Review: Chris Williams – Of Yours (self-released, Feb 5)

As sound artist and composer Chris Williams himself states in the release description, his “first album without any trumpet” is certainly “a special work indeed.” Featuring heavily processed contributions from colleagues such as bassist Nick Dunston, percussionist Aaron Edgcomb, and trombonist Weston OlenckiOf Yours is a short five-part collage of evocative spoken word samples, sublime improvisatory tension, and a fragile, crystalline ambience that is both optimistic and somber. True to the cover, which was designed by Laura Sofía Pérez and primarily features a particularly suave photo of James Baldwin, most if not all of the speech used throughout the suite comes from the renowned writer and speaker (I’m quite terrible at identifying voices, however, so I could be wrong), whose simultaneously impassioned and calmly logical arguments—qualities that remain palpable even when recordings of him are chopped up or assembled—are just one of the many elements that make Of Yours a work truly “teeming with Blackness.” As far as I can tell, the samples are sourced from a 1968 documentary by Horace Ové, which featured Baldwin passionately conversing before an audience with comedian and activist Dick Gregory (listen to a recording of at least some of Baldwin’s portion here); while the film does a great deal to unite the often carelessly disconnected realities of the Black experience in individual white-supremacist states, Williams and Of Yours are deeply concerned with the American side of things, a focus encapsulated by the ironic “land of the free, home of the brave” motif that is repeated several times. Making use of the words of such a prominent figure might be a copout from actual significant creative contribution for some musicians, but not Williams; his endlessly layered sound-sculptures of ecstatic electronics and instrumental ephemera would be enough for a fully-realized work even on their own. The integration of Edgcomb’s virtuosic drum kit performance on “of” is particularly strong, as is the seething yet subdued closer “yours,” which acts as a sort of memorable coda or revisitation of all that came before. This new direction from the already eclectic and adventurous Williams is exciting, beautiful, and impossibly rich in emotion and meaning.

Note: though the cover reads “Chris Ryan Williams,” the album is officially credited to “Chris Williams.”

Review: Python vs Cobra – Bitte Nicht Füttern EP (Brain Pussyfication, Feb 5)

The short-‘n-sweet Bitte Nicht Füttern EP is by far the most fully-realized release from Berlin duo Python vs Cobra (Thiébault Imm and Kévin Angboly) so far, but for them coherence is incoherence, and as such this tape makes use of both simultaneously. The stripped-down guitar and drums approach to noise rock is hardly anything new, and yet these winding, brutal improvisations of pseudo-punk jam fragments and formless cacophony are undeniably fresh and full of something indescribable that makes the pair’s particular brand of bedlam so much. It could be the palpable creative chemistry between the two musicians; or maybe it’s the raw, unhinged exchange style, which throws the traditional dichotomy of drums→rhythm/guitar→melody into a constant, merciless distortion (see “Castré et Véreux,” on which both instruments seem to pull each other from a dense, impenetrable muck of nebulous dissonance into a firecracker rock groove); or it’s just the fact that these brief musical spasms are so infectiously instantaneous, so unflinchingly volatile, that one becomes obsessed with the state of mind they evoke to the point where there’s nothing else that hits the spot the same way. There is a stunning amount of both violence and serendipity immortalized by these recordings, whose exaggerated edges remain stubbornly rough and cutting no matter how many times one tries to wear them down.

Review: Dan Blacksberg & Julius Masri – SUPERLITH II (self-released, Feb 5)

On their second album as the SUPERLITH duo, unruly improvisors Dan Blacksberg (trombone) and Julius Masri (cracked keyboard) come together for an even more magnificently ramshackle display than their debut effort. Cobbled together from five recordings captured in 2012 and one remotely-created piece tracked just six days before the record’s official release (I didn’t even see it at first since the info was sent to me on January 26th), the two noisemakers each contribute their mercilessly abstract extended-technique muck to addictive, high-energy rackets. I can’t decide what the best part about stirring and abrasive opener “Granular Progeny” is: its incredibly fitting title or the fact that it just bursts into existence without warning, immediately setting the stage for the sort of spark-flinging, friction-fraught grinding in which Blacksberg’s and Masri’s interactions inevitably result. While not usually one for post-announcement musical revisions, I’m actually rather pleased with the last-minute addition of “Multicultural Space Lasers Kill Only Nazis in Their Throats”; “Hyaline Ossuary” and “Crypts of Lieberkuhn” are both good tracks, but their subdued droning retreats and seething rumbles weren’t the most climactic conclusion to the set. “Space Lasers,” on the other hand, makes sure one isn’t left without the vivid memory of the sheer chaos that this vicious horn player and sadistic instrument surgeon can conjure.

