Review: The False Face Society – Running Me Down (Index Clean, Nov 19)

I was initially prepared to review Running Me Down, the new solo CD from sound artist and writer Russell Walker (Charcoal Owls, The Teleporters) with an in-depth reading of the actual fiction piece of the same name that his infectiously deadpan voice relays over the course of five unique instrumental accompaniments. But this proved difficult, for when attempting to closely listen to his words my attention inevitably melted into simply perceiving all of the elements at once; plus, there’s no official original text or transcript provided, at least not with the digital download, so I’m inclined to believe that while Walker’s story is the focal point of this release, it is not its sole or even its primary artistic identity. The False Face Society has previously manifested as the trading-off collaborations of Walker’s fiction with backing from James Tranmer and Tom Scott, but here only the latter contributes to one entry in the pentalogy of ten-minute (give or take a few) parts; each of the others were provided by unique musicians as well.

Paul Watson’s dark, churning phonography soundscape that writhes beneath part one sets the stage well, imbuing the already slightly sinister mundanity of the narrator and Gideon’s conversation with a powerfully ominous undercurrent, before complementing a subtle volta in the text with its own jarring textural shift. We only descend deeper into the darkness after the two friends have a run-in with some “gits” and Gideon confesses that he expects his wife, Nina, to “stab him in [his] sleep” any day now, an alarming confession that does not seem to surprise the narrator at all. The character of Tox (spelling?) introduces a stronger element of social and political commentary as the rugby jersey-clad man’s man rambles about hating immigrants and which families in the presumably upper-middle class neighborhood are the “best,” even echoing the States’ own lame duck fuck with the weighty inclusion of the word “shithole.” Tom Hirst/Design a Wave’s skeletal but relatively conventional rhythmic electronica adds a curious contrast: where the previous track bolstered Walker’s speech both sonically and thematically, part two’s almost obscures it. Such a juxtaposition has its merits, I think, but I found myself liking this section the least simply because of the instrumental itself. It does, however, contain a fascinating turn: the nameless narrator, referred to only as “Toni’s boy,” refers to his own writing as his “sons,” an interesting choice of metaphor considering the author he frequently discusses with Gideon is named Toni Parsons, and at one point Gideon even makes a joke about the narrator being “on the same page as Parsons,” which to me seems like it might not be a joke at all. Perhaps this tear in the piece’s textual confines is what results in the intermittent abstract incoherence and singsong rhyming that permeate the remaining parts, a sort of structural or even ontological unraveling. Between confused verbal simultaneity and progressive dissolution of narrative detail, plot fragments and threads wind together out of linear order (e.g. an email from Nina is mentioned by the narrator in part two but does not actually appear until part four) and incessantly repeat, Walker’s voice flits between fidelity levels, and the story becomes a blurry ouroboros of both self-reference and temporal circularity. By the end, we still have no answers to the many questions and mysteries that have been raised, yet upon its conclusion there’s an undeniable sense of completeness.

“He talks a lot of sense, but no one wants to hear it.”

Mix: Unruly Electronics

A selection of tracks for when one needs a nice brain-scrubbing but also desires something more structurally and texturally complex than plain ol’ harsh noise. Solo artists, duos, and larger collectives make use of a wide variety of electronic materials (I’ve provided the materials used to create each to the best of my ability) to generate the sizzling blasts of static and percussive oscillations that grace these eight pieces, yet all maintain an addictive, complete volatility.

