U.K. avant-rock project Mosquitoes released one of my favorite albums last year with the Drip Water Hollow Out Stone LP, a brief but dense exploration into the radical deconstructions pioneered by seminal no wave bands like DNA and Mars. Comparisons to these predecessors are nearly inevitable when discussing Mosquitoes, but unlike many other instances of revivalist artists in this genre, they don’t aim to emulate or even to incorporate the styles of influential bands, instead focusing on furthering and paving new ground in this ongoing approach of fragmentary, convention-defying rock music. Vortex Veering Back to Venus shares the previous record’s brevity, clocking in at just over 20 minutes across six tracks, but its subversiveness is even more total. The hints of stuffy, oppressive darkness that lurked at the edges of Drip Water Hollow Out Stone now pervade every element of the band’s style, looming over the listener like the shadow of a spreading storm with razor-sharp percussion strikes as its lightning and lumbering, muffled bass as its thunder. The pieces are even less rhythmic than before—the most we get is a plodding bass drum throb, and sometimes not even that—and instead the drums often function as stabbing punctures in the thick atmospheres being woven, crashing through layers of crackling guitar noise and low-frequency hum. Sparser and more abstract still are the vocals, which sputter and shake somewhere quite a ways away from intelligibility. It all comes to a truly majestic climax with closing track “VS,” which is perhaps Mosquitoes’ finest work yet.
Earlier this year, Leeds-based tape skronk project Territorial Gobbing (also known as Theo Gowans) entered my ears with Stud Mechanism, a brief but formidable odyssey into junk coagulations, mucous-caked a cappella scrabbles, and other aspects of Gowans’ “no expense spent cheap stupid music with tapes, clutter and spit.” Despite this irreverent, no holds barred, almost anti-music approach, there’s always a great deal of masterful technique at work on a Territorial Gobbing tape, especially on Capitalist Art Is Cartoons Fucking, the project’s most recent release. This time, Gowans’ toolkit is largely the same—dizzying, violent tape manipulation; chopped-up radio grabs; gargling, moisture-filled mouth sounds; and clattering object hodgepodges—but the space occupied by the music is much more expansive and ambitious. Introductory remarks of indecipherable deadpan muttering and contact mic clutter are claustrophobic yet atmospheric, and “Tooth Orb” specifically evokes something not dissimilar to the dark, musty basement milieu of Mars beneath its noisy bustle. Things spread out a bit more on “Are Militant Atheists Using Chemtrails to Poison the Angels of Heaven,” with terrifying throat warbles ricocheting off raucous clanking metal and what sounds like a field recording of a public environment. This track is the longest on the tape and therefore has the most time to bring its hulking junkyard monstrosity to fruition, but the shorter pieces accomplish amazing feats with their more limited durations; “Armpit Beer” discombobulates with sudden blasts of fast-forwarded tape, “Spooky Electrics Blog” stitches together a haphazard form from disparate voice samples, and there’s a moment amidst the heavyweight kinetics of “Raw Plastics” that seems to depict a small mouse being brutally murdered. Stuffed full of rust, slime, and trash, Capitalist Art Is Cartoons Fucking is Territorial Gobbing at the top of his game.
Small scale, object-based improvisations often create the most immersive and intimate sound-worlds, which depending on the approach of the artist(s) can be soothing and peaceful, raucous and overwhelming, or anything in between. Not only do the improvisers control the sounds they produce but also the level of prominence with which they are presented; amplification plays a key role in these delicate performances, and can either isolate the sound objects in question from their surrounding environment or allow for seamless intermingling. With A Realistic Morning Prayer, the first collaboration between sound artists Derek Baron and Zoots Houston, it’s a bit of both. The well-captured minuscule texture selections of resonant metal, miscellaneous percussion, trivial objects, broken gadgets, chimes, and miniature oscillators map out a detailed environment, confined to a small area but given further reach via the movements of the devices in and out of the recording field as well as the creaks and clunks of the performance surface. But as I mentioned, there’s no forced claustrophobia, no artificial extrication from circumambience. We hear passing cars in the distance, gusts of air past the window: a wider universe in which these sonic events occur, not necessarily emphasized but present nonetheless.
