Review: Red Brut – Cloaked Travels (Ikuisuus & Lal Lal Lal, Jul 3)

The music of Marijn Verbiesen under her Red Brut moniker is an important piece of evidence for a claim I often make: that amateurishness (or at least the appearance of it) is not an inherently negative attribute, and its presence can even elevate the quality of the work in question. I most frequently appeal to this in the context of more conventional genres, but Red Brut’s lo-fi tape experiments demonstrate its importance in the field of experimental and abstract music as well. Cloaked Travels is a multifaceted expansion upon her self-titled LP that was released by KRAAK in 2018, embarking on two extended four-part suites with the help of a delectable palette of sticky fuzz, queasy warble, and steamy warmth. Even more fascinating on this release is the increased prevalence of a phenomenon of “obscured simplicity” that often lurks at the heart of the tracks; there never seems to be too much going on in a Red Brut piece, but at the same time it’s usually pretty damn impossible to tell how exactly the sounds are being generated. Verbiesen is clearly utilizing the tried-and-true practice of magnetic tape manipulation, but her approach to it is a deceptively singular one that doesn’t turn too much focus toward any single aspect of the medium itself (fidelity, looping, delay, etc.) on its own. Instead, it’s more like it unspools with an unexpected fluidity, mobile and malleable despite its almost plasticky clunkiness, soft wobbling waves of spinning reels and forgotten instrumentals flowing into the humid morning air.

Review: Territorial Gobbing – Police Costume (Beartown, Jun 28)

I almost didn’t check out Police Costume because I had the audacity to believe I knew exactly what to expect from Theo Gowans’s prolific Territorial Gobbing project. This was a poor instinct, and luckily one I didn’t end up following. Sure, there are the typical irreverent gargles and rough-edged collaging one (quickly) grows to love, but overall the Leeds art brut master’s response to the absurdity of authoritarian, militaristic police is a uniquely colorful affair, matching the bright, saturated cartoon cover penned by Zad Kokar. “…Or How I Learnt to Stop Sitting on Benches and Love the Cops” is a surprisingly focused bit of noise, and its vivid, vibrant palette of whipping electronics and malfunctioning circuits serves as one of the most exemplary contradictions of the established TG formula I thought I had all figured out. On the next two tracks Gowans falls further back into his bag of tricks, yet keeps the energy level high with hyperactive re-arrangements and an unsettling amount of volatile, deranged anger behind every saliva-splattering utterance. Something else added is the increased presence of intelligible spoken word, which somehow only seems to add to the confusion and delirium of the proceedings (especially in the case of whatever one? two? three? -sided conversation is happening on “Mic Check One”). Don’t make the same I mistake I almost did. When Territorial Gobbing is involved—in the words of VJ Emmie—”EXPECT DA UNEXPECTABLE.”

Physical copies of Police Costume are also available from Beartown’s website.

Review: Ilya Ziblat – Strings and Syllables (self-released, Jun 27)

Strings and Syllables, composer and musician Ilya Ziblat’s newest release, collects excerpts from three duo improvisations recorded with string players Maya Felixbrodt (viola), Jellantsje de Vries (violin), and Hen Goldsobel (violone), himself contributing “live electronics” using a real-time sound processing touchpad. The three guest musicians each have distinct styles and approaches they executed during the sessions that are easy to pinpoint amidst the decoupled tracklist, but each most frequently rely on a combination of percussive extended techniques and swelling, resin-shredding drones to provide Ziblat plenty to work with on the fly. He splits time between manipulating pre-loaded speech recordings and what are ostensibly snatches of the string playing itself, grinding it all down into an arsenal of high-velocity granular sound objects. This allows for a sonic agility that provides some of the album’s most impacting moments: when the elements are all so scattered and hyperactive that you can’t even identify what is coming from whom, breathtaking mangled messes of the smallest semblances of musicality. Ziblat’s pad can also work the samples into a dense, impenetrable frenzy, which most often occurs when he is using voice as his source material; it becomes a meaningless swamp of unintelligible verbiage, frequently dwarfing the brighter cries of the strings in its soupy mass. The composer centers the deconstructive approach of Strings and Syllables in the context of the worldwide statue removals and general radicalization that’s been occurring, making it a volatile document of a volatile time.

