Review: Diane – The River by the Tree (Jungle Gym, Feb 8)

I’ll never get tired of artists making music associated with green. At its heart, it’s a color that we equate to nature, environments, the living world around us, a source of sound and energy that will never be fully explored. The River by the Tree is an album that’s based heavily in the natural world, from its vibrant, mossy cover to the birdsong and flowing water that frequently emerge in its palette of sounds, but it also keeps itself at a respectful, reverent distance, examining a lush landscape through a lens of careful processing. The shimmering drones that newcomer project Diane crafts on this tape encase their organic sources much like the reflective surface of the water in the cover photo, initially obscuring with a protective shell of effects and alterations before the unmanipulated elements appear. Each of the three tracks is given plenty of time to breathe and expand naturally, especially the concluding “September,” whose quiet, meditative ambience allows soft guitar, dove calls, and bubbling brooks to slowly unfurl as the piece progresses. I can see The River by the Tree functioning both as a reminder of nature when it is far away and as a subtle augmentation when that rich green world is right there in front of you.

Review: Various Artists – Free Percussion (Tsss Tapes, Feb 6)

Free Percussion, the inaugural release on Francesco Covarino’s fledgling Tsss Tapes imprint, collects recordings by twelve abstract percussionists, each presenting an unrestricted improvisation using anything from a standard kit to toy instruments and bells. Claire Rousay, a San Antonio-based artist examining a wide range of concepts through her music, begins the set with an object-based kit performance whose unchecked scrapes, swirls, and rolls are mirrored by similarly whimsical later pieces such as Simon Camatta‘s “Concrete Love.” This is the best part about Free Percussion, that it both distinguishes and exposes similarities in these singularly creative musicians; comparisons can be drawn between the Tinguely-esque junk cacophony of Ted Byrnes’ “No” and the fluid drones explored by Tim Daisy on “For Ogden,” a kinship strengthened by their adjacent placing in the track list, even though it’s not as easy to conclude that the artists had anything alike in mind when they began playing. In addition to introducing and tracing connections between artists new to me, Free Percussion also gives me the opportunity to view pieces by my favorites in the context of their contemporaries; the intimate object orchestras of Rie Nakajima, the instantly recognizable malleted cymbals of Will Guthrie, and Covarino’s own quiet drags are even more captivating amidst kindred works.

Review: Vortice Group – Vortice Group (Anahuac Editions, Feb 1)

The ambling tracks that comprise Vortice Group’s self-titled debut release are constructed with a framework of loose drum machine loops that stumble and stutter underneath flowing melds of acoustic instruments, distorted spoken word, and samples. Rhythmic elements in such fluid, abstract music are difficult to get right, and it’s refreshing that this mysterious quartet treats their lurching percussion cells as just another component in these diverse and surreal collages. The four tracks on side one are mainly focused meditations on single ideas, with the band allowing each to progress through very subtle alterations. “Wind Rises From Somewheres” sets the scene with its flimsy synth bloops and delay-blanketed clips of metallic clattering, occasionally allowing these respirating textures to interlock with the spidery drum machine sample. The remaining three continue to experiment with similar sounds, and even though they are documented as separate tracks the side feels like a single entity that seems to slowly and beautifully decay. From the derelict ruins of the whimsical first half comes the much more withdrawn and immaterial second side, its formless forays into droning woodwinds and conversational improvisation bisected by a stretch of unaccompanied field recording that captures the tape’s atmosphere well with muffled clunks and gritty analog hiss. Vortice Group is an evasive debut effort that defies classification, and would be greatly enjoyed by fans of acts like Good Area, Parlours, and The Shadow Ring.

Review: For Your Health – Nosebleeds (Middle-Man, Jan 28)

Emotional hardcore offers up catharsis in a variety of forms. Some bands express feelings and atmosphere through rough, throat-tearing screams and blast beats, while others stick with melodic guitars and earnest, to-the-point lyrics. For Your Health, a promising new quartet from Columbus, OH, bursts out of the woodwork with guns blazing on both of those fronts. The short-and-sweet (well, depends on your definition of ‘sweet’) Nosebleeds 7″ is their first studio release, and sees the band cutting their teeth across the gamut of screamo music. The seven tracks, the longest of which barely reaches two and a half minutes, garner their powerful, almost overwhelming emotional weight from moments of both twinkly beauty and eviscerating stretches of violent, percussive freakouts. The quite straightforwardly-titled “FUCK ICE” emerges from a well-placed sample into an accelerating cacophony that drips with delirious anger, and is the peak of the furious whirlwind that’s conjured by the first five tracks, before the wistful singalong of “Second Aid Kit” and patient repetition of “Exit Flesh” bring it all to a satisfying conclusion. Every time I finish this thing I find myself bewildered by how little time has actually passed since I put it on, because in just eleven minutes these guys put you through a gauntlet that feels a whole hell of a lot longer (in a good way, of course).

