Review: Various Artists – Birdsong from the Lower Branches (Hypnagogic Tapes, Nov 3)

Birdsong from the Lower Branches is an aptly titled collection of artists across the globe who work with voice, utterance, text-sound, and other related areas of study. Another various artists tape that came out earlier this year was Regional Bears’ New Tulips, but even though that splendid compilation already seemed to me to have assembled the full gaggle of usual suspects, the list of artists that contributed the pieces for Birdsong has no crossover whatsoever with that of New Tulips. Yet despite this obvious labor of love being specifically curated to “highlight the many different styles and techniques used in contemporary & experimental vocal work” in addition to the (relative) singularity of the roster, Birdsong still boasts quite a few familiar names, prolific babble-stalwarts that many of the weirdos bothering to check out this tape in the first place: Karen Constance (who also provided the cover collage), id m theft able, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, Seymour Glass, Ali Robertson. Just halfway through one can already see that the effort to present a diverse survey of creative work was wildly successful; we’re thrown from the jarring tape-switch enjambments of a speech-only track from Eric Mingus, James King’s humbly introduced and spectacularly executed “distillations,” a duet for emergency services siren and a cappella Irish folk song by Mabel Chah, an anxiety-soaked onslaught of gasps and groans from Rising Damp, a surreal post-Super Saturday broadcast from Robertson… the list goes on. A wonderfully eclectic and consistent set of of titillating tidbits.

Review: Wreck of the Minotaur – A Little Roy One on One Reissue (Tomb Tree Tapes, Oct 31)

I see you ya fuckin’ posh fucker… I’ve got yous here a can o’ big fuckin’ money Stella…

Is there a spoken introduction to an album that is a more iconic and anticipatory indicator of incoming chaos than this, the funny yet vaguely threatening ramble tumbling into the feedback and unhinged screaming that begins opening track “Big Money Stella” on A Little Roy One on One, Wreck of the Minotaurs only release. With all of the forgotten 00s scenecore that prolific collector’s edition label Wax Vessel has been putting out, I figured it would be them who got their hands on the rights to reissue this brief but beloved five-song EP, but instead the long-overdue reintroduction of the London band’s flash-in-the-pan masterpiece has been handled by small Nanaimo, B.C. tape label Tomb Tree. Unsurprisingly, the small run of cassettes printed sold out almost immediately, but the repackaged version (there doesn’t seem to have been any remastering or other alterations done) is available for name-your-price download on Bandcamp, complete with an appropriately gruesome revamped version of the original cover art. My hope is that most of you have heard this already, but if not now is certainly the time; WotM’s flawless onslaught of complex, technical riffs and grooves; both off-kilter, ersatz math breakdowns and traditional mosh slams; some of the most (appealingly) virtuosic hardcore drumming ever laid to tape; expert control of dynamics; and a remarkably well-assimilated sample from the film adaptation of American Psycho in “Hard Bodies Are Everywhere! Hand Me My Blade!”: Patrick’s distressed and ultimately useless confession to his lawyer is accompanied by snapping snare and a quirky bass lick before the instrumental descends into complete chaos once more. There are even some well-placed violins in unforgettable closer “My Sweet Annabella I’m Not Coming Home,” (and if that alone doesn’t sell you, the track was also included in my Breakdown Bonanza mix). A Little Roy One on One is both inextricably a product/artifact of its time and a completely timeless slice of fucked-up genius. I hope these surprise rereleases keep coming because I love being able to write about things I love that I missed the ability to review due to my youth; fingers crossed for Black Market Activities to realize that a vinyl press of I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die for its fifteenth anniversary next October would be an absolute cash-cow, and/or that whoever is putting out a Hayworth discography release does it soon.

