Departure Crash has its fair share of abrasive, annihilating stagnant noise, but for the most part the five pieces that comprise this new CD from one of my favorite of Richard Ramirez’s literally countless aliases have such potent staying power because of how fully and comprehensively immobilizing their presence is. The harsh static of the first untitled track is expectedly loud and punishing right out of the gate, one soon becomes aware of a subtle but palpable reticence at its base (it may be easier to pick this out if you’ve previously heard Ramirez’s other wall-based projects, many of which do not share this quality), a meditative current that transforms the listening experience from appreciative cowering and grimacing to contemplative introspection. This structure continues throughout the contents of the disc despite the ensuing tracks’ sonic diversity; the second sluggishly materializes into and dissipates out of its soot cloud–like form, while the fourth rides an overblown but somehow nonintrusive rumble of distorted crunch. Personally I could do without the news samples that crop up in the final two sections, which greatly reduce the enjoyment factor of the fourth and infuriatingly delay the actual noise part of the fifth, but the approach taken in constructing these walls is unique and successful enough that I can mostly overlook those missteps. Ever wonder what that thick, uncomfortable silence following those graphic car crash videos you had to watch in secondary school would sound like run through a pedal chain? Now you know.
Much like an album with a similar approach I reviewed quite a while ago (Nathan Corder and Tom Weeks’s Anaconda), the pairing of instruments that characterizes Symbiotique seems like it shouldn’t work. By that I mean the idea of coupling extremely abstract, atonal electronic synthesis with largely conventional reed and brass playing doesn’t look very auspicious on paper, at least not to me, but The Maximal Effect immediately won me over regardless; not only does Seth Andrew Davis contribute lush layers of plasticky, artificial effervescence, but he also processes Michael Eaton’s saxophone and/or flute in real time, rendering even the most straightforward licks and runs in an unstable, fragmentary light. After the opening title track, each of the lengthy improvised pieces arise from some sort of conceptual inspiration—e.g., “Accumulation by Dispossession” from the ideas of David Harvey and Karl Marx, “Via Affirmativa” from Barth’s “A Few Words on Minimalism”—which may be why they never feel noodly or aimless. These are musical conversations first and foremost, and one imagines what a fascinating spectacle seeing the duo perform live would be, but in more holistic terms the swirls of sound always seem to flow from a single source, as if a mysterious pressurized gas canister has sprung a leak or someone lifted the lid of the devil’s toybox for a bit too long. The sprawling “Plastic Capitalism” is a great example of this and a clear standout on the album; the momentum of the interplay that mounts in the first half is exhilarating, and even when the pair calms things down the music quietly but stubbornly persists, seeping under the doorway with a creeping hiss.
As terrifying as the prospect is, Synthetic Vocabulary may provide a glimpse into the bleak future that lurks beyond the stubborn development of increasingly sapient artificial intelligence. I’m not talking about the technological singularity itself, but rather the point a few centuries beyond that, when the dwindling human race are now used as forced labor, entertainment, and every other fucked-up way we abuse animals now while the bourgeois androids and disembodied operating systems sit atop sleek chrome thrones. Having evolved beyond the need for any sort of audible verbal communication, archaic “text-to-speech” programs are now mean-spirited novelties, used to spam unintelligible gibberish at their flesh-and-blood servants who lost all language long ago. But this auditory abuse ends up having an unintended effect. As abstract vocalist Rully Shabara is quoted as saying on the release page, language is “also capable as a medium of much more complex multi layered message such as expression and non-verbal intents [sic]”; what sounds like innocuous nonsense to the machines holds emotion and catharsis that only our brains can unlock. Alliterative semiotic deconstructions like “Max, Lisa” evoke the unutterables of lightning-fast thought processes and inner musings, almost entirely wordless pieces such as “Thena” resonate with a peculiar poignance, and the title track may just be the revolutionary anthem of the future—is there anything more powerfully human that plastic and fucking?
Tommy Rot Trio is kind of a terrible base phrase for an acrostic—and the album deserves much more of an in-depth analysis than this. But my head hurts and I’m kind of set on this idea now, so.
