Guest Review: Paul Ray on Shit Creek’s The Land of the Remember (Crow Versus Crow, Mar 27)

The Land of the Remember opens with a barrage of effervescent noise, spits of sparkling sound fizzing and glitching joyfully around the stereo field. It’s noise music at its giddiest and most escapist, digitally abstracted and fucked musical artifacts collapsing in on themselves and singing radiantly. Although the album doesn’t sustain this sonic intensity throughout its entire sublime 40 minutes, all the songs on Shit Creek’s latest and best record are built around a remarkably generous feeling of bliss. It’s drone as fairytale, noise as vivid escape.

Amid the islands of roaring fuzz lie bucolic, shapeshifting ambient compositions which ripple and shimmer like dust floating in a sunlit room. On the two title tracks, warping organ chords sustain themselves tenuously in the oozing sonic liquid, buoyed by un-selfconsciously uplifting melodies and snatches of garbled voice. “Terry Houndface,” perhaps the album’s most straightforwardly beautiful cut, is a reverie of watery sound, snatches of alienated voice, and guitar and piano fragments which sound like the patter of rainfall. Not boring grey rainfall, rainfall when it’s hot and humid and strange outside. “Pram Racers” is a 3/4 waltz of bitcrushed synths, a deeply calming and nostalgic texture amid the bewildering beauty surrounding it, while “Little Solas” reminds me of Animal Collective at their freak-folk peak, with multitudes of roughly (yet also so softly!) strummed acoustic guitars co-existing alongside a percussive Morse code, which sounds like someone tapping a plate.

And then there are the noise tracks. “This Is the Trap” is nearly seven minutes of metallic playfulness, a pulsing drone foundation underpinning the pirouetting whisps of melodic fizz. “This is Nowhere, and It’s Forever” sets up an undulating drone and then builds on it in 4ths and 5ths, as if loudly playing in a huge resonant chamber. It’s lazy writing to deploy too many comparisons to other artists, but these ebullient noise tracks remind me of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma at his most blissful and distorted. The Land of the Remember is a wonderful, emotional collision of noise, drone and ambient techniques, coalescing into a work of escapism and beautiful technicolour.

Review: Jugendwerkhof – Schandwandlung (Marbre Negre, Mar 22)

Berlin harsh noise duo Jugendwerkhof are a project I’ve been following ever since Low Life High Volume put out their debut release Blutstätte ‎in 2018. Their deafening dual assault of “scrap metal, electronics, broken instruments, feedback, [and] voice” offers up equal amounts of the two qualities I appreciate most in this genre: intensity and immersion. Schandwandlung is their longest album yet, and as the first track wastes no time in revealing, it’s also a different beast. Newly heightened emphasis is placed on the percussiveness of the waves of noise the duo generates, and desperate, incoherent howls and shrieks are often foregrounded, giving the music an undeniably metallic edge (both in the stylistic and the textural sense). And that’s just part one. The next segment evolves from tightly orchestrated clatter to a warped, savage stretch of depraved vocalizing, contact mic abuse, and torrents of distortion that resembles the violent death of some horribly mutated beast. Schandwandlung seethes, spits, slices, and smears itself over the remaining half hour, as Jugendwerkhof’s fiendish industrial emissions manifest in forms ranging from plodding, punishing static walls  to roiling, white-hot, hyperactive blasts. A terrifying new release from this great band in an equally terrifying year.

Review: Alex Cunningham – Echo’s Bones Were Turned to Stone (self-released, Mar 22)

One of the countless reasons that freely improvised music is so exciting is the near-limitless possibilities that extended techniques open up in the hands (or other body parts) of skilled artists. Standard musical instruments once viewed as innocuous, constrained tools become sources for untamed sonic energy. There’s an online review of Derek Bailey’s Aida by Rate Your Music user ac_church that puts it well (I’m pretty sure I’ve quoted it here before): “it’s strange to find yourself in a same room with a guitar after you’ve listened to Derek Bailey… it suddenly becomes an incredible alien artifact of immense power… ‘you really could do all that? how come I didn’t know?’ ” Alex Cunningham is no stranger to escaping the restraints of a conventional approach; his nimble, abrasive violin assaults instantly drew me in when I first heard Fiddle back in 2018. But as the title track on that release—produced using the self-imposed constraint of “improvise a fiddle tune”—makes clear, Cunningham also owes a great deal of reverence and love to the traditional music to which his instrument of choice is essential. His most recent release Echo’s Bones Were Turned to Stone continues in the direction of last year’s Knell on Fort Evil Fruit with a set of extended dynamic pieces. As always, we not only hear the deep, dense drones Cunningham coaxes from the violin but also the resin-shredding strength of the bowing that produces them, the mesmerizing swirl of cascading string slides and ersatz chords, the moments of invigorating Appalachian fiddle stomp (however brief or abstract). The St. Louis String Sawer’s latest is a jagged, harrowing, and triumphant exclamation from the dark depths of isolation.

Mix: Cooped Up

The sound of domestic self-isolation gone horribly wrong. Junk and trash thrashed out of sheer desperation, degradation of language, slow but deliberate descent into panic and madness. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen to any of you. Thots and preyers.