Jin Sangtae live in Baltimore 2018

00:00. R/S – “(20.27)” [excerpt] from One (Snow Mud Rain) (Erstwhile, 2007) computer, synthesizer

06:01. Kiiln – third untitled track [excerpt] from Is Music Invisible? (caduc. recordings, 2017) tapes, radio, objects, guitar, piano

11:09. Jin Sangtae – 25th untitled track from Shadow Boxer (popmusic25, 2015) hard drives

13:10. William Hutson – “170214 (Dedicated to Ellen Gallagher)” from Six or Seven Steps to the Door: Solo Improvisations (a wave press, 2017) reel-to-reel tape

17:25. Klaus Filip, Toshimaru Nakamura, Andrea Neumann & Ivan Palacký – “M1 Crab Nebula” [excerpt]” from Messier Objects (Meenna, 2012) computer, no-input mixing board, inside piano, amplified knitting machine, photovoltaic panels

21:56. Gert-Jan Prins – excerpt from side A of RG-58-GJ (Creamgarden, 2002) radio, television, percussion

24:15. MIMEO – third untitled track from second disk of Lifting Concrete Lightly (Serpentine Gallery, 2004) a whole-ass ARSENAL

29:59. Choi Joonyong, Kevin Drumm & Hong Chulki – second untitled track [excerpt] from Normal (Balloon & Needle, 2015) CD player, turntable, guitar

34:32. Cremaster – “8,40 n​/​m²” from 32,41 n​/​m² (absurd, 2003) mixing board, pickups, prepared guitar

Review: Zhao Cong – Fog and Fragments (presses précaires, Nov 17)

One of two inaugural releases by Anne-F Jacques’ new imprint presses précaires, Fog and Fragments is the newest entry in the sparse discography Chinese sound artist and improvisor Zhao Cong (not to be confused with the much more famous, and unsurprisingly much less interesting, classical musician), continuing their series of various collaborations with frequent creative partner Zhu Wenbo. I first became aware of Cong through her Amplify 2020 piece Homework, which I believe was incorporated due to Yan Jun’s astute curation in the Eastern realm of the sonic avant-garde, but the 17-minute wisp of non-musical insubstantiality wasn’t really my thing; this tape, however, very much is. The two sides of the C26—its cover, along with that of Gudinni Cortina’s tape as well, adorned with a geometric sketch that appears to have been drawn with a mostly dried-out washable marker, an aesthetic choice with which I was quick to fall in love—present reticent vignettes of théâtre d’objets, breath, and silence. Cong’s minimal contributions of “sprays, voice, poker card, poker card shuffler and some other objects” are spare but sparkling flecks of gold in a cozy darkness, unfolding in a way somehow at once organic and sporadic. It’s impossible not to become engrossed in the detailed miniatures of shift and shuffle; whether Cong is exhaling a wet hiss through bared teeth, squeezing a fine mist out of a plastic bottle, or simply observing the brooding, meditative hum of her mundane surroundings, every second feels purposeful and saturated with significance. I’m particularly drawn to the alternating interplay between the soft tactile textures and conspicuous digital silence in the second part.

Review: Five new releases from Prava Kollektiv (Amor Fati, Nov 18)

Black metal has long been one of the most useful and evocative musical vehicles for conveying the deepest suffering; while it’s certainly true that not all artists work from that specific emotional basis, I don’t think it can be argued that the conventions of the genre are not uniquely complementary to the conveyance of dread, isolation, misery, depression, agony, etc. Now, however, a new trend emerges within this realm of darkness, one I’ve began calling “void worship”: an intense and punishing yet sweepingly atmospheric approach to instrumentals; howling unintelligible vocals that relay the fear, panic, and defeat of a human consciousness exposed to true endlessness; an overall sense of impenetrable density and unimaginable terror. Several incredible examples of this style—Decoherence’s LPs Epkyrosis and Unitarity, Vessel of Iniquity’s Void of Infinite Horror, Entropy Created Consciousness’s Impressions of the Morning Star, Hexal’s Epistemology, etc.—have been brought to the world by various labels across the globe, but I can’t point to a single imprint who has become more a defining outlet for it than the Germany-based Amor Fati Productions. Many of the label’s recent releases have come from the enigmatic and elusive Prava Kollektiv, whose membership and location is (to my knowledge) entirely unknown, a shrouding anonymity that only makes their prolific output more powerfully mysterious. Last Wednesday, Amor Fati dropped four full-length albums and one 12″ split release, each by one of the five Kollektiv bands. I couldn’t settle for reviewing just one, so I elected to write about all of them.

