Review: King Princess – Cheap Queen (Zelig / Columbia, Oct 25)

Every once in a while, there’s a major label pop album that I just need to write about (incidentally, a year ago today Poppy’s masterpiece Am I a Girl? was released; I hope this occasion inspires you to revisit it). I know these huge record conglomerates don’t need any more business than they already get, but the appreciation for the artist themselves outweighs this (for me at least). I’ve been awaiting the debut LP from New York artist Mikaela Straus, known by her doubly royal moniker King Princess, for quite some time now. Her rich voice graced the pillowy instrumentals of last year’s Make My Bed EP and the “Pussy Is God” single, both of which sidled somewhere between infectious contemporary pop and smooth, silky R&B—I immediately fell in love. On Cheap Queen, Straus’s often achingly bare vocals continue their earnest explorations into and meditations on love, love that for the artist often comes fraught with hardship and oppression as she navigates romantic relationships with women. We already witnessed the pain Straus feels when she has to hide who she is on “1950,” and Cheap Queen doesn’t hold back on her inner turmoil and heartbreak, whether she’s distant from the person she loves (“Ain’t Together”) or being secretly intimate with a friend (“Homegirl”). The latter track is one of the record’s most gorgeous tracks, the production beautifully languid and even subtly orchestral as Straus’s vocals somehow soar despite their quiet delivery. Remarkably, King Princess’s career is still young (and so is she—I’m only four months younger than her!); the struggles, emotions, and personal growth she conveys on these carefully crafted songs is communicated with an amazing wisdom.

Review: Oliver the 2nd – R+ Vol. 1 (self-released, Oct 24)

Fontana-based MC and producer Joseph Perry, better known as his alias Oliver the 2nd, comes out of the gate swinging on R+ Vol. 1, his first self-released solo effort since 2013’s The Kill Off. Other than that and Rawhyde, his wonderful collaboration with Jeremiah Jae that also came out in 2013, Perry hasn’t released anything else until now. Hopefully the “Vol. 1” subheading implies that there will be more soon, but for now this short EP is an enrapturing and entertaining slice of abstract hip-hop. Perry’s position as both beatmaker and rapper on this release makes for an interesting dichotomy between the two elements—or, rather, a lack thereof. The lush lo-fi patchworks of samples of everything from jazz to funk are more than just beats for Perry to rhyme over. Instead, the vocals often blend with the instrumentals until they are largely indistinguishable from each other; both the effects placed on Perry’s earnest flows and the various approaches he utilizes imitate the atmosphere and sonic qualities of the production, creating an entirely unified flow of rhythm and lyrics on each track. “noideashi,” as I mentioned previously, is a sudden and instantly magnetic introduction to the EP, the delirious collage of pulsing bass lines and snare cracks very much in line with the loose, fluid sampling technique popularized by artists like Earl Sweatshirt and MIKE. Perry is far from just an imitator, however; the rest of the eclectic proceedings clearly demonstrate his unique ear for unconventional structure. “slowdwn” is one of the more fascinating tracks, sticking with a sparse arrangement of jazzy walking bass and piano meanderings while a pitch-altered voice croons in its midst for the majority of its duration before Perry’s rapping even appears. And thought-provoking density aside, many of the tunes here are just fun. Songs like “imtheshtbtch” and “GodofRp” are groovy as hell and make me excited for what Perry puts out next—and I really hope we won’t have to wait another six years.

Review: Foresteppe – Karaul (Klammklang, Oct 22)

Releases like last year’s Mæta, 2016’s ШАΛАШ collaborations Seven Sleepers with You C and Around with Bisamråtta, and 2015’s Diafilms have cemented Egor Klochikhin’s solo project Foresteppe as a remarkably consistent source of gorgeous folk-ambient with the woozy warbles of tape music and plenty of textural environmental recordings. When I saw that a new release from Klochikhin I immediately bookmarked it without reading the detailed abstract, excited to hear what I imagined would be an expansion on the approach he so masterfully utilized to produce Mæta. Had I taken the time to pore over the introduction, however, it would have been made clear that Karaul is a very different work from anything the artist has released before (apart from maybe Kosichkin Tapes, a collage he made using tape recordings made by his family throughout his childhood).