“Isolation” by Kim Beyer-Johnson

00:00. Usurper – 2nd untitled track from Fishing for Tripe (Chocolate Monk, 2013)

04:28. Derek Bailey & Han Bennink – “Who Is That” from Derek Bailey & Han Bennink (Incus, 1972)

08:28. Laurie Tompkins – “War” from Heat, War, Sweat Law (Slip, 2016)

12:14. Territorial Gobbing – “Went” from Stud Mechanism (Cadmus Tape, 2019)

18:00. Textile Orchestra – “The Beginning of the End” [excerpt] from For the Boss (Beta-lactam Ring, 2009)

21:09. The New Blockaders & Putrefier – “Tiras Abrasivas” from Schleifmittelbögen (Birthbiter, 2007)

24:46. Micro_Penis – “Lorsque la lune est pleine je le sens vraiment” from Tolvek (Doubtful Sounds, 2011)

28:53. Animal Collective – “Panic” from Here Comes the Indian (Paw Tracks, 2003)

33:28. Taku Unami – 2nd part of “Whistler Vanished in Wind” from The Whistler (Erstwhile, 2017)

35:02. Boredoms – “Used CD” from Super Roots (WEA, 1993)

Review: Terror Cell – Last Day of Sun (self-released, Mar 20)

I’m pretty glad the title of Terror Cell’s debut release isn’t timely; with everything going so wrong on this planet the last thing we need is for the sun to finally wink out. Luckily, at least here in the Midwest, temperatures are becoming somewhat palatable and our old yellow friend in the sky has been occasionally peeking out from behind the clouds. So, in conclusion, it’s the perfect weather for holing up inside in the dark and thinking about how awful humanity is while blaring Last Day of Sun at full volume. There’s no better way to experience the powerful opening instrumental “[REDACTED]” than with the knob all the way to the right, but the monolithic slab of crushing low end and swirling psychedelic blackness is sure to set the stage for the rest of the album well at any decibel level. The following five tracks present a formidable fusion of modern metallic hardcore, dense sludge/doom, and an overwhelming sense of anger, pain, and uncleanliness that can only come from the darkest corners of extreme metal. The new Richmond quartet’s influences manifest differently on each song: patient, plodding atmosphere-building on “Modern Failures”; malevolent crust and pounding metalcore on “White Phosphorous”; cinematic post-metal crescendos on the title track. The vocals are well done too, varying from unnatural wails to throat-gouging bellows. Solid and much-needed stuff from a promising new band.

Review: Ingrid Plum, Anton Mobin & Graham Dunning – Ancient Lights (Fort Evil Fruit, Mar 20)

I’ve often discussed the marked difference between directly recorded and reverb-filled, space-utilizing tabletop improvisation, and how artists’ work can fall into either category (or both). Like Dylan Burchett’s bread, the piece which most recently engendered this discussion, Ancient Lights seems to possess elements both internal and external, with a spectacular intensity that could only from these three mad sound-scientists at their eclectically equipped laboratory surfaces. Each participant is a formidable force in their own right: Ingrid Plum, accomplished improviser and performer, lends choice contributions from objects, Walkman, and utterance; Anton Mobin, master of his singular, lushly intimate style of théâtre d’objets, amplifies and broadcasts miniature percussive events from his prepared chamber; and Graham Dunning, dedicated sound artist and educator, bewilders (as usual) with his virtuosic extended turntable techniques. This well-controlled mess of machinery takes a while to emerge from the recording which begins “Frame Makers,” which one might think captures the sound of audience members and the surrounding locale during the music’s recording—but all of Ancient Lights was documented in the controlled studio environment of Sound Savers in Hackney. This is just one of many instances in which field recordings and other disparate intrusions are used to play around with physical space in its communicative form, when a somber, wordless croon or distant clunk greases the already precarious surfaces of churning cogs and rotating plates.

Review: Asumaya – Of Water, Land, & Sky (Dagoretti, Mar 17)

When attempting to capture the essence of a particular place, one might think that too much intrusion on the part of the observer would be a hindering force. But in my opinion, interaction is one of many elements in the phonographer’s toolbox which allow them to present a sonic document that is truly their own. I don’t know much about Luke Bassuener’s project Asumaya, or whether Of Water, Land, & Sky is a significantly new direction for him, but the detailed and considered rhythmic abstractions of nature that comprise it are a delight nonetheless. The album was produced during a residency program of the same name in partnership with the Glacial Lakes Conservancy, and sees Bassuener plundering a wide array of organic sound objects (collected in the Willow Creek Preserve in Wisconsin) to create whimsical dance grooves. Birdsong, splashing water, and gusts of wind play prominent roles in the simple yet still meticulously constructed compositions; Bassuener sometimes focuses in on the anatomies of certain sounds, like when he isolates the familiar clunk of something heavy being dropped into water on “Streamed,” and other times seems more interested in portraying a comprehensive picture of his surroundings, like on “Marshed.” While rhythmic experimental music is often not my preference, I’ve seen how compelling similar approaches to Bassuener’s can be on tracks like lojii’s “Run It Down” (produced by Marc Rebillet), and the infectious woodland symphonies of this new Asumaya release are a pleasing escape in these decidedly claustrophobic times.

