Review: Grounded – Promise Garden Frequency (Modern Tentchology, Apr 19)

a1116229842_10Ever since Keith Rowe’s renowned deployment of the portable radio as a tool for abstract music, the family of devices has become somewhat of a staple in the arsenal of junk-drawer-diving improvised acts, but it’s rare to see it totally isolated. Aki Onda experiments with a prolonged capture that’s almost voyeuristic (A Method to Its Messiness), Daniel J. Gregory promotes it to both a producer of emphasized sound events and simply a piece of its environment (Heard Under Orphan Eyelid), and Alyssa Festa (a project now sadly defunct) plays with primordial beeps and background noise, yet none of the three rely as heavily on the compositional possibilities of real-time channel surfing, or at least certainly not as much as Promise Garden Frequency. Freshly released by what appears to be some new evolution of the prolific 7Form netlabel project, this digital-only album from Grounded is a murky, unpredictable, even hallucinatory descent into the fragile space of dead air, fragmented broadcasts, and jarring stylistic contrast. The 15-track suite plays like a single piece, evolving from live dial-scrubbing at first to accommodate increasingly complex layers; these post-recording interventions aren’t concealed or hidden in any way, but their presence doesn’t affect the half-exhilarating, half-sedating effect of the almost omnipresent frequency jumping. The artist’s well-tuned ear and hand coax a variety of significant emotional resonance: dazed catharsis in “Rationalise Stems”; dread and darkness in the densely packed static of “Sinking Deeper and Deeper”; electric anxiety in “Ringing Deep Now”; queasy, uneasy grandiosity in “Derelict Garden.” Promise Garden Frequency is a truly “plundered” release, much more so than most who claim the label for themselves, and is enthralling in both its stretches of atmospheric broodiness (“A Way Out”) and sublime pop-chop ecstasy (“Because I Am”).

Review: Universal Cell Unlock – Level Repulsion (Mid-Day Massage Parlor, Apr 17)

So the other week I tried to burn two Waylon Jennings LPs to a CD so I could listen to them in the car, but something apparently went horribly wrong because every track on Dreaming My Dreams has been hiked up about 60 bpm and the entirety of Good Hearted Woman was reduced to an incoherent, eardrum-dissolving squall. I bring this snafu up because much of Level Repulsion, Universal Cell Unlock’s first release since 2017’s Fugitive Numbers, doesn’t sound too different from the latter malfunction. Mysteriously produced with what are only listed as “handmade devices” without any overdubbing or processing, the dense powerhouse of scathing digital harsh noise is always strangely apathetic toward its own abrasiveness—the incessant, looping onslaughts of auditory error codes and circuit torture seem just as likely to be spontaneously auto-generated as conjured manually by one or more artists. This could also be a case of extreme technophobia; in conjunction with the cover image, perhaps what we’re hearing is the sound of furious, vitriolic abuse of any and all electronic invaders. “Pollusiondeaths,” the closer, is especially spastic and violent. But if that’s true then whoever’s doing the abusing must also be intimately familiar with the ins and outs of these Frankenstein machines… knowing thy enemy or fraternizing with thy foe? I’m not sure, but who cares, because the results are spectacular. And I don’t regret hammering my phone into metallic paste one bit. I think.

Review: Strange Mammals of Doom – Strange Mammals of Doom Are Strange 2 (self-released, Apr 15)

I think my steadily increasing fascination for auditory garbage has formed a terminal trajectory that will end with me abandoning any devotion to coherence—via both input and output—altogether, and I’m just about already there with this new obsession over Strange Mammals of Doom Are Strange 2. Divided into seven untitled tracks, the most recent, partly self-titled offering from anonymous Kraków artist Strange Mammals of Doom is a dark, grimy foray into the murky intersection that connects countless genres of corner-dwelling abstract music. Drone, ersatz electronica, moody dark ambient, humbly cinematic synth, and lurching, lazy, lo-fi wall noise are all crudely yet carefully sculpted into chunks of detritus, mottled driftwood floating on the still surface of a rotting reservoir. These sonic mud-effigies are reliably bizarre and enigmatic, but their specific contours aren’t nearly as consistent: in the first segment moss-choked cavern dross melts into something more melodic, the next embraces the swollen, stubborn stagnancy of amplified electrical currents, and the dense, almost aquatic din of the one after that seems to always be building toward something that it never reaches. And after that there are still four more to go. Are Strange 2 plays like a tinker session somewhere in the depths of a dusty, forgotten electronics depot, and, much like the weird, sleepy supernatural that always seems to lurk in such places, it has lodged its hooks quite deep within me. If only I could, you know, see or feel them. Strange.

