Review: Bolek i Lolek – Na Dzikim Zachodzie ​/ ​Skutki Uboczne (Live) (Antenna Non Grata, Feb 18)

Compared to their last release—the LDQ Ysimaro / Mente-Atada split tape, reviewed here in January—Antenna Non Grata’s most recent offerings are a radical stylistic departure, but in actuality that’s just the name of the game for the venerable label, which has been incisively documenting the wide range of Polish experimental electronic music since 2010. Still, the new round of CDs are also radical in themselves no matter how you approach them, particularly Na Dzikim Zachodzie ​/ ​Skutki Uboczne (Live), the second official recording from duo Bolek i Lolek (following 2020’s W Krainie 1001 Nocy on Plus Timbre). Regardless of whether it’s named for the 1936 comedy or the iconic Polish cartoon brothers, Jacek Chmiel and Jakub Miarczyński’s collaborative project is a playful one, a fundamental characteristic that makes every minute of their colorful interplay worthy of both rapt attention and casual amusement. In the material comprising this “double album,” much of which originates from an improvisation workshop the two musicians participated in at the Musik-Akademie of Basel, Chmiel contributes electronics, zither, singing bowls, and objects, while Miarczyński counters and converses with percussion and toys, an eclectic spread that demonstrates its full potential right away; the opening moments of “Bolek i Lolek na Dzikim Zachodzie,” which see crystalline sine tones, static, and bowl laments wrinkled by a lush garden of tactility, squeaks and scrapes and shuffles—spectacular stuff. Chmiel also occasionally rides the FM knob throughout the disc, bringing in everything from pointedly meta self-reference to “Blank Space,” and the resulting uptick in obtuseness is always complementary. What austerity the music does have manifests in the form of a deep reverence for the sanctity of texture, and that is a kind of seriousness I can get behind.

Review: Nodolby / Marsha Fisher split (Activated Skeleton, Feb 18)

Even amidst unprecedented uncertainty and turmoil, 2022 keeps on giving in the smallest but brightest of ways, this time in the form of a brilliantly titled new small batch label out of Minneapolis and its debut release, a split tape between Italian junktronics stalwart Nodolby and Activated Skeleton’s founder/operator, Minnesota’s own Marsha Fisher. Unfortunately the run of 20 handmade copies has already sold out, but for $3 you get the digital versions and the excellent collage from which each unique j-card was cut (a steal, as I’m sure you could guess). “Nastri del Misterio,” Nodolby’s single suite on the A side, is a phantasmagoric stumble through recycled and exhumed sound of all sorts, sometimes clumping up into hallucinatory knots of radio grabs and lo-fi field recordings with a Carnival of Souls–esque haunted psychedelia (think the early work of Nome Morto/Cássia Siqueira), other times dissolving into sloppy cut-ups and errant looping. Fisher responds with a set of three radical tape works that somehow cover an even wider range of energy levels: “9-26-2021” is a harsh, workshed-industrial bricolage of analog noise and boisterous percussion improvisations that’s immediately followed up with the muffled, tiptoeing reticence of “10-30-2021,” and then the two approaches are combined for “12-27-2021.” While certainly different, both sides are very much of that irreverent abstract tradition that I can never get enough of.

Review: Glorias Navales – Live at Fundación Comunidad Contemporánea (Frente al Fuego, Feb 18)

One of the most understated and curious releases on Graham Lambkin’s inimitable Kye Records (closed since 2017) was Chilean quintet Glorias Navales’s Cofradia Náutica, a humble debut LP of artfully naïve communal acoustic jams that warmly absorb the sounds of their surroundings and audiences even as they are performed for/to them. There are very few, if any recordings that can match the magic that occurs (though some other Kye releases, such as cellist Alec Livaditis’s Clear and Cloud, come close), and thus, despite their devoutly modest approach to music making, GxNx has become legend. Live at Fundación Comunidad Contemporánea comes nearly four years after their last record, Presenta El Blues de Istvan on A Wave Press, at a time when new material from the ramshackle folk unit was needed most—I’m sure I don’t need to explain why. The release makes available an intimate live session from November 2019 by the core lineup of Christian Bartlou (banjo), brothers Alvaro and Ivan Daguer (drum and ukelele), Tomás Salvatierra (guitar), and José Luis Sepulveda (rabel) featuring renditions of songs from El Blues de Istvan (and I stand by my earlier use of the phrase “new material,” because every time a GxNx piece is played it becomes something unique), including “Enero,” which also appeared on Cofradia Náutica. From the plucky, pastoral beauty of “Entrando el Espejo”—augmented by some absolutely breathtaking bow and effects work by Sepulveda—to the overlapping, glorious mess of “Sabres,” there won’t be many moments while listening to Fundación Comunidad Contemporánea when you aren’t smiling.

