissing tape and feedback are present, but the level of subtlety in the composition makes it so that this could just as easily be a distant, low fidelity recording of some sort of slow industrial process. However, works like Iniciação don’t lend themselves to endless hypothetical sound identifications. What matters is the confusingly warm atmosphere that unfolds from the music like an abstract embrace, pulling you into its slightly scratchy blanket of fuzz and steam and muck. Even the unexpected outburst of spoken word at the end of the second piece doesn’t feel out of place, because whether it came from the artist during conception or the listener trapped beneath the surface—or both—there is plenty of humanity to be found in Iniciação.
Though the album cover appears to be designed with j-card formatting in mind, I can’t find any information about a physical release anywhere, so I’ve included the full image.
Much of the beauty of The Dust Trade comes from its evocation of ennui, whether it’s the stitched-together old film samples on “Another War,” tactile domestic recordings on “Japanese Love Affair,” or the soothing sounds of (probably) water flowing over gravel on “Liquid Glass Half Empty.” I’m not at all familiar with Brent Gutzeit’s work, but as can be seen from his Bandcamp page there’s a hell of a lot of it, and if the same level of patience and attention to detail as in The Dust Trade is present in any of his other releases I’m sure to enjoy them. I was immediately drawn to this album because of its languid, relaxing pace. Though Gutzeit’s sources are intimate and familiar, the worlds he creates with them are anything but, and what is conjured by the extended pieces is most often something quite alien, but ultimately the motion is comfortingly meditative, as steady as that current washing over the rocks. The music’s uncanniness isn’t achieved through artifice, and each collage’s slow progression allows the listener to see the fragments of reality still present, to spend time picking out the sounds that resonate most with them, to find a personal anchor amidst the abstractness.
Each CDr copy of The Dust Trade has a unique cover photograph by the artist.
Fals.ch was a small mp3 label formed by Florian Hecker and Oswald Berthold (who released music together as cd_slopper) that focused on extreme computer music. With no concern for conventional album length or structure, the label’s output is quite diverse, from extended single pieces to releases with over a hundred minuscule tracks. Their last release came out in 2002, but recently the entire catalog has been uploaded to Bandcamp for name-your-price download. I’ve slowly been working my way through all of it, but here, in no particular order, are some favorites:
cd_slopper – eating aluminium (2001)
I was already into Hecker’s music when I discovered cd_slopper through their 2000 CD SaskieWoxi, but something about the pureness of the source material, how it truly sounded like they were sculpting (and slopping) bursts of unadulterated data. eating aluminium is quite short (it barely reaches four minutes) but contains some of the most mind-blowing digital creations I’ve ever heard. The duo’s other release on fals.ch, 1999’s ismurgTeNN4, is also excellent.
Voice Crack – Taken and Changed (1999)
Though the work of Andy Guhl and Norbert Möslang often sounds like it was wrested from the depths of some complex computing device, but in fact the duo uses “cracked everyday electronics,” a large array of prepared objects and appliances that they often controlled via physical gestures. Some of the albums that Voice Crack has recorded with this approach are loud and raucous, like 1990’s Earflash, but Taken and Changed is some of their most pleasantly reserved material.
i.d – d4ta corruption (2001)
This single 25-minute piece is definitely one of the harshest fals.ch releases I’ve heard yet. Sound artist Shunichiro Okada’s nightmarish glitch tornadoes are disorienting and hyperactive, but he also relies on stretches of punishing repetition to further overwhelm the listener, drills and jackhammers of grating noise. d4ta corruption is loud, exhausting, and—despite its cold and lifeless origins—quite cathartic. Holding on for dear life while everything else is torn apart by a digital vortex.
Poire_Z – c’est juste (2000)
Poire_Z was composed of percussionist Günter Müller, abstract turntable virtuoso eRikm, and both members of the previously discussed Voice Crack duo. The group explored the meditative but alien worlds their unique sound-making palette made possible, and documented some of the most amazing electronic improvisations ever on their 1999 self titled CD. c’est juste is what seems to be a single 30-min live recording, and sees the quartet at their most muffled and withdrawn.