Review: Staubitz and Waterhouse – Alone Together (self-released, Mar 16)

As more and more of the U.S. locks down in response to COVID-19 with business closures and stay-at-home orders, artists whose work examines the mundane and the domestic become more important than ever. The new duo of Rhode Island improvisers and sound artists Mary Staubitz and Russ Waterhouse has already provided me with an early favorite of the year with their self-titled lathe on Gertrude Tapes, and several digital-only tracks have also been released on their newly created Bandcamp page, notably the 22-minute “Alone Together.” The sound materials for this piece were gathered in Virginia and Rhode Island in 2019 and were assembled just before its release. Consistent with the curiously warbled workaday of the 7″ and the blurred pastel colors of the cover artwork, “Alone Together” presents a familiar yet slightly uncanny vignette of reality. The field recordings sound largely unprocessed, but at every moment there seems to be something that just isn’t quite right: the clinical isolation of the bug chatter that begins the piece; how surrounding the peculiar drone to which everything strips down are barely audible clunks and vibrations that give just the faintest sense of physical place; the way the sound objects in the subdued remainder of the track seem to be organized in slightly the wrong order, like puzzle pieces that sort of, but don’t completely fit together; the startling entry of the amplified nature sounds that conclude the piece. The credits of “Alone Together” also reveal an interesting aspect of its creation; Staubitz captured all of the recordings while Waterhouse performed the edit. This is an interesting dynamic for a duo, and I’m excited to see that they’re experimenting with various approaches (they also have a short live performance available for stream and download).

Review: Nac/Hut Report – Transmisja Z Przesilenia (Crunchy Human Children, Mar 15)

Almost exactly one year after the release of 2019’s Wszystko Jeszcze Jest (though it has been 365 days), Krakow duo Nac/Hut Report is back with another full-length studio release. Listeners familiar with the fractured “nightmare-pop” of last year’s album will feel right at home once Transmisja Z Przesilenia settles in; though the space traversed between formless abstraction and cathartic noise pop melodies seems wider than ever, everything about this new cassette seems perfect for the strange times in which we’re living. J.T.’s sleepy, barely-intelligible vocals float like ghost freighters on a stormy sea of distorted guitar, siren-like electronic emissions, and restless effects loops, drifting from track to track without much concern for any clear separation between them. This isn’t an issue at all for Transmisja Z Przesilenia, however; its sharply saccharine essence seems to consume time itself with licorice jaws and candy-corn teeth, until beginning and end are the only distinctions that matter. Certainly, there are some memorable moments that may make the listener aware of what song they’re actually listening to— “Króliki” and “Trzecia Część Dnia” were clear favorites of mine—but everything flows so well together that these might as well be anomalously large waves on that aforementioned ocean, the dark stretch of roiling dream-world on which we travel between one shore of reality to the next (or do we end on the same one from which we left?).

Review: Triple Negative – God Bless the Death Drive (Penultimate Press, Mar 12)

Precious Waste in Our Wake, the mysterious UK collective Triple Negative’s debut LP from last year, was and is many things: one of my favorite releases of 2019, the oddest and most compelling contemporary remnant of circa-1980 avant-rock explorations, a fittingly surreal soundtrack to our progressively deteriorating society and world. God knows what sort of headspace these mysterious magic-molders place themselves in to create this bizarre and befuddling music, but there seems to be no shortage in its supply because another full-length declaration has already surfaced less than a year later. When God Bless the Death Drive is said to “literally [take] off where… Precious Waste in our Wake finished,” it’s pretty much accurate; the mastering is louder and clearer, and “Bad Grace” begins with a propulsive, bouncing gallop of minimal percussion and blown-out vocalizing that does contrast with the drugged-out lethargy of the grooves on its predecessor, but listen to the two back to back and the momentum transfer is undeniable—”MERCURIAL SEAL / SINKINGSINKING SUNK” and “Bad Grace,” despite sounding markedly different, continue into one another. It’s a nice touch that meaningfully links the albums despite the new direction that God Bless takes. With bone-dry guitar tones and dusty, windswept percussion recordings, songs like “Bad Emotional Investments” become worn, sun-cracked psychedelic ballads, while the apocalyptic strings and winds on “Pugno Di Mosche” and distant churn of “Low Noon” allow some of the familiar smog to seep in. A soothing accordion and intimate vocals even make “Fine Cargo Lacquer”—dare I say—pretty. The level of coherence across God Bless the Death Drive is variable, to say the least, and this range makes it even more difficult to fully digest. The three-track stretch of “See It Slay It Sordid,” “Nag Head’s Spools,” and “Your Pretty Mental Health…” alone is a dense Twin Infinitivestier conundrum. At first I found myself thinking, well this is not what I expected, but I quickly realized that’s a stupid thing to even consider when Triple Negative is at work. As Mark Harwood states, you can always rely on their music to possess a “robust fear of the predictable.”