Review: Old Saw – Country Tropics (Lobby Art, Nov 19)

After a thoroughly demoralizing week, this gorgeous debut LP from motley instrumental collective Old Saw came at exactly the right time. Guided by the meditative drifts of composer and sound engineer Henry Birdsey’s steel guitar (both lap and pedal), the sextet also features Ira Dorsett on fiddle, Bob Driftwood on banjo, Rev. Clarence Lewis on pipe organ, Harper Reed on guitars, and Ann Rowlis on bells. I briefly wrote about the elusive category of devotional music in my Dun Sug review a few days ago, and the introductory text to Country Tropics continues the conversation much more eloquently: “However, devotional music is not solely concerned with a skyward glance—what does it look like to raise up the rust, look upon fractured branches, gaze at the density of a low fog across a field? Instead of us looking up at the land, what if the land was looking back at us?” In this way, the delicate ambience woven by these skilled musicians is not simply made up of reactions to or harmonies with each other, but also individually and wholly comprises responses to the beauty of the world around them.

The liner notes again hit the nail on the head when they describe how “the crew stretches and bends chords to their resting place”; though these four loosely structured pieces ascend to great (yet still humble) heights with elegiac laments, subdued textural swells, and pillowy climaxes like the pale winter sun emerging from the grayness of the sky, they are all also profoundly anchored odes to the earth, peaceful appreciations for the rocks and plants and water and soil that will eventually become our resting place. What’s more, it’s as if each track is designed for each performer to shine: “Dead Creek Drawl” trusses triumph with Driftwood’s evocative rolls and thick beams of radiance from Lewis’s organ; “The Mechanical Bull at Our Lady of the Valley” draws primarily from the interplay between Reed’s fingerpicked nylons, Rowlis’s bells, and Birdsey’s seraphic phrasings; “Dirtbikes of Heaven, Grains of the Field” opens the skylight for Dorset’s emotional bow drones to soar through; and “Chewing the Bridle” is a unifying tour-de-force for all six musicians. Music for those who have ever hit a huge jump on their bike and briefly wished to remain suspended in the sky forever, but then immediately after that wanted nothing more than to return their feet to the ground.

Review: Blood of Chhinnamastika – Black Dakini (Enforced Existence, Nov 17)

Though I originally found the label via some of their tape releases (Reid Karris’s Obscure Sorrows, Tissa Mawartyassari and PBK’s And the Angels Wept Upon Descent collaboration), it’s the humble, handmade CDr editions of RY Myato’s Enforced Existence that are a reliable and consistent source for new music I love: xfeverx’s spellbinding, gestural Trans Body Music; the tactile textures and automated percussion of Jo Bled’s Cleanses the Way Stars Open; and Malice in Their Hearts, a radically reticent set of walls from eternal genre keystone Dosis Letalis. Plus, each will only set you back $3. Yet another great entry has arrived in the form of Black Dakini, California cut-up curio Blood of Chhinnamastika’s newest material: five sprawling tracks that unite several infernal tentacles of stylistic exploration under a single apocalyptic atmosphere. The relatively succinct title track makes a conspicuous entrance with high-velocity stop/starts and brutish live noise collaging that measures up to the best, while “I Was Tortured” takes a vastly different route into a hellstorm of hallucinatory power electronics and seething psychedelia. Though the frenzied aural punishment of “The Terror of the Expansion of Consciousness” may be the album’s centerpiece, both parts of “Offering Into the Fire” present plenty of squalling lo-fi goodness.

Review: Dun Sug – Chump (self-released, Nov 17)

Yet another killer enigmatic project emerges from Leeds in the form of Dun Sug, who after a pair of single track releases has dropped their debut album both digitally and as a “decent cassette” edition of ten. A never completely reliable but mostly consistent rule of thumb is that the smaller the physical run, the weirder or more interesting the music, and thankfully Chump is not an exception. Each of its six sketch-like tracks feels like a profoundly personal exercise, sort of the musical equivalent of “looking out to look in” (and thus it deserves the oft-misused “devotional” tag on Bandcamp much more than most): opener “Rut” is a dense, swathing realization of some echoey indoor area, both spacious and claustrophobic with its counterpointing of expansive reverberations and up-close metallic scrabble; “Snicket” is a fibrous, insectile concrète exercise reminiscent of my favorite material from every anti-music hermit’s eternal inspiration, Yeast Culture; and “Crank” is a reticent excursion into gestural object improvisation. Though the tape never abandons its earthy, homemade appeal, even more ambition manifests in the captivating final three tracks, particularly “CDz,” which traces a thinly sliced skeleton-scape of hiss, shuffle, and paranoiac sublimity. For fans of Dan Gilmore, Small Cruel Party, Angelo Bignamini, and nighttime games of hide and seek.

