Review: Andrew Paine – Kledon (self-released, Apr 26)

Despite its largely dark and unsettling atmosphere, listening to Andrew Paine’s new release Kledon sort of feels like putting on a new jacket that already feels like you’ve worn it your whole life. The Glasgow sound artist’s choice palette of abstract vocalizations, shortwave radio, whistle, and what sounds like minimal digital processing often reminds me of music I already cherish dearly: Mosquitoes, Double Goocher Shop, Michael Barthel. These aren’t detrimental similarities or lapses in originality; it’s more like Paine is asking the same questions, ruminating on the same oddities as those other artists. Or perhaps he isn’t at all, and the end results happen to bear resemblance. Either way, it’s only one of the reasons why I feel so drawn to Kledon, even at its modest sub-twenty-minute run time. Robert Moss provides the release’s fitting epigraph: “Be alert, as you go about your world, for the first sounds that come out of the silence or out of the shapeless noise of a city street.” This release seems to consist of those sounds that emerge from the silence in which we so humbly stumble around, unwitting witnesses to the thoughtless utterances and reactionary gestures of a detached consciousness scrambling for a physical foothold in our world. Under, atop, and amidst a sparse smattering of shifty electronic transmissions, Paine’s vocal contortions gradually gain some semblance of intelligibility until they finally begin to resemble actual words and sentences—a futile accomplishment, as part II promptly comes to an end right afterward. What casts the shadows into which Kledon invites us? Will we ever know? Will we ever escape?

Review: NEF – Intervalles (INSUB, Apr 23)

The credits for Intervalles read like an all-star list of masters of the minimal and miniscule: Pascal Battus and Bertrand Gauguet, who have previously collaborated for the Chantier series with Éric La Casa, contribute “rotating surfaces” and alto saxophone, respectively; the mastering was handled by prolific sound artist engineer Giuseppe Ielasi; and the mixing and design for the ekopack CD was done by reductionist improviser and classical performer d’incise. The only name I don’t recognize is that of snare drum player Rodolphe Loubatière, who joins Battus and Gauguet to comprise NEF, but that is sure to change after hearing his brilliant work on this album. INSUB’s short description for Intervalles captures its essence well when it states that the trio’s performance is an “-almost- pure” abstraction of their chosen instruments. While all are vastly different devices, they converge in a unified harmony of spectral whir and hum extracted with masterful use of extended techniques, yet there are many times when it is clear which element is which—the metallic silhouettes of even Gauguet’s most elusive exhalations are often apparent, and Loubatière’s snare drum will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever messed around with a snare strainer (or listened to a Seijiro Murayama album)—but there are also many times where the music is a gloriously lush and ambiguous mess of indefinable sonorities. Like so many other examples of my most treasured documents of electroacoustic improvisation (Aut Disce Aut DiscedeCardtape DraftsIs Music Invisible?Intervalles is both micro- and macroscopic, completely immersing one in a detailed sound-world that is somehow at once tactile and dimensionless.

This album is also great because I swear my shitty coffee maker makes an appearance in “Acte VII.”

Review: Light Wa/orship – Equine (Noise Pelican, Apr 24)

I’m not sure what I was expecting upon my first listen of Light Wa/orship. Perhaps something more in line with the only other Noise Pelican release I’ve heard (the oft-mentioned Anaconda), raucous improvisational interplay and abrasive abuse. I certainly didn’t anticipate that a guitar album would so perfectly hit the spot this morning; I’d already turned off another album because I felt it had too much guitar for what it was. But this recent release by Denver-based guitarist Kevin Michael Richards (who releases music under the alias Equine) has no concern for meeting or even defying anyone’s expectations. It simply is what it is: a superbly paced, well-textured piece of solo improvisation. Richards immediately cements our attention with the initial segment of part I, a patient, spacious feedback study that simultaneously builds contentment and anticipation. Soon, however, more begins to work its way in. Richards’s idioms are not the abstract squawks of extended technique reliance or even the dissonant phrasing of noise-generation; instead he mainly relies upon the conventional, crafting polymorphous drones of oscillating loops and pentatonic cells. These enrapturing structures create an utterly hypnotic and time-distorting effect as Richards manipulates and adds to his arsenal of shifting layers. This only makes the moments where the noodling gives way to blazing hot psychedelia even more impactful and cathartic. Come for the brilliance of the title, stay for the brilliance of the music.

Mix: A Love Letter to The Raincoats

The unfathomably fruitful post-punk era (circa 1977-1985) is a universal favorite period among music fans, and though we all have our different preferences, there’s one band upon whose importance and excellence everyone can agree: The Raincoats. At once accessibly simple and endlessly complex, The Raincoats drew from a wide range of inspirations to create a singular and iconic style. Even after just three amazing albums (and one slightly less lauded post-reunion LP), their legacy is enormous. Whether it’s their quirky charm, artful amateurishness, hypnotic percussion rhythms, ambiguous atmospheres, or anything in between, this is a collection of tracks by contemporary (post-2000) artists in whom I see a significant presence of The Raincoats’ influence. The eclecticism of this mix is a testament to how unusual and special the band to whom it pays tribute truly is.

