Review: McClane – SALE CONTRE TOUS (self-released, Jan 26)

One might not think that a stylistic amalgam of black/extreme metal and gabber could be in any way fruitful. There are a lot of ways disparate combinations can fall flat, but somehow McClane’s newest self-released album doesn’t resort to gimmicks or rely on novelty, and truly assimilates these two genres into something entirely singular. There’s not much time to think about any of this once SALE CONTRE TOUS actually starts, though, because after a short introduction “LESS IS MORT” arrives with crushing force. The riffs are often played by plasticky synths, stretched and layered in uncanny facsimiles of tremolo guitar picking, while a metronomic beat pounds away—half four-on-the-floor, half blast beat. On “CRACKHEADBANG,” an interlude of mangled samples and half-formed melodies gives way to a breakdown that actually does the track’s title justice. The rest of the album sees McClane exploring catchy, infectious arrangements with “URO DANCE” or a balance between uplifting trance/rave electronica and destructive metal assaults that doesn’t sacrifice the impact of either on “ZBEUL THEM ALL.” After a strange industrial-strength shuffling hip-hop interlude SALE CONTRE TOUS finds a memorable conclusion in its title track, an ambitious and grandiose anthem complete with complex instrumental arrangements and even a substantial amount of cleverly used claps. This is one of the most singular things I’ve heard in a long time that still incorporates so much of what I know and love already.

Review: TARAB – Material Studies #1 (Hemisphäreの空虚, Jan 24)

I first encountered sound artist Eamon Sprod’s solo project TARAB when I heard 2018’s HOUSEKEEPING, a CD that evolved from a multimedia installation in a unique manner: “rather than a documentation of an installation, this iteration has been arranged from the debris collected during the process of making one.” Sprod is an artist who often seems to adopt a scientific approach in creating his music, playing the role of a curious and active observer in the midst of his surroundings, though the emotional impact of his work never seems to suffer (despite the cold impartiality one may associate with the practice of science). In the case of Material Studies #1, the identities of Sprod’s surroundings are not made nearly as clear; we are told that some of the elements are sourced from old cassettes from the project’s early days, but other than that the “materials” he utilizes are quite wide-ranging—metallic machinery that resembles recordings I myself once captured of children’s playground equipment, small vibrating objects on agitated surfaces, Velcro-like scrapes and scratches. The exhumed tape remnants add a crucial dimension to the music, unseating the clearly and closely recorded tactile events with a cloying layer of ghostly hiss and hum. There’s a particularly strong stretch near the beginning of side B where heavily processed micro-sounds flit and crackle around droning, soupy clatter, the former almost resembling the hyperactive granular textures of pure data synthesis. Material Studies #1 is essential listening for all those who love to turn their ears to immersive, textural sonic landscapes that refuse to abandon their gritty, earthly origins.

Review: Dreams – Machine Age Paradise (Bank, Jan 24)

Machine Age Paradise might be the most artificial-sounding record I have ever heard. Each track is constructed from brazenly digital elements stripped down to their barest and unsettling roots: when beats do appear, they’re lethargic, detached, barely interacting with the rest of the track as their industrial clanks and pounds echo from a distance; the watery ambience that soaks tracks like “Light Removal Vacuum” and “Born With Scales” is sickly and uneasy; even the occasional human voice samples sound like alien transmissions. This all sounds very negative, but it’s also what makes the second full-length LP from LA producer Jesse Pimenta (a.k.a. Dreams) so remarkably engaging. Machine Age Paradise is electronica deconstructed, but not in the sense of frenetic “deconstructed club” or any other existing dance subgenre I could think of; it’s more like Pimenta has taken conventional stylistic influences like techno, hardcore, and progressive electronic and gutted them, removed their innards, viciously contorted them to a form in which he’s actually interested. The result is an uncanny palette of sounds that feel empty, humid, somber, menacing, frail, and dark (really—at any given time, any to all of those descriptors are applicable). After a subdued and yet subtly anxious finish with the title track, one is left confused, drained, maybe even scared. The only cure is to listen again.

Pictured here is the cassette cover. The LP is available from Bank’s Bandcamp and comes in a plain sleeve.