Review: Jum-Jum – Ways and Waves (Utrovortu, Feb 17)

Water surrounds us. It’s our constant companion and the biggest part of us. It’s in human veins, in tears, in wet air in the lungs, flows like continuous river from our birth to death. And so it is in outer world, where water has its own life in many cycles. Water vapors and clouds transform to rain drops, gather in tiny brooks and then in wide loud streams. Groundwater faces the surface by million murmuring springs. World ocean holds planet Earth in a tremendous and caring embrace.

I’ve been doing a lot of quoting in reviews lately. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, it’s because the artist, label, or fellow listener has captured my own thoughts perfectly (see being there). Other times it’s just that the copy is so good it would be an injustice not to reprint it (see Performance Outrage Enhancement). And then every so often the text begins a conversation that I feel compelled to continue, a phenomenon of which the translated Russian introduction to Jum-Jum’s Ways and Waves is a remarkable incidence. Because what makes this 42-minute single track so utterly gorgeous is not the sublime overtones and harmonies woven by twirling, fluid drones, not the warm bed of synth ambience that feels like a full-body hug, but the fact that the sound of water itself is the most prevalent and consistent presence throughout. Soft, cleansing raindrops pool on and drip off of all the corrugated metal roofs in your brain; bubbling brooks wash away the encrusted mud of exhaustion and despair; damp subterranean caverns quieting and cooling the noise and heat of being—“our constant companion” indeed.

Review: Curcuma Street – Ueckermünde (self-released, Feb 16)

I have no idea if Curcuma Street actually exists (if it does, it would most likely be somewhere in Spain, the artist’s home country), but for the sake of imagining the glory of an entire turmeric-themed avenue, let’s just say it does. “Ueckermünde” is hardly the lively soundtrack that would be blaring from boomboxes set on windowsills and the tinny cell phone speakers of passersby on this hypothetical street; if anything, it lurks at the invisible boundary between stillness and motion: the scrape of a shoe sole against concrete as someone is just beginning to walk, the unconscious shifting and rearranging of tools or utensils right before an artisan begins their work, the sound of the contents of one container being carelessly transferred to another. The subtle electroacoustic shuffling and peripheral electronic interference is reminiscent of other liminal tinkerers like Small Cruel Party and TVE, but Curcuma Street’s precise arrangements seem to spring from a single source point (rather than comprising a scattered supply of junk stitched together), a structural curiosity that makes “Ueckermünde” all the more elusive and enthralling. Errant swipes of pen across paper, swelling emf clouds, fiddling and fumbling: this is the sound of hustle and bustle before it actually happens. I’m not synesthetic, but I wonder if to those who are, this music’s color is that instantly recognizable shade of yellow.

(It should be noted that these words only pertain to the title track; unfortunately, the superb composition is appended with “Paysage cosmique,” a rather mediocre stretch of laptop ambient. Normally I don’t review things when I don’t like them all the way through, but the heights this release reaches makes the sacrilege necessary.)

Review: Ghost in Mozambique – 2016 / 2022 (self-released, Feb 14)

Some artists’ material is better suited to the piecemeal structure of career-spanning anthologies than others’, but even within that group there are certain members whose work is significantly complemented by this sort of presentation. Italy’s Ghost in Mozambique is without a doubt one of these, and 2016 / 2022 is the only proof you need. It’s also the only proof in general (the only other thing by the artist I can find is “Vendetta”, a single released by Abnegazione in October of last year), but that is of little to no consequence—the music is so far-reaching and casually ambitious in itself that it vividly evokes the sprawl of half a decade of creating. The “ritual” descriptor is overused in extreme electronic music, but it’s 100% accurate here; every single one of the eclectic spread of tracks contains some shade of occult shadow, from the stuffy, delirious psychedelia of the chants and percussion on “Chicken Blood” and “Voodoo” and the chiming string plucks that temper the distorted crunch on “Snake Dance” to the trance-inducing cosmic electronica of “Urlo Psichico.” The collection’s clear centerpiece is the 26-minute “Incantesimo,” an impeccably crafted wall that feels like blasting at light speed through an endless astral wormhole, but all of the selections more than justify their respective inclusions, and by the time the grave-dirt dirge of “L’Ultima Notte” is over and the drugs have worn off and the sun starts to rise, nothing will ever be the same.

Mix: Fauna Are Friends, Not Food

Nor are they possessions, vehicles, sources for consumer materials, soldiers, or fodder for sacrifice.

If it is medically, economically, geographically, and/or culturally possible to reduce or completely eliminate your consumption of animal products, why not give it a shot? If you aren’t convinced, try immersing yourself in these soundscapes; I hope they make a case for listening and respect over torture and slaughter.