Review: VEIDRIK – HAZARDAJ (Amateur Electronics, Apr 13)

We’ve all messed around with Audacity or whatever other starter DAW we could get our hands on and loaded raw image data as a sound stem for some chaotic computer-noise action, but it’s a lot more difficult than one would think to make those unpredictable slabs into music that’s actually worth listening to, even for those with as shockingly inclusive of a definition for music as most of you most likely have. Enter VEIDRIK, a Chicago-based project whose materials are sourced entirely from photography taken previously by the artist, mercilessly converted, assimilated, reshaped, malformed—whatever you want to call it—into sharp, spiky, complex arrays of dissonant frequencies and impossible textures. Despite the passive, indeterminate nature of this most significant aspect of VEIDRIK’s artistic process, the final results are quite the opposite; the eight concise tracks that comprise HAZARDAJ are as confrontational and exhilarating as the most energetic tabletop-harsh, soaring and piercing and painful and gestural—plenty of pointers taken from Hasegawa and friends. Complementary layers are meticulously arranged to create an immersive stereo listening experience; the artist recommends headphones, but I imagine this tape would sound just as great through a nice set of appropriately placed speakers, provided no pesky neighbors or skittish pets are around to discourage maximum volume settings.

Mix: Night Tearers

Been wanting to make this one for a while. If you were to get kicked to death in the pit (if those are even still a thing after all this) and sent to hell, this is what your eternity of suffering would sound like. Could be worse.

JLbari, ‘Nighmare 2’

00:00. Hayworth – “15 Seconds Alone in the Hot Tub” from I Now Pronounce You Fucked and Depressed (self-released, 2009)

01:10. IDYLLS – “Lied to” from Prayer for Terrene (self-released, 2014)

07:41. Arkan Azid – “ASTRALSUIZID” from ASTRALSUIZID (self-released, 2020)

10:54. Gaza – “I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die” from I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die (Black Market Activities, 2006)

12:13. Unyielding Love – “The Pregnant Hurt” from The Sweat of Augury (various, 2016)

16:44. Irhagar – “- ̢̛҉͠ ̕͟ ̵͟͠ ̵̶̀͘ ҉ ̵̨́́̀ ͏̵ ̴̡͘” from Sutra (self-released, 2020)

18:36. Mahr – “Noctaeon” from Antelux (Amor Fati, 2018)

21:31. Endon – “Etude for Lynching by Family” from Mama (Daymare, 2015)

26:22. Miscarriage – “II” from Imminent Horror (Sentient Ruin, 2019)

33:41. Shora – “To Further Confines” from split with Merzbow (Bisect Bleep, 2002)

Review: ____ Quintet – ___ Quintet (music.com, Apr 10)

Even for someone as woefully, archetypally Gen-Z as yours truly, whatever the fuck is going on over at the music.com Bandcamp page is pretty damn indecipherable. However, a (relatively) more coherent silver lining to the almost grotesque cesspool of stale internet post-irony has been a set of two albums from a mysterious collective of musicians referred to only with blanks: January’s . featured _____ ______ and ___ ____ collaborating on a dusty mess of electroacoustic tangle and tedium, and for ___ Quintet the pair is joined (I think—either _____ ______’s last name gained a letter or they hyphenated it with someone else’s) by three more companions wielding thrift store guitars, scuffed horns, no-input mixing boards, and cracked plastic keyboards to generate an even more complex racket of basement bunkum. While much of .  reminded me of the elusive, warbling beauty of Sunshine Has Blown (a comparison I unfortunately do not get to make very often) with its gestural use of tape blurring, loose string plods, and overall spellbinding lethargy, the Quintet is unsurprisingly more active and immediate. Tracks like “&#rJ$GT}%Y86*@A8” are good abbreviated representations of the bizarre sound the five participants conjure: noodling flurries both near and far; overlapping, even conflicting layers; an inexplicable forward inertia; and an atmosphere that’s not quite claustrophobic but definitely not spacious either. I suppose listening to ___ Quintet transports one, at least in part, to that cluttered room pictured on the cover (at least we don’t have to physically be there; God knows what the smell is like) to become just another piece of an endless pile of junk, simultaneously contained and catalyzed by the confines of the dreary grey walls.

Review: noemienours – Tardigrade Bouncing (self-released, Apr 10)

