Review: Naturaliste – Temporary Presence (Almost Halloween Time / Gertrude Tapes / Public Eyesore / Unread, Jan 15)

Sitting conceptually somewhere between Partial’s LL and R.O.T.’s Klein Eiland (and musically between early AMM and Melkings), Temporary Presence is a release that is claustrophobic only in regard to its origins. The recordings were captured over the course of a night in a rented-out music store, an approach that certainly implies some essential limitations, but the four inimitable members of the long-running but sporadically active Naturaliste project transform their finite supply of materials into shifting masses of abstract sound that extend well beyond any possible permutation of four-walls-and-a-roof. Plenty of the participating personnel have made names for themselves in the field of convention-defying instrumentation, especially inventor and miniature installation engineer Bryan Day, but the stuffed shelves and corners of the unidentified shop offer many a traditional flavor for the bubbling stew: considered strikes on both the inside and outside of a classical piano, jagged rakes across the strings of an off-tune zither (at some points I was fully convinced the next thing I would hear would be “ME is a meadow meal”), extended-technique violin, and more. As if the diversity of the purely “musical” elements wasn’t enough, Temporary Presence also evokes both defined and undefined space with additional auxiliary intrusions intentional and otherwise; a cavernous, spectral recitation here, the horn of passing car there; uncomfortably close clatter one moment, distant and detached din the next. Some say their spirits still haunt the building to this day— “Oh don’t worry about all the shit falling off the shelves for no apparent reason, we have a bit of a ghost infestation. No, no, they’re not poltergeists, not pranksters; they genuinely believe they’re making music.”

“Review”: Absolute Table Field – Clowncar Bleedthrough (Neutral Archive, Jan 19)

In place of a review for Clowncar Bleedthrough, the new album by Absolute Table Field (loud, restless electronics by artists credited only as Bruno, Alex, and June), I will simply quote its accompanying written material, in order to avoid committing thought crimes against the Orb. Thank you for your understanding.

I’ve been doing a lot of shredding lately. I’m cleaning out some of my storage boxes. I don’t want to leave all this stuff for someone else to have to deal with once I’m gone.

The shredder we have here in our convent is a small one. I knew the volume of materials I was going to shred would demand a heavy-duty shredder. Fortunately, we have such a shredder at our provincial center. It shreds about 10-12 sheets at a time. The manual claims it can shred even staples, paper clips, and credit cards—though I’ve never tested that claim.

The shredder sits in a small windowless room in the basement. The only other things in the room are a two-drawer file cabinet (where the large plastic garbage bags are kept) and two small chairs to put your stuff on while you stand and shred. When you turn the shredder on, it makes a loud noise—like a hungry dinosaur. When you begin feeding the paper into its jaws, the noise gets even louder as it devours your pages and then spits them into the attached garbage bag. Here are a few of my thoughts while shredding…

1) Shredding is a violent act. Shredding entails a deafening racket and a brutal ferocity. The shredded paper is indecipherable. The pages are virtually gone. Of course, I’ve seen police dramas where forensic detectives glue the shredded paper back together and solve the crime. But my shreds are destined for a recycling center.
2) Shredding is a painful act. It’s not easy to shred certain materials. As I feed the machine, I glance at the pages and find myself saying, “This is my life! These pages represent years of my work and ministry. And in one instant, they’re all gone! Wow!” At times I feel as if I am being shredded. So painful is shredding, I often won’t even look at the papers I’m feeding into the machine so I can’t see what I’m shredding.
4) Shredding is a freeing act. Ironically, shredding also gives me a sense of exhilaration. Shredding is a profound act of letting go. When I shred, I find myself saying, “I don’t need this stuff anymore. That part of my life is over.” I find this extremely freeing.
5) …[S]hredding is a grateful act. As I shred, I find myself thanking God for my life that these pages represent. “Thank you God, for the gifts of writing and speaking… for your consistent inspiration… for my little successes… for my disappointments and failures which (I hope) have made me more humble and compassionate and trusting of You… Thank you, God, for my whole life which has led me to where I am now and who I am today. Amen.”

