Two agonizing years after Philadelphia grind band Fluoride’s first self-titled release, they are back with a vengeance on Disentanglement, their official label debut. It’s hard to picture how things could be improved significantly from their inaugural outing, with its no-frills brand of vicious, stabbing grind and crushing doom breaks, but that deficit in imagination will no doubt be cleared up the second “Degrade” kicks in. Somehow, the band has fine-tuned and expanded virtually every element of their sound. The sludge elements are both better written and more effectively integrated, as the band moves seamlessly between hypnotic, head-banging, lethargic riffs and breakneck blast beats. The production cements itself within an ideal compromise between sharp-edged angularity and a slightly muffled mids-heavy fog, the latter of which gives the band’s furious metallic excursions a presence not unlike the acrobatic riffs of classic emoviolence. This is another area in which Disentanglement far surpasses its predecessor; everything seems much more emotional, with every member playing their absolute heart out, the desperate vocals tearing through a wall of unhinged aggression.
These are the sounds of unease, suspicion, apprehension, that subtle but irrepressible feeling of foreboding when you hear a mysterious sound when home alone. On The Visit of the Stranger (2017-2018), Paco Rossique’s eerie cocktails of piano plinks, squeaking floorboards, ghostly drones, and carefully processed recordings conjure a world that draws from both the comfortingly familiar and the unexplored shadows just out of sight. He turns the magnifying glass to the minuscule sounds we take for granted every day, the rattles and creaks and pings that are always present but hardly ever appreciated in our homes, occupying a sound-world somewhere between the domestic subliminity of Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet’s The Breadwinner and the perturbing terror of Climax Golden Twins’ Session 9 score. But like both of those works, The Visit of the Stranger becomes something much more than simply an atmospheric assemblage of concrète sounds. Instead, it touches on something truly uncanny that is difficult to qualify but also undeniably human, a quality that becomes impossible to ignore once voices are brought into the mix on the “Smooth” tracks that begin side B. And with the second of those, “Smooth V Number 52,” the album even looks inward onto itself with musings about the tuning of a piano. Rossique has created something absolutely fascinating and dense with The Visit of the Stranger, an album that is sure to reveal countless layers as I continue to listen again and again.
Bitter Energy lives up to its title. Its taut grooves and hypnotic, repetitive song structures swathe a raucous vitality in skittering tension and pregnant anticipation, making its moments of catharsis all the more satisfying. The sextet is tangentially related to fellow Cincinnati band Crime of Passing, but though both acts are undoubtedly indebted to the golden age of post-punk, that’s where the similarities end. While the latter is all frigid coldwave suspense and brooding atmosphere, Mardou allows the vigor of a large band to really shine through in their songs, and even at their most controlled they toe the edge of joyous chaos. Things start off relatively reserved with the crisp, succinct rhythms of “Red Lights in the Sky,” but the facade of control breaks down in ecstatic disarray on tracks like “Csunya,” “Elephants,” and “Immersion,” with barely-held-together gang vocal choruses and an unhinged colorfulness that pairs well with the angularity that’s maintained throughout the album. It’s easy to underestimate Bitter Energy, what with its somewhat short length and inconspicuous beginning, but that would be a grave mistake. The tape is fun, memorable, and yet another fantastic entry in the ever expanding post-punk revival canon.
Tim Thornton’s newest tape as Tiger Village, Modern Drummer, is a colorful romp through complex rhythms, off-kilter percussion, and occasional mangled fragments of arrestingly beautiful melodies. Much like its overstimulating cover art, the tape is a bubbling, shifting amalgam of elements both synthetic and organic. None of its components are anywhere close to quiet or submissive, so each track plays out almost like an auditory grudge match between disparate drum loops and plasticky synth patches, fighting against each other as well as Thornton’s jagged, unpredictable sampling technique. Despite the heavy emphasis on rhythm, many of the songs become so complex and saturated with indifferently brash ingredients that they turn into something much more formless, drawing abstractness from structure in a way that’s fascinating and unique—closing piece “Tightly” is a great example of this. But Modern Drummer isn’t all dizzying, disorienting blasts of electronic mayhem; Thornton also has a great ear for the sublime, and knows when a respite from the insanity would be appreciated. Tracks like “Modern Drummer II,” with its pleasing, subdued kick drum stampedes, or “Beat Tape,” which enthralls with its slow disintegration, offer opportunities to breathe amidst their more frenetic neighbors, making Modern Drummer feel like a well-composed and complete album despite its concise length.
