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.