Review: Gaped – Fever (Veil Tapes, Oct 27)

Especially within the last few years, I’ve heard so many mind-blowing subversions and evolutions within the wall noise genre that my taste has come full circle: I now appreciate releases more in line with the roots of the tradition just as much as those that so flagrantly flaunt what are already extremely esoteric conventions. That’s not to say one is less interesting than the other—in most cases, including this one, far from it. Via both his solo project Twin Aperture and imprint Veil Tapes, Eric Anders Benson has been providing a friendly neighborhood source for no-frills, incisive wall material and other goodies, making a certain unmistakable strain of unyielding analog grit his trademark. It’s present to varying degrees in all five tapes in the new Veil batch-only drop, a selection that spans both the label’s core purview and its more eclectic interests (the latter fulfilled with the retrospective synth-drone discography of now-inactive Massachusetts artist Aspekte Konstant). But the one that has captured my attention the most is the bagged C81 that may or may not be the physical-plane debut of the anonymous Gaped. It’s described, in the shortest of the five blurbs, as “hyper-focused,” and Fever follows through on that and then some. During my first listen, every check of a clock was a moment of brief alarm as I wondered where all the minutes went; these two lengthy untitled tracks gobble time like it’s a last meal. I often write about the duration-distorting effect of static or even just slow-moving noise, but here a new height is reached with a setup that sounds like it could be just a few carefully chosen pedals. Persistent yet lethargic kinesis, tape-dulled rough edges, an almost psychedelic constitution… this is the kind of wall I can get so lost in I forget I’m even listening to it but still rewards any extent of deep attention. Might be worth buying the whole bundle just for this one, if you ask me. And uh, oh yeah, stay safe out there.

Review: Lisa Cameron, Damon Smith & Alex Cunningham – Time Without Hours (Storm Cellar, Oct 14)

November 2020’s Dawn Throws Its First Knife, the first collaboration by this trio of Lisa Cameron (percussion), Damon Smith (double bass), and Alex Cunningham (violin), was not a release for which I expected a sequel. So Alex sending me a copy of Time Without Hours, as he generously does with much of his output, was a wonderful surprise—and even with any high expectations set by the excellent debut, the music on this tape itself is unsurprisingly wonderful. The session that produced the set of five tracks took place nearly a year and a half after the improvisers initially gathered, and in their playing a ramp-up of both individual technique and collective consciousness is palpable. As loose and rickety as it often is, the dialect the three weave is clearly defined and consistently infectious from the very first tangle of “Ember on My Eyelids.” Though the “drums” role is credited to Cameron, everyone plays with an ear for atonal tactility; just listen to Cunningham’s taps and scrapes flap like tattered moth wings over the lumbering half-groove in “A Wave Reborn” or the rattling, dynamic skitter-symphony of “Handfuls of Shadow.” Side B culminates with “Plentitude in the Void,” a moody masterpiece of a track complete with crunchy bow drones and a somber, dirgelike atmosphere dark as pitch.

Review: Micro_Penis – Süra Wald (Chocolate Monk, Sep 24)

In addition to having one of the most difficult-to-explain—albeit quite representative—band names, French quartet Micro_Penis are notable for being one of the finest outlets for contemporary imaginings of the art brut tradition, spewing spittle, shit, and semen across four superb LPs and a previous Choccy Monk release over the course of the past decade or so. Süra Wald isn’t “new” in that it was recorded back in 2010, but it is the first excretion since 2019’s La Maison de la Justice, and any sign that these four lunatics might still be active as a unit is just fine with me. It turns out that the CD-R, besides being an archival unearthing, does some looking-back of its own; the material was recorded over two days at the exact same locations used for Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink’s 1977 collaboration Schwarzwaldfahrt.

Brief opener “Air Crash Bodies” not only waddles the gamut of the various tools used for the session, EYE-esque belching gullets and DIed field recordings and choked, gasping horns; it also introduces the presence of a rare subtlety in the group’s approach. It’s more reserved and gestural than usual, sparing improvisation rather than coagulant collage or pell-mell hell. An appropriate choice given the inspiration, and in fact the foursome continues to tag their inimitable forebear-pair in various ways throughout the eight tracks: Spenlehauer (I think?) rips some fierce, invigorating sax flatulence in “Soufflé”; half-assed hand percussion trades space with huffs and hocked saliva on “UNGG”; the wet gargles of “HWGCR” pay homage to Schwarzwaldfahrt’s infamous stretch of instrument-aided bubble-blowing. And then there’s “F Mortes,” which is just a fucking masterpiece—I hope any residents with the misfortune of living within earshot were compensated accordingly. Though it’s not anywhere near as terrifying or intense as the self-titled or Tolvek, just like any of their releases Süra Wald reminds me how much I love this band, how they can constantly have me spellbound and dying laughing at the same time. Ignorants and stupidos unite.