Ken Shoticker – avatar toolkit (2002)
A very short release, but no less exhausting than any of the others about which I’ve written; Ken Shoticker injects so many bizarre samples and sound effects that it’s as if you’re listening to ten albums at once. This is the sound of the friendly and familiar being stretched, twisted, mashed, and ground into oblivion. Horrifying and anxiety inducing but I at least couldn’t tear my ears away.
The title of Širom’s newest album, A Universe That Roasts Blossoms for a Horse, manages to out-weird that of their previous, 2017’s I Can Be a Clay Snapper, but the music itself adopts the opposite trajectory. The elements of chaotic jazz and freely improvised music that lurked beneath the meditative folk compositions of Clay Snapper are largely abandoned here, making room for intricate, minimalism-indebted repetitions that unfold beautifully. I don’t know anything about Slovenian folk music, but although it’s clear that the creations that comprise A Universe… are anything but traditional, that feeling of community and wordless conversation that is so inherent to folk is present here in spades. Despite the stylistic evolution from its predecessor, the two records are inexorably linked by the vocalizations that conclude …Clay Snapper on “Ten Words” and begin A Universe… on “A Washed Out Boy Taking Fossils from a Frog Sack.” Listening to the two back to back is something I haven’t yet done, but may give rise to some interesting connections, though as the unparalleled magic of “Sleight of Hand with a Melting Key” begins I’m hard pressed to turn my attention to anything else. Each of the lengthy pieces were carefully planned and recorded without overdubs, something that’s not hard to discern from how organic and immediate the album sounds, but it’s staggeringly impressive when you hear how detailed the arrangements are. “Sleight of Hand with a Melting Key” progresses through several movements throughout its 15-plus minutes, evolving from sublime, In C-esque melodic cells to stretches of unaccompanied percussion, meditative drones, and propulsive guitar strumming. The complexity escalates even further with the dense drum polyrhythms and string interplay of “A Pulse Expels Its Brothers and Sisters,” the involved vocal arrangements that slither throughout “Low Probability of a Hug,” and the almost unbearably tense bowed drones of “Same as the One She Hardly Remembered.” A Universe That Roasts Blossoms for a Horse is a truly awe-inspiring work of art, one that showcases both the amazing skill of each member and the result when they all come together.
There’s a sequence in Memoryscapes, a lovely short film, in which Širom set about fashioning music from a pile of pots, pans, saucepan lids and empty cans of supermarket lager on the kitchen table. It’s the band in microcosm: cracked, insistent beats, rhythm chasing rhythm, a deadly serious playfulness, and the intimacy of close friendship undercut by the sense of emergency of a flashing torch. Širom are all about the head and the hand, and the dark that always pushes against the light.
Even though witches never seem to be far from mind, Sun of Serpent, Moone of Cipher, it seems as though Them Teeth’s long awaited followup to 2016’s Auditory Witchcraft is less about rituals or black magic and more concerned with the mysterious energies of the forest itself. The reclusive duo hailing from Sweden have a palpably deep appreciation for nature and the formidable forces it contains that are so far beyond human reach, and their music reflects that. Rich, throaty, buzzing acoustic guitar arpeggios form a rhythmic backbone along with sparse tribal percussion, otherworldly vocals and string augmentations drift above, and behind it all lurk snakelike tendrils of rumbling noise, sometimes unseating the melodic elements, other times melding with them. While the reliable constant throughout the album is the unsettling nocturnality, Sun of Serpent, Moone of Cipher explores the multitude of areas their singular style opens up, from dark but almost catchy folk on “Hægtes, Burn the Trees” to harrowing inhuman chaos on “The Serpent Did Verily Speake” to both in “Cræft, Suspiria,” but everything flows so naturally, and you never feel like you leave the shadow-soaked forest that swallowed you as soon as “Dæl, She Plucks Downe Moone and Starres From Skie” rises from the earth. Among (many) other things, Sun of Serpent, Moone of Cipher is another reminder that Them Teeth is one of my absolute favorite bands right now.