I’ve been thinking about New Zealand a lot lately, but I’m not entirely sure if it’s because I actually want to move there or to just have a nice cup of tea with Jacinda Ardern. For Jonathan Bergen, a.k.a. Amethyst, it seems to have been the latter, for in 2017 the Berlin-based artist dramatically relocated to a new residence in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Unfortunately, this journey that gives the newest Amethyst release its title was cut short by tragedy and hardship, and Bergen was forced to return to Germany despite having already found a new home. I don’t listen to as much straightforward ambient music as I used to, but Amethyst is a project I consistently return to because of its tendency towards both harsh catharsis and singular emotional weight. There are so many things buried beneath the cold keyboard melodies, plopping raindrops, distorted voices, and creeping distortion—withdrawal, regret, nostalgia, appreciation, despair, isolation—that it all blurs together into one multifaceted mass of poignancy whose effects are impossible to avoid. In my opinion, Bergen relies a little too heavily on melody on The Journey (the final track, which features heavy electronic percussion and screamed vocals, is by far the weakest), rather than turning to the dynamic brilliance of more abstract releases like 대지, but even with an occasionally banal simplicity this full-length has a lot to offer.
I first want to acknowledge that Concessions (for my father), James Hazel’s new release, made me aware of a new imprint/project called Precarious Texts, which pledges to become “a space that re-turns [sic] to and re-emphasises “class” as part of the intersectional prism and supports practices within these spaces.” In a time where socioeconomic stratification is more ingrained than ever, there can never be too much acknowledgement of the reality in which we reside. Hazel concedes that while making Concessions he was “located in relatively stable space/time” in objective terms; instead, the qualifying precarity in his life is an emotional one, an empathic one, formed by the deep connection Hazel feels to his immediate family, his ancestors, and the countless marginalized workers that have fought the same battles long before him. The exhaustion and defeat, the enshrouding malaise, the tiny beaten and battered beams of hope of the oppressed existence are translated to sound through minimal groupings of sources and an old tape recorder. Hazel’s frail transmissions hang in the dusty air with aching grace, slowly dissipating into blankets of soft whispers and woozy warbling. This album is a masterclass in evoking emotional weight via entirely abstract means. I was brought to tears several times by the volatile feedback currents in “Sensual Objects”—it’s one thing to absorb the sadness from an affecting lyric or somber melody, but it’s entirely another to feel unnameable emotions well up from the depths of yourself when witnessing something whose sorrowful beauty you can’t even describe.
Though I dropped from Krypton into the wonderful world of abstract music too late to truly appreciate its heyday, I miss the 3″ CD. Its capacity of just over twenty minutes ended up being a perfect length for many experimental sound creators and improvisers in the 90’s and early 2000s, with many artists (especially in the latter period) making use of the medium’s cheapness for self-released materials. I bring this up because it’s impossible not to think of 3″s when you see a single piece of music that runs about 20 minutes; it’s a particularly optimal duration if you pace things right, but unfortunately this niche art seems to have lost much of its prevalence. Delightful little slabs like Wife Eyes’ debut document crop up every now and again though, gifting listeners an easily digestible serving of sound still with plenty of room to get adventurous. Primordia is the first fruit of the duo collaboration between Matt Ackerman and Zachary Zena Giberson, and I think fruit is an apt metaphor because of how wonderfully colorful and candy-sweet this release often is. The track begins with some whimsical electronica, muscular throwback synths and sluggish collaging reminiscent of the “bunker jazz” of Women of the Pore, but Ackerman and Giberson have oodles of tricks still up their sleeves, which are revealed in a satisfying spectacle of quirky math-pop, spoken word, lounge grooves filtered through some sort of neon glycerin membrane, and anxious bell arpeggios that kind of remind me of that tense clock-tick music at the end of the Prisoner of Azkaban movie. Primordia is an entity of simultaneous conciseness and excess, the two spun together into a singular cocktail.
Also guys, I don’t care how similar the name is, do NOT let John Olson join your band.