Physical copies of Nosebleeds on 7″ vinyl and cassettes will be available here in March.

Review: Fletcher Pratt – Rituals for Magnetic Tape Vol. 1 (Never Anything, Feb 3)

With Rituals for Magnetic Tape Vol. 1, Oakland-based sound artist Fletcher Pratt evokes the spectral compositions of early tape music pioneers such as Xenakis and Ferrari, with a distinctly modern element of improvisational fluidity. “Ritual 1,” the sole track on the tape, adopts an approach faithful to the original principle of musique concrète—that is, everyday sounds and noises are transformed into something new and unrecognizable. Pratt’s skillful spindle work largely obscures his (probably) wide range of sound sources, molding and melding raw recordings to produce ghostly drones, synthetic pulses, and virtuosic blasts of frenetic blips. There isn’t a single part of “Ritual 1” that sounds anything close to organic, but it is far from feeling detached or sterile. Pratt manipulates his auditory arsenal like an urgent sculptor, raising abstract yet physical constructions from suspenseful silence. It really does sound like a ritual of some sort (though not one that I’ve ever seen); most of the elements are quite percussive, and the way each is sequenced or combined with the others is where the piece draws its mysterious energy. Rituals for Magnetic Tape Vol. 1 is both a breath of fresh air and a reminder of everything great about the early stages of these widely used techniques. I really hope that this tape being subtitled “volume 1” is an indicator that there will be many more installments.

Review: Seth Cooke – Weigh the Word (self-released, Jan 27)

Whispered prophetics, skull-vibrating bass feedback, stop-start static. The uncanny sonority of halted words, syllables once pregnant with meaning reduced to synthetic blips and glitches. The captivating gibberish that dominates Seth Cooke’s stark collages on Weigh the Word is sourced from spoken ministry cassettes recorded between 1996 and 1999, the devotional sermons digitized and chopped up beyond recognition to form something entirely new. Both sides of the C26 cassette contain elusive mixtures of sounds as jittery and unpredictable as the cut-up text that serves as the cover art, the synthesized speech sharing space with granular electronics and disarming dynamic changes. The largely indeterminate and computer-based method of composition used here might imply that Weigh the Word is too far removed from anything recognizably emotional or even organic, but the music itself tells a different story. Especially on side B, the random diatribes adopt something resembling lucidity; the male text-to-speech stating “They were the issue of slavery, you will model something for them yeah okay okay okay okay” while a whirlwind of aggressive static that sounds like an angry cloud of bees threatens to take over is one of the most harrowing things I’ve heard in recent memory. Weigh the Word is another fascinating and singular work from Seth Cooke.

Review: Ithaca – The Language of Injury (Holy Roar, Feb 1)

The cover of The Language of Injury is composed of a bright pink knife encased in a jagged collage of blue-tinted photographs from various Ithaca live shows. That unusual dichotomy is a pretty accurate representation of the music itself as well; Ithaca’s slamming, bone-crushing rhythms are vicious and angular, but the songs also have a distinct beauty buried somewhere within them, still with an edge but one that’s much more refined. Opening one-two punch “New Covenant” and “Impulse Crush” begin the record with the biggest bang possible, mostly relying on intense, groove-based riffs with moments of unhinged energy and melodic tapping guitar fills. The burst-fire breakdown on “Impulse Crush” is one of the most impossibly heavy things I’ve ever heard (it’s that kind where you can’t help but laugh out loud at how awesome it is), but its intensity is somehow still more than matched on later tracks like the title cut and “Youth vs Wisdom.” Ithaca also handles the pacing of the album remarkably well; I don’t know if ‘exhausting’ is really the right word for the non-stop punishment that the first four tracks put you through, because that sounds way too negative, but by the time the gorgeous, calming interlude of “(No Translation)” shows up it’s more than welcome. From then on, more and more of that distant ethereality is injected into the music, from the soft guitar that opens “Clsr.” to the meditative intricacies of “Gilt” and the anthemic tremolo climax of “Better Abuse.” As of writing this review I’ve listened to The Language of Injury at least once a day since its release, and I definitely do not plan on altering that schedule. I can say with confidence that this is one of the best executed modern metallic hardcore records I have come across.