Review: Arek Gulbenkoglu – fissure, fissure, fissure (self-released, Jul 26)

As is often the case, I’d be remiss if I didn’t introduce this new disc from idiosyncratic Australian sound artist Arek Gulbenkoglu by quoting his own description of the work: “fissure, fissure, fissure is a 37 minute piece documenting various failures in language and extrapolations of voice; machines that whir, slap and clap; and in-jokes that don’t go anywhere.” Like last year’s Lexicon Nil—this one I still haven’t heard… if anyone’s selling a copy please hit me up—it’s self-released and comprises a single track (and is mastered by the prolific Giuseppe Ielasi), but the composition shares plenty with other entries in Gulbenkoglu’s discography as well, featuring the unpredictable segmentation and artful monotony previously explored on ReoccurrencecDDe, etc. Here, however, these points of interest are magnified to new levels of extremity. Indeed, part of what makes all of the artist’s material so beguiling is that it’s full of paradoxes, that words like “extremity” are often just as applicable as ones like “banality”; and fissure, fissure, fissure, perhaps more so than anything preceding it, is both apathetic and devout, bizarre and familiar, abstract and concrete. There are unaccompanied machinations, clandestine field recordings, text-to-speech jargon, tape-driven deconstructions, and more, but each and every episode is driven (ironically) by a somehow sanguine inertness. To be more concise: it certainly goes nowhere, but it takes its sweet, captivating time getting there.

The links here lead to the Shame File (AUS) website, but copies have already also made it to Penultimate Press (UK) and Derek Baron (US).

Review: Hydra – Your Name (Everyday Samething, Aug 1)

Your Name on a business card… I mean, the jokes write themselves. Which, I’m sure, is part of the point. And no, not a business-card 3″, but the actual regular old paper kind, printed in a small run of 25 with the album artwork on the front and a QR code on the back (Paul Owen’s doesn’t have that now does it), then scattered throughout “selected shops and bargain bins around the UK.” At a point in time when physical music is much more ritual than utility to most, Everyday Samething’s sly-eyed pseudo-soliciting is a new and distinct way to network with new listeners (I say “network” because while this method could be thought of as an enticing offer from the mysterious stranger in a low fantasy novel, it can also be something entirely banal, an ongoing hey, check this out) even when the music itself is hosted online. Similar things have certainly been done before, of course—I own IT IT’s Formal Odors in the form of a small rectangle of handmade paper embedded with broccoli seeds—but it’s far from just the distribution concept that makes Your Name so fascinating.

I know next to nothing about Hydra, but I do know that whoever’s behind it has an ear for both the conventionally sublime and the brashly abstract. “Air Force Ones” [sic] immediately has the sound of something one found by scanning a random QR code, its initial roar of digitally distorted field recordings gradually calming to accommodate new elements, namely a meandering melodic synth and high-pitched feedback blasts. “Real Power” is somehow even weirder, and reminds me of some of the self-described “deep internet” material that I most enjoy: the Infant Jesus Church’s Finally the Instant Is Here, the Memory Preservation Institute’s Had to Get This Off My Mind. I really can’t believe how much is happening in Your Name despite how short and minimal it is; among other things, there’s some truly spectacular scald-psychedelia in the last two tracks, adding C.C.C.C. fans to the long list of people who will find plenty to love in this bite-sized tour-de-force. Thankfully, you won’t have to wait until you stumble across the album’s tangible tether in the wild to listen, because Everyday Samething is generously allowing me to include the MediaFire link.