Review: Potion – Cemetary (self-released, Oct 31)

This is coming a bit late since Cemetary [sic] is clearly a heavily Halloween-themed release, but this week my mind was occupied by… other things. And anyway, this amazing cover art and its tremendously well done object-font used for the band’s name are enough for this short album to be appreciated year-round. This is the closest thing Potion has come to a full-length since their debut on a split tape with Car Made of Glass early last year (both bands consist of former members of tech-sass quartet Antarctica, whose penchant for both fragmented interlude abstractions and lunatic-hardcore certainly lives on, uniquely, in each), and since Bandcamp user horsesofallston commented, “please please please release a full-length. no other humans can make these noises. (trust me I’ve tried),” but it’s not new material. In fact, all six tracks were recorded long before the project’s official declaration of existence: the first three in 2016, with Cammie Berkel on vocals and Quade Ross on drums, and the final three in 2017 with Quentin Salmon lending some piercing screams (which end up sounding sort of like Chip King’s thing, but way better and not annoying) to the first of the two “Dog Jail” tracks. Hunter Petersen is the constant member in all of these slabs of dizzying technicality, which makes the marked eclecticism of the short set even more astounding: “” and the ensuing two fellow shorter tracks are a nightmarish hell-scapes of tortured shrieks and relentless shred-blasts, while the title cut and “Dog Jail 2: Deja Blue” are like slightly unhinged 80s stadium-jam worship, the latter complete with harmonica. One for the ages.

Review: Akio Suzuki & Aki Onda – gi n ga (Hasana Editions, Oct 25)

In their hopefully ongoing series of live albums (of which there are three so far, all released on different labels), Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda always evoke strange and wonderful worlds to escape into, a distracting immersion that’s exactly what I need after this hell-week. The two Japanese sound artists operate in only slightly overlapping areas in their solo careers, but together their auditory instincts are nothing less than symbiotic, and the freshly released gi n ga is, unsurprisingly, yet another example of this consistently fruitful creative collaboration. The recordings that comprise what I believe is only Hasana Editions’ second CD are sourced (in order) from June 2014, April 2017, and May 2014; thus, chronologically, this collection falls both between and ahead of the preceding ma ta ta bi (ORAL, 2014) and ke i te ki (Room40, 2018), which were compiled with material from 2013 and 2015, respectively. Despite that connection, however, it’s difficult for me to say whether there’s any meaningful linear trajectory of the duo’s improvisational output; to me it seems like the two musicians are so reverently devoted to the particular situation, circumstances, location, context, etcetera etcetera of a performance that they will always end up with something unique, regardless of what came before. You’ll certainly pick up on each of their preferred palettes: in the opener, “na ki sa,” alone we hear a fuzzy tape loop of crashing waves, no doubt Onda’s doing, while Suzuki’s unmistakable Analapos whirls its spectral song in the background. I couldn’t tell who contributed the vocal elements or the almost-rhythmic flute stomp in this piece, the latter of which had me unconsciously tapping a loose tribal beat underneath it. The following two tracks tilt further toward the abstract and serve up more of the texturally lush yet slightly brooding, even ominous soundscapes that made ke i te ki so enrapturing. Of these, the concluding “sa na ki” (you may notice that the titles are simply three of the possible combinations of the original syllables) is probably my favorite, unfolding like a director’s cut of the daily activities on the floor of a miniature industrial plant.

Review: Pantea – Things (Active Listeners Club, Oct 23)

Active Listeners Club, a new netlabel “dedicated to active listening” through releasing abstract experimental music by Tehran’s sound artists and forward-thinking musicians, caught my attention early this month with the bizarre sonic palette, complete contextual obscurity, and eye-catching cover template of their inaugural release: Ben & Jerry’s Formant Fry (the collaborative musical debut from label founders and operators Ramtin Niazi and PARSA), an impressive array of sensory-overload sample collage, some of the contents of which appear to be extracted from video games. Things, ALC’s second offering, is also Tehran artist pantea’s second—that is if you don’t count AA0011, a brief set of two tracks put out digitally in 2018. I enjoyed this one a great deal more than the preceding everydaymeal, which came out on Czsaszka earlier this year; here the Iranian musician and photographer largely leaves the recognizability of the real word behind, instead delving deep into granular dissections and dense, physical arrangements of high-velocity tones and razor-sharp remnants, transporting us to the inside of an atom smasher gone haywire. The impossibly agile contortions of “Patu (blanket)” rival the impressive sound design of glitch-storm experimenters like Florian Hecker or Jeff Carey, but the following “N.E.W.S & ESX,” and the mangled carcass of a dance track it tosses in our laps, reminds everyone that pantea has her hands much deeper in the innards of the cadaver of electronic music as all of these talented sound-surgeons perform its autopsy—all the way up to the elbows, in fact; I think club music would be located pretty deep in the chest cavity.