Review: Komare – The Sense of Hearing (Penultimate Press, Jun 29)

The members of the amorphous UK-based Mosquitoes/Komare crew seem to be no strangers of the sort of existential despair and hair-raising ontology that I can never stop reading or thinking about. The first Mosquitoes 12″ features titles drawn from the work of experimental author Christine Brooke-Rose, whose Out/Such/Between/Thru tetralogy delves deep into surreal, delirious comedy and the confusion and agony of being, but Komare’s new LP—whose pre-release inclusion on my First Half of 2020 list was unconventional but still an absolute no-brainer—reminds me more of the mud-crawling malaise of Samuel Beckett’s “muh-” characters (Murphy, Molloy, Malone, the Unnameable, and finally just ‘a man’), increasingly spare and fragile consciousnesses cast into sentience from void. The sonic palette at work on The Sense of Hearing is perhaps the most minimal of either of the two related groups’ releases thus far: ghostly shades of humming electronics, lethargic delay-slogged vocalizations, shifting and snaking layers, a whole lot of empty space. To listen is to be surrounded by a palpable void, the paradoxically deafening sound of nothingness ringing in the ears as one slides, stumbles, slithers through a pitch-black and entirely unfamiliar landscape. The “drugginess” of this album is certainly an important element, but after many listens I’ve come to the conclusion that The Sense of Hearing gets you a different sort of high than any substance I’ve ever tried; its intoxication is one of blurred perspective, eroded security, creeping doom. The whispered threat of an eternity alone.

Review: E.M. Digital Spazz Unit – To Sterilize Music (Black Ring Rituals, Jun 19)

Brandon Wald’s Black Ring Rituals label has come a long way from its humble origins. Originally a DIY outlet for Fargo, North Dakota’s burgeoning pedal harsh and power electronics scene, BRR has grown into an imprint showcasing some of the most forward-thinking noise music available today. Just this year has seen excellent releases from irreverent cut-up connoisseur Appliancide, 8-bit Famicom emulation wall from Bitcrusher, and many others. What is ostensibly E.M. Digital Spazz Unit’s debut cassette is somewhere between those former two examples, making use of both frenzied hyperactivity and motherboard mayhem for its punishing presence. To Sterilize Music accomplishes its titular goal through intense sound curation; there’s not a single element on this album that is not an abrasive, deformed, caustic extract from some condemned digital underbelly, even the vocal samples that are used on “Sponsored Cell Line.” The Spazz Unit is not at all concerned with conventionality, or even with demonstrating the death of conventionality by proudly exhibiting its broken bloody remnants that have been mercilessly ripped apart. It’s simply nowhere to be found in this contorted mass of synthetic, detached, yet always viscerally affecting artificiality.

Review: Simone & Bucko – Simone & Bucko (Dismal Niche, Jun 18)

There’s something special about the religious chapel as a setting for experimental music performance, especially an improvisation. Whether your preferred example is Mural’s Rothko, Keith Rowe’s Fairchild, or Áine O’Dwyer’s iconic Music for Church Cleaners, the building and space itself is always an established presence (or absence) in the music, its cavernous corners swallowing the frayed, decayed edges of confidently-conjured sounds, the passion and purpose contained within them soaking into the ancient walls. Jennifer Simone and Bob Bucko, Jr.’s first duo collaboration immediately gives a sense of that yawning openness, both from its geometrically arranged cover photo and the droning, organ-like dirges that begin the proceedings. That classic chapel instrument is nowhere to be found on Simone & Bucko, however; the only two instruments present are saxophones, Simone’s baritone and Bucko’s tenor. Their interplay is largely tonal: interlocking serenades of slightly discordant scales, dual overtone-drones, sublime major-key resolutions, lethargic call-and-response flurries. But what becomes more noticeable over the course of the nearly-50-minute set is everything but the saxes—the muffled wails of distant police sirens, the clacking of the musicians’ valves as they form their notes, the pregnant dead air that hangs in the recording like a shroud.

Simone & Bucko was originally released on cassette in 2018. This review concerns the digital reissue.

List: Top Ten for the First Half of 2020

In a format identical to last year’s list as well as 2018’s, here are my ten favorite albums that have been released during the first half of 2020. As always, the order is of little importance.

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia (Warner, Mar 27)

Though it came of little surprise based on the strength of the three singles, Dua Lipa’s sophomore spectacular is one for the ages. This is an impeccably crafted modern pop record, swirling infectious disco grooves and neon-lit synthpop bliss to complement one of the most amazing voices of our time. This is my most-played album of the year by a mile, and I doubt that will change in the next six months. Get used to a female alpha.

