Review: No Artist – Dear Master, […] (Chained Library, Apr 15)

Like many of the arcane electronic-based sound art projects given a platform by the elusive Chained Library imprint, this anonymous cassette release, based in the nebulous darkness of Emily Dickinson’s infamous “Master” letters, has a conceptual fabric that is perceptible yet obscure, bursting at the seams with palpable meaning that itself is impossible to ever fully pin down. Embarking on diverse textural excursions through seething noise, fractured recitation both artificial and organic, and deconstructed lexical null-scapes along the lines of Porcje Rosołowe and Łukasz Podgórni’s previously peerless Skanowanie balu collaboration, this sonic reimagining of Dickinson’s alluringly cryptic, genre-defying shadow correspondence is literary in its own right, the poet’s trademark em-dash onslaughts and epistolary subversion transposed to stuttering glitches and a total abandonment of the conventionally musical. Of note are the centerpiece track “Oh – did I offend it” (titled after one of the best-known phrases from the letters), a swirling micro-apocalypse of circuit-board industrial and barely intelligible, constantly shifting speech; and closer “If you saw a bullet,” which seems to be composed of a single utterance fed through a complex effects loop. Though it isn’t crucial to be familiar with the “source” material to enjoy Dear Master, […], I highly recommend you check it out regardless.

Buy the tape via Chained Library’s website or stream all seven tracks on their Soundcloud.

Review: Gorgeous Gorgeous – The Expressionless Fear (Brachliegen Tapes, Apr 1)

In a way somewhat similar to Cheerleader, Jun Konagaya’s newest release as Grim, the rhythmic presence of The Expressionless Fear is ephemeral and unreliable despite its abrasive heaviness, as if it were just as likely to have been created as an accidental byproduct of forcing far too much gain through a low-end speaker system as by artistic intention. I would hope, at least, that the truth is somewhere in between, but regardless of what went on behind the scenes, Busan producer Gorgeous Gorgeous has delivered a beautiful heap of still-sputtering industrial wreckage with this new tape on Brachliegen. Bitcrushed almost to oblivion and mastered so loudly that it’ll shake the very plastic of your headphones, opener “Ankle Lock” wastes no time bulldozing a trampled, charred path for the rest of the rusted machines to stumble down, crafting a kind of shellshock hypnosis with the oscillations between piercing screeches of feedback and hydraulic-press bass hits. “Throwing Knife” is even more trance-inducing, whether due to the intoxicating 3/4 plod or the dangerously high volume; “Fetterer” almost approaches psychedelia with its wounded loops; and “Grotto” is essentially a power electronics track that trades vocal elements for—get this—more noise. Whether this thing scares you shitless or reinvigorates your existence, or both, it will invariably get your blood pumping.

Reviews: Grey Windowpane, Roadhouse Duo, Staubitz and Waterhouse (Fruit of the Spirit, March)

Subtitled with the tagline “Free Sound and Vision for the Ages,” newly minted barebones blog/netlabel hybrid Fruit of the Spirit is one of several promising independent music sources stepping up in the wake of recent events, and is probably the one I’m most excited about. Each release is simply hosted on Google Drive in whatever format and metadata the artist(s) sent—farm-to-table freshness! My three favorites of the first wave of titles (all of them duo concoctions, incidentally) are the following. I’m not sure if there’s a way to directly support the label yet, but I hope there is soon.

Grey Windowpane – Catskin (Mar 14)

Cobbled together entirely from long-distance digital exchanges of “samples, cut-ups, voice memos and instrumentation,” Transatlantic duo Grey Windowpane’s debut Catskin is a series of messy yet careful collages, each one offering a casual, almost careless strain of theatricality that gives the hour-long album a deeply narrative feel. The vocal elements are some of the strongest and most memorable, from the Black Dice–esque nonsense psychedelia and unhinged lunacy of “Drillers Don’t Trip” to the evocative layering of “Yards of Valiente” and “Shane,” but contributors Troy Curry and Michael “Ma” Turner also include plenty of more inconsequential sounds as well (the shrieking teapot featured prominently in “Friday’s Needle” is a favorite).