Windows Sill is an album of cycles and repetitions. But unlike many works that make use of tape loops and other similar techniques as structural or compositional tools, the beginnings and endings of Klinikum’s hypnotic cells are often seamless and therefore difficult to distinguish and latch onto, making the effect less about rhythm and more about emphasis. Resurfacing like clockwork in the low fidelity murk of these thirteen short tracks are things the artist wants to call attention to, whether it’s the gorgeous synth melody that floats in and out like languid breath on opener “If Some People” or the periodic guitar meanderings and spoken observation that “it’s all, like, things that I played when I was a kid” on the fittingly titled “Memento.” The sonic elements used to construct the various segments of Windows Sill are various, even disparate at times, but the tape is held together with surety via this feeling of bobbing recurrence, and on each track the listener’s attention is called to whatever motif is being phased in and out, rendering the sometimes jarring differences between them—some stitch together shapeless, drifting forms of drones and field recordings while others play with drum machine loops and guitar strikes—largely irrelevant.
If you’re someone who’s been into noise for a long time, it’s easy to grow tired of the typical “noise aesthetic”: aggressive, black-and-white collage imagery, themes of violence and deviance, an emphasis on abrasive or nihilistic worldviews. It’s an often eyeroll-worthy trend that perpetuates patriarchal, machismic stereotypes about noise culture (which, unfortunately, frequently ring true). Occasionally though, a release is brutal enough that I’m able to forgive some elements of the above themes, as long as they’re used with reticence, and Gaping Revenge is one such case. The grayscale patchwork of images on the cover all depict horrible things about to happen: a hand holding a knife poised to strike, a general ordering a bombing run, prisoners lined up for impending execution, surgeons preparing for a grotesque operation. These photographs create a dialogue with the unrelenting, deafening music the tape contains; the noise itself is the bloody conclusion to all of those murderous scenarios, its jagged chunks of distortion, pedal feedback, and rumbling drones induce an abrasive catharsis, which thankfully isn’t tainted by cringeworthy track titles or unnecessarily disturbing, offensive artwork.
Satanique Samba Trio (hereafter SST) might have the most confusing band name ever; though their unique, eclectic style is undoubtedly indebted to to classic Brazilian samba, it’s also often cheerful and whimsical and not at all Satanic, and the band is actually a quintet, not a trio. But SST don’t seem to take themselves at all seriously, so their oxymoronic moniker is fittingly subversive, complementary to their “thirst for aesthetical [sic] deconstruction.” The ten miniatures that comprise the band’s new 10″ release, Mais Bad, are simply titled with the heading “Badtriptronics” and then a (seemingly arbitrary) number, but again, despite the obvious surreal psychedelia influences present, the music is nowhere near as negatively inclined as the names would imply. Recorded using a “cheap cell phone from the early 2000’s” for maximum lo-fi effect, bouncing samba rhythms underlie intricate, colorful arrangements, cacophonic mixing, quirky electronics, chunks of distortion, and formless freakouts that border on complete improvisation. Despite the band’s promise that the album is “meant to sound desperate, harsh and absolutely surreal,” the abstract free-music density and punk mentality do the opposite of suppressing the naturally invigorating, positive energy behind this musical tradition; instead, Mais Bad ends up being some of the most rollickingly fun music I’ve heard in a long time.