Almost a full decade after their first outing as a duo with Yaguá Ovy, relentless sound experimenters Daniel Menche and Alan/Anla Courtis have returned to provide a successive dose of perplexing tandem tumult with their new Cuspa Llullu LP on Moving Furniture. Like Yaguá Ovy, the album is comprised of two side-long tracks that deal in varying levels of environmental abstraction. The dynamic, shifting crackle textures like impatient steps on dried fallen leaves are a welcome recurrence, like our headphones are sonic magnifying glasses scanning the microscopic hustle and bustle beneath our feet. At the beginning of “Sumaq T’ikraq,” however, these sounds are accompanied by much more open surroundings of seething metal tones and clanged harmonies, possibly the ominous yet spectacular noise of a junkyard slowly coalescing into a sentient being. The room afforded by these initial tinctures only grows as they (and the piece) progress, leaving an expanse of emptiness to be filled—which the hazy recording near the end only somewhat accomplishes, forming a tremulous space of languid drones lost in the breeze. The following “Achka T’asla” starts out with a particularly wet, sinewy example of the subdued, skin-crawling “lowercase walls” being explored by artists/projects like Alice Kemp, Clive Henry, or The David Scott Cadieux Center before following a similar trajectory as the previous track, comfortably expanding into something much more macroscopic and spatially complex.
Giant Monsters is a newly formed project consisting of accomplished noise artists Roger H. Smith (Chefkirk) and Paul Dever/DVR (Griz+zlor), a dual-manned machine of unrelenting noise generation that worships both high volume and kaiju, the massive sci-fi heavyweights of classic Japanese cinema. On All Out Destruction, Giant Monsters’ debut release, the dense battlegrounds of abrasive sonic waste that the duo carves out largely reside on the more digital side of things, thick layers of sharp static and caustic distortion rather than meaty pedal manipulation and screeching microphone feedback, but none of the visceral aggression that comes so naturally with the latter technique is sacrificed; after a very brief introduction of disjointed electronic wreckage and various bite-sized crunch/bleep episodes, the punishing initial punch of “II” is there to scorch the Earth. These tracks are great because they seem to progress with even less dynamism than standard longform “wallish” harsh noise, electing instead to make use of a more contemporary approach to compositional stagnancy, with persistent textural currents offering consistent presences in each of the three longer pieces. Another great thing that happens on All Out Destruction is that over the course of the tracks, especially on “III,” the threshold of extremity often seems to move instantaneously like a function approaching its asymptote: near the eight-minute mark, what were once just high-pitched frequencies amidst the mass of chaos become hypnotic rhythmic slices, pinched like the noise a CRT makes when you turn it off. Gradualness is the game in the case of “IV,” however; the track starts off unassumingly enough and becomes a screeching, flailing beast of noise by the end. A superb and sufficiently brainy release for the new age.
When complex musical works are produced with befuddlingly simple and explicitly stated approaches, it makes my job more difficult because then I’m not off the hook for not describing what’s actually going on; I can’t turn to listing novel techniques or speculating about the mysterious host of materials used to avoid doing the heavy lifting when, as in the case of .dots, the release’s humble sources are laid so bare: “a tuneless piano and a random signal generator.” Turning to truly face the actual content of this cotton-candy packaged delight from Matteo Berghenti’s project Konakon, rather than just letting its sharp, saccharine fidgets wash over you, is an intimidating task, because despite Berghenti’s tendency to turn toward more conventional electronic idioms in crafting this music, .dots is pretty damn odd. The piano that’s used is, as the doctor ordered, quite tuneless; any harmonically pure chords that are played are soon transformed into dissonance by a disconcertingly offset extension, while in some tracks like “.06” one can barely discern the presence of a piano at all. The album seems to hover in and around a gossamer partition between tactile and artificial sound synthesis, thought it certainly drifts more toward the latter as it progresses, culminating in the lethargic digital haze of “.07” and spidery chaos of “.08.” Would .dots still be such a fascinating release even if its origins weren’t so pleasingly minimal? Probably. Does it help? Definitely.
Other Plastics, the duo of NYC artists Hunter Brown and Dominic Coles, embody a continuation of irreverent, DIY-focused actors in the 21st-century improvised music scene like Joe Foster & Bonnie Jones (English), GOD, or Cremaster into the new decade with their debut release Overtime Liquor. Like these artists, Brown and Cole refract spontaneous actions through an arsenal of repurposed electronics, which may include anything from laptops and complex synthesizer routings to messes of frayed cords and broken-open devices. Opener “Dommy Speaks,” in a short and raucous flurry, displays the distinct palette of artificial emission and erroneous electrical chaos with which they will be working over the eight successive tracks; the austere blasts of caustic digital noise and budget sine tones are certainly in a similar vein as the work of other more “academic” electroacoustic improvisers, but there’s always a unique freedom to Overtime Liquor, a barely audible but persistent whisper of anything goes beneath the plastic folds. I find it difficult to accurately express what I so intensely enjoy about this album without sounding insulting (although I’m sure these adventurous musicians will understand). There’s this… not cheapness, to the music, but a sense that the artists don’t discriminate between the sounds they generate, an implicit marriage of indeterminacy and improvisation that can only come from the use of such haphazard materials. It’s like Voice Crack; I often feel like I’m more listening to a humble experiment than a considered interaction. And that’s what makes this album so uniquely infectious.