Have you ever used a shredder? If so, do you have any thoughts about shredding? 

Review: Arturas Bumšteinas – Amazon Fishing with Yahoos (sirr-ecords, Jan 17)

Of the select few musical works out there that aim to vividly capture the mundanity of human existence, even fewer accomplish the task with as much simultaneous specificity and eclecticism as Lithuanian sound researcher Arturas Bumšteinas’s new release Amazon Fishing with Yahoos. Interestingly, both seemingly contradictory qualities originate in the limited focus of the work’s source material: “soundtracks of various Youtube videos of tourists fishing in Amazon river,” along with occasional instrumental intrusions. In other words, if you’re like me and don’t know much about fishing, your brain will spend much of its time, at least on the first time through, trying to pick out the sonic signatures of the pastime, but in the process it is rendered vulnerable to the surreal or unexpected, of which Bumšteinas has mined plenty from his supply of “virtual-field-recordings”: okay, that’s the sound of someone reeling in the line, the boat’s creaking and— wait, was that a noise from Minecraft? Now gas motor growls in concert with droning high-pitched flute and koto? Sure, why not. Amidst the restless soundscape that is not quite cinéma pour l’oreille, not quite phonography, and not quite collage (it’s too strangely fluid), one’s mind is restricted to the liminal perceptive space between watching footage of an activity and actually doing it (in this case, fishing) while Bumšteinas’s creative and endlessly unpredictable arrangements run circles around it in its confused state. Hilarious, wholesome, mildly disturbing, inexplicably addictive, and ultimately life-affirming, as these sorts of things so often are. Another amazing and singular release from sirr-ecords, and an abstract audio-documentary for the ages.

Also, I swear I hear the guitar harmonics from the intro to Yes’s “Roundabout” around 25 minutes in.

Review: Pool – Hard Labor (Makeshift Encounters, Jan 16)

Pool, the ragtag unruly electronics quartet from Providence that features musicians such as Ren Schofield (Container, Form a Log) and Eric Grieshaber (VOSP, Soft Target), is one of those modest units that doesn’t make any hullabaloo over either their materials or processes despite the music being presumably freely improvised (which, as many of us know, is often enough to engender decades of arcane academic writings and insufferable artistic elitism). Instead, the noisy, multifarious transmissions the band generates are better thought of as “hard labor,” which is also the title of their most recent release, a CDr from local Rhode Island DIY label Makeshift Encounters: there are few ways to ground these dense rackets of sparking electrical chatter and metallic din in any sort of familiar image besides the hyperactive industrial cacophony of a bustling construction site. The cover art, I think, illustrates the paradox that arises from the clash between the confined, intimate domesticity and clattering activity that Hard Labor evokes in equal shares with its depiction of what is most likely the aftermath of a fierce battle with a clogged shower/bath drain (the tool pictured is a plumbing snake)—a meeting of the bodily and the external that is disturbing for reasons beyond detached human hair just being gross. The single half-hour-plus track is a piddling phantasmagoria of junk, trash, and grime, everything you’ve shoved into the farthest corner of the garage or scraped off the bottom of your shoe lovingly molded into a nonrepresentational sculpture that would leave any four-year-old’s backyard art project in the dust.

Review: Coma Winds – Fuoco (Abhorrent A.D., Jan 13)

