Review: Jordan Deal – GOGO Underworld (Cor Ardens, Aug 5)

GOGO Underworld exists on the physical plane as a limited run of cassettes housed in hand-set wax boxes with a glass window. Five, ten at most, you’d probably guess. But no, there are a hundred of these objects in the world now, an impressive and admirable feat to say the least—and an illustrative one as well, for the care and dedication that went into crafting the sound’s few vessels in conjunction with the goal of reaching many happen to be quite representative of Jordan Deal’s creative approach itself. These are the first recordings from the Philadelphia-based interdisciplinary artist, but they join an already formidable body of work spanning performance, video, collage, and sculpture. Somehow, these diverse modes of expression are all present on GOGO Underworld in one way or another; this music is gestural, vivid, eclectic, tangible, resonant. The “Intro” is a reserved yet complex welcome to the vast expanse of sonic material from which Deal draws throughout the following tracks, its delicate kaleidoscope of textures blooming into “Lawd!”, a standout piece that rolls together voice, field recordings, radio, and choice electronics into a transcendent, crystalline psychedelia. Earthen fragments that together comprise something otherworldly are a consistent presence, from the fluid communal bricolage of the “SHOUTS” diptych to the phantasmagoric chorus of “dreamARCHIVE.” This latter section features some of the most poignant of Deal’s spoken poetics, quotes from which have remained steadfast in my brain since the first time I heard them (e.g., “We have colonized potentiality”). It’s just one of many examples of how the “multi-dimensional energy worker” excels with both abstract and explicit evocation, existing together in sublime symbiosis. “Your rebirth will be revolutionary.”

GOGO Underworld is a bold, unforgettable first step in Deal’s multimedia project to explore “how the memories and mythologies of the Black diaspora can be used as conduits of historical and cultural preservation, tracing its global footprint—disrupting Western colonial thought modes and deploying dreaming as channels for potentiality, non-linear modes of intercepting time and space, and celebration as resistance.”

Mix: Heartwood Stomp

The specific essence these tracks share is difficult to define, but I hope that gathered together they’ll do that for me. Let’s pound our heels into the floorboards until we leave our mark, clap the day’s work’s dirt off our hands and scrub the rust from our joints; dance until the eave-dust rains down on whatever’s below us. Folk music from and for hard-beating hearts.

00:00. Amps for Christ – “Branches” from The People at Large (5 Rue Christine, 2004)

02:11. Exuma – “Damn Fool” from Exuma II (Mercury, 1970)

05:53. Scatter – “Alternations of Pasture and Urban Conurban” from Surprising Sing Stupendous Love (Cenotaph Audio, 2004)

10:24. Holy Modal Rounders – “Bound to Lose” from The Holy Modal Rounders (Prestige, 1964)

14:39. Megafaun – “Gather, Form & Fly” from Gather, Form & Fly (Hometapes, 2009)

18:56. The Woes – “The Secret” from Heaven Knows (self-released, 2009)

22:57. Drakkar Sauna – “How to Approach an Accident Victim” from Rover (Marriage, 2004)

26:20. Big Blood – “…Is All We Have” from Dark Country Magic (Don’t Trust the Ruin, 2010)

31:19. Peter Stampfel – “Oomalooma Messy Dessy” from Dook of the Beatniks (PFAM, 2009)

34:53. The Ebony Hillbillies – “Cream” [Prince cover] from 5 Miles from Town (EH Music, 2017)

Review: Arek Gulbenkoglu – fissure, fissure, fissure (self-released, Jul 26)