The Serfs – Sounds of Serfdom (Detriti & Wasted Tapes, Jan 15)

The debut Serfs LP is perhaps the crowning achievement of the vicious vortex of creativity that swirls around members Dakota Carlyle, Andie Luman, and Dylan McCratney throughout their various bands and side projects. A love letter to minimal synth mystique, DIY cassette obscurity, and catchy songwriting swathed in enticing darkness. Original review

Seth Cooke – Selected Works for No-Input Field Recorder (Every Contact Leaves a Trace, Apr 29)

I would say something like “there’s not much I can say that I didn’t already cover in my fabulous review”… if that were actually true. One of the many reasons why I fell in love with this release is how much it makes me think, and I really don’t believe there’s a limit to the paradoxical ponderings that are unavoidable when one is faced with Cooke’s eccentric approach. But I also believe that regardless of all that, this is a beautiful and unforgettable collection of music. Original review

Komare – The Sense of Hearing (Penultimate Press, Jun 25)

When I was sent this record I was instructed (redundantly, if it isn’t already obvious) to get stoned before I listened. Which I did, but it might not even be necessary because The Sense of Hearing is so drugged-out and surreal that it probably gets you high all on its own. This LP expands on the previous self-titled cassette in virtually every way, scraping the dirt and mold from the cracks of long-forgotten music and smearing it through the air in hazy, spectral strokes.

Antibodies – Can You Ear Me? (Steep Gloss, Mar 22)

Fluxus bizarro masters Brandstifter and Dirk Huelstrunk team up for an enigmatic adventure into surreal sound poetry and churning electronics. The six tracks scramble and stumble with a strong-armed deliberation, all mutated melodies, ranted nonsense, throaty mouth sounds, and endless layers of processed curiosities to get hopelessly lost in.

Vilgoć – Granice (Szara Reneta, Jan 20)

Granice is one of those genre-defining releases that only come along every decade or so. This single 36-minute-long track by a Polish mainstay is the loudest, fullest, most brutal and crushing example of static noise I have heard in a long time, and it renders me completely awestruck and immobile for its entire duration every single time I listen. A masterpiece, truly.

ZelooperZ – Gremlin (self-released, Mar 18)

Ever since I feel head over heels in love with the glorious vice-ridden delirium of ZelooperZ’s HELP mixtape, I’ve come to appreciate each of his successive albums for unique reasons. Gremlin is a fantastic example of what I love most about the young Detroit rapper (that others seem to view as flaws): a succinct yet sprawling sketchbook-like structure, skeletal trap assemblages, hilarious one-liners, and oodles of the dark, hedonistic claustrophobia that seems to permeate all of his work.

Wake – Devouring Ruin (Translation Loss, Mar 27)

Wake’s 2018 LP Misery Rites was one of my favorite metal releases from that year, but nothing could have prepared me for their follow-up, the stunning behemoth of extreme metal mastery that is Devouring Ruin. Stretching out nearly double the length of its predecessor, this monstrous album transposes the Calgary quintet’s penchant for furious deathgrind to a much wider arena of blackened atmospherics and cathartic post-metal climaxes.

Nathan Corder & Tom Weeks – Diamondback (self-released, Apr 17)

The final installment in these two Oakland improvisers’ trilogy of terror is a must-hear for even the most experienced skronk-heads. This hour-plus affair is an absolute wonder to behold, whether you interpret it as the sound of two adventurous wind musicians collaborating or the desperate, squawking final breaths of conventional music as it is mercilessly beaten to death. Original review

Irreversible Entanglements – Who Sent You? (International Anthem, Mar 20)

This seething current of cracklingly high-energy jazz is anchored by the hypnotic utterances of Camae Ayewa, a.k.a. Moor Mother, whose fruitful and superb year is easily topped off by her second record as a member of Irreversible Entanglements. The constant interplay between Luke Stewart’s bass and Tcheser Holmes’s percussion is a fluid but steady backbone for the restless compositions that unfold. A powerful and likely long-enduring document of our times.