Review: Candi Nook – How I Invented Sound and Redesigned the Human Ear (sPLeeNCoFFiN, Sep 30)

The dry, frank braggadocio of the title is reaches beyond simply a fleeting joke or ironic heading for this archival double CD set. In fact, it’s the very essence of Candi Nook’s musical approach; though How I Invented Sound and Redesigned the Human Ear spans a staggering range of styles and setups from throughout the UK sound artist’s active years (1998–2003), every single track oozes the same strain of unabashed experimentation, runs pell-mell toward the bizarre with the same unhinged, slipshod confidence. Beautifully presented in a sturdy six-panel digipak featuring mesmerizing photo arrays by the artist herself, the selected discography traces Nook’s winding creative path through analog noise collages, surreal synth sketches, ambitious texture-scapes and mood pieces, plucky MIDI mash, exploratory sound art, the works.

Tracks from the project’s debut cassette release (and my personal favorite) Queen of the Swirley-Eyed Ant Monkeys (1998) kick off the carnival tour, “Clean Penis Eating” at the forefront with its deft yet appropriately crude cocktail of 90s four-track harsh and irreverent sample plundering. The rawness may be most apparent in these loud, distorted early cuts, but it’s present in all of them, the rough edges and unpolished grit only highlighting how foundational this material is in retrospect: I hear eerily accurate presagings of Women of the Pore’s otherwise singular “bunker jazz” in “Dusk” and “Hollowgram”; echoes of Arca amidst the dadarkness of “Dreamfeed”; plans to pass the playful avant-electronica torch to Dan Deacon in “Teaspoon.” Nook does some looking-back of her own as well, notably with “Highly Intelligent Witty and Elegant” from eccentric opus In the Pink (2001), which in two short minutes manages to channel Ruth White, The Residents, and Miranda July. But of course this is all just my personal mapping, because at its heart this music is fundamentally its own, the one-of-a-kind oeuvre of a woman inventing sound and having a blast doing it.

Reviews: Sick Days, Pool Pervert (Vacancy, Aug–Sep)

The most interesting, well-curated homemade/small-batch labels come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and aesthetics, but especially all locations. I’d wager one could stop a spinning globe on any random point there’d be a good chance something to this effect is going on somewhere nearby, whether it’s tapes and CD-Rs tucked in scribbled-on paper sleeves or zine exchange networks or alleyway film screenings, and most will probably go completely unnoticed by the other 99.999% of people in the world; which, of course, is usually part of the point. Some places, however (for reasons as various as art itself), become unlikely, often ramshackle hubs for one or several convergences of fringe interests, and one of those places is southern Ontario, a fecund patch of lakeside tilth for DIY sprouts and shoots. From Fossils/Cardinal Records (as well as David Payne’s Offensive Orange project and Middle James Co.) to Thoughts on Air/Low Orbit and Beach Vicodin/Hamilton Tapes, the Hammer is definitely a hotspot, but a bit farther south in Niagara resides Vacancy Recs. and its associated artists, a new favorite of mine that’s having a modest but superb year so far.

Sick Days – The Calm Before (Aug 19)

The work of woodshed sound art project Sick Days comprises much of Vacancy’s output, of which The Calm Before is the latest. Like the 2020 self-titled double CD, the release that introduced me to the project, a simple formula of taped field recordings and choice effects comprising a sort of stripped-down performance installation. There’s little variation for much of the two 45-minute sides, the minimal yet enthralling soundscapes lulling with homespun hypnosis; I’m reminded of Jørgen Brønlund Quartet in that the passivity and agency of the nature being observed is retained, but there are just enough details that it’s apparent human intentionality is at play. Not only do both untitled cuts seem to dissolve time with their careful, artful simplicity, they also have spare moments of dynamic shift that will leave any close listener breathless (I won’t spoil… hear it for yourself). I can already see this being one of my most-played tapes this year.