Arkhtinn / Starless Domain – Astrophobia

Arkhtinn and its members are said to be the founders of the Kollektiv, but their sound is anything but archetypal. The sprawling “Astrofobi,” their contribution to this split LP with U.S. project Starless Domain, is a pitch-black yet startlingly infectious descent into cosmic annihilation, building a propulsive rhythm with shuffling drum machine and a winding melodic synth loop that gives way to the cathartic blasting doom we all came for about three minutes in. The droning guitars are deliciously augmented by near-buried keyboard chords whose tentative harmonies introduce a fragile hope amidst the opaque gloom. Starless Domain’s “MUSE” is a (relatively) more traditional slab of ambience-tinged blackness, holding its own alongside the formidable A side with superb anguished wraith-shrieks and virtuosic drumming.

HWWAUOCH – Protest Against Sanity

I listen to a good amount of extreme metal, but few bands speak to me the way HWWAUOCH does. I couldn’t quote a single lyric, mind, but it’s not really about that. Their exquisite approach, almost painterly, allows vicious dissonance and textures to unfold organically like ink ballooning in a glass of water; the murky soup of mangled riffs and delirious screams articulates the true nature of pained nothingness in a way I never could with lowly words and sentences. Both their 2018 self-titled debut and last year’s Into the Labyrinth of Consciousness are among the most disturbing and hair-raising examples of this time-honored tradition, so Protest Against Sanity has big shoes to fill, but I believe it handily succeeds in doing so with dizzying angularity and what are probably the band’s most unhinged vocals yet, which vary from the squalls of a demon-infant and cries of an individual in unimaginable pain to the low growls of an ancient beast.

Mahr – Maelstrom

You’re not ready for this record. I’ve listened to it like five times now and I am still not ready. Maelstrom somehow surpasses the enrapturing doom-black depths of 2018’s Antelux, already a superb work in its own right, and reaches entirely new heights of horror and devastation. This is a tormented transmission from the not-so-Great Beyond: the swirling spiral of eternity into which all deceased souls are helplessly swept, a neverending onslaught of merciless spiritual torture. Depressing, yes, but there’s no other explanation for what could have created these impossibly nightmarish soundscapes other than profound existential despair. Despite its undeniable bleakness, there’s an inexplicable magnetism to Mahr’s cacophonous “musical” vortices, as if the earsplitting silence of the void is calling out to you, embracing you with its infinite invisible limbs and never letting go.

Pharmakeia – Ternary Curse

Pharmakeia is probably the most “traditional” band in the Kollektiv, but that descriptor clearly doesn’t say much. This new release is definitely the most aesthetically cryptic of the five, though, which IS saying something. Ternary Curse comes bellowing up from the depths of subterranean caverns bathed in a sinister green glow, all thundering double-bass onslaught and obliterating doom riffs and animalistic utterances. The unusual track titles could be the results of some mathematical-phonetic operation or simply representations of verbal incoherence—or both, or neither. The only certainty is the music itself, which howls into existence full of palpable hatred and evil.

Voidsphere – To Sense | To Perceive

Both in name and in explicit conceptual approach (“Voidsphere is worship of the void. It is that, and only that”), Voidsphere perhaps come closest to representing the true meaning of my aforementioned artificial subgenre. The production on To Sense | To Perceive is spectacularly muddy and overblown, swathing the lightning-speed blast beats and eviscerating tremolo tendrils in a cloak of fuzzy distortion. Any vocal elements that are present melt and bleed into this homogeneous mass, the end result being a single thick tornado of sound that is somehow simultaneously meditative and violent.

