Review: Season of Upheaval – Season of Upheaval (Makade Star, Sep 17)

As is the case for the beloved band that this tape is undeniably reminiscent of—New Zealand legends Surface of the Earth—the modest instrumental credit that simply reads “guitars” does not at all reflect the cavernous immensity of the music found within. To my knowledge this self-titled entry in the growing Makade Star catalog is the first release from the Winnipeg duo of Doreen Girard and Marie-France Hollier, but they’ve been performing live together since as early as 2017, and that casual familiarity that can only accrue in a long-term, lived-in creative collaboration is folded into the essence of the drones themselves. To play the guitar in this way is as much a spatial and even sculptural act as it is a musical one; we not only hear, but feel the humming waves of feedback as they hover between shuddering strings and speaker-screen, the exquisite dance of churning dissonance and cathartic overtone resolution, the massive waves of sunlight-infused distortion cresting but never curling. It would probably be a transcendent experience to stand between twin subwoofer stacks and feel the full,  crushing weight of this stuff, but I’ll settle for the more delicate beauty it takes on recorded form, at times rivaling that of the magnificent “Voyager.” There’s nothing better on an autumn afternoon.

Review: Manja Ristić – The Desire of My Heart (sirr-ecords, Sep 17)

You’ve probably noticed I try to keep things diverse in terms of what I cover for the site, so my having reviewed four releases by Serbian sound artist Manja Ristić is a testament to her consistent talents. Four is a lot, but it’s been almost two and a half years since the last one, and The Desire of My Heart marks her first collaboration with the fabulous Portugal-based sirr-ecords netlabel, so this is a no-brainer. Ristić does both short sketches and extended soundscapes well, and though this 27-minute piece feels quite episodic and is even contextualized as a “meta narrative in three stages” by the artist herself, it mostly belongs to the latter category in terms of its presence and pacing. It begins with a distinctive sound that should be familiar to anyone who’s checked out any of her past work: the close, tactile effervescence of hydrophone recordings, the tools “buried in the stranded sediments of a dry Posidonia Oceanica algae” on Silba Island to capture the elusive textures. The aquatic void often hinted toward by these minuscule cross-sections is supported sonically by the unbroken hum of a restaurant ventilation system, building tension with subtle twinges of darkness until it’s broken by what I would wager is the wheel Ristić “salvaged from shallow waters in the Adriatic” and interacted with using “wooden sea debris, electrical coffee mixer, soft xylophone stick, and a pine cone” (the extreme care and detail she puts into performances or observations that end up only occupying a few minutes of the final product is part of what makes her work so rewarding to listen to). A hesitant saxophone blares apathetic elegies, the circuits of a plastic megaphone seize and sputter, massive clanging bells are rendered small and soft by distance. The shape of humanity—personhood—is here, but it is merely traced, outlined, an “empty” socket once must fill themselves; thankfully, here one size fits all.

Review: Azoikum – Aural Purgatory (Oxidation, Sep 15)

In addition to me always being a sucker for Bosch or Bosch-inspired paintings repurposed as album covers (and regardless of my bias, Christ’s Descent Into Hell is indisputably a good choice for this music both visually and thematically), the opening track on Stefan Widmann’s newest tape as Azoikum gives name to a sensation I’ve described here many times before, but never summarized quite so succinctly: “Love at First Stab.” Not all harsh noise “stabs,” per se, but a great deal of it thrashes into existence with the auditory equivalent of one, and so I’ll definitely be using that phrase from now on. Aural Purgatory—the physical cassette edition for which is “[p]ackaged in old fence parts and hardware cloth. Not safe for children”—doesn’t do much stabbing either; if anything it resides more in the potential consequences of such an action, death and decomposition and damnation. Widmann wields both trickles and torrents of diseased noise distended with the sickly gastric gases of decay, coaxing them into scalding scrap-metal screech in “Hammered Into Your Tympanum” then allowing it all to bloat and swell into enveloping sludge for “HN Frenzy.” I originally expected “Phrenesis Descends” and its sluggish smolder like the sound of mass soul-incineration to be a clear favorite, but as soon as the title track hit it was love at first stab (☺). Plenty loud and lush enough to drown out one’s surroundings without putting the eardrums through too much torture.