According to the summary, “the word ‘karaul’ designates both a kind of pompous sentry, mundane army guarding duty, and bitterly humorous call for help in horrific cases along,” a definition that closely aligns with the new tape’s central themes. Karaul is shaky and uncertain, but in a much less comforting manner than past works; this is clear from the very beginning of “Boundary,” the first track, when an abrupt and startling tape reel rewind signals that what lies ahead may be no picnic. “Almaz // Radian” delivers on this promise, adding some quiet but searing noise textures to the carefully constructed collages, as well as allowing a muffled martial drum sample to cut through. The ranges of not only sounds but also emotions and atmospheres that Klochikhin flits between on Karaul are staggering: just take “3Z,” the longest piece on the album and arguably its centerpiece, which slowly but purposefully evolves from buzzing electric drones through a sublime, hypnotic keyboard loop and finally a disarming stretch of fragmented beat music which culminates in field recordings of a jackhammer and a beeping printer or copier—and somehow never feels disjointed or overstuffed. In fact, it’s just the opposite; everything on Karaul, despite its ceaseless eclecticism, is impossibly cohesive and well-paced; it makes its hour-plus run time feel like half that. Klochikhin is by no means abandoning his roots here, either. The way in which the compositions drift and flow within and between each other is recognizably Foresteppe-esque, and the title track wouldn’t even be out of place on many of the releases I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Karaul is one of the most immediately impressive and enthralling albums I’ve heard in 2019, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it gain traction with a much wider audience than ever before.

Review: Torba – Musique Inconcrète (Fragment Factory, Oct 20)

Many of the sounds on Musique Inconcrète are thin, threadlike, fibrous, like amplified insect legs or the metallic rustle of uncut guitar strings. Usually such a description would apply to an album with much more sound processing and alteration involved in its construction, not a work that relies as heavily on mostly unmanipulated field recordings as this does, but the singular vision that audio collage maestro Mauro Diciocia (a.k.a. Torba) has adopted for Musique Inconcrète is unconcerned with “usually.” The six tracks on the LP are true sonic sketches, a structure he borrows from the Alterazioni Video collective’s tradition of Incompiuto—the incomplete. Diciocia warmly embraces a state of unfinishedness, fully content to explore acoustic settings and movements with qualities that might often be cited as weaknesses: insubstantiality, choppiness, frailty. He uses the aforementioned field recordings—most of which were captured in southern Italy—as fragile canvases for his sketches, their beautifully mundane soundscapes both contributing their own unique textures to the music as well as serving as a base for quiet interjections of buzzing static; occasional and very choice musical samples; and other oddities. The recordings themselves are often shaky and unstable, an effect that’s achieved via either subtle processing or the recording medium itself; Diciocia chose to use basic electronics like small tape recorders and mobile phones to evoke “the domestic feeling of an abandoned opera.” Such careful efforts to fully adopt an intentional lack of polish or seamlessness make Musique Inconcrète not only a fascinating and thought-provoking release but also more lush and well-realized than one could ever think possible.

Review: Various Artists – Sound Maps for the Dreamer III (Sono Space, Oct 18)

On Sono Space’s third volume of Sound Maps for the Dreamer, their ambitious ongoing series that collects sound documents and phonography from artists all around the world, there’s once again a host of unfamiliar names contributing beautiful, immersive, and fascinating soundscapes that evoke place, geography, or ecology in their own unique ways. One name, however, isn’t so unfamiliar to me: Abby Lee Tee, the creative alias of Austrian musician Fabian Holzinger (whose work has undergone a remarkable evolution since the noisy, rhythmic electronica of early releases) provides the collection’s cover artwork along with two short sound pieces, “Yläkuru” and “Saarma.” The first few tracks here—and, to varying extents, all of them—explore textures and structural approaches very much in line with Abby Lee Tee releases such as Imaginary Friends I and Herbert’s Archive, with very physical embodiments of sounds both organic and invasive whose organization evokes a strangely natural artifice. Yulia Glukhova provides the first and longest piece in the volume, as well as perhaps the year’s greatest title with “Ci(r)cadian Rhythm,” a languid series of ebb and flow that utilizes the sustained chirping of cicadas to create a hypnotic, dreamlike, cyclical meditation, while Moltamole’s much shorter “Tobacco Caye” is a restless rumble of creaks, bubbles, and rustles. Other highlights include “Bang, Zilch, Whistle, Hummer, Crackle” by Daphne X, a disarmingly sterile object symphony; Tiago Tobias’s sublimely harmonic weaves of voice, clatter, and drone in “Rua Do Bonfirm”; and Shane Davis’s “Swarm of Wasps,” which is a lot more nuanced than you might expect.