Review: Dylan Burchett – bread (self-released, Jan 18)

Solo tabletop improvisation usually ends up being quite intimate even with the most maximalist of sonic results; there’s something distinct about the direct relationship between the performer and the actions they take that the listener can always pick up on, a lurking yet palpable personality. Intimacy arises differently from both of the two main recording approaches a solo improviser can take, a dichotomy well-represented by two Keith Rowe releases, The Room (Erstwhile, 2007) and Live at Fairchild Chapel (Idiopathic, 2015); the former evokes claustrophobic and microscopic sound-worlds through line-in capture, while the latter makes the performance space a perceptible presence in the music, shrouding Rowe’s prepared guitar clatter and ghostly radio transmissions in shadow. I provide these examples because Dylan Burchett’s bread, a single 37-minute improvisation, is somewhere in between the two, making use of both direct and overhead recording for a delicate domestic odyssey. A range of sound sources form the basis for the track (“motors, fans, contact mics, objects, hard drives, speakers, computer”); we hear sine waves and digital crackle materialize in the liminal space between action and result as Burchett’s array of devices are arranged and activated by hand. There’s a lot of perceivable movement near the beginning, but starting at around the ten-minute mark everything begins to coalesce into a sublime, crystalline drone, full of light mechanical whir and rattle. Burchett’s presence returns around halfway through, reaching around in preparation for new sonic activity as soft samples continue independently. There’s a tremendous amount of restraint at work here, and despite its undeniable abstractness bread’s subtlety make it an accessible, cozy mid-afternoon listen for anyone with an adventurous ear.

Review: Jamison Williams – Silly Symphonies, Vol. 1 (Lurker Bias, Jan 21)

Silly Symphonies, Vol. 1 is one of those albums that can be succinctly and accurately summed up in just a few words—”solo game calls”—but that also far surpass such modest, concrete origins. The two sides of this short C12 are filled with the sparsely arranged sounds of synthetic bird chirps, smashed squeaky toys, and general piercing misuse, an freakish orchestra of real-time processed utterance. There’s no ambiguity in regards to where these sonorities originate, but that doesn’t make the experience of Silly Symphonies any less uncanny; as humans we are constantly projecting our qualities onto not just each other, but anything we happen to encounter, even things that couldn’t be more different from us. We hear the whines and cries of petulant infants in Williams’ duck calls, shrieks of anguish in whatever the hell is making the sound at the end of “Part One” (this track was featured on my Past Vocalisms mix, and, despite being produced using an external device, reminds me of the harrowing abstractions of Ami Yoshida), yet it’s all smothered by an impenetrable layer of artificiality that throws our perception well and truly out of whack. Williams’ approach works well for such a short release, but honestly I could listen to this bizarre shit all day, so it’s great to see that “Vol. 1” subheading.

Review: T. Liefhold – The Singing Work (Falt, Jan 19)

There are no actual vocals on The Singing Work; instead, sound artist T. Liefhold encourages inhuman objects to sing, coaxing tonal reverberations and complementary textures from a variety of sources, and the resulting work is just as harmonious as what actual human voices could produce. In large part, Liefhold’s newest release presents music of rattle and clatter; taut strings produce resonant oscillations, footsteps rustle leaves and other natural detritus, occasional guitar notes falter and feed back into a restless din. But the unique presence that The Singing Work asserts is not one of shaky, uncertain abstraction, nor do its uncanny soundscapes attempt to evoke environments beyond our earthly perceptions. Instead, the space it occupies seems to be the machinations beneath our everyday surroundings. Liefhold strikes, plucks, and vibrates the mysterious contraptions that maintain the organic processes we take for granted, and with the field recordings he also incorporates we see a sublime coexistence of cause and effect, imaginary apparatuses interacting with their real-world results, a detailed yet peaceful cross-section of a world that’s at once industrial and natural.

Mix: Past Vocalisms

This mix is based on a strange little digital-only album released last October by Spricht Editions, a Denmark imprint focused on “vocal oriented sound.” Here are where our unspoken words, random gargles, little tongue clicks we do when we’re irritated or bored, unintelligible howls of frustration, and hums of contentment all gather and congeal. Take care that your shoes don’t get stuck in the muck—but if they do, stay a while.

Ami Yoshida

00:00. c.haxholm – “1” from Past Vocalisms (Spricht Editions, 2019)

06:38. Graham Lambkin & Áine O’Dwyer – “One and One Is Two” from Green Ways (Erstwhile, 2018)

10:47. Lily Greenham – “Improvisation” from Lingual Music (Paradigm Discs, 2007)

12:04. Ami Yoshida – 5th untitled track from Tiger Thrush (Improvised Music from Japan, 2003)

14:26. Gil J. Wolman – “Mégapneumies” from L’Anticoncept (Alga Marghen, 1999)

16:07. Yeast Culture – “Folk Songs of the Neskowin Indians” from Dueterium: Yeast Culture Improvacoustic Series Vol. 1 (Regional Bears, 2019)

20:54. Ute Wassermann, Duncan Harrison, Dylan Nyoukis & Claus Haxholm – excerpt from side A of Dissecting an Utterance (Spricht Editions, 2019)

22:49. Katalin Ladik – “Shaman Song / Sámánének” from Phonopoetics (Alga Marghen, 2019)

24:14. Michael Barthel – excerpt from side C of Heme (Geräuschmanufaktur, 2017)