Many years ago I discovered and listened to Windswept Trees & Houses, the first compilation by the Jewelled Antler Collective, and since then life has never been the same. Through the wide-eyed, wonder-filled woodland warble of bands like The Family Apostolic, Thuja, and The Knit Separates I gained a new appreciation for nature that far surpassed the simple acknowledgement I’d always held; the outdoors became not just a place to be but a place in which to do, to make and collect and listen. noemienours hails from Stockholm, many miles from the JAC’s home base of the sun-drenched west coast (although Kemialliset Ystävät were featured on Heat & Birds, the follow-up to Windswept Trees), but the sublime, artfully naïve reverence of these “all-ages bear-saving non-ideological vegan drug-free home-recorded lullabies from the forests of Sweden” gives me that same childlike burn for adventure, possibility, and harmonization. Carefully laid to tape using an 8-track reel-to-reel, the delicate meanderings that comprise Tardigrade Bouncing are speckled with the dusty brightness of tape hiss; clean, plucky electric guitar; and gentle, often barely audible percussive backing that imbues many of the tracks with motion simultaneously driving and lethargic. But while these soft serenades bolstered by noemienours’ haunting vocals and sparse, elegant piano are sunny enough to make you smile, they also hold a deeply elegiac current that only reveals itself upon repeated listens. This artist has a profound love for living things of all forms, and any such empath has plenty to lament in the twisted world we’ve built—we’re quite lucky that they chose such an unforgettably gorgeous way to do so.

Review: Joe Coghill – Conrad Snae (Czaszka, Apr 6)

I know Joe Coghill from his enigmatic project Free Magic Show, which also includes Czaszka operator Michał Fundowicz, but Conrad Snae is a completely different beast. The dense, unclassifiable pieces that occupy this modestly sized C22 have that air about them—you know, where it seems like there’s some hidden meaning or aspect that makes them so compelling but it’s impossible to find or isolate. Bestial screams, churning digital chaos, and molten rhythm-semblances stuff the A side, both “Disregard” and “Hasha” adopting an under-the-microscope type approach that makes me think of projects with similarly “scientific” lenses, like Jazkamer. The latter track whips and writhes in a stylistic no-man’s-land between the weirder, more abstract outskirts of beat-heavy club music and the biting artificial tornadoes of pure data composition, forming a hypnotic, pulsing throb both difficult and danceable. The title track, which occupies the entirety of side B, unfolds like bargain-bin noise cobbled together from materials found in the electronics section of a secondhand shop, still as distinctly synthetic as the preceding pieces yet also confusingly organic, like the queasy burbles of an empty stomach or subterranean gases bubbling in the waters of a murky swamp. Only Coghill could make computer castoffs this smelly.

Review: Monumental Figures – Agony (The Chaos Noise, Apr 5)

Even if I wanted to nitpick (and I don’t, for once) the only significant flaw I could find in Agony is that it’s way too damn easy to get lost in. Wall noise is almost always great music to play while reading or working—especially if you’re in a place with a lot of distracting sounds—because it’s loud enough to drown out unwanted ambience yet sufficiently minimal to avoid being a distraction itself, but this three-plus-hour monstrosity is so mysteriously magnetic that it frequently absorbs my full attention without my even knowing it, and all of a sudden half an hour has gone by since I’ve typed a single word. The only album from Moscow project Monumental Figures so far this year, and the first that isn’t a single self-released hour-long track adorned with a plain black cover, Agony is unassuming in its genius; when “Deadly Silence” first materializes it seems like a fairly conventional crunch-crush affair, but upon continued listening the wall’s spectacular density becomes progressively more apparent. Churning coils of heavyweight distortion both surround and invade the center channel; overstuffed layers boil and buck under each others’ stifling pressure; an impossibly forceful upward momentum like an eternal eruption becomes palpable. The following “Exhumation” feels very much like a contrastive response to the piece that precedes it; the noise is much rounder, more grimy and sluggish like decomp-slime oozing out of a casket, but no less enthralling. In turn, the concluding “Fresh Flesh,” aside from having one of the most addicting titles I’ve seen in a while, sputters with constrained dirt-caked crumble that brings the ambitious suite to a fitting close. To say Agony is far from the worst way to spend an eighth of a day would be an understatement.

Review: Crash at Every Speed – Departure Crash (Breaching Static, Apr 2)

Departure Crash has its fair share of abrasive, annihilating stagnant noise, but for the most part the five pieces that comprise this new CD from one of my favorite of Richard Ramirez’s literally countless aliases have such potent staying power because of how fully and comprehensively immobilizing their presence is. The harsh static of the first untitled track is expectedly loud and punishing right out of the gate, one soon becomes aware of a subtle but palpable reticence at its base (it may be easier to pick this out if you’ve previously heard Ramirez’s other wall-based projects, many of which do not share this quality), a meditative current that transforms the listening experience from appreciative cowering and grimacing to contemplative introspection. This structure continues throughout the contents of the disc despite the ensuing tracks’ sonic diversity; the second sluggishly materializes into and dissipates out of its soot cloud–like form, while the fourth rides an overblown but somehow nonintrusive rumble of distorted crunch. Personally I could do without the news samples that crop up in the final two sections, which greatly reduce the enjoyment factor of the fourth and infuriatingly delay the actual noise part of the fifth, but the approach taken in constructing these walls is unique and successful enough that I can mostly overlook those missteps. Ever wonder what that thick, uncomfortable silence following those graphic car crash videos you had to watch in secondary school would sound like run through a pedal chain? Now you know.