Review: Leila Bordreuil – Not an Elegy (Boomkat, Feb 10)

For a track that begins an album called Not an Elegy, “For Tamio” sure as hell sounds a lot like exactly that. Perhaps it’s my own personal emotional association with the cello, which I view as forming one of the more intimate symbioses between musician and instrument, especially in the case of Brooklyn-based sound artist Leila Bordreuil, who has built her formidable career and body of work out of her palpable reverence for that unique relationship. Like the other material of hers I’ve heard previously (notably Hollow, her stellar duet with bassist Zach Rowden) Bordreuil adopts a play style that is both abrasive and rhapsodic, flitting between sticky bow-drones and dissonant attacks that are as much percussive as they are brokenly tonal. But “For Tamio” is far from just a solo cello improvisation; lurking beneath and among the patient artist’s inventive interjections are the spacious sounds of the NYC underground, or the “deserted” city’s “bowels and liminal spaces,” as the release description so poetically puts it. The distinct sound environment of cavernous reverberations, ghosts of far-off conversations, and rushes of the subway trains is at once stage for, audience of, and participant in Bordreuil’s performance, and it’s the crossings-over between these normally exclusive roles that make the piece so enthralling—especially about three-fourths of the way in, when the sublime screech of brakes grinding against the metal track is echoed by the equally affecting scream of somber notes played high on the neck. “Past Continuous” is a much more reserved affair, yawning up from somewhere deep and forgotten with a fragile, hypnotic hum that seems to distort time itself, but nonetheless acts a fitting foil for the A side. Far surpassing the unengaging textures of 2019’s HeadflushNot an Elegy may be Bordreuil’s best work.

Review: Moses & Blue – Mammoth Conglomerate (self-released, Feb 6)

Although I’ve never actually been to Walyalup, a center for Aboriginal culture, history, and art in western Australia, the intimate space-filling sounds of Mammoth Conglomerate quickly make one feel as though they’re right there in the room. On what to my knowledge is the first collaborative meeting of sound artists Annika Moses and Lyndon Blue, atmospheric synth chords and samples meld with rough-edged fidelity and otherworldly vocals in a spellbinding haze. The “live” recording—I’m not sure whether there was an in-person audience; I certainly hope not—was clearly captured using the ambient outputs rather than DI, a choice that only furthers the pillowy, almost hallucinatory presence of the music. Opener “warm in after” spreads a delirious psychedelia further mystified by Blue’s distinctive deep voice, while “it takes something” plays the two members’ singing styles off each other, Moses’ lilting vocalizations and croons dipped in and out of soupy effect chains to create a dense drift that is somehow both haunting and comforting. Mammoth Conglomerate works well as both a continuous suite and a pleasingly sloppy sketchbook-like collection, but the duo shines most brightly on the longer, more patient tracks near the end like “do I wear one look for to a colour hey but I cannot help but here is two cannot help but think of you” (yes that’s really the title) and “Alicia,” which slowly unfurl into mesmerizing and diverse soundscapes. Sleepy, even somnabulistic music for curling up in a corner.

Review: Sarin – You Can’t Go Back (Prosthetic, Feb 5)

Whether your instinctive response to provocative comparisons is interest or disgust (to be honest, my own tends to be more of the latter), I encourage you to read on after I make this one, which I can’t seem to get out of my head: Sarin’s You Can’t Go Back responds to post-metal in much the same way Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet responds to metal. I’m probably a much bigger fan of that testosterone-fueled major-key masterpiece than most, but something I think everyone can appreciate is its general approach of molding heavy music into something more palatable and party-friendly (hence the “party metal” descriptor). While You Can’t Go Back is free of bizarre misogyny, excessive wall-of-sound layering, and saccharine keyboards that put even Springsteen’s silliness to shame, I can’t escape the sense that Sarin’s fusion of patient dynamic builds and atmospheric sludge grooves has the same brightness and playful spirit to it. “Cold Open” starts things off quite abrasively, but we soon see a softer side with both the loud and quiet sections of “When You Melt,” which draw as much from meaty power-chord riffs and radio cock-rock as they do bands like Isis and Rosetta. Surprisingly, one doesn’t really notice the quite sparing use of vocals, which typically add a much-needed dimension to this particular style; instead, the band keeps listeners in rapt attention with earwormy, anthemic arrangements and a near-flawless sense of pacing. The latter quality is clearly apparent in album highlight “Thick Mire,” an appropriately titled tour de force of intricate psychedelic jam and grinding heaviness, while the former is perhaps most conspicuous on majestic closer “Leave Your Body,” which blends gruff bellows with soaring guitar melodies to incredible effect. If you find yourself slipping into a dark winter slump, throw on this record.