Each piece has a corresponding map that can be viewed under the Sound Map section of Sono Space’s website.

Mix: Noise Rock

Artists whose music resides within the well loved tradition of “noise rock,” but in this case with heavy emphasis on the “noise.” Buzzsaw guitars, torturous wails and nonsensical jabbering, lumbering rhythm sections that often aren’t concerned with much rhythm at all. What’s not to love?

The Hospitals

00:00. White Suns – “Priest in the Laboratory” from Totem (Flenser, 2014)

04:52. Dan’l Boone – “Paper Tree Alley” from Dan’l Boone (Drag City, 2014)

09:41. Horse Gives Birth to Fly – “Rubbish Drunk on the Sand” from Horse Gives Birth to Fly (self-released, 2009)

14:00. The Hospitals – “Hairdryer Peace” from Hairdryer Peace (Meds, 2009)

17:28. Staer – “I Roll With Creflo” from Staer (Discorporate, 2012)

23:51. Guttersnipe – “Ophid Spy Cramp” from Demo (self-released, 2015)

29:56. Big Neck Police – “Street” from Don’t Eat My Friends (Ramp Local, 2016)

33:55. Drunkdriver & Mattin – Side B of A List of Profound Insecurities (Badmaster, 2009)

Review: Robinson – The Great City Reissue (Wax Vessel, Oct 20)

The Great City, originally released 2006 on Debello Recordings, is an essential record to fans of extreme and deranged technical metallic hardcore, along with other landmark releases such as Daughters’ Canada Songs, See You Next Tuesday’s Parasite, Hayworth’s I Hope the Thunder and Lightning Kill You, etc.—there’s no shortage of this stuff so feel free to reach out if you’re interested in further recommendations. Though Robinson (who hailed from my own home state of Ohio) broke up in or around 2006 after just a few sporadically released demo and this, their only official studio LP, the eviscerating guitar work and wraithlike shrieks reverberate long past that. Through the admirable efforts of Chicago imprint Wax Vessel, who have also worked to revive other timeless classics—so far they’ve rereleased Cuddlemonster (o.r. 2004), The Dead Sleep Like Us for a Reason (o.r. 2006), and The Stars Outnumber the Dead (o.r. 2007)—complete with reimagined cover art and ambitious color variant selections with the help of Zegema Beach distribution, The Great City has been brought to a modern audience with all of the glory it deserves. After listening to a low-quality VBR rip for God knows how many years, this faithful extraction from the original master tapes sounds amazing; every breathless blast beat, every throat-ravaging scream, every infernal chug cuts through with terrifying viciousness. All of the iconic moments I anxiously await each listen sound incredible: the stuttering triplet fill that begins part II of “The Great City of Salvation,” the bone-crushing return of the sludge riff at the end of part III of “The Great City of Ruin”…. You should’ve seen me, I was grinning like an idiot the whole time.