Review: Low Textures – untitled (Lo-music, Jul 15)

This (I think?) debut release from Low Textures is equally likely to put you in a deep trance as it is to give you a splitting headache. But if such a risk were at all concerning to you, you wouldn’t be on this site, so don’t come crying to me when your brain starts dripping out your nostrils. A great way to go out anyway, if you ask me; if there’s a bottom of music, this is damn near close to it, and then you can tell everyone else in hell all about your exploits. Not dissimilar in spirit or in textural palette to the previously NNM-reviewed Stunad and Emergency in Six Movements, these two lengthy tracks take such radical sonic minimalism even further by significantly restricting the amount of information in the actual audio files, to an extreme 56kbps (the full hour-and-a-half release takes up less than 40mb). In this regard the album fits right it on Lo-music, a netlabel with an imposed bitrate cap of the same number—other artists have put out recordings at as low as 3kbps—but here they’ve contributed the most effective exploration I’ve heard yet of the possibilities (or lack thereof) when working with this constraint. Both halves deal heavily in teeth-rattling low-end, especially 1 with its persistent bass frequency that transforms the surrounding strands of static into edges that cut into its sluggish thickness, and then wall heads will immediately feel at home once the glacial crackle-drone of 2 kicks in. What could easily be dismissed as a gimmick is proven to be anything but; I’m definitely keeping an eye and a structurally destabilized ear out for more bedrock-trawling “music” from Low Textures. For fans of Sachiko’s “Don’t Stop”, floppy disks, and ungrounded receivers.

Review: Bulk Carrier – Federal (Blood Ties, Jul 6)

Following just months behind the churning wake of CSL Welland, the project’s superb inaugural recording, Bulk Carrier’s first full-length is already a definitive artistic statement in both aesthetic and sonic terms. Those captivated by the debut tape’s minimal, low-fidelity, not-quite-static evocations of rusting hull plates and buried combustions will find no shortage of square footage to enjoy on Federal, a double C20 with each side titled for a nationalized carrier—Fraser and Yukina (Marshall Islands) and Columbia and Sakura (Liberia). All four tracks draw from cavernous commercial-maritime innards, and perhaps as well the depths of the body of water being trundled over, filtering the raw, gargantuan atmosphere through a choice rig of analog electronics to drum up hypnotic stretches of creak, groan, and rumble. But what’s most exciting about these walls is that while they are monotonous, lumbering, massive, they are anything but stagnant, expanding on the subtle progressions of CSL Welland into new variations and detours that enhance the core textures: recurrent crescendo/drops like miniature engine-boosts halting the turgid torrent of “Fraser”; power lulls and exhaust-vent flushes breaking up the visceral crunch of “Yukina”; barely perceptible undercurrents lurking throughout “Columbia.” All of it, it turns out, leads to “Sakura,” which is just so enormous that I don’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone who hasn’t yet heard it. But by now anyone reading should know that Federal offers the best and bulkiest of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the comfort of your own home, forty unforgettable minutes of feeling like the room is being borne down upon and flattened by hundreds of thousands of tons of steel. A no-brainer.

Review: Darksmith – Imposter (Throne Heap, Jul 1)

It’s been just over fifteen years since Darksmith released his first limited-edition Mom Costume recordings and self-titled tape via Hanson, and almost exactly fifteen since Weightless came out on Chondritic Sound. Since then, unsurprisingly, the reclusive California-based artisan has covered a lot of ground, and yet each and every entry in his oeuvre has the same core element, an indefinable but undeniable stylistic singularity (or void) at the heart of the music that makes it distinctly Darksmith. That shifty, shadowed, corner-born juh naysay qua is especially relevant in the case of Imposter, the first proper full-length we’ve gotten since 2019’s Poverty of Will. Originally slated for an in-house LP release, the two 15-minute sides ended up in the capable hands of Throne Heap, who elected to press them on a run of gorgeous digipaks that feature some of the project’s most unsettling art yet. Like Hatred of Sound, the four tracks mine a lengthy span of source material (2012–2019), the eclectic mess carefully shaped into a focused half-hour suite that runs the gamut of sonic preoccupations old and new. “Looking for Idiots” and “Problem with Everyone” feature both bedroom-Blockaders clatter that would be right at home on Broken Brain or Dancing Out the Door and nocturnal, precariously cozy tape drone very much in the spirit of Gypsy. The titular imposter is caught between inside and out, lurking by rotting birdhouses and sputtering HVAC units for just as long as it spends creeping through basements and bedrooms. There are countless moments of brilliance scattered throughout, but the humbly harrowing end of “Hold Everything” might win out, shuddering to nothingness like a rattling final respirator breath. Imposter, perhaps more than any other release so far, permanently inks Darksmith in as “the master of externalizing the inner maelstrom.”