The jagged, caustic hills and valleys of noise that comprise Fuoco are sourced entirely from “raw amateur home footage of severe weather,” the recordings deformed into textural chunks of distortion via analog effects. I’d imagine almost every aspiring “noise musician” tries a similar thing at some point, simply layering a few digital plugins or physical pedal chains over an innocuous stem, but it doesn’t usually result in something very compelling—any actual noise generated by the process is often weak and lifeless, for example, and what are enjoyable dynamics for an unprocessed sound piece or event may not translate. Coma Winds, the new solo project from Abhorrent A.D. operator Branden Diven, both does and doesn’t acknowledge such a “lazy” approach. There’s clearly more considered compositional work that’s gone into this, but at the same time many aspects still feel messy, imperfect, even unintentional. This is a good thing, for the unique character of Diven’s base sonic materials is somewhat retained; while some stretches have been sculpted into loud, churning crackle chaos indistinguishable from any recognizable “severe weather” phenomenon, we also hear rain falling with changing force, trees cracking and falling, and even verbal reactions from the individuals filming. This last element is one of the most interesting things about Fuoco: the startling and humorous exclamations that parse the muck on the A side function in a very similar way to the vocals in power electronics music, albeit more novel and self-aware (and somehow less ridiculous).

Review: Plants – Tapes 2014-2015 (Hemlock Garden, Jan 11)

The nearly two hours of music collected on Tapes 2014-2015, like the digital release’s black-and-white cover scan of a time-weathered medievalesque tapestry, is deeply artifactual. Like finding old, unfamiliar words carved on the underside of a massive boulder that haven’t seen the sky for centuries or stumbling over mossy old gravestones with long-obscured engravings strewn throughout the drooping, darkly verdant forest, each track—each soft, seraphic stream of faintly ritualistic cavern-drone steeped in sunlight—is a discovery. The dusty and delicate “From the Sky” is a sublime ode to the forgotten, both intimate and widely historical, its languid, interweaving currents of meditative vocalization, ephemeral rustle, and subterranean serenity evoking the sound of spirit song heard from just beyond the veil. Some of the pieces are moodier and more nocturnal, while others (particularly several segments of the aptly-titled “Sun”) are as pure and golden as the original “leak in the floorboards of heaven,” Folke Rabe’s eternal “What??”; but all are enrapturingly beautiful in their own ways, which is probably a good thing considering the compilation is so long (despite not really feeling like it). Music to slowly sink into.

Review: Gemengung – E.O.T.F. (Black Artifact, Jan 8)

Anyone with even a little knowledge of my taste probably knows that I have thing for music that sounds lifeless; i.e. lazy, superfluous, vestigial, just-sort-of-there, etc., but artfully so. This can obviously adopt many forms, and while I mainly value the harsh noise genre for its visceral immediacy and assaulting abrasion, there’s a particular atmosphere that’s evoked by artists like Blod, Manure Movers of of America, and others (see my Psychedelic Slabs mix) who conjure swamps of feedback and distortion that are better metaphorized as sooty smoke or distant, murky junkyard bustle rather than the sharp, violent images brought to mind by more traditionally vicious music. Gemengung’s E.O.T.F., one of three tapes in the inaugural batch from new Texas label Black Artifact, is savage and searing on paper, and the noise itself is certainly quite caustic, but the overall presence of the sound is more reminiscent of a homogeneous dead-air FM transmission, giving it an essence of subtle but ignorable passivity. This is in large part due to the central concept of the release: each track is the result of a crudely granular dissection and then successive reassemblage of each of the nine songs on Suffocation’s landmark LP Effigy of the Forgotten. Once one is aware of this it’s not difficult to hear the battered remnants of the originals—mostly fragments of the unmistakable sounds of pig squeal vocals. Much like Dave Phillips’s work of haphazard sonic surgery Hermeneutics of Fear of God, the dismantling and disembodying of the source material both malforms and depletes its extremity; E.O.T.F. is an especially compelling case because of how comprehensively malformed that extremity is.