Review: Forbes Graham – Lagos Playground (self-released, Oct 18)

Trumpet improviser and computer music artist Forbes Graham might have the most modest and pragmatic website I’ve come across. It’s simple, archetypally HTML, consists only of black text on a white background with only a few embedded files, and it doesn’t even require a single scroll to see its entire contents. Such a minimal online presence might suggest a similar approach to music—a collection of reductionist trumpet improvisations, perhaps, or some sort of silence-heavy concrète piece. Lagos Playground, which from what I can gather is Graham’s first full-length solo release since 2013’s ambitious Return: The Journey, doesn’t submit to such expectations, instead delivering a colorful soundscape of field recordings draped in various manipulations. Unlike Return, his extended trumpet techniques aren’t present this time (or if they are, they buried deep amidst the other source material). Lagos Playground is certainly not minimal but it is modest, and what you hear once each track begins is, for the most part, what makes up the rest of it too, as Graham allows the inherent narratives of the recordings to progress without intervention, festooning the distant conversations and clatter with distortion, glitched-out mangling, and other effects. The processing in “The Yellow Light” is pretty subtle, but once “Simlinks I” kicks in there’s a delightful noisy rumble that materializes, lushly chromatic in a way not unlike The New Blockaders’ Live at Hinoeuma (which I bring up mostly because I was listening to it earlier today). Graham ramps up the abstractions on closer “Sonic Halberds,” which for nearly four minutes doesn’t reveal any sign of reality amidst its fuzzy looped cells and pitch alterations until the voices being sampled briefly break through. This last piece is definitely the album’s most elusive, and possesses that peculiar frailty that’s present when abrasive noise textures originate from disproportionately subdued sources.

Review: PAIN TOLERANCE – PAINTOLERANCE001 (self-released, Oct 16)

Looking back at my past few reviews it becomes apparent that we’ve been rolling in great new electronic music, and last Wednesday brought yet another entry with the debut release by PAIN TOLERANCEThe tape was put up on DJ Speedsick’s Bandcamp page with no other information or credits, so I assume it is either an alias or at least a collaboration. Though it certainly has its fair share of techno throb, PAINTOLERANCE001 is less the adrenaline-filled, anxious, metronomic fever-nightmare that was Nothing Lasts and more of a deliberate, somewhat reserved trip through rhythmic cells that slowly expand and become more complex… At least, that’s what I thought until the first drop in the second track, and what with its crunchy overdriven bass drum and shuffling lo-fi loops it has the same manic, infectious, slightly-to-more-than-slightly dark energy that forces its way to the surface of all of Speedsick’s releases. PAINTOLERANCE001 creeps up on you, but if you’re not up and dancing when the seething, toothy groove of “3” kicks in, I dunno what to tell you. This track might be the most fascinating of the four; it’s actually somewhat reticent, at least in comparison to what came before, but again there’s that lurking energy that somehow makes it sound huge and formidable. Bouncy and almost sprightly at times, grim and hellish at others, PAINTOLERANCE001 is a trance-inducing adventure, which culminates fittingly amidst the pleasant surprise of subdued, rhythmless drifts in “4.”

Review: Bonnie Baxter – AXIS (Hausu Mountain, Oct 11)

Most of the tapes released by Chicago imprint Hausu Mountain, from the garish, color-clashing 16-bit cover designs to the frenetic electronic hodgepodges of the music, can reliably be described as “overwhelming.” All three of uncompromising artist Bonnie Baxter’s solo albums (she also performs and records with fellow Brooklyn noisemakers Hisham Bharoocha and Nicos Kennedy as Kill Alters) have been put out on HM, and all three fit that description of “overwhelming,” but AXIS especially is unlike anything you—or at least I—have heard before. The short release is structured around Baxter’s singular vocalizations, which pounce from animalistic chattering and gibbering (sounds which, as recurring elements in the strange, fluid current of “Nocturnal Emissions,” are strangely hypnotic) to angry, raving, eerily cut-up rejections of sexual advances (“No DICC”) faster than you can say “what the fuck is happening.” AXIS lurks behind many less grotesque guises throughout its modest duration—elastic and intricate EDM, plasticky synthpop, punishing power-noise—but at its heart is the bizarre energy that Baxter’s unhinged vocal performance introduces. Equal parts repulsive and mesmerizing, her nonsensical ad-libs and surreal ruminations help make AXIS a true “Spirit Enema.”

“I need some fucking help with my asshole so please take me to the fucking doctor thank you very very much.”