Reviews: Sick Days, Pool Pervert (Vacancy, Aug–Sep)

The most interesting, well-curated homemade/small-batch labels come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and aesthetics, but especially all locations. I’d wager one could stop a spinning globe on any random point there’d be a good chance something to this effect is going on somewhere nearby, whether it’s tapes and CD-Rs tucked in scribbled-on paper sleeves or zine exchange networks or alleyway film screenings, and most will probably go completely unnoticed by the other 99.999% of people in the world; which, of course, is usually part of the point. Some places, however (for reasons as various as art itself), become unlikely, often ramshackle hubs for one or several convergences of fringe interests, and one of those places is southern Ontario, a fecund patch of lakeside tilth for DIY sprouts and shoots. From Fossils/Cardinal Records (as well as David Payne’s Offensive Orange project and Middle James Co.) to Thoughts on Air/Low Orbit and Beach Vicodin/Hamilton Tapes, the Hammer is definitely a hotspot, but a bit farther south in Niagara resides Vacancy Recs. and its associated artists, a new favorite of mine that’s having a modest but superb year so far.

Sick Days – The Calm Before (Aug 19)

The work of woodshed sound art project Sick Days comprises much of Vacancy’s output, of which The Calm Before is the latest. Like the 2020 self-titled double CD, the release that introduced me to the project, a simple formula of taped field recordings and choice effects comprising a sort of stripped-down performance installation. There’s little variation for much of the two 45-minute sides, the minimal yet enthralling soundscapes lulling with homespun hypnosis; I’m reminded of Jørgen Brønlund Quartet in that the passivity and agency of the nature being observed is retained, but there are just enough details that it’s apparent human intentionality is at play. Not only do both untitled cuts seem to dissolve time with their careful, artful simplicity, they also have spare moments of dynamic shift that will leave any close listener breathless (I won’t spoil… hear it for yourself). I can already see this being one of my most-played tapes this year.

Pool Pervert – Young Sleep Whispers (Sep 20)

Disregarding any less than ideal connotations with which the artist’s name might imbue it, Young Sleep Whispers is a fitting, if still cryptic title for this new tape from the prolific Dutch newcomer—this reticent near-hour feels not just dreamlike and hushed but also embryonic, forming movement and emotion before it even forms (or is formed) itself. In part one, meditative cross-currents of simmering moonlit water, blurred piano musings, and rhythmic respirations from somewhere beyond settle into place with the organic, unhurried ease of the tides themselves. The surface of this distilled primordial soup is later brushed by what could either be windswept branches or cosmic clouds of ice, widening the music’s spatial presence even further; the results are at once massive and miniature. The following part is even looser, more earthy and psychedelic (though don’t take that too literally—the binaural voice snatches at the beginning will have you looking over your shoulder the whole night).

Review: mockART – views | interrupted (self-released, Sep 2)

Though much more of a concise, focused work than its sprawling predecessor Men Who Lost Their Heads (reviewed here last November), the new full-length from nebulous Frankfurt project mockART is every bit as unpredictable and thoroughly strange. The cynical late-capitalist imagery continues with the cover of views | interrupted, a color-saturated photomontage depicting a dreamlike, oversimplified, pop-filtered image of the apocalypse; and though there’s no magical window to greener pastures in real life, something akin to that saccharine optimism shows up in the music as well, a kind of liveliness that’s sickly and broken at its core. This first shows up in the form of the classically minded flute phrasings that comprise much of th first three tracks, bleeding out in the shadows of some unknown cavernous space where machines whir and electronics hum. The last of this opening triad, “White Window,” shifts more attention to warm, wet synth transmissions, denser but by no means happier, ringing out major-key intervals rendered as a somber lament. It’s also a great example of the central logic that structures views | interrupted, a (paradoxical) penchant for conventional harmony and subversive detours both textural and tonal. “Parklife” might be the standout, bringing together everything previously introduced with space-distorting field recordings of footsteps, forest fare, and absent-minded percussion fiddling. The way these disparate elements form soundscapes that actually make sense needs to be heard to be believed. And in fact, beneath the layers and façades of bright-eyed synthetic sheen, there’s a current of genuine hope to be found. I hope.