Pool Pervert – Young Sleep Whispers (Sep 20)

Disregarding any less than ideal connotations with which the artist’s name might imbue it, Young Sleep Whispers is a fitting, if still cryptic title for this new tape from the prolific Dutch newcomer—this reticent near-hour feels not just dreamlike and hushed but also embryonic, forming movement and emotion before it even forms (or is formed) itself. In part one, meditative cross-currents of simmering moonlit water, blurred piano musings, and rhythmic respirations from somewhere beyond settle into place with the organic, unhurried ease of the tides themselves. The surface of this distilled primordial soup is later brushed by what could either be windswept branches or cosmic clouds of ice, widening the music’s spatial presence even further; the results are at once massive and miniature. The following part is even looser, more earthy and psychedelic (though don’t take that too literally—the binaural voice snatches at the beginning will have you looking over your shoulder the whole night).

Review: mockART – views | interrupted (self-released, Sep 2)

Though much more of a concise, focused work than its sprawling predecessor Men Who Lost Their Heads (reviewed here last November), the new full-length from nebulous Frankfurt project mockART is every bit as unpredictable and thoroughly strange. The cynical late-capitalist imagery continues with the cover of views | interrupted, a color-saturated photomontage depicting a dreamlike, oversimplified, pop-filtered image of the apocalypse; and though there’s no magical window to greener pastures in real life, something akin to that saccharine optimism shows up in the music as well, a kind of liveliness that’s sickly and broken at its core. This first shows up in the form of the classically minded flute phrasings that comprise much of th first three tracks, bleeding out in the shadows of some unknown cavernous space where machines whir and electronics hum. The last of this opening triad, “White Window,” shifts more attention to warm, wet synth transmissions, denser but by no means happier, ringing out major-key intervals rendered as a somber lament. It’s also a great example of the central logic that structures views | interrupted, a (paradoxical) penchant for conventional harmony and subversive detours both textural and tonal. “Parklife” might be the standout, bringing together everything previously introduced with space-distorting field recordings of footsteps, forest fare, and absent-minded percussion fiddling. The way these disparate elements form soundscapes that actually make sense needs to be heard to be believed. And in fact, beneath the layers and façades of bright-eyed synthetic sheen, there’s a current of genuine hope to be found. I hope.

Review: Moth Cock – Whipped Stream and Other Earthly Delights (Hausu Mountain, Sep 2)

Of all the ruffianic stalwarts on Chicago weirdo electronics purveyor Hausu Mountain’s roster, Moth Cock have always been my favorite, perhaps in part because it was they who brought me to the prolific label in the first place, thanks to their split LP with Ren Schofield’s Form a Log back in 2016. Since then (and even before; 2014 full-length debut Twofer Tuesday and 2012 live tape Bremmy are among the very first releases) the irreverent Kent-based project of Doug Gent and Pat Modugno and their peerless brand of surreal, plasticine MIDI-jazz have both become a fixture of Hausu’s output and spread elsewhere, notably to Cleveland imprint Unifactor as well as leaking through several self-released, digital-only outlets. Nothing, however, could prepare even the most dedicated fan for the sheer breadth of Whipped Stream and Other Earthly Delights, an XR dose of the duo’s best and most adventurous work yet that spans three C70s and nearly three and a half hours. The previously NNM-reviewed (and still excellent) If Beggars Were Horses Wishes Would Ride was already a significant step up from the less refined early sound, but this is something else entirely, mashing together everything they’re already good at and a heaping helping of brand new territory.

For the most part, this album is surprisingly built on drones, in one way or another at least; I never thought I’d be comparing this band to Natural Snow Buildings in any capacity, but the lengthier tracks here really do remind me of some of Daughter of Darkness in the way they seem to create their own gravity, bending time itself with gargantuan weight. But if Daughter is a black hole, Whipped Stream is a rainbow dwarf star, or maybe a miracle singularity of all the world’s Casios, plastic horns, and old game cartridges. Opener “Castles Off Jersey” is an immediate illustration of all that bleeping, burbling color stretched by the expanse of space: meditative bowed-cello loops introduce a core coziness that persists even when slow-building entropy arrives in the form of strangled sax and ersatz bit-trips—listen to this one in the sun, if you can. The first tape closes with the (relatively) shorter “Leads to the Yellow Courts,” a stumbling trudge through psychedelic haze that feels much more traditionally Moth Cock, anchored to ground level by the humidity of tropical birdsong and sopping wet delay even as the smoke rises to the stars. Despite most, if not all of the material here being collected from Twitch streams and recurring local performances, it feels like an album through and through, and a temptingly replayable one at that, which might be more of a feat than if it were all recorded in sessions specifically for this purpose. It’s impossible to even pick a favorite cut; right now I’m all about the Black Dice–esque groover “Mineshaft Full of Caspers” and the immersive apocalyptics of “Take Two and Lose Your Phone,” but I guarantee that will change next listen.