Review: Velo Misere – Monomanía del Inexorable Vacío (Nebular Carcoma, Sep 15)

Spanish quintet Velo Misere’s first two releases—Compendio de Trágicos Presagios (2017) and Genealogía del Eterno Desasosiego (2018), collected on Retrospectiva de la Fatalidad in 2019 by (now seemingly defunct?) Death Kvlt Productions—immediately cemented them as eminent figureheads with regard to both of contemporary black metal’s often paradoxical primary objectives: paying tribute to past classics and breaking new ground. Especially on their spectacular new LP Monomanía del Inexorable Vacío, the band has finetuned an infectious combination of murky lo-fi production and stylistic dexterity that firmly plants feet (hooves) in both new and old; the blurring blasts and painterly tremolo riff washes echo widely (and criminally) neglected Madrid forebears Primigenium, while rawer, more desperate shrieks and the dark, swollen undercurrent of the void point toward much more recent work put out by labels like Amor Fati and Debemur Morti. The backbone of this record is the masterful tension-and-release movements harnessed by drummer “G.”—hypnotic hi-hats on “Ente de Muerte,” organic oscillations between propulsive double-bass gallop and exhilarating halftime sludge on “Quietud,” cascading tom fills that sound like majestic cosmic-staircase descents on “El Devenir”—all of it unifying an unhinged nocturnal chaos that pitches, pirouettes, and pummels with equal measure. To me this feels somewhat more accessible than the Retrospectiva, but no less gloriously enshrouding. See you in the shadows.

Review: Filter Body – Filter Body 2 (218, Sep 13)

What is a podcast? It doesn’t seem like too elusive of a classification, but even if hard pressed I’m not sure what definition I would give; for me, at least, it seems easier to simply determine what is or isn’t a podcast. And, despite it being tagged as such on Bandcamp—even offering the playback-speed change option exclusive to “non-musical” content—I imagine most podcast listeners would deny Filter Body’s claim. Though the spoken elements (conveyed close to the microphone with breathy, mouth sound–filled intimacy) are certainly among its most conspicuous ingredients, the majority of “Cactus Hotel,” the sole track that comprises the duo of Patrick Totally and Agate Flow’s sophomore release, is entirely without words and speech. There are warbling synthesizers, snatches of quotidian field recordings, agile glitch contortions, FurryMe.com endorsements, broken beats, and many other abstractions framing the central narrative of the speaker’s specific memory, so much so to the point that they surpass being a “frame” and instead have clawed their way onto equal footing with actual intelligible language: and so, sure, “podcast” it is. Another salient feature is the squeaking dog toy that occupies much of the piece’s duration, ironically one of the most stable currents threaded throughout, as many of the others are constantly marred by jarring cuts and comminglings. Narratively, it makes little sense as a whole, but if you know me at all you can probably guess that’s what I love about it, because that “little” bit is impossibly fulfilling and addictive.

Review: Chuy – Chuy (PresserNoise, Sep 13)

From the San Gabriel Valley in California flows this sludgy, sprawling mess of slipshod tabletop noise that, for all of its sluggish loop orchestras and mucked-up exhumed melodies and sleazy static, makes me feel alive. Though Jesus Gomez is far from the first Jesus to go by the more concise nickname Chuy, this seems to be the first release from him under the moniker; since the material included on this self-titled cassette was recorded back in May 2020, the pandemic may have been a hindrance to getting the project off the ground. Regardless of where or how the artist is now, this is an exhilarating an ambitious inaugural statement, and throughout its nearly 80 minutes I consistently feel the familiar regret of not being able to witness it being tracked live. Each of the half-slabs are in turn roughly hewn into two parts of 17-19 minutes each, but the divisions feel pretty arbitrary—and I like that they do, because it feeds even more into the entertaining sense of deliberation and fluidity with which Gomez performed this set. Despite the length, his (presumably) spontaneous compositions don’t fall into episodic territory—i.e., the artist simply working through all of their soundmaking tools in a dull, linear way, which I’ve unfortunately witnessed more than a few times—but instead organically swell and swarm from stew to stew, each one a dense, steaming jumble of a little bit of everything amplified to the max. A spectacularly swampy adventure well worth your precious time.

Review: Unk – Attempts to Bend and Capture Frequencies from the Old Otherworlds (Liquid Library, Sep 10)

Any kind of “paranormal investigation” through auditory art will always interest me, as will self-described “attempts” at pretty much anything—I have a soft spot for humility, failure, and preferably both at once in a musical context. Based on the haunting forces immortalized by Attempts to Bend and Capture Frequencies from the Old Otherworlds, however, it seems like the reclusive Unk (a.k.a. Hans Lo of More Surgery) may actually have succeeded in their ostensibly impossible task. Traveling to “specific sites [known] for their potential sonic anomalies and spiritual histories” throughout Cornwall, England—“college ruins in Penryn, Kennall Vale in Ponsanooth, and Halliggye Fogou in Helston”—Lo recorded the playback of simple electronic drone devices in harmony with the murk and mutter of the surrounding area: wheezes of wind, spectral rustlings, thumps and bumps in the night. In the opening triptych of “College Conjuring” pieces, tense, strained feedback strands seep and hiss from cleaved cobblestone like buzzing locust phantoms, while “Helston Hallows – Layby Dry Cows 004” begins so quietly it can barely be heard at baseline volume before ravaged, shrieking spirit-echoes pierce the corporeal. I was excited to see that the “Ghillie Wrapped Halliggye” tracks feature a “droning contraption” that adds a pleasant incessance like the familiar but never quite normal sound of a malfunctioning home appliance, but my clear favorite ended up being the closing “Summon Me Hither – Twilight Still 001,” a darkly gorgeous and meditative final statement. Especially in this last track, there are important messages for you from those who have already passed on… listen closely.