Review: Kiera Mulhern – De ossibus 20 (Recital, Oct 23)

The first track on De ossibus 20, sound artist Kiera Mulhern’s debut full-length, is like a slow submerging into a bath of perfectly warm water. It proceeds through a murk of churning haze with ease: languid spin cycle drone, ghostly chatter, tactile shift. The extra-soft rug is soon pulled from under our feet, however, for Mulhern’s own voice finally surfaces after an unceremonious snatching-away of that fragile fog-scape, rising in layers of wavering vocalizations that twitch with distortion, skips, and shudder as they begin to thicken and coalesce before ultimately ceasing to let some muffled coffee shop ambience to close out the track (McCann describes the LP as “burying a microphone in a book”; I’m not sure if he meant it literally, but here it certainly sounds as if we’re closed out of something yet still near enough to hear it). Mulhern’s superb ear for the extremely abstract poetics of the voice-in-place is no fluke, for the remaining tracks on De ossibus 20 continue to offer up a plethora of delightful texture-stew, from the seething, organic effervescence and lush garble of “Self-auscultation 5/24/20” to the paranoid whispers and ambiguous spatiality of “Sow”; from the hair-raising sound-web and unfinished statements of “Signs in the memory” to the deeply immersive sonic environment and tentatively blown recorders of the concluding “Syrinx.” Works that are truly abstract while also feeling extremely intimate are rare, but Mulhern’s singular explorations, despite their constant elusiveness, strike emotional chords far, far below one’s conscious radar.

Mix: All Hallow’s Eve

This is the fourth and final of my Halloween mixes. Tomorrow is the big day, so here is a collection of immersive horror-soundscape tracks, spooky samples, and general scariness to get you in the spirit.

00:00. JC Greening – “Trick ‘r Treat” from Halloween Haunts & Terror Tales Volume I: Trick ‘r Treating for Children (self-released, 2018)

02:46. Walt Disney Sound Effects Group – “The Dungeon” from Halloween Songs & Sounds (Walt Disney, 1997)

05:37. Tobe Hooper & Wayne Bell – main titles from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1974)

08:55. KevOz – excerpt from “Part 2” of Haunted Halloween: 1 Hour of Spooky Music and Scary Sound Effects (self-released, 2017)

13:04. Black Mountain Transmitter – excerpt from Behold the Undead of Dracula (Lysergic Acid, 2019)

16:40. Nick Reinhart – “Post-Slaughter” from Scary Sounds II (self-released, 2014)

19:59. Vacation Bible School – “t h e _ s a t a n i c _ p a n i c” from Fall Festivals and the Satanic Panic (self-released, 2019)

23:52. Edward Is My Middle Name – “heed” from Halloween / Autumn (wdgrain, 2018)

25:31. Loyalty Freak Music – “The Swamp” from Witchy, Batty, Spooky, Halloween in September !! (self-released, 2018)

28:39. Unknown Artist – excerpt from side B of Campfire Tales (Tribe Tapes, 2020)

32:08. Avery Alexander – “Butcher” from Halloween 2020 (self-released, 2020)

35:00. Climax Golden Twins – “Disappointed Expectations” from Session 9 (Milan, 2001) [continues to end]