Review: K.W. Cahill – Two Films (Power Moves Library, Nov 15)

In March 2019, I walked about ten minutes down a hill from my house at the time to see Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson play. I still remember much of that night, even minor details, because perhaps more so than any other live set I’ve witnessed, the power and significance of Sigmarsson’s has increased dramatically in retrospect. For those who haven’t seen this particular performance, I would highly recommend watching it; not much actually happens—he vocalizes for about ten minutes, his unintelligible utterances filled with the frustration and misery of someone whose communication cannot be understood, and then puts on a record that plays an abrasive industrial loop as he stumbles back and forth across the stage—but there’s something profoundly human (and therefore profoundly upsetting) about it.

K.W. Cahill’s Downer Canada TCVP (2021), the first half of the Two Films digital/video/cassette release, feels similarly primordial and circadian, but instead of burrowing to the root of existence it examines its superficial features and what might lie behind them: idyll waterfronts, gestures, quiet in-betweens. Despite its episodic structure, the piece feels ultimately circular, tautological even, with every vignette spiraling out with the hidden dramas of the mundane and then curling in again to seal the opened moment back up. Unlike with Sigmarsson’s approach, the bleakness of life is both magnified and hushed to a murmur here, or perhaps stripped down to a piercing whine while motion, now completely decontextualized, continues in its wake.

In the case of The Fixed Author (2021), immediately a more cryptic and reticent effort, the audio track unfortunately might be more compelling without the visual element than with it; most of the sequences just feel stretched beyond their capacity for significant evocation. There are moments of brilliance in both movies, like the whirling lattices and foregrounded objects in Downer and the shot of the butterflies through the tree-hole in Fixed, but otherwise there are too many indulgences to wade through—the car ride tracking shots, probably filmed with a smartphone, are uninteresting to say the least, and the color filters are often just excessive. Overall they feel more like materials for a larger multimedia installation than self-contained objects, and perhaps that triviality is part of the point, but it just didn’t work for me.

To anyone interested in either experimental music or film—despite the many commonalities and points of intersection between the two areas, I know very little about the latter—I highly recommend checking out this hybrid-format release. Despite my nitpicks (sorry; when it comes to my eyes, I can’t help it), K.W. Cahill’s work here is fantastic and inspired whether you’re listening to it or watching it. Support guerrilla art!

Review: Hoggle – The Knockers (Mercium, Nov 15)

I’m not really sure why I like Labyrinth so much. Connelly’s performance is strained, the Muppet voices sound like they were recorded by kidnapped local theater performers held at gunpoint, and of course no one really wants to watch David Bowie acting out a fictional fantasy version of his ephebophilic predilections with his junk practically hanging out. But it’s also a fun, mostly inoffensive nostalgia-fest, and even decades later is still inspiring tangential works of art, like this tape by Longwood, FL project Hoggle, named for the crotchety dwarf that serves as Sarah’s guide through the labyrinth. Since 2019, releases have appeared sporadically on Altar of Waste, Muzikaal Kabaal, and Okto Media, and now, with what is perhaps the artist’s best material yet, on the Copenhagen-based Mercium imprint. Each of the four slabs introduces itself with a different sample from the movie, each centering around the door knockers scene, probably one of the more iconic examples of the knight-and-knave trope. As far as the walls themselves go there’s nothing too startling or revolutionary, but even though they’re mostly confined to mono, the punishing noise still jets through with incendiary force and energy, sometimes resembling a brutal torrent, other times an all-consuming spiral. While there’s much to be said for the inventive sound design and compositional techniques that make modern wall noise so compelling, The Knockers is a reminder that the classic approach is never a bad idea. Make sure to stick around for the whole thing; “Despite Protest, the Ring Must Be Replaced to Knock” is a real treat.