A problem I’ve always had with industrial techno is that much of what I’ve heard from the genre just isn’t as aggressive as I’d like it to be. The big names in the genre, like Surgeon and Regis, are enjoyable enough for their stripped-down hypnotism, but to me “industrial” implies something truly abrasive and crushing. With recent releases like offworldcolonies’ Iconoclast, DJ Speedsick’s Nothing Lasts, and now Domenico Crisci’s new 12″ Velvet, however, my thirst for violent, hammering four-on-the-floors has been more than quenched. Velvet frames its repetitive beats with a forcefully minimalist approach, each track subtly expanding the elements that are squeezed and squashed into submission at the outset. Also contributing to the restless tension are the polyrhythms that are slowly introduced, off-kilter beat augmentations that throw off the steady 4/4 pulse and cast the track into disarray. On songs like “You Are Hot,” these rhythmic distortions make the return of the pounding bass throb even more impacting, the catharsis provided by the return to order amplified by the vanquished disruptions. And even outside of the compositional tools Crisci uses to flesh out his cuts, this is simply some of the most ferocious techno I’ve heard in a while—just listen to the first few seconds of “Valzer” or “I Lost Myself” if you don’t believe me.
Collaging, at its heart, is the art of combining various elements to create a new whole, one that both retains the identities of the things used to create it and takes on one of its own. Fäustchenamt presents collages on two fronts: its aggressively harlequin album cover constructs a mishmash of pink, red, and orange food products that surrounds more patchy combinations of photographs of buildings and a human body; and, of course, the music, which takes the form of seventeen delirious hodgepodges of field recordings, deconstructed musical performance, disarming electronic textures, and the occasional funky hip-hop beat. Even before listening to the album you could probably assume it to be overwhelming, an assumption with which I would agree, but the enigmatic Berlin artist(s?) known only as The Sadnesses aren’t just throwing things at the wall (or your ears) and seeing what sticks. Each short track is a carefully composed conversation of disparate sounds, and really the only overwhelming thing is how dizzyingly varied the sonic palette really is; once the initial bewilderment at bizarre fusions of cut-up conversations and guitar solos (“These Bags of Vanity”), or the mass of static that tears apart the surreal pop pastiche of “Lance Armstrong,” or uncanny harmonies between violins and what sounds like the rocking of a boat (“Swimless Fish”)—yes, all that occurs in that less than four minute stretch—there are some truly sublime moments to be found. At the very least Fäustchenamt is often downright hilarious. If you’re a fan of the dada totalism of LAFMS bands like Le Forte Four, this will be right up your alley.
Getting pulled into the woozy, half-asleep world of Lil Big Man is pretty much the easiest thing in the world. From the opening cut “Time” the LA newcomer Maxo commands his arsenal of shuffling hi-hats, buried vocal samples, and dreamy keyboards with a buttery, infectious flow that draws charisma from both the ease at which it’s delivered and the sense that Maxo actually believes the things he’s saying, an all-too-uncommon quality in recent hip-hop I’ve heard. The production is handled almost entirely by lastnamedavid and Swarvy (Due Rent, Swarvy’s collaborative tape with rapper lojii, who also appears on Lil Big Man, was my pick for hip-hop release of the year in 2017), its eclectic instrumental palette borrowing liberally from soul and jazz to craft lush beds for Maxo’s bars. The percussion is rhythmic in a wobbly, tumbling way, consistently groovy yet seemingly never strict or metronomic, a calm and detached approach that couldn’t complement Maxo’s delivery better. The young wordsmith’s focus is mostly directed inward, at war with himself and success on “No Love” and meditating on uncertainty with “Lucky,” his earnest musings ornamented with interlocking rhyme schemes and abstract imagery. Though the production is possibly the more immediate appeal of Lil Big Man, further listens readily endear Maxo and his words, the rapper subverting any need to ‘prove himself’ on his label debut and instead just saying what he wants—or needs—to say.