Roadhouse Duo – I Am Stuck Between Two Cars (Mar 15)

I don’t know anything about Equipment Pointed Ankh, the band from which the Roadhouse project(s) apparently arose, but the hazy flume ride that is this tour CD-R is more than enough motivation for a deep dive (it’s unclear when the actual physical edition was first released). Chris Bush and Jim Marlowe pinwheel through several stylistic milieus throughout the single half-hour track, New Zealand earth-drone yawns and airplane-engine guitar roar and finally the most tired, dusty dance music, but its consistent character is that of a free-flowing jam, a.k.a. exactly what I needed this week.

Staubitz and Waterhouse – Live at Mystery Train 10/1/21 (Mar 20)

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Pawtucket collaborators Mary Staubitz and Russ Waterhouse are just as compelling as a live unit as they are a process duo (for most of their releases, Staubitz records and Waterhouse processes/edits), but now this 3″-length document ensures that the evidence is out there, just in case. From their diverse arsenal of turntables, garden implements, electronics, and pre-captured sounds arises a whimsical but weighty atmosphere that gives the same uncanny comfort as a shrine made from yard detritus (or limes and paper). I was initially caught off guard by the somewhat clumsy tambura drone that elbows its way in around the ten-minute mark, but it almost immediately peters out and then bounces back, wracked with the same organic instability as all of the other ingredients.

Review: Barn Sour – One Trick Pony (Staighre, Mar 11)

Is there any act with more of a paradoxical mixture of obscurity and ubiquity than Barn Sour? Not exactly likely your next-door neighbor would have a copy of Conté for Dick ‎in their frequent listening stack, but ask anyone at a niche record shop or sparsely attended basement show and they’ll almost certainly have at least heard some of the buzz, because the snorts, neighs, and whinnies of Winnipeg artist Pat Klassen’s most fascinating project have quickly shaken the underground music community to its core. That was true even before the release of One Trick Pony on Matthew Sullivan’s new-ish imprint Staighre, but now, with what I can already confidently call their best work yet, Barn Sour has branded themselves as an unmatched and truly terrifying sonic force. The first two tracks immediately introduce the diverse palette of the release, a seamless amalgam of elements and emotions previously explored: weighty, fraught tape ambience; impressionistic piano and organ resonance; queasy delirium; incoherence both cathartic and horrifying. “Gouch Call” is an early standout with its strangled sax babble and guttural gargles, conjuring what is perhaps the fullest realization of the project’s consistently indescribable atmosphere—that is, until “Peace, Be Still (Mane Mix),” which is easily both the most frightening music I’ve ever heard and my new pick for favorite Barn Sour track. The unnamed contributor whose manic laughter graced the A side of horses fucked over the head with bricks returns to take part in a hair-raising dual-vocal attack, chilling shrieks and startling pitch-doubled shouts and feverish giggling all trampling over the ersatz slur of a mortally wounded phonograph. Even with such a towering precedent “Foal Dub” closes things out perfectly, hanging up the bridle in a loose, careless, apathetically ambiguous way that makes it clear one, two, ten listens won’t be nearly enough. I’ll check back in at #100; stay saddled.

Review: The Gerogerigegege – >(decrescendo) Final Chapter (いぬん堂, Mar 9)

Even for someone who was not only just then getting into Gero, but noise as a whole, the surprise comeback release of Moenai Hai in 2016 was an exciting event, to say the least. Thinking back, perhaps more so than anything else that experience was the catalyst for the solidifying of my interest in experimental art in general. I’m far from alone in having a deeply personal connection to Juntaro Yamanouchi’s infamous project; awe, curiosity, nostalgia (of varying sorts and sizes), and gratitude are just a few of the many emotions that their music, aesthetic, and philosophy—or lack thereof—evoke for fans all over the world. Though the band has remained active for these past six or so years, the recent concluding installment in the >(decrescendo) series already feels like another significant, poignant milestone in a formidable body of work. This is attributable to the fact that, over its two-disc sprawl, Final Chapter carefully enshrines so much of what defines Gero’s undefinable art in a single, inexplicably unified acoustic experience. “Farewell Dream Treatment (a.k.a. Our Dream Is Over)” is an extended cut of the original >(decrescendo) release: a simple mono recording documents Yamanouchi quietly playing a HAPI drum at a park in the wee hours of morning, the softly malleted metallics humbly blending into the pre-dawn naturescape. The minimal, organic, solitude-steeped approach is of course not far from the hermitic reticence of past releases like Hell Driver (1999) and Gig in Train (recorded in 1993, released in 2019), but gone is the oppressive isolation and bleak despair that saturated that pre-reformation material—instead, Yamanouchi’s extended meditations sound more like a tribute to being alone rather than a desperate decrying of it. “Destructive Crust Treatment (a.k.a. To the End of the World)” elevates the beautiful, beguiling catharsis to new heights with a blanket layer of diaphanous distortion, which both alters and shrouds the sonic profile of the preceding disc like smoke over lightning storm desolation. You can still hear the pensive tones of the HAPI beneath the haze, and when the squawking birds send sharp sound-spires through the crust, the harmonies formed are nothing short of otherworldly… and yet they aren’t, because all in all Final Chapter may be Gero’s most profoundly grounded work yet, and for that reason it may also already be my favorite.