The Raincoats at London’s Acklam Hall in 1979. Photo by Shirley O’Loughlin.

00:00. Explode Into Colors – “Eyes Hands Mouth” from Quilts (Kill Rock Stars, 2011)

03:33. T.I.T.S. – “Rachel Rachel” from The Girls (self-released, 2011)

05:30. Palberta – “In My Fame – Jug!” from Roach Goin’ Down (Wharf Cat, 2018)

08:04. Old Time Relijun – “Mystery Language” from Witchcraft Rebellion (K, 2001)

11:49. Micachu & The Shapes – “Waste” from Never (Rough Trade, 2012)

13:37. The New Sound of Numbers – “You’ll Soon Be Singing” from Liberty Seeds (Cloud Recordings, 2006)

17:39. Grass Widow – “Rattled Call” from Grass Widow (Make a Mess, 2009)

19:54. Nüshu – “La vie est une fleur” from Sexe Étranger (self-released, 2019)

24:23. Still House Plants – “Long Pass” from Long Play (bison, 2018)

26:56. Children’s Hospital – “Words of the Prophet” from Alone Together (Sacred Bones, 2009)

30:00. Lithics – “Labor” from Borrowed Floors (Water Wing, 2016)

32:10. Fire Roast – “Folly or Fate” from Fire Roast (Single Girl Married Girl, 2020)

Review: Astro + Jero Route 66 – Live @ Suizokukan Okubo (Pauf Recordings, Apr 20)

I first came across Jerónimo Jiménez’s project Jero Route 66 thanks to a previous release on his own imprint, Pauf Recordings Ltd. Live from Devil’s Den is a strange, reticent performance, in which Jiménez’s fragile digital synthesis is paired with the ever-elusive clatter of the beloved trio Shots. Pauf’s next JR66 release again utilizes Shots member Daniel Dimaggio’s mastering services, but this document of a live set in Tokyo’s Suizokukan Okubo bar is a very different beast than Devil’s Den, more bombastic and boisterous in every way. This is unsurprising; the CD immortalizes the meeting of Jiménez and legendary noise duo Astro, now composed of two eardrum-blasting stalwarts both with the instantly recognizable surname Hasegawa. The quite spacious recording does appropriate justice to the awesome room-filling qualities of the Hasegawas’ roaring electronics, while piercing circuit errors and whirring glitches from Jiménez keep things grounded in an appropriately abstract way; Hiroshi’s searing transmissions are halted long before they can soar to the heights achieved on transcendent releases like Love & Noise, instead ballooning within a palpably confined space, filling it with a chaos of distortion, feedback, and other electronic mayhem. This is stuff you can get completely lost in.

Review: Hwyl Nofio – Isolate (self-released, Apr 18)

Hwyl Nofio’s first full-length studio album in three years comes with a timely aesthetic. Isolate is not really about “isolation” in general though; I think it’s more concerned with the specific form of the word that provides its title, the actual action of or a given command to “isolate.” As more and more irrational anti-lockdown protests crop up, we need more records like these, pieces of reverent and considered music that tread in the true solace that one can achieve in solitude. As with most of the band’s past albums, Isolate was entirely composed, arranged, and produced by founding member and chief creative force Steve Parry, but he’s also joined by other artists on several tracks to keep things diverse. Rothko founder Mark Beazley lends “bass and noise” contributions to opening track “The Road to Duggleby Howe,” which starts things off with dissonant yet sublime interplay between a dense, monotone drone and delicate guitar phrasings, while prolific musician Steve Sherlock ends “The Ghosts of Bognor Regis” with a languid, nocturnal saxophone serenade and sound artist Rhodri Davies rounds out the beautiful closer “Dolphins” with his harp. The moments where Parry is most in tune with his collaborators are also some of the record’s strongest, but there’s no shortage of gorgeous, affecting music on Isolate; the Salmon Run–esque choral ambience of “Breath” and the aching, somber string minimalism of “Womb Bird (for Vicky).” To everyone who’d rather die than see their precious economy slump, who’d rather put their neighbors and coworkers at risk than just stay home, listen to this album. Think about all the beauty you’re missing out on by running away from yourself. Think about all the beauty you’ll miss out on if you martyr yourself. Isolate.