As is often the case, I’d be remiss if I didn’t introduce this new disc from idiosyncratic Australian sound artist Arek Gulbenkoglu by quoting his own description of the work: “fissure, fissure, fissure is a 37 minute piece documenting various failures in language and extrapolations of voice; machines that whir, slap and clap; and in-jokes that don’t go anywhere.” Like last year’s Lexicon Nil—this one I still haven’t heard… if anyone’s selling a copy please hit me up—it’s self-released and comprises a single track (and is mastered by the prolific Giuseppe Ielasi), but the composition shares plenty with other entries in Gulbenkoglu’s discography as well, featuring the unpredictable segmentation and artful monotony previously explored on ReoccurrencecDDe, etc. Here, however, these points of interest are magnified to new levels of extremity. Indeed, part of what makes all of the artist’s material so beguiling is that it’s full of paradoxes, that words like “extremity” are often just as applicable as ones like “banality”; and fissure, fissure, fissure, perhaps more so than anything preceding it, is both apathetic and devout, bizarre and familiar, abstract and concrete. There are unaccompanied machinations, clandestine field recordings, text-to-speech jargon, tape-driven deconstructions, and more, but each and every episode is driven (ironically) by a somehow sanguine inertness. To be more concise: it certainly goes nowhere, but it takes its sweet, captivating time getting there.

The links here lead to the Shame File (AUS) website, but copies have already also made it to Penultimate Press (UK) and Derek Baron (US).

Review: Hydra – Your Name (Everyday Samething, Aug 1)

Your Name on a business card… I mean, the jokes write themselves. Which, I’m sure, is part of the point. And no, not a business-card 3″, but the actual regular old paper kind, printed in a small run of 25 with the album artwork on the front and a QR code on the back (Paul Owen’s doesn’t have that now does it), then scattered throughout “selected shops and bargain bins around the UK.” At a point in time when physical music is much more ritual than utility to most, Everyday Samething’s sly-eyed pseudo-soliciting is a new and distinct way to network with new listeners (I say “network” because while this method could be thought of as an enticing offer from the mysterious stranger in a low fantasy novel, it can also be something entirely banal, an ongoing hey, check this out) even when the music itself is hosted online. Similar things have certainly been done before, of course—I own IT IT’s Formal Odors in the form of a small rectangle of handmade paper embedded with broccoli seeds—but it’s far from just the distribution concept that makes Your Name so fascinating.

I know next to nothing about Hydra, but I do know that whoever’s behind it has an ear for both the conventionally sublime and the brashly abstract. “Air Force Ones” [sic] immediately has the sound of something one found by scanning a random QR code, its initial roar of digitally distorted field recordings gradually calming to accommodate new elements, namely a meandering melodic synth and high-pitched feedback blasts. “Real Power” is somehow even weirder, and reminds me of some of the self-described “deep internet” material that I most enjoy: the Infant Jesus Church’s Finally the Instant Is Here, the Memory Preservation Institute’s Had to Get This Off My Mind. I really can’t believe how much is happening in Your Name despite how short and minimal it is; among other things, there’s some truly spectacular scald-psychedelia in the last two tracks, adding C.C.C.C. fans to the long list of people who will find plenty to love in this bite-sized tour-de-force. Thankfully, you won’t have to wait until you stumble across the album’s tangible tether in the wild to listen, because Everyday Samething is generously allowing me to include the MediaFire link.

Review: Low Textures – untitled (Lo-music, Jul 15)

This (I think?) debut release from Low Textures is equally likely to put you in a deep trance as it is to give you a splitting headache. But if such a risk were at all concerning to you, you wouldn’t be on this site, so don’t come crying to me when your brain starts dripping out your nostrils. A great way to go out anyway, if you ask me; if there’s a bottom of music, this is damn near close to it, and then you can tell everyone else in hell all about your exploits. Not dissimilar in spirit or in textural palette to the previously NNM-reviewed Stunad and Emergency in Six Movements, these two lengthy tracks take such radical sonic minimalism even further by significantly restricting the amount of information in the actual audio files, to an extreme 56kbps (the full hour-and-a-half release takes up less than 40mb). In this regard the album fits right it on Lo-music, a netlabel with an imposed bitrate cap of the same number—other artists have put out recordings at as low as 3kbps—but here they’ve contributed the most effective exploration I’ve heard yet of the possibilities (or lack thereof) when working with this constraint. Both halves deal heavily in teeth-rattling low-end, especially 1 with its persistent bass frequency that transforms the surrounding strands of static into edges that cut into its sluggish thickness, and then wall heads will immediately feel at home once the glacial crackle-drone of 2 kicks in. What could easily be dismissed as a gimmick is proven to be anything but; I’m definitely keeping an eye and a structurally destabilized ear out for more bedrock-trawling “music” from Low Textures. For fans of Sachiko’s “Don’t Stop”, floppy disks, and ungrounded receivers.