37:36. Kill the Hippies – “Buried Alive (Just Before Retirement)” from Spectacular Halloween Sound Effects Vol. I (Phoenician MicroSystems, 2015)

Review: RODEOGLO – BLVCKHEVRT (Dismiss Yourself, Oct 21)

From my limited experience with the discipline, I’ve gradually gathered that there are three types of producers: those who excel when composing for other artists, those who excel when composing their own work, and those who excel at both. Norfolk-based beatmaker and sample sculptor RODEOGLO definitely belongs to that last group, able to reserve the most lush and garish soundscapes for his own mind-bending tracks while also creating instrumentals that function much better as complementary backing for other MCs. BLVCKHEVRT, released by newcomer label Dismiss Yourself, is RODEOGLO’s first full-length solo set, a surreal dreamscape of rattling hi-hat patches, vocal excerpts and hooks autotuned to near-unintelligibility, and endless layers of sheeny synth textures and enveloping bass to get hopelessly lost inside. The first few tracks are mostly instrumental aside from the heavily processed vocals, yet handily succeed in whipping up a joyously frenzied atmosphere of thick smoke and saturated color. “AK-47” puts Sematary to shame with its excellent sluggish trap crooning, the pounding percussive energy of “ETHEREAL” seethes underneath a fiery verse from Lil Pablo, “EAST SIDE SWAG XXX” swaggers along with a gritty Memphis-esque bounce—and those are only three of the twelve equally fantastic songs on the tape. The handful of features are distributed with panache, from the aforementioned electricity of the Lil Pablo track to the almost somnambulistic-sounding contributions from LZA and Krone on the hazy “SLIDE.” RODEOGLO handles almost all of the production on BLVCKHEVRT, co-producing on two tracks and handing the reigns to NXSTA for “TWEAKER,” which with its hilarious Mario samples and artful bitsmashing ends up being one of the tape’s most memorable. A singular and exciting official debut from this talented artist.

Review: Kouns & Weaver – The 1990 Cincinnati Reds (self-released, Oct 20)

I have a strange relationship with baseball. I played for a few little league teams when I was a wee lad, I’m always up to play some catch, and I will probably go to a few more games before my inevitable death. But overall I see baseball as something deeply wrapped in nostalgia, both my own and that of the collective United States (it is “America’s Pastime,” after all), and in my mind it’s become an institution that I am more just grateful exists at all rather than one that resonates much with me personally. A large part of that gratitude comes from the staggering range of art that baseball and its singular sentimentality—”Pafko at the Wall,” The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.The Sandlot, that legendary scene in High School Musical 2—something that has been present my whole life growing up in Cincinnati. The Reds seem to hold an even more fervent intensity of reminiscence than many teams, and among all sorts of people. Zack Kouns and Rick Weaver team up once again on The 1990 Cincinnati Reds to pay their own brand of homage to one of the two legendary seasons in Reds history (the first was in 1900, as you’ll learn in opening track “Billy Hatcher”). This is no faithful historical reenactment or revival; the pair of Tennessee weirdos instead embark on an irreverent, surreal reimagining of these people and their lives, an approach that could conceivably be seen as disrespectful and yet just… isn’t. It’s similar to what Barthelme did with Robert Kennedy, I think, and I’m sure there are more examples that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. Kouns contributes the spoken aspects of the album, which tell tales of death, the cosmic, the supernatural, “a young Colombian girl with six arms to crush the heads of the wild and wicked and the pure-hearted alike” (who is none other than Mariano Duncan)… it’s quite the adventure. Weaver, who I learned of through his band Form a Log, builds intricate, hallucinatory rhythmic backing for Kouns’ often unrelenting deadpan delivery, plasticky drum patches and sheeny synths and quirky electronic burbles that make this phantasmagoric album even more of a compelling curiosity. The 1990 Cincinnati Reds is not nearly as (properly) educational as one might expect, but it will probably still teach you a lot of things—things you may not want to know, perhaps, but willful ignorance has never helped anyone.

“This one belongs to the Reds.”