I’ve said many times before that I am completely useless when it comes to identifying EDM subgenres. 2-step, breakbeat, wonky, electroclash, garage, hardcore, gabber, dubstep, future bass… the vast amount of descriptors used to parse an intensely producer-saturated area of music is enough to drive someone insane. So the electronic albums I end up enjoying most (“electronic” in the more conventional sense, that is) are albums that deconstruct, assimilate, or mash together various subgenres to create something that renders classification irrelevant. MELTS INTO LOVE is one of those albums, taking bits and pieces from an endless well of beat-driven electronica and melting them into a singular style that really doesn’t rely much on beat at all. xin’s whirling, vividly colorful soundscapes are stuffed with stuttering synths, coiling cables of distorted bass frequencies, and pseudo-rhythmic samples that contribute to the chaos but that have also been stripped of their typically structural qualities. The effect is something surprisingly meditative, especially on tracks like “Crrrash!,” which I find soothing despite its bouts of brashness, and both “That There Is None” and “Virtually Asocial,” which tread the furthest into ambient territory of any of the others.
MELTS INTO LOVE is a digital-only release, but all proceeds will be donated to Eden Reforestation Projects.
If before I listened to Superior to a Lesser Extent someone brought up a connection to Toshiya Tsunoda and Taku Unami’s masterpiece Wovenland I would dismiss it as tenuous at best. I’ve truly never heard anything like Wovenland before, an album whose radical range of processing techniques renders its otherwise mundane source material into arresting and uncanny soundscapes; but though the newest release from Czech project Audiosmogg (also known as Martin Dohnal) ventures a bit farther into conventional musicality (not too far, mind you) its abstracted portrayals of space and location possess almost the same level of singular immersiveness. The ten pieces that make up Superior to a Lesser Extent range from the lofty and mystical ambience of “Excerpts of Infinity” and “Yes and Also Yes” to direct, unadulterated sonic documents titled simply by their coordinates to the fragmentary stutters of Dohnal’s “Perforated Landscapes” (the obvious similarities between these tracks and Wovenland’s “In the Park” was what brought about that comparison in the first place), and the result is an eclectic yet focused examination of the artist’s surroundings. I hope that this trend of creative filtration in phonography continues, and that the results are as excellent as the albums discussed here.
Unsurprisingly, the music on Bad Memory Pillow is just as, if not more, cryptic than its enigmatic title and cover art. I don’t know much about Yrii Samoilove—other than that as an artist he is quite prolific, having put out over 19 releases in just the last two years—so I can’t speak to how Bad Memory Pillow fits in with the rest of his discography, but on its own it is a bewildering journey through a very singular method of sound processing. Samoilove’s abstract constructions hover just on the edge of familiarity, but anything organic is coated by a layer of artificiality that causes the music to reside in a sort of sonic uncanny valley. Alien electronic transmissions, distorted low frequency rumbles, and uncanny, organ-like synth patches (or maybe it’s an actual organ that’s been manipulated, I really can’t tell) trace out a space with a distinct structure but barely a semblance of anything recognizable. Also threaded throughout these stuttering, simmering pieces are what sound like field recordings that have been plasticized, stripped of their evocative properties and enclosed in an ersatz shell. I’m still unsure of what Samoilove is referring to with the phrase “bad memory pillow,” but after wading through this bizarre release that’s the least of my concerns.
On Soundtracks, sound artist Patrick Gallagher once again demonstrates the virtuosic control he exerts over an array of abstract sound objects. This new release feels much more moist and earthy than last year’s Eye Teeth LP, and though I’m never certain just how much of Gallagher’s music is composed or improvised, it also seems less instantaneous. Something that both releases share, though, is a palpable physicality, and on Soundtracks, as the label’s description states, a variety of “liminal psychic spaces” are explored. On “There Is No Set Process,” a battle between pleasantness and discomfort rages, as soothing, slightly wavering organ drones, footsteps on old wood floors, and clanging bells temper an otherwise uneasy mixture of closely recorded mouth sounds, distant rattles, and dissonant string plucks. Within the dense, dark sound-world of “Clearing” the discomfort definitely wins out, and the result is a shifting piece that moves like a series of languorous inhales and exhales. Something else that returns from Eye Teeth, especially in the case of “Clearing,” is Gallagher’s deliberate, sublime use of silence, which allows for the music to unfold into an even more expansive space.