26:26. Jamison Williams – “Part One” from Silly Symphonies, Vol. 1 (Lurker Bias, 2020)

29:19. Matthew Revert – “Dear Heath” from Letters to Friends of the Late Darcy O’Meara (Round Bale Recordings, 2018)

32:24. Rodrigo Ambriz – “Despojado al fin por su propio soplo” from Una silueta se precipita en arcadas (Szara Reneta, 2018)

Review: Women of the Pore – Folk Music (Orb Tapes, Jan 19)

Folk Music was pretty much a must-listen on genre intrigue alone; the New Brunswick project Women of the Pore refers to itself (themselves?) as “bunker jazz,” which in my opinion is about as captivating as invented names can get. Plus, the title makes me think of a favorite oddity of mine, Grim’s 1986 album of the same name, for which “folk music” is an equally inaccurate label. The anthology of 2019 material really does live up to that bizarre label, but not in a way you might expect. Putting the tape on for the first time as I was lying down in my pitch-dark room last night turned about to be an optimal setting for my first encounter with this mysterious music. What “bunker jazz” actually consists of is immediately made apparent: thick synth loops and drum machine patches form heavyweight grooves through which various samples, mostly of horns and other jazz instruments, are woven. The electronics are usually as primitive and minimal as even the most detached examples of minimal wave music, but their impact varies; on “Gems,” the synth arpeggios and percussion hit with abrasive, EBM-like force, while on “Eyes Which Cry Love” the progressive electronic swells channel warm, atmospheric synthesizer music both old and new, conjuring equal reminders of both Tangerine Dream and the Stranger Things theme song. This is what bunker jazz is: fragments of communal, collectively generated music trapped within sterile metal walls of industrial-tinged beat music. Over the course of Folk Music the various possibilities of this unique approach are explored in depth, from the extended abstract hypnosis of “The Wailing” or the surreal stutters of “Sinking” to whatever the hell is going on in “Gravel Hill.” I’ve done my best to describe what’s happening on this thing, but there’s no other way to actually understand the strange, dark energy that’s evoked by this music than to experience it firsthand.

Review: Lost Graves – No Resting Place (Lurker Bias, Jan 10)

I don’t know if you guys were aware, but Lurker Bias dropped TEN wall tapes all at once on January 10th, one of the most ridiculously bountiful batches I’ve seen in a long time. What makes this even cooler is that LB isn’t even exclusively a HNW label; they’ve released a wide range of experimental music on tape, a lot of which I’ve reviewed here (Butoh Sonics’ Flickers of Light, Owen Davis’s Interference, Snek Trio’s Battement Développé) in addition to some of not only my favorite wall material, but some of my picks for the best of all time: notably Smisao Života Je Sloboda by Dosis Letalis, Static Universe by Dirac Sea, and Ushinawareta Tamashi’s side of LB_120. I’m still working my way through the tremendous ten, but one that instantly stood out was Lost Graves’ No Resting Place, a two-piece set of punishing lo-fi destruction. I first came across Lost Graves with Buried at Sea on Lost Light, and this new tape continues the project’s unique talent for incorporating both intensity and lushness with an addictive crunch. “Shattered Headstones” blasts the stereo field with stuttering layers of industrial-strength crackle and rough-edged drones, establishing itself with a loud and raucous presence—yet over its thirty minute duration seems to become less uncompromisingly violent, and the roiling chunks of static begin to sound like more of a meditative swirl. “Roaming Spectres” is a fascinating counterpoint, a cloud of kinetic fuzz emanating from a queasy, unstable inception.

Review: Queue – Water Bucket (7FORM, Jan 16)

Water Bucket makes the full list of materials and captured sounds used to create it—bucket of water (unsurprisingly), vibrator, microphones, amps, feedback, record player, radio, heater, kitchen utensils, bells, a drum, a wooden box strung with hanging wire, rain, wind, other objects, people, cars, airplanes—readily accessible, but such transparency does little to make the curious little album easier to decipher. Queue’s use of trivial objects, homey extracts, and an intimate, lo-fi approach to recording results in pleasingly messy piles of sounds both familiar and uncanny, humanly imagined celebrations of the mundane. But occasionally threatening the sanctity these delicate personal spaces are intrusions of the outside world; the seam between parts one and two of the titular piece is exposed by an unceremonious interjection by a radio news station, the transmitted words describing just one small facet of our constantly discouraging reality nearly shattering the fragile bit of peace that has been so reverently cobbled together. In the following two tracks, the samples become more soothing inclusions, but on “People and Animals” their out-of-place-ness is made clear, the languid folk tune slowly encroached upon by shards of feedback and a stuttering turntable stylus. “Rain on the Rail” acts as an unassuming but unsettling conclusion, stitching together domestic detritus with the ghostliest of threads.