Review: Bacchus – Bacchus (Solar Asceticists Productions, Jan 10)

You may remember my brief treatise a month or so ago on the subset of black metal I call “void worship.” But there’s a different kind of despair that can be conveyed via blast beats, distortion, and howls: that of the Earth. The primordial mysteries of the occult, unspeakable sacrifices in the name of even more unspeakable deities, the unknown that still lurks beyond the frontier of civilization, etc. It’s one thing to make “ritual music,” but it’s quite another to make music that actually feels ritualistic—i.e., as if something well outside the realm of both your perception and your understanding is occurring, and as the passive participant one is forced to embrace whatever obscure divine catharsis can be gleaned. Bacchus, the self-titled debut from this new French band, doesn’t have the darkly meditative tribal rhythms of Ruins of Beverast, the organic uncanniness of Murmuüre, or the collective spiritual grit of Zeal & Ardor, but what it does have is the beautifully wispy form of multi-colored smoke rising from flaming herbs, a cloud of sublime soot rising toward the sky with soaring moans and epic arrangements. I’m not usually one for the shouted vocal style in this genre, but the low growls, desperate recitations, and fast-fading bellows of Sébastien B. feel right at home amidst the reasonably clean production, which allows the ambitious dynamics and climaxes to really shine. One of those debut records that sounds more like a more refined second or even third effort.

Review: Loxe – Prosa Poética (self-released, Jan 10)

When I left the Lightning Bolt show I attended at Cleveland’s Grog Shop (opened by Aaron Dilloway) in 2018, I was holding half of a splintered drumstick and had more than a few drops of blood that didn’t belong to me on my shirt—just a few clues as to the kind of hell the Brians raise. No, it wasn’t my blood, but it definitely could have been, because for several songs near the beginning of the set I was right up against the stage, just inches from the razor sharp edge of Chippendale’s battered cymbal (several of his had chunks taken out, can’t remember how jagged this one was) which several times came close to giving me at best a nasty case of tetanus and at worst a facial rearrangement. But memories like this remind us that violence—the controlled, consented-to kind that is—is a crucial element of the catharsis that live performances of extreme music provide, not just in the actions of the crowd but in the playing of the music itself. What a powerful thing it would be to successfully recreate that dangerous physicality in a studio recording, right? Some records have, but the unhinged, unpredictable volatility of being a physical witness is often obscured. Loxe, a new band from Tokyo, lays waste to this challenge with the brutally abrasive approach they took to recording their debut album Prosa Poética, which allows the guitars to not just chug, but pound; the already filthy-sounding harsh vocals to resemble someone coughing up blood and bits of metal; the cymbals to assail the ears with junkyard blade sharpness. There’s little to do other than close your eyes and enjoy the sensation of being crushed; like fellow Japanese shredders Friendship, the music has the same punishing, overwhelming force whether it’s blasting at full speed like a turret-mounted machine gun or beating the floor with merciless sludge breakdowns. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that Loxe appears to have formed during a time when crowded pits aren’t exactly a possibility, especially in their country; I don’t think I even want to know what they can stir up.

Review: ცოდნის მფლობელები – ყოველდღიური რჩევები (Gates of Hypnos, Jan 4)

Do you ever stay up way too late and run out of things to do before you’re tired enough to go bed so you just sort of sit in the darkness and dissociate, all the slight sounds of the dead world around you sort of blurring into one dull roar? The static noise of Georgian project ცოდნის მფლობელები is the perfect music for that situation. ყოველდღიური რჩევები, the second release from the mysterious artist whose moniker loosely translates to “knowledge holders,” is a 25-minute slab of oppressive nocturnal sludge composed of that murky, lo-fi distortion pedal rumble that makes me nostalgic for bad rips of old Taskmaster or Werewolf Jerusalem tapes and a barely perceptible layer of muffled voices that adds a subtle current of paranoia. It’s one of those walls that truly “imprisons” you, but not in any startling or alarming way; instead it slowly and patiently creeps over its victims like a giant mud-amoeba, hiding its true nature until the prey is warmly swathed in trash-goo and can be safely incapacitated (think of the orcs digging up the Uruk-Hai like horrible writhing turnips in the first LOTR movie). John Cage loved the sound of traffic; this is the sound of traffic while you’re buried below the bustling street or smeared across the side of the sewer over which countless cars and pedestrians pass every day. Immured interiority paired with a tantalizing yet ultimately inaccessible promise of externality.