Review: Martin Rach – Ghost, Don’t Scream (attenuation circuit, Nov 15)

Had it been released earlier at various times, Ghost, Don’t Scream would probably have appeared on Broadcasts from Elsewhere, certainly The Outcast on the Ivories, and possibly even Transmissions, three mixes I’ve posted here in the past; but then I suppose I wouldn’t be able to see its unique place at the exact center of whose collective cloud of thematic and atmospheric essence. For the virtuosic (Lithuanian?) artist Martin Rach pulls from all directions to produce the sparse soundscapes that comprise his newest release: various schools of classical piano or amorphous improvisation, the quiet violence within the “spluttering and bubbling, jerking and rasping, whistling and screaming”¹ howls of radio static, the jarring tonal agility and piercing textures of circuit bending, and various other little things that go bump in the night. On first listen, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about the interplay between the grandness of the piano and the minuscule grasping claws of the electronics as “First Apparition” began, but I was immediately sold about six minutes of the way through when the desperate, sterile wail of a rewired audio wire half-harmonizes and descends with the keys—a truly spectacular and memorable moment. To be honest, I’m not sure I get a “ghost” vibe from this, at least not directly; to me it sounds more like the paranoid half-knowledge of something beyond our field of view and experience but not quite being able to grasp it, forever living in obsessive fear. Or maybe that’s just me, because there’s a lot of other narratives one could ascribe—a lone concert pianist playing a final concerto to nobody in a world ravaged by technological apocalypse, a forgotten service robot trying to make music by rearranging its hardware along to a dusty recording it found on the ground. What I really mean is that Ghost, Don’t Scream is lonely, but it isn’t scary, even if you’re scared of loneliness (I certainly am, to an extent), because the sadness with which this soundtrack to humbling isolation is saturated is nothing except beautiful.

¹ Eula Biss, “Time and Distance Overcome”

Review: Negativland – The World Will Decide (Seeland, Nov 13)

Negativland has, for quite a long time now, been a band whose reputation precedes them, but if anything the nature of this notoriety is certainly in alignment with the attitudes and aesthetics that got them embroiled in the first place. I refer, of course, to the legal battle with Island Records over the release of U2 in 1987, which contained parodies of some of the ubiquitous quartet’s songs, a sample of Casey Kasem shitting on them on air, and the titular two characters printed large and garish on the front cover. The lawsuit allegedly did not involve U2 according to member The Edge, who founding Negativland members Don Joyce and Mark Hosler, unbeknownst to the guitarist, were given the opportunity to interview in 1992. (I highly recommend listening to the recording to hear Edge-man stumble over interrogation about the hypocrisy of their then-upcoming tour which utilized media collages—the implication is that Island sued the band and stole their shtick; if that isn’t the music industry I don’t know what is—and babble half-assed excuses for doing nothing while his record company went after them, as well as reading the book published about the incident: Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2.) But Negativland’s highly-publicized media rights grudge matches are only one direction in which they stretch the slimy skin of the commodified reality of music much further than intended: they were apparently a significant force in the development of Creative Commons, a copyright designation that allows free use of the IP to which it’s assigned, yet a handful of their recordings are impossible to hear due to them being pulled or retracted; the Over the Edge Radio archive may be the longest digital release of all time at a duration of more than half a year, and “select copies” of the ninth volume of the show’s compilation series, released after Joyce’s death, contained small bags of his ashes; the oddities continue. Even after such a mischievously productive tenure, they’re still active today, which is wonderful because we need them now more than ever—the cold capitalist control of “officially” copyrighted material, especially music, spreads its darkness much more quietly now, but it’s not going away anytime soon.