Mix: Well Good, Because I Probably Couldn’t Afford It If It Wasn’t

The title of this mix is my preferred alternative to the classic punchline response to being informed of the genre commonly called free jazz: “I sure as hell wouldn’t pay for it” (which I think originally came from a Steve Lacy quote). I’ve gathered my favorite examples of the adventurous new traditions in contemporary freeform jazz music, from potent poetics and progressive arrangements to all-out cacophonous carnage.

Irreversible Entanglements, Berlin Jazz Festival 2018

00:00. Irreversible Entanglements – “Who Sent You – Ritual” [excerpt] from Who Sent You? (International Anthem, 2020)

04:06. Dave Rempis, Tomeka Reid & Joshua Abrams – “Wattle and Daub” from Ithra (Aerophonic, 2018)

09:13. Galaxxu – “Care Bears Countdown” [excerpt] from Every Meanest Particular (Orb Tapes, 2019)

14:41. Dave Liebman, Adam Rudolph & Tatsuya Nakatani – “Premonition” from The Unknowable (RareNoise, 2018)

17:32. Joshua Abrams, Tyler Damon, Forbes Graham & Ava Mendoza – “I Closed My Eyes” [excerpt] from Sometimes There Were Four (self-released, 2020)

23:12. Fuck Lungs – “The Indian Name for ‘White Woman with Tattoo of Bird’ ” from Fuck Lungs (Already Dead, 2016)

26:05. James Brandon Lewis & Chad Taylor – “Radiance” from Live in Willisau (Intakt, 2020)

28:52. Jon Irabagon, John Hegre & Nils Are Drønen – “Fukuoka” [excerpt] from Axis (Rune Grammofon, 2017)

33:16. Reid Karris Group – part III of May 12th 2018 (self-released, 2019)

35:47. Simone & Bucko – “Live at the Chapel” [excerpt] from Simone & Bucko (Dismal Niche, 2020)

Review: Government Alpha – Pathogens (ochiai soup, Jun 17)

I’ve been listening to Yasutoshi Yoshida’s Government Alpha project for as long as I’ve been interested in noise music. Venomous Cumulus Cloud was one of the first harsh noise records I heard, even before I discovered future standbys like C.C.C.C. and T.E.F., but I also never lost interest in new releases as I did with Merzbow et al. Yoshida’s recent works aren’t simply rehashes of the classic high-octane pedal abrasion that made him famous; instead, you can tell he’s still very much interested in exploring and refining the craft, approaching each album with a unique methodology. Though I’m a fan of the (relatively) more reserved proceedings of Arrogant Ghosts and Insanityranny, I’m grateful that Yoshida has turned back to his eardrum-shredding roots with stuff like last year’s Vandalism and now Pathogens. The two “Regenerative Signal” tracks wrestle entropy from simple feedback loops while “Visualization” gets right down to business with densely-packed waves of caustic distortion, high-pitched squall, and iconic GA electronic oscillations. This latter track is easily one of the best examples of harsh noise I’ve heard in a long time and really reminds me of why I love this stuff so much in the first place, endless depths of enthralling textures and viscerally impacting chaos. Another unsurprisingly fantastic release from one of noise music’s most stalwart presences.

Review: Valentina Magaletti & Marlene Ribeiro – Due Matte (Commando Vanessa, Jun 11)

Due Matte is an enticing album for me in several respects. It initially caught my eye due to the presence of Valentina Magaletti, a renowned contemporary percussionist with an impressive resume and a recent Noise Not Music favorite with Sulla Pelle. Joining Magaletti on this release is Gnod member Marlene Ribeiro, with whom I’m much less familiar. The first document of their collaboration also features one of my favorite examples of those bizarre medieval paintings you see cropping up as macros every now and then; the framing of the two women, the homogeneity of the color palette, and the emphasis on the rich purple background makes it a both humorous and poignant selection for the cover design. Needless to say, by this point I (and hopefully you) am all in to see what the hell is going on with Due Matte. The label describes it as an “exercise in tropical concrete [sic],” and there’s definitely some choice processing going on to render these whimsical sounds so ambiguous and alien, but for the most part I feel like I’m hearing what’s really going on between the two musicians: just some very well curated percussion interplay, occasional vocals, possibly a bit of layering to produce soft intimate worlds of wonder. Certain tracks, however, display the beautiful results when more dissective techniques are used, like the calming drift phases of “Big Circle, Small Circle.” This hits a similar spot as Plastic Moonrise’s Papier Mâché: mysterious but always comforting, lightweight yet full of depth, perfect for sluggish afternoons.