(Image credits to speranza.)

Review: Chris Fratesi – Stunad (Lake Shark Harsh Noise, Feb 28)

Review are back—sort of. Please read new submission guidelines in the sidebar (bottom of the page on mobile).

This new batch from Sam McKinlay’s Lake Shark Harsh Noise imprint presents music from two artists not exactly known for producing the titular genre of music, one of whom is Chris Fratesi. The brains behind the obscure but beloved Gene Pick project, Fratesi has now released three full-length works of electronic sound art under his own name, each one more radical than the last. Sound for Blank Disc, true to its title, comprised eviscerating sessions of modified empty compact disc playback, while Red Lead utilized an even more unidentifiable approach to create unsettlingly lifeless soundscapes of displaced electrical din; if anything, Stunad is a sort of stylistic fusion of those two preceding documents, embracing both unruly digital indeterminacy and uncompromising minimalism. Generated using an ostensibly simple process—”source taken from a sine wave generator and then put onto CD then manipulated using a modified CD player”—the A and B sides of the tape are unique but complementary slabs of hypnotic glitch-stasis. The former is thick and bass-heavy, an incessant stutter of sterile distortion and fractured frequency artifacts that will put any listener in a turgid tech-trance within the first five minutes, whereas the latter strips the noise down to a shredded high-pitched whine. It’s impossible not to get hooked on the fleeting illusions of structure that haunt these unyielding sound-obelisks: wreckage of rhythm-remnants, gnashing loops, heathen harmonies.

Review: Peter’s Gate – Field Recordings and Shortwave Volume I (self-released, Feb 22)

Even though I and I’m sure many others are partial to the immediately recognizable sounds of shortwave radio recordings, producing compelling music in which they are the sole ingredient is more than just adjusting an antenna or twiddling a dial. Field Recordings and Shortwave Volume I, a new digital release by a self-described “post-rock duo,” contains the first material I’ve heard since Alyssa Festa’s 2017 self-titled tape that harnesses shortwave in a way that’s truly beautiful, immensely evocative of the person or persons behind the knobs yet still embracing enough dull passivity to let the static and garbled speech shine in all its otherworldly spectral glory. As with Festa (who unfortunately will not release anything else under that alias), the Charlotte, NC–based Peter’s Gate doesn’t provide information about any sort of methodology behind the compositions or improvisations, instead letting them speak for themselves—and speak they do. “6.58-7.06” and “59.4kHz 9900.0kHz” establish familiar textural presences, including the deadpan recitation of codes and messages popularized by the Conet Project and others, and set the languid pace at which the majority of the album proceeds, an introduction that makes the much more sudden jumps used later on tracks like “Found Radio” and “Voice of Korea (Taiwan Missiles).” The former is a truly gorgeous piece of music, making ample use of both near-dead air and active frequencies to paint a greyscale spectrum of metamorphosing noise, fragile stasis, and ephemeral melody—the brief cut to the Eastern new age song about four minutes in is breathtaking. And if you still doubt the humanism of this work, order a CD, which will apparently bear handwritten thank-yous from both members. Long story short: tune in. Now.