Obtuse in its whimsical yet restless skitter.
Metallic scrapes, squeaks, and shudders reign supreme.
Mazelike, winding, spacious.
You can almost hear the absences in between.
Rigidity made fluid.
Oscillating roles: strings, objects, electronics.
The tactile textures of tautness and tension.
Rips, rattles, shakes, clatter.
Intimate despite its alienness.
Open and closed spaces.
The title of this mix comes from the artist description on RST’s Bandcamp page. A slab of heavy, enveloping, rough-hewn drone music: pillars of light exploding from your body and stabbing through the clouds.
00:00. Bügsküll – “Intro” from Phantasies and Senseitions (Road Cone, 1994)
00:16. Pelt – “Ashes of a Photograph” [excerpt] from Effigy (MIE, 2012)
08:41. Natural Snow Buildings – “Black Pastures” [excerpt] from Daughter of Darkness (Blackest Rainbow, 2009)
16:28. My Cat Is an Alien – section I [excerpt] of Cosmic Light of the Third Millennium (Important, 2006)
20:09. Alex Cunningham – “Faith” [excerpt] from Rivaled (Void Castle, 2021)
28:05. K-Group – “Carrier” from K-Group (Corpus Hermeticum, 1997)
33:14. Jim O’Rourke – Happy Days [excerpt] (Revenant, 1997)
40:17. RST – “Transform” from Warm Planes (Corpus Hermeticum, 1999)
49:37. Axolotl – “Way Blank” from Way Blank (Psych-o-Path, 2005)
55:46. Bada – “Roj Friberg” from Bada (Pomperipossa, 2020)
With Liquid, Spanish trio Phicus takes a significant step beyond their previous work toward something much greater. Recorded as a stylistic foil of sorts to the sessions that yielded last year’s fiery but ultimately edgeless Solid, the lengthy improvised takes that became “Hg” and “Br” (interestingly, both mercury and bromine are liquids at room temperature, but together, as HgBr2, they form a crystalline solid) are patient, considered, and meditative. A careful extended-technique delicacy in each member’s approach results in the band’s most spellbindingly atmospheric interactions yet: muscular double-bass lumbers are traded for hypnotizing legato and high-on-the-neck squeaking that bears an uncanny resemblance to some kind of brass instrument; shredding scales and dissonant chords have been dissolved into Surface of the Earth–esque amp rumble; and the skilled hands that once harnessed virtuosic percussion cacophony now deal in textural resonance and feedback-wracked Prévost bowings. The entirety of the nearly full-LP-length “Hg” swells with subtle but deliberate momentum, slowly asserting the true extent of its massiveness like an impossibly sluggish subway train emerging from a tunnel, brakes squealing and sparking, heavy metal hull groaning and grumbling, and it’s only once this train has departed that one can truly fathom what was in front of their eyes/ears to begin with. The more diminutive “Br,” which runs for just over 12% of the previous track’s duration, brings the tape to a fitting close with fragile, almost elegiac strings, strikes, and shrieks. For those who sorely miss trio-era AMM, Marginal Consort, or (more recently) Mural.
Though surely few predicted as much at the time (as Owen Maercks puts it, “if you had asked me 40 years ago… I would have laughed in your face”), the peerless legacy of Derek Bailey lives on piecemeal in those who find inspiration in his techniques. Sometimes this influence is nestled so deep within the essence of an artist’s music or playing style that it’s difficult to identify at first, and other times it’s so prominent that immediate comparison is inevitable. Guitarist and cellist E. Jason Gibbs’ new Wolves of Heaven CD is kind of both. His agile, gestural use of dissonant harmonics, string rattle, and atonal percussive strikes instantly evoke those of the late legend, but there’s something about Gibbs’ approach that evokes something a bit more homey and folkish. Both the track titles and the music itself imply a reverent earthiness; on cuts named “Raven and Coyote Celebrate Their Good Fortune” and “Wet Rocks and Roots” he’s situated within a clear and palpable organic environment, even though the presence of ambient noise mostly acts as more of an accompaniment than the other side of an improvisational interaction. When I said the Bailey connection was both obvious and subtle I meant that it took me much longer to realize why Wolves of Heaven resonates with me more than most abstract guitar material of similar character: with Gibbs’ breath, surroundings, and bodily movements all captured alongside the foregrounded picks and plucks, he harnesses the same exhilarating physicality that makes records like Music and Dance and Aida so memorable. For all of its primitivist sensibilities and grasps at some semblance of convention, Wolves of Heaven is an addictingly odd outing that demands full attention.