I feel as though I have to begin a review of The World Will Decide with a disclaimer. Opening track “Unlawful Assembly” is brief but extremely intense, a hyperactive maelstrom filled with terrifying recordings of police violence, orders barked over megaphones, gunfire, etc. Some of you already have to hear enough of that stuff every day, and the piece is way more frantic and confrontational than just background noise, so if those are things that trigger you I’d recommend skipping it. That being said, it’s a fantastic cut and a step up for the band, I think, to me reminiscent of Network Glass’s Twitch smorgasbords or This Is Yvonne Lovejoy’s bad-vibes bricolage. “Content” follows it up with something much more traditionally Negativland: half surreal future-lounge, half alternate dimension infomercial channel-surf. Later we get the sound card malfunctions and unsettlingly sterile soundscape of “Attractive Target” and David Wills’ unhinged vocal contributions to the delightfully odd “Open Your Mouth” and Residents-esque nerd pop climax of “Incomprehensible Solution.” The title track and closer is a tumultuous adventure somewhere between hackle-raising paranoia and Public Service Broadcasting–level euphoria. I was skeptical about the appropriateness rather ridiculous cover of The World Will Decide but the music truly earns it. Despite its close tie to their identity, this record, like many of their others, proves that both the deceased and living members of Negativland had/have a lot more on their mind than just copyrights and samples with its existential musings, emotional resonance, and warmly humanist gestures.

“You do not have to apologize for being powerless.”

Review: Papal Bull – Arch-Alcohol of Song (My Dance the Skull, Nov 12)

The creative meeting of two artists so intensely dedicated to a most extreme bizarreness is a bit too much for our fragile world I think, so I suppose we’re lucky that Papal Bull, the duo of Jon Marshall (Akke Phallus Duo, Roman Nose, Singing Knives Records) and Joe Murray (who releases countless solo and collaborative releases mononymously as Posset), has been so sparing in their musical output. The project seems to cultivate both artists’ most surreal and subversive inclinations—for example, their last release in 2016 was entitled In Is In, An Is An, Nrmeegecy Is Emergency, Uyo Is You, Cna Is Can, Siht Is Shit, On Is On, Polihs Is Polish, Tiancvdseetas Is Sedevacantist, and their 2013 debut In Ceres a Pig with Human Hands and Feet Was Born whips up some of the most nightmarish, twisted noise I’ve ever heard—and Arch-Alcohol of Song is no different, so don’t be fooled by My Dance the Skull’s minimal cover design template, which is not an all representative of the strange, slippery, complex sounds found within. Well, not entirely, at least; there’s a certain sparseness to the snaking tendrils of gurgle, moan, gargle, hum, actual speech, and everything in between, only occasionally offset by instrumental excursions, as in the second “movement” of the B side track. Various disparate layers materialize as nodes in a sprawling but spindly web of soggy crackle and vocal delirium—although I suppose neurons might be the more apt metaphor, considering how everything feels so immediate and gestural (which, if you have any experience with either Marshall’s or Murray’s other work, should be no surprise): jets of crackling thought constantly charge the mass of connections, often lighting up large sections of the network with a wan, sickly glow, occasionally descending into darkness with the barest flickering. Wade into the dark pool in the center of the cavern—or is it a mouth?—until its slimy, oily surface closes over your head to learn many great secrets. Or you might just stub your toe(s) on the Bronze Ball at the bottom. But I’m done writing; words are soooooo boring. Hence why we gurgle and moan and gargle and hum.

Review: Cody Brant – Tapes (1997-2020) (self-released, Nov 6)

Between this new(ish) digital-only release and the very limited tape run of Found Cassettes Volume 1 on Research Laboratories this month, Nevada multimedia artist Cody Brant has cemented himself as both a dedicated collector and compelling curator of ephemeral cassette recordings: leftovers from family events, hilarious rants and shower thoughts, children’s choir tracks, lame prank calls and belligerent radio shock jocks, noises of things much less recognizable. Tapes (1997-2020) is more of a conventional (relatively speaking, of course) artistic effort than Found Cassettes, for here the tracks are not strictly divided based on their source but rather collaged more arbitrarily together into extended untitled pieces, as well as augmented by Brant’s typical approach of warbly tape wankery and sloppy loops. There’s a certain responsibility one takes on in doing this sort of sonic recycling; the many speakers and voices that populate the verbal sections of Tapes are protected by a layer of anonymity already, but the individual exhuming these remnants of intimate moments or simply mundane slices of life owes it to the sounds’ original owners to harness it in a respectful way, an implicit but important understanding certainly present in Brant’s work no matter how raw or unadulterated the samples he’s amassed are. This sprawling but deeply immersive stroll through a familiar reality busted at the seams is everything that gravedigger-bricolage should be: messy, nostalgic, inexplicably evocative and emotional, and above all fascinatingly strange. Come wade through the mud of memory.

