Review: Group of Three – Group of Three (God in the Music, Jan 27)

Much like the first release from New Zealand artist Noel Meek’s God in the Music imprint, the owner/operator’s own collaborative tape with Yan Jun (Mirror One, reviewed here back in March of 2021), the self-titled debut from newly minted trio Group of Three is an enthralling, unforgettable piece of instantaneous creative music. Featuring Meek on no-input mixer and various horns, Sean Martin Buss on strings, more horns, and objects, and John O’Connor on percussion, the single untitled track that comprises their first recorded outing both slowly seeps like steam with abstract freely improvised reticence and heavily tramples like a steamroller with the unhinged, muscular volatility of the best of small-ensemble brut-jazz. The three well-tuned musicians are patient and contemplative, always listening and reacting, and yet the music moves between the two aforementioned stylistic poles with speed and fluidity; take the bit about 15–20 minutes in for example, when Meek and Buss are both torturing their brass and O’Connor’s malleted toms are lumbering forth in a magnificent stampede—until they aren’t, and it’s just careful plunks and squealing NIMB and clattering strings… until it isn’t, and a sudden bout of snare abuse leads the rest into earth-scorching chaos. Spectacular stuff, and it only gets better on repeated listens when you can look between the more noticeable moments and find the nuances etched in every second of interaction.

Review: Razorwire Handcuffs – A Life of Gore (Audible Violence, Jan 25)

I usually try to provide at least a bit of respite from an onslaught of violent/extreme music reviews with some coverage of less abrasive or disturbing material (plus I’ve already written about another Audible Violence release this month, Augurio Drama’s The Noise Box), but not only are the wells pretty fuckin’ dry on that front, the ones on this front are overflowing with bounty—as long as you don’t mind some chunks of rotten flesh, pulled teeth, and a decidedly above-regulation concentration of blood floating around in your water. With A Life of Gore, Colorado artist Razorwire Handcuffs delivers a series of prime butcher cuts of loud, dirty, diseased harsh noise, not quite fully planting an ankle stump in the trashwater-puddle of gorenoise but not completely leaving it behind either. An introductory sample about a three-month-old child being eaten by rats is always an auspicious beginning, and the rest of “Picked Apart” doesn’t disappoint as an opener, releasing a spurting geyser of crunching, crushing distortion from the fetid mush beneath ruptured stomach lining. Later tracks provide enough variation to make the whole tape a well-paced and engaging listen, but not so much as to wrest the music as a whole from the sluggish throes of the decomp phase: “The Breaking Wheel” surges like the flailing limbs of an electrocuted corpse, “Hara Kiri” claws at eardrums with punishing high frequencies, and “Execution” roils in a muffled, deformed inferno. I’ve featured the digital cover because based on the photos I’ve seen, the physical cassette doesn’t have “Picked Apart,” which is disappointing.

Review: Kortslutning – Self Obliteration (self-released, Jan 24)

More relentless sonic destruction from the southern hemisphere arrives in the form of this half-hour monstrosity from Ecuador’s Cynthia Velasquez as Kortslutning. Self Obliteration, among other things, is mastered so ridiculously loud that you won’t be able to see straight, and it’s glorious. If one were to recover from the initial impact quickly enough, the doubled-mono style stereo profile might seem a bit tedious despite the mighty force of the stems themselves, but Velasquez makes it work with thick, chewing movements that bridge the gap, spires of scalding feedback that jet into the center, and jarring dropouts that rip the razor-threaded rug out from under your feet over and over again, taking your soles with it. All three tracks start strong, but also steadily get better as they progress; “Anachronism” culminates with those blasting feedback screeches I mentioned, “Derealization” (a nightmare after my own heart) sculpts some structural failures and high-/low-end interplay into a thrashing crescendo and its smoldering aftermath, “Visions” dissolves from piercing chaos to an incendiary wasteland of distortion mudslides, sci-fi pulses, and fleeting ghosts of melodies shredded to near-oblivion. This is another case where the album cover is a J-card but there doesn’t seem to be any physical edition available; I hope that changes soon.

Review: LDQ Ysimaro / Mente-Atada – Disembodied (Antenna Non Grata, Jan 22)