Review: Chris Williams – Of Yours (self-released, Feb 5)

As sound artist and composer Chris Williams himself states in the release description, his “first album without any trumpet” is certainly “a special work indeed.” Featuring heavily processed contributions from colleagues such as bassist Nick Dunston, percussionist Aaron Edgcomb, and trombonist Weston OlenckiOf Yours is a short five-part collage of evocative spoken word samples, sublime improvisatory tension, and a fragile, crystalline ambience that is both optimistic and somber. True to the cover, which was designed by Laura Sofía Pérez and primarily features a particularly suave photo of James Baldwin, most if not all of the speech used throughout the suite comes from the renowned writer and speaker (I’m quite terrible at identifying voices, however, so I could be wrong), whose simultaneously impassioned and calmly logical arguments—qualities that remain palpable even when recordings of him are chopped up or assembled—are just one of the many elements that make Of Yours a work truly “teeming with Blackness.” As far as I can tell, the samples are sourced from a 1968 documentary by Horace Ové, which featured Baldwin passionately conversing before an audience with comedian and activist Dick Gregory (listen to a recording of at least some of Baldwin’s portion here); while the film does a great deal to unite the often carelessly disconnected realities of the Black experience in individual white-supremacist states, Williams and Of Yours are deeply concerned with the American side of things, a focus encapsulated by the ironic “land of the free, home of the brave” motif that is repeated several times. Making use of the words of such a prominent figure might be a copout from actual significant creative contribution for some musicians, but not Williams; his endlessly layered sound-sculptures of ecstatic electronics and instrumental ephemera would be enough for a fully-realized work even on their own. The integration of Edgcomb’s virtuosic drum kit performance on “of” is particularly strong, as is the seething yet subdued closer “yours,” which acts as a sort of memorable coda or revisitation of all that came before. This new direction from the already eclectic and adventurous Williams is exciting, beautiful, and impossibly rich in emotion and meaning.

Note: though the cover reads “Chris Ryan Williams,” the album is officially credited to “Chris Williams.”

Review: Python vs Cobra – Bitte Nicht Füttern EP (Brain Pussyfication, Feb 5)

The short-‘n-sweet Bitte Nicht Füttern EP is by far the most fully-realized release from Berlin duo Python vs Cobra (Thiébault Imm and Kévin Angboly) so far, but for them coherence is incoherence, and as such this tape makes use of both simultaneously. The stripped-down guitar and drums approach to noise rock is hardly anything new, and yet these winding, brutal improvisations of pseudo-punk jam fragments and formless cacophony are undeniably fresh and full of something indescribable that makes the pair’s particular brand of bedlam so much. It could be the palpable creative chemistry between the two musicians; or maybe it’s the raw, unhinged exchange style, which throws the traditional dichotomy of drums→rhythm/guitar→melody into a constant, merciless distortion (see “Castré et Véreux,” on which both instruments seem to pull each other from a dense, impenetrable muck of nebulous dissonance into a firecracker rock groove); or it’s just the fact that these brief musical spasms are so infectiously instantaneous, so unflinchingly volatile, that one becomes obsessed with the state of mind they evoke to the point where there’s nothing else that hits the spot the same way. There is a stunning amount of both violence and serendipity immortalized by these recordings, whose exaggerated edges remain stubbornly rough and cutting no matter how many times one tries to wear them down.

Review: Dan Blacksberg & Julius Masri – SUPERLITH II (self-released, Feb 5)

On their second album as the SUPERLITH duo, unruly improvisors Dan Blacksberg (trombone) and Julius Masri (cracked keyboard) come together for an even more magnificently ramshackle display than their debut effort. Cobbled together from five recordings captured in 2012 and one remotely-created piece tracked just six days before the record’s official release (I didn’t even see it at first since the info was sent to me on January 26th), the two noisemakers each contribute their mercilessly abstract extended-technique muck to addictive, high-energy rackets. I can’t decide what the best part about stirring and abrasive opener “Granular Progeny” is: its incredibly fitting title or the fact that it just bursts into existence without warning, immediately setting the stage for the sort of spark-flinging, friction-fraught grinding in which Blacksberg’s and Masri’s interactions inevitably result. While not usually one for post-announcement musical revisions, I’m actually rather pleased with the last-minute addition of “Multicultural Space Lasers Kill Only Nazis in Their Throats”; “Hyaline Ossuary” and “Crypts of Lieberkuhn” are both good tracks, but their subdued droning retreats and seething rumbles weren’t the most climactic conclusion to the set. “Space Lasers,” on the other hand, makes sure one isn’t left without the vivid memory of the sheer chaos that this vicious horn player and sadistic instrument surgeon can conjure.

Review: Ego Depletion – Eeeeeeg Synfffff Derpzzzzz (self-released, Feb 4)

My first encounter with Fritz Welch occurred thanks to Autofahrt, his recent cassette with Mark Vernon as Trouble Tracer. I immediately fell in love with that album’s abrasive whimsicality, produced through a uniquely deconstructive approach to abstract vocal improvisation, and Eeeeeeg Synfffff Derpzzzzz, Welch’s newest release (as part of Ego Depletion, together with Adam Campbell) was thankfully no different in its instantaneous appeal. While the highly gestural, granular textures at play on this short suite were likely produced with modular synthesizers, I’m not sure how much significance the album’s title has in regard to its methodology; was EEG (converting brain waves to audible sounds) used, or is “Eeeeeeg” just the sound of relief that the two noise-wranglers’ neighbors made when they finally finished recording these tracks? I have absolutely no idea, but I’m content to sit in ignorance and be assailed by writhing tendrils of caustic cracked-electronic rasp like the bubble of burning flesh, overblown drum set freakouts, waves of dizzyingly high-pitched feedback, and assorted acousmatic witchcraft. “Ehhh” nails that elusive atmosphere of not-quite-organic, not-quite digital, its wet wire-tentacle slaps and insectoid dissections making it one of the most memorable tracks, while “Orrrrrp” closes things out with a volatile smash-‘n-glitch opus that rivals the best of Sissy Spacek.