Review: Bulk Carrier – Federal (Blood Ties, Jul 6)

Following just months behind the churning wake of CSL Welland, the project’s superb inaugural recording, Bulk Carrier’s first full-length is already a definitive artistic statement in both aesthetic and sonic terms. Those captivated by the debut tape’s minimal, low-fidelity, not-quite-static evocations of rusting hull plates and buried combustions will find no shortage of square footage to enjoy on Federal, a double C20 with each side titled for a nationalized carrier—Fraser and Yukina (Marshall Islands) and Columbia and Sakura (Liberia). All four tracks draw from cavernous commercial-maritime innards, and perhaps as well the depths of the body of water being trundled over, filtering the raw, gargantuan atmosphere through a choice rig of analog electronics to drum up hypnotic stretches of creak, groan, and rumble. But what’s most exciting about these walls is that while they are monotonous, lumbering, massive, they are anything but stagnant, expanding on the subtle progressions of CSL Welland into new variations and detours that enhance the core textures: recurrent crescendo/drops like miniature engine-boosts halting the turgid torrent of “Fraser”; power lulls and exhaust-vent flushes breaking up the visceral crunch of “Yukina”; barely perceptible undercurrents lurking throughout “Columbia.” All of it, it turns out, leads to “Sakura,” which is just so enormous that I don’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone who hasn’t yet heard it. But by now anyone reading should know that Federal offers the best and bulkiest of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the comfort of your own home, forty unforgettable minutes of feeling like the room is being borne down upon and flattened by hundreds of thousands of tons of steel. A no-brainer.

Review: Darksmith – Imposter (Throne Heap, Jul 1)

It’s been just over fifteen years since Darksmith released his first limited-edition Mom Costume recordings and self-titled tape via Hanson, and almost exactly fifteen since Weightless came out on Chondritic Sound. Since then, unsurprisingly, the reclusive California-based artisan has covered a lot of ground, and yet each and every entry in his oeuvre has the same core element, an indefinable but undeniable stylistic singularity (or void) at the heart of the music that makes it distinctly Darksmith. That shifty, shadowed, corner-born juh naysay qua is especially relevant in the case of Imposter, the first proper full-length we’ve gotten since 2019’s Poverty of Will. Originally slated for an in-house LP release, the two 15-minute sides ended up in the capable hands of Throne Heap, who elected to press them on a run of gorgeous digipaks that feature some of the project’s most unsettling art yet. Like Hatred of Sound, the four tracks mine a lengthy span of source material (2012–2019), the eclectic mess carefully shaped into a focused half-hour suite that runs the gamut of sonic preoccupations old and new. “Looking for Idiots” and “Problem with Everyone” feature both bedroom-Blockaders clatter that would be right at home on Broken Brain or Dancing Out the Door and nocturnal, precariously cozy tape drone very much in the spirit of Gypsy. The titular imposter is caught between inside and out, lurking by rotting birdhouses and sputtering HVAC units for just as long as it spends creeping through basements and bedrooms. There are countless moments of brilliance scattered throughout, but the humbly harrowing end of “Hold Everything” might win out, shuddering to nothingness like a rattling final respirator breath. Imposter, perhaps more than any other release so far, permanently inks Darksmith in as “the master of externalizing the inner maelstrom.”

Listen to excerpts from the CD here.