For the most part, I tend to stay away from artists who are extremely prolific. It’s not that I believe it’s impossible that high levels of quality and quantity can coexist—I’m just never convinced. Calling Argentinian project Mente-Atada “prolific” is a bit of undersell; they’ve released nearly 100 albums, EPs, and splits since member Mosca took up the mantle solo in October 2020. Like I said, digging into that much isn’t really my thing, but when a more reticent label like Poland’s Antenna Non Grata highlights some material (in this case in the form of Disembodied) it’s a good way to check in. I don’t know much about LDQ Ysimaro, not even where they’re from, but just based on the music itself, this split pairing of a very infrequent and a very frequent releaser is a great one. Both artists deliver ersatz monoliths of grinding, churning, gnashing harsh noise and other unruly live electronic bedlam that make use of both stasis and dynamism in roughly equal measure. On LDQ’s side, heavy apocalypse-synths crack under the weight of unrelenting distortion drill bits, which shatter the more palatable textures into shards that flit around the ensuing tornado of debris for the remainder of the track. Mente-Atada’s is more traditionally harsh, but it keeps things interesting by assimilating a whole host of techniques and styles—cut-up, stop/start, power electronics, wall—into a single, brutish assault. ANG states their cassettes are “made with love”; I’m not sure I would wager the same about the music. And in this case, that’s a good thing.

Review: Jelly Bark – BARK, PARK! (self-released, Jan 19)

“Sounds collected by recording walks with human Bom, Maltese Bbangdol, and Jindo dog Yeonhee. Pigs Saebyuk and Jandee, and countless other beings participated. It’s the first collective album.” Translated from Korean, these are the only words auxiliary to the music itself that give context to BARK, PARK!, the debut release from Jelly Bark, a project ostensibly composed of all of the aforementioned “beings.” Bom is a silent guide of sorts, initiating the recording process for each track but remaining both physically and sonically removed to direct emphasis toward the artist in focus, and thus we end up learning a great deal about all of them. Bbangdol is first, a quiet and determined contributor who effects various subtleties all drawn into a trotting forward momentum, barely audible breath and gentle jingling pulls of the leash and pitter-patter feet on wood and concrete (“Jazz & Dinosaur” is positively gorgeous). Yeonhee is more vocal, scattered, active: loud, breathless panting and the click of toenails on the ground dominate most of the two parts of “Ballad in NATURE,” in which there are great moments of connections with other dogs barking and howling in the distance; and the free, unconfined bounding and curious scrabble of “Without Leash” are wonderful. Pensive soundscapes featuring various birds and the pigs Saebyuk and Jandee follow, and if you weren’t spellbound already, the closing “A Companion Songline” diptych is a stunning exercise in everyday concrète collage that concludes by closing a loose, wide loop. A beautiful and important work of art.

Mix: Righteous Radio Rock

Perhaps a spiritual sequel of sorts to the Inimitable Indie Introductories mix. I know most of you probably don’t come here for this sort of music, but for better or worse this is the stuff that’s getting me through the dark, frigid doldrums. Naïve lyrics, earworm anthem-choruses, brickwalled overproduction (almost all of these tracks have noticeable artifacting—part of the charm, if you ask me), and just, well, righteous. No idea if anyone other than me will get anything out of it, but when have I ever cared about that?

00:00. The Sheila Divine – “Kardashian Plastic” from The Things That Once Were (Zippah, 2012)

02:09. Wintersleep – “Jaws of Life” from Untitled (Dine Alone, 2005)

05:12. Foreignfox – “Exit Frame” from The Long Jump (self-released, 2021)

09:14. Vigo Thieves – “Forever” from Heartbeats (Hijacked, 2016)

13:31. Laivue – “Saattoväkeä” from Laivue (Ektro, 2010)

18:52. Then Thickens – “My Amsterdam” from Colic (Hatch, 2015)

24:48. Restorations – “The Red Door” from LP5000 (Tiny Engines, 2018)

28:23. Outsider – “Míol Mór Mara” from Karma of Youth (OK! Good, 2020)

32:08. Kodaline – “Ready” from Coming Up for Air (B-Unique, 2015)

36:00. Kings of Leon – “Waste a Moment” from Walls (RCA, 2016)

39:02. Casa Murilo – “Head for the Door” from The Rise and Fall (Sony, 2012)

42:51. Sleeperstar – “Everything Must Find Its Place” from Just Another Ghost (Duckpin, 2010)

Review: Takahiro Mukai – Spell (Nazlo, Jan 18)

The Moscow-based Nazlo Records uses the same eclectic set of neologisms to tag each of their releases on Bandcamp: “animal music,” “obviously-experimental,” “post-human,” “ritual glitch,” and “ultrahardcore.” Usually when labels do this it leads to some misleading mismatches, but somehow every entry in Nazlo’s catalog, no matter how radically different from its peers, seems to fit quite nicely under that mutant umbrella of labels. Spell is no exception; the newest tape from consistently prolific Osaka producer Takahiro Mukai, even after the artist has amassed a considerable body of work that treads far beyond the bounds of electronic dance music (with an impressive list of imprints as well: Fort Evil Fruit, Cruel Nature, Cudighi, Moss Archive, ERR REC, Never Anything, Alien Passengers, Lal Lal Lal, and many more), may be his best fusion of conventional appeal and subversive abstraction yet. The contrast between the A and B sides is night and day: the former is dotted with fragmented glitches and shortwave warble, a mesmerizing swarm of erroneous transmissions in the vein of Shunt or the Vacuum Boys, while the latter first lulls with a stretch of beautiful, sincere ambient (Mukai’s 500th numbered piece!) and then bobs back to shore across gently lapping waves of synth tones. Each track is unassumingly gorgeous in its own unique way, and all together they seem to say something that can’t actually be said. A good entry point into an intimidating discography.

Review: Lonely Water – Après Nous, le Déluge (self-released, Jan 17)

If you’ve somehow managed to keep your cognitive functions intact while in the throes of her majesty Charybdis, Après Nous, le Déluge is a pretty close approximation of what you’d hear once she’s swallowed you whole. The newest release from UK south coast project Lonely Water joins the recently NNM-reviewed Galeophobia in an elusive tradition of mortally fractured, gutted aquatics, each an abrasive manifestation of both the unfathomable expanse of the ocean and the brutal immediacy of its many horrors. The four parts that comprise Après Nous, le Déluge can be confidently classified as static noise, a distinct element that introduces something new to the dialogue. Part one sears like a seashell frying pan filled with salt water, bursting forth with a forceful but ultimately lifeless current, at once violent and indifferent in much the same way as the giga-tons of pressure folding your paper skeleton in half over and over and over. After that we descend even deeper; part two is even more anemic than the first, and ends with a purposeful bout of silence that serves as a chilling transition to the volatile, haunted fissure-flares of III. There’s even more silence following the relatively short section, and then the looming swarm of grotesque bottom-feeders takes full control as IV tears into existence, its field-filling lushness the sound of kelp corpses absorbing the life force bubbling off your soggy dead flesh. As the artist themselves says, “Volume high for suffocation. Volume low for meditation.” But to be honest, I’m fine with both at once.

Review: Tetuzi Akiyama & John Krausbauer – Gift (Erototox Decodings, Jan 15)

Granted, I haven’t heard too much of Tetuzi Akiyama’s music—in improvisational contexts, the sparse, clear, tonal guitar style he often uses doesn’t appeal to me at all—but what I have heard definitely did not prepare me for the startling radiance of Gift, a new 7″ collaboration with composer/curator John Krausbauer that strips drone music back to its raw acoustic roots. Both “A Prayer” and “An Omen” are five-minute beams of dust-encrusted light, generated via the primordial fusion of electric guitar, effects, and delay (Akiyama) and amplified violin and feedback (Krausbauer). The grandiose yet restrained energy behind the reverential meditations is easily reminiscent of the genre’s founding legends—the Dream Syndicate/ToEM, Flynt, Oliveros—but not to the point that it feels like just a tribute or throwback. Both musicians are playing with purpose here, conjuring their own tapestries of thick, gritty transcendence and then filling in any blanks left by the other’s like collaborative painters, forming a majestic twofold current whose halves ebb, flow, and melt around and into each other. One could say that it’s Krausbauer’s slicing bow and high-octane melodicism that steals the show on “A Prayer,” while Akiyama asserts more of a presence on “An Omen” with some room-shaking amp resonance, but to try to separate that which is so powerfully unified is pointless.

Review: Slowbleed – The Blazing Sun, a Fiery Dawn (self-released, Jan 15)

The pairing of conventionally technical guitars breezing through thrash chugs and heavy metal–esque melodicism with dark, hard-hitting, mean metalcore is what I loved most about Santa Paula quintet Slowbleed’s debut EP, Never Been Worse. It was also more than enough to make me extremely excited for their first full-length release, excitement that I now know was completely warranted. The Blazing Sun, a Fiery Dawn is a huge step up for the band in every possible way, from the disturbing cover art (and Never Been Worse‘s was already great) to the execution of the exterior metallic influences that put even more weight behind the vicious hardcore assaults. The 48-second “Aurora” is an innocuous enough intro, but the following “Ice Cold Odyssey” makes it clear there is no fucking around to be found here. And from then on, there’s little to no mercy either; each track lashes out with dizzying solos, vocals straight from the depths of hell, and plodding, ridiculously brutal breakdowns that feel like being repeatedly clubbed over the head. Don’t believe me? Listen to “Sangre” through to the end and then we’ll talk. “The Law (Atonement Through Blood)” is another standout that seems to distill everything great about Slowbleed into a single blow (to the head, again). The unrelenting heaviness finally breaks for a brief moment on “Driven by Fire”—a quiet/loud-whiplashing track that, despite only being four minutes and 26 seconds long, feels nothing short of epic—and the subsequent acoustic interlude “Diluculum” before the awe-inspiring culmination that is “Graves (Pours of Earth).” I’m not usually one for the almost cheesy guitar shredding, but my god, it’s just perfect here.