Review: Bolek i Lolek – Na Dzikim Zachodzie ​/ ​Skutki Uboczne (Live) (Antenna Non Grata, Feb 18)

Compared to their last release—the LDQ Ysimaro / Mente-Atada split tape, reviewed here in January—Antenna Non Grata’s most recent offerings are a radical stylistic departure, but in actuality that’s just the name of the game for the venerable label, which has been incisively documenting the wide range of Polish experimental electronic music since 2010. Still, the new round of CDs are also radical in themselves no matter how you approach them, particularly Na Dzikim Zachodzie ​/ ​Skutki Uboczne (Live), the second official recording from duo Bolek i Lolek (following 2020’s W Krainie 1001 Nocy on Plus Timbre). Regardless of whether it’s named for the 1936 comedy or the iconic Polish cartoon brothers, Jacek Chmiel and Jakub Miarczyński’s collaborative project is a playful one, a fundamental characteristic that makes every minute of their colorful interplay worthy of both rapt attention and casual amusement. In the material comprising this “double album,” much of which originates from an improvisation workshop the two musicians participated in at the Musik-Akademie of Basel, Chmiel contributes electronics, zither, singing bowls, and objects, while Miarczyński counters and converses with percussion and toys, an eclectic spread that demonstrates its full potential right away; the opening moments of “Bolek i Lolek na Dzikim Zachodzie,” which see crystalline sine tones, static, and bowl laments wrinkled by a lush garden of tactility, squeaks and scrapes and shuffles—spectacular stuff. Chmiel also occasionally rides the FM knob throughout the disc, bringing in everything from pointedly meta self-reference to “Blank Space,” and the resulting uptick in obtuseness is always complementary. What austerity the music does have manifests in the form of a deep reverence for the sanctity of texture, and that is a kind of seriousness I can get behind.

Review: Nodolby / Marsha Fisher split (Activated Skeleton, Feb 18)

Even amidst unprecedented uncertainty and turmoil, 2022 keeps on giving in the smallest but brightest of ways, this time in the form of a brilliantly titled new small batch label out of Minneapolis and its debut release, a split tape between Italian junktronics stalwart Nodolby and Activated Skeleton’s founder/operator, Minnesota’s own Marsha Fisher. Unfortunately the run of 20 handmade copies has already sold out, but for $3 you get the digital versions and the excellent collage from which each unique j-card was cut (a steal, as I’m sure you could guess). “Nastri del Misterio,” Nodolby’s single suite on the A side, is a phantasmagoric stumble through recycled and exhumed sound of all sorts, sometimes clumping up into hallucinatory knots of radio grabs and lo-fi field recordings with a Carnival of Souls–esque haunted psychedelia (think the early work of Nome Morto/Cássia Siqueira), other times dissolving into sloppy cut-ups and errant looping. Fisher responds with a set of three radical tape works that somehow cover an even wider range of energy levels: “9-26-2021” is a harsh, workshed-industrial bricolage of analog noise and boisterous percussion improvisations that’s immediately followed up with the muffled, tiptoeing reticence of “10-30-2021,” and then the two approaches are combined for “12-27-2021.” While certainly different, both sides are very much of that irreverent abstract tradition that I can never get enough of.

Review: Glorias Navales – Live at Fundación Comunidad Contemporánea (Frente al Fuego, Feb 18)

One of the most understated and curious releases on Graham Lambkin’s inimitable Kye Records (closed since 2017) was Chilean quintet Glorias Navales’s Cofradia Náutica, a humble debut LP of artfully naïve communal acoustic jams that warmly absorb the sounds of their surroundings and audiences even as they are performed for/to them. There are very few, if any recordings that can match the magic that occurs (though some other Kye releases, such as cellist Alec Livaditis’s Clear and Cloud, come close), and thus, despite their devoutly modest approach to music making, GxNx has become legend. Live at Fundación Comunidad Contemporánea comes nearly four years after their last record, Presenta El Blues de Istvan on A Wave Press, at a time when new material from the ramshackle folk unit was needed most—I’m sure I don’t need to explain why. The release makes available an intimate live session from November 2019 by the core lineup of Christian Bartlou (banjo), brothers Alvaro and Ivan Daguer (drum and ukelele), Tomás Salvatierra (guitar), and José Luis Sepulveda (rabel) featuring renditions of songs from El Blues de Istvan (and I stand by my earlier use of the phrase “new material,” because every time a GxNx piece is played it becomes something unique), including “Enero,” which also appeared on Cofradia Náutica. From the plucky, pastoral beauty of “Entrando el Espejo”—augmented by some absolutely breathtaking bow and effects work by Sepulveda—to the overlapping, glorious mess of “Sabres,” there won’t be many moments while listening to Fundación Comunidad Contemporánea when you aren’t smiling.