After nearly four years of silence since 2016’s Northern Ascendancy 7″ (which, similar to a previously mentioned Maquahuitl album, is thankfully not a lead-in to hideous white nationalism), DIY black metal duo Axis of Light returns with their first full-length release. The self-titled cassette (physical copies are forthcoming from Pristine Blight) is a cathartic and invigorating dose of raw melodic magic. Much of the low- to mid- end has been either scooped out or disregarded entirely, leaving the razor-sharp remnants to reach for the heavens, crunchy major key tremolo and barely audible blasting creating a luminescent current of exultation. While all of the instrumentals are provided by one half of the duo, T.L., the other, A.B., handles all vocal duties, channeling every ounce of their energy into achingly affecting shrieks that tug and tear at the confines of their low-fidelity capture. The immediately affecting emotion and reverent dedication to the craft present on Axis of Light reminds me of other raw, high-energy triumphs like Graveflowers’ The Hyacinth Garden or even Nattens Madrigal, and I would say only with slight hesitance that it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with both.
Tom Soloveitzik’s Air 2011 is an ode to human insignificance, a love letter to the cosmic confusions that rock us every day, a deconstructive distortion of time and space. The recordings were precipitated after a strange experience Soloveitzik had upon returning home to London, in which he “was thrown back to the memories of moments and sounds from [his] first stay, as if [his] personal timeline had shrunk and time had folded into itself.” Shrinking and folding are just two ways to describe the forcefully structural actions Soloveitzik performs on his sound materials, which largely consist of an arsenal of saxophones and portable recorders. Brief opener “Two Jets Over Tahrir square” works with a Seth Cooke-like polarity of external exhalation and interior electronics, while “B-Park Blues (for Toshiya Tsunoda)” echoes works by the title-honored artist such as Snared 60 Cuts or Ridge of Undulation as a closely recorded noteless saxophone breath mimics claustrophobic urban wind currents atop the spacious sonic environment of an outdoor park. The disparate and opposite are forcibly affixed to each other, creating stubborn paradoxes while our minds attempt to reconcile yawning gaps in the physicality of the recording: the dark, bottomless, uncrossable chasms between our selves and the universe.
I recently read something in one of Bandcamp Daily’s This Week’s Essential Releases columns that really struck me as inaccurate: the claim (in the context of I and I by A Pregnant Light) that “the vast field of one-person black metal bands isn’t exactly known for experimentation.” In my experience, some of the most subversive and unusual material I’ve encountered in this genre has been generated by solo projects, from the solitary woodland blackgaze of Petrychor or innovative folk-music substitution of Kaatayra to the abrasive nocturnal misery of La Torture Des Ténèbres or power-noise mayhem of Gnaw Their Tongues. One-person acts display a unique trend of reverence to the black metal tradition while allowing for diversity and adventurousness, something exemplified by the recent self-titled release from Lepidus Plague’s Kommodus. With a rich tape recording by “Count Hoggeth Palmeri” and contributions from the “Kommodus horde” (which apparently includes Burier, a Noise Not Music favorite), Kommodus is the first full-length studio album from the project, stuffing its ample 63-minute duration full of incendiary riffs desperate howls, and punishing brutality. Things start off innocuously enough with the short “Black Evangelion” introduction, but Plague soon displays the viciousness in store for listeners on the following “Where Iron and Blood Converge,” a lengthy and punishing track whose heavy-hitting rhythms draw from both hardcore and thrash. The group vocals really add an important angle too, evoking the howling winds that swirl around desolate mountaintops or the echoes of agony from distant hells on “Heir to the Line of Wolves.” An excellent release; nothing shockingly revolutionary, but certainly still more than “turn[ing] the treble way up, turn[ing] the bass way down, press[ing] record and sound[ing] demonic.”