Review: Ego Depletion – Eeeeeeg Synfffff Derpzzzzz (self-released, Feb 4)

My first encounter with Fritz Welch occurred thanks to Autofahrt, his recent cassette with Mark Vernon as Trouble Tracer. I immediately fell in love with that album’s abrasive whimsicality, produced through a uniquely deconstructive approach to abstract vocal improvisation, and Eeeeeeg Synfffff Derpzzzzz, Welch’s newest release (as part of Ego Depletion, together with Adam Campbell) was thankfully no different in its instantaneous appeal. While the highly gestural, granular textures at play on this short suite were likely produced with modular synthesizers, I’m not sure how much significance the album’s title has in regard to its methodology; was EEG (converting brain waves to audible sounds) used, or is “Eeeeeeg” just the sound of relief that the two noise-wranglers’ neighbors made when they finally finished recording these tracks? I have absolutely no idea, but I’m content to sit in ignorance and be assailed by writhing tendrils of caustic cracked-electronic rasp like the bubble of burning flesh, overblown drum set freakouts, waves of dizzyingly high-pitched feedback, and assorted acousmatic witchcraft. “Ehhh” nails that elusive atmosphere of not-quite-organic, not-quite digital, its wet wire-tentacle slaps and insectoid dissections making it one of the most memorable tracks, while “Orrrrrp” closes things out with a volatile smash-‘n-glitch opus that rivals the best of Sissy Spacek.

Review: Where Is Mr. R ?! – 18 Luglio (2035, Feb 3)

“…témoignant non d’un choix mais d’une limite physique.”

This phrase (which loosely translates to “…testifying not to a choice but to a physical limitation”) ends the description of 18 Luglio, the newest release from Paris trio Where Is Mr. R ?!, setting the stage for a somewhat brief but no less formidable free-music invocation. Unlike their self-titled debut, also produced by 2035 Records, the aforementioned “limite physique” manifests as a 15-minute duration restriction on two homogeneous improvisations, which each follow the three musicians—Augustin Bette (drum set), Basile Naudet (alto sax), and Luca Ventimiglia (vibraphone)—as they stagger and stumble through incessantly repetitive phrase-loops specifically designed to exhaust. According to the band, disintegration through performance fatigue was always the goal, and 18 Luglio is la trace sonore de cette impossibilité (the soundtrack of this impossibility); their initial “objective” may well be impossible, but the music produced along the way is anything but. It’s an absolute pleasure to witness these constantly cascading currents of loosely structured free-jazz noodling, the obstinately stagnant riff-cells sometimes syncing up in whimsical unison but mostly bouncing off each other in the auditory equivalent of a lottery-ball-hopper frenzy.

Review: Zebularin – Semantic Radiation (Cruel Nature Recordings, Jan 29)

In a way, the bizarre shape and texture distortions featured on the cover of Zebularin’s new tape Semantic Radiation are not just appropriately subversive visuals that correspond to equally subversive music, but also a statement about the band itself. A fragment of the back of someone’s head cut to resemble the head of some draconian acolyte (Kobolds, anyone?), a dark photograph of someone curled up in bed that has been mounted in such a way that its own spatial logic no longer makes any sense, the sky of a landscape panorama unravels and twists impossibly toward something even higher—it all reeks of the same approach the Stuttgart collective takes to produce their music: stretching, cutting, and dissecting the conventional in favor of the new and unpredictable, stuffing large clumps of strangeness where they most certainly do not fit. It’s as if the listener is shown the tangled mass fibrous wires that hold together the group’s most “normal” instrumental elements (drum kit, woodwinds, Rhodes), allowed to witness the surges of sonic electricity as they move throughout the network in the form of line-in electronics, industrial clatter, and other scientific tabletop conjurations from Yoshihiro Kikuchi and bandleader/composer Daniel Vujanic. “Supplikant” and “Vaccimal” focus almost entirely on these in-between sounds, unfurling into beautiful, buzzing storms of electricity and emotional catharsis, while longer tracks like “Jubelperser” and “Flores” drag the lens much further back, capturing spacious, diverse, room-filling interactions that echo the best of early improvisatory units (even though Zebularin’s material is not improvised). Perhaps the titular concept is literal, and these volatile, enigmatic pieces are the toxic residue left behind when one spends too much time thinking about what music means. No idea why anyone would want to do that in the first place, though… some nerd shit for sure.

Review: I N S T I T U T R I C E – Cohortes (Un je-ne-sais-quoi, Jan 29)

Yet another spellbinding adventurous percussion release on Un je-ne-sais-quoi, Cohortes is an impossibly lush sonic journey. French drummers Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy and Éric Bentz, recording for what appears to be the first time as I N S T I T U T R I C E (which is quite fun to type, by the way), has assembled an extremely diverse kit from household objects and tools, assorted traditional instruments (“singing bowl or gongs”), and actual drum components, but the textural tapestries woven through palpably forceful strikes and slaps move as single entities. Opener “Cantabrica” builds to catastrophic tension levels before suddenly dissipating, leaving a hypnotic calm of natural hum and birdsong that permeates the peripherals of the following “Werner,” an epic, shifting odyssey escalated as much by sharp-edged, ever-rising synth drones as by the duo’s own impressive physical performance. Even when there seems to be only one simultaneous percussion track, their spider-limbed attacks create the illusion of countless other additions and layers, the result of both the speed at which they switch between contrasting targets and our minds trying to make sense of such complexity. And when there are layers—as on the brief but incredible “Bouquet” couplet, in which a distant gong and chiming metallic rolls are augmented by wet crackles and grating horns—Geoffroy and Bentz know exactly how much or how little energy with which to imbue the “main course.” Not so dark or dissonant that it’s unsettling, nor so colorful and whimsical that it’s saccharine, Cohortes is the fiercest neutral, like the wild, awe-inspiring intensity of the jungle: plenty of harmless harmony to see and hear, but you’d better not stay in one place for too long.