Review: Moth Cock – Whipped Stream and Other Earthly Delights (Hausu Mountain, Sep 2)

Of all the ruffianic stalwarts on Chicago weirdo electronics purveyor Hausu Mountain’s roster, Moth Cock have always been my favorite, perhaps in part because it was they who brought me to the prolific label in the first place, thanks to their split LP with Ren Schofield’s Form a Log back in 2016. Since then (and even before; 2014 full-length debut Twofer Tuesday and 2012 live tape Bremmy are among the very first releases) the irreverent Kent-based project of Doug Gent and Pat Modugno and their peerless brand of surreal, plasticine MIDI-jazz have both become a fixture of Hausu’s output and spread elsewhere, notably to Cleveland imprint Unifactor as well as leaking through several self-released, digital-only outlets. Nothing, however, could prepare even the most dedicated fan for the sheer breadth of Whipped Stream and Other Earthly Delights, an XR dose of the duo’s best and most adventurous work yet that spans three C70s and nearly three and a half hours. The previously NNM-reviewed (and still excellent) If Beggars Were Horses Wishes Would Ride was already a significant step up from the less refined early sound, but this is something else entirely, mashing together everything they’re already good at and a heaping helping of brand new territory.

For the most part, this album is surprisingly built on drones, in one way or another at least; I never thought I’d be comparing this band to Natural Snow Buildings in any capacity, but the lengthier tracks here really do remind me of some of Daughter of Darkness in the way they seem to create their own gravity, bending time itself with gargantuan weight. But if Daughter is a black hole, Whipped Stream is a rainbow dwarf star, or maybe a miracle singularity of all the world’s Casios, plastic horns, and old game cartridges. Opener “Castles Off Jersey” is an immediate illustration of all that bleeping, burbling color stretched by the expanse of space: meditative bowed-cello loops introduce a core coziness that persists even when slow-building entropy arrives in the form of strangled sax and ersatz bit-trips—listen to this one in the sun, if you can. The first tape closes with the (relatively) shorter “Leads to the Yellow Courts,” a stumbling trudge through psychedelic haze that feels much more traditionally Moth Cock, anchored to ground level by the humidity of tropical birdsong and sopping wet delay even as the smoke rises to the stars. Despite most, if not all of the material here being collected from Twitch streams and recurring local performances, it feels like an album through and through, and a temptingly replayable one at that, which might be more of a feat than if it were all recorded in sessions specifically for this purpose. It’s impossible to even pick a favorite cut; right now I’m all about the Black Dice–esque groover “Mineshaft Full of Caspers” and the immersive apocalyptics of “Take Two and Lose Your Phone,” but I guarantee that will change next listen.

Whipped Stream has already received well-deserved mainstream coverage from Pitchfork and other sources, so it should be a testament to its quality that I still felt it necessary to chime in. One for the ages, no doubt about that.

Review: Jürgen Eckloff – Diese, Nichts & Solche (Fragment Factory, Sep 1)

Diese, Nichts & Solche is Berlin sound artist and active Column One member Jürgen Eckloff’s first release since 2016’s Angeflantschte Fugenstücke, a record that made a deep, lasting impression on me when I first heard it. Unsurprisingly, this is true for this new tape on Fragment Factory as well; across both sides of the C46 a complex, cerebral slice of meticulous concrète-collage unfolds in a way not unlike a dream, its logic at once well-defined and utterly indefinable. Wriggling bits and pieces ripped from context, speech and slime and slurry, interdimensional phone calls and complete hogwash… all of these multitudinous elements somehow converse, even cooperate with each other, following rules well outside comprehension as they spasm and slither with an uneasy, skittering kinesis—much along the lines of the work of Eckloff’s labelmate and colleague Alice Kemp, or perhaps a more surgical Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck, especially with regard to the skin-crawling eroto-terrorscape that begins side B. (Though innocuous on their own, I can’t say I’m a fan of the inclusion of the Žižek samples, but I suppose it works with the rest of the sluice of perverse nonsense.) Diese, Nichts & Solche is indeed unsettling at some points, extremely intense at others, but through it all there are ever-present threads of pretty much everything else: humor, horror, rhythm, ruin, wonder, despair, one, none. Don’t listen alone, or at night… or at work.