Review: Fed Ash – Diurnal Traumas (Astralands, Apr 17)

In an age where the always-connected genres of hardcore and noise are consistently being combined in new and exciting ways, truly great examples of marrying the two always stand out. Diurnal Traumas, the new full-length from Syracuse quartet Fed Ash, is one such instance. “The Eternal Footman” begins with an avalanche of brutal, dirty distortion, setting the stage for the pestilent atmosphere that pervades this short but fully fleshed-out release. After about 40 seconds the noise begins to collapse under its own weight, fracturing and fading before the full band enters without warning, vocalist Allie French’s harrowing growls ripping and tearing atop furious blasting and guitar tones from the depths of graves. As with many contemporary hardcore acts, Fed Ash’s particular style is difficult to pin down; they draw from a variety of beloved styles, from old-school powerviolence to classic black metal and grind. The eclectic influences coagulate in various forms, creating cacophonous, unstable chaos on “Nowhere,” infectious forward propulsion and cathartic sludge on “Familiar,” malignant blackened mayhem on “everythingallthetime.” French’s vocals truly sound like they’re coming from a throat that’s been force-fed ash, and both their sound and the gruesome images of ruin and decay they convey contribute to the spectacular totalism of the album’s aesthetic. Diurnal Traumas will stick with you long after its final notes fade into the darkness.

Diurnal Traumas is available on CD from newly formed label Astralands. A cassette edition from Orb Tapes is forthcoming.

Review: Nathan Corder & Tom Weeks – Diamondback (self-released, Apr 17)

A little over two years since Noise Pelican’s release of Anaconda, the first document of the collaboration between Oakland composers and improvisers Nathan Corder and Tom Weeks, the two musicians’ trilogy concludes with Diamondback. It continues the format introduced by the previous two releases—minimally adorned cover art, significant changes in instrument usage (Corder played electronics on Anaconda, electric guitar on Black Mamba, and here joins Weeks on various winds), etc.—but Diamondback seems a different beast, a truly remarkable statement of extreme improvised music. The clarity of which contributions come from which musician is much less than before, as both artists use their remarkable respiratory systems to make noise with a wide range of wind instruments, which sound like anything from toy kazoos or pocket trumpets to baffling extended techniques on conventional instruments. The patience and endurance on display throughout Diamondbacks nearly hour-long run time is nothing short of astounding; Corder and Weeks have reached a new height of improvisational chemistry here, and whether they’re settled into largely stagnant textural ruminations like the symphony of metallic buzz and staccato brass abuse of “Soft Pack,” exchanging ersatz call-and-response flurries on “High and Tight” (which also involves some really fascinating elements of physicality), or utilizing some absolutely terrifying resonance in “Props,” it’s all an absolute joy to witness.

Review: endling – two sides of a fallen mountain (self-released, Apr 17)

I first came across this unknown artist/group’s music with their debut release under the name “fringe limb”: endling. In a manner similar to Mount Eerie or Magnolia Electric Co. (though the fact that it happened after just one release bears more similarities to Max Nordile’s new Hair Clinic alias), the artist name is now “endling,” and the moniker’s inaugural work is a short one-track album entitled two sides of a fallen mountainI was initially drawn to the project initially based on the remarkably intriguing and auspicious tags: “collapse,” “decomposition,” “industrial,” “machines,” “musique concrète”—if those aren’t my favorite things to listen to, I don’t know what are—which are still just as representative of this new release, even though it quickly becomes something much more abrasive and extreme than anything on the fringe limb album. The sole track on two sides of a fallen mountain, “b,” is an exemplary piece of nuanced cacophony, with a consistent basis in concrete wreckage and detritus but the staggering, volatile dynamic range of distortion-fueled harshness. The formidable slab of noise wails into existence with violence and chaos, but later in the track it becomes an enveloping mass of sound with that singular psychedelic atmosphere unique to low fidelity harsh noise. Cleaner layers beneath it all frequently make their presence known as they attempt to break through—ritual drones, voice, radio transmissions—but are eventually left to slowly asphyxiate under the unyielding smog.

Review: Software Bondage – Plàigh (self-released, Apr 16)

Deep in the forgotten underbelly of some hulking abandoned factory, dust-covered machines and rusting contraptions inexplicably whir back to life. The windows of the factory are still dark, but they’re now imbued with the soft amber glow of aged light fixtures as the fragile foundation of the building shakes and trembles from its renewed activity. This is the scene immediately evoked by “Dallsaichean Uinneig,” the first track on Software Bondage’s newest album Plàigh, as its shadowy soundscape of layered industrial ambience and nocturnal drone begins to seep from under the cellar door. The track sets the stage well for the rest of the album, which develops an atmosphere that’s at once cozy and unsettling, sort of like Spiral Insana or Jun Konagaya’s Travel. “Snìomh” follows the auspicious opener with harrowing ritualistic headspace—the human element introduced with the down-pitched vocalizing is initially off-putting, but it resurfaces near the end of the track to produce a surprisingly sublime conclusion. There’s no such respite on “Laoidh,” which despite being the album’s shortest track also manages to be its most frightening. Here, the reverb-laden sounds of heavy machinery dragged across a concrete floor echo the cavernous, Sisyphean movements of Remnants’ unforgettable Empty Ruin before a decay-marred choir recording is left to play for the emptiness. Everything culminates with “Lùb Dùinte,” a monstrous, nearly half-hour-long closing piece that embodies the slow, majestic collapse of the massive factory where our journey started.