Review: Where Is Mr. R ?! – 18 Luglio (2035, Feb 3)

“…témoignant non d’un choix mais d’une limite physique.”

This phrase (which loosely translates to “…testifying not to a choice but to a physical limitation”) ends the description of 18 Luglio, the newest release from Paris trio Where Is Mr. R ?!, setting the stage for a somewhat brief but no less formidable free-music invocation. Unlike their self-titled debut, also produced by 2035 Records, the aforementioned “limite physique” manifests as a 15-minute duration restriction on two homogeneous improvisations, which each follow the three musicians—Augustin Bette (drum set), Basile Naudet (alto sax), and Luca Ventimiglia (vibraphone)—as they stagger and stumble through incessantly repetitive phrase-loops specifically designed to exhaust. According to the band, disintegration through performance fatigue was always the goal, and 18 Luglio is la trace sonore de cette impossibilité (the soundtrack of this impossibility); their initial “objective” may well be impossible, but the music produced along the way is anything but. It’s an absolute pleasure to witness these constantly cascading currents of loosely structured free-jazz noodling, the obstinately stagnant riff-cells sometimes syncing up in whimsical unison but mostly bouncing off each other in the auditory equivalent of a lottery-ball-hopper frenzy.

Review: Zebularin – Semantic Radiation (Cruel Nature Recordings, Jan 29)

In a way, the bizarre shape and texture distortions featured on the cover of Zebularin’s new tape Semantic Radiation are not just appropriately subversive visuals that correspond to equally subversive music, but also a statement about the band itself. A fragment of the back of someone’s head cut to resemble the head of some draconian acolyte (Kobolds, anyone?), a dark photograph of someone curled up in bed that has been mounted in such a way that its own spatial logic no longer makes any sense, the sky of a landscape panorama unravels and twists impossibly toward something even higher—it all reeks of the same approach the Stuttgart collective takes to produce their music: stretching, cutting, and dissecting the conventional in favor of the new and unpredictable, stuffing large clumps of strangeness where they most certainly do not fit. It’s as if the listener is shown the tangled mass fibrous wires that hold together the group’s most “normal” instrumental elements (drum kit, woodwinds, Rhodes), allowed to witness the surges of sonic electricity as they move throughout the network in the form of line-in electronics, industrial clatter, and other scientific tabletop conjurations from Yoshihiro Kikuchi and bandleader/composer Daniel Vujanic. “Supplikant” and “Vaccimal” focus almost entirely on these in-between sounds, unfurling into beautiful, buzzing storms of electricity and emotional catharsis, while longer tracks like “Jubelperser” and “Flores” drag the lens much further back, capturing spacious, diverse, room-filling interactions that echo the best of early improvisatory units (even though Zebularin’s material is not improvised). Perhaps the titular concept is literal, and these volatile, enigmatic pieces are the toxic residue left behind when one spends too much time thinking about what music means. No idea why anyone would want to do that in the first place, though… some nerd shit for sure.

Review: I N S T I T U T R I C E – Cohortes (Un je-ne-sais-quoi, Jan 29)

Yet another spellbinding adventurous percussion release on Un je-ne-sais-quoi, Cohortes is an impossibly lush sonic journey. French drummers Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy and Éric Bentz, recording for what appears to be the first time as I N S T I T U T R I C E (which is quite fun to type, by the way), has assembled an extremely diverse kit from household objects and tools, assorted traditional instruments (“singing bowl or gongs”), and actual drum components, but the textural tapestries woven through palpably forceful strikes and slaps move as single entities. Opener “Cantabrica” builds to catastrophic tension levels before suddenly dissipating, leaving a hypnotic calm of natural hum and birdsong that permeates the peripherals of the following “Werner,” an epic, shifting odyssey escalated as much by sharp-edged, ever-rising synth drones as by the duo’s own impressive physical performance. Even when there seems to be only one simultaneous percussion track, their spider-limbed attacks create the illusion of countless other additions and layers, the result of both the speed at which they switch between contrasting targets and our minds trying to make sense of such complexity. And when there are layers—as on the brief but incredible “Bouquet” couplet, in which a distant gong and chiming metallic rolls are augmented by wet crackles and grating horns—Geoffroy and Bentz know exactly how much or how little energy with which to imbue the “main course.” Not so dark or dissonant that it’s unsettling, nor so colorful and whimsical that it’s saccharine, Cohortes is the fiercest neutral, like the wild, awe-inspiring intensity of the jungle: plenty of harmless harmony to see and hear, but you’d better not stay in one place for too long.