Listen to excerpts from the CD here.

Review: Leisure Knots – Live at the Structure (Sweet Wreath, Jun 26)

Between not one but two unforgettable releases by not-of-this-world duo Ghost Food, Johnny Coley’s Antique Sadness, and now Live at the Structure, Irondale imprint/collective/movement Sweet Wreath has affirmed its role as a leading purveyor of haunting, home-spun creative music. Just the latest in a line of exciting debut recordings from central Alabama and beyond, this first full-length by Virginia- and North Carolina–based ensemble Leisure Knots is a thoroughly engrossing and evocative stretch of sublimity that both reflects the dark uncertainties of the present and gestures toward a brighter future. The quintet (joined by saxophonist Daniel Brooks on the B side) improvises at an easy yet purposeful pace, each member utilizing a rotating group arsenal of everything from found objects to computer processing to conjure individual but sympathetic strands of the most subdued cacophonies. Not all of the ambience that graces the tape’s five sections is conventionally warm or pretty, but that of the first certainly is, building the foundations for what lies ahead with wooden wands and cattail harps by an enchanted forest pond. “III” is probably the most active track, its nocturnal radio-scapes even getting a bit menacing at times, but then the beauty returns in the latter half of “IV” and the gorgeous closer “V,” helped along by Brooks’ brilliantly reserved contributions and some very well-placed field recordings. As usual, the liner notes say it better than I ever could: “These tracks vent the soft glow of their homes through an open window and into an unearthly outside.” Collaborative serendipity that makes the end feel like the beginning.

Review: F****t Front – Cocksucker Blues (Cleaner Tapes, Jun 24)

Released in the inaugural batch from new label and novelty tape cleaner distributor Cleaner Tapes alongside Embrasa and the legendary ensemble collective Black Leather Jesus, Cocksucker Blues is the perfect choice for the queer-focused imprint’s first catalog slot. The newest release by Dom Colucci’s confrontational harsh noise project is glowingly marketed as “the perfect soundtrack to getting head in a car crash,” and after both hearing the music and running some tests, I can wholeheartedly endorse this assertion (experimental methodology will remain confidential; peer review is for virgins). The garishly packaged C30 comprises two side-long scorchers, each a ruthless collision of twisted metal feedback and burning engine crunch: “Cigarette Burns and Cum Stains”—if this happens to be a Blod reference it somehow makes this tape even cooler—keeps one wheel on the rumble strip with its lumbering low-end, while “I, Cocksucker” sticks more to the high frequencies, riding waves of piercing screech and then smashing back into the pavement. Both tracks maintain an impressive lushness even as they tear up the mono-median with PE-esque brutality, making Cocksucker Blues at once a T-bone of violent immediacy and a slow, savory junkyard compactor crush. In other words, this shit makes Ballard’s Crash look like Pixar’s Cars.

Review: Faded Ghost – Faded Ghost (Hamilton Tapes, Jun 23)

Of all the haunted, liminal lo-fi music that has found a home on Hamilton Tapes, this self-titled debut from Faded Ghost (an artist I don’t know anything about and likely never will) is perhaps the purest distillation of the Ontario label’s distinct aesthetic. Much like previous releases, there isn’t much to go on in the way of liner notes or a track list, so whether the segmented spectrality of the A side comprises a single piece or multiple individual tracks is uncertain. It turns out that uncertainty is the name of the game here, however; the ephemeral sonic sketches are just as, if not more ambiguous than their physical enclosure, drawing up a half-full bucket from the well where field recording and ambient music join with tape-recorded dreams and ghosts of ghosts unite in a stagnant lagoon. 4-track whir and muffled snatches of reality (a city street? a bowling alley?) warble alongside subdued electronic mists, the scene constantly shifting and swimming until about five or six minutes in, when a single hypnotic loop, of course draped in blankets of fuzz and dust, takes the reigns for the remainder of the spool. This earnest, unassuming transcendence flows through to the soundscapes on the other side, which are more elegiac than anything, blurred musings on and moonlit laments to something that no one is young enough to remember. It’s one thing to die; it’s quite another to fade. That is to say, the former, no matter how many loved ones are by our side, we can only do alone; the latter, as the sublime conclusion of Faded Ghost reminds us, we can do together.