Review: Leisure Knots – Live at the Structure (Sweet Wreath, Jun 26)

Between not one but two unforgettable releases by not-of-this-world duo Ghost Food, Johnny Coley’s Antique Sadness, and now Live at the Structure, Irondale imprint/collective/movement Sweet Wreath has affirmed its role as a leading purveyor of haunting, home-spun creative music. Just the latest in a line of exciting debut recordings from central Alabama and beyond, this first full-length by Virginia- and North Carolina–based ensemble Leisure Knots is a thoroughly engrossing and evocative stretch of sublimity that both reflects the dark uncertainties of the present and gestures toward a brighter future. The quintet (joined by saxophonist Daniel Brooks on the B side) improvises at an easy yet purposeful pace, each member utilizing a rotating group arsenal of everything from found objects to computer processing to conjure individual but sympathetic strands of the most subdued cacophonies. Not all of the ambience that graces the tape’s five sections is conventionally warm or pretty, but that of the first certainly is, building the foundations for what lies ahead with wooden wands and cattail harps by an enchanted forest pond. “III” is probably the most active track, its nocturnal radio-scapes even getting a bit menacing at times, but then the beauty returns in the latter half of “IV” and the gorgeous closer “V,” helped along by Brooks’ brilliantly reserved contributions and some very well-placed field recordings. As usual, the liner notes say it better than I ever could: “These tracks vent the soft glow of their homes through an open window and into an unearthly outside.” Collaborative serendipity that makes the end feel like the beginning.

Review: F****t Front – Cocksucker Blues (Cleaner Tapes, Jun 24)

Released in the inaugural batch from new label and novelty tape cleaner distributor Cleaner Tapes alongside Embrasa and the legendary ensemble collective Black Leather Jesus, Cocksucker Blues is the perfect choice for the queer-focused imprint’s first catalog slot. The newest release by Dom Colucci’s confrontational harsh noise project is glowingly marketed as “the perfect soundtrack to getting head in a car crash,” and after both hearing the music and running some tests, I can wholeheartedly endorse this assertion (experimental methodology will remain confidential; peer review is for virgins). The garishly packaged C30 comprises two side-long scorchers, each a ruthless collision of twisted metal feedback and burning engine crunch: “Cigarette Burns and Cum Stains”—if this happens to be a Blod reference it somehow makes this tape even cooler—keeps one wheel on the rumble strip with its lumbering low-end, while “I, Cocksucker” sticks more to the high frequencies, riding waves of piercing screech and then smashing back into the pavement. Both tracks maintain an impressive lushness even as they tear up the mono-median with PE-esque brutality, making Cocksucker Blues at once a T-bone of violent immediacy and a slow, savory junkyard compactor crush. In other words, this shit makes Ballard’s Crash look like Pixar’s Cars.

Mix: Blunt Scissors

The dizzying technicality of fast-paced cut-up noise is often best rendered with a production approach that reflects the sharp, sterile abrasiveness of the music—often, not always. These are the other cases: the crudely clinical, the sloppily stitched, the rusty-blade incisions. Ouch.

00:00. Romance – “Organ Builders Manual” from Gateshead Sessions split w/ Shift (Unrest Productions, 2006)

08:23. T.E.F. – eighth untitled track from Armature (Trauma Tone, 2002)

11:35. Laurel Noose – “Midwest Farmers Use Anhydrous-Ammonia Fertilizer on Crops” [excerpt] from Chirality (unknown label, 2012)

15:36. Âmes Sanglantes – “Satin Vagina” from Once You Bleed (Antihuman, unknown year)

19:14. Mason – “Imminent Collapse” from Cremation Limit (Deathbed Tapes, 2021)

25:07. Negation – “Optimism” from Solar Torque (Unseen Force, 2020)

33:57. Anthracite – first untitled track on A side of LA Times Building 1910 (Joy De Vivre, 2015)

37:10. Breaking the Will – “Counterinsurgency Doctrine” from Summer Scum 4-way split (New Forces, 2013)