Review: Carlos Issa – A Beginner’s Guide to Objeto Amarelo (scatter, Nov 11)

A Beginner’s Guide to Objeto Amarelo, though not nearly as abrasive or uncompromising as fellow South American Daniel Iván Bruno’s Brazo, still somehow shares that album’s intimidating, radical defiance, which can only be born from a meticulous, singular de- and/or re-construction of musicality into a completely new dialect. This short digital release from the recent netlabel formation of the indefatigable scatter label collects “miniatures” produced by Carlos Issa for his long-running Objeto Amarelo project between 1999 and 2019, and is even more eclectic than such an extended creation period implies. From what I can tell there’s little to no chronological order, either, so you get jarring transitions like “A Ocasião,” recorded circa 2018 for the Segundo Prédio Irmão CDr, into “Três Terríveis Rios,” a much more conventional oddball synth cut from 2006 (though it didn’t appear until 2019’s Três Terríveis Rios). It seems like this arrangement would make for quite a whiplash-heavy listening experience, and to some extent (but not a bad one) it is, but there are also plenty of tracks that gradually begin to fill in the gaps between the two aforementioned phases of Issa’s style, like “Sinal” and “Muita Polícia Muita Diversão,” which combine the unlikely pairing of minimal drum machine rhythms with searing, clinical computer noise to spectacular effect. There’s so much more to discover, so I don’t want to spoil much more (it is a beginner‘s guide, after all), but do know that “Americanos com Problemas” bears an uncanny resemblance to the more recent music of a certain Venezuelan visionary.

Review: Guttersnipe – Alive on Tuesday (self-released, Nov 11)

Despite their thoroughly proven track record of superb instantaneous chaos-composition, Guttersnipe, the Leeds duo of drummer Timpani Kombucha and guitarist Rhinoceros Pizzas (or whatever the hell their names are now), have yet to release a full-length studio record since 2018’s My Mother the Vent. It’s a good thing that one is so enduring and endlessly replayable, because in the three years since I’ve managed to get by with that and their demo while snatching up every ounce of new “deep sea fissure funk” the band elects to make available, and each little oodle is indeed reliably excellent. Alive on Tuesday, a live recording triptych from the Tusk Virtual 2020 streamed festival last October, is no different, and with its full-LP length could even be thought of as a complete album of its own. Part one is a formidable tour-de-force of the pair’s uncompromising astral-rot free rock and the unearthly musical chemistry they display while creating it: Kahlúa rides heavy on the snare, the hits often in ersatz unison with what sounds like a struck xylophone fragment or spoon or some other melodic percussion piece, and Sweetgrass summons a tidal wave of whirling, slicing distortion, their dual vocal attack howling overtop all the while. The following part is something different and singularly engaging, even relative to past work, as strangled vocalization interplay sluggishly sprouts into a malignant growth of cloying electronic squeals, muddy low-end guitar abuse, and percussion that sounds like Anchusa is picking themselves up and just falling onto their drum set repeatedly. It’s a particular shade of raucous delirium that feels new for Guttersnipe, even as things escalate more toward the end. And part three is the cathartic finale anyone listening to this will crave. God I love this band.

Watch the video of the original performance stream here.

Review: Aureal Goddess – Chemaera (self-released, Nov 11)

This is probably even stranger for many of you than it is for me, but the fact is that even though I still think of myself as pretty young in the grand scheme of things, many of the creators whose work I listen to and write about these days are even younger. For example: the artist behind the new Mexico-based project Aureal Goddess (thanks to a self-admission on RateYourMusic) is just 18, and they’re already producing noise music far beyond anything I or most others could even dream of making. Chemaera is a superb debut, one that marks countless fertile areas for future excavations even as it hits plenty of bullseyes. Extremely short tracks are often a good place to start for experimental musicians still honing their techniques and carving out their niche; longform composition and/or improvisation is almost always more difficult to pull off than it seems, so the frame of a fragmented onslaught of quick sketches provides the structural footholds that can support underdeveloped elements that might otherwise sag or fall off completely. The 25 “Phase” segments, each no more than 30 seconds long, are a merciless mixed bag of tympanic membrane–shredding harshness, with the spectacle of violence ranging from overblown power electronics rot (“Phase 96”) to Spacek-tier squalling blurcore (“Phase 120”) to vicious, high-octane electronic maximalism (“Phase 101”)—and yes, that’s just the first three. The whole album, even the much lengthier closer “Hidden Phase,” is tightly unified by a thick, oppressive nocturnality, but Aureal Goddess deploys more than enough variance to keep things interesting, namely in the form of the erratic drum machine that pops up intermittently. Listen to this as loud as you can stand.