Whipped Stream has already received well-deserved mainstream coverage from Pitchfork and other sources, so it should be a testament to its quality that I still felt it necessary to chime in. One for the ages, no doubt about that.

Review: Jürgen Eckloff – Diese, Nichts & Solche (Fragment Factory, Sep 1)

Diese, Nichts & Solche is Berlin sound artist and active Column One member Jürgen Eckloff’s first release since 2016’s Angeflantschte Fugenstücke, a record that made a deep, lasting impression on me when I first heard it. Unsurprisingly, this is true for this new tape on Fragment Factory as well; across both sides of the C46 a complex, cerebral slice of meticulous concrète-collage unfolds in a way not unlike a dream, its logic at once well-defined and utterly indefinable. Wriggling bits and pieces ripped from context, speech and slime and slurry, interdimensional phone calls and complete hogwash… all of these multitudinous elements somehow converse, even cooperate with each other, following rules well outside comprehension as they spasm and slither with an uneasy, skittering kinesis—much along the lines of the work of Eckloff’s labelmate and colleague Alice Kemp, or perhaps a more surgical Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck, especially with regard to the skin-crawling eroto-terrorscape that begins side B. (Though innocuous on their own, I can’t say I’m a fan of the inclusion of the Žižek samples, but I suppose it works with the rest of the sluice of perverse nonsense.) Diese, Nichts & Solche is indeed unsettling at some points, extremely intense at others, but through it all there are ever-present threads of pretty much everything else: humor, horror, rhythm, ruin, wonder, despair, one, none. Don’t listen alone, or at night… or at work.

Review: Ghost Dance – 1000 Instances of Grief (FTAM, Aug 20)

Important note: if at all possible please listen to the album at least once before you read the review. I don’t want to rob anyone of the experience of hearing it for the first time.

It doesn’t take much time into “Carlisle Indian Industrial School” to realize that 1000 Instances of Grief, the first full-length from Indigenous noisemaker Travis Dodge’s Ghost Dance project, is something very different from the gnashing direct-action power electronics of Indian Babies: How to Keep Them Well. Most of the opening track relies on audio from Rebecca Nagle’s This Land docu-podcast, in which Nagle explores both systemic and direct injustice toward Native people in the U.S. (in this case, she gives an account of a memorialist visit to the titular historical site). The simple delay effect placed on her otherwise unprocessed speech seems strangely banal at first, but soon the overlapping echoes take on a certain kind of unity, loosely knitting into a chorus in the past’s looming shadow, and it becomes clear what 1000 Instances really is: an elegy. All the abject grief and weary rage of generations upon generations living and dead saturate the closing burst of contact mic scrabble, erupting without warning once Nagle most directly states the true nature of Carlisle and countless institutions like it; it’s a truly indescribable and unforgettable moment.

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the disc is full of many more of those: the breaks into haunted ambience before the noise escalates into full-fledged vocal assault on “Kamloops”; the brief “Unmarked Grave” and its aching, almost lifeless dirge; the many cuts and collapses of “ALM,” titled after a Navajo–Cherokee child whose adoption by a white family opened new avenues for state-sanctioned genocide. The hypnotic traditional chant featured in Indian Babies‘ “Against the Liquor Curse” reappears in the concluding “No Pride in Genocide,” once again buried beneath layers of distortion and choppy digital artifacting; in part, the crude but affecting soundscape paints an aural simulacrum of the profound cultural erasure leveled against Native people throughout history, which the remainder of the track subjects to a varied, expertly executed gauntlet of good old-fashioned PE destruction. By no means an easy listen… but this is important and essential music.

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.”