Review: djdillydrops – Digital Ghouls (Grink Collective, Sep 8)

I review a lot of bizarre shit on this website, but some releases, even in the context of this already obscure subset of music, seem to bellow “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair” with feeling. Digital Ghouls is certainly one of those, complete with a cover collage of a Little Caesars ad, Windows XP dropdown menus, and low-res images of Michelangelo the turtle, a dildo, and a flip phone; an overpriced and extremely limited physical cassette edition called the Special “Michael” Bootleg; typo-ridden track titles; and some of the most brutal, irreverent digital harsh noise one could ever hear. djdillydrops disregards the cut-up, unpredictable volatility that often comes packaged with computer- or code-based approaches and instead opts for an all-out assault of endlessly layered stems of raw data, most likely sourced from images and other incompatible filetypes run through a DAW. Fittingly, the introductory “Bitch” is perhaps the short release’s most intense track, finding little footing in any sort of bass register yet to optimize the causticity of the slicing, stabbing static plumed to perfection throughout the expanse of the high-end. “Swallow the LaCroix” offers somewhat of a relative respite in the form of chunkier, less shrill glitch-murk, approaching the kinetic pseudo-physicality of some of Gintas K’s work. All in all it’s incredible, and probably the most inappropriate thing I could be listening to while surrounded by trees, greenery, and wildlife… all hail the Grink.

Review: Accoutrements – Palm (self-released, Sep 8)

Depending on who you ask, Palm might be the closest one can possibly get to “ambient done right”; among other things, it’s quite upfront about the fact that “[n]o synthesizers were used in any of the productions,” something that’s revealed before the play button is even pressed. I’m here to write about an album, though, not petulantly dunk on the lowest-hanging fruits of the electronic music world, so no more A-word, I promise. But regardless of what specific genre you ascribe to it, this homemade debut tape from Portland project Accoutrements deals heavy in ambience, sometimes as hazy and diaphanous as a cloudy, breezy day and other times veering toward heavier territory with industrial crumble or sluggish noise. The vow of a synth-free affair is faithfully kept, but that doesn’t mean notes and harmonies and the like are just discarded; instead, they emerge from the cracks and creases between the atonal slabs of mechanical shuffling and aquatic analog-delay ripples, bubbling up and out like sweet steaming sap from a tapped trunk. The sublime mixture is perhaps at its best in the third part, when creaking, clattering rustles that may or may not have originated in the groaning sways of the titular trees loosely frame the earnest swell of an alternating ghost-note loop. The concluding section and its delicate timbral juxtapositions give even that a run for its money, though, and I’m helplessly obsessed with the almost alarm-like tonal drones that thread through its murky mass. True to the continuity that ties the four separate tracks together, each side of the physical C90 edition plays the album in full (and by the way, if anyone reading this has ever made a one-sided tape that doesn’t repeat the program on both sides, you SUCK). Only four copies left—don’t miss out!

Review: Death Glaze – Despair in the Gutter I (self-released, Sep 3)

It shouldn’t be a surprise to see yet another wall noise album at the top of this page. At this point 2021 seems fully incapable of disappointing me in this regard; a small sliver of the pie, no doubt, but I’ll take whatever size piece I can get. Despair in the Gutter I, a new release from prolific Ontario project Death Glaze—which I know next to nothing about—is somewhat of a midpoint between the last two I wrote about (Being the Contents of an Unsigned Letter and 136), seething in a spiny mass of squealing, crunching transmission sputter and fuzz-poisoned punctures. “Creature of Evil” could be an unruly symphony of missed or faulty audio-cable connections; each of its multifarious parts, carefully spread across the full range of the stereo field, is its own source point of disorderly rake and rattle, one of many in a haphazard, anti-Cartesian grid of barbed wire and rusted spikes. “Sex Worker Prey,” like many B-side walls, very much feels like a continuation or reimagining of a similar idea: the distortion is fuller, more shrouding, but it fills the spaces between the aforementioned micro-sites rather than draping itself over them completely, retaining the detailed, piecemeal structure of agitation of the preceding track while offering something new and contrastive. Ever wanted to know how your bottle of detergent feels as it rattles around on the sharp metal top of your washer/dryer unit before falling off and spilling its viscous liquid contents everywhere? Now you can.