Review: Mike Kleine – Karaoke Night at Daisuke’s (self-released, Nov 7)

Writer and poet Mike Kleine has published a number of books since Mastodon Farm, his debut, in 2012, but Karaoke Night at Daisuke’s, the cassette and digital audio counterpart to the chapbook of the same name, is his first officially released music (I use “music” loosely here, but then again, don’t I always?). The fifteen-minute piece, which is split into 37 bite-sized tracks for the digital version, mainly consists of various Microsoft text-to-speech voices reading choice excerpts from the book, usually backgrounded or undergirded by eclectic electronics, field recordings, and other oddities. I’m not familiar with Kleine’s written work outside of this particular chapbook, but based only on the material here his style has a mostly sensible but slightly volatile ranting quality to it, perhaps comparable to the output of an unusually finetuned predictive text keyboard, so the computerized oration works really well, often even adding to the humor or poignance of certain lines. I’m also woefully unqualified to engage with any themes from the Negarestani book or other CCRU works, but there are plenty of allusions that are quite a bit more familiar: Merzbow, The Gerogerigegege, Tommy Wright III, Candyman. The multidimensionality of Kleine’s project is well-situated within an emerging (but still elusive) approach to spoken word and text-sound that can be provocatively dubbed “avant-podcasting”: bizarrely shaped cross-sections of (not-so-)popular culture whose superficial features align with conventional reality but whose internal logics do not. From hilarious Rupi Kaur pastiches—“it’s the year of the kaiju. / google maps, up on the centre dash / cocaine white range rov’, hella performing like a literal piece of shit. / tommy wright iii, on the car hifi saying words. but all i want right now is sleep. / (truly.)” [Kleine 11]—to French tirades and fleeting nonsensical episodes, Karaoke Night at Daisuke’s is a blast both heard and read.

Review: mockART – Man Who Lost Thier Heads (Templo Sagital, Nov 5)

Somewhere down the road, years or maybe even decades after you get your first trade box full of tapes literally no one else in the world has heard or pay $15 to watch someone push a button and play a frequency only half the audience can hear, you start to lose touch with the “weird” classifier. Whatever walls were there in your brain previously just sort of crumble after a point and the relevant appreciation/enjoyment neurons clump into a single switch that flips to YES or NO. But also, if you’re doing it right, every once in a while something will come along that redefines “weird,” necessitates some sort of distinguishment from the rest because of how utterly, undeniably singular it is. Man Who Lost Thier Heads is one of those. Bodies with heads not decapitated but missing lie somewhere on the sweeping slopes of the uncanny valley, so the album art immediately introduces a sense of unease and nonconsensual anonymity—which, unsurprisingly, is a fitting shadow for mockART’s unusual music to fall under. The term “post-industrial” has been used to describe many things, and yet I’m not sure if it’s ever been so accurate as now; these cave-and/or-corridor-dwelling rhythmic excursions draw occult energy from both the clipped, primitive brutality of early industrial acts like EN and SPK and the complex abstractions of the many artists those bands inspired. “Hollow Earth” unfurls as a shifty but ultimately quite conspicuous introduction to the bizarre cocktail of ritualistic trance-states, surreal suit-and-tie concrète, Faust-esque hermitic delirium, and hints of brighter (or probably just less dark) horizons that continue to surface in ever-changing cycles throughout the lengthy album. Tracks like “Behind Closed Doors” and “Some Fashion Advice” are slightly less storm-clouded meditations complete with mutter musings and fluttering flutes, and “The Earth Is Flat Now” ends things on an unexpectedly contemplative note. One of those things everyone should listen to at least once.