Review: Total Sweetheart – Early to Bed (Dada Drumming, Jun 17)

The first recordings by freshly minted Dallas duo Total Sweetheart come at a perfect time. A host of releases by the either defunct or long-hibernating band Ascites have been hitting the spot recently, so all it took for me to pick this one up was reading that founding member Nathan Golub was involved (and listening to about five seconds of the promotional excerpt). Regardless of expectations, Early to Bed is almost certain to surpass them; this is not only the best, but also some of the most unique and memorably idiosyncratic harsh I’ve heard in a long time. I haven’t been able to get my hands or ears on anything by Struggle Session, the former project of fellow sweetheart Ryan Jones, so it’s hard for me to tell exactly where one member’s contributions end and the other’s begin—but that kind of feels like the point. The initial rupture of the title track, the first of two half-hour side-spanning cuts, is thick and brutish, confined mostly to mono as it throbs and pummels the exact center of the skull, but the bit of the bone drill gradually widens as the session progresses, blooming into layered assaults full of pedal-gouged churn and phase, wracking and warbling modular surgery, and the amplified, mortally distorted sounds of what are allegedly medical instruments. Even beyond that last ingredient, the Ascites twinges are never out of reach, but at the same time Early to Bed is so much more active and higher-octane than the sickly crackle and crunch of Fluid Excess or Resection, and who could ever complain about that? Plus, somehow, even as it surges forth in a single punishing torrent, the improvisational duo approach ensures that every moment is densely packed with new bits and pieces to discover. That is to say, I could write a hell of a lot more about this tape. But I’m not going to, because I’m about to go listen to it again.

Review: The Lloyd Pack – I Bet You’ve Got Some Good Stories (Low Company, Jun 17)

“What do you think of music? Did it help?”

Durham-based Surrey transplant Dan Melchior has been making music for more than two decades now, which makes it all the more significant of a statement when I say I Bet You’ve Got Some Good Stories may be his crowning achievement. Though tightly (in the loosest sense of the word) anchored by a distinct, developed sound and Melchior’s deadpan spoken vocals, this fourth LP from the inimitable project—that also features Anthony Allman of El Jesus de Magico, Russell Walker of Charcoal Owls and the False Face Society, and Primitive Radio Gods member Johnny Brewton—plays like a retrospective love letter to lo-fi music as a tradition, evoking in turn everything from Beta Band and Sebadoh to Half Japanese and Strapping Fieldhands. A Shadow Ring comparison is almost impossible to avoid due to Melchior’s still-intact accent telling circular tales of tedium and the repetitive, simplistic instrumentals, but I bring it up as more of an endorsement than an analysis, because the Lloyd Pack’s brand of irreverent anti-rock is entirely its own, fresh and fecund and, above all, fun.

While “Sue Ryder” is a relatively conventional opener, complete with headbob-worthy acoustic strumming and idle musings on middle age, the ensuing tracks on the A side bring the weirdness hot ‘n ready: basement-cabaret singalongs on “Australia,” stereo-spanning percussion skitters beneath hypnotic harmonies on “Water Biography Babies,” plucky toy electronics on “Swaddling Jokes.” Each piece is its own stumbling, surreal experience, peddling bristles and beauty in equal measure, so it’s impossible to pick a favorite; maybe “I Have a Client Waiting” with its dirgelike xylophone plod or the atmospheric, Ivor Cutler–esque “I Won’t Hit Easter,” but why bother? There’s plenty else to think about, like what the fuck “swaddling jokes” are. In conclusion, the stories are indeed good! Listen in! You won’t be forgetting these songs anytime soon.