Review: EVA – DEMO (self-released, Nov 10)

I don’t ever feel like I need to understand or know how to speak a language to consume a piece of music that heavily relies on it. This is something unique about the medium that isn’t shared by literature, which is nearly impossible to process in any meaningful way if one doesn’t understand the dialect in which the text is written, or film, for even movies whose dialogue is of little consequence to the overall work are still watched with subtitles by those unfamiliar with the actors’ tongue. Sure, there’s a limit somewhere—everything depends on the specific situation, but I probably wouldn’t listen to an entire spoken word record in Arabic, and I also am hesitant when it comes to hip-hop with rapping in a language I can’t comprehend—but for the most part, there’s always something more to latch onto than the actual meaning of the words, even if it’s purely just the sound of them. Of all of the shining facets of the international lyrical Rosetta Stone that have fallen short of fully reaching my blockhead-American brain, French is probably my favorite; I’ve always found that there’s a level of verbal artistic expression that can be achieved with the Language of Love that is unmatched, at least by English (a low bar, I know). I embark on this lengthy diatribe to introduce a curious new release from Paris-based ensemble EVA, whose six-track album DEMO is seemingly their declaration of existence. Both Antoine Sarrazin and Yuriy Zavalknouk fill the role of récitant, ranting winding tangents and rambles over a fluid mess of erratic object-percussion, growling guitar yanks, and an assortment of other noises that contribute to the wonderful tumble. I’m not sure whether the two readers are reciting their own work or excerpts from others’, though I suppose I need not think too hard about it (the American Way). DEMO is at times serene (“Mais combien de cesar”), at others quirky and active (“Criez !,” “On ne me tuera pas”), and finally, with closer “Dans la source de tes yeux,” formidably abstract, as piercing circuit squeals and digital pinches like CRTs being turned on and off form the sprinkled garnish atop this delicious release.

Review: Liam Kramer-White – Every Moment Worldwide (WHY KEITH DROPPED THE S, Nov 8)

I’m very excited about this new netlabel from Belgium, who in name—and perhaps, cryptically, in aesthetic—pay homage to ambiguous existence of the “s” at the end of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ surname throughout the band’s earlier years. So far, Liam Kramer-White’s release Every Moment Worldwide is definitely my favorite: a frigid but flourishing slice of domestic improv to send us off into the bleak winter months. “Welcome Out the Window,” the first of the two eight-plus-minute tracks that comprise the short release, features a mobile, agile microphone that at first captures blunted clatter and fiddling with what sounds like an assortment of tools accompanied by the soft chirp of crickets. At first you aren’t sure where exactly things are taking place in relation to the outdoors, but just before the five-minute mark there’s an unexpected but spellbinding shift in perspective as the world outside whatever shelter or dwelling to which we were confined before unfurls in all its lush glory. My best theory for what Kramer-White is actually “doing” during this recording is setting the mic on a windowsill, messing around for a bit, picking it up and taking it to the shed out back or something, and then messing around some more. but of course that’s probably at least a little incorrect, and a tremendous oversimplification regardless; the subdued magnetism of Every Moment Worldwide originates in its meticulous attention to texture and contrast, perception and obfuscation, purpose and accident. The latter two pairs are more representative of what goes on in “Self Portrait,” which undergoes much less sonic development than the preceding piece—it sounds like something has been wrapped around the microphone and is being rubbed and crumpled into crunchy gusts of noise. It’s a testament to Kramer-White’s instincts that he keeps the listener just as engrossed with both palettes.