Mix: The Noise Not Music Comfort Robots Present a Lullaby for Those Too Scared to Sleep

The last mix was already quite calm and reserved, and usually I try to switch things up, but the description I wrote for that one was bleak as hell anyway and frankly my knotted-up brain needs all the cozy music it can get. I’ve realized that if I’m given curatorial control of any kind of mix I’ll inevitably turn it into the platform for some disturbing, mood-killing existential treatise, so the board and I have made the mutual decision to hand the reins to our in-house Comfort Robots. The cost of getting them fully programmed was pretty damn steep, so we didn’t do that, but they have had the concept of beauty verbally explained to them, which we feel is sufficient. If you find any errors in the content they’ve produced (available below) don’t hesitate to reach out; to be honest I really need a reason to turn these annoying little fuckers into scrap. They keep trying to hug me.

Cartoon of a confused robot
This is what CR-008b (“MOMO”) looks like when it asks me if it can use the botroom

00:00. Axolotl – “Telesma” [excerpt] from Telesma (Spooky Action, 2006)

06:22. Wim Dehaen – “Ústí OST” [excerpt] from 12 Elegies for Pierre Boulez / Ústí OST (ACR, 2018)

07:07. Désormais – “Brief Lights, Broken Compass” from Iambrokenandremadeiambroken… (Intr_version, 2003)
[title comes from another song on this album, and no, don’t worry, your headphones are not broken]

13:12. Biographs – “ground felt softer today” from must dissolve (Reckno, 2014)

18:03. Belong – “I’m Too Sleepy… Shall We Swim?” from October Language (Carpark, 2006)

23:04. Pure & Ultra Milkmaids – first untitled track [excerpt] from s[e]nd (Vacuum, 2000)

25:16. Open Marriage – “Domestic Science” from Destiny USA (self-released, 2014)

33:23. The Hers – “How Night Works on the World” from Tough C~~t (Sex Lies Magnetic Tape, 2012)

35:09. Erik Levander – “Under timmerstockarnas stilla flykt” [excerpt] from Couesnon (Katuktu, 2018)

Review: Giacomo Salis – Naghol (Grisaille, Jan 24)

Giacomo Salis’s first official solo release is also by far his best work yet. On Naghol the Italian abstract percussionist conducts a sound study of a single spring; what role that springs actually plays, however, is somewhat ambiguous. Part I brings to mind a massive, multifaceted modern art installation in the vein of Max Eastley, endless layers of metallic collisions that form spectacular harmonic overtones; is it a gigantic spring with which he interacts using metal rods and other objects, or is the spring what’s being used as the gestural tool? Usually when I ask questions of the nature, they’re more rhetorical because I have some idea of what’s actually going on, but in this case I have absolutely no idea. But whether you spend your time pondering what process produces the music or simply, you know, listening to it, the result is much the same: Salis’s magnificent sense of pace, progression, and textural interaction is on full display over these three concise cuts, and no one can avoid getting lost in these dark, rattling clatter-scapes that seem at once limitless—in an abyssal, mezzanine sort of way, that is—and confined. Essential for fans of the elusive genre also typified by Remnants’ Empty Ruin; i.e., the lumberingly kinetic dark ambience of dragging giant rocks and pieces of scrap along the floor of a subterranean cavern.

Review: Rock Flint Contemporary Ensemble – Forgotten Potions (self-released, Jan 26)

This digital-only release makes available a live recording of this apparently short-lived quintet captured nearly a full decade earlier (July 27, 2011). The Rock Flint Contemporary Ensemble consisted of Todd Brunel (woodwinds), Junko Fujiwara (cello), Forbes Graham (trumpets, laptop), Luther Gray (drum set), and Andrea Pensado (voice, electronics), an eclectic assemblage of hooligans who raise a racket that is as much curious basement-floor noise jam as it is raucous, technical free jazz. Pensado’s workstation is the main source of oddness within the instrumental maelstrom, often resembling the grinding whir of electric power tools or the squirrely glitches of a seizing VCR, although it’s not always clear where her contributions end and Graham’s software-summoned intrusions begin. Whether the moment is calm or cacophonous, however, Fujiwara and Brunel maintain a magnetic interplay, the former either bowing an imperfect scale or plucking a furious pizzicato along to the latter’s snake-charmer-on-stims clarinet serenades and agile sax skronk. With only the aforementioned elements, Forgotten Potions may have ended up a more reserved affair than this, but Gray’s presence on the kit gives each and every second a breathless urgency, creating a pace like a sprint whose only finish line is slowing down and then sprinting again; even during the hissing mouthpiece interlude on “Sabinene” you’re just waiting for all of the frenzied fanfare to kick back in. And oh, does it ever.