“Firmament” is a loaded word; no matter how your particular use of it behaves it will invariably evoke Biblical themes. The lyrics for reclusive project Monte Penumbra’s newest album aren’t available online, but based on the sound—of both the words and the music—alone they certainly reach as high (or low) as this association implies. Apocalyptic growls and howls emerge from a bottomless chasm in opener “Black Mould on Rye Grass,” and some clever layering throughout this track and more sparingly in some of the others renders the vocals somewhere between the utterances of a single person and that of a group of individuals in shared misery, both intimate, solitary lament and the collective chorus of the crucified. The overall atmosphere of As Blades in the Firmament is a dense and oppressive one, but none of the instruments bleed into each other much, so there’s always at least a few layers to unpack rather than a homogeneous mass of noise—not that I’m ever opposed to that, of course. Such a production style was a great choice for these compositions, especially in complementing the guitar and drum interplay, whose interlocking parts often swap complexity or emphasis to create a constant sense of heavy, monumental shift within the music. There’s this constant uneasy truce between dissonant angularity and triumphant resolution in the riffs, but neither ever seems to win out, and thus the experience of listening to As Blades in the Firmament is equally uneasy. Dread and excitement aren’t meant to coexist like this.
It’s a nice coincidence that I mentioned fals.ch and i.d in yesterday’s review, because the first thought in my mind when I heard Josef Swindell’s newest release was that I hadn’t heard such a harsh, uncompromising raw data release since my initial encounter with d4ta corruption. Though most of us have probably received a reaction similar to Swindell’s dad’s—”is it supposed to sound like this”—when showing someone music we created or simply enjoy, it doesn’t get much more esoteric than the piercing blasts of static and wounded glitches of thelma arnold. Even when things cool down a bit, as in “google man, take what you can” when a drop in intensity allows for some tendrils that just barely flirt with tonality to creep in, there’s almost always a consistent undercurrent of caustic digital violence, whether it comes in pounding waves like at the end of that track or in merciless, dizzying cut-ups that build to all-out mayhem on the following “Be Free, My Harajuku Girls!” The “computer being brutally murdered” metaphor is low-hanging fruit for this type of stuff, but I can’t think of anything else for which it would be a better fit. This is something in which fans of both extreme electronic music and harsh noise, as well as anyone who wants to get away from any sort of conscious thought for about 25 minutes, will find plenty to love.
SCH0äDEL_book:~;03222021 is over in less than 28 seconds. It has almost that many songs, but the bite-sized cuts average just a second or two in duration, and some not even that. In a way somewhat similar to i.d’s fals.ch classic ,!_;_:!_7:+!_-+;,.!_g-7/;7_,.;y!_g;,/+Xg;+:yXgg,.- and Greathumour’s more recent Choose the Forceps, half the fun of listening to the newest release from this exasperated-exhale-inspired project is watching the Unicode-nightmare track titles whiz by at lightning speed as the microscopic shot of sound trapped within each tears from its prison for just a few ecstatic milliseconds. Don’t try to stream this one from the Bandcamp web player; true gapless playback is absolutely essential for that dizzying channel-surf effect to fully come across. Snatches of conversations too brief to be in any way intelligible, sprightly video-arcade vignettes, impatient experiments, and chunks of distorted debris are just a few of the countless components that comprise this multifarious collage of addictive, flashy impermanence. The perfect soundtrack for the exponential deterioration of my musical attention span.