00:00. Jesse Paul Miller – Puego Puebo [excerpt] (self-released, 2005)

05:13. Abby Lee Tee – “Interior Construction” from At the Beaver Lodge II (self-released, 2021)

10:09. Saebyuk / Jelly Bark – “Whisper” from BARK, PARK! (self-released, 2022)

11:16. Daniel Löwenbrück & Marcellvs L. – second untitled track from Stallgewitter (Tochnit Aleph, 2014)

16:50. Graham Lambkin & Áine O’Dwyer – “Down by the Sally Gardens” from Green Ways (Erstwhile, 2018)

20:19. Thomas Tilly – “Around the Explosion: Rhinella margaritifera and Dendropsophus nanus [Unprocessed Phonography]” from Codex Amphibia (Phonotaxis) (Aposiopèse, 2021)

21:54. Matthias Urban – excerpt from A side of SiAl (Dinzu Artefacts, 2018)

30:39. AMK – excerpt from A side of The Perpetual Journeys of a Despotic King (Rainbow Bridge, 2013)

34:01. Melissa Pons – “Freita” from Wolf Soundscapes (self-released, 2020)

38:16. Daphne X – “Seabirds at the Fish Market, Essaouira” from d(ear) diaries (Eminent Observer, 2020)

Review: Suitcase Body – Star Bloom (Broken Tape, Feb 12)

I must have accidentally done a lot of good and/or virtuous things to rack up this much karma, because there’s no way it’s just happenstance that, after not even two months, 2022 is shaping up to be a positively legendary year for harsh noise and related genres. Between Phage’s Black Sand Desert double CD retrospective, Monolithische Aktion’s vulgar new batch, and the raucous return of Finnish newcomer Kobeuk, January was already filled with quality material, but February has already answered with instant classics like the latest splooge of pornographic causticity from Moozzhead on New Forces, the self-titled debut of Italian enigma Steve Urkel, and now this. Suitcase Body isn’t a project I’ve heard anything from before, and it looks like that’s because they haven’t put out any externally produced recordings beyond a few tracks featured on V/A comps—that is, until Star Bloom, a release so good that my entire first time through I was half waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it doesn’t; there’s just one giant steel-toed boot soled with spikes, and it never stops grinding your face into the dirt. Though every minute features a more-than-satisfactory supply of brutal feedback worship and lacerating scrap-metal maelstroms, structurally the full-length album is a flawlessly arranged mixed bag, some tracks tending toward sluggish and stagnant territory (“We Are Masters of Tricks and Treats,” “Infinity Within Zero [Lights of Thought]”) and others reinjecting ruthless energy with classic squall-‘n’-crunch thrash (“Avatar, Eternal Mind, Collective Mind,” “Living Mathematical Minds of Zero [Paradigm Shift]”). Again I ask: what did I do to deserve this? And how do I keep doing it??

Review: Rene Kita – Fraught Mackerel (self-released, Feb 12)

Turku artist Rene Kita, whose “main purpose in life is to draw one million faces before [they] die,” has given me and presumably at least some others a splendid, joyous gift with Fraught Mackerel. Though it barely crosses the 11-minute mark, the release feels dizzyingly expansive, stuffed to bursting with the kind of sonic density that’s just the right sort of exhausting. Many of the bite-sized segments, despite being at their cores coldly digital, have a delirious woodland effervescence that I associate with a lot of the Finnish abstract music I love, and a few are straight up magical (just listen to “Feral Molochs”; I was not being flippant with my use of “joyous”). Both within each track and as a whole, the album is undoubtedly full of nonsensical chaos, and yet—whether from our brains, the actual music, or both—even on a first listen plenty of patterns emerge: bouncing rhythms shattered into sparkling shards that do their best to reform the whole, who-knows-how-many different melodies trying and failing (or succeeding?) to coexist. But for the most part…. “Such a pretty mess, don’t you think?”

Review: crcfd – danceableas (The Absorption Directory, Feb 9)

Apart from listing that they’re based in Brooklyn, relatively new netlabel The Absorption Directory has an extremely cryptic web presence: their bio reads “Act III”; each release is tagged with the words “metallic,” “pristine,” and “shiny”; and there are no real names, external links, or context in general of any kind to be found. danceableas was the album that led to my discovery, and it’s also my favorite from the imprint’s catalog that I’ve heard so far. Like many of the other artists on the roster, crcfd owes a certain amount to electronic dance music, but here that influence appears as simply one of countless lenses through which radiant beams of computer music are refracted, the core stylistic elements simply specters on the outskirts of raw abstraction. While strange choices, the aforementioned descriptors certainly apply to this music, which feels smooth and mercurial despite its many tethers to recognizable grounding points (minimal techno bursts, eviscerated bubblegum pop, candied synthbient washes, industrial incessance). Here the sharp, crystalline sonorities of pure data output and digital mastication are a fluid fabric rather than an abrasive torrent, its constant undulations a wonder to behold. For fans of Network Glass